Nina Burleigh

Nina Burleigh

Nina Burleigh spent the latter half of 2009 in the Central Italian hill town of Perugia, researching a notorious murder case involving an American girl named Amanda Knox and a cast of characters local and international. She and her husband, photographer Erik Freeland, enrolled their two children in the town school, an adventure in itself. The family was accompanied by Chili, a big-eared black and white mutt they found at a Pemex station in Central Mexico in winter 2009. The book, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox, is published by Broadway Books.

Nina is an award-winning author and journalist. She has written four books and has been published in the New Yorker, Time, New York and People, among many other journals and rags. She has occasionally shellacked her hair for television, including Good Morning America, Nightline, and various programs on CNN and C-Span, as well as flogged books on NPR and countless radio outlets.

The daughter of author and artist Robert Burleigh and Berta Burleigh, a teacher who emigrated to the USA from Iraq in the 1950s, Nina was born and educated in the Midwest, has traveled extensively in the Middle East and lived in Italy and France. She covered the Clinton White House for Time and reported and wrote human interest stories at People Magazine from New York. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and occasionally vents on the Huffington Post.

Nina has lectured around the United States and in Mexico on writing and books, including her most recent, Unholy Business, a true tale of how modern science is being used to support the curious world of biblical relic trade and forgery. Her book, Mirage, published in 2008 by Harper Collins, was selected by the New York Times as an editors' choice and won the Society of Women Educators' Award in 2008.

The Fatal Gift of Beauty

The Trials of Amanda Knox

Broadway Books, 2011

On November 1, 2007, Meredith Kercher, a British student at the University of Perugia, was found sexually assaulted and murdered in an apartment she shared with American student Amanda Knox and two other women. Knox reportedly returned home the following day to find the door open and bloodstains on the floor; police later found Kerchner's body in her locked room. Knox, along with boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, was eventually convicted of helping a local named Rudy Guede murder Kerchner when she resisted his advances. Amid a firestorm of media coverage, allegations were made that the investigation was botched; counter-allegations said the trial was fair and that portrayals of Knox as a victim were unwarranted. Here, journalist/author Burleigh reconstructs a murder case that has proved to be about much more than murder. There will be interest.


Unholy Business

A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

Collins, Oct 2008

Israel, with 30,000 archeological digs crammed with Bible-era artifacts, and fever-pitch religious extremists vying for proof of faith and history, is the setting for this gripping story from the eccentric world of Biblical archaeology and high-end relic collection. Surrounded by a cast of colorful characters—scholars, evangelicals, detectives, billionaires and dealers—a pair of scholar-cops stalk a wily millionaire who conducted what Israeli police called “the fraud of the century.” Two objects at the center of the fraud—the James Ossuary and the Joash Tablet—were only the tip of the iceberg. Museum shelves worldwide may still display fakes from his workshop.

Unholy Business takes readers into the murky world of Holy Land relic dealing from the back alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City to New York’s Fifth Avenue, and reveals Biblical archaeology as it is pulled apart by religious believers on one side and scientists on the other.


Mirage

Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

Harper, Nov 2007

Little more than two hundred years ago, only the most reckless or eccentric Europeans had dared traverse the unmapped territory of the modern-day Middle East. Its history and peoples were the subject of much myth and speculation—and no region aroused greater interest than Egypt, where reports of mysterious monuments, inscrutable hieroglyphics, rare silks and spices, and rumors of lost magical knowledge tantalized dreamers and taunted the power-hungry.

It was not until 1798, when an unlikely band of scientific explorers traveled from Paris to the Nile Valley, that Westerners received their first real glimpse of what lay beyond the Mediterranean Sea.

Under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Army, a small and little-known corps of Paris's brightest intellectual lights left the safety of their laboratories, studios, and classrooms to embark on a thirty-day crossing into the unknown—some never to see French shores again. Over 150 astronomers, mathematicians, naturalists, physicists, doctors, chemists, engineers, botanists, artists—even a poet and a musicologist—accompanied Napoleon's troops into Egypt. Carrying pencils instead of swords, specimen jars instead of field guns, these highly accomplished men participated in the first large-scale interaction between Europeans and Muslims of the modern era. And many lived to tell the tale.

Hazarding hunger, hardship, uncertainty, and disease, Napoleon's scientists risked their lives in pursuit of discovery. They approached the land not as colonizers, but as experts in their fields of scholarship, meticulously categorizing and collecting their finds—from the ruins of the colossal pyramids to the smallest insects to the legendary Rosetta Stone.

Those who survived the three-year expedition compiled an exhaustive encyclopedia of Egypt, twenty-three volumes in length, which secured their place in history as the world's earliest-known archaeologists. Unraveling the mysteries that had befuddled Europeans for centuries, Napoleon's scientists were the first to document the astonishing accomplishments of a lost civilization—before the dark shadow of empire-building took Africa and the Middle East by storm.

Internationally acclaimed journalist Nina Burleigh brings readers back to a little-known landmark adventure at the dawn of the modern era—one that ultimately revealed the deepest secrets of ancient Egypt to a very curious continent.


The Stranger and the Statesman

James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum

William Morrow, October 2003

Combining the charming eccentricity of The Professor and the Madman with the brilliant insight of Founding Brothers, here is a riveting biography of a little-known scientist and his incomparable legacy. It was one of the world’s greatest philanthropic gifts—and one of its most puzzling mysteries. In 1829 a wealthy naturalist named James Smithson—a self exiled outsider, and the bastard son of the first Duke of Northumberland, who though obscure, associated with some of the most brilliