Steve Coll is Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of ­Journalism. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.


 (June 2016)

An Eloquent Voice from Guantánamo

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been imprisoned in Guantánamo without charges since 2002, with a page from his memoir, Guantánamo Diary
In December 2005, a panel of US military officers at Guantánamo Bay convened a hearing about the case of a Mauritanian prisoner named Mohamedou Ould Slahi. In the midst of the proceedings, Slahi mentioned that he had recently completed a memoir. “When it is released I advise you guys to …

Hitler & the Muslims

Adolf Hitler in the workshop of the sculptor Josef Thorak, with Thorak’s bust of Atatürk behind him, Munich, February 1937
The record of World War II is that the Allied and Axis powers both invested substantially in strategies to win over Muslims and that both succeeded only partially and temporarily. Even these limited achievements were informed by cynical expedience on the part of the invading European forces and the adapting Muslim populations in their way.

Citizen Bezos

Over the last decade, Amazon’s growing market share and persistent bullying, particularly in the realm of digital books, raise the question of how well competition and antitrust law can protect diverse authors and publishers.

The King of the Foxes

Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News, Pasadena, California, July 2006
Since its creation in 1996, as an arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corporation, Fox News has made a killing by providing ideological reinforcement to like-minded conservatives. Although the audience for Fox News is aging and leveling off in size, it remains the largest of any cable news network in America by far. Its profit margin has been above 50 percent in recent years, a rate almost unheard of in mainstream business. Fox’s success has been due in no small part to the insights of Roger Ailes, a former Republican media and campaign consultant and the network’s first and only president.

Hard on Obama

Vali Nasr, Amsterdam, 2012
What finally recommends Vali Nasr’s The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat is the very quality that often makes it jagged: the author’s willingness, as a well-positioned insider, to attack viscerally the complacent belief among Obama and his national security advisers that they have constructed a rare left-leaning presidency that is tough-minded, restrained, and above all effective on foreign, defense, and counterterrorism policy.

‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty
Filmmakers cannot, on the one hand, claim authenticity as journalists while, on the other, citing art as an excuse for shoddy reporting about a subject as important as whether torture had a vital part in the search for bin Laden, and therefore might be, for some, defensible as public policy.

The Kill or Capture Presidency

US army special forces walk in a field as Blackhawk helicopters transporting NATO officers land in Marjah's Balakino Bazar neighborhood on February 24, 2010.

You’d like your government to tell you the truth, and the government dissembled repeatedly after the raid about what the rules of engagement were. They dissembled because the truth was uncomfortable and because the rules are secret, and they have this deep culture of secrecy in this administration, as in the last couple, about rules of engagement. What it highlights is that the United States does not have a detention regime that works anymore. Anytime it brings terrorists suspects into custody it generated political controversy. And so what you can see is a bias is built up in the system, in which the Obama Administration judges it’s just easier to kill people. That doesn’t create any political controversy.

Dead or Alive

Osama bin Laden in a video reported to have been filmed at the al-Qaeda training camp al-Farouq, Afghanistan
Given his record, it is uncomfortable to suggest that there might be more to the subject of Osama bin Laden’s killing than a straightforward story of justice delivered. And yet from the first hours after the Abbottabad raid, American government officials have made false, confusing, and incomplete public statements about what, exactly, happened at Abbottabad. They have also dissembled about how Operation Neptune Spear, as the raid was named, planned for the possibility that bin Laden might be taken alive and put on trial.

Will Iran Get That Bomb?

On May 25, 1986, an unmarked Israeli aircraft bearing a supply of Hawk antiaircraft missile parts landed in Tehran. Aboard were a young Israeli counterterrorism adviser, several Central Intelligence Agency officers, and two staff members of President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council, Oliver North and Howard Teicher. Robert “Bud” McFarlane, …

Our Secret American Security State

President Barack Obama studying a document held by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during the presidential daily briefing in the Oval Office, February 3, 2011
What is the American intelligence bureaucracy good for? The question is difficult to ask in a serious way in Washington because it risks raising the hackles of career intelligence professionals and their political sponsors at a time when spy agencies remain under pressure to combat resilient if diminished international terrorist …

The Internet: For Better or for Worse

Wael Ghonim (center), the Egyptian Google executive who started the Facebook group ‘We Are All Khaled Said,’ at a protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, February 8, 2011
It is indisputable that social media had a part in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, as well as in the ongoing protests in other Arab and Muslim nations. Facebook and other digital networks can speed political communication and provide efficient tools for organizing protests. In combination with satellite broadcasters such as al-Jazeera, online networks can quickly spread awareness of government abuses. The very newness of social media, and the way they connect people and ideas across borders, may also foster an incipient form of political identity for some. But none of this is quite the same as accepting that Internet use makes the liberation of oppressed societies more likely.

Kashmir: The Time Has Come

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson
In late October 2008, on the eve of the election that would elevate him to the White House, Barack Obama made some of the most expansive comments about the Kashmir conflict that have ever come from an American presidential candidate. In an interview with Joe Klein of Time magazine, Obama …

The Cabinet of Dr. Strangelove

Air Force General Bernard Schriever, one of the main architects of the American 
nuclear missile program during the early years of the cold war
On November 1, 1952, American scientists led by the Hungarian émigré Edward Teller oversaw the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb, code-named Mike, on an atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Mike possessed more than eight hundred times the destructive power of Little Boy, the bomb that flattened Hiroshima. The following …