Scott C.

Stories by Scott C. Johnson

  • INTERVIEW: A 'DYSFUNCTIONAL' SYSTEM

    Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, last week announced that he was running for president in 2006. Castaneda, a former columnist for NEWSWEEK International, hopes to run as an independent candidate, but must petition the government to waive a law prohibiting anyone not affiliated with a party from seeking office. He discussed his ambitions with NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson. Excerpts:Why did you decide to run?CASTANEDA: The country needs change. The 2000 [presidential] election was a referendum on the PRI. Now the kinds of changes needed are much more complex, much more subtle, but aren't possible with the current party system. I have a series of ideas to make things happen.You've said that the Mexican political system is broken. Why?There have been two breakdowns, one of Mexico's institutions and the other of its parties. Mexico went through the 20th century with an authoritarian system [that] worked in ways not stipulated by laws. Now that Mexico's...
  • A RISKY TRIP

    Ciudad Hidalgo and Tecun Uman are two sides of the same city--the former in Mexico, the latter in Guatemala. All that separates them are the muddy waters of the River Suchiate, and the International Bridge that spans it. A few cars, some European missionaries and a handful of pedestrians slowly cross the concrete span. A Mexican immigration officer, his shirt unbuttoned to expose a large golden cross, diligently scrutinizes passports. But the Army soldiers stationed at this crossing are idle. One of them, sitting on the edge of the bridge with a cigarette, his rifle slung over his shoulder, peers down at the river. There, in the shadows of the International Bridge and for miles in either direction, an unending stream of people--some in makeshift rafts, others wading on foot--move between the countries with the nonchalance of jaywalkers.Mexico's 2,000-mile-long border with the United States is a heavily guarded focal point of the global argument about immigration. But Mexico's...
  • THE MIGRATION ECONOMY

    The foreign worker is many things to many people. For conservative politicians and trade-union organizers in industrial countries, he is the illegal migrant--a lawbreaker who deserves a one-way ticket back to whatever country he came from. For immigration advocates and business groups, he is a vital pillar of today's globalized economic order, whether a legal resident of his new country or not. For the political leaders of developing countries, he is a modern-day "hero" who sends home a hefty portion of his paycheck to help support his family members and keep his old community afloat.One point is incontrovertible: for better or worse, the ranks of foreigners holding jobs in North America, Western Europe and the Gulf is rising significantly. Some 1.3 million immigrants settle in the United States annually, an estimated one third of them illegally. More important, the money these migrants are remitting to their home countries is skyrocketing. Last year total remittances reached an...
  • TARGET: CORRUPT OFFICIALS

    The plague of money laundering in Latin America is of breathtaking proportions. According to Charles Intriago, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who publishes the authoritative monthly newsletter Money Laundering Alert, an estimated $5 billion in U.S. real estate has been acquired by corrupt Latin American officials, politicians and their associates. U.S. authorities have tied drug-related laundered funds to officials in former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari's government, to cite one prominent example. Complex money trails were always hard to follow, but the fight against global terrorists has now given U.S. investigators unprecedented freedom to probe the financial dealings of prominent officials around the world.Last August, under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, the United States quietly created a Miami-based financial task force that, for the first time, specifically targets the sources of public corruption and bribery in foreign countries. The unit...
  • Mexico's New Wave

    Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was at home in Mexico City three years ago when the phone rang. "Hi, this is Sean Penn," said the voice at the other end. "I said, 'Sure, and I'm Marlon Brando'," the Mexican film director recalls. But as he soon realized, the caller really was Penn, phoning to congratulate him on his critically acclaimed feature debut, "Amores Perros." The two men became fast friends, and Gonzalez Inarritu later sent Penn a script written by his longtime collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga, who also wrote "Amores Perros." "[Sean] called me every 20 minutes while he was reading it," says the 40-year-old filmmaker. "He was reacting like a kid; he kept calling to talk about the scene he'd just read." The end result is "21 Grams," a haunting tale of three star-crossed individuals featuring Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro that opens this week.Gonzalez Inarritu is a hot property in Hollywood these days, and so are many of his compatriots. His friend and fellow Mexico City...
  • Culture Of Impunity

    For a few months at least, it seemed that Helen Mack's long quest for justice might finally succeed. In 1990, a Guatemalan Army sergeant brutally stabbed her sister Myrna to death in front of her Guatemala City apartment. In October 2002, a panel of judges finally convicted a retired Guatemalan military officer of ordering the slaying. It was a hard-won victory for Mack, who had spent more than a decade pursuing her sister's killers. Mack's sister had been murdered for attempting to expose the extent of government involvement in atrocities committed during the country's 36-year civil war, which officially ended in 1996. Many believed the conviction of Col. Juan Valencia Osorio--the first high-ranking officer ever to be found guilty of a political crime--might herald a new era in Guatemala's efforts to come to grips with its brutal past. Such hopes died last May when an appeals court overturned the decision, making Osorio, once again, a free man. "I proved that they were responsible...
  • The Poor Get Poorer

    The collapse of the Cancun trade summit is best viewed from within so-called green rooms. Not until 2001 were the poor even allowed into the conference halls where the rich once gathered to write the rules of the trading world. That same year, at the summit in Doha, poor countries pushed their demands to the top of the agenda for the first time. The focus of future talks would be development--boosting exports of rice and cotton from Asia and Africa, rather than cars and computers from Europe, America and Japan. There was much hope. Yet 22 months later, resentment over decades of exile from the green room would return to explode in Cancun.The leaders of the West seemed flabbergasted. On the face of it, the largest developing nations had torpedoed a summit from which they had the most to gain. Spearheaded by Brazil with vocal support from India and quiet backing from China, the core group founded in Doha was reincarnated as the group of 22 developing nations, or G22. They will bear...
  • INSIDE AN ENEMY CELL

    The streets outside the house were practically deserted. Most inhabitants of Amriyah, some 30 miles east of Baghdad, were indoors, praying or napping out of the relentless Friday-afternoon sun. Pro-Saddam slogans on the neighborhood's yellowing concrete walls underscored its bleakness. Inside one of the Soviet-style houses, up a flight of stairs, was a small family apartment where three Iraqi resistance fighters had agreed to be interviewed. They emerged from a back room, armed with AK-47s and grenades, their faces hidden by red-and-white kaffiyehs. Seating themselves on floor mats, they talked about the war against America. Their group, calling itself the Army of Mohammed, has claimed responsibility for the deaths of at least 15 U.S. soldiers since the fall of Saddam Hussein. "We did kill U.S. soldiers and we destroyed some of their vehicles and equipment," said the leader of the three, calling himself Mohammed al-Rawi. "We will do it again."Such threats worry Bush officials more...
  • And They Shall Lead...

    Seated before an audience at the Baghdad Convention Center, the 25 members of Iraq's new Governing Council looked, at first glance, like an admirable exercise in representative nation-building. It was the council's unveiling, and its members traded jokes and whispered into one another's ears. Here were hard-line fundamentalists sitting next to doctrinaire communists, rural chiefs mingling with sheiks in robes and turbans; a mix of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites; an Assyrian, a Turkoman and three women. At the council's first meeting on July 13, Dr. Raja Khurzai, the head of a local maternity hospital, was dropped off at the Baghdad Convention Center by her husband. Kurdish leader Masood Barzani rolled up in a motorcade of 17 vehicles spilling out bodyguards and minions.L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civil administrator who had a large hand in picking the council, originally envisioned a simple advisory group--but the Iraqis argued for, and apparently won, a more authoritative,...
  • Still Fighting Saddam

    The Attacks Keep Coming, And The War Doesn't Seem Over To The Soldiers On The Ground. With His Money And His Diehards, Saddam Casts A Long Shadow-And A Guerilla War May Have Been His Strategy All Along
  • Hunting Saddam

    The first report was from a U.S. Army troop, call sign Bandit, at a checkpoint on Highway 12, just east of the Syrian border. The soldiers were at maximum alert. Word had come down less than an hour earlier that Saddam Hussein and his sons might be in the area, fleeing toward Syria. At 8:29 that Wednesday evening, two white SUVs and a black Mercedes drove into sight from the east. Suddenly the convoy, apparently spotting Bandit in the distance, made a U-turn and raced away. Bandit tried to follow, but the convoy vanished into the night.That distant encounter began the most intense search yet for Iraq's former dictator. For the next 24 hours, several hundred U.S. troops scoured a 50-mile stretch of stony desert on Iraq's --northwestern border. The searchers included Task Force 20, the top-secret special- operations group specializing in Iraq's most sensitive missions. Fleets of Apache and Blackhawk helicopters filled the air, with Bradley fighting vehicles following below. Before the...
  • Unholy Allies

    An Iraqi villager went looking for help from U.S. intelligence officers in Baghdad last week. He was afraid. His hamlet, about 30 miles east of the capital, had become practically a "ghost town" in recent years, he said. Within the last few weeks, though, a group of 40 or 50 armed Iraqis had arrived from the towns of Al Fallujah and Ar Ramadi, more than 50 miles away. The men were using the abandoned buildings for military training. Some were former officers from Saddam Hussein's armed forces, others were identified by the Iraqi as "Wahhabi"-- Muslims akin to the extremist sect that inspired Al Qaeda. "At first I wasn't sure [the story] was real," says a U.S intelligence officer. "But now, all of a sudden, these Wahhabi guys have been appearing. We're hearing that word a lot more: Wahhabi."The Americans are still checking out the villager's story, but they already share his misgivings. Iraq's Wahhabis used to be mercilessly persecuted by Saddam, who feared their Taliban-style...
  • Troops: The Body Count Grows

    When president George W. Bush declared on May 2 that major combat operations in Iraq had concluded, he stopped short of saying the war was over. And with good reason. Since then U.S. and British soldiers have been dying at the rate of more than one a day. Last week alone, according to Central Command, 11 soldiers died, possibly as many as eight from hostile fire, bringing total postcombat deaths to more than 30 U.S and British soldiers since May 2. That is more than 15 percent of those killed during the war. On Monday, near the western Iraqi town of Hit, more than a dozen Iraqis with rocket- propelled grenade launchers and mortars ambushed a U.S. Army convoy, killing one American soldier. A photographer on assignment for NEWSWEEK was among those who escaped the attack unhurt. The next day in Al Fallujah, a hotbed of pro-Saddam sentiment, several Iraqis attacked soldiers of the Third Armored Cavalry from their vehicles during a nighttime weapons search on the outskirts of town,...
  • Periscope

    Iraq: Of Dinars and DollarsSomething strange is happening on Kifah Street, home to the shuttered Baghdad stock market and hawkers of everything from cigarettes to fistfuls of dinars adorned with a young Saddam Hussein. The Saddam dinar is rising fast against the U.S. dollar--at the beginning of last week it was trading at 2,000 to the dollar; on Friday it was at 1,000--but why? Even the U.S. officials temporarily running Iraq see the rising dinar value as an odd vote of confidence in the soon-to-be-retired currency of a government that no longer exists. "For there to be confidence in the currency, you need a stable government, which there is not," says George Mullinax, a U.S. Treasury official now in Baghdad.But the reasons are actually pretty simple: Iraqis are expecting a better currency soon, and they hope an efficient and wealthy government will quickly be in place. As Erbil businessman Sadiq Ismail puts it, the Iraqi people "think that Baghdad will not let them down."It could,...
  • In Custody

    The former deputy prime minister of Iraq, and the minister of its military industrialization program, Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish, surrendered quietly to U.S officials in Baghdad late Thursday afternoon in a deal brokered through prominent Shiite clerics.The surrender, witnessed by a NEWSWEEK reporter, took place on a quiet residential street near one of Baghdad's main Shia mosques. Huweish was listed as No. 16 on the U.S. list of Iraq's 55 most wanted men, and he may reveal a trove of information about Iraq's weapons program. Huweish's arrest was announced Friday along with that of two other top leaders of the former regime, Taha Muhie-eldin Marouf, a former vice president, as well as Khadr Hadi, a Revolutionary Command Council member.While the details on the two latter figures remain unclear, Huweish's arrest was carried out as quietly as possible. At 3:55 p.m. on Thursday, a gold Mercedes pulled up to the door of a mosque office on a quiet street in one of Baghdad's more prominent...
  • The Iranian Connection

    At first glance, Abdulaziz Hakim seems to be exactly the kind of friend George W. Bush needs in southern Iraq. The Shiite leader has spent decades fighting Saddam Hussein. On a visit to Washington last August he met Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who impressed him with their "good objectives." He says he particularly liked the special room at the Pentagon where Muslims, Christians and Jews pray side by side. Above all, he says, he appreciates Americans' sense of the sacred. "The Europeans don't believe in religion," Hakim told NEWSWEEK last week in the city of Al Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad. "Americans are best at believing in God."But can they trust Hakim? The smiling Iraqi commands the 10,000 armed members of the Badr Brigades, the military wing of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Hakim's older brother, Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir al Hakim, 63, is head of the council, which boycotted last week's U.S.-sponsored gathering of former...
  • 'I Was Sure I Was Dead'

    It wasn't until Friday that the Third Marine Expeditionary Brigade set out from a checkpoint west of Route 80, the primary artery between Iraq and Kuwait City. The trucks and armored cars moved slowly on the dirt tracks at 12mph. "What the hell are we doing here?" said Lance Cpl. Sydney Woods, dusting off his pants and letting a thick gob of spit dribble out of his mouth. Few in the unit had showered in more than two weeks; all of them had been eating nothing but MREs. Pfc. Joel Adams, 21, was so lost in reverie about his home in Albany, Ga., that he didn't even realize that he was by then in Iraq, the second foreign country he had ever visited (Kuwait had been the first). "I don't even count the days anymore," he said. "I don't even know what today is."A NEWSWEEK photographer and I had been hiding out in the desert frontier. We had crossed the border on our own. Now here we were with a group of Marines. As "unilaterals," journalists who are not embedded with U.S. forces, we were...
  • Wandering The Wilderness

    Americans in the early 19th century were too busy hacking down the wilderness to appreciate George Catlin's vision. "What a splendid contemplation," wrote the romantic painter, "a magnificent park... containing man and beast, in all the wild [ness] and freshness of their nature's beauty!" It didn't take long for Catlin's idea to catch on. The year he died, in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park. Five years later park guards clashed with the Shoshone, a tribe of indigenous Americans, killing 300. The U.S. Army later drove out the rest. So began the world's first national park, a bit of Eden with a splash of blood. So, too, began a new class of victim: the environmental refugee.Much has been said over the years about preserving the wilderness and the animals that live in it. What's gone virtually ignored is the people, overwhelmingly poor, who often pay the price when land is set aside. Wilderness preserves now encompass 10 percent of the earth's surface...
  • Money On The Move

    Manuel Monroy is a motorcycle loan officer. Not police officer. Loan officer. Every day he rides the streets of Mexico City, ringing doorbells and dodging barking dogs to visit customers. He is one of 3,000 motorcycle agents of the new Banco Azteca, a revolutionary effort to revive the moribund Mexican banking system by extending its services to the poor and middle class for the first time. Stopping at a house on the impoverished fringe of the outskirts of Mexico City, Monroy fails to get a payment from an overdue customer who recently bought a stereo. "She's just waiting for her paycheck so she can pay, and then she'll borrow some more," says Monroy.One of Latin America's biggest economies, Mexico also has one of the most crippled banking systems in a hemisphere filled with financial ruins. The peso crisis of 1994 drove Mexican banks into a retreat from which they never fully recovered. Even as Mexico's economy became the region's growth superstar, its banks lagged behind those of...
  • Medicine Man

    Beyond the circle of lantern light, the darkness is absolute. Daniel Mattin (not his real name), sitting cross-legged in a small hut, listens to the freakishly loud chorus of tropical birds and trees rustling in the night breeze. A shaman wearing a jumble of necklaces and emblems chants icaros, or songs, to summon the "spirit of the plant"--in this case an ayahuasca, a species native to the Peruvian Amazon and purported to evoke mystical experiences. Minutes after Mattin imbibes ayahuasca-infused brew, the "spirit" catches him. He sees elephants adorned with jewels and crowns, and a dwarf performing magic tricks. Some of the hallucinations are harmless enough, but others, like the image of women's rotting genitals, are terrifying. Mattin, though, interprets them as healing messages. "Yes, you touch your dark side," he says. "But you have to in order to get to the light." Eventually, Mattin finds what he believes he had been looking for all along: Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary...
  • Mexico's China Obsession

    Martha Tovar never really thought much about her Chinese visitors until she came to see them as industrial spies and job thieves. In May, Tovar was approached by David Yu, a California recruiter working on behalf of Chinese firms. Yu was attracted by the contacts Tovar, owner of an American market-research firm, had cultivated among the maquiladora export factories along the U.S. border. He sent Tovar a confidential package detailing how companies struggling in Mexico would do better to move across the Pacific. Developed by the Chinese, the program was called "One Stop Shop" and it detailed how China could provide the answer to all their complaints about Mexico, from tax rates to land costs and red tape.Tovar was taken aback. Over the years, she had played host to numerous delegations of Chinese businessmen and officials who wanted to see how the border maquiladora system worked. When they came, translators and writing pads in hand, they took copious notes, and asked a lot of...
  • Bad For Its Image

    Costa Rica has long been recognized for its idyllic charm. The small, central American nation is democratic, stable and well-known for its progressive environmental policies. More than half a million U.S. tourists visited the country last year, mostly to loll on pristine beaches, hike through rain forests and espy some of Costa Rica's many monkeys. U.S. companies like Intel and Abbot Laboratories, attracted by an educated work force and flexible tax laws, have invested there. It's no wonder some locals proudly call their country "the Switzerland of Latin America."But Switzerland has secretive banks that have been known to attract "dirty" money. And now similar worries about what unsavory types the country may be attracting are beginning to circulate in Costa Rica. The capital, San Jose, has become a major headquarters for Internet gambling companies, also known as "sports books," which authorities say have migrated to the country to take advantage of lax banking laws and to serve U...
  • Lives On The Line

    In 1988 Javier Suarez Medina, then 19, was convicted for the murder of Larry Cadena, an undercover cop posing as a drug dealer, in a Texas drug bust. At his trial, police witnesses testified that Medina had opened Cadena's car door and shot the officer. Medina, who was in the United States legally, admitted that he killed Cadena. That was enough to get him convicted. He's scheduled to die by lethal injection in Texas this week.Medina's home country, Mexico, is scrambling to save his life. Mexican officials argue that Medina's consular rights were violated at the time of his arrest. Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, foreigners arrested in the United States have the right to see their consular offices without delay. In Medina's case, that did not happen. In fact, the Mexican Consulate claims that after making inquiries, it was told at various times by Texas officials that Medina was not Mexican, but rather Cuban or Colombian. Mexico, which hasn't applied the death penalty in...
  • Season Of Shock

    It's all but official. After a landslide presidential victory, Jacques Chirac and his conservatives can look forward to controlling the Senate and the National Assembly. The dead albatross of cohabitation will fall from his neck, and with it the paralysis that has hobbled French politics for the past five years.Even the defeated Socialists have something to celebrate: the comeuppance of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who could have pushed the country to the reaches of xenophobia. He garnered 17 percent in the May presidential balloting, knocking out Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Yet in the parliamentary elections he dwindled to an also-ran, likely to gain no more than a couple of legislative seats--if he's lucky. The French may be shocked by the World Cup. But the republic has been saved! Time to go on vacation.That's the bright side. The darker side is that many French seem to think the republic is in lousy shape regardless of who's in power--Chirac, the Socialists or Le Pen. Count the votes,...
  • 'The Face Of A Killer?'

    Padcha Khan Zadran is lucky if he can find a stretch of ground to lay down upon. Gone are the heady days when he slept in plush hotels--as he did last December during the Afghan peace process in Bonn, fawned over by United Nations officials and U.S. diplomats. These days, with a small cadre of loyal, gun-toting soldiers, he patrols a rocky, potholed stretch of road that connects one lonely Afghan town, Gardez, to another, Khowst. He's too old now, 60, to sleep in the hills as he did during the jihad against the Soviets. More often that not, he winds up in an ancestral mud hut in Outmani, with his toothless uncle Zafar, swatting away flies and pondering, inconsolably, his precipitous fall. "Do I have a scary face?" he asks. "Is this the face of a killer?"Many people would say yes. After Zadran rained rockets on Gardez last month in a bid to reclaim the governorship he had lost two months earlier, Hamid Karzai accused his old friend and ally of murder and ordered his immediate arrest....
  • Pakistan: Secret Hunt, Elusive Prey

    Something very secret is happening in the mountains above Miram Shah. Until a few months ago, this forsaken corner of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province was effectively off-limits to the Islamabad government's own security forces. Tribal elders were the unchallenged rulers of Waziristan, as the area is called. Now foreign troops are said to be roaming the high country, going anywhere they choose and apparently looking for something important. A shepherd named Ghulam came down a few days ago and told of being stopped and searched by English-speaking soldiers. "One of the Americans helped me round up my sheep after they questioned me," he told NEWSWEEK. Another local tribesman reported seeing a squad of seven Americans. When Pakistani authorities heard his story, he says, they forced him to sign a statement that the GIs were on the Afghan side of the border. "But they were actually in Pakistan," he insisted, even as he signed.It's hardly a routine mission. Officially there are no...
  • Afghan Minister Escapes Assassination Bid

    The center of the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad was rocked by a massive explosion this afternoon when a bomb exploded just yards away from the truck carrying the country's interim defense minister, General Mohammed Qasim Fahim. Afghan officials say Fahim was the target of an assassination attempt designed to destabilize the administration of Hamid Karzai.The minister had traveled by helicopter with other members of the interim administration and Afghan military commanders to Jalalabad for an official visit to promote the development of a national army and to help stamp out the cultivation of poppies cultivated for the international drug trade. Government officials survived the explosion, but at least four civilians died in the blast, including one child. Some two dozen others were injured.The bomb exploded as a convoy carrying Fahim, General Atta Mohammed, the military commander in charge of Mazar-i-Sharif, and the Minister for Tribal Affairs, Amanullah Zadran, made its way...
  • Love Under The Taliban

    Some Afghans had special reason to celebrate the fall of the Taliban. Even before U.S. airstrikes began last October, hundreds of families in Kabul began to flee to Iran and Pakistan. One fifth-year medical student named Najeeb found himself with the keys to three empty apartments that had belonged to neighbors and relatives. "Even though it was horrible for the Americans, it was a good time for me," he says, eyes twinkling. A dapper young man with traces of Oxford in his English and a picture of his girlfriend in his jacket pocket, Najeeb is in love. "I had the keys to three empty apartments--I could do anything I wanted, any time. I hosted my friends and their girlfriends, too. I squeezed the last drop of advantage from that time."The collapse of the Taliban hasn't exactly spawned a libertine revolution in Afghanistan. Nearly all marriages are still arranged, and in some tribal areas women can be killed if they do not bleed on their wedding night. But especially in cities like...
  • 'Maybe It's A Punishment From Allah'

    Saeed Anwar was drinking tea with his family on Monday evening when the earth began to shake. He grabbed his wife, and they rushed first into their courtyard, then outside as the walls of their house in northern Afghanistan collapsed around them."We were trying to run, but the earthquake wouldn't let us," says Anwar, sitting on a crumbling wall opposite where his house used to stand and smoking a cigarette, "It kept pushing us down. I thought we were running backward."It was around 7:15 p.m., and the streets of Anwar's village had bloomed into a roiling dust storm as houses fell one after another along his road. "Maybe we did something wrong," he says quietly, the men sitting with him on the wall nodding their heads in agreement. "Maybe it's a punishment from Allah."Aftershocks from last Monday's quake were still rippling through Nahrin district today as people from some 100 villages struggled to understand just what was happening to them. Down the street from Anwar's house,...
  • A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IN THE COLD

    As we reached the gates of Gardez, bright gunfire crackled against the side of a mud-walled building near the checkpost. Guards in the lead car of our convoy threw their doors open and ran for cover, screaming, "Get away, get away." Most of us dove into frozen irrigation ditches as more gunfire erupted and sparks ricocheted and faded like phosphorescence against the night sky. An Afghan soldier nudged me along with the barrel of his Kalashnikov, hissing "zaza, zaza"--go, go. When a mortar exploded nearby, it threw us into the dirt again. All five cars of our convoy stood abandoned in the road, with their doors open and lights on. The drivers kept screaming, "Turn the lights off." Eventually, inexplicably, the firing stopped. We clambered into our cars and sped in darkness back to a U.S. Special Forces base two miles away.The day had begun badly eight hours earlier, when I traveled with two other reporters to the town of Zormat. Our aim was to interview a local Afghan commander, Naim...