WITH Osama bin Laden so much in the news, there's renewed interest in the mysterious death three years ago of Carlos Mavroleon, 40. The aristocratic journalist, a convert to Islam, was in Peshawar, Pakistan, trying to land an interview with the terror mastermind for "60 Minutes" when he died in his hotel room of a heroin overdose. He apparently had bought a stethoscope and tried to sneak across the border as a doctor. Mavroleon was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Pakistan, where he spent $500 in bribes to secure a private cell and make sure his equipment wasn't stolen. Police found no signs of foul play and ruled the death an accident.
World renowned journalist Carlos Mavroleon was killed in the course of duty in 1998. This short film is a tribute to one of the most popular, talented and daring journalists the freelance community has ever known.
by: David Dienstag
...In the cold night air of Do Bandi, I was tucked in the tightest fetal position I have been in since birth. But my feet were freezing. I put my wool pakula hat over them but it was not enough. Now my head was cold. It was too cold to sleep. My mind's theater spun on. Everything about Afghanistan seemed to be a contradiction of some sort. It was August and I was cold. There were houses and I was sleeping outside. I was using my hat for my feet. But there were larger contradictions that had much greater consequences. I thought of my friend, Carlos Mavroleon.
I first met Carlos in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel in NY in 1985. I was there to show the flag for a small lobbying organization that I worked for that was in support of the Mujaheddin. We didn't have a mission so much as we needed to be present in solidarity with an Afghan mission to the UN. I was talking with a Hizbi Islami political officer when Carlos walked right up and volunteered to the delegation seated around us. He spoke at length in Pashto. Volunteering to fight in Afghanistan was rare enough among Americans. I was one of the few who had. But conversing in Pashto was rare indeed and right away everyone including myself asked "who is this guy?"
He wore an old army M-79 jacket, very much out of place in a posh mid town hotel like the Roosevelt. But it was absolutely the right fashion to join with the Mujaheddin. I was struck by this subtle prescience. Every member of the delegation was not only fascinated by him, they fixed their attention on him like smiling cobras. They simply forgot that I was there. It was very frustrating given my intentions. But Carlos and I became fast friends.
Carlos had an Etonian English accent and sounded like a spitfire pilot in a WWII movie. Half Greek, Half Iranian, he was strikingly good looking and had a natural air of cool confidence that masked some deep inner tragedy with a pencil-thin-mustache-smile. The whole impression was out of its time and made no sense but it worked. Carlos was a master of appearances. You could never fathom a person like that, only accept him and exchanged friendship. Like so many friends I had in those days, there were a lot of questions that occurred to me that I didn't ask. In those days, so many things didn't make sense, you'd get tired of wondering, or asking. You just accepted it, made a note of it, and pushed on.
There were so many bigger questions to concentrate on. Why did the CIA actively oppose air defense weapons for the Mujaheddin for six years while Afghans were being mauled by Soviet helicopters? It was one of those contradictions. The director, William Casey, was known to be a passionate anti communist. But his Deputy director, John McMahon, lobbied vigorously against the shipping of redeye missiles to the Mujaheddin. Why?
Years later, I ran into Carlos in Peshawar. I didn't recognize him. He was dressed as a Pashtun tribesman. He cautioned me not to call him "Carlos", the name I knew him as. His new name was "Kareemullah" now and he was a fighting cadre of Younis Khalis, an enigmatic political leader/warlord who operated on the road from Khyber to Khost and was among the first of the Mujaheddin to be exposed to Arabs beginning to flood into Afghanistan. He numbered Arabs in the thousands and said that most Afghans hated them. He said that they frequently lectured Afghans about God and religion, something no Afghan needs to learn about. They would descend upon a village and buy every scrap of food in it, consume it wastefully and leave nothing behind for other Mujaheddin. No American intelligence officer seemed especially concerned about it. Embassy spooks insisted that their numbers were no more than a hundred or so in spite of reports and indications of much greater numbers. Even more alarming they were extremely anti American and even engaged in fire fights with other native Mujaheddin more than they fought Russians. They were concentrated with Professor Sayaaf and Gul Buddin Heckmatyer, both well known to be Islamic radicals who were well supplied by the CIA in spite of venemous anti west rhetoric. Gul Buddin was famous for his friendship with Charlie Wilson, a congressman from Texas who steered congressional efforts for Afghanistan. They seemed to be good friends by the congressman's own account. Then Gul Buddin would go back to Pakistan and go back to his hateful rhetoric. Another contradiction.
I told Carlos aka Kareemullah of the Washington paradox and he told me of the Arab problem, both with the blessing of the CIA. He couldn't quite believe me and I couldn't quite believe him. We were both anti communist zealots and were uncomfortable in the mold of conspiracy theorists. That was a playground for liberals, not us. I shivered in the cold mountain air wondering, shivering and lost in a war of contradictions.
Sunday August 20, 2000
Peshawar is a rough town. Its bazaars are thick with suppressed violence and its traders rarely smile. Five times a day the call to prayer howls through the air in a clatter of static and guttural vowels. At night the roads rattle with automatic gunfire and it is impossible to tell if there has been a wedding or an assassination.
Many people die in Peshawar, violently or otherwise. Nobody chooses to end their days there. No one asks for his ashes to be scattered in the churned mud of the Storytellers Bazaar or from the battlements of the Purana Qila, the old fort. To the west of the city, the Khyber Pass leads up through the dusty, rocky hills of the Hindu Kush towards the border with Afghanistan. When the pollution above the city clears, the hills are sharp against a very blue sky. But they are gritty, sullen mountains and no traveller wants his bones to lie among them.
Carlos Mavroleon didn’t want to die here. Certainly not in the small, claustrophobic hotel room where they found his heroin-soaked body, on 27 August 1998. Carlos didn’t want to die anywhere. Perhaps more than at any other time in his incredible life, Carlos wanted to be alive.
He had packed it in to his 40 years. The old Etonian heir to a £100m fortune, he had been a war correspondent, a Wall Street broker, a lover of glamorous women from glamorous political dynasties (the Kennedys) and from less glamorous ones (the Heseltines). He had been a cool, gimlet-eyed war reporter, blowing off the tension of his assignments in the bars and clubs of Notting Hill. He had commanded a unit of Afghan Mujahideen against the Red Army and had been a bodyguard for a Pakistani tribal chief. And, for most of his adult life, Carlos had been a regular user of speed, coke, Ecstasy, heroin and enough pharmaceutical products to stock a large, if specialised, chemist.
But through it all, it seems, he knew what he was doing. Carlos was rarely, if ever, out of control. He pushed it to the edge, looked over - and came back again. And again and again and again. Except in Peshawar on that stinking hot August day two years ago.
On 7 August 1998, two massive blasts devastated the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and killed more than 200 people. American investigators followed the trail of the bombers from East Africa to Pakistan and on, via Peshawar, into eastern Afghanistan. Thirteen days after the explosions, President Clinton launched 75 cruise missiles against the camps that the CIA believed were run by Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind supposedly behind the attacks. It was called, slightly optimistically, Operation Infinite Reach, and successfully killed a dozen or so young Pakistanis who were training in the camps as well several blameless old men and a large number of goats. When the missiles went in, I was in Kandahar, a fiercely Islamic city in the desert south of Afghanistan. We heard of the attack at about midnight and I spent much of the night filing to my newspaper. It was only at dawn that I really began to realise the situation. We sat tight in the United Nations compound and listened to the radio and the chanting from the mosque.
Feelings ran high in the aftermath of the strike. In Kandahar, it took a long speech from the most senior cleric in the city to stop the mob marching on us. In Kabul, the capital 300 miles to the north, two UN peacekeepers were machine-gunned, one fatally. There were huge demonstrations against the Americans across Pakistan. Reports started circulating in Peshawar that a bounty of $15,000 had been offered by Bin Laden for dead Westerners.
Carlos was staying with his family at his father’s seaside home in Athens when the missiles went in. He arrived back at his flat in Fulham, west London, to find 12 messages winking at him on the answerphone. Carlos was known to other journalists as a ’shithole specialist’. The worse the war, the deeper the poverty, the nastier the place, the better Carlos liked it. His favourite shithole was Afghanistan. The calls on his answerphone can’t have been unexpected. He rang CBS, the American TV network, to accept an assignment for their flagship Sixty Minutes programme. Leslie Cockburn, the producer at CBS, knew him well. ‘I can’t imagine why you are calling,’ he joked when he called her. ‘By the way, I have a multiple Afghan visa.’
CBS wanted him to get to Peshawar as soon as possible to try to get to the camps. The hardline Taliban militia who ruled much of Afghanistan - including the bit I was stuck in - were not letting any journalists into Afghanistan. To get into the country would mean travelling in disguise. It would be very risky. Even a team of Afghan journalists had been badly beaten up and narrowly escaped execution when they tried the same exercise. But if anyone could pull it off, he could. Carlos called his fiancée, a 26-year-old TV researcher who he was due to marry in November, and then rang his father. ‘Don’t worry, papa, I’ll be careful,’ he told him. He packed his gear, picked up a $5,000 expenses advance and flew straight out to Pakistan on Emirates first class. He arrived in Peshawar on 23 August and checked into Green’s hotel just off the central Saddar Bazaar. He had four days to live.
Saddar police station is only a mile from Green’s hotel. Ten days after Carlos’ death a smiling detective called Nisar Ali Marwat flicked a brown file on to his glass-topped desk and told me to read it. Under a slowly rotating fan, I leafed through the badly typed pages. A heavily moustached sergeant brought sweet, milky tea in stained cups. Another, sitting on a broken chair behind me, played with his handgun while I read, emptying and refilling the magazine with small, snub-nosed bullets.
The death certificate was numbered 83/98. It gave the cause of death as ‘Heroin poisoning (self)’. The autopsy was conducted at 8am on 28 August by Professor Inayatur Rehman Khalil of the Khyber Medical College, Peshawar. Time of death: between 18 and 24 hours before the time of the autopsy. Carlos’s body was fully rigormortised and showed no visible signs of violence. All organs were normal. The face and upper part of the chest were ‘livid’. There was a blood-stained discharge from the right nostril. The left arm showed a prick-mark in the ante-cubital region and an insulin syringe contaminated with blood lay beside the body. The syringe tested positive for diacetyl morphine (heroin). Carlos’s stomach also tested weakly for diacetyl morphine. There were three small packets of drugs in the room. One, opened, was diacetyl morphine. The second was crude powdered opium. The third was an antihistamine tranquilizer called chlorophenaramine maleate.
According to the police statements, Carlos was sitting upright on his bed when he was found, a cigarette between his lips. The bloody syringe was on the coffee table in front of him. There was also a blackened coin. He had died of ‘heroin asphyxiation’.
A press photograph taken of his body as it was removed from the hotel shows a swarthy, good-looking man with tight, black curly hair that made him look much younger than his 40 years and a lean, muscular body. He was stripped to the waist when he died and was wearing baggy, local-style trousers.
Another sheet of paper listed his belongings: satellite phone and spare battery, camera charger, British passport B451472, small video camera, Leatherman-style knife/tool, Sony audio recorder, first-aid kit, Maglite torch, tripod and head, Sony shortwave radio stethoscope, four syringes, duty-free pack of Marlboro Lights, sewing kit, video camera battery packs and charger, two shalwar kameez (local baggy trouser and shirt), white local prayer cap, local leather sandals, Holy Koran (translation), books of Islamic history - four, $1,800 in $100 bills, $2,400 in $50 bills, and 12,265 Pakistani rupees [£150].
I read the list and looked up at Nisar Ali Marwat. The man behind me had put his pistol away. The tea cups had left oily stains on the glass of his desk. He shrugged.
When ‘Bluey’ Mavroleon said goodbye to his son for the last time he cannot have been too reassured by his promise to be careful. Carlos may have been kind, brave, intelligent and charming. But, by ordinary standards, he was not careful.
But then Carlos had never lived by ordinary standards. He was born in April 1958 and grew up in the rarefied air of real high society, not the ersatz Hello! version. His father is a Greek shipping tycoon who was once married to Somerset Maugham’s granddaughter Camilla. She eventually left him, when Carlos was three, for Count Freddy Chandon, head of the champagne house Moët et Chandon. Carlos’s mother, Giaconda, is Mexican. His brother, Nicky, is married to the filmstar Barbara Carrera. The family fortune is estimated at £100m. Carlos’s address book contained phone numbers for Fawn Hall, the secretary at the heart of the Iran-Contra affair and an old flame, Barbara Streisand and Christina Onassis. He went out with Annabel Heseltine, the journalist daughter of the former deputy prime minister for two years. She wanted to marry him. When it became clear that something awful had happened to Carlos, Ethel Kennedy, wife of Bobby senior, rang the White House to find out exactly what was wrong.
In 1979, Bluey inherited the family fortune. Carlos grew up in London’s Eaton and Cadogan squares and was sent to Eton but, though he did well, hated it. He started to rebel, at first in the ordinary ways; with left-wing politics, music that his parents wouldn’t like, soft drugs and drink. But as ever he soon left the ordinary far behind. At 14, he left his privileged world and signed himself into a London comprehensive.
