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Aired December 15, 2002 - 19:30:00   ET


In this edition, the story behind the story; how the independent Venezuelan press are adding to the chaos in the country.

Plus, to testify or not to testify; should journalist be treated any differently in the dock?

But first, it's a sensational scoop by all accounts. An article in "The Washington Post," based on alleged White House reports suggested that Islamic extremists affiliated to al Qaeda may have recently acquired VX nerve agent from Iraq and smuggled it through Turkey.

The story sparked an international fury, both amongst the media and the White House itself. It does, however, call into question whether or not the Media are being manipulated and turns the spotlight on a possible link between Iraq and al Qaeda.


BARTON GELLMAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There is no evidence that this transaction was approved or known by Saddam Hussein. There is a presumption that it would be very hard to take any of Iraq's secret cache of weapons out of Iraq without the government's knowledge.

If the government did cooperate, it's also speculation, but the CIA reported publicly not so long ago that the likeliest reason that Saddam would do so is if he believed he was in imminent danger of being unseated.


I'm joined now by Christopher Dickey, correspondent with "Newsweek," and James Rubin, former States Dept. spokesman of the Clinton administration.

Now, there is no -- this story appeared yesterday in "The Washington Post," Christopher. It was a -- it's a sensational story, I think we would all agree, by anybody's light, and it would seem to be the Bush administration's dream story, a story which provides a link, though not a proven link, a very strong link, it is suggested, between Iraq and al Qaeda, and that's something we can all assume that the president has been looking for since last September.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, maybe and maybe not.

First of all, if it really established a link, which actually the story doesn't do, if it really established a link, then it would tend to force the president's hand right now, and the White House is actually sending signals that it wants to wait a little bit at the moment.

It wants to judge the timing of whatever attack takes place on Iraq. It doesn't want to have somebody in Homeland Security or some part of the administration suddenly leaking classified information and pushing it into a position where it's got to go to war when it's not ready or willing to do so. So I think that's a problem.

MACVICAR: Don't you think, Jim, this is all a little to convenient, though, given the position of the administration, given the position of the president, and the skepticism in the states about the real necessity for any war the states about the real necessity for any war with Iraq?

I think it is something that the elements of the administration would like to see in the public mind. There are elements, that is primarily the Pentagon and the vice president's office, that have stated for many months now, that they believe there is a link, and they have suggested that such evidence existed. They've never made it public, the way it was in this story, because they believe that with that kind of link, there is a justification that all Americans, and frankly most people in the world, would accept.

If Saddam Hussein is working in conjunction with al Qaeda, and al Qaeda attacked the United States, we would have a justification for war that goes far beyond any interference with UN inspectors, which is what's now going on.

So there are some elements in the administration that were not upset when they read the papers yesterday morning.

Now, as Chris mentioned, there are other elements, primarily Secretary of State Powell, who wants to do this in a careful and constructed way, so that if we have to go to war, we have the world behind us.

The link to al Qaeda -- I did a program for public broadcasting that also raised these questions is tenuous. It's all based on primarily defectors in northern Iraq who may or may not be trying to tell outsiders what they want to here.

MACVICAR: But the question here -- and granted that we can't know, because Bart Gellman is a very careful reporter working for a very careful news organization. He must have satisfied not only himself, but his editors, that there was good reason to go to print with this story. But what we can't know for sure what all the motives were of the people who told Gellman the things that they told him.

And the question here is whether or not -- whatever the administration's view, whatever their view about putting the brakes on now or not, we can't entirely be sure about what their motives are or whether or not we're being manipulated, not just in this case, but in other cases, the Saudi princess story being another story.

DICKEY: Sure. Well, part of the problem is that it's the headlines that really count, more than the story.

The story is very, very careful. Bart was extremely careful in this story. It doesn't say that there's a link. It says that there is intelligence, that there might be a link, and some people are worried about that. But that's all it says. It doesn't prove anything, which is one reason we're not going to going to war because of this story, or even what it's based on.

But the headline that ran around the world was basically Iraq gives al Qaeda VX chemical weapons. That kind of thing does sever the administration. That's what's called spin, and it's greatly misleading.

