Transcript: Address to the American Australian Association in NYC

My transcript of the talk Michael gave at the American Australian Association in March.
Any errors are my own, of course.


CRAIG CHAPMAN, VICE CHAIRMAN OF AMERICAN AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATION: ...Queensland, for those of you who don't know Australia, is sort of up in the upper right-hand corner, and it's got a lot of beaches, the Barrier Reef, the Daintree rainforest, and so Michael of course decided to pursue a career away from all of that and instead to become a journalist, first, I think, with the Courier in Brisbane and then he joined Time, went to Pakistan, Afghanistan, was a bureau chief for Time in Baghdad for quite some time, was responsible for a lot of extraordinary footage that you probably all have seen but maybe didn't know that Michael was responsible for that, and has come today to share with us some of the behind-the-scenes stories based on his experience in the Middle East, which I think is very topical given what's been going on. So I would like to welcome Michael and look forward to your comments.

Well, thank you Craig, that was a very kind assessment or summary of my career. I generally try to keep it secret but you're right, I am a failed barrister. Anyone from Australia may or may not be aware of
Judge Tony Fitzgerald of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. To put that in quick perspective for some of our American friends, Queensland as you say is in the top right corner of Australia, and as I try to translate to my American friends, as you all have the Deep South, in Australia we have the Deep North. As we are down-under everything is flipped upside down and if you could for a moment imagine a Paul Newman movie or something akin to that, where you have a Southern governor all in white, perhaps a little doddering and administering a state or a province to their own fashion, well, that's where I come from. We have good old boys and there are many parts of America that I have traveled through down South where minus the gun racks I'd be right at home.

So that's where I come from. I cut my teeth in the law and a degree in Political Science and I worked for a year for this judge, Tony Fitzgerald, who essentially is the great White Knight. He is the chap who, when our home state -- which is mired in corruption, overflowing above our heads -- it was he, a relatively unknown federal court judge who was chosen to do an inquiry into official corruption. Then scheduled for six weeks, suffice to say it went for three years and by the end of it our governor of 23 years all but went to jail except for the fact that it turns out he rigged the jury, our chief of police went to jail, and several cabinet ministers all went to jail.

That's where I started my journey that finally lead me through Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, through Afghanistan, Pakistan, through Iraq, through the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, through the Russian invasion of Georgia, through the drug cartel wars in Mexico, to some time back home in my hometown, Brisbane, back in the Deep North, to here.

I thought perhaps to give some perspective, just to give a baseline, in my current incarnation I found myself suddenly unemployed about 18 months ago without realizing it and like so many of the almost 3 million Americans who have now served at least one combat tour since 9/11, it took me quite a while to really get a grip or to get any kind of real traction on the meaning of the word "homecoming." That proved extraordinarily illusive to me, as it does for so many of your servicemen and women. And whilst standing here today I have to say it's an enormous privilege for me to be speaking to this association, it's always been the peak body that has united the business and academic and even government or public service communities between our two countries, that it is a great honor to be here at your invitation but also -- whilst Australia, we have perhaps 45- nearly 50,000-odd servicemen and women who have done at least one combat tour either in Iraq or Afghanistan, here in America it's millions.

And for better or for worse, whilst I brushed up against our Aussie diggers in the field it's an American experience that I've had. It's the Marines, it's the Airborne, it's the Infantry, it's Special Forces, it's Green Berets, it's Delta, it's everybody that I've experienced my last decade with.

So you'll have to forgive me if there is a slight skew to the American perspective of this war, but I'm afraid I make no apologies for that. I now and forever feel extraordinarily grafted on to the American experience. But as I was saying, suddenly finding myself rather abruptly unemployed eventually when I came through the eye of my homecoming needle and out the other end, I found that I still had stories to tell. Perhaps not as a journalist, dashing into the worst of the worst all the time and reporting back to you live via satellite. So I have become a mini media mogul myself. In the most mini sense of the word.

I found that with a fine book contract from Random House I struggled for months and then for years to eke out the first words and put them on the page. In the course of that process I realized at some point that I was seeing the war in my head, visually, far more than I was feeling it through my fingers tapping it on the keyboard. Throughout the course of the ten years of the wars, save for the first year or year and a half, for my own purposes as a notebook to capture dialogue in the midst of combat when you can't scribble in a notebook, you're too busy ducking for cover, to moments where I would see things that were often hard to remember for many reasons and it was only by going back and looking at an image that it all truly came back to you. I picked up a $300 Sony camera. The same thing that many of us would have at home, that we film our kids' first steps with, that we film mum and dad's 50th anniversary party with -- a $300 Sony Handicam.

Over the course of the decade that I was at war -- and this is a free plug for Sony -- I only went through two cameras. Two of these baby little home-issue cameras, and it was upon those two cameras that I recorded 106 tapes. And I realized trying to write my book that I was seeing the wars visually. What I was seeing in my mind's eye were my tapes. And it took enormous effort to go back again and watch them. But I did. And it's a result of that that has set me upon the path of becoming the miniest of mini media moguls.

