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Profile: David Hackworth
David Hackworth was a participant or observer in the following events:
Stephen Jones, the lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995), releases flattering photographs and videotapes of his client, along with McVeigh’s US Army records, saying that the public has a right to know McVeigh “as he really is.” McVeigh is a patriotic, happy young man, Jones says, and, quoting McVeigh’s military records, an “inspiration to young soldiers.” The photos and videotapes show McVeigh smiling and laughing with his lawyers. Jones has also allowed McVeigh to be interviewed by retired Colonel David Hackworth, a Newsweek columnist (see June 26, 1995, July 3, 1995) and June 26, 1995). “The public is entitled to know more about Mr. McVeigh than the government has released anonymously,” Jones says. Jones has already discussed the large amount of “supportive” mail McVeigh is receiving in prison (see June 9, 1995). Newsweek has released excerpts from Hackworth’s interview with McVeigh. Jones denies trying to influence potential jurors, saying: “If I were trying to influence potential jurors, I could say a lot more. The principal purpose behind it is to present our client to the public, to the families of the victims, to the victims who survived, as we believe he really is, to let them see something other than the 10 to 15 seconds of him walking out of the Noble County Courthouse. What I think you should draw from the record is that this is a young man who served his country honorably for four years.” Jones explains that he and McVeigh granted the interview with Hackworth because “Hack wrote him and said that he wanted to talk with my client, soldier-to-soldier.” [Associated Press, 6/26/1995; Chicago Sun-Times, 6/26/1995] The public-relations blitz is not entirely successful. Janet Walker, who lost her husband David in the blast, says: “They can’t make him innocent by putting a smile on his face, and they can’t make him guilty until they convict him. It’s nothing more than a ploy. I know that. He’ll get his in the end, if he’s guilty.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 237-238] Jones tells reporters that McVeigh had been mistreated during his initial incarceration: telephone lines had been disconnected when he attempted to call a lawyer, and jailers had refused to give him a bulletproof vest during his “perp walk” transfer from the Noble County Courthouse (see April 21, 1995) because, Jones says, “It was like they were hoping Jack Ruby would come out.” Jones is referring to the man who shot accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald could be arraigned. Noble County Undersheriff Raymond Jones strongly denies both of Jones’s claims. Jones also says that a camera set up to monitor McVeigh in his El Reno Federal Corrections Center cell, which is active 24 hours a day, is there to “engage in a kind of psychological warfare” that might “ultimately, perhaps… have an effect on [McVeigh’s] mental stability, which in turn might affect the trial.” The camera is later turned off for four hours a day, complying somewhat with Jones’s wishes. Jones also accuses prosecutors of “wiretapping” McVeigh’s conversations with his lawyers, and says that government wiretaps have been placed on his own phones, charges the prosecution denies. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 233-234, 239] Judge David L. Russell notes that Jones “slipped” Hackworth and photographer Peter Annin into the El Reno facility by pretending they were members of McVeigh’s legal team, and later asks McVeigh if he is comfortable with his lawyer conducting himself in such a manner. “Obviously, you don’t want somebody representing you that is not going to give you their all, would you agree with that?” Russell asks McVeigh. McVeigh says he is confident that Jones is representing him well, and assures Russell that he is “mentally competent” to make that determination. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 247-248]
Retired Colonel David Hackworth, a columnist for Newsweek, talks to PBS interviewer Charlie Rose about his recent interview with accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 21, 1995). Hackworth’s interview will result in a brief column (see July 3, 1995) and a cover story (see June 26, 1995), both of which engender tremendous controversy; critics have said that Hackworth has played into McVeigh’s lawyers’ efforts to “soften his image” (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth says that while he “expected to find a monster,” he found a normal young man, “disarming… laid back,” and a “very cool” person. “He came across as the boy that lived next door.” Hackworth says he set up the interview after sending McVeigh a copy of his book About Face, which interested McVeigh enough to have him and attorney Stephen Jones agree to the interview, McVeigh’s first after being arrested. McVeigh is “nothing like I had read in the press.” Rose asks how much of McVeigh’s presentation was “spin” to affect the press, and Hackworth says, “One hundred percent.… He knew that Newsweek talks to 20 million people, he knew that if he could project this kind of ‘boy next door’ image, it would hit the, uh, it might present a new twist on where he is coming from.… He handled himself very well.