It also was the same case with the Saudi princess, the Saudi ambassador's wife gives money to somebody who gives money who gives money to somebody in al Qaeda or involved with 9-11 and all of the sudden it is Saudi princess funding al Qaeda.

MACVICAR: Right, sort of severing to reinforce that view that is out there that somehow the Saudi's themselves are engaged in the financing of al Qaeda.

DICKEY: Sure. And that's what spin is all about.

It's not about the substance of the story. It's about the idea people carry away from the story.

MACVICAR: Jamie, you have a very good idea, obviously, of administrations work in circumstances like this. This is a time of both very delicate diplomacy, but also a time of that -- it would seem, from the point of view of the Bush administration, the need to be seen to be extremely assertive.

What do you thing their game is, as they're going forward now, over the course of the next number of weeks?

RUBIN: My suspicion is that they're going to be as careful as they can to have the kind of mixed signals that came out last summer, where Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell were all speaking from a different script. They're going to try to stick to one script, and the script is going to be we're not going to make any big justification for war now based on the Iraqi declaration. We're going to wait, we're going to string this out, and we're going to wait see that the UN can determine that Iraq is lying.

Now this story, by Bart Gellman, doesn't fit in with that pattern. And so if I had to guess, my guess is that there is a difference in intelligence between a report that you get and a report that you get that you regard as reliable, and if you read Gellman's story carefully, it fuzzes that question.

Some people say it's a reliable source, and now today, in responding to it, administration officials are saying it's not a sufficiently reliable source to justify action.

MACVICAR: Christopher, very quickly, how do you think we're going to see this play out?

DICKEY: Well, I think the administration is very worried that there's going to be another al Qaeda attack, and I think one of the things that this story does an it helps establish Iraq as the address, the place you respond if there is an attack.

And I think Jamie mentioned that in passing, and that's something to really keep an eye on.

MACVICAR: Well, thank you both very much, Christopher Dickey, of Newsweek, James Rubin, former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, thank you both very much for joining me.

Up next on the program, how hard is it to report on a story when the story involves you?

That's what's facing the Venezuelan press, when we come back.


MACVICAR: Welcome back.

Tensions continue to mount in Venezuela as the strike that threatens to destabilize both the economy and the government of President Hugo Chavez approaches it's second week, the opposition group says the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are trying to force the populous leader from power.

Venezuela's oil industry has been crippled by these events.

The country is the world's fifth largest oil exporter.

Chavez supporters have been protesting against these opposition groups, venting much of their anger in one specific direction, the media.

Chavez himself has accused the press of trying to topple him.

So how hard is it to report on a story that the media are very much a part of?

I'm joined you by Leopolido Castillo, a journalist an anchor of GLOBOVISION. GLOBOVISION is one of the biggest television networks in the Venezuela and has been a key target of Chavez supporters.

Mr. Castillo, let me ask you -- what is the situation now at your television station? Are the demonstrators still there? Is it still very difficult?

LEOPOLIDO CASTILLO, GLOBOVISION: Yes, it's very difficult. But let me explain that GLOBOVISION is like CNN. We have news all the 24 hours. And we have to show what is on the street. We have to show what is on the country. We have to show the poverty. We have to show you the statement of the government, the statement of the opposition.

And the government, President Chavez's government, they don't like what we show. So how they react, they react by sending people, people with weapons, people with sticks, people yelling, to our channel.

I remember, very clear. I was hear on Sunday, Sunday night. It was a very dark night for us. We were working here. We were giving the news show, as always we do, and suddenly these people came to our channel. And remember, our channel was under fire two weeks ago. There was a bomb here in this channel.

But it's not only the channel and GLOBOVISION. All the media, the press, the radio and the journalists in the street. But what really shocked you, but is really difficult for a journalist, is when the authority, they don't do nothing. Especially the National Guard. They don't do nothing.

And when they throw this bomb, this gas bomb, they throw it against the journalists. They don't want that we do our work, which is cover what is on the streets. And.

MACVICAR: But in this instance, Mr. Castillo.

CASTILLO: . environment, and something.

MACVICAR: Let me just.

CASTILLO: . that you have to know -- the first time in 44 years of democracy that we have a situation like this.

MACVICAR: But, Mr. Castillo, it's not just a circumstance here of journalists objectively trying to do, to do your work.

In April, when the coup, the failed coup attempt, which did force Mr. Chavez from power for a very short period of time, it was media owners, including, I believe, the head of GLOBOVISION, who were associated with an attempt to overthrow Mr. Chavez. And I think people actually refer to that as the first media coup in Latin America.

So it seems that in this instance, there's more than one game going on here, where journalists aren't just trying to do their job, but may in fact be seen to trying to overthrow the government.

CASTILLO: Well, you see, Mr. Chavez is a military, and it's not a politician as you normally know a politician. He's not Tony Blair. He's no Mr. Bush.

So as military, he sees an enemy. He don't see an adversary.

So he suddenly, in his main framework, he thinks that the owners of the media are against the regime, they are against Mr. Chavez's government. But I'm not -- I can't talk for the owners, because I'm not an owner. I'm just only a journalist.

But it's quite difficult. I'm trying to figure you -- that all the press -- you have here many newspapers. You have here more than 400 radio. You have here more than 40 TV station, national broadcasts and regional TV station, that all get together, and they sit around at a table, and they decide we're going to go against Chavez?

No. That doesn't happen.

MACVICAR: Mr. Castillo, let me ask you, very quickly, how do you think this ends? It's now been more than two weeks of strike. The disturbances are getting bigger. The oil industry is effectively at a stand-still. Do you think we again will come back to April, where there is a coup or an attempted coup to force Mr. Chavez from power?

CASTILLO: This is a general strike, what we have here in the country. The oil industry joined the general strike. You have here an industry strike, you have a commercial strike and a societal strike. You have a general strike here, and what the population is asking for? It's asking for an election.

They say the only way that we can solve this political situation is for -- let's have an election, Mr. President. If you feel that the people support you, let's go to an election. Nobody wants a coup d'etat. Nobody wants to be in a different -- no, no, no.

We just want -- when I mean we, I'm talking the people -- wants elections. That's it.

MACVICAR: Mr. Castillo, of GLOBOVISION, thank you very much for joining me to talk about this very important story. Thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, should journalists be made to testify? We talk to one man who said no, and won.



Many times on this show we've spoken about whether or not journalists should be made to testify. But this week a ruling in a high-profile case may have set a new precedent for correspondents in conflict zones.

Former "Washington Post" foreign correspondent Jonathan Randal won his legal battle at the Hague war crimes tribunal. The tribunal's appeals court set aside a subpoena compelling him to give evidence in the case of the former Bosnian Serb deputy prime minister.

I'm joined now from Paris by John Randal himself, and here in the studio, Channel 4's chief diplomatic correspondent, Lindsay Hilsum.

John, let me begin with you. Why did the Hague want you to come and give evidence in this war crimes trial? What do you they think that you could have added?

JONATHAN RANDAL, JOURNALIST: Well, that was the good question, and one of the reasons I refused to go.

They wanted me -- they wanted to enter as evidence a story that I had written in February 1993, and everything sort of went downhill from there, until the appeals court decision on Wednesday, which basically said the article was not central to establishing the truth and I was excused from having to appear. But there was a lot of water under lots of dams before we got there, I can tell you.

MACVICAR: And your argument was not that it wasn't that your article was not central to the case, but you didn't believe that as a journalist you should be compelled to testify.

RANDAL: Excuse me, not as a journalist, but as a war correspondent. I draw a distinction between war correspondents and other journalists and I certainly -- it's sometimes been said that because I am an American, because the newspaper for which I worked for 30 years, "The Washington Post" is American, and because President Bush is American, that I and even my former newspaper shared Mr. Bush's antipathy to all things international when it comes to international law. That's not the case.

My case was rather based on my feeling that the court should not make new law without understanding the very peculiar nature of what a war correspondent is and will be. And I say is and will be, because it's changed a great deal since I started in this business a long, long time ago. It's getting more dangerous, more difficult, and if we are going to fulfill our principle function, which is to try to inform the public about what's going on in some very nasty situations, we have to be careful, because we're no longer wearing uniforms and having the assimilated rank of major, as was true of our older colleagues in World War I and World War II.

Right now, very few wars are between nation states. They're usually between former civil war or civil disturbance -- and to gain the confidence of the combatants is very difficult.