After two years of taking a lot of LSD and indulging in ‘industrial scale shoplifting’, he told his parents he was going to the southwest of France to stay with friends. There were no phones, he said, so they wouldn’t hear from him for at least two weeks. He had calculated that would give him enough time to get free. He planned to head to Burma and smuggle rubies.
He got as far as Pakistan. High in the Hindu Kush foothills, close to the border with Afghanistan, in lands that are barely controlled by the current Pakistani administration let alone by the British Raj, Carlos did odd jobs - including bodyguard and labourer, learned to speak the guttural language of the Pashto tribesmen who looked after him and converted to Islam. He never contacted his family. They gave him up for dead.
After nearly two years, he returned to Britain and Belgravia, thin, sick and still restless. His family welcomed him back, hopeful that his youthful wanderlust was sated. Carlos worked hard to get his A levels, but played hard, too. He moved from amphetamines and acid to heroin. Before long, he had picked up a serious habit which he never entirely shook.
He may have been reckless, but he wasn’t stupid. He crammed at Millfield, a top public school, and got a place at Princeton University. Not satisfied with that, he applied to Harvard and, on the strength of a successful interview and a fistful of forged references, got in to read politics. With his money and connections, he was soon mixing with the best of America’s East Coast society. He was a favoured guest of the Kennedy clan. He had an affair with Mary Richardson, who later married Bobby Jnr, and a short fling with Fawn Hall.
From Harvard he went on to Wall Street. It was the 80s and Carlos, intelligent, well-connected and bold, did well. He lived in Manhattan. He made a lot of money. And spent much of it on cocaine and heroin.
And yet it wasn’t enough. By 1985, the attractions of his Manhattan lifestyle had palled. He flew to Islamabad - the capital of Pakistan - and drove up to Peshawar. It was then the main headquarters and logistics base for the guerrilla groups. He introduced himself to them and convinced them to take him into Afghanistan. It was his first taste of war. Within months of returning to America he had sold the New York apartment and was on his way back to the sub-continent. He was 26.
A canal runs through Peshawar. It is full of refuse and dead animals, but the children play in it anyway. By the banks of the canal, in a bungalow set back behind high walls and a courtyard, is the Afghan Media Resource Centre (AMRC). Throughout the Afghan war, it funded journalists’ trips into Afghanistan and disseminated the material they collected. It is widely believed to have been set up and supported by the CIA. Carlos used to sleep on its floor between trips ‘inside’.
One of the films they have at the AMRC was taken in June 1988 near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. I watched it an hour or so after reading through the police report on Carlos’s death. A keen young Afghan projected it on to the only wall not covered in pictures of blown up tanks, dead guerrillas or Russian soldiers, burned out villages and downed helicopters.
First the camera pans across a field full of Mujahideen fighters. They are waiting to go into action, squatting with their weapons in lines in the sun or standing in the shade of trees. In the background are the mountains typical of eastern Afghanistan. The film flickers, jumps and weaves. A bearded, grinning Carlos appears.
‘My name is Karimullah,’ he says, his voice deep and unaccented. He is wearing the pakol - the beret-like woollen cap of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan - and has four curved magazines and an AK47 slung across his shoulders. He is a head taller than everyone else. His new name means ‘blessed by God’.
‘I am a Mujahideen,’ he continues. ‘We are making an attack today on the city of Jalalabad. All the Mujahideen commanders have come together for this attack. I am very happy and proud to be with my Mujahideen brothers. Allahu Akbar. God is great.’ Karimullah then continues in fluent Pashto. ‘I am from London. In London I fought the Jihad with a pen. Now I fight it with a sword. I have come to Afghanistan to take part in the Jihad.’
The cameraman asks if when the Jihad is over Carlos/Karimullah will bring his family to Afghanistan. ‘Inshallah [God willing],’ he replies with a broad smile. Carlos had arrived in Peshawar three years previously. At first he had been involved in the political side of the Mujahideen’s struggle, handling foreign journalists and visiting American VIPs, but the urge to be physically involved in the action became too strong. By 1988, he was an experienced fighter and, according to former comrades-in-arms, a good one.
‘When you go into battle, you do what you are told. Karimullah would do whatever he was asked and do it well,’ said one former comrade. Several former fighters said that by the end of his time in Afghanistan, Carlos was in charge of a dozen men and was running ambushes by himself. He was always in the thick of any action and even prayed longer and harder than his comrades. One former Mujahideen remembered how Carlos had gone outside for dawn prayers in a freezing gale and had returned wet through. ‘We laughed at him when he came back in, but he just said “Ahumdilallah [God be praised]”, and lay down again.’
In 1989, the Soviets pulled out. The war carried on as the guerrillas took on the Moscow-backed government’s forces, but Carlos was becoming disillusioned with the infighting among the various groups. It was time to reinvent himself again. He returned to London and within months had metamorphosed into a war correspondent. At the end of his time in Afghanistan he had worked as a cameraman and had shot footage of frontline action. With that, and his languages and charm, the work was soon rolling in. In 1991, he was in Oman trying to sneak, in disguise, into Kuwait during the Gulf War. He failed, but succeeded in getting into northern Iraq a few months later. The next assignment was Somalia, then the Sudan, Burma, Angola, Rwanda and back to Afghanistan. On several occasions, he found himself back in Peshawar. Twice he tried and failed to use his connections with the Mujahideen to get access to Osama Bin Laden.
In the early 90s, he made a number of trips to Somalia for the American networks. Tim Deagle, a journalist who had worked with Carlos in East Africa, said their time together had revealed Carlos as ‘a seriously good human being’. ‘Despite everything we saw - and we saw hundreds of dead bodies in a day - he never lost his compassion. We went into one village and there were about three people left uninjured and he went around giving out first aid and looking after people. Most would have just taken their pictures and left.’
Yet there was a spirit of recklessness in Carlos, a flamboyance, that seemed never to die. Deagle remembered his colleague insisted on a lunch-stop during a particularly chaotic moment during the fighting. ‘He had found two lobsters, so we stopped in a field hospital with an army withdrawing around us and cooked them up and ate them with bayonets.’
On another occasion, Deagle found Carlos standing on top of a jeep with a pistol in his hand, a huge stack of dollars in the other and a crowd of angry Somali gunmen around him. ‘NBC and ABC had asked him to pay off the people they had hired for protection. Carlos told them all they had to pray before he would pay them. You or I would have been executed on the spot, but he got away with it. He always did.’
In between trips, he had a number of relationships - ‘women just flocked to him’ according to his brother - and took a lot of cocaine. He spent time in the clubs and bars of Chelsea and Notting Hill. He read dozens of books, usually classics, and read and re-read TE Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom . He wrote book reviews for the Literary Review . Almost always he managed to keep his addiction hidden. Colleagues who he worked with closely for years never saw him take drugs. There are hints though that he did. Several people in Peshawar told me that he had got into an argument with an Afghan journalist after smoking heroin in Jalalabad. It was in 1996 after a second failed attempt to find Bin Laden. It seems Carlos didn’t cope with disappointment well.
Green’s hotel is gloomy and claustrophobic. Poor backpackers and wealthy Pakistanis stay there, not journalists working for American networks. Carlos’s room cost £8 a night and was on the third floor facing east. From its small window there was a view of tangled electricity wires and roofs.
Carlos arrived in Peshawar on the evening of Sunday 23 August. He dumped his bags and walked a hundred or so yards to the office of The News - a local paper - to catch up with Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pathan reporter who knows everyone and everything. If Osama Bin Laden wants to talk to the Western world he gives a statement to Rahimullah. So do the Taliban.
Rahimullah knew Carlos from the time of the Afghan war and was generous with his advice. He was happy to talk over the various ways to get to the bombed camps, even though he was trying to work out how to reach them himself. Yusufzai told Carlos what he must have suspected: that his only chance was to disguise himself as a local and work his way through the mountains and across the border. The best place to try, Rahimullah said, was from the small town of Miram Shah which is only a score or so miles from the camps themselves. The next day Carlos hired a car - a big Toyota pick-up - and a driver and set off. By nightfall he was at Bannu, a dusty town on the edge of the mountains, by late afternoon on the next day he was in Miram Shah itself.
Within hours he was picked up by Pakistani intelligence services. It was the evening of Tuesday the 25th. Though the Pakistani spooks didn’t touch him, they scared him. The whole of the country was jittery after the strikes and the intelligence services were more jumpy than anyone. Despite his credentials, he must have had a hard job convincing his interrogators of his true identity and purpose. After a tense and sleepless night he was put on a bus back to Peshawar. As he was not found to be in the possession of heroin when picked up on Tuesday evening, it is fair to assume that he bought the drug after his release from custody.
Around 7.30pm the next day, Cockburn, his producer, began calling Carlos’s satellite phone. It rang out every time. By the evening, she was very anxious. She called Green’s and was told that Carlos had his key and was in his room which was locked. She kept trying the sat’phone. Eventually the hotel staff used a master key to open the door of the room. Carlos was dead on the bed. He had died a few hours earlier.
I arrived in Peshawar on the day Carlos died. After three days stuck in the UN compound while the authorities tried to restrain angry mobs in the streets we were finally evacuated by the UN back to Pakistan and I had driven up to Peshawar to cover the story of the missile strikes’ fall-out from there. After only a few hours in the city, a local newspaper editor, Faisal Quazi, called me on my mobile to ask if I knew anything about the dead British cameraman.
That evening, Peter Jouvenal, a veteran cameraman who knew Carlos from the days of the Afghan war, mentioned over a drink that the dead man had been to Eton. Suddenly everyone wanted an answer to the same question: how did a man with so much end up dying in such a mean and sordid way? Two year’s on there is still no good answer. And, as a result, though the authorities have officially closed the file, there are many who believe that the bald facts of the police report and the post-mortem are concealing something more sinister.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Carlos would have been unlikely to have accidentally overdosed. Nicky Mavroleon pointed out that his brother was an experienced drug user. ‘Carlos used to tell me that to him it was like having a drink. When he was having a good time he just wanted to get high… but he always knew what he was doing,’ he said. Carlos did have a doctorate in drugs and he was far from unused to the vagaries of the local Peshawar heroin.
Also, everyone seems to agree Carlos had not injected for years. Not since 1993 according to his doctor. He had been put off by a friend dying of Aids some years before, his father said. Would he suddenly switch back to syringes? Particularly if, as the police suggest, he had already been smoking the drug.
Could he have committed suicide? Rahimullah Yusufzai saw him shortly before he died and said that though he was shaken by his ordeal at the hands of the intelligence men he was not too worried. A CNN cameraman who bumped into him in a Peshawar street later that day said, with no pun intended, that he ’seemed full of beans, really on a high’.
‘He told us how he had been in prison and seemed to think that it was all very amusing,’ the cameraman said. ‘He had a cutting from a local paper that said that he was a British spy which he said he was going to have framed.’
Everybody who knew him said he was planning to settle down and was as happy as he had ever been. He was to marry in the autumn and was, according to his father, ‘devoted’ to his fiancée. He had also never entirely lost his Muslim faith and in Islam suicide is as great a sin as it is in Catholicism.
And it seems strange that he would be taking drugs at all. As an old south Asian hand, he must have known that, at least following his arrest, he would almost certainly be under surveillance? Would he have bought the heroin anyway? So would an experienced drug-user make a major mistake using a method he had given up at a time of his life when more than anything he wanted to be clean and happy?
The answer has to be yes. If the suicide scenario is rejected, as it has to be, and the accidental overdose explanation is thrown out too, you are left with nothing but half-baked conspiracy theories. We know that he was tailed throughout his stay in Peshawar and that Green’s hotel staff were interrogated by intelligence men both before and after his death. And we know that he was suspected of being a spy. And we can assume the intelligence services, who were tailing him, knew he had bought drugs. But Peshawar breeds conspiracy theories. The basic fact is that there are easier ways to kill someone than making them inject themselves with a deadly syringe. You have to apply Occam’s Razor. What is more plausible - an accidental suicide or a plot involving spooks and forced overdoses? In the end, all that you are left with is a grieving family, a brown file on a police chief’s desk, a dozen badly typed sheets of paper and the pathologist’s ‘Heroin poisoning (self)’. The most likely scenario is that a bitterly disappointed Carlos turned to the stand-by which had always helped him when he was feeling low. Relatives say that despite his amazing life he actually had very low self-esteem. The heroin was a prop when he felt down.
And that afternoon in Peshawar the disappointment must have been acute. He desperately wanted the assignment to work. To have got the footage from the camps would have made him a media star. He was 40, wanted children, wanted to settle down and wanted some conventional respect from his more conventional peers. And having, in the last few years, watched reporters like Carlos working in Iraq, in Sierra Leone, in half a dozen other such places, I have seen, and felt the sense of heroic difference, the adolescent joy at your distance from the nine-to-five, from the office, from the suits. Heroin gives you that distance, too. If, when he returned to Green’s hotel, Carlos momentarily lacked it he wouldn’t for long. To start with he would have felt a mellow, sleepy high as the drug triggered the release of dopamine in his brain. It is quite likely that, if he started off smoking the drug, he would welcome the rush of an injection straight into the bloodstream. If you haven’t been using the drug for a while the rush is, one regular heroin user tells me, intensified. A wave of contentment overcomes you. Things stop mattering. For Carlos, by the late afternoon of 27 August 1998, as the towers of Peshawar’s mosques stretched their shadows across the superheated roofs of the city and the loudspeakers crackled into the Maghreb prayer, nothing mattered at all.
I left Pakistan earlier this year. Every week I get calls from old friends and contacts in Peshawar and Islamabad. Recently, I have been asking if anything new has turned up on Carlos’s death. People have forgotten it now, and these days I am offered friendly advice rather than information. ‘Let sleeping ghosts lie,’ said one police officer I know.
If Carlos has a ghost it is unlikely to be sleeping.
Melik Kaylan says that nothing is as it seems in Peshawar, except sex, drugs and death
IMAGINE history as a sort of turbulent Greek goddess with a fatal attraction for certain of the world's storied cities. These cities tend to be located in ancient sites of great beauty and huge strategic import. Time and again she likes to revisit them and linger with a vengeance. Result: war without and intrigue within, porous borders, arms dealers, spies, femmes fatales, extremists, smugglers and, these days, the inevitable swarm of boozy correspondents. Beirut was a lurid recent example. And before that Havana, Saigon, Vienna, Istanbul. My nomination for the next such entrepot is Peshawar, the capital of the old North-west Frontier Province in Pakistan, adjacent to the Khyber Pass. I've just returned from a two-week stint there and the signs are unmistakable. In that short time I was shot at, arrested at a border post, subjected to a 6.4 Richter-scale earthquake, and told repeatedly by fruityaccented locals that 'Peshawar could be a dangerous place' for someone like me.
I went to Peshawar to research a documentary about the mysterious death there a year ago of a friend of mine, the CBS reporter Carlos Mavroleon, from a purported heroin overdose. It was, I soon realised, a task not unlike that of Joseph Cotten, who trawls through the labyrinths of postwar Vienna in The Third Man, searching for his friend Harry Lime. Except that the war wasn't quite over in Peshawar. During my first days I noticed warplanes rushing about overhead, especially in the radiant early-morning skies when they always seemed to head in the same direction, fully loaded with bombs. I was told by knowledgable locals that these were Pakistan Air Force fighter-bombers of Chinese design bound for sorties into Afghanistan - sorties in aid of the Taliban, that is. They were off to bomb the bases of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Taliban's last remaining foe who still holds out stubbornly in the Panshir mountains.
Naturally, neither Pakistan nor Peshawar is engaged officially in a war with anyone - not in Afghanistan, not in Kashmir. That, too, is an important part of the entrepot syndrome. Large chunks of the visible reality are not there officially. The air fairly groans with the weight of open secrets, even of the more commonor-garden variety, pertaining, say, to the smuggling of guns or narcotics, which are visible everywhere in Peshawar (more so than alcohol, which is illegal for all Muslims). Gun shops proliferate in the city's endless crumbling bazaars, competing with Astrakhan hat shops, shalwar-kameez tailors, lapis lazuli dealers, spice sellers and open-air butchers. On the outskirts, a whole neighbourhood is given over to the famous armaments souk, offering anything from rocket-propelled grenades to homemade Uzis to Kalashnikovs for rent at f tO a day. You can try them out on the mud walls behind the shop stalls.
Similarly, the drugs trade burgeons daily because of the Aghan civil war's need for financing. Cheap heroin, cut with potent and often lethal additives such as silverpolish powder, sells for pennies at street corners. (Hard to get the good stuff, say officials, as it is all exported.) Peshawar has become a city full of addicts. Some are pasty-faced foreigners in the last outpost of the hippie trail, hair mostly cropped to guard against lice but often still sporting the old rope shoulder-bags. They're often incongruously dressed in white. In contrast, the local addicts are dirt-smeared, desperate, diseased. Like so much of the city's infrastructure, they seem to be crumbling into dust, squatting in rags along the grassy disused railway lines. And there is in Peshawar, as in all these entrepots, a highly intelligent and charming chief of police, who presides with great humour over this pageant, always exceedingly helpful, always ready to have a chat. Every time he smiles and raises his eyebrows in a gesture of helplessness, he invites you, in effect, to share complicity in the charade of open secrets.
But even if one ignores the warplanes and gun shops, one could be forgiven for thinking that Peshawar is in a state of near-war just by the number of legally armed men on its dust-choked streets. One local newspaper estimated that the Pakistani government runs ten different official police and militia forces in the North-West Frontier zone. Admittedly, the area was always an armed camp, the nearby Khyber Pass being the conduit for every variety of nefarious cross-border activity down the centuries. That a large number of the soldiers, often heavily bewhiskered, still wear zesty tribal smocks crossed with bandoliers and topped by fancy turbans just goes to emphasise that warfare was ever the region's cheerful stock-in-trade.
Before the British, the Sikhs fought incessantly with the fierce local tribes. During the later Raj, even in the relatively peaceful interwar decades, the Khyber area was the only place that a British soldier knew he would see real action in India. Even today, in the tribal areas just beyond the city perimeter, government law formally gives way to tribal law. Everybody is armed, and one gets used to the sound of automatic gunfire wafting from there over the city at night - or one tries to. I slept badly. It's usually just a wedding, I was told. They fire into the air. Yes, but the local papers also told tales daily of whole families who had been slaughtered by intruders in their compound.
But all this is integral to the bright, melancholy and lethal allure of the entrepot. Charm is central to the ethos. A place like Brest Litovsk, for example, would never qualify. There has to be a whiff of ancien-regime elegance still in the environment, however decrepit, both in the architecture and in people's manners. That way the frequent outbreaks of barbarism can seem part of the texture, part of the exoticism, traditional even, hence more palatable to us outsiders. One local girl who dared make friends with a Feringhee (non-Muslim foreigner) a couple of years ago was found beheaded in her bedroom cupboard. That can easily be viewed as a cruel but time-honoured native custom. Similarly, the mouldering decay of the splendidly curlicued local architecture can seem organic to the place. In fact, it's caused chiefly by the vile diesel exhaust everywhere, especially from the luridly coloured, two-stroke, motorised rickshaws that infest the city like hornets.
Peshawar unfolds in a chaotic continuum: the warrens of old bazaars set into ancient wood buildings, the awful concrete sprawls, the mud-brick native areas and the tree-lined colonial suburbs. I stayed with friends in the latter area. Not in the old British cantonment but nearby, in University Town, which houses in white villas behind high walls NGOs, drug barons and the American Club, It was on a balmy night walking home from the club that my partner and I suddenly heard three loud shots not 30 yards from us, and a clicking in the leaves above. We froze, ducked slightly and waited. He's a veteran of the place. He said nothing, so neither did 1. Nothing more happened and we walked on homewards. We didn't mention it subsequently to anyone and I slept badly as usual.
Not two days later we were in the club bar, when the earthquake struck, and it happened at a bad time. The club won't admit Muslims of any nationality. As it happens, I'm American and Muslim-born in Turkey. I had to commit an embarrassing public apostasy in front of the surly doormen who, at first, had stubbornly refused me entry. In the Taliban-choked atmosphere of the area, that kind of thing can get around. I was already jittery when, some minutes later, the building hummed, then shook. Only for ten seconds or so but enough to drive us all out manically laughing into the night air.
Perhaps the native staff detected an element of divine retribution, for they were not amused. Or perhaps it was my imagination. That, too, is central to the entrepot experience. The local personnel, however ion _serving and apparently loyal, remain impenetrable in that Somerset Maughamish way. Many may indeed be spies for the government, as they certainly are in local hotels. But then one of the Americans drinking at the club was setting.up a cellphone network for the Afghan government. This at a time when the US placed an embargo on the Taliban and in a business venture that could never recoup the $10 million investment. How would the Afghans pay - with opium? So who was he working for?
In the entrepot, nothing is what it seems, nothing is quite real, until bullets and bombs impose the reality check. In the inbetween time, fantasy can blossom hysterically. On my last day, 1 went to Islamabad and stayed with a well-heeled family not far from the foreign embassies. Inside the house, I flirted racily with their tribal servant-girl, an extraordinary-looking creature with flame-coloured eyes. As she watched me from a window departing for the airport, a series of loud explosions came from a nearby building. Somebody had just fired mortar bombs at the American embassy.
16 ago 2007 [http://www.myspace.com/richardstanley13]
Dark out there. So dark.
Been raining so long I can't imagine it any other way.
And I'm alone at this keyboard and although I'd rather be asleep or getting laid or catching the sun some place I got no choice because there are things I have to tell you that can't wait. Things that concern our survival as a species in the long term and my survival in the here and now as a living, breathing blog writing film director with a thriving MySpace site and a bunch of irons in the production fire.
I knew this period would be a transient one and all the signs seem to indicate my tenure in this drowning city is drawing to an end at which point these postings will grow less frequent. I warned at the top there was an agenda at work here. A madness to my method. When I made my first posting a couple of months ago there were only a handful of you. I salute those who have been here long enough to recall the manifesto I ran at the beginning and welcome all who have found this site since. The virtual tribe now numbers more than six hundred souls, six hundred j-pegs in the shadow theatre in-box. Chickenfeed compared to the ten thousand plus views recorded for my last blogs. Enough to get myself corporate sponsorship were I that way inclined which I ain't. Ten thousand, silent hits. All but invisible. Could be anyone. Random google searches. Journalists looking for copy. Fans looking for gossip. Entertainment lawyers lookin' for action. Your mother. My mother. Ex-girlfriends. What have you. Except I have Spyware and various resources at my disposal such as Lauri Löytökoski in Finland who has been recording similar unidentified cyber traffic on the unofficial site
BETWEEN DEATH AND THE DEVIL@ www.everythingisundercontrol.org/nagtloper
and we know darn well what audience we're playing to. While much of the banter over the last weeks has been perfectly light hearted I dropped odd details into the blogs for reasons that may have seemed unclear at the time. This was because I have been aware there were bigger fish than you might imagine cruising these cyber-shallows. I now intend to introduce you to our nameless guests and make this blog's agenda clear.
Friends, fellow surfers, assembled skins of the virtual tribe I would like you to meet the hidden rulers of your world or at least their emissaries:-
And what does that stand for, you ask?
mil is for military, oh my brothers and whs is Washington Headquarters Services.
"WHS provides consolidated administrative and operational support to
several Defense Agencies, DoD Field Activities, the headquarters and various elements of the military departments, the White House, and to some degree Congress." - From Wikipedia
In case you doubt me ( which is only natural ) the IP address for wakko.whs.mil is 220.127.116.11.
OrgName: The Pentagon
Address: OPN-BM, Pentagon
Address: Rm BE884
Please step into the light, gentlemen ! Don't be shy.
Forgive the Spyware but some things are best dealt with in the open. I know we're all supposed to be on the same side but in this war you can never be too sure and if I have to stand alone against you then do not expect me to do so in silence. Not unless you do the honorable thing, unblock my credit cards and pay me off at which point I'll happily co-operate in any and all investigations, sign the official secrets act and never say another blessed word about it. Until then I have a reputation and a livelihood to defend.
Brothers and sisters, fellow Americans, tax payers one and all, meet your 'elected' government. The Pentagon, the White House and 'to some degree' Congress…
Not to mention their friends:-
ns.nic.ddn.mil / Defense Information Systems Agency
aos.arl.army.mil / U.S. Army Research Lab
My, my ! What a bunch! Step forward and take a bow !
The walking dude sends the ancient sign of greeting and welcomes you to his campfire.
Now you might be telling yourself I'm a natural paranoid making mountains out of molehills, that a janitor or bored public servant was probably just foolin' around on an in-house terminal but my techno-savvy cohort, Lauri records 143 Page views and 1483 Hits on a single file alone which seems like an awful lot of foolin' to me.
Like it or not there's no way of avoiding the fact that Lauri and myself along with most of the other Shadow Theatre Irregulars and God knows how many others on this site are under surveillance from the powers that be. Why ? Because although I may be a film maker and a fantasist it seems I may have gotten one or two things right along the way. Of course the problem with messengers is they tend to get shot which is why I'm posting this screed and having examined all the angles I believe I'm within my rights.
Since I've obviously got your attention I thought I'd tell you a story. It's an old story and you've probably heard it before but to set the record straight I will try to tell you about my role in 'World War Three' – not my choice of words but that's how the spook phrased it when he debriefed myself and Ms.Moor at Grosvenor Square a few days after 9/11. He went by the name of 'James'.
We were referred to him directly by CIA, Langley and did our best to co-operate under the circumstances. Most of what I reproduce has been printed elsewhere as sleeve notes for Subversive Cinema's 'DUST DEVIL' disc ( although the garbled text managed to get pretty much every Afghan name back to front and sideways ) This statement is essentially a fuller, amended version merged with material culled from recent private mails. I chose to make the content of those mails available to save the intelligence community the effort of rummaging through the in-box's and to hopefully preserve my friends privacy, something that matters a lot to dodgy, liberal, long haired types like myself at the end of the day.
For those who know this already, you can tune out now as I doubt you will gather anything new from this hoary yarn, give or take a few trivial corrections. For the rest here is the full existing account of how I got myself into this mess.
I hope you're sitting comfortably…
GONNA TRY FOR THE KINGDOM IF I CAN – AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PENTAGON
I have the dark hair and eyes of my native American great grandmother whose partner was a plantation overseer in Trinidad, dark enough to feel a natural antipathy for the blue-eyed Afrikaners. The rest of me is Anglo-Welsh colonial stock, transplanted to the southernmost tip of Africa where I was born and raised. There was a military tradition in the family and after cadet school where I excelled in the school shooting team I might have expected to become an officer. Only I hated everything the South African army stood for.
The Afrikaners justified apartheid by telling themselves they were fighting Godless communism. It was the time of the Angolan bush war and everyone knew there were Russian T-62 tanks and Cuban troops waiting just across the border, ready to roll on Pretoria at any time. One more proxy war between capitalism and communism fought at a sufficient distance to preserve a couple of generations from the fire Stateside . Certainly none of my family wanted to admit they were basically killing black people for a living. For me there were only two alternatives. Stay and serve time as a deserter or get the hell out of Dodge.
I knew I didn't belong in Africa but in some other place which matched my hair and eyes, some homeland I'd never seen.
Staying just one jump in front of the military police and a none too promising career in the stockade I high tailed it across the border to Namibia ( formerly the German colony of South West Africa ) and hence to Frankfurt, the Netherlands and finally London where I joined the Committee on South African War Reservists ( COSAWR ) and held a torch outside the embassy in Trafalgar Square but my relatives shrugged it off, preferring to believe I was too chickenshit to face up to the communist threat than to accept my opinions as a genuine challenge to their warped morality. So I went to Afghanistan instead.
We first entered the country as part of a UN food convoy, distributing flour to the border area east of Jallalabad. Frustrated by the rigid protocols which forced us to stick to a carefully defined route I resolved to return the only way I could, by embedding myself with one of the burgeoning fundamentalist parties along with two fellow westerners, cameraman Mr. Horn and former Wall Street banker Carlos Mavroleon .
Carlos was the son of a Greek shipping tycoon with demons of his own to grapple with. Islam offered him a way out of his various addictions but I guess changing his name to Kari Mullah and taking up arms against the Soviets was hardly what his parents had in mind when they put him through Harvard. By the time we met in '89 they had more or less disinherited him and he was down and out in London, doing any odd job he could find to save up enough money to return to the jihad. In fact he was driving a truck on a video shoot when we first got talking, bitching about the gears being as tricky as the stickshift on a BTR 60, a lightweight Soviet troop transporter used in the invasion of Afghanistan.
In fact you can still see us debating our options now but you'll have to look carefully.
We're in the background of a video for 'NOIR DESIR' that for some reason played for years on the Paris Metro. I'm sitting in a boat just off the Norfolk coast somewhere in the late eighties beside the huddled outline of Paul Trijbits who would later become the head of the Film council and for a while the 'most powerful man in the British film industry', watching lead singer, Bernard Cantat ( later jailed for the murder of his girlfriend Marie Trintignant ) doing his thing in the vessel ahead. Carlos is standing beside us, oar in hand like some sort of Volga boatsman, immediately identifiable by his Afghan pachul and threadbare Italian army jacket, all three of us staring into the mist, headed some place else.
The second Nephilim video 'Blue Water' hadn't turned out the way we wished, largely because of of bad luck in running into one of the worst storms in British history making the resulting cut into something of a salvage job. It was a tough old winter, I had just been ditched by my first girlfriend and those earliest wounds are always the deepest. Either way I was in a devil may care mood and offered to pay Carlos's expenses if he could get me across the border into Afghanistan.
With Carlos's aid we threw in our lot with the Hezb-i-Islam under General Younis Khalis but the war and the ideologies that motivated it held little interest or attraction for me other than having effectively left the country culturally isolated, cut off from the mainstream of the twentieth century. Precisely the conditions I was looking for…
I had studied anthropology at College and knew that the Native Americans and the Inuit were related to the tribal people and horse cultures of northern and central Asia, people like the Yakut, the Evenki, the Tungus and the Goldi who still cling to their shamanic beliefs, the old religion that dates back to Cro-Magnon man, to the ice age and the cave paintings of Lascaux and Troisfrere. The Hopis speak of their ancestors entering America via a back door now blocked by ice, and if those tribal people were moving north across the roof of the world then it figures they were probably spreading south as well, into the mountain locked vastness of the Karakorums, Himalayas and Hindu Kush where time moves at a very different rate and the distant past is still a recent memory. While still a bone of academic contention it does not seem unlikely to me that the lost tribes of Kafiristan may represent the remnants of that first migration (3rd - 2nd millennium B.C. ) of pagan Indo-European people from south Russia and Central Asia.
In South Africa the word 'kaffir' was a racist insult, a fighting word, the word the slavers had used for their heathen cargo. But Kaffiristan was the land of the pagan, of the unbeliever, the very last to be converted to anything. Sir George Scott Robertson accurately states that 'civilization fell asleep centuries ago in Kafiristan'.
Quintus Rufus makes mention of them in A.D. 50 and Arrian in approximately A.D. 100 while Herodotus describes similar people apparently living in Eithiopia ! There is definite evidence of bloody confrontations with Tamerlane ( May A.D.1398 ) and the Moghul Emperoer, Babur. ( A.D. 1507 )
Before 1910 the people of the Hindu Kush worshiped a supreme being IMRA ( whose prophet was MONI ), a fertility Goddess DIZANI ( or DIZNI which has a certain ironic ring to it ), a rain God SUTERAN and a devil/ trickster ( also the God of money ! ) BA- GISHT identifiable by his missing thumbs or forefingers. Even now there are villages where the Wahabi's fear to tread and where some perform an ancient ecstatic dance ( akin to Haitian 'Voodoo' ) known as the Attani Meli kaishana or 'The Dance of the Animals' in which the hunters become possessed by the 'spirits of the animals they hunt', an ecstatic rite also practiced in remote corners of Chitral.
Of course dogs are unclean in Islam ( if one licks your hand you have to wash before being allowed to pray ) so the accusation that the neighboring tribe are 'dogs' or 'wolves wearing human skin'has to be taken with a certain pinch of salt, yet stories persist.
( A northern alliance commander recently on trial in London for war crimes was accused amongst other things of feeding his prisoners to a 'human dog' he apparently kept in a pit for this very purpose ! ) There are no jails or mental hospitals in the mountains and it is possible some villages have become human garbage bins, populated by social outcasts and murderous brigands but underneath it all beats another, deeper rhythm, one I recognized.
In Europe the old ways have been banished for centuries but in Kaffiristan the tradition survived until 1910 when Abdur Rahman brought Islam to the Hindu Kush and forcibly converted its people by the sword. Barely a lifetime ago in a country where news travels slowly and there are still white spots on the maps which simply read 'relief data incomplete'. Close one eye and the men become braves, the patouks become ponchos, the mud walled villages are revealed as pueblos and those dark haired children that ran, jibing at the hooves of our horses seem awfully familiar.
In point of fact the Afghans made for poor Muslims. I never saw a woman wearing a veil in the high villages and their faces were decorated with henna and golden jewelry that bore the same strange patterns such as surviving roof beams scavenged from the earlier temples and some of the horsehead marker stones in the graveyards, literally the spirit horses that carry the dead on their journey to the underworld.
I thought the people of the high mountains were the last survivors of a culture literally freeze dried from an earlier epoch and would have given my life to defend them but my companion, Mr.Horn (who came closer to death than I on that journey ) quietly disagreed. For him they were people of the future, a race that would endure to repopulate the earth once our civilization has gone the way of all histories and our technologies are one with the dust.
And their woman were beautiful and their men were strong and wore strange flowers plaited into their long floppy hair as they danced, jumping one by one over the sacred fire...
If I could get it down to one image, my war in thumbnail, it was that Hind helicopter gunship carved on a cave wall as a warning to future generations in Am-La, the valley of light. Beside it was the outline of the aeroplane that had crashed some years before in the mountains above Dudruk. Finding no survivors the locals had cut up the wreck and turned it into something useful, raw material for plough blades and irrigation pipes. A few days later the 'choppers had come and strange men had disembarked speaking a language no-one could understand, the first outsiders to enter the valley since the nineteen forties when their previous visitor had been a chinese trader who had walked in through the Wakhan corridor, dragging his bad tempered pack animals behind him. ( I was shown a coin minted in the time of Pu-Yi, the wartime puppet emperor )
When the Spetsnaz found the remains of their downed Mig they rounded up the locals, brandishing guns and shouting angry incomprehensible words. Before leaving they blew up most of Dudruk and shot all the men they could find between fifteen and fifty as an example to the others. Those who were left had rebuilt their lives and repaired the shattered walls of their homes accordingly and when they were done they carved a picture of the craft into the rock so that it might last ten thousand years, so that all could see it and know to fear it if it came again. It might as well have been a flying saucer, like something Erich von Daniken would've creamed himself over...
Two years ago an American Special Ops unit got mislaid in the same area. Before sending in the choppers to pick 'em up the yanks decided to bomb the surrounding villages first, a routine 'softening up' exercise to make certain the rescue party met with no resistance. Those valleys were one of the few earthly paradises I have been privileged to enter and had I still been there now I don't doubt I would have fired on those boys as readily as I would have fired on the Russians in the eighties. As with most modern warfare you never really get to see the faces of the people you're fighting. We were bombed and strafed often enough but the only Russians I got to see up close were dead ones. Two kids who probably never even knew what country they were in. Held hostage and then shot after being captured near Abdul Kheil their bodies were heaved into a fox hole and fed to the dogs. What was left of them was nothing like human. I felt neither disgust, nor pity. Instead I went and found a shadow to sit in and cracked open a few more walnuts with my AK's banana clip. It was hot in the sun and I dozed off and had an absurd dream about flat hunting in London.
We were all on the same side back then. America had armed the Afghans willy-nilly, fighting the cold war by proxy and inevitably backed the most right wing, fundamentalist elements, the same forces supported by the Saudis and the young Sheik, Osama bin Laden who was still cutting roads. Let's get this clear at least. I am not now nor have I ever been a Muslim any more than I am a Christian or a communist and have no sympathy for the Wahibi's who in my eyes are symptomatic of the same murderous, intolerance as the fanatics who put the kafir priests to the sword in 1910 or threw the last of the Cathars onto the bonfire after the fall of Montsegur in 1244. I make sci-fi horror movies. Hanging videotapes from trees just never appealed. The Wahabi's were religious fanatics and foreigners, Arabs who were paid for their services, unlike the Afghans who had no choice but to fight. For their sins the Wahabi's felt much the same way about me and would have killed me on sight had they known I was a westerner but in times of chaos your enemies enemy is oft-times your friend and for the while an uneasy truce existed.
I think the first contact I had with Sheik Osama and the group that were to become the rump of the nebulous movement known to you as 'Al Qaeda' was at a hastily convened sitting of the ad-hoc guerilla government (or 'shura') in Chiga Serai, a tiny trading town on the Kunar river that was briefly declared the capital of free Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 in the vain hope of gaining some form of recognition from the outside world. The kind of town where you could buy boiled sweets, chick peas, bullets, flour, heroin, gasoline, hashish or plastique all under one roof. What I'd call 'one stop shopping'.
We were the only westerners present and I made the mistake of approaching the Wahabi's to see if they had fresh batteries for my Sony walkman.
My sympathies were always with the tribal people who mistrusted the Arabs just as they mistrusted all outside forces that sought to meddle in their ways. While I made firm friends with the Afghans, Carlos, seemingly an old hand belonged to neither one side or another. Possessed of the missionary zeal of a recent convert he seemed fearful of the pagan ways that drew me from the council of white bearded mullahs and back to the high pastures at every turn. He was confused by how I could choose to film the sunset or sit, watching the moon rise and listen to the sound of the river rather than retreat into the mosque at dawn and dusk to face the bare mud wall that represented the shortest cut to Meccah. Like the Americans and the Russians before them the Wahabi's instinctively feared the night, retreating into their floodlit compounds with the coming of the dark.
On one of my last attempts to penetrate the mountainous heartland of the country, working from an aerial navigation chart provided by the U.S Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace Center ( St Louis AFS, Missouri 63118. ATTN PP. ) which I had corrected by hand, making close to a thousand tiny amendments we found ourselves caught outside as the shadows lengthened in the headwaters of the Pech valley and talk turned again to the unseen creatures of the high mountains and the nameless tribes that lived beyond. The night walkers and shapeshifters that one of my recent correspondents rightly linked to the pishacas, rakshasas, and vetalas of Hindu mythology, the children of a non-Aryan sage and a daughter of Daksha who had allegedly possessed the head or horns of a goat. My Afghan friend now long lost to me, jocular, ginger bearded Nawab told me the high mountains were full of them although he had never seen their faces clearly as they always turned away . Such things, he said would never be seen clearly by mortals 'til the day of judgement. Carlos usually fell silent at times like this, refusing to translate any details that rested uneasily with his faith but for once he chimed in to explain that while these beings might well be creations of Allah they were evil and capricious like the Djinn and not to be associated with.
Then his eyes fell to the image of the horned man on the copper medallion at my throat and while I insisted it was in no way intended as a 'representation of God' Carlos sullenly maintained it was nonetheless a part of the 'malthusian forces of darkness from which Islam sought to rescue Afghanistan' and as such an anathema to him.
