Douglas & McIntyre

Scott Taylor Interviews

Scott  Taylor

Scott Taylor

January 2009

In a conversation with Scott Taylor, author of Unembedded, this ex-soldier turned war correspondent gives us the goods on what drives him, and what can put him over the edge.

What drives you? How do you sustain your interest and energy levels to continually travel to places that are often dangerous and lacking in basic services, just to get a story?

Initially, I was in pursuit of adventure, and of course, the opportunity to put my military training to work. However, once I realized how our media plays a role in selling wars to a gullible public, it became difficult for me to ignore the untold side of these conflicts. The propaganda used to justify the West’s involvement in many recent conflicts involves the dehumanizing of people—such as the Serbs or Iraqis—and the very mag¬nitude of this insensitivity towards their suffering is a powerful motivator for me.

Were there ever any times or situations when you had second thoughts about the job?

I first ‘retired’ from war corresponding in July 1994 after spending four hours pinned down in the middle of a furious firefight in Bosnia. At the time, my wife was eight months pregnant with our only child, and I real¬ized I was being too reckless. It was not until the NATO bombardment of Serbia in 1999 that I would feel morally compelled to revisit that decision. My wife actually assisted in the persuasion by giving me an ulti¬matum to either stop yelling obscenities at the television newscasts, or to do something about it. I went to the Serbian Embassy, obtained a visa, and flew into the middle of Belgrade at the height of the NATO bom¬bardment. The second time I quit the profession was after my hostage ordeal in Iraq in 2004. Given the tor¬ture and beatings, that was a no-brainer.

When you plan your trips or are introduced to new potential important people, what is the hardest part of getting support and cooperation? Since you are an independent journalist, you aren’t offering them money or fame, but just trying to get their testimony. What tactics of persuasion do you use?

Often in my travels, both my military background and extensive travel to global hotspots have resulted in people of influence presuming me to be a spy. No one is sure who I am working for, but they are usually vinced that I’m not a journalist. That has had its advantages on occasion, but it certainly played against me when it was the Ansar al-Islam who captured me in the belief that I was working for Israel’s Mossad.

As for an interview technique, I think that simply being absolutely open about yourself leads to more personal responses from the subject. I never studied journalism, so I remain a perpetual bungling amateur.

Was there ever a particular case where you felt that bringing to light injustice had made the world a better place?

The only thing that convinced me to return to Iraq after being held hostage was a personal request from Colonel H.R. McMaster, the US military commander in the city of Talafar. He had read my book about the Turkmen of Iraq, and McMaster wanted to fly me in to brief his soldiers, so they would better understand the local population. He knew it would be difficult for me to revisit ‘the scene of the crime’ so to speak, but the American military were prepared to fly me in by helicopter and provide full protection. As a direct result of this visit, my contacts with the moderate Turkmen leaders in Talafar were able to reach an understand¬ing with McMaster, and a lot of lives were saved in the subsequent combat operations. To sweeten the whole experience, the US unit managed to capture one of the insurgents who had tortured me, and he is now con¬victed and serving a life sentence in a Baghdad jail.

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