If those combatants think that we, as war correspondents, are going to go out and rat, excuse my -- quote/unquote "rat," from their point of view, on what they're doing, in terms of skullduggery, to the first war crimes tribunal that comes along, I think one of two things is going to happen -- either they'll stop talking to us entirely, or they'll kill us. And unfortunately, recent history has demonstrated that that's not just science fiction.

MACVICAR: Yes. Now, Lindsay Hilsum, you also have been a war correspondent. You made a very different decision in that you volunteered to testify not at the Hague, but at the war crimes tribunal in Arucha (ph) that is examining the genocide that took place in Rwanda.

Why did you take a very different point of view than John Randal's?

LINDSAY HILSUM, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Because I was the only English- speaking correspondent. In fact, I was one of only two foreign correspondents in Rwanda when the genocide started.

Because of an accident of history, I was a witness to what I believe was one of the worst crimes of the 20th century. It was -- it didn't go on as long as the holocaust. You can't compare it to the holocaust in that way, but we're talking about up to 1 million people slaughtered in 100 days.

I was in a unique and privileged situation to see that. I will never be in that situation again in my life, and I felt that as a citizen, as a human being, it really was my duty and responsibility to testify. I wasn't just a journalist. It was something bigger than that.

And I also felt that I couldn't, as a journalist, go around criticizing the tribunal and saying it was inefficient and useless and corrupt if I refused to testify.

And I also -- how could I say to a villager who would really be endangering their lives by testifying, you've got to do it, when your life is really in danger and the bad guys are still out to get you, but no, I'm a journalist, I won't do it.

I couldn't do that.

MACVICAR: I mean, Lindsay's point is a good one, John. If we believe that the war crimes tribunals truly have a place in international law and in punishing people who commit atrocious acts in the course of some form of conflict, we need witnesses to testify to those tribunals. If we are asking people who may be living still in circumstances where they are vulnerable, perhaps, how can we ourselves not testify? How is that we should be so privileged?

RANDAL: Well, I don't think we are privileged, and I don't think the court said that we are privileged. After all, it was a very limited kind of protection that the court decided on Wednesday.

I think we should not become axillaries of justice, but we should do what we canto help. Also, I think -- I don't think I am contradicting necessarily with my very deeply held belief when I say that perhaps had I been in Lindsay's situation, I might have had cause to change my mind.

But I felt that in this case, that the tribunal was on a fishing expedition. I thought it was a thin out of the wedge (ph). And also because I respect the tribunal, I did, I do, I did, I do and I will respect the tribunal.

MACVICAR: Let me just quickly turn to Lindsay here, before we run out of time, John.

Just to ask you, Lindsay, in sort of, in terms of your experience, in terms of what John is saying, where he clearly says, you know, I respect the work of the tribunal, there are journalists who have helped investigators in the past and perhaps will continue to help investigators. What are your thoughts on how this ruling may impact not only perhaps other journalists, but other news organizations who may also face subpoenas in the future?

HILSUM: Well, I think that in some ways it is helpful, because what it's saying is that journalists are not compelled to testify unless they hold the key -- that the journalist is the person who holds a key bit of information.

Now, I think that if you are in a situation where genocide is being committed, crimes against humanity, something as serious as that, I think - - I don't know if there are very many journalists that, if they are the only person who holds the key, would they really hold out against it? Would they really not testify?

I wonder if Jonathan would actually not testify if he was the only one who had that bit of information.

RANDAL: I should have to think very long and hard, but I must say that this is a court in the Hague that's going to serve for the model of the International Criminal Tribunal, which is of even greater importance in the long run. And this court in the Hague is making up its jurisprudence as it goes along.

I thought it was my duty to make them think long and hard before they started applying rules about very peculiar end of journalism. Not all journalists, again, war correspondents, about which they didn't know very much.

So I was extremely pleased.

MACVICAR: This is obviously something that we will come back to discuss again, probably sometime fairly soon as these situations continue to arise.

John Randal, former correspondent for "The Washington Post," and congratulations on your legal victory. Lindsay Hilsum, diplomatic correspondent for Channel 4, thank you both very much for joining me to talk about this.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Sheila MacVicar in London. Thanks for joining us.



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