DATE October 29, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Former US Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing talks about
Iraq and the new documentary "Control Room"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
Our guest today is former US Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing, who was a
prominent figure in the documentary "Control Room." The film is just out on
Rushing was the Central Command or CENTCOM press officer whose job was to
represent the Marines to the worldwide media covering the war in Iraq,
including the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera. Because Rushing was relatively
candid about how he thought the war was progressing and how it was being
covered by the media, he was one of the most memorable figures in the film.
"Control Room" includes many conversations between Rushing and a producer from
Al-Jazeera, Hassan Ibrahim. Let's listen to one of their exchanges.
(Soundbite of "Control Room")
Mr. HASSAN IBRAHIM: To an average viewer--what do they see on television?
American tanks in the center of Baghdad--that's what they see. That's what
I'm trying to convey to you. Please try to put your...
Captain JOSH RUSHING: To me, occupation would be us rolling in the center of
town and raising the American flag.
Mr. IBRAHIM: Try to put yourself in the place of an average Arab viewer, an
Arab viewer sitting in a coffee shop in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Khartoum,
Morocco--just that simple viewer.
Capt. RUSHING: OK. I see what you're saying.
Mr. IBRAHIM: That simple person. Yeah.
Capt. RUSHING: You're not talking facts. You're taking their perception.
Mr. IBRAHIM: Yeah.
Capt. RUSHING: I see how it could be perceived as that. I do. But there's a
feeling in America that there's an instability in this region. Do you know
what I'm saying, though, that there's...
Mr. IBRAHIM: Yeah, I do. I--yeah.
Capt. RUSHING: ...an instability and so they didn't say this was going...
Mr. IBRAHIM: But they're going to the wrong place. I mean, it's the
Arab-Israeli conflict is the...
Capt. RUSHING: I absolutely agree with you. If I...
Mr. IBRAHIM: Yeah, but why don't they want to do anything about it? They're
doing nothing about it. I mean, it's increasing the anger.
Capt. RUSHING: ...(unintelligible) do anything, I want to do something with
the Palestinian issue I don't think Americans are getting good information
about it. I really don't. But no American connects the Palestinian issue and
this issue. They're completely different. They might as well be on different
sides of the world as far as they're concerned, but I've yet to meet anyone in
this part of the world that sees them as not the same issue. Everyone here
sees them as the exact same thing.
BIANCULLI: That's Josh Rushing and Hassan Ibrahim in a scene from "Control
As the documentary gained attention, the Marine Corps ordered Rushing to
decline interview requests related to the film. Rushing resigned from the
Marines earlier this month. He spoke to Terry this week about his experiences
in the job and what led to his departure.
Mr. RUSHING: I had been thinking about getting out before, when--actually
when I was at the war there was a point when I decided I've done this for 14
years. I enlisted as a young man. I think I went to the recruiter when I was
17, actually was 18 when I went to boot camp and I'm now 32 years old, so my
entire adult life I've been nothing other than a Marine, and just decided that
I probably should go somewhere else. However, I absolutely love Marines, and
I love being a Marine and I love the Marine Corps, and I'm not sure I would
have ever pulled the trigger had all the events of this last year not happened
which--you may ask me about this--but were a complete surprise to me. I
didn't realize that there was even a movie "Control Room." When it showed at
Sundance, all of this was kind of a complete ambush, and I'm hoping a
TERRY GROSS, host:
What do you mean, it was an ambush?
Mr. RUSHING: Well, I went to my office one day in LA, and there was a voice
mail on the machine where--and I swear it went something like this: `Hey, you
don't know me, but I just saw your movie at Sundance, and man, thanks. Good
job,' and hung up. And I thought, `That's bizarre.' I didn't even--I mean, I
don't even know where Sundance was going on or had just happened over the
weekend. This was the Monday after Sundance. So I sit down at the computer
and I Google Josh Rushing and Sundance and "Control Room" pops up. Still no
idea what this is. So I start Googling "Control Room," Josh Rushing, and
getting a bunch of the reviews and the links, and I mean, it's not just a
movie, it's a movie where I'm, you know, one of the three main--I guess not
characters but main figures in a documentary, and it's very political in
nature, and a lot of these--and I had not seen the movie when I'm reading all
this, but a lot of reviews are using me kind of as the anti-Bush
administration poster boy. You know, like, they would take a quote--and I
don't remember which quotes they chose--took a quote from me and they would
say, you know, `This wasn't said by someone from France or a Greenpeace
activist. This was by our own government spokesperson' kind of thing. I
thought, `Oh, man. I'm really going to hear about this.'
GROSS: Wait a minute. Did you not know a movie was being made? Like when...
Mr. RUSHING: I...
GROSS: When you were being filmed in conversation with journalists from
Al-Jazeera and journalists from the American press corps, did you not know it
was for a movie?
Mr. RUSHING: That's an absolutely fair question. There were hundreds of
reporters there, and I gave hundreds of interviews. I gave a ton of
interviews to Al-Jazeera and particularly Xinhua in China--I was fairly
popular there, from what I understand--a number of European channels, Israeli
TV, American news channels, from FOX and others. And this is over a pretty
long period of time. Well, during one short period of time, I would
imagine--I'm trying to remember--a week or two, Jehane, who I didn't know at
the time, but relatively young--well, actually a young, attractive
American-Egyptian gal, and ...(unintelligible).
GROSS: This is the director of the movie. Yeah.
Mr. RUSHING: Yeah. It turns out to be the director of the movie. But to
me at the time, they were introduced through the American University at Cairo.
So I honestly believed that it was along the lines of a student film, and I
think that's one of the reasons that when the request came into our office, it
was me, the junior guy, who ends up getting it. It kind of tumbled down the
chain. I'm like, `All right, whatever, you do this' kind of thing.
GROSS: And maybe that's also why you were saying things that you otherwise
perhaps wouldn't have said?
Mr. RUSHING: I hope not.
Mr. RUSHING: I hope and think that I believe the things that I said and I
hope that I spoke with conviction. And I'm, I don't know, maybe a little
embarrassed at this point to admit it, but I really did believe a lot of the
arguments at the time for us going to war. When Colin Powell went in front of
the UN and said those things, I repeated them nearly verbatim as, you know,
`Look, we've got the evidence.' And I think today, at least in a lot of
circles of my friends, it's easy to want to appear as if you'd been against
the war the whole time and you were always cynical of it. But that was not
the case with me. When our government said it, I believed it, and I repeated
GROSS: Now it was your job at CENTCOM to explain the American military
position to the American press corps and to the international press corps,
particularly the Arab press corps, and so you had to explain--and there's a
scene of you doing this in the "Control Room"--you had to explain that we
invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction. You say, `We believe
that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that they have the will to use
those weapons against us.' And you're talking at the time to a journalist
from Al-Jazeera who's very skeptical of what you're telling him. What was it
like when you learned that there weren't weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Mr. RUSHING: Well, I tell you when it hit me was when Colin Powell, on "Tim
Russert," I believe, said that the information he presented at the UN in, I
think, February, about our evidence of those weapons was not only incorrect,
but he believed it was intentionally manipulated to produce a desired result.
That's when it hit me, because it was specifically his speech that I listened
to. As a matter of fact, one of the first things that I did after I--it may
have been late January--after I got to CENTCOM was I remember watching that
speech there, going online and downloading it, printing it, making copies of
it and handing it out to all the new spokespeople as they got there and kind
of checked in, so everybody was on the same sheet of music, because this was
what I believed was the truth. I guess I felt kind of personally duped by
someone, somewhere along the lines.
GROSS: You had to explain America's actions to the press. Who explained them
to you? Who briefed you before you briefed the press?
Mr. RUSHING: As a spokesperson for Central Command, we were all tasked with
reading everything that the president said, secretary of Defense and secretary
of State, any of those individuals, and they were having, you know, daily
briefings in one way or another, putting out statements. We read everything
that they said. Generally, that's dealing with kind of administration issues
and technically I shouldn't have been involved in those, and I look back on it
now and regret--I think I went over the line in terms of arguing why we should
be doing what we should be doing. As a military spokes...
GROSS: In what sense do you think you went over the line?
Mr. RUSHING: Well, as a military spokesperson, I should be arguing the
conduct of doing what we're doing, not why we should be doing it, because
either the president gives the order or he doesn't, and in a lot of ways,
that's none of my business. If he gives the order, then I need to make sure
that we conduct it in the best way possible, and that's what I explain, is
the kind of the conduct of our actions and what's going on, what we're doing
and how we're doing it, but not necessarily why we're proceeding with these
actions, other than to say the president and the nation have ordered us to.
And yet I look back on particularly my communications online, I started a
program at Central Command where I would, before the war, spend every waking
minute I had when I wasn't doing something else online. And I would go into
chat rooms at NPR, at New York Times, Washington Post, "Oprah," MTV, foreign
chat rooms, and they would be debating the war. There'd be entire, you know,
strains about the war, and a lot of times there's so much information it kind
of takes on a life of its own there. I would say--and boy, talk about putting
yourself out there, put a target on your chest, say `Hello, I'm a spokesperson
for Central Command. I'm in the desert right now and I can answer any of your
questions, and I'd kind of like to address some of the stuff you're talking
about.' And so I would address a lot of the stuff that I felt was
misinformation. I would try to give them my sources, and I would spend about
14 hours a day doing that.
GROSS: Would you choose a story that you had to work on, a news story, and
compare how it was covered in the American press and in Al-Jazeera, or compare
how it was covered in different parts of the American press and Al-Jazeera?
Mr. RUSHING: One of my challenges and frustrations was I didn't have a
translator, so I actually had no idea how they were covering the story on
GROSS: Why didn't you have a translator?
Mr. RUSHING: I think the need for translators was much greater on the front
lines, and that's something that I go back and forth on. I can completely
understand that if I was a guy up on the front lines--and I often wish I was;
when I volunteered to go, I didn't necessarily volunteer to go to CENTCOM, I
just wanted to go over to be with the Marines at the war--I would definitely
want a translator as I'm going village to village. There's only so many
translators, so that's clearly where the focus was. If we had translators at
CENTCOM, they were probably over in the planning cell or places where they
were needed to be kind of closer to the action in a sense.
Then again, if you look at the long-term impact of, you know, the media on
the war, particularly the impact of the Arab press on not just the war in Iraq
but this entire clash of civilizations, I guess is maybe a good way to put it,
who's to say which is more important?
BIANCULLI: We're hearing from former US Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing,
who was a prominent figure in the documentary "Control Room." The film is
just out on DVD. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with former US Marine Corps
Captain Josh Rushing, who was featured in the documentary "Control Room."
GROSS: In the movie, you say that--you know, you're describing the spectrum
of the press, and you describe FOX News as being at the other end of the
spectrum from Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera presents itself to an Arab national
audience, and that's reflected in their coverage. FOX News plays to a
patriotic American audience and that's reflected in their coverage. What
reaction did you get to that, and what led you to that conclusion of making
some kind of analogy of FOX on the one end of the spectrum and Al-Jazeera on
Mr. RUSHING: If you have conducted interviews, given interviews, to both
those stations, I think you would clearly see it. Before a FOX interview, for
example, while you're miked up and you're waiting with the reporter, he may
say, `I tell you what. You know, what points do you want to get across in
this interview?' And I would give him our three speaking points, our
messages, and he'll go, `OK. I'll ask you this one, and then I'll segue into
this, and then we'll transition into this. But I need to ask you about this
other one, so do you have something you can say about that?' `Yeah, yeah,
sure, I can come up with something with that.' So it's like a huddle. You
script it out and then you do your two minutes live and it's great. And the
FOX crowd, many of whom I know and am related to, love to see that, because it
makes the military look really great. And the military is great, don't get me
wrong. The military is great.
Al-Jazeera, on the other hand, will--for example, this one particular day
after the Jessica Lynch ambush and America was saying it was against the
Geneva Conventions for them to have shown the footage of the POWs on
television. Al-Jazeera wanted an interview with me, so we go outside and set
it up into the hot desert sun and the sand blowing, and I'm staring into the
sand and there's a very kind engineer who's friendly and he puts a
translator's piece in my year. The girl introduces herself as the translator
and she sounds very young and kind of sweet; has a lilting accent as if she
learned Arabic through maybe BBC or some kind of British influence. And we go
into the questions, and I can't see the person I'm talking to, and she's
asking me the questions, her voice is so nice I find myself kind of smiling
and nodding along. And then I realize, wait a second, that's a combative
question, and I bet he didn't just say it over there. I've watched Al-Jazeera
and I don't even understand what they're saying--he probably yelled it on the
other side, you know? And here I am smiling and nodding my head.
And the questions would be along the lines of, `The Geneva Convention was
written by the UN, and the UN opposes the war, so why should Saddam abide by
the Geneva Convention?' And it takes you just a second to stop and think
about it and think, `Well, I think the Geneva Convention was written in the
late 1920s. I think the UN was started in the mid-1940s, so there's about a
20-year gap there, where the Geneva Convention predates the UN, so it couldn't
be written by it. And I'm sure the UN is not against the war, because it
never passed a resolution against the war. So your question's built on a
couple of false premises,' and then kind of get back to what I think is
important is, you know, we want to treat your POWs with dignity and we hope
that you do ours as well.
And then, what I didn't even know at the time and I found out later was while
I'm talking about that, there's a split screen and they're showing a market
bombing in Baghdad that has nothing to do with what we're talking about, and I
have no idea that they're showing it. But if you watch the TV on mute, it
clearly looks like I'm responding to the attack in downtown Baghdad.
GROSS: You said that in the military, while you were at CENTCOM during the
war in Iraq, that you were, behind closed doors an advocate for Al-Jazeera.
There were times when you felt that Al-Jazeera was overly combative and that
they were misrepresenting the story when they were interviewing you, so why
were you an advocate for them?
Mr. RUSHING: There's really one voice that reaches so much of the Arab
population, and I look at the invasion of Iraq as not just about Iraq, but
about this clash of civilizations that really created 9/11. I mean, the root
to 9/11 are the Arab perspective and the best way to reach those who hold that
perspective is through Al-Jazeera. Now when Al-Jazeera would conduct
themselves in such a way like they did on the interview that we talked about
where they would ask me really unfair questions and then they would split the
screen without me knowing it, things like that, my office would often kind of
knee-jerk and say `That's it. No more for Al-Jazeera. No more interviews, no
more access. They're unfair, they're unbalanced.'
And so I would find myself arguing--and if I was the only one who believed it,
it wouldn't have happened. I mean, I was a junior guy on the totem pole, but
fortunately, Captain Frank Thorpe, who was in charge of the media operation
there, was a terrifically intelligent individual and he also saw the
importance of it. But I would find myself arguing that, `Hey, these are the
people why we're here. I mean, what's the point of even being here if you're
not going to talk to the people about it, and by the people, I mean, the
people of this region. And the way you do that is through Al-Jazeera.' You
don't do it through, you know, some station that we've created that obviously
has no credibility. You've got to do it through their media sources. And
that is so important. So it was important then and I think it's still
GROSS: Do you think that the United States makes a mistake when it does cut
off access to Al-Jazeera?
Mr. RUSHING: I think not only do they make a mistake when they cut off
access to Al-Jazeera--and believe me, I always believe in holding Al-Jazeera
accountable. When you go on and you do the interviews with them, you tell them
why you're holding them accountable, and General John Abizaid did a terrific
job of that after the Jessica Lynch thing. At a press conference we had right
after that, the daily briefing, Al-Jazeera was worried that they weren't going
to get called on because they knew that we were angry about it. But rather,
General Abizaid immediately called on Al-Jazeera, and before he took the
question--I think after he took the question but before he responded to the
question, he told them that he thought it was horrible what they did and why,
and then he answered their question.
And I talked to that reporter afterward, and he thought that was just great
because he got a fair answer to the question that he asked. So I think the US
makes a mistake when they don't engage Al-Jazeera, and honestly, I think the
US made a mistake by making me the lead point of contact for Al-Jazeera.
Mr. RUSHING: Early on in the planning, they should have identified this as
mission critical, the way we're perceived on Al-Jazeera, and they should have
had somebody there who possibly spoke Arabic, had some kind of training in
Middle Eastern affairs. Really, the extent of my knowledge, the best extent
of my knowledge, I went to a Borders bookstore before we left the country and
I bought a couple of Bernard Lewis books and I bought "Iraq for Dummies."
The Bernard Lewis books were OK. They were a little dry. I was on the plane.
But "Iraq for Dummies" was phenomenal. It was great, because it broke it
apart in like easily digestible parts that I could kind of regurgitate. I
knew every simple fact about Iraq you could know.
So when I checked the board there at CENTCOM at Doha, they thought I was some
kind of Iraqi expert because I could spout off all these percentages of this
and that, that I'd gotten right from the "Iraq for Dummies" book. So you have
probably 40 people, military people, working at the media center. I'd say a
dozen of them had been identified as camera people, guys who were going to go
in front of the camera and do spokesperson-type work. Actually those were
spokespeople who were doing the radio and print and everything else. Four or
five of those actually go in front of the camera kind of regularly, and I'm
the junior-ranking guy. There's one other guy who's ranked as low as me, a
Navy guy. And I've got Al-Jazeera. There's something wrong with that, it
goes all the way back to the beginning of the planning, they should have had
someone far more qualified than a guy with, you know, "Iraq for Dummies" in
his back pocket, talking about national security issues to 45 million Arabs
during a war.
BIANCULLI: Josh Rushing, a prominent figure in the documentary "Control
Room." The film has just been released on DVD. We'll hear more from Rushing
in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Coming up, leaving the military he loved. We continue our
conversation with former Marine Captain Josh Rushing. He was featured in the
documentary "Control Room." Also, John Powers reviews "The Battle of
Algiers," about the Algerian struggle for independence. The movie was made
nearly 40 years ago and has just come out on DVD.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry
Let's return to Terry's interview with former US Marine Corp Captain Josh
Rushing, who resigned from his post this month. Rushing was the Central
Command, or CENTCOM, press officer seen in the documentary "Control Room."
"Control Room" is just out on DVD. Terry spoke to Rushing earlier this week
and asked about his work at CENTCOM.
GROSS: While you were the public affairs officer at CENTCOM during the war in
Iraq, did you ever feel like any of the positions you were expected to give or
any of the explanations or descriptions you were expected to give were either
pure spin or whether you were involved in what some people in the press
described as overmanaging the news?
Mr. RUSHING: I felt like we had too much White House influence over what we
were doing. I should tell you that I was a first lieutenant at the time and,
in the eyes of the military, have no right to express such an opinion. But
there's a colonel in charge of public affairs at CENTCOM. He's an Air Force
colonel with 30 years experience, and he's an excellent guy. For the war
only, the White House took one of its guys--an insider there--and put him in
charge of--as the strategic director of communications in CENTCOM. He is a
civilian who worked on the Bush campaign and worked in the White House, and so
now he's in charge. And so they give him a two-star rank--two-star
equivalent. It's called an SES. It's a way you can give civilians kind of an
So he's over the colonel now. He's a 32-, probably 33-year-old guy now from
Texas, whom I like and respect very much. And bringing him in did certain
things, like that Internet thing I was talking about that I started earlier?
He was the one who visualized that. He really had a lot of ideas that were
outside the box, the normal military tools, that we use, and I think that that
was really beneficial. However, it also brought in a White House insider to
control the message for the war.
And then there were two or three other--I guess three other White House people
that came and had a little separate office right next to our office as
spokespeople. In such a tight quarters as the media center was, this was all
obvious and apparent. And so we often, as military spokespeople, which should
be nonpartisan, lost credibility because of that. One particularly sharp
reporter who was with AP that will remain nameless would often call us to task
saying that we were political flacks. You know, how could she buy what we
were saying? `You're just political flacks putting out the message.' And
that's really hurtful as a military spokesperson because you're supposed to be
kind of an honest broker of the truth.
GROSS: What would you say to that?
Mr. RUSHING: Hmm. During the war we would argue that and say, `Absolutely
not. We're putting out the truth, and, you know, everything I'm telling you
is true, as I know it. It's not political.' After the war, I think, in
confidence, I probably told her, `You know, there were times that I felt like
it was a little politicized.'
GROSS: What was an example of one of those times?
Mr. RUSHING: That's a great question. Well, while Baghdad's being looted,
there's a scene in the movie where Captain Frank Thorp, who's probably the
best spokesperson or one of the best spokespeople I've ever met and had the
honor to serve with, is arguing with this AP reporter. And she's tearing him
up about Baghdad being looted and how we've basically implied that, `It's the
Iraqis' responsibility to not do that. It's being looted by Iraqis, so how
can you hold us accountable?' And that's such a political message. We just
took over the town. Surely we're in charge of security.
GROSS: When you were a press spokesman for the military, is it considered bad
form to ever say, `We made a mistake?' You know, like if people in the
military felt that perhaps they should have taken more responsibility to
prevent the looting that went on in Iraq after the invasion, could a military
press spokesman have said, `Well, we could have done a better job or we made a
mistake?' Or is that something--is that a place you just never go?
Mr. RUSHING: I've been accused of being an optimist, and that's a criticism
that I'll accept. In Josh's world, on Josh's planet, absolutely you say,
`We've made a mistake, and here's what we're gonna do to fix it.' But--and I
think there have probably been times in my 14-year career where you did do
that and you could say that. I believe there's a culture now where that's
unacceptable, where you can never say that anything's other than rosy perfect;
you can never admit a mistake. I think that culture goes all the way up to
the White House when, in the second debate, they asked President Bush, `Can
you name three simple mistakes that you regret or would do differently now
that you're in the White House?' and he couldn't name one. I find that kind
of hubris disturbing, and I think the rest of the world finds it kind of
arrogant and even beyond arrogant, almost disillusional at times.
GROSS: You have expressed some feelings of having been misled, for instance,
about weapons of mass destruction and having to give a message that turned out
to not be true. Sounds like you've been a little disillusioned by the
interactions between the White House and the military, and I'm wondering if
you think your opinions were shared by other people who you interacted with in
Mr. RUSHING: Absolutely.
GROSS: ...or if you feel like you're a loner on this.
Mr. RUSHING: No, no, no, I don't. I feel--I think there's a recent survey
that said something like three out of four or four out of five people in the
military are generally Republican. And I think that's been true for most of
the time I've been in. But in the last year or two I've heard more
anti-administration sentiments in the military than I've ever heard before,
without a doubt. And I think a lot of people, those who have had the hardest
times in Iraq, are--they tend to go kind of polarized both ways. Some are
very, very strong supporters of the administration, and I think for them they
need to be, so that what they did does mean something and is important. And
they--I think they feel like if Bush is wrong or was wrong in what he did,
then somehow that takes away the meaning for what they've sacrificed, which I
hope isn't true. And then others are polarized quite the other way. They
realize how much they've sacrificed and feel like it may have been for a poor
decision or something along those lines.
GROSS: It strikes me, you're in a very interesting and difficult position
right now. After years of being a spokesperson for the military, interacting
with the American press and the Arab press, you're no longer with the
military, you've only been out about two weeks, and now you're speaking, as we
hear right now, to the American press. And you no longer have to follow the
military guidelines, you no longer have to speak on behalf of the military.
So I guess I'm really wondering how you've--you sound--you seem to be a very
reflective person. So what was the process of reflecting like before
beginning to give interviews as a non-military--as a former military person
and deciding what you were going to be comfortable saying, what you should
keep confidential, what you would consider to be a betrayal of your, you know,
military friends and what honesty requires you to say and so on?
Mr. RUSHING: That's an amazingly insightful question, and I'll tell you why.
I--this is the first interview I've given, and I had trouble sleeping last
night. I hadn't really talked it over with anyone in the military. I haven't
called my friends and said, `Hey, I think I may give an interview on this.
And, you know, where do you think I should draw the line?' And while I've
given you this interview, I've felt myself say something and then think, `Wait
a second. Should I have gone--should I have said that?' And so it's a very,
very new experience for me, and I'm not sure where I've set any of those
boundaries yet, Terry.
Mr. RUSHING: That's a great question, something I guess I'm kind of
struggling with internally.
BIANCULLI: Former US Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing, who was a prominent
figure in the documentary "Control Room." The film is just out on DVD.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with former US Marine Captain
Josh Rushing, who's featured in the documentary "Control Room."
GROSS: Can you elaborate on why you left the military?
Mr. RUSHING: I think there are a lot of reasons, but there was a point where
when they said, `You can't speak to the press about "Control Room," that I--my
frustration reached kind of a peak level. And I just, I think, finally said,
`That's it. That's it. I'm done with this. I'm out,' because it was so
frustrating that--particularly the movie came out during Abu Ghraib, so you
have all this terrible stuff coming out about the military. And then here
comes this movie that shows somebody that people seem to really respond to
positively, and even Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that while Private
England, I think, represents kind of some of the worst of what we have, what I
did in "Control Room" represents the best of what we had.
So I would have liked to have gone out there and I would have liked to have
given America the message, because I had a lot of requests to--includes your
show, to come on and speak. And I wanted to give America the message that it
wasn't just me; that I was--that there are a million others like me in the
armed services who would have responded very similarly to the way I responded,
because some articles started to craft it as if I was some kind of rogue
sympathizer, you know. It's like the mean military over here and me holding
the righteous--you know, the banner of truth over here kind of thing, and
that's not true. There are legions in the military like me.
So I wanted to put that message out there. But the Pentagon, with
headquarters Marine Corps, without even watching the film, I think, just made
a poor decision and said it's easier to say no. And I don't think they
realized how big the movie was gonna be or how many requests they were gonna
have from the military. And they were dealing with other things that were
bigger. And they'd read the article that I did in The Village Voice where I
said the war was horrible, which to this day I don't think is a bad message
for a Marine. Any warrior should say war is horrible. We're supposed to be
So I think they just found it easier to say no, and I found that beyond
disappointing. I found it frustrating and not just disappointing in that
decision, but disappointed in my institution; that it would handle it in that
way and miss an opportunity to build up others. And there were even some in
the Pentagon who said I was kind of--accused me of being after my 15 minutes
of fame, which was particularly hurtful because, one, it personalized the
issue; two, I didn't volunteer to do the movie, I was ordered to; three, I
thought it was a student film for the American University at Cairo. I didn't
know it was gonna be this big thing. I don't even think Jehane, the
filmmaker, knew how big it would eventually go. So it's kind of a ludicrous
assumption, but it's the way some reacted, and I just felt like maybe I would
be wanted somewhere else.
GROSS: When you decided to leave the military, was it hard to leave with the
Mr. RUSHING: No, no, the Marine Corps does not have a stop-loss policy right
now, so it was not hard technically to leave. And in terms of headquarters
Marine Corps who, although I was working in an office in Los Angeles, I fell
under headquarters Marine Corps at the Pentagon--I think they were kind of
happy to see me go. I never heard a whole lot of negative stuff about the
movie from them. After they gave me the order not to speak, there was a point
where my wife started doing interviews, and she gave an interview to The
Washington Post and a few other--I think Salon.com and some others. And I got
a heated e-mail from a lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon asking me to stop my
back-channel media campaign with my wife, so basically to silence her.