So I'm now making a film, firstly a theatrical documentary for the US cinema, which is already in development, hence swinging through L.A. on the way home. And there's a raft of other projects that we hope -- inshallah -- to follow.

This is footage that I shot in November 2005 and in April 2006. As you can read from the screen, this is in a town known as Ramadi in Iraq. This is the combination of two moments, one with American Army and one with US Marines, that an editor friend of mine melded together just as an exercise. In no way is this a reflection of the movie I'm making but very much, I find, this is a reflection of what the experience was like for many of us on the ground there and to many of the millions who are now coming home. So if you'll indulge me I'll just play you a few minutes of this tape and hopefully you'll get a little bit of a sense of what it was like.

Is there any way we can dim some lights? No? Oh, there we go...

[video plays]

So that's just a little rough cut of a little bit of rough footage that I happened to capture on a Sony home Handicam. For me, the point of showing that to you and the point of me putting that together and the point of what it is that I'm doing now -- because I stand here before you and I'll openly confess that I feel a lesser human being because right now I'm not in Oruzgan province or I'm not in Helmand province or I'm not in Kunar. My path has led me to here. So for me I see that path as a voice or a clarion or a herald for the millions of Americans who will be and are attempting the very thing that I'm attempting right now, which is homecoming.

When I looked at what I was doing business-wise -- and for the first time in my life not suckling from a corporate teat, be that from Uncle Rupert at NewsCorp or be that from the kind people at Time-Warner -- but now as a cold, hard-hearted businessman of my own, I figured that the point of what it is that I'm doing is trying to tell all of you who weren't there, trying to give you all of you, even if I can do it just for a second in the course of an 85-minute film, a sense of what it was like. And then, if I'm lucky, if I am blessed, that may just translate to one or two of you having some sense of what it is like for these millions trying to come home.

That became particularly pertinent for me ten days ago -- and here I will doff my cap, as the Executive Editor of
Newsweek is present among us -- Newsweek asked me to write a piece in relation to what we recently learned happened outside of Kandahar in Afghanistan, where an American soldier is now accused of having left the wire in the midst of the night, rolled down to some Afghan villages and therein executed sixteen innocent civilians, nine of them children. Obviously there's much that's been said about this incident already and there's much that will be said. I see even today with CNN on my hotel room screen it's just rolling on and on. If you'll indulge me I'll just read a couple paragraphs of the story I wrote and that was just published on The Daily Beast. And in some sense I hope that it maybe doesn't speak so much to the case in Panjwaii but it perhaps might give you some sense as to what it's like for those of us who are coming home.


[note: Michael was reading from his original version of the column so there are differences between this and the final published version]


It’s taken me a full, sleepless week to pen this since first hearing of Panjwaii; all this time to write, to fathom anything of my reaction to it. In my first throes in the days last week I wrote to an editor of the initial flush of thoughts that raced through my mind. "I bet he felt nothing," I read back to find that I'd written. I was surprised at my words. "I bet he barely feels anything even now."

Early reports suggest Staff Sergeant Robert Bales returned to his base after the alleged killings and promptly turned himself in, almost immediately volunteering what he'd done. Questions obviously swirl around him and the scene that was found in those small villages in Panjwaii. It's an area I know from my days living in Kandahar, the nearby Afghan city; the country's second capital and the birthplace of the Taliban. The district is well-known to the Taliban, one of countless places around the city where they exhibit their influence. In one community there years back, according to Kandaharis, Canadian forces bulldozed a number of homes, forcing several families to flee. Strategically, it's long been a Taliban port of call, though of late combat there has not been regular nor intense. But none of that really gives answers as to why. Why a 38-year-old father of two, a man who signed up -- says his lawyer -- a month after 9/11 to help fight for his country, why an eleven-year veteran would do this thing of which Staff Sergeant Bales now stands accused.

As a sufferer myself, I would find it hard to think that Staff Sergeant Bales, after all he’s endured, would not have some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But even if that be so, it alone is not any kind of explanation. Studies show anything up to 30% of combat vets returning home report some kind of PTSD effect. Of the millions of Americans who have thus served, we don't see them rolling door to door executing kids. In itself, such a horror goes beyond any combat condition. And Army officials say since 9/11 more than 107,000 soldiers have completed three or more tours.

Perhaps it might be said we do kill children in our wars. While our troops go out of their way, even adding great risk to their own lives to prevent it, it does still happen. Many of us who have experienced the fighting over these long years have seen it for ourselves, be it from lighting up errant vehicles at checkpoints or tossing grenades into structures to silence a well-used weapon or from the ubiquitously named collateral damage when we drop our bombs or are forced to blast our way out of ambush killing zones. In that odiously dark place where our young men have to go in their heads to endure and survive and carry out the ugly deeds demanded of them in combat, these things must take their seat. Human life comes to hold both a greater and a lesser value than it might obtain say in a peaceful civilian life. Looking back it seems to me from just my own quiet accumulation of horrors, people can become chattel, certainly once you’ve stepped over enough body parts, picked up enough dying mates, and embraced that mind-set required to be purveyors of death in a foreign land.


Looking then, to my business model, I can't take that out of me. So I looked back to the 1970s, of all things. And there I saw in 1972
US forces withdrew from South Vietnam. In April 1975 we saw the fall of Saigon, the helicopters famously leaving the roof of the Embassy. And then I saw silence from then on from '75 until we hit 1979. And what did I find then? A thing called Deer Hunter. A thing called Apocalypse Now. Seven years after that we had a thing called Platoon. And on we went.

Like I said, I feel lesser now because I'm not in Afghanistan where our boys and girls are bleeding and dying and where the Afghans are bleeding and dying. But I'm hoping now as I go forward perhaps with luck they go forward. Because what I realized, when for example I turned to a high school text I read eagerly as a young boy and that I only just returned to a year ago, a small little offering called
All Quiet on the Western Front. That concerns events in the first World War in 1917, written by a former young German soldier sent to the front line. Remarque was only on the front line for about three weeks before he was wounded; took him ten years to write that book.

I went back and I studied
Platoon just of late and in that study I read more widely and found some words of Oliver Stone who'd served a year as a grunt in Vietnam. Obviously he wrote and then directed that now-famous film. "It took me eight years," wrote Stone, "before I could even think about penning that screenplay."

Arguably one of the greatest books to come out of the Vietnam war is
Dispatches by an American called Michael Herr, the most unlikely of historians. He was sent to Vietnam for a month by Esquire magazine. He ended up staying a year. He spent most of it in Khe Sanh. [note: Michael has pointed out elsewhere that it took Herr about 10 years to write Dispatches.]

A man who is now a very, very dear friend of mine -- and in a film that was written by Michael Herr called
Apocalypse Now, a character portrayed by Dennis Hopper in that movie, if any of you remember that errant photographer we find upriver with Kurtz -- well, that's a portrayal of a friend of mine called Tim Page, a famous British war photographer who lost 20% of his head in that war for Time magazine whom, I'll just footnote, he had to sue because they refused to pay his hospital bills. Suffice to say, he won.

And when I think of another great book out of Vietnam,
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, it took 35, 40-odd years for him to write that book.

So looking back upon all of that, it occurred to me that after the horrors that accompany a war, particularly when it is felt that we lost, as arguably one would say about Iraq, we as a culture, it seems to me we have to pause and breathe, and then we can take our breath again and we can begin our conversation about what's happened to us, to those who weren't there, to those who were, to what we did to the people we found in these lands. And I think that with Iraq at least, that moment's beginning. We now see that
Thunder Run, a rather excellent book written about the invasion of Iraq, is now in Hollywood being greenlit with stars attached as a 3-D film. We're starting to see the first small expressions of our conversation about Iraq. And, inshallah, a conversation about Afghanistan will follow.

But right now standing before you, that's where I see my place. As I've told the executives I've met in Hollywood, I'd like to think that I have something to say in this conversation because I know I have a lot of healing yet to be done as, I think, does America. And that's what I've now set forth to do and that's what this is a small examination thereof.

So I'll now open the floor to any questions you may have, if there's any. But it's in that spirit that I stand here before you and that I've returned to America yet again from my hometown of Brisbane to continue this conversation that I think for better or for worse all of us -- Australian, American, Iraqi, or Afghan -- are compelled to have. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, that was great. I actually have two questions. One is your thoughts about going into Iraq originally, what you thought about that, and the second is what are your thoughts now about the Taliban, al Qaeda, how were you treated by them?

Well, going into Iraq, in one sense I was blessed, I was a clean slate. Personally, I knew nothing about Iraq. At that point I was neck-deep in Afghanistan, another country I knew nothing about until I got there. Obviously, going into Iraq I think we can all agree clearly was a strategic mistake. Whether we went in there with good or ill intent -- that's a matter that will be debated, I think, for our generations. Obviously there was no WMD in Iraq. Is that the real reason we went in or not?

Personally, what I came to view -- rightly or wrongly, without having read more widely, without having any DC Beltway particular inside knowledge, it seemed to me that we went into Iraq with a mission of ideas. They may have been deeply flawed but it seemed to me that when we boil it down it wasn't a war for oil because when the oil contracts were carved up we actually didn't get them, China basically did. The reconstruction and so forth.

There seemed to be a group within the particular administration at that time who firmly believed when they looked at the problem that was besetting America, which was Islamic fundamentalism and the particular expression of al Qaeda. From whence was it coming? Well, it's coming from the Middle East, from these angry young men, this hotbed of these ideas. Alright, how should we deal with that? Well, let's go to the root of the problem, let's go and strike at the Middle East and let's combat that idea with another idea, which is democracy. Okay, how should we do that? Let's choose one country, take it down, and let's rebuild it and make it the shining model. Does anyone even remember hearing that? It seems like it's ancient history now, like it's something from the Sumerian age. But we went to Mesopotamia, to the cradle of civilization to plant the firmament of democracy. Build it and they will come.

We can all argue now the relative merits of the success or otherwise of that mission. For me, by and large, it didn't matter. Your boys and girls were going. Their president called upon them to go. Whether you agree or not, be it Vietnam, be it Korea, be it World War II or World War I, your president called upon them to go and they had to and they went. They volunteered, they were professional soldiers, professional marines, and they were going, right or wrong. So went I. If they were going, so was I. And for me that's pretty much where I begin and where I leave it on the rights and wrongs of going in. It didn't matter to me at the time and it still doesn't matter now. Because it was happening. And if they had to bear it then so would I and I learned to bear testament for that.

So obviously we all know that there was no WMDs. We all know that there have been strategic implications since, most notably: by invading Iraq we emboldened, enlarged, and expanded the power of Iran. The one single great, outstanding, unparalleled, inarguable winner of the war in Iraq was Iran. That's a reality that people can argue the benefits thereof again but that's just a reality that we now live with.

So that was going in. And the second…?

Q: About how you were treated by the Taliban and al Qaeda when you had personal interactions with them.

That's it. When I went to Afghanistan I was literally a young Aussie sitting in the Sydney office of
Time magazine. Time magazine in New York barely knew they had a Sydney office. Honestly. Back in those days -- I mean, even today, you do realize that be it Newsweek or be it Time magazine, there is not one Time magazine. There is Time magazine domestic that we all read here on the streets of New York, then there's Time magazine Europe and Time magazine Asia. Once upon a time there was a Time magazine Latin America and there was a Time magazine South Pacific. And that was the first American organization mad enough to employ me. They were so mad and I was so grateful that I made the then-editor the godfather of my only son. I'm sure he regrets it.

So there were many expressions of
Time back then. And it was only through the efforts of my son's godfather that I managed to get this call-up. This anonymous Aussie sitting in Sydney who was finally asked to go into Afghanistan on a relief stint for three weeks in November 2001, two months after September 11th. "All right, let him go, never heard of him, don't know, we don't care, doesn't matter if he screws it up, it's such a forgotten part of the war, we'll let him go." Well, I stayed 13 months. I only came home in those 13 months once and that was immediately after a thing known as Operation Anaconda or the Battle for Shah-i-Kot.

You'll all recall immediately after 9/11 when the Green Berets and the task force of the CIA and others went in, there was Tora Bora -- Yeah, rings a bell? Well, there, the Americans relied upon local militia to do the fighting, under the guidance of American advisers. Well suffice to say they got away. Why? Because Osama paid them more than we paid them. So four months later-- even less, three months later, we had a re-run of that scenario. We had al Qaeda and Osama himself, it is said, and Taliban hardcore holed up in mountain domains ready to be besieged. And in that second, that sequel to Tora Bora the Americans had learned that they couldn't rely on the Afghans and the Americans themselves did it. 10th Airborne, Green Berets, Australian SAS…

Anyway, for better or for worse I was in the thick of that battle. And it was after that
I went home briefly. In five months I'd lost 23 kilos or -- what's that, about 50 pounds? In four months, five months I'd lost 50 pounds. I went home, came back to Afghanistan and it turns out after many years of trying I'd somehow successfully managed to conceive. And so my son Jack was on the way. At the end of which, I came home for his birth which was in early 2003 and I left him at 21 days of age for the invasion of Iraq.

Now, I say all of that as a preface to the Taliban and al Qaeda. I'd already previously been kidnapped at that point, in the Solomon Islands. The friendliest of my three kidnappings. It was the most polite… Sounds trite to say it, but there it is.

I was kidnapped by a warlord on Guadalcanal who it turns out the next day was conducting negotiations with the Australian government and guess who was the insurance policy? But in that one, the guns were held to my head when I first arrived and I was snatched away, but from then on it was really quite lovely. I was staying in the village, on the beach. I'm not kidding. In a thatched hut, the whole nine yards. It was the Pacific idyll. And I was staying with the warlord and his family, his pregnant wife, his two kids, and I was eating fish freshly plucked from the ocean that evening and we ate.

The next morning as the breakfast fires were smoking through the village all the men disappeared for a moment and they came back just laden with weapons and off they went to the Aussie negotiations. So I sat there and ended up playing rugby with his kids. When he came back, negotiations successful, I was allowed to press off again through the elephant grass, back to Honiara. As I was hopping back in my vehicle and saying goodbye and thank you and all this the warlord says to me, "Would you mind taking my pregnant wife with you? She's going to go see the doctor for a checkup." So I took his missus back with me.

So I mean, that was the bad guy in Guadalcanal. So then I arrived in Afghanistan and the Taliban were the bad guys. And behind the Taliban was al Qaeda. Well, those three weeks that I was assigned as a relief stint to go into Afghanistan for Time magazine, it was to go to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, their home. And to cut many long stories short, I came to know the Taliban in a very particular and very intimate way, living in Kandahar.

It got to the point where I was with
Time magazine, staying in this dreadful little place, and all the other western media were there, and one by one as the weeks went by they drifted off as attention shifted to Kabul and elsewhere. Then the aid agencies arrived, with the Red Cross and the UN and others, but then the Taliban -- then technically in retreat -- blew up the compound of the Red Cross so everyone left. That was it. The last of the journalists, whoever may have been there, and any NGOs left.

Well, Stupid here stayed. By which point my beard was down to here, I was wearing shalwar kameez and I was starting to pick up some of the language. It got to the point where I wasn't conversant in Pashtu, the local language of the Taliban, but I could speak my way through a checkpoint or a restaurant meal or a basic conversation and I had a thick, thick Kandahari accent. So much so that we were able to either go to Pakistan where much of the Taliban remained and still exists, into Deh Rahwod where the Australians are now based with American forces and there's terrible fighting, into Panjwaii where this incident occurred. My two translators, one of them, his father was one of the first Taliban commanders. The second chap, was from Panjwaii which is why I know that district so very, very well today.

And we could go to these places and sit with the Taliban in their equivalent of the roadside diner and have our meal. And we could come and we could go, and my translators and my drivers knew precisely the extent of my Pashtu so they would ask me questions they knew I would understand and could answer. And at a certain point after the meal I would curl up and pretend to be a tired traveler and sleep and they would engage the Taliban. Then they would wake me up -- my name in Afghanistan was Bismillah Khan Noorzai. And they'd say, "Bismillah Khan, [speaks Pashtu] time to go, let's go." They'd wake me up and I'd stretch, put my sandals back on, do whatever, and off we'd go. They never had a clue. And then over the year that I lived there they would reveal me to the Taliban and I got to know them.

I believe it was Henry Kissinger who once said, "In geopolitics, there's no such thing as friends. There's only national interests." Or when I think back to my days of my Political Science degree, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes when he was examining the reasons why it is that we came together to form a social contract, to come together as a community -- I'm surrendering certain liberties and freedoms to enter society in return for which there is security in my house at night. I know the contract will be enforced, that my children can be educated. Thomas Hobbes said that before entering that social contract when we are in our purest natural state as family groups or individuals, life was meant to be cruel, brutish, and short, left to our own devices. And it's to avoid that that we come together in society.

So it is with the Taliban. The Taliban are about self and communal interests. To this day it remains so. And understanding the Taliban is very, very different to understanding al Qaeda. Two entirely separate creatures. And the Taliban even till now, from then to now, is a nationalist organization. It is an organization driven by interests for Pashtun self-representation, Pashtun representation, and a Pashtun seat at the table of Afghan power. Okay, yes they are draped in Islamic extremism, but a lot of that is born from their cultural extremism. They're more driven by a thing known as
Pashtunwali, which is the Pashtun honor code, then they are driven by Islam. And given the literacy rates in Afghanistan, most Afghan mullahs I met couldn't read the Holy Koran, which is in Arabic. They couldn't even read it if it was in Pashtu, anyway. It was what was passed down to them. So when I got to know the Taliban that's what I came to realize. They weren't the one-dimensional boogyman that I'd known them at 9/11, as we all did. They fleshed themselves out and they became real like that.

The salient point running from that to now are the negotiations.
As I said on TV, infamously, American cannot win the war in Afghanistan. Certainly not with bombs and bullets, and certainly not in Afghanistan because the war in Afghanistan is either to be won or lost in Pakistan. And it was through understanding the true heart and nature of the Talibs themselves that allowed me years later to know this thing that I have just told you. And it was by knowing the Taliban as they actually were and the way they treated me -- because even when I revealed myself as an infidel, as a kafir, as a foreigner, by then I was Bismillah Khan. "Ah, he's alright." So they talked to me. I didn't care what they talked about, they could reveal their most intimate selves, and over time they did.

But it was that understanding of the Taliban that in 2008, when CNN asked me to go to Pakistan for the first time in ages, that led me to be able -- me and a producer who for better or for worse was attached to me by CNN, I think he must have committed some great sin somewhere in his career and he needed to be soundly punished, because he was to be the one who was to work with Michael Ware and teach him television, and his name is
Tommy Evans. So anything I ever did I did with Tommy. And we were sent to Pakistan and it was on that trip that something happened that we still see playing out today.

And as we were able to say on that trip to the American people and the Australians, too -- I mean, as a quick, quick segue, imagine when I would go home at Christmas to see Jack and my family and there we are playing an International Cricket Test Series against Pakistan. The Pakistani military -- I wouldn't say the government because the civilian government's just a fraud -- the Pakistani military is killing our diggers and here we are playing a Test Series against them. That jarred with me very hard, to separate the players and the people from what was happening on the ground.

But it was from knowing the Taliban that allowed me to understand that our diggers are bleeding and dying and the American grunts and marines are bleeding and dying for nothing to do with Osama bin Laden or today Ayman al-Zawahiri. Nothing to do with Mullah Omar and the Taliban. To this day they bleed and they die because Pakistan doesn't like India and India doesn't like Pakistan. That's the truth of it, and that I learned through the Taliban, by getting to know the Taliban.

But the Taliban alliance we got from the war, and Hezb-e-Islami and the organization that fought with Jalaluddin Haqqani, the one who currently holds the American soldier, still a POW and I don't see people talking about him enough. Okay, those people who want to fight the regime in Afghanistan, they cannot possibly hope to do so without sanctuary -- bases, places to plan, to strategize, to train. All right, where do they get them? They get them in Pakistan. All right. Pakistan could prevent that if it wanted to. Pakistan doesn't have to arm them, doesn't have to train them, it doesn't have to do anything. It just has to let them have bases. By doing nothing Pakistan feeds the war. Or gives life to the war.

So why would Pakistan do that? If they just stopped these guys at the border the war would be over, I swear to you. So why don't they? The answer is India. The government of Afghanistan is an Indian client-state. Certainly the Pakistanis think it is. If you cast your mind back to the days before September 11th, the Taliban ruled pretty much the entire country. Rising up from my hometown, Kandahar, they branched out village by village, city by city, province by province and took over the whole country. The people welcomed it. Why? Because after we abandoned them in the '80s they were left to these wretched warlords who raped and pillaged. And the Taliban provided what? Law and order. Security. The warlords couldn't come to your village because the Taliban said no. They were welcomed.

So valley by valley the Taliban grew. Prior to September 11th, essentially -- this is simplifying it, but essentially one valley remained, known as the Panjshir. And there in the Panjshir valley, the Panjshiris were led by
Ahmad Shah Massoud, the great anti-Taliban fighter. Through all those bleak years fighting the Taliban, as Ismail Khan, as Dostum, as all the other anti-Taliban warlords fell by the wayside, Massoud continued. He begged America for help, and we gave him about a quarter of a million bucks. Good luck with that. He begged France for help, they gave him bits and pieces, they gave him intellectual support, he was allowed to come to Paris and hold press conferences. He begged the British, who ignored him. Who was it to the day of 9/11 that was funding the Panjshiris and was building a massive hospital in the Panjshir Valley? India. India. And why? Because the Taliban was owned by Pakistan. And India and Pakistan, be it on the Kashmir border or be it anywhere else, wherever one is, so is the other. Facing each other off, vying for influence.

So the Taliban was created by a friend of mine, he actually is a very dear friend, he's a former director of the Pakistani CIA, an organization known as the ISI. He is known now on Wikipedia as "the godfather of the Taliban." Their spy chief forged the Taliban because that served Pakistan interests. And as a Pakistani, militarily, I can see why, there's a logic to that. I can understand why they would do that. Agree or disagree, I can see why they did it. So India's going, "Hmm, look what they're doing over there in Afghanistan. Right, we'll fund anyone who's against these Pakistani-sponsored groups."

Two days before 9/11, September 9th, what happened? Al Qaeda had two Arabs posing as journalists who went into the Panjshir and assassinated Massoud. Two days before 9/11. Why? Because they knew, "We do 9/11, all hell is going to rain down on us. Who's the first person they'll turn to? Massoud, the only anti-Taliban fighter left. So let's kill him now." Which they did, and then 48 hours later: 9/11.

While we were nowhere for Massoud and the others, there was India. So now, fast-forward. The Panjshiris, against all odds, win the war! Because we stepped in and helped. The Panjshiris basically dominate the Afghan government. Who backed them when no one else did? India. Who trains the Afghan Army officers? India. Where does Karzai go for his key strategic meetings? India. Who spends billions in aid? India. So Pakistan allows the Taliban to flourish because that's destabilizing an Indian client-state. And until we get some sort of accord between Pakistan and India where they can try and live with each other, you'll have this on-going mess in Afghanistan.

And it was by knowing the Taliban that led me to this understanding that in 2009 when I went to Pakistan I was able to sit down and bludgeon the ISI and say I know why you're doing it. You've got America's attention. You can turn the tap on and off of American body bags. If this was a game of poker, I said to the two-star general, now's the time to cash in your chips. And he went on camera there for the first time,
Major General Athar Abbas, still the official spokesman, and he said, "We are in direct communication with the Taliban, with Hezb-e-Islami, and with Haqqani," and, on camera, "we can bring them to the negotiating table." Off camera he said, "…in return for which we want concessions on India." And that's when these negotiations with the Taliban began. On that day. And it was from knowing the Taliban.

Al Qaeda, on the other hand, are an absolute bunch of Islamic psychopaths. God bless them, I mean, they are angry Muslim men. I can see in their heads how they get there. I can't abide by one stitch any step of the way that they do get there, but I can see it. For better or for worse, to this point as far as we know I'm still the only western journalist since 9/11 who's sat with al Qaeda. Who, since 9/11, has been to al Qaeda training camps. Who, since 9/11, was kidnapped by al Qaeda. And when it comes to
al Qaeda in Iraq particularly -- and if you remember that flourish of hideous beheading videos that began in '04 and for those years they continued -- Nicholas Berg, Olin Armstrong, Kenneth Bigley, the names go on, there was 40-odd of them -- it was at the height of that that I was grabbed. And I'm the only Westerner of any kind who was in the possession of al Qaeda and who lived.

So to have sat there with al Qaeda, closer than this, and to see into the eyes of these men, was a life-changing experience, I can tell you. And they're a completely different beast, a completely different organization, a completely different entity. And to some degree they are at the heart of my first film, this documentary from which this stuff all comes. It speaks to the point of meeting al Qaeda.

Shortly before I made my last American trip, which was in October last year, I don't know why but I went to the bookstore and I purchased something, again, I read in high school and hadn't read since. It's now the heart of my film. It's a small novella written way back in 1896, and it's called
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. And I'm remaking Apocalypse Now as an unwitting documentary for this very reason. In the beginning of '03, we were told, "The enemy doesn't exist. There's no insurgency. The war will be over by Christmas. They're dead-enders. Baathists. Criminals." Well, I was there in August '03 when they blew up the Jordanian embassy. It was a couple blocks from the Time house. I saw it. I felt it. I knew that this war wasn't going to be over, so I went looking for this enemy who didn't exist, and for this I found the insurgents.

And I tell you what, they were West Pointers, Iraqi West Pointers. They were there fighting for their country. But these suicide bombings kept going and I knew it wasn't them. So there had to be a darkness behind them, further upriver there was a Kurtz. And in the real war scenario it wasn't Marlon Brando -- oh, I wish it was. It was
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And as I pushed further up towards al Qaeda, it turns out in July 2004, when Zarqawi decided to announce his arrival with his first ever DVD, his ten suicide bombings, behind the scenes "This is us," he gave that to me. Personally. It didn't go to Jazeera, it didn't go to al-Arabiya, it didn't go onto the internet.

We at
Time magazine were actually in hiding in a hotel and at midnight [knocks on podium] I open my hotel door on the 23rd floor and there's my al Qaeda middleman. "They told me to give you this." I said, what's on it? He says, "I don't know, but I'll tell you something, I arrived at dawn,” he was told to come or dispatched, “and I had to sit until a few hours ago, till they gave it to me and I brought it to you." He goes, "They argued all day about what to do with this thing," and he goes, "In the end, it was the Emir of Emirs, the Prince of Princes, Zarqawi himself, who said, Give it to the Infidel," and it came to me.

A few months later as I was in negotiations with Zarqawi, my Colonel Kurtz, for an interview, face to face, I wanted to sit down with a video and interview him, I even found the other day on the old
Time magazine letterhead with all these questions in Arabic that I wrote to him and he would respond back -- he finally decided, "Yes, I will give you the interview." And you know how he communicated that to me? He kidnapped my friend. The kidnappers contracted to do the grab thought it was me. The only week of the entire years of the war that a six-foot tall dark-haired Australian was also staying with me, they grabbed the wrong one. They were very embarrassed and they brought him back the next day.

But the al Qaeda plan was to keep me for a week, make sure I didn't have a GPS bug up my ass, and then let me have the interview. I'm really glad I didn't get that one. But that strikes at the heart of my film, going to find this heart of darkness, and that's the al Qaeda that I've come to know.


FRANCES CASSIDY, PRESIDENT OF AMERICAN AUSTRALIAN ORGANIZATION: Michael, somebody once said "We've got time for several more questions but only one answer." Do we have another question, please? It was all fascinating. Any more questions? You covered a whole lot, I know.

Q: Obviously when you were in the war you were in the line of fire, we could see that from watching the film. What did it feel like, were you scared, were you sort of blanked out, what did it feel like when you were in those situations where you could have been shot?

It's a good question, that I'm asking now, constantly. At the extreme end of it, it turns out there's a thing called psychogenic amnesia where the psyche decides this is too traumatic and just shuts it away. I found that there's entire chunks of my life over these years that's like that.
I was participating in a documentary with the Australian ABC, our form of PBS, where they're asking me about an attempted assassination of a member of my staff, he was blown up in Iraq. And they said, all right, we've interviewed him -- he's down in Melbourne -- we've interviewed him, we now want your side of that attack. So I said okay. They said, "Take us through, we know you weren't in the country, so take us through from when you got the phone call." And I went, righty-o. [Silence] "Please, go on." Yeah, yeah. [Silence] I can't remember. And that went on for a bit, finally they said, "Look, you were in New York, the phone call came, does that help?" No. In the end they said, "You got the call in New York, he'd been bombed…" In the ambulance someone thrust a phone to the side of his head while he's dying, I spoke to him. We got him to Jordan where the king's surgeon operated on him. Apparently I flew from New York to Amman, apparently I sat by his bed for 72 hours, and it was only when the Aussie embassy gave me a nod and a wink that he could come home that I then returned to Iraq. To this very day I have no recollection of any of that whatsoever. Zero. I'm only relying upon what Salah and the ABC told me. There's a lot of moments like that. My kidnap. I can tell the story of my kidnapping on Haifa Street, easy peasey, but it's like I'm talking about someone else.

I soldier who it turns out I nominated for the Medal of Honor, a fantastic soldier by the name of
Staff Sergeant David Bellavia, he told the ABC, "In all the stuff we went through I never once saw Michael show fear," and I don't remember ever feeling it. Of course I did. Of course I did. And the sadness? Forget the fear, it's the sadness. And that's what I'm now processing. I think the psyche put some of it away for a rainy day. Well, it's pissing rain now. And I think that's how I dealt with most of it.

Anyone else?

Q: Concerning the Iraq experience, the Australian soldiers, the American soldiers, there's all these stories about who's--

Better or worse. All that stuff's hokum. A soldier is a soldier is a soldier. Afghan soldiers have got crap-all training but I've seen such bravery from them sometimes. And within every western military it's horses for courses. For example, American Delta -- if you're held hostage, if you're a kidnap victim, by god you want Delta bursting in that window. But if you want dudes who can go out in the dead of night and creep through enemy bush and can spy on their camps and can maybe with one shot kill their leader and come sneaking back out without anyone knowing they were there, you want the SAS. It's like each military has particular skills in particular areas and it's together in the coalition that we actually express the full spectrum of our fighting ability.

Now the Aussie digger is -- we don't have the money and we don't have the equipment that the Americans do. We're getting it now, actually. That's the one real benefit to our contribution to Iraq and Afghanistan. People back home hammer on about why we did it, troops should come home, pull them out, yadda yadda. I believe the reason we contributed our forces first to Iraq then to Afghanistan was to service our relationship with America, basically. Australia can't defend itself, still can't. So we turn to America, since John--
Prime Minister Curtin turned from Britain to America in World War II to protect us, and I believe that's why, in the cold light of day, we contributed our forces. And we are benefitting enormously from that, but so are the Americans, too, it's turning out.

So I find that a good soldier is a good soldier. We've all got them. Push comes to shove, that's the test of a human being. And when it does, we're all the same, we're either as good or as weak as each other. And our diggers can hold up their end in Oruzgan province but by god what I have seen in Anbar province, what I've seen in Salah al-Din, in Kunar, in Paktika from the Americans, from the Brits in Basra, in Maysan province. It's horses for courses. I think there's been more of a calibration, more of an equalizing now because we've all been at war for over a decade together, so I think there's been much more of a measuring out.

So, I can talk endlessly about that, the particular fine points and the fine-tuning of military by military, but it leads me to one quick point that I meant to say at another point in this conversation. I would like to urge the United States to seriously take up now the game of cricket as a matter of urgent national security. And I mean that whole-heartedly. I can't stand cricket -- like baseball, it's like watching paint dry or grass grow. But the fact that the American public has no idea who
Sachin Tendulkar is, the great Indian cricket batsman who only now has just scored his 100th 100th in first-class cricket signals the demise of American power. Why? Because we're entering the Asian Century again, aren't we.

Someone told me, I don't know if it's right, but in virtually every century of recorded history that we've had, China and India have been world superpowers. There's only the 20th Century where they weren't, but we're returning to the natural order. Both are about to unveil their first aircraft carriers. You only need an aircraft carrier for one reason. And Australia has signed a secret defense deal with India where, according to the Australian Defense Force we have upgraded our bilateral relationship to that of Strategic Partnership. Why? Because as I said, we can't defend ourselves and we're turning to India.

First and foremost we're an American little brother, but we know where the bread's gonna be buttered and at the end of the day we have the Indian Ocean, and that's key and vital to our strategic interests. And we will continue to befriend China, as we should, because at the end of the day I'd like to think none of us have to be playing these silly games. But whilst we convince ourselves with our strategic bunkers, be it in Beijing, be it in New Delhi, Canberra, or DC that we must, then we must deal with this and I urge America as a result to have some kind of a cultural bridge with which to reach the Indian people themselves. Because I can't think of any another great link between America cultures and the Indian, as I can't think of one between the Australians and Indians save for taxi drivers now and cricket. So I urge the United States, as a matter of urgent national security to seriously take up
the game of cricket. Thank you very much.