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Anthony Shadid (1968-2012): Pulitzer-Winning NY Times Middle East Correspondent Dies in Syria

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid has died at the age of 43. Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack on Thursday while covering the conflict in Syria. An American of Lebanese descent who spoke fluent Arabic, Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see. His exceptional coverage won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and 2010 for international reporting while covering the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Shadid has been a guest on Democracy Now! several times over the past decade reporting on Libya, Tunisia, Iraq and Lebanon. We air excerpts from our last interview with Shadid in April 2011, just after he returned home following his six-day capture in Libya by Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack yesterday while reporting on the conflict in Syria. One of the most celebrated journalists covering the Middle East, 43-year-old Shadid had been reporting inside Syria for a week, gathering information on the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. His photographer, Tyler Hicks, said Shadid had medication with him but began to show symptoms early Thursday before eventually suffering a fatal attack. Hicks later carried Shadid’s body across the border to Turkey. He is survived by his wife and two children. An American of Lebanese descent who spoke fluent Arabic, Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid’s exceptional coverage won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for international reporting while he was at the Washington Post on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed. The Pulitzer Board praised Shadid’s, quote, “extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended,” unquote. Shadid won a second Pulitzer Prize at the Washington Post in 2010, also for his Iraq reporting, and has since been nominated while at the New York Times for his coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings.

This is Anthony Shadid reporting from Cairo for the New York Times last February, the night Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced out.

ANTHONY SHADID: This is Anthony Shadid for the New York Times in Cairo. In some ways, one revolution may have ended tonight with the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, and another revolution may have begun. People are already making comparisons between Egypt’s revolution and some of the most sizable moments in the Arab world: the 1967 Middle East war, or even the American invasion of Baghdad. That Arab world faces many of the same challenges that Egyptian youth face today: that’s a demographic that is going younger and younger; the rule of governments that have never quite responded to their people’s demands for democracy; ineffectiveness of bureaucracies; and entrenched interests of militaries, secret police, and big businesses that have profited off of neoliberal reforms across the region.

EGYPTIAN PROTESTER: At last, after a lot of patience, the will of people won. The will of people won at last. At last, he stepped down.

ANTHONY SHADID: The test of how far these reforms go may prove the biggest challenge of Egypt’s revolution. What the protesters were demanding over the past 18 days was a fundamental rethinking of Arab societies: the relationship of ruler to ruled. Already we’ve seen reverberations across the region: Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, perhaps even Syria, which is under one of the most autocratic forms of government. Even the most optimistic think these changes, these reforms, these changes in society, may take months, years, perhaps even decades. But then again, no one expected Egypt’s revolution to unfold as quickly as it did. Eighteen days later, and President Hosni Mubarak has fallen.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, reporting for the New Yort Times in Cairo last February.

His work entailed great peril. In 2002, he was shot in the shoulder while reporting in Ramallah, in the West Bank, for the Boston Globe. Last March, Shadid and three other New York Times journalists were kidnapped in Libya by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. They were held for six days, beaten before being released.

Democracy Now! spoke with Anthony Shadid shortly after he returned home. Today we remember Anthony Shadid by going back to our interview with him in April of 2011. I began the interview by asking him to describe where he and his colleagues were at the time they were captured in Libya.

ANTHONY SHADID: We were in—you know, a day before I had gone back to Benghazi, I had been covering the fighting at, I guess what you’d describe as “the front” in Libya, and I had gone back to Benghazi. And I had come that morning to a town called Ajdabiya, because I think there was a sense—at least I had the sense that this battle for this town might prove decisive somehow, that how that battle went would determine, you know—would have broader repercussions, I think, on the war, the civil war that we’re seeing in Libya today. We had spent the day reporting that.

The fighting did begin that morning. We had spent the day going from the hospital to the front, interviewing residents in the town. And by about 4:00 or 4:30, we had decided—you know, we kept on hearing rumors that the government was in the town, that government troops were in the town. You know, we didn’t think that was happening; we thought they were still coming from the west. It turned out that they had encircled the town. And as we were leaving to go back to Benghazi, you know, probably within—I’d say within a couple of minutes, we hit that checkpoint, that they had set up just minutes before.

The photographer, Lynsey, she saw the checkpoint first, and she thought it was government. We weren’t sure. And I have to say, it felt like minutes, but it was probably just seconds, when we drove right into the checkpoint. We passed the first line of soldiers, and then the second line of soldiers, I think, recognized that some people in the car were foreigners. And our driver yelled “Journalist!” And at that point they pulled us out of the car, and almost instantly, as they pulled us out of the car, you know, a gun battle, unlike anything we’d ever seen, erupted. Rebels attacked the checkpoint, and we basically ran for our lives at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: So then, talk about what happened. Who first took you? What happened at the checkpoint?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, there’s that look. I think, you know, there was a look, I think, in those soldiers’ faces of just fear and rage, as they saw us. And they pulled us out of the car. Like I said, the gun battle started immediately. And when we ran, Tyler ran first, and then I fell on a sandbar and got to my feet, and then I ran after him. And Tyler and Lynsey—or, I’m sorry, Lynsey and Steve followed. And we got behind a kind of a concrete shack, basically, to take cover from the shooting, and the soldiers set upon us there.

They emptied our pockets, you know, slapped us, beat us, and forced us onto our knees. And then I think—you know, again, I’m going to say it was minutes, but it was probably just seconds—they told us to get on our stomachs, to lay flat on our stomachs. And we all resisted. I mean, I think all of us had the idea that if we were going to get on our stomachs, we might be shot or executed. We resisted, and they forced us down. And I remember looking up, hearing a tall—I remember him being a tall, lanky soldier, saying, you know, basically, “Shoot them.” And again, I’m sure it was just a matter of seconds, but it did feel like minutes—another soldier looked at him and said, “You can’t shoot them. They’re Americans.” And soon after that, they tied our legs and our hands and threw us in two pickup trucks.

And that kind of was the beginning of a 12-hour period where, you know, every—I’d say every couple hours, every three hours, another gun battle, another fight with the rebels, would start. We would pour out of the cars, trying to take cover on the ground. And then, by 2:00 a.m., they put us in a tank, drove us to another location, and that started a kind of a journey of seven or eight hours across—basically across the Libyan coast toward Sirte, where we were held in jail for a night.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who your captors were. Who were these soldiers, Anthony?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, it was interesting, Amy, because I kept on hearing the soldiers refer to “the doctor, the doctor.” You know, pretty early on, you got a sense that it was more of a militia than an army. There wasn’t—it was hard to identify any rank. Organization seemed a little bit haphazard. It was tough to see who was in charge or who wasn’t in charge. And I kept on hearing this word “doctor, doctor.” And then, later on in the night, there was a reference to Dr. Mu’tasim, and this is one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, considered hardline, or whatever that means. And it did seem that that militia was loyal to him. You know, at the stop that they took us the next morning, it was made clear that we needed to be put in the hands of Mukhabarat, that they’re going to put us in the hands of intelligence. And I think that was the reason for the journey to Sirte.

Once we got to Sirte, which is a pretty strategic town for the government, since it’s the—it’s Colonel Gaddafi’s hometown, there was an effort to find out who we are, where we had come from, what we were doing. And then a decision by the next day was to take us to Tripoli, which we got to by a military airplane. I have to say that night in Sirte was one of the tougher ones, because you did get the—I mean, you came up with the realization that no one knew who we were or, you know, where we had come from. At one point, I offered to my interrogator to transcribe our names in Arabic for him if he would take off the blindfold, and he refused. But, you know, it was a long night, because you thought this might last much longer than it actually did.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, can you talk about the moment of your release? What were you understanding at the time, you and your colleagues, and how it happened?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, we had been kept—and I have to say, once we arrived in Tripoli, we kind of just sprawled out on this—what we later learned was the headquarters for military intelligence. We just kind of sprawled out on the floor. You know, we had been—the beating at the—on the tarmac in Sirte, before we got on this military flight, was pretty rough. And my colleague—even in Tripoli, my colleague Tyler got a pretty rough blow to the head with a gun. Once we—so once we got to this office of military intelligence, we just kind of sprawled out on the floor. They gave us, of all things, milk and mango juice. And, you know, we kind of got our wits back together. And even in that meeting right there, they promised us that we were going to be treated well from then on. And they held their—you know, they met their promise: we were absolutely treated well from then on. We were fed well. You know, the accommodations, it was a detention center, but it was actually quite pleasant.

I think the only thing that was tough to deal with was the boredom, in some ways, that we were trying to figure out what was going to happen to us. We had got—we had watched TV for a few minutes. We knew that we were still missing. But as soon as they saw our reaction to that, they cut the cable. So we didn’t see TV after that, although we had heard that there was a debate over a no-fly zone. And we did worry about the implications of that. I think by the night before we were—or I’d say two nights before we were released, we could hear the anti-aircraft fire. We were in the—what they call Bab al-Azizia, which is the headquarters for Colonel Gaddafi, so we figured that the no-fly zone had been imposed, that there was bombing going on. We did hear the anti-aircraft fire. And I think, you know, four journalists sitting together, they’re just going to let their imaginations run wild. And they did. And we were worried that we would be kept days, weeks, even longer, as—you know, as hostages. Who knows? And again, it reminds me of what happened in Baghdad in 2003. I think a lot of journalists left Baghdad in 2003 because they feared what the Iraqi government would do. In the end, the Iraqi government did nothing to them before it fell. And I think this was a similar situation here.

Again, you could tell from these officials that we talked to in Tripoli that they very much were determined to show that this was a legitimate state, that the state still had prestige, that the state would play by diplomatic rules, essentially. And they did. And our Turkish—the Turkish diplomats who facilitated our release were told, I think, four times that we were about to be freed. The fourth time, we actually were. And Sunday morning, we were taken—we were blindfolded as we left the compound and then taken to the Turkish—well, we were taken to a Libyan office, and then the Turkish embassy. And from there, we were driven to the Tunisian border.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did that feel?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, it felt—well, you know, I want to say, you know, you felt jubilant or you felt relieved, and I’m not sure that was the feeling. I think it was—I think it was more a feeling of—I don’t think any of us talked all that much, to be honest. I think a lot of us had a lot of guilt over what—you know, the fate of our driver, who was—we still don’t know what has happened to him. We fear the worst. And we talked—that was the subject of a lot of our conversation over those three days in Tripoli. I think a lot of us felt guilt about what we had done to our friends and our families. You know, we didn’t know that anyone was even—we figured the New York Times was going to be paying attention to our case, but we didn’t know that there were going to be efforts beyond that. I think as soon as we got to Tunisia, we realized how much people had tried to help, and I think there was a deep appreciation on all our parts over that.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Shadid, we last spoke to you in Tunisia, this rolling rebellion that has been taking place—Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya. Can you talk about the different natures of these rebellions, different characters, and also what makes them similar, what you’ve observed?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, I do think that Egypt and Tunisia were, in some ways, the easy revolutions, and they’re revolutions that are still unfolding, and I think especially Tunisia, where the demands are very pronounced over what kind of change the opposition are—or the revolutionaries want to see in Tunisia. I think Egypt is absolutely still a work in progress, and I think—and it’s a fascinating one. It’s not coincidence that those two countries have, I think, the deepest sense of national identity. The divisions within those countries are not that great, are not that pronounced.

I think when we look at countries elsewhere in the Arab world, it does become much more complicated in some ways. I think in Libya we have that problem that I was just talking about, the lack of any real institutions to navigate a transition. I think when we look at countries like Bahrain, Yemen, and especially Syria, there are divisions—you know, ethnic, sectarian divisions—under the surface that I think frighten a lot of people, and I think especially so in Syria. I think Syria is the country that a lot of people are going to want to watch, that the implications of change there, I think, are as great as the implications were in Egypt. Syria is obviously a much smaller state. It doesn’t have the power or the prestige. It doesn’t have the history of Egypt. But it is at this kind of nexus of interest between Iran, Israel, Hezbollah in Lebanon, in neighboring Lebanon. And I think any change in the calculus there, any change in the arithmetic in Syria is going to have far-reaching impacts across the region.

AMY GOODMAN: You are the Beirut bureau chief for the New York Times. Talk about Lebanon and Jordan.

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, Lebanon—how do you describe Lebanon? It’s so—it’s remarkable to me that amid all this change in the region—and again, it’s hard to overstate how great this change and this transformation is. I think for the first time—absolutely, since I can remember, but perhaps that a lot of people can remember—the region is speaking with an indigenous vocabulary. You know, it’s speaking about its own vision. It’s articulating its own vision. It’s so radically, fundamentally different from the change that was imposed on Iraq through invasion and violence in 2003. This is a remarkable moment, I think, in the history of the modern Arab world, and it’s being articulated in a very forceful, fundamental way, in a way that’s never been done before.

Lebanon almost seems like a sideshow amid all these changes. And I think for a lot of Lebanese it’s difficult to see societies being transformed all around them, and Lebanon is still entrenched in this centuries-old or decades-old—let’s say decades-old—system of rule that in some ways makes the smallest identities the most relevant, you know, form of affiliation. There is an effort, I think, in Lebanon to change that, to get beyond these narrow sectarian identities and create something more—something broader, some broader notion of belonging. But it’s—those efforts are so far hamstrung. There have been a few protests, but they really haven’t gone anywhere.

I think Jordan is going to be more interesting. And again, Jordan, I think, falls in—in some ways, it falls into that arithmetic that Syria still plays by. Jordan is obviously an American ally. You know, you don’t see the American government abandoning the monarchy there anytime soon. But it’s also a complicated society, with its mix of Palestinians and Jordanians. The King, his wife are not popular. You keep thinking that this is going to be one of the places that we’re going to see change, you know, rather quickly, like Algeria, for instance, but it hasn’t happened so far. But again, this is a years-long process, and I think it is going to take years. And, you know, like I said, I think the easy revolutions are over. Now we’re in store for a much more difficult, much more precarious, you know, but no less promising, path toward fundamental change across the region.

AMY GOODMAN: And then can you talk about the U.S. response to these rolling rebellions? President Obama giving the major address he did in Cairo, soon after he was elected, to the Muslim world, and then the responses to the despots who not just Obama, but the administrations before, had shored up for decades, and holding on to the end and then, seeing when it’s inevitable, making the shift. Can you talk about what the role has been?

ANTHONY SHADID: Sure. You know, I have to suggest at the outset, it is—it’s so—you know, as a reporter in Iraq, it so much was about Iraq and America, this conflict between—I mean, obviously, the United States invaded that country, and the society was wrecked over, you know, a truly heartbreaking conflict that went on for years. It did strike me in Egypt, especially in Tahrir Square, when—absolutely there was criticism of U.S. policy, criticism of Israel, but I think fundamentally the narrative that you heard in Tahrir Square was about what kind of Egypt are we going to construct, what kind of Egypt are we going to build, what is our vision for the future, especially vis-à-vis a government that basically kind of, you know—I mean, let’s be blunt, a government that pretty much hated its people. That was remarkable to me. And again, I keep using this phrase, but it was an indigenous vocabulary. It was a narrative that was being articulated on people’s own terms in Cairo and elsewhere.

