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A Credit to the Corps

August 05, 2004

In "Control Room," the recently released documentary on the Arab news channel Al Jazeera, Marine Lt. Josh Rushing emerged as an accidental star. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar, he was assigned to escort Egyptian American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim as the Iraq war unfolded. To Noujaim's surprise, Rushing proved to be no ordinary flack. Other military spokesmen in the film sounded like androids reciting canned speeches. In conversations with an Al Jazeera reporter, Rushing came across as open, earnest, articulate -- characteristics that should make any American proud.

Except, apparently, the Americans at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is no fan of Al Jazeera, which he regularly denounces as a font of anti-American propaganda. It's no surprise that the Pentagon would be less than impressed by Noujaim's more nuanced and sympathetic take on the controversial network. It seems to have decided to take its ire out on Rushing, now a captain assigned to the Marine Corps Motion Picture and Television Liaison office in Los Angeles. Friends say the 31-year-old officer will end his 14-year military career in the fall after the documentary "didn't play well with some of the senior brass" and the Pentagon ordered Rushing and his wife not to give any more interviews about his part in it. (He declined to be interviewed by The Times.)

A deputy director of Marine Corps public affairs at the Pentagon told a Times reporter that it was not what Rushing said in the documentary but comments he made in interviews after it was released that prompted the crackdown. But the examples offered were no different from what was said on camera. Nothing unpatriotic, mind you. Rushing never came across as anything less than a passionate supporter of the Iraq mission of the United States and its allies. But although he supported this war, he did not stop trying to understand those who saw it as wrong. And he didn't flinch from questioning his own reactions. In one scene, he realized he had been offended by Al Jazeera showing images of dead and captive U.S. soldiers but not by an earlier, similarly graphic broadcast of dead and wounded Iraqis.

"It upset me at a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before," he said. "It makes me hate war. But it doesn't make me believe we can live in a world without war yet."

We can't even hope for that world if such conversations are silenced.

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