Like I said, war makes for strange bed fellows.
At the time myself and Mr.Horn began to think Carlos was a little crazy, potentially dangerous even in the way he seemed hell bent in drawing us again and again into the very thick of the mayhem but like Conrad's 'LORD JIM' he had something to prove that no-one but himself could ever fully understand. He averted his eyes from the heathen music and totems that confronted him and frowned on my efforts to introduce the tribal people to spaghetti westerns and the joys of early Ennio Morricone whose crooning, screaming vocals and galloping rhythms mirrored their own strange, keening songs. Sensing his disapproval I often declined the smouldering joints passed my way although it was the finest Hashish known to man and to my lasting regret I never tasted the ever-present opium or knew the dreams that came with it. But I enjoyed the sight of the poppy fields and the vividness of their colors nonetheless. The incursion of the poppy into the Hindu Kush is a relatively recent deal of course, taking the place of the vineyards that were stamped out when Islam came in 1910 and put an end to the making of wine and the songs and ways that went with it.
It was only years later that I learned from a man named Aiden Hartley who had known Carlos in Mogadishu that our friend had once had a heavy habit of his own and radical Islam was what he got instead of rehab. He was looking for something that would make sense of his jumbled life and the last thing he needed was a pagan like myself challenging the very faith that gave him refuge.
And although at times he was a pain in the neck, so much so that I felt like shooting him myself on at least one occasion,.at least he had faith and aspired towards what he felt could be a better world even if he couldn't help falling time and again below those aspirations. And as Goethe says: " He who strives constantly upwards, him can we save..."
Above : Carlos Mavroleon Below: Forward position at Islam -Dara
For a while we were united in our cause and I did what little I could to help. Having some prior knowledge of automatic weapons I was able to help the locals recalibrate their gun sites and taught them enough rudimentary English to be able to write their names on their rifle straps to avoid potential squabbling. My map played a central part in the local commander's planning.
above: Unloading ammunition at Islam Dara. ( stills courtesy of Immo Horn 1989 )
Hazrat Ali was the main man in Am-La, a beaming bear of a man who invited us into his house with open arms but for a native he seemed singularly poorly informed when it came to the topography his crew commanded. Years later he was the put in charge of the Allied assault on Tora Bora and it came as no surprise uncle Osama slipped through the net.
The last I saw of Hazrat Ali was in 'TIME' magazine, older now and wearing the same kinda look as the one worn by Murray Boyd, the location manager on 'ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU' when he said "No worries, mate ! Sea's gonna be flat as a millpond" the day before the hurricane blew in. But I digress…
The UN refused to recognize the guerrilla government, the shura, unless it was established in one of the existing provincial capitals. Until then food aid continued to go to the Communist regime, now crumbling as the Soviet Union withdrew support.
Thus it was that with the backing of the free world and the tacit support of America and the UN, we eventually swept down on Jallalabad, starting the battle that lead to the installation of the Taliban. For the record the attack was launched to the soundtrack of 'NAVAJO JOE'. Having experimented with Carl Orff and Jimi Hendrix it turned out that Ennio Morricone was the only one that really cut across the cultural barriers.
Of course it was a disaster.
The initial assault on Jallallabad was the single biggest guerilla defeat of the ten year war and the mujaheddin lost over a thousand men a day in the carnage but time is of the essence and there is no point lingering over the details now.
My final journal entry on the morning of the battle reads: " Let's do this all again from the top some day. Let's do it again when when we're 103 and the birds bring us honey and flowers for tea..."
After that the pages are blank.
siege of jallallabad 1989 - stills by Immo Horn
We were attached to a BM-12 missile crew that were supposed to take out the runway before the Mig's could make it into the air. My fault perhaps for making such a big deal out of the contours that enabled us to situate the rocket crews in natural gulleys and wash outs in the surrounding hills. Unfortunately we were well within range of a communist garrison on an overlooking hill that was supposed to have been taken out by another group the night before but Hazrat Ali was away in Pakistan at the time looking for a wife for his younger brother Sunak and the correct order didn't get passed down.
Leaving us to be massacred...
The last I saw of Carlos was when he went to pray just before dawn.
The moment we opened fire we gave away our position and were pounded into submission by incoming .
It was pretty much over by the end of day one.
I had my John Woo moment at sunset. We were working our way down a gulley. Our target was the nearest river but when we came around the corner to we saw all the grass was on fire and there was no way to go forward but going back was inconcievable. No one said a word. We just looked at each other and then, hard as it is to believe, my brothers, I raised my rifle and ran screaming through the flames towards the enemy lines and the incoming fire. It was so hot I couldn't even see where I was going. We never did make it to the river but we didn't die either so I suppose it's no big deal or anything. But we should have died. The missile that hit us just after dark should have done the trick in any sane world. I was picked up and blown through the air and for a while everything was silent and blinding white. Like the movie had slowed right down to a stop. Then the light broke up into sparks, moving so slowly I could see every one of them, every tiny white hot splinter of shrapnel in perfect focus. Some of those sparks went right through Mr.Horn's body without severing any major arteries and miraculously cut the nerves to his legs so that he was spared the worst of the pain. They fanned out past me into the gathering night and as the dark returned I hit the ground and normal sound and motion returned.
I got up and let go of my backpack because I simply couldn't hold on to it and Mr. Horn and the Kalashnikov all at the same time. He's a big lad, Mr.Horn. All of seven feet, the descendant of a lost race of German giants which is why he presented such an easy target.
I managed to half drag, half carry him back across the field of fire to the advance position. Everything was coming apart, the writing clearly on the wall and requisitioning a donkey I decided to head for home, striking out across the minefields towards the distant mountains where we belonged.
I used to catch snakes for pocket money when I was a kid. The local venom man milked them for serum before turning them free. Mostly boomslang and puff adders but you could get five bucks for a decent cobra which was a fortune in those days. Before leaving Peshawar I'd done a half assed course on mine recognition but on the ground I relied on the same instincts I had used to avoid getting bitten as a kid. Doubtless a form of dellusion but God knows how many times I paused in mid stride or changed course just in time, somehow always knowing the boobytaps were there just the same as the way you stop, catch your breath and look for the snake, knowing it's there a beat before you consciously see it. Total horseshit perhaps but it was enough to keep me moving and my relaxed, loping gait meant I never fell or twisted my ankle although at times the going was rough and when the way was dark it was my dark adjusted therian eyes that gave me enough of an edge to stay in the land of the living or at least within striking distance of it's borders.
In danger all that counts is moving forward.
I can't remember who said that. Nietchsche or Conan the Barbarian.
All I know is we walked a while. And then we walked again.
A former associate of mine, Sonja Nasery Cole ( otherwise known as the 'Stinger' girl ) likes to argue that she was ultimately responsible for persuading Reagan to arm the resistance with heat seeking rockets but by the final stages of the war the communists had learned to drop parachute flares to throw the American ground to air missiles off their scent. They were so bright they burned out your visual purple so you couldn't see the stars, only those incandescent points of light that descended so slowly it was as if the whole world were rising to meet them. It was perhaps the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I could feel the changing air pressure in my diaphragm and the bass of the heavy artillery rose through the soles of my feet like the thunder of some tremendous party, the night cut with the flicker and strobe of incoming fire, tracers weaving cat's cradles in my retinas, incendiaries rising in great golden balls of living plasma, falling and fading in slow cooling sparks, into nothing. And all the while the city burned behind us, a ruddy glow beyond the hills, a thickening plume that seemed to rise forever to fill a third part of the heavens.
Allow me that Biblical reference, my brethren, for Biblical it was. The sight of thousands fleeing their homes, dragging their families and all they owned on the backs of mules and camels, fleeing aimlessly into the dark like Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus lighting out for Egypt land. We made it as far as a Red Crescent field hospital, a huddle of tents strewn amidst the boulders at the mouth of a river known as Islam Dara.
There were no doctors or surgeons, only wounded people, a few boxes of analgesics and enough morphine to stop the pain which is sometimes enough even if you can't always save people. I have College level physiology and could help the overworked Pakistani medical student who was trying to stay on top of the situation with the externals, burns, amputations, etc but there was no realistic hope for the internals, not in a place like that.
The only chance I had of keeping Mr.Horn alive lay in somehow making it back through enemy lines and across the mountains to the border, the outside world and what remained of the 20th century. Despite the prominent symbols painted on the tents we endured an air strike on the field hospital before loading all those with a reasonable chance of survival into the remaining trucks and making a break for it. The enemy found our range almost immediately and our pathetic, slow moving convoy came under sustained fire.
I tried saying Hail Mary's and chanting every mantra I could recall but in the end when there was fire all around us I put my dog tags and that copper medallion I am still wearing now in my mouth and bit down, hoping someone might identify me by them and it was my own foolish, simple pagan faith that came to my rescue and gave me the strength to keep going, the one thing in my life I can be justly proud of.
And the Djinn were merciful, my brothers and sent a storm to hide us from the Migs whose Doppler lookdown systems were no match for the dust cloud that swirled about us like great black wings. And we came as far as Am-La and I stopped to retrieve the surviving film stock cached before the battle before striking out for Chiga Serai and the free territories. The spring rains had begun, the pass Sheik Osama and his Arabs had cut through the Kashkund mountains turned to mud and for a long, terrible while I found myself trapped in a dank, Afghan remake of 'THE WAGES OF FEAR' and if you've seen that movie you'll know how bad it sucked to be there with those trucks filled with spent ammunition and dying people stripping gears, running out of gas and sliding backwards into the deepening sludge, engines churning helplessly all day and night, every day while the rest of us tried to wedge anything we had beneath the straining wheels for traction.
We lost one of the trucks over a cliff and buried the folk on board at sunrise.
The light seems sharper and clearer at that altitude and the colors of the grave digger's scarves stood out vividly against the snow. I remember I was listening to Wagner, Overture to 'Tristan and Isolde' when my Walkman finally gave up the ghost..
Mr.Horn's legs had started to rot and there were literally vultures following us, hopping from rock to rock which is never a good thing. Then the sun faded behind the clouds and the rain set in…
We thought if we could just make it to the top of the mountains we'd be alright, even if we had to do it on our own, on foot but when we finally made it to the summit the tribal militia who controlled the border were less than happy to see us. We had lost our friends and supporters in the guerilla party just as I had lost my passport and I.D with our discarded backpacks. There had been a party of bullets going on around us at the time and if I had paused even for a split second to retrieve my documents we would have been beef jerky. Instead we were placed under de facto arrest at the border and held in a mud walled garrison while the rain hammered down, Mr.Horn slipped steadily into a coma and the company medic argued with the stern faced men who held us, arguing for our lives I realized later. At one point I was marched out into the courtyard. At first I thought I was being taken for a piss call but then I saw my escort were picking up their guns. And again the nameless medic intervened on our behalf, arguing with the local commander in a dialect I couldn't hope to comprehend.
We were bundled into the back of another truck and by the next afternoon the sun had come out and we had made it all the way back across the tribal territories to the Red Cross Hospital in Peshawar. Unfortunately the Swiss doctors in charge were already overloaded with casualties from the Jallallabad action and refused to admit Mr.Horn, accusing us of being mercenaries. In the end the Afghan surgeons at the red Crescent hospital cleaned his wounds and removed the pieces of shrapnel still lodged within him. While they did the cutting I wandered down the dusty trunk road and caught sight of a KFC outlet where I ordered a Coke and rejoined the West.
Immo Horn with Dr. Nasir who saved his legs
Mr Horn still has those pieces of shrapnel on display, the closest thing to a medal you can expect in our line of work. That shambollic hospital was like something from'GONE WITH THE WIND', the ranks of the maimed and the burned flowing out across the surrounding fields, on stretchers, cots or blankets, makeshift tents improvised from sodden patouks. It was here that Trix Worrel, the writer of 'FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY' and the television sit-com 'DESMOND'S' finally caught up with me.
He had been tasked by Paul Trijbits to bring me back to London so that they could close the deal on 'HARDWARE'.
At first I was loathe to abandon the country that become an adopted homeland.
The sight of burned or limbless children tends to stir strange emotions in the hearts of even the worst of us, even heathens like myself. And there was unfinished business.
Carlos was still missing, presumed dead and it now transpired that he had been less than straightforward in his initial dealings, having helped himself to a large sum of money from a West London property magnate before leaving town, apparently with the intention of closing one of those illicit transactions that Frontier Province is famous for.
Now Carlos was gone, the deal that none of the rest of us even knew existed had fallen through and the big cheese in Fulham wanted his money back.
There was another small catch. Although miraculously our backpacks were later retrieved from the battlefield and returned by the Hezb who must have carried them clear over the Kashkund mountains along with my maps, notebooks and several remaining cans of film, the one thing that conspicuously failed to turn up with them was my passport which at the time I assumed to have been filched by my otherwise impeccably honest cadres. And getting back to River City without ID proved to be a bit of a head scratcher.