You know, I think the United States, almost by default, feels like it has to get involved, but you get the sense, being in a place like Tahrir Square, that the less involved they are, the better it’s going to be. I think there is—I think, you know, critics out there would see a level of cynicism on how this is unfolding, in terms of U.S. and Western intervention. I think it’s no coincidence that France and Italy, both with interests in the future of Libya’s oil, were the first to recognize Libya’s opposition government, along with Qatar. And I think there’s—you know, critics are right to point out that we haven’t seen a uniform standard on how American and Western intervention plays across the region. We saw a much more forceful response in Libya compared to what we’ve seen in Yemen or Bahrain, Yemen and Bahrain obviously both being strategic allies to the United States and the West. It is—you know, American intervention has a pretty sad history in the Arab world, and you do wonder how well that lesson is understood as we go forward, because it is—and I keep saying this, I hate to be repeating myself—but it is going to be much more dangerous and much more violent as we go forward. And I think there’s going to almost be a—you know, almost a fallback in—how do I put this? There’s going to be a desire to intervene, I think, as this gets more dangerous and more complicated and more violent, but I think that intervention, that very intervention, could very well make things worse.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way make it worse?

ANTHONY SHADID: Well, in what way? This is probably beyond my pay grade. But it’s—you know, I’m trying to think when it’s gone well, anytime over the past, you know, couple generations. And I don’t see it necessarily going well anytime soon. There is a—there is a dynamic, I think, that violence, especially violence imposed from abroad, imposes on these societies. And that dynamic, you know, almost always promises unintended consequences. And it did in Iraq. It’s doing that in Libya right now. I think this very prospect of what we’re seeing, the violence in Libya, is going to have repercussions that are going to last for a long time. And I think that model of—or, let’s say, those unintended consequences are something that almost by default happened with any intervention anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, are you planning to go back to the Middle East?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, I’m the bureau chief in Beirut, so I’m going back next week. But like I said, Lebanon is probably the quietest place in the Middle East right now. So I do want to get—try to hopefully get to Egypt, you know, rather soon. I think—you know, I think one of these key narratives to better understand when you look at the Arab world right now is this kind of deal that’s going to be made between political Islam and power. And I think that’s something that’s unfolding right now. I think we’re seeing it in Egypt unfold in a pretty forceful way. And it’s—you know, it’s a lot less dangerous to cover something like that, and I think in some ways more interesting. So I’m hoping to try to tackle that when I get back.

AMY GOODMAN: What makes you keep going back? You were shot in the shoulder in the West Bank in 2002. Why do you keep going back to war zones?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, not to be flip, but it’s kind of pretty much the only thing I know how to do—not cover conflict. I actually don’t like covering conflict. I think you have to cover conflict when it’s part of what you do cover. And I do cover the Arab world. You know, I’ve been covering it for 15 years. I think now, finally, is the moment that we see that is transformative in the Arab world, and it does make you even more, I think, eager, in some ways, to cover, to try to bring meaning to it, to witness it. And it matters, I guess. I think at each time you make these decisions—say, in Baghdad in 2003, in Lebanon in 2006, you know, as you pointed out, in Ramallah in 2002—you think that if you’re not there, that the story won’t be told. You know, that might be a little bit arrogant or conceited. It’s absolutely—you know, it’s the only way to bring altruism to the story, that it’s not just about ambition, that you’re trying to do something that’s meaningful. You know, I hope that’s the case. It’s probably a mix of all of them together. But you do want to—I think especially people who have been covering this for a long time and who have a sense of the place, you know, I think those people want to have role, at least, in how these stories, how these conflicts, how these uprisings are covered.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, speaking last April. He died of an apparent asthma attack yesterday while reporting on the conflict in Syria. He’s survived by his wife, New York Times reporter Nada Bakri, and two children. Anthony Shadid was 43 years old. To see the full interview and all of our interviews with Anthony Shadid, you can go to our website at

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