And I think he thought that I was kind of feeding her messages to give the
press, where in truth I asked her not to do them, but she is an extremely
loyal person and felt that it was her duty and right to do those interviews.
And so I made sure I wasn't around when she did them and I wouldn't know about
them afterward, so that they were something that she'd have on her own
conscience and I wasn't a part of. So, again, the accusations became personal
and were inaccurate. The most difficult part about leaving was not the
stop-loss. It was the emotional separation for me because of--I'm such a
Marine at heart.
GROSS: Do you miss them?
Mr. RUSHING: Oh, yeah. I still go by my office and see the guys that used to
work for me. You know, the staff sergeant, the sergeant, we're still gonna go
running together. I--yeah, yeah, of course I miss the Marines. My e-mail is
onceamarine at, you know, blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, yeah, I miss the
Mr. RUSHING: I think I always will.
GROSS: Do you know what you're gonna do next?
Mr. RUSHING: I don't know what I'm gonna do next. I'm gonna find a job,
hopefully, soon and support my family. That'd make my wife feel a lot better.
But otherwise, no, I don't. And it's kind of funny because--someone else
asked me this recently. I said in the movie, you know, when I get out, I'd
really like to do something about that Palestine situation, which is--when
you're in the Middle East, everything goes back to Israel and Palestine. And
that's one of the things I learned over there--was in America, the invasion of
Iraq and whatever is happening in Israel, there is no connection. Most people
don't recognize that they're geographically in the same part of the world, but
other than that there's no connection. Over there, they are one in the same.
It is an Arab struggle against Western power, and so everything goes back. I
think Hassan says in the movie that if a water line breaks in Damascus, it's
an Israeli conspiracy.
And so having spent six months there and not just, you know, six months
reading a book but six months every day embroiled in this controversy, kind of
in the middle of it, you become very wrapped up in it. And to this day I
would love to do something if I could, but I feel like, `Wow, I'm not even
Captain Josh Rushing anymore. I'm just Josh Rushing.' I don't know how much,
you know, reach I have to help with the Palestinian situation that, you know,
the UN and everyone else isn't probably already addressing. Plus, I think,
now that I'm back in America, my life would kind of have the comfort of--and
all Americans enjoy this comfort of being absorbed in our own lives so much
that the rest of the world doesn't matter as much. And I find myself caught
in that right now, like I guess it's Maslow's hierarchy. I'm back to looking
for food and shelter before I can move on to higher endeavors.
GROSS: We're about out of time, so I'm gonna change the subject and ask you
one last question: During an earlier part of your military career, you were a
liaison to Hollywood and you worked with them on, I think, how the military
was represented in script?
Mr. RUSHING: You know, not just in an early part. That's what I was doing
when I went to the war, and the war was just six months out of that job in
Hollywood. They took me away...
Mr. RUSHING: ...for six months and then I came back to it, and that's the job
I just left a couple of weeks ago.
Mr. RUSHING: And, yeah, I was. I was reading scripts and I was a liaison to
Hollywood. So if a production--and the most obvious example is "JAG"--wants
to use some of our, say, helicopters, they would send me the script, I would
review it and say, you know, `This represents us accurately or not.' And if I
felt it did represent us accurately, then we could provide them some
helicopters or allow them to film helicopters that were doing normal training
anyway. If the helicopters weren't doing their normal training and they were
gonna do something specific for the director, then I charged them exactly what
it costs the American people to operate that helicopter for those minutes to
include the crew, the fuel, maintenance, everything, and the production paid
for it, so it was at no cost to the American people.
The military really uses that opportunity in Hollywood. They recognize that
opportunity in Hollywood as a chance to educate the American public on what we
do. I mean, like it or not, a lot of people are really educated about a
number of issues through the entertainment world.
GROSS: Well, maybe we could talk about that on a subsequent interview.
What's your favorite...
Mr. RUSHING: I'd be happy to.
GROSS: What's your favorite movie or TV show involving--you know, that
represented the American military?
Mr. RUSHING: Oh gosh. I'm the worst to watch movie or TV with military in
it, and my wife just won't do it with me anymore. She has reached her limit.
I mean, she loves one of the shows I worked on, "Navy NCIS" with Mark Harmon.
And she--we have a TiVo and recorded it and watch it when I'm not around
because of--it's just impossible not to pick it apart. If you watched a show
about a radio interview host, it would drive you nuts, all the things that
they would do that you just know they couldn't get away with.
GROSS: Got it.
Mr. RUSHING: So it's hard to say, but maybe "NCIS" with Mark Harmon is--it's
a pretty good show. "West Wing" we worked with a lot, and that's an excellent
show as well.