In the end it was my ex-girlfriend, Kate, who managed to get through to a line in the Hezbi-Islami party political office in University Town and persuaded me to give up my plans to return to the mountains with a shipment of Polio and Smallpox vaccine from one of the medical charities. It was at the time of The Satanic Verses. There was a fatwah on Salman Rushdie's head and the British consulate in Peshawar had been just been firebombed. I managed to get Mr.Horn flown out from Peshawar along with the surviving exposed stock before making my way overland to Islamabad to find diplomatic representation. I was arrested by Pakistani police the moment I arrived in the capital and only survived by repeating the phrase 'Call my consul' until someone finally did.
A kind man named vice-consul Pete Roffey got me out of the slammer and helped me trade what I knew about the massacre in Ningrahar province for a fresh passport. That was the first time I was ever debriefed by western intelligence and I told them all I knew, which was quite a lot even though I didn't realize it at the time.
I made it to Karachi, then Abu Dabi, then Istanbul and hence to London where Kate met me at Heathrow. It was raining and she looked pale and unhappy. She told me she didn't want to hear about it, not one word. We drove back to the flat in Kennington in silence and when I finally walked into my lounge I found there were people waiting for me there, adults, folk from a firm called 'Brigade Security'. Apparently their boss wanted his money, either that or they were going to feed me to the dogs. I recall one of my favourite L.P's playing on the stereo somewhere in the background.
In the end Paul Trijbits got Brigade Security off my back, paid the outstanding and saved my worthless ass and saved Mr.Horn too who lay all the while quietly going to pieces in a backroom because the NHS wouldn't admit him and his girlfriend didn't want to saddle herself with a gimp. Even a stoic one. In return I traded Paul the underlying rights to 'HARDWARE' and he let me live under a table in the production office while we got the beast up and running. For a while I was half convinced I was dead and living in some other world that barely resembled the one we had left behind. I can remember the sound of the one that got us, totally different from all the other incoming. The soundless white flash that followed like a freeze frame. Then slowly I realized I was out of luck and we were alive after all…
A hack from the Sunday Times later wrote that I had 'adopted late eighties grunge style clothing and hygiene' during the shoot but believe me I looked that way because I was sleeping on the floor and didn't have two beans at the time.
Somewhere in the middle of it Carlos turned up, still alive too and looking a little sheepish about it.
He said he'd been pinned down by enemy fire but the long and the short of it was he'd left us to die, getting back to the advance position only few days later when he arranged for the return of our personal effects. We shook hands on it but there was bad blood between us and he never looked me squarely in the eye again.
The journey had shaken Carlos and changed him somehow. While he might not have fitted in on Wall Street he knew in his heart he could never be an Afghan
He tempered his faith and traded on his talents as a fixer and veteran of the jihad to become a stringer for the networks, covering the fall of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia. Either which way it was the nineties and no-one cared about Afghanistan any more than they cared about low budget British sci-fi horror movies. We drifted apart, found new girlfriends, new obsessions, new wars but none of them seemed to satisfy. Carlos got Mogadishu and I lit out for Haiti and got with the Voodoo. I think we both caught a dose of Rwanda but received it on separate channels.
There were still times when I was convinced I had been killed by that rocket but those thoughts came less frequently now and by the summer of 1998 things were starting to look up for Carlos too. His family had decided not to disinherit him and he had finally gotten engaged to the love of his life. He had just gotten back from a trip to Kenya when al-Qaeda detonated a truck bomb outside the US embassy in downtown Nairobi. The blast killed 213 people. Many victims were vaporized or buried alive by rubble from the embassy or a nearby multistory office block that collapsed like a house of cards.
President Clinton ordered a punitive missile strike on Afghanistan and Sudan although the news took second billing to the first day of Monica Lewinsky's notorious testimony. Hilary Clinton looked the camera straight down the lens and told the world:"We're victims of a massive right wing conspiracy ! " People laughed but she was right.
Travelling under an assumed name Carlos retraced his steps to Peshawar and a few days later was arrested and detained by the ISI, the Pakistani military police while trying to cross the Afghan border. He was interrogated and on release succeeded in reaching a hospital in Miram Shah where he made contact with survivors of the missile strike on Sheik Osama's camp. Some believe the information he became party to at that time placed his life in danger. Following the attack the Sheik had posted a $20 000 bounty on the head of any American found in the area and Carlos was carrying a sat 'phone, which men like bin Laden knew would allow the CIA to get an accurate fix on the bearer whenever it was switched on.
Somehow Carlos made it back alive.
He booked into a room at Dean's Hotel in Peshawar, Room 304, a far swankier set of digs that he could have afforded back in the day. The first thing he did was call his fiancee.Then he had a shower and a hot meal before 'phoning a producer named Leslie Cockburn at CBS television. He had a story to tell. A big story. Miss Cockburn thought the situation through but by the time the network tried to call back approximately an hour later there was no-one left to answer. When hotel staff forced the door they found Carlos seated upright next to the telephone table, stone, cold dead, the butt of a Marlboro Red clenched between his lips, burned right down to its filter, the ash resting in his lap.
An empty syringe was apparently found near his body. No actual drugs. No makings. Just a needle. My passport was retrieved from his personal effects, having been removed from my bag back in 1989 after we abandoned our packs at the advance position. My stolen identity one last puzzling detail amidst the clutter of camera equipment, cigarette cartons, gaffer tape, five grand in cash, the sat 'phone and a bunch of happy snaps of the one time Wall street trader posing with his Afghan buddies, intended presumably as a way of befriending any militias he encountered along the road.
At the funeral in River City we sang 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord and readers quoted from Byron and Kipling. Later an official wake was held at the London stock exchange. Monitors above the urinals showed a continuous tickertape crawl of shifting figures while Ted Coppel from Nightline stood in front of another screen in an adjoining reception area, this one showing images culled from our documentary 'THE VOICE OF THE MOON' and we listened as he eulogized Carlos Mavroleon for his role in 'alerting the world to the situation in Afghanistan.' I sat near the back with Mr.Horn and his wife Deborah, taking advantage of the cocktail snacks and joking about how that would be the only time we'd get to hear someone from the networks say something nice about our unstransmitted footage. Mr. Horn said nothing. He had not only recovered the full use of his legs but in the interim had become an accomplished ballroom dancer. He remains a strong walker to this day. And of course the world was so f***ng unalerted it isn't funny.
The police claimed Carlos died from a self administered heroin overdose.
An autopsy was never conducted and those who tried to ask questions about the affair were gently but firmly warned away. We tried to keep the story alive for a while and sent out treatments and one pagers to every television station we could think of but it was the nineties, the economy was booming and no-one wanted to know about that sort of thing.
I still have copies of those treatments on file and even now they seem a little paranoid in their far fetched assumption that regardless of whether or not Carlos was assassinated he seemed to have been on the brink of blowing the whistle on the misappropriation of American and Saudi money to create a terrorist movement apparently hell bent on starting World War 3 , if not by training up militants to destabilize Kashmir then by some other means.
Nuclear war was just so passé in the nineties, not something that real adults felt the need to waste their time on. Some nutty right wing theorist in the States had apparently decided that history was dead and no longer an active process worth losing sleep over. For a while I thought about trying to write a book but my agent succeeded in talking me out of it.
By 2001 the millennium bug had proved a wash and it had all become just one more 'conspiracy theory' parked on the same shelf as David Icke and his reptilloids.
Producers would roll their eyes or sneak snide glances at their P.A's , shutters coming down before you even had time to spit out the A-word.
" Ohhh Richard ! You and your little Afghan, friends ! I mean it's just not the real world, is it ?" sighed an industry maven who shall remain nameless. "Look around you !"
She shook her head, gesturing at the brightly lit Soho bistro before us.
"This is the real world !"
But it wasn't…
By the time the first aeroplane hit the World Trade Center my mother was being treated for cancer and I was already feeling pretty brought down by the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massood some 24 hours previously. Massood who I never met on account of my alliance with the Hezb was a hero of the guerilla war and had stood as the lone opponent of the Taliban, a giant amongst men, the country's natural leader and only real hope.
The suicide camera crew had made their appointment through his press agent and although they were reportedly carrying British passports their identities were never publically established. Clearly someone knew that after years of being willfully ignored by the west Massood's role was about to become a crucial one so he was surgically removed by outside parties working to a detailed game plan. Apparently Massood recognized one of his killers as they entered the room, either that or he suffered a belated premonition, yelling for the guards to "Get them out of here ! Get these men out of here…" Accordingly the bomb ( which was hidden in the camera ) was detonated in the doorway before the phony journalists could enter the office, atomizing the press agent and mortally wounding the guerilla leader who is rumored to have lingered on for a day or so before giving up the struggle. Shortly afterwards Abdul Haq was betrayed and murdered and his brother Abdul Qadir gunned down on the streets of Kabul in what was dismissed in the press as a minor skirmish between rival opium barons. Either way the countries natural leaders were being rapidly expunged.
As those images of the burning towers flickered across the monitors in the silent transit lounge I endured a sense of helpless deja-vu, of being forced to watch something unfolding that could and should have been averted. That was the day I met Maggie Moor who like myself was on her way home from a film festival in Germany and had made it as far as Frankfurt before the sky fell in. Maggie occupies a special place in my heart because she was the first person to listen to me. It's an old story but by dint of her proximity at the time she was the first to hear it in a post-9/11 environment and it no longer sounded like gobbledy-gook. As they say in that 'America' song, "SANDMAN", all the planes had been grounded and unable to make it back to the States Miss Moor did the only thing she could. As soon as she got to a working telephone she told the operator to connect her to CIA headquarters at Langley who set up the meeting with 'James' at Grosvenor Square.
I told my story over again and 'James' took notes. He consistently misspelled the Afghan names, couldn't tell the difference between Engineer Machmud and Ahmed Shah Massood and seemed baffled by the plethora of rival clans and parties having merged them in his mind into a single indistinct foreign other. If the CIA said it was impossible to infiltrate Al Qaeda then who was I to say that some Greek guy whose name he couldn't pronounce had succeeded where the company had failed, relying instead on information retrieved at a distance by either the Pakistani ISI or satellites and drones whose lookdown systems are scarcely more sophisticated than those Russian Migs that failed to kill us back in '89.
Maggie was no beginner at this game. She supplements her occasional earnings as an actress by moonlighting as a process server for the oldest private investigation agency in Manhattan, a company run by an elderly Jewish gentleman and former MOSSAD agent who claims to have been amongst those responsible for tracking down the terrorists in the Black September affair. She could tell 'James' wasn't taking us seriously and refused to part with any maps, notebooks, charts or co-ordinates without the promise of protection or reward.
That was the last straw. Narrowing his piggy Ivy Leaguer eyes 'James' fixed her with a look as if she were so far beneath him she belonged not to a different gender but some other taxomic group entirely.
"How does that make you people feel, huh ? Trying to profit out of world war three ?" Shaking his head he pushed back his chair, drawing the line under my second debriefing.
World War Three.
He said it. Not me. But it had an nice old fashioned eighties ring about it.
We tried to tell ourselves that anything we knew was probably old news anyway and that there were responsible adults in charge now but by the time the Allies got 'round to bombing all those places 'James' couldn't pronounce the folk they were looking for had melted like ghosts into the mountains, into the sea of the people. The company insisted they were on the case and had the situation by the tail but when I saw they had put 'feared warlord' and 'northern alliance' commander Hazrat Ali in charge of the Tora Bora operation my heart sank further.
For a couple of weeks Afghanistan was all the rage and there was a brief run on our footage, mostly for stock shots to illustrate the prehistory of the war. We were the only human beings to have ever taken movie cameras into the Hindu Kush which held some small curiosity for the video generation who seemed surprised by the light and color.
I was tapped by Sonja, the 'stinger girl' to come up with a piece for a fund raising dinner thrown by the 'Afghan World Foundation', a dodgy charity headed by Hamid Karzai. She slyly hinted that she had friends in the Academy and if I co-operated they could get a belated nomination for our still untransmitted documentary.
I played along in the hope of getting myself embedded with US forces in Kabul.
There was a rumor Bush would be attending the bash in Beverly Hills and I became frightened they might try to force me to shake his hand. But the Iraq war was in the wind and just like that Afghanistan dropped out of the media as if it had never existed. I think it was a deliberate policy decision by the administration to not mention the A-word in public and they didn't after that, not for many years. The last thing anyone wanted were camera crews actually covering the situation as it developed on the ground and the fund raiser was duly cancelled. For some reason I got to shake Kissinger's hand instead, quite by accident, the two of us just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later I was driven by Don Stroud's brother, Charlie, to a meeting with my anonymous sponsors in a penthouse in Century City where we waited for a while in an atrium decorated by archeological plunder from around the world, Roman city Gods and original poster artwork by Milos Manara for an unproduced Fellini project " JOURNEY TO TULUN" before being told by my patrons that I had 'performed a great service to the people of Afghanistan' and presented with a free mug, the only real profit I got to see on the war apart from a one way ticket back to River City, my plans for shooting a companion to ' THE VOICE OF THE MOON' from an American perspective 'THE EYE OF THE SUN' unrealized beyond a few short sequences and sketches for sequences.
