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Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Mystery Journalist is...

Mystery Journalist

This week's Mystery Journalist: CNN terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen

How did you do this week? I'll post another Mystery Journalist clue in Friday's post.


In January 2006, Peter Bergen released his book “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda’s Leader.” Washington Life, December 2005 issue included an interview with Bergen by The Washington Post reporter N.C. Aizenman. Below is an excerpt from that interview:

NCA: Instead of writing a biography of bin Laden, you have woven together first person accounts from a wide array of people who knew bin Laden personally to create an oral history. Why did you choose to present the material this way?

Photo by Scott Wallace
PB: A tsunami of nonsense has been written about bin Laden. Rather than relying on secondhand accounts, I thought people should be given the chance to form their own conclusions based on firsthand accounts from bin Laden’s brothers, his high school buddies, his university classmates and his companions in arms. There were two guiding principles to the book: The first was that we only hear from people who know bin Laden personally. The second was that we hear from them directly—with a little bit of setting up from me, of course—but basically in their own words. I was influenced by a book about Edie Sedgwick, a 1960’s supermodel who became a sort of Andy Warhol superstar. The book was by George Plimpton and edited by Jean Stein, and it always struck me as a very good account of what was going on in New York in the ’60s. Obviously bin Laden and al-Qaeda are a rather more serious and more complicated subject. However, I thought that using direct testimony from people who know bin Laden is perhaps a way of similarly recapturing some worlds that most people don’t have much experience in.

NCA: What impact do you think it would have if he were caught? And would the circumstances of his capture make a difference?

PB: If he were caught it would be a psychological victory for our side and it would be a psychological blow to theirs—particularly if he were captured and given some of the Saddam Hussein treatment. But, I don’t think he will be caught. He said he is willing to die and I take him at face value.

Juliana Silva and Peter Bergen

Appeared in: 62nd annual Washington press club dinner CQ putting on The Ritz after - party on March 2006

NCA: If he is killed rather than caught what would be the impact?

PB: In death I think he would be perhaps an even more important figure than in life. He would certainly be an important martyr for this movement. By the way, when you were there, were there any indications that bin Laden was in Afghanistan?

NCA: You already knew a lot about bin Laden before putting this book together. As you conducted interviews and gathered material, was there anything that surprised you?

PB: Mostly lots of little things. The guy is a sort of a closet Larry King fan, apparently. He watches a fair amount of CNN and BBC, and is a news junkie. He is a big horse rider. He has a thing about growing sunflowers and was very excited that his sunflowers are bigger than the sunflowers that grow in the United States. He has been telling people that even in sunflowers, he was beating the United States. For a billionaire’s son, he’s always been very ascetic. He has rejected all American products for a long time. He doesn’t drink Pepsi, Coke, or Sprite. Even when he had lots of money, he didn’t have a fancy car or air conditioning and he slept on the floor. He also forced his kids and his wives to live the same way. When he was a free man he taught his wives to shoot. He won’t let his children drink cold water because he wants them hardened for jihad. His oldest son Abdullah, who is now back in Saudi Arabia, essentially left him in the mid-1990s when the family was living in Sudan, saying, “Look, now there are millions in the bank. Why are we living like peasants?”

NCA: After all your research, do you feel any closer to truly understanding this man?

PB: The more you know about a person, the more puzzling they can sometimes seem. And I am sure that one of the things people will say in criticizing the book is that I am humanizing the guy. But, the last time I checked, the people who attacked us on 9/11 were not robots, they were human. Their boss is a human and I thought it was important to try to understand him more.

Thanks to Cyn for reminding me that I had found this interview and pictures!


Blade said...


Thanks for the nice post on Peter Bergen. I really enjoy his comments on air.


Purple Tie said...

CNN has so many great commentators and reporters. Peter and Michael Ware are so well-infomed about the War and Al Quaeda. You always feel like they really know what they are talking about.

Sheryn said...


I've always been fond of Peter Bergen and his intelligent and straight-forward reporting of terrorist activity around the world, most notably Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Thanks for the article.

He is a phenomenal journalist and author.

Sapphire said...

BA - thank you for the great info on Peter Bergen. I really enjoy when we get to see him on CNN. I find between him and Michael Ware, I have a better understanding of the war on terror and the war in Iraq. Great post!!!!!

Christy said...

Thanks for posting that. I have seen parts of his interview with Bin Laden on CNN specials but have not read the book. I need to read it. Peter Bergen is a very interesting man. The best thing is he seems to LOVE his work and really care about the quality of his stories. He will do his own research.

Mavis said...

I agree, Michael Ware and Peter Bergen have given me the greatest understanding of what is REALLY going on.

We are lucky to have people willing to risk their lives so we can know what our government is really up to.
The information I have gained from these two is helping me shape my voting decision for the next election.

Cyn said...

I think it's interesting how some people would much prefer to demonize "the enemy" rather than try to understand their motivations. Whether it's OBL or the Iraqi insurgency, our government just wants to lump everyone together, give them horns and a pitchfork, and be done with it. Like understanding someone is the same as agreeing with them.

I guess some cognitive functions are just beyond what our leadership is capable of...

We are indeed lucky that CNN has so many truly remarkable journalists who go to such lengths to give us true insight into what is happening in this world. (And y'all know I'm not biased about any of them... ;)