GROSS: Well, Josh Rushing, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. RUSHING: Terry, thank you. It's been a real honor to be a participant of
BIANCULLI: Former Marine Corps Captain Josh Rushing was the Central Command,
or CENTCOM, press officer seen in the documentary "Control Room." "Control
Room" has just been released on DVD.
(Soundbite of "Ohio")
BIANCULLI: That's Leonard Bernstein's "Ohio" from the show "Wonderful Town,"
performed by the Bill Charlap Trio.
Coming up, John Powers on the DVD release of "The Battle of Algiers." This is
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: DVD release of 1965 film "The Battle of Algiers"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
The nearly 40-year-old political film "The Battle of Algiers" returned to
theaters briefly last year. It was even screened at the Pentagon. Now it's
out on DVD, and our critic at large, John Powers, says it's a movie for our
times as well.
JOHN POWERS reporting:
The world was a different place when the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo
made "The Battle of Algiers," his film about the Algerian struggle for
independence from the French. When the movie came out in 1965, it was
bitterly attacked by the European right. Movie theaters were bombed in
France. But over the next years it was embraced by would-be leftist
guerrillas. On American college campuses, you'd sometimes hear (imitates
Algerian women's cry), the eerie ululations that the Algerian women used as a
kind of battle cry. Here's what they actually sounded like.
(Soundbite from "The Battle of Algiers")
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of people speaking in foreign language, making battle cry)
POWERS: But we undergrads weren't the only ones watching. "The Battle of
Algiers" became a how-to guide to urban insurrection for radicals throughout
the Middle East. The Algerian model has influenced everyone from al-Qaeda to
the fascist insurgents in Iraq, which is why today Pontecorvo's movie is being
screened by the Pentagon to help members of Special Ops understand the
daunting complexities or urban rebellion.
The story is set in the two different parts of the city of Algiers, the
prosperous French Quarter and the more squalid Algerian area known as the
casbah. And it focuses on two very different men. Ali La Pointe is a petty
thief who becomes a leader for the Liberation Front, the NLF. He helps guide
their terrorist murders and bombings. On the French side is Colonel Mathieu,
who respects his adversaries but does not blink from the truth. And the
truth, as he sees it, is that to crush such an insurgency requires absolute
ruthlessness. That's why he resorts to the vilest forms of torture.
Mathieu's brutal methods work, and he breaks the NLF's terror network. No
matter. Algeria winds up independent.
Pontecorvo shot "The Battle of Algiers" on location only two years after
Algerian independence. And it remains an astonishing piece of filmmaking,
from its grayed out look, which makes you feel that you're watching a
documentary, to the lucidity with which it lays out its story. Although the
movie's clearly on the side of the Algerian nationalists--you can tell this
from the great score by Ennio Morricone--it's not sentimental about the NLF,
which is often depicted as being pointlessly violent, nor is it cheaply
judgmental of Colonel Mathieu, who the film respects for his own unblinkered
realism in attacking terrorists.
Even today, when we're accustomed to grisly footage, few scenes could be more
chilling than the one in which three Algerian women bomb civilian targets in
the French Quarter. These aren't the gleeful fireball and flying glass kapows
of Hollywood action movies. They're realistic acts of terror, all the more
powerful because of their human scale.
When I first saw "Battle of Algiers" in the 1970s, I wished I knew more about
Algeria. When I watched it again on DVD the other night, I didn't have to
wish. The movie was just the first of a three-disc set packed with
fascinating extras, including a 70-minute documentary on the Algerian
rebellion. For me, the most gripping of these added features is an interview
with contemporary anti-terrorism experts, including America's former
anti-terrorist czar, Richard Clarke. They analyze what "The Battle of
Algiers" shows about our own situation in the post-9/11 world, be it the
effectiveness of terrorism as a political tool or the difficulties created by
cracking down on terrorists. As Clarke points out, the NLF terrorists didn't
simply murder people in order to sow chaos. It was a tactic designed to
invite reprisals that would turn the population against the French, which is
exactly what happened. The French actually won the battle against terrorists
in Algiers, but in the very process they lost the political war.
That's precisely the risk the US faces in the larger war on terror, not to
mention in its battles for specific Iraq cities, like Baghdad and Fallujah.
And no matter who's elected president this coming Tuesday, he'll have to deal
with the great paradox of fighting terrorism: You can often lose by winning,
which is why I wouldn't be surprised to hear that "The Battle of Algiers" DVD
has turned up at the White House. Made nearly four decades ago, it's this
year's most relevant movie.
BIANCULLI: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and the author of "Sore
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.