In the past there had been times when myself and Mr.Horn imagined we might be under surveillance but we usually shrugged it off as transient paranoia, like the nagging suspicion we might in fact be dead all along but after 9/11 the intrusions became too persistent to be ignored. Electronic eavesdropping in the UK is routinely carried out by a computer named ESCHELON which logs on to key words and word combinations to harvest the digital raw material ( known as 'towrope' ) for more comprehensive searches carried out by GCHQ Cheltenham. For a while myself and Mr. Horn were able to follow the futile hunt for bin Laden simply by the buzz words, whatever combination of those names no-one ever seemed to bother taking down that would set off the unmistakable clicking and switching that signaled whether we were warm or cold in our assumptions. Sometimes the background noise was so overbearing that we literally had to shout above it to make ourselves heard.
The earliest incursion on Lauri's site seems to have been around September 2005 and curiously the hits peaked at key moments such as the weeks prior to the theft of Ms.Moor's laptop or my bank account being inexplicably frozen the day before Xmas. ( Thank you, Gordon ! I really appreciated that! Like I'm funding a terrorist movement on my income! ) In fact our pals at wakko.whs.mil seem to have really taken a shine to the latest draft of 'GROUND ZERO' and even downloaded and mass copied the 'HARDWARE' soundtrack though I can't help grinning at the thought of 'This is what you want, This is what you get' finding it's natural home at the Pentagon. Cheeky when you consider Murdoch won't let me use my own music on the site, forcing me to make do with 'THE TERMINATOR' theme instead. But that's a lousy war for ya…
It's not that we haven't tried to tell the powers that be everything we know but if our attempts to 'alert the world' failed it was because the world didn't want to hear, not because we had any desire or reason to keep what little we knew secret. Instead my ability to travel freely has been restricted, my reputation questioned and my credit rating flatlined. In the end 'VOICE OF THE MOON' crept into release as a freebie in the 'DUST DEVIL' box put out by SUBVERSIVE CINEMA although it has yet to appear in any form in Europe or the wider world.
I changed agents and have started hesitantly trying to write about the subject. With the Iraq war spiraling towards it's inevitable conclusion even the New York Times is suggesting maybe we should withdraw, throw in the towel and bring the boys home. What no-one seems to apprehend is that once you've embarked on this sort of kill spree you can't just call it off and expect the barbarian hordes to put down their guns and go home just because our side is losing. That's not how wars work.
The Soviet Union collapsed within a year of withdrawing from Afghanistan. Same deal with the British Empire after the fall of Kabul. And how long can we continue to support Karzai or shore up Musharraf when the man has one foot on a banana peel and the other on a rollerskate ? And when he falls will we finally discover we have created the nightmare scenario we sought initially to avoid, a fundamentalist state gifted with nuclear capability because unlike Iraq our 'allies' in Pakistan really do have weapons of mass destruction. With Russia rearming rapidly and China demonstrating it's satellite smashing ability to lay claim to the 'high frontier' and switch off our ICBM's before they even leave the silos the prospects of nuclear war never seemed more likely or less inviting.
For a while I thought the trail had gone completely cold but it's oddly comforting to know Big Brother is still watching after all. Still taking notes.
All I can say is try to get the spelling right this time.
Over the years there have been various attempts to portray Carlos as a hero, a man who died trying to warn the world of a clear and present danger but there was just something about him that didn't quite fit the George Clooney shaped hole they tried to force him into. To believe he was murdered is almost reassuring compared to the notion that he might have been able to single handedly stop the War on Terror from happening if he hadn't stuck that needle in his arm before making the crucial 'phone call. .
You can see him in Voice of the Moon, laughing on the back of that bony, black horse. It was warm in the sun, still going towards the war, artillery fire like thunder beyond the hills and it all still ahead of us. One of my compadres, Abu Zarqawi, who was recently killed in Iraq after developing a dismaying penchant for separating civilian workers from their heads and e-mailing them home, said he often wished he'd died back that day because his soul would have made it to heaven a whole lot faster.
Funny thing is, I think I know what he means.
I've been debating the wisdom of posting this blog and what it's consequences might be. The rain stopped and I was wandering down Ladbroke Grove, thinking the mess through when I heard a bicycle bell and turned to recognize one of my former associates, Mark Pilkington, who used to write a column in the 'Guardian'. When he asked how I was doing I shrugged and mumbled something about the Pentagon raiding my site and how I was thinking of posting an open letter to them.
Mark sighed " Well, I'm sure it's no different from what everyone else on this planet goes through every single day of their lives…"
And just like that he was off, riding on the edge of a patch of July sunlight.
And I thought what I wouldn't give for that to be true.
Carlos Mavroleon 1958 - 1998
Carlos wrote :-'In the midst of carnage you will see the utter evil and the supreme good side by side...'
Most of us long for the kind of clarity you find in battle but only rarely in so-called 'everyday life'. The privilege of experiencing those extremes stretches our hearts or souls so that afterwards there is something left inside us, a void we can never hope to fill.
And of course there's more. Notebook after notebook but I don't have the time, energy or inclination to input it so if you gentlemen who run the world want the details you can
drop by any time. I'm generally home.
I'm alone at this keyboard, bare foot and unarmed and I ain't afraid of a single dog man one of you.
*********THIS IS RICHARD STANLEY, THE LAST FREE MAN IN WEST LONDON SIGNING OFF*********************************************
Posted on September 29, 2004
Linden was approached by Kudler, a nationally known specialist on post-traumatic stress disorder, about combining their expertise to study the effects of natural and man-made trauma on the reporters who cover it. The time seemed ripe for such a symposium, given the extraordinary perils foreign correspondents face in a world of terrorism and the war against it, kidnappings and genocide.
"We're being inundated with beheadings readily viewable on the Internet and referenced in mainstream media," says Linden. "Everyone can relate to it, but how much of it should the public be exposed to? How much do they deserve to be shielded from this?"
On Friday, Linden and Kudler will moderate two morning panel discussions--which are intended for working journalists and students--before the seminar concludes at 2 p.m. with a free public screening of Dying to Tell the Story. Panel participants will include NPR's Daniel Zwerdling, Pentagon media officer Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, Emmy-winning CBS correspondent W. Randall Pinkston and others.
Dying to Tell the Story was produced in 1998 by Kathy Eldon, Dan's mother, and is hosted and narrated by his younger sister Amy. The film, which was nominated for an Emmy in 1998, is more than a film about Eldon, whose career as a journalist was quite short. Using his life and death as a framing device, the documentary is equally valuable for its portraits of some of the world's most famous war journalists, including CNN's Christiane Amanpour and the BBC's Martin Bell (who claims that the journalists who get killed tend to be either young like Eldon or old-timers who finally run out of luck).
All of the journalists in the film strive to debunk the popular notion of war journalists as global catastrophe cowboys. One of them, an obviously haunted Spaniard named Carlos Mavroleon, discusses his inability to maintain romantic relationships when he was constantly running out the door on short notice, "with a wad of cash and an aeroplane ticket to hell." Still, he admits, "I [always] left with a smile on my face."
Shortly after the film's release, Mavroleon died in Peshawar, Pakistan. The official cause of death was a drug overdose but Kathy Eldon maintains that the circumstances are murky. "He was there to track down a totally unknown man at that time: Osama bin Laden." Although Mavroleon had a history of drug problems, she says, "he hadn't been doing drugs for months or even years."
"He was one of the main guys in our film because he was really bang-bang," says Eldon, who works, often with daughter Amy, on a variety of film, book, television and Internet peace and spirituality projects through Creative Visions, her Los Angeles-based production company. One big, ongoing project is a feature film based on her son's life called The Journey is the Moment. "We've been talking to Orlando Bloom," Eldon says. "We'll see if he wants to do it."
The most moving witness in Dying to Tell the Story is a London-based journalist named Mohammed Shaffi, who was the sole survivor of the mob attack that killed Dan Eldon and three other journalists. In the film, Amy Eldon eventually seeks out Shaffi to accompany her to Somalia and walk her through her brother's final hours. Although Shaffi had cheated death many times, he breaks down on camera as he discusses that 1993 encounter with a mob, enraged by an attack by a Black Hawk helicopter. Shaffi was shot several times and badly beaten and stoned, according to Kathy Eldon, and only avoided the coup de grace by shouting that he was a Muslim. (Shaffi, too, is dead. In early 2001, he succumbed to a massive heart attack in a Jerusalem hotel. "A broken heart" is Kathy Eldon's diagnosis.)
Elsewhere in the film, viewers get a delicious glimpse of a reporter getting into an American president's face, as when Christiane Amanpour, exhausted and furious after covering the Balkan conflicts in the early 1990s to little international notice, memorably confronted Bill Clinton on television in 1994. (She even called him a flip-flopper.)
For Tom Linden, Friday's seminar provides an important opportunity to turn the spotlight back on journalists themselves, people whose psychic health is generally overlooked even when it should be obvious that such prolonged exposure to human terror and misery is quite harmful.
While Dr. Kudler's focus will be on PTSD, Linden will concentrate on the proper balance between the public's need to know and gratuitous exhibitionism. He thinks the news coverage from Iraq has been erratic for a variety of reasons, not all of them sinister or conspiratorial.
"We're not being shown a lot," Linden says. "There's the problem of access: Arab journalists are able to get around more easily." But, Linden goes on to say, "I believe the American media exercises a lot of self-censorship. They limit what they show."
Not all self-censorship bothers Linden. "We're being shielded from [gory images of] terrorist attacks and beheadings, which may be a good thing." In the place of sensationalistic images of individual atrocities, Linden says, "the important thing is maintain the big picture."
Linden acknowledges that he hunted down one Internet beheading video, "partly just to see that it's really there. I'm sorry I saw it, because I can't get it out of my head. Yet millions around the world saw it."
Despite the timid reporting by mainstream television outlets, Linden is generally optimistic that the reporting is getting through. "They can't sugarcoat it anymore," he says. "The truth about what's happening in Iraq is coming out. We have reporters to thank for that."
"If there hadn't been great reporting from Vietnam, 100,000 would have died instead of 50,000," Linden says, while conceding that today's mainstream media is much more deferential to the interests of the military and the executive branch. The aggressive reporting, he says, "is not happening through Vietnam channels but through other channels [such as the Internet]."
"Cognitive dissonance is happening--the difference between what you hear and what you see," Linden says. "Will it shorten the war? We don't know. It's pretty hard to close the floodgates."
"I have a lot of respect for people trying to tell the story and how important it is," Linden says. "But it's not Hollywood. People die. We need to honor them by reading their stories."
Eldon, who knows this better than anyone, agrees. "If they're going to risk their lives, we have to pay attention," she says. "Sometimes we have reader fatigue, but if we turn off the TV or put down the paper, we won't help our leaders make better decisions."
"Trauma in Journalism: Dying to Tell the Story" will take place in Carroll Hall on the UNC Campus. For more information on the conference program, visit www.jomc.unc.edu/executive education/trauma or call 966-7024.
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On Aug. 1, his literary agent, Tina Bennett of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, sold his memoir to editor Morgan Entrekin at Grove/Atlantic Inc. for $150,000. The book will recount his family history and his life in Afghanistan before he came to the U.S. in 1989, and it will describe his emotionally wrenching return to his devastated homeland in 1999. Ms. Bennett discovered him when a fellow client saw Mr. Farivar's Village Voice article about his time at Tora Bora and urged him to contact Ms. Bennett. Mr. Entrekin, who happened to be a friend of Carlos Mavroleon, snapped up Mr. Farivar's book proposal. "A lot of the writers I've published knew Carlos and fit in this subject area," he said.
The book, which is still untitled, will be published in 2004. On a recent Monday evening, the clean-shaven Mr. Farivar, 33, wearing a rumpled red-and-white checked Oxford, khakis and a pair of black lace-ups, told his story to The Observer over iced tea at French Roast on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. Checking his cell phone every 15 minutes or so, the collegial Mr. Farivar seemed to have come a long way since firing mortars at Russians from the bunkers of Tora Bora. As he tells it, the first of his many strokes of luck was meeting Mr. Mavroleon in the White Mountains of Eastern Afghanistan. The shipping heir had converted to Islam in the 1970's (on a backpacking trip after leaving Eton school) and had recently come under the influence of an Islamic political leader named Khalis-who happened to be a protégé of Mr. Farivar's grandfather, a highly respected mullah.
The two swiftly became close friends.
What happened next is, well, right out of a book. A Harvard graduate named Richard Murphy, seeking a job as a freelance war correspondent, was told by a friend to contact the globetrotting Mr. Mavroleon, who at the time was living in London. Mr. Mavroleon told him to go to Pakistan and find Mr. Farivar-and to deliver a special package to him. "Inside the package was an application to Harvard," recalls Mr. Farivar, "with a letter of recommendation that Carlos had written on my behalf to one of his professors there. I didn't know what to make of it. When Carlos mentioned Harvard-I had never even heard of Harvard." Mr. Murphy helped Mr. Farivar fill out the application, write the essay and send it in.
As a teenager, Mr. Farivar had left Afghanistan with his family to escape the Soviets and eventually lived in Peshawar, Pakistan, with his uncle, who taught him English. Mr. Farivar attended a madrasa until he was 16, where he learned Arabic and studied Islam. "Gradually, the monotony and rigidity of it kind of wore out for me. It turned me off." Mr. Farivar quit the Saudi-funded religious school and got a job as a typist at a foreign relief agency funded by Austrians.
