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The Iraqi Memoir Industry

by Katrina Vanden Heuvel

The Iraq-official memoir publishing industry is beginning to resemble a circular firing squad. In last Sunday's Washington Post, Paul Bremer duked it out with those who've accused him of incompetence and stupid decisions which contributed to the insurgency we see raging in Iraq today.

Bremer accuses former CIA Director George Tenet of pillorying him in his just-published, best-selling memoirs, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. But it's not only Tenet, Bremer whines. "Similar charges are unquestionably repeated in books and articles." And while the charges, counter-charges, accusations, rebuttals may titillate, while providing misleadingly biased drafts of history, it's worth remembering that a few key officials (who helped mislead this nation into the most colossal foreign policy disaster in US history) are profiting nicely.

Take George Tenet. He was paid a whopping $ 4 million for his memoirs. When asked by ABC's Charles Gibson why he had waited so long, nearly three years after his resignation, to make criticisms he had not made during the 2004 election, Tenet replied that he needed the time to collect his thoughts. What he might have said is that he needed the time to collect the money.

Then there's Ari Fleischer's Taking Heat, Bremer's My Year in Iraq and, in March 2008 HarperCollins is bringing out Douglas Feith's War and Decision. There are bound to be more Iraq memoirs on the way. How could Rummy not cut a deal to tell his side of the story? Or Wolfie-- after he's booted from the World Bank. Condi is already planning hers. Check out what she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when he asked her about Tenet's assertion that she did not perform her job well, she said, "Well, look, not everything went right....There were some things that went right and some things that went wrong. And you know what? We'll have a chance to look at that in history, and I'll have a chance to reflect on that when I have a chance to write my book."

As the human and economic cost of this war soar, shouldn't these officials be barred from making money off of books about their illegal, immoral, security-destroying failures of judgment and action? Perhaps there is a model to be found in how a few states forbid criminals and others from profiting off violent crime. After all, as a recent article reports, "Criminals had been barred from making money off their exploits until 1991, when the Supreme Court overturned a NY law after finding that it was so broad it would discourage people from telling stories of public interest --such as the Watergate scandal." While a unanimous 1991 Court decision said such laws could stand only if carefully worded to protect First Amendment rights, some states have already revised or created new laws to address that concern.

So, I propose that we citizens demand that any official involved in decision making which misled us into this debacle be required to contribute advances and royalties made off their Iraq-related memoirs to organizations helping veterans or Iraqi civilians. (I've made a short list below; I am sure there are others you can add.)

And the publishing houses involved--HarperCollins, Threshold Editions, William Morrow--should also consider contributing any company profits.

* Iraq Veterans Against The War * Vets' For Justice * Military Families Speak Out * Gold Star Families for Peace * International Committee of the Red Cross * Families for Peace Humanitarian Aid Delegation * International Rescue Committee * No More Victims

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

© 2007 The Nation

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