… He’s so smart that he’s capable of masterminding the operation, which a lot of people in the press said” he was too unintelligent to have done on his own. People in the Pentagon have told him, Hackworth says, that McVeigh could have been a brilliantly successful officer had he stayed in the military. Hackworth says that McVeigh refused to answer direct questions about his carrying out the bombing, instead saying, “We’re going to trial… we’re pleading not guilty.” He calls the bombing a “precise… military operation” that “wasn’t something a militia type, frothing at the mouth, could have put together.” The bombing was handled well, he says, up until McVeigh’s “bug out,” or escape: “To jump in that old car… and get stopped (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) was a minor charge.” Asked what that says about McVeigh, Hackworth replies, “It was almost one of those odd coincidences that we saw in the Lee Harvey Oswald case [the purported assassin of President John F. Kennedy], you know, it was perfect except he’s got the wrong ammunition or something.” Hackworth reiterates his characterization in Newsweek of McVeigh suffering from a “postwar hangover,” a depression that ensued after the war ended and he lost his battlefield comrades (see November 1991 - Summer 1992); his judgment became clouded and his thinking became skewed. Hackworth says that McVeigh denies any miltia ties whatsoever, and denies ever claiming he was being held as a “prisoner of war,” as news reports have alleged. Hackworth says that McVeigh told him he was treated well by his jailers, but says that McVeigh asked why he was not given a bulletproof vest on his short walk from the Noble County Courthouse to his transport to the El Reno federal facility. Hackworth says that the blank, grim look on McVeigh’s face that has characterized him in the news is actually the “thousand-yard stare” that soldiers get when they are expecting to be shot. Hackworth says he expected to “push a button” by asking McVeigh about the Branch Davidian standoff and ultimate tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), but McVeigh was not rattled. He concludes that when he interviewed accused Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), he caught North in “a hundred lies,” but he did not catch McVeigh in a single lie. Either McVeigh was telling the truth, Hackworth says, or he is a masterful liar. [PBS, 6/26/1995]
Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995 and April 24, 1995) gives an interview to Newsweek, saying he intends to plead not guilty to all charges; the interview quickly makes headlines around the country. In a cover story entitled “The Suspect Speaks,” McVeigh tells interviewer Colonel David Hackworth (see June 26, 1995) that the first he knew of the bombing was when a state trooper pulled him over driving north from Oklahoma City some 90 minutes after the blast (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). McVeigh says he was “horrified” by the deaths of 19 children in the explosion, and adds: “And you know, that was the number one focal point of the media at the time, too, obviously—the deaths of the children. It’s a very tragic thing.” He refuses to directly confirm or deny any involvement in the bombing, saying, “The only way we can really answer that is that we are going to plead not guilty.” The interviewer tells him, “But you’ve got a chance right now to say, ‘Hell no!’” McVeigh replies, “We can’t do that.” McVeigh goes into some detail about his “average childhood” (see 1987-1988); his lawyer Stephen Jones (see May 8, 1995), present for the interview, tells the interviewer that McVeigh is “the boy next door, a boy wonder.” Newsweek records McVeigh’s appearance as “a little nervous, maybe, but good humored and self-aware. Normal.” The interview is held in a conference room at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. Jones has released pictures and an audio-less videotape of McVeigh laughing and smiling while talking to his lawyers, in an apparent attempt to soften his image. Of the video, Jones says, “We want to present our client to the public as we believe he really is.” The country is most familiar with the image of McVeigh being led away from an Oklahoma County Jail in handcuffs (see April 21, 1995). Jones also emphasizes McVeigh’s solid military record (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After). Jones placed heavy restrictions on the interview with McVeigh, and thusly little new material is given. McVeigh will not discuss any evidence that prosecutors say shows his guilt, and Jones refuses to allow McVeigh to answer questions about whether he committed the bombing. Though in May the press reported that sources had said McVeigh confessed to the bombing in prison (see May 16, 1995), Jones says: “I’m not aware of anything he said in the interview that is inconsistent with what has been reported up to this point by the New York Times and every other newspaper in the country. If you’re trying to suggest that there may have been anything inconsistent, may I respectfully suggest that you may have not read the interview carefully.” Jones later disputes one quote attributed to him of McVeigh, where Jones supposedly told the interviewer, “He’s innocent.” Jones says, “I frankly don’t remember saying that he’s innocent and I do not think that is something I would have said.” McVeigh also denies any affiliation with militia groups or attending meetings of such groups (see 1992 - 1995, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, April 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, January 1995, and April 5, 1995), and denies reports that he had called himself a “prisoner of war” and refused to state anything but his name, rank, and serial number (see April 21, 1995). He acknowledges setting off small explosions on a farm in Michigan with his accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994), but says they were little more than plastic Pepsi bottles “that burst because of air pressure,” adding, “It was like popping a paper bag.” He refuses to go into details about his political views, saying merely that he was “bothered” by the 1993 Branch Davidian debacle (see March 1993, April 19, 1993, and April 19, 1993 and After), and acknowledges visiting the site after the final raid by FBI agents. He admits to having “been through Oklahoma City,” but when asked if he and his friend Michael Fortier (see May 19, 1995) had “cased” the Murrah Federal building in the days before the attack, replies, “I think I’d rather not answer that.” He says that the government has “[m]ost definitely” made “mistakes,” but does not characterize himself as an anti-government person. [New York Times, 6/26/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 225]
Newsweek publishes a column by Colonel David Hackworth, who regularly writes on military matters for the magazine. Hackworth recently visited accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) in prison (see May 11, 1995). McVeigh and his lawyer Stephen Jones were featured in a recent issue of Newsweek as well (see June 26, 1995). Hackworth includes little of the actual words of the interview in this column, and spends most of his time giving his impression of McVeigh. He is ambivalent at best, lauding McVeigh’s military record and his ramrod-straight appearance, but speculative at best about McVeigh’s professed innocence. When he talked to McVeigh at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, he writes, “I realized my gut feeling was right. He has what a lot of soldiers, good and bad, have: fire in the belly. When we talked about the military, a change came over him: McVeigh suddenly sat straight in his chair. The Army, he says, ‘teaches you to discover yourself. It teaches you who you are.’ I know what he means. To warriors, the military is like a religious order. It’s not a job. It’s a calling. Not too many people understand that calling or have what it takes.” Hackworth believes that after McVeigh returned from serving in Desert Storm (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), he “slipped into what’s known among vets as a postwar hangover[. I’ve] seen countless veterans, including myself, stumble home after the high-noon excitement of the killing fields, missing their battle buddies and the unique dangers and sense of purpose. Many lose themselves forever.” He notes that McVeigh voluntarily washed himself out of Special Forces training (see January - March 1991 and After), “but seemingly accepted his defeat stoically. Did his failure drive him over the edge? Maybe, but McVeigh says no: ‘It wasn’t the straw that broke anything.’ He planned to get in shape and come back. Still, something snapped.” Hackworth writes that McVeigh left the Army because of the postwar letdown and the Army’s “drawdown” of personnel (see November 1991 - Summer 1992), and was particularly troubled by his comrades leaving the service. He quotes McVeigh as saying, “You can literally love your battle buddies more than anyone else in the world.” Hackworth adds: “When they shipped out he was devastated, wondering if he’d made a mistake by staying in the military. Losing your war buddies is like losing an arm or a leg—or a loved one. McVeigh may have been crushed by the amputation.” From there, Hackworth writes, McVeigh “couldn’t adjust to civilian life,” and notes: “I’m no shrink, but I’ve seen this failure to adapt many times before. The rules change on you. You’re used to order—having a dear objective, knowing just how to get the job done. Then you’re on your own in a different world, with no structure and little exact sense of what you’re supposed to do.” None of this excuses or even explains the crimes McVeigh is accused of committing, he writes, and concludes: “The Timothy McVeigh I talked with didn’t seem like a baby killer. He was in high combat form, fully aware that his performance in the interview was almost a matter of life and death. If he’d been in combat, he’d have a medal for his coolness under fire. He might also be the most devious con man to ever come down the pike. At times McVeigh came across as the boy next door. But you might never want to let him into your house.” [Newsweek, 7/3/1995] Hackworth’s column contains much the same information he gave PBS’s Charlie Rose in a recent interview (see June 26, 1995). In a harsh critique of Hackworth’s military writing, Slate writers Charles Krohn and David Plotz will call his column on McVeigh “astonishingly sympathetic,” and will mock Hackworth’s “postwar hangover” explanation of McVeigh’s alleged bombing. [Slate, 11/28/1996] Although the interview is dated July 3, the issue of Newsweek containing it appears on June 26.
Army investigators discover that 62 percent of its gas masks and 90 percent of its chem/bio detectors—which alert soldiers to the presence of chemical or biological toxins—are defective. Nevertheless, the Bush administration continues to prepare for war with Iraq, a country believed to have a large and dangerous stock of chemical and biological weapons. Tens of thousands of US soldiers will be issued defective chem/bio suits, many with holes or ripped seams. Retired Army Colonel David Hackworth will later recall: “When the Pentagon tried to trace down these bad suits, they couldn’t find them at all. So a trooper out in the… middle of a desert is putting on a suit, [and] he doesn’t know if he’s got a good one or a bad one. It’s, it’s kind of like Russian roulette.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 57]
David Hackworth. [Source: Public domain via Flickr]Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick’s uncle William Lawson sends an e-mail about the abuses and their documentation to the website of retired Col. David Hackworth, stating: “We have contacted the Red Cross, Congress both parties [sic], Bill O’Reilly [a Fox News Channel host] and many others. Nobody wants to touch this.” Within minutes, an associate of Hackworth calls him over the phone. Hackworth, who is described by the New York Times as “a muckraker who was always willing to take on the military establishment,” then puts Lawson in touch with the producers of the CBS news program “60 Minutes II,” who will eventually air the story on Abu Ghraib. Lawson’s efforts to publicize the abuses are motivated by his fear, and that of his brother-in-law, Frederick’s father, that Frederick will take the fall for what they believe involves higher ranking officers and officials. Seventeen members of Congress, however, ignored Lawson’s plea before he contacted Hackworth. “The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out…, but the Army decided to prosecute those six GI’s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case.” [New York Times, 5/8/2004]
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