In 1987, he joined an Islamic faction and shipped off with two cousins to join the jihad at Tora Bora, where he manned a mortar gun. "I wanted to fight for my country because everyone else was doing it," he said. "Every time my cousin would come back from his missions, he would tell me how great it felt to be on the battlefield fighting the Russians."
Combat was "exciting and thrilling," he recalled. "You're in the middle of nowhere and you're being attacked from different directions with all sorts of weapons-missiles, rockets, mortars. I thought bombs were scary because they were unpredictable and came from out of nowhere. Usually with missiles and rockets, you can predict where they'll land and take cover."
During that time, Mr. Farivar earned money writing war reports for a U.S. government–funded media outlet called the Afghan Media Resource Center. With the help of a "big, fat" American he'd met, he even freelanced a piece for Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1988, about the efficacy of a new Spanish mortar being used in combat. In the spring of 1989, the Harvard admissions office took an interest in Mr. Farivar. But they felt his academic history was a bit spotty, what with the madrasas and all, and they wanted him to attend a year of high school first. Luckily for Mr. Farivar, one of the admissions officers mentioned his situation to someone at the Lawrenceville School, outside Princeton. At a cocktail party, that someone mentioned Mr. Farivar's story to a teacher who happened to be Whitney Azoy, Lawrenceville's Afghan expert and a former diplomat and anthropologist. Mr. Azoy championed the application with the head of admissions, one Phil Pratt.
According to Mr. Farivar, Mr. Pratt was skeptical. "What sports does he play?" he asked.
"Well, in Afghanistan there's fighting," replied Mr. Azoy. "There are no sports there." (Perhaps for fear of scaring off Mr. Pratt from Mr. Farivar's cause, he left out mention of buzkashi , the Afghan national sport, which involves hundreds of men on horses struggling over the mutilated carcass of a calf.)
Mr. Pratt pressed. "Then what extracurricular activities is he involved in?"
"Well-maybe killing Russians?"
According to Mr. Farivar, Mr. Pratt turned his application down.
But Mr. Azoy pleaded to the headmaster, Si Bunting, who, according to Mr. Farivar, eventually accepted him into the school. "I still don't know a lot of the secrets of how I got here," said Mr. Farivar.
He arrived at Kennedy Airport in September of 1989. When he got to the rolling green campus of Lawrenceville, Mr. Bunting was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, which was astounding to Mr. Farivar: "I had never seen a man in shorts." Mr. Farivar recalls being fairly traumatized for the first year. The kids at Lawrenceville didn't know what to make of him. For one thing, he was 21 years old. "There I was-I got off the plane with my big Osama bin Laden beard, my Afghan rebel hat and traditional garb. There I was with these 15-year-old kids. They were probably scared. I must have seemed very unapproachable, and I must have smelled."
He played a little ultimate Frisbee, but he spent more time praying. Things improved once he got to Harvard. "I felt much more comfortable. I also found it easier to make friends with people." For the first couple of years, he tried to stick closely to his Islamic traditions. He prayed five times a day and kept his beard for the first two years. "Gradually, I realized that if I really wanted to get a full experience of college life, I had to mingle."
He joined some social clubs, shaved, drank, chased girls. "A lot of decadence and debauchery went on at these elite social clubs," he said. He graduated in 1994 after writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas, then worked briefly in Flagstaff, Ariz., as a travel guide at the Grand Canyon (he spent the previous summer writing about the Southwest for Let's Go travel guides). In 1995, he moved to New York and got a job at an Associated Press–Dow Jones newswire venture, working first on the foreign-exchange and equities desks, and then the petroleum beat. "I really like the oil story," he said. "It's centered around my part of the world. The sheiks were all very well known to me before I got here."
Ten years after leaving Afghanistan, he took his first trip back. "It was really heartbreaking," he recalled. "So many people I'd known had died. The most depressing thing of all was, I did not meet a single person who did not want to leave the country." Mr. Farivar now lives in Jersey City, to be near the Dow Jones offices, and still practices some Islamic traditions, observing Ramadan and avoiding pork. He spends most of his free time in Manhattan. "There's nothing going on in Jersey City. Jersey City is like Afghanistan," he said.
As for Mr. Mavroleon, he died under mysterious circumstances in Pakistan in 1998 while working as a freelance reporter and cameraman on a story about Osama bin Laden for 60 Minutes , shortly after President Clinton ordered the bombing of an Afghan terrorist camp. "He was a very passionate and pious man," said Mr. Farivar. "He loved Afghanistan."
On the set of Endpapers, the Off Broadway play about the machinations of the publishing world, a dingy array of cluttered cubicles and bookcases adds a bit of authenticity to the offices of the play's fictional "mid-sized New York book publisher."
But even more accurate are the slush piles the actors onstage flip through and mark up when they have no lines to speak: They're real manuscripts from St. Martin's Press, procured by the playwright, Tom McCormack, who is the former C.E.O. of the publisher. "I called my old colleagues at St. Martin's, and they sent a van down with scores of manuscripts," Mr. McCormack said. He admits that not all of it is scintillating reading: "Some of it is from the scholarly and reference division, so the actors may find themselves reading about 14th-century Chinese art."
Still, the castmembers are glad to have it. At first, there were only a few manuscripts circulating among them to serve as slush. After the show had run for a couple of months, boredom set in. Shannon Burkett, who plays the assistant to the bean-counting publishing executive, Ted Giles, and who once temped as an assistant to Priscilla McGeehon, an editor at Addison-Wesley, was among the first to demand that the stage manager get more. "I was going to take the pencils off my desk and poke them in my eyes if they didn't get me something new to read," she said. She'd already read the biography of Christo three times.
And while the word these days is that editors don't edit, that doesn't mean actors playing editors don't edit. "I was looking at all these interesting doodles and stuff that were on there," said Bruce McCarty, who plays the heart-of-gold editor, Griff. "I said, 'Gee, whoever this editor was at St. Martin's was a little possessed.' And it turned out it was Pippa [Pearthree, who plays editor Cora McCarthy] who had already had those pages."
"I suggested that St. Martin's send them their real slush and give the actors a reader's fee," said Mr. McCormack.
Mr. McCarty's latest onstage read is a book about the World Trade Organization. "At one point, the writer said of a W.T.O. meeting in Seattle, 'They did not have in mind such a majestic purpose as forming a constitution.' I thought that was a funny word to use-'majestic'-so I commented on that in my notes: 'Maybe we should reconsider the word.'"
The book, however, has already been published.
Journalists Killed in 1998: 24 Confirmed
Carlos Mavroleon, free-lancer, August 27, 1998, Peshawar
Mavroleon, a free-lance television producer and cameraman on assignment for the CBS news program "60 Minutes," was found dead in a hotel room in Peshawar of an apparent drug overdose, according to Pakistani officials. Though the government of Pakistan concluded that the cause of death was "heroin poisoning (self)," some colleagues and family members believe Mavroleon may have been killed for his journalistic work.
Mavroleon had arrived in Peshawar on August 23 on assignment to film damage from the recent U.S. cruise missile attacks on the Afghan border town of Khost, about 180 miles to the southwest. The U.S. intended to hit training camps run by Osama bin Laden, whom Washington had identified as the suspected mastermind behind the August 7 attacks on U.S. embassies in eastern Africa.
On August 25, Mavroleon was detained and jailed overnight in Miranshah, a town in North Waziristan on the Afghan border. After being interrogated by Pakistani agents from the Intelligence Bureau and Inter-Services Intelligence, he was released on the afternoon of August 26 and sent back to Peshawar by bus.
In phone messages to a "60 Minutes" producer on August 25, Mavroleon had said he was "in terrible trouble" and that "they're on to me in a big way."
On the morning of August 27, Mavroleon met with Peter Jouvenal, a British cameraman and old friend, and Rahimullah Yusufzai, Peshawar bureau chief for the Pakistani daily The News. They joked about a report on Mavroleon's arrest that had appeared in the Urdu-language press labeling the journalist a "spy."
They were among the last people to see him alive.
Mavroleon died of "asphyxia due to heroin (diacetyl morphine) intoxication" at around 6 p.m. that evening, according to the official autopsy report.
I won’t see The Perfect Storm and regret reading the book. Author Sebastian Junger is the kind of literary San Gennaro effigy that publishers hoist about in a pious frenzy knowing we’ll throng blindly to the parade. Let us foil them. Let’s, for once, play the papal skeptic and face down the plaster saint’s hagiolatry.
I take you back two years ago this August to the death of my friend Carlos Mavroleon in his hotel room in the Pak-Afghan frontier town of Peshawar while on assignment for 60 Minutes. Clinton had just launched his Monica Missiles against bin Laden’s Afghan camps, and Carlos was investigating the results. Pakistani authorities declared his death a self-inflicted heroin overdose. Many colleagues, friends and family doubted the verdict. Numerous probes got under way, but Junger delivered first with a hefty eight-pager in Vanity Fair (February 1999) endorsing the Pak authorities’ opinion. Result: our industry walked away en bloc, allowing Junger’s reputation to rise on the wreckage of Mavroleon’s. "Sorry, Vanity Fair has already done the story," they whined in unison. Mavroleon’s producer at 60 Minutes, Leslie Cockburn, went to Peshawar and did a secret report pulling apart the official verdict. She begged for further investigation. None came.
Carlos Mavroleon’s reputation is worth preserving. Born to a wealthy Anglo-Greek ship-owning family, he ran away from English boarding school at age 15 and lived among tribesmen in northern Pakistan for two years. His father disowned him financially. Yet he graduated cum laude from Harvard and sailed into the 80s Wall Street boom. Which he abandoned to go to Afghanistan and fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet invasion. Under the nom de guerre Kerimullah, he shot down Soviet helicopters. Between battles, he helped a fellow Muj into Harvard by writing his application. Later Carlos became a legendary war cameraman in African conflicts.
So many stories of wit and bravery, all rejected by Junger as the twisted "reckless courage" of a spoiled rich kid. Unlike Junger’s brand of parachute journalism, Carlos lived and loved the tribal cultures he covered. He converted to Islam, learned their languages and earned his courage painstakingly. One story suffices: Somali gunmen escorting a tv crew begin to point guns, demand wages and issue threats. Carlos shouts at them to kneel and pray for thanks to Allah before they got a penny. They quiet down.
Junger’s thesis seemed reasonable. If not an accidental overdose, it must be murder. But who would bother to kill Carlos? And why go to such lengths of cover-up in a region where anyone can murder with anonymous bullets? With a little solid work, he might have answered these questions. Instead, he could dismiss all the crime scene’s anomalous details without scrutiny.
We found the answers, because Fox TV assigned us to the story. Fox Files boss Pamela Browne knew Carlos. (Carlos had saved a Fox crew taken hostage by Somali gunmen by offering himself in their place.) Sadly, halfway into our work Fox Files got canceled. So what I tell you now is an exclusive. No one has heard it before. And it really should cause a ruckus.
First, we found that Junger had likely endangered the life of a source. He did so without the knowledge of the source (call him "Guy"), an English gem dealer who travels the region often. Guy claimed he’d heard from a well-placed friend in the Peshawar bazaar that Mavroleon’s death was a hit. Junger apparently found the contact and pretended to be Guy’s friend. "Guy says you think it was a hit," the contact claimed Junger had said to him. Can you imagine anything more irresponsible–and unlikely to yield the truth? In a bazaar teeming with Taliban and bin Ladenites? When Guy went back months later, he walked into a viper’s nest.
In Vanity Fair, Junger skates over the pivotal fact that Carlos, disguised as a local doctor, got to a hospital in the forbidden zone of the tribal territories. The missile strike’s casualties of high rank lay there wounded. Carlos certainly encountered them, because his notes show names of patients. Junger never understood that Carlos had approached the crucial secret: that the camps serviced not bin Laden but the Pak military intelligence. They were training guerrillas for the invasion of Indian Kashmir. When Clinton struck, the Paks thought he deliberately tried to sink the invasion–that he’d turned pro-India. Carlos’ visit threatened to out their secret plans, and uncover their direct involvement with the invasion force. Reason enough for assassination? And for a cover-up? A Western journalist openly murdered would require an investigation.
Why couldn’t Junger figure it out? Because it opened the way to the crime scene’s anomalies and scuttled his thesis. Here are some examples: The police forbade anyone to witness the autopsy. They rushed it and embalmed the body before outside experts could join in. In the hotel room, they pretended to find the offending syringe accidentally, twice, eight hours apart. They’d moved the body near the syringe each time. Three men were seen following Carlos around town. A local reporter wrote that three men visited Carlos in the hotel at the time of death. That reporter retired soon after. During our stay, he missed an appointment with us and dodged us for three weeks. He was "terrified," said one colleague. Other local reporters warned us of "great danger." The assistant manager and others remember three Pak intelligence men in the doorway at the scene. The manager who saw them too denied it to us fervently. He, like so many others, had changed his story. No gear was found for fixing up, and there was only one needle scar on the body–not the sign of a practicing addict.
This is the very short version. Carlos had used heroin, but according to his doctor hadn’t injected for 10 years. In sum, I can’t yet prove that Carlos was killed. I wasn’t allowed to. But I can say that Junger is a disgraceful journalist. His movie should be renamed The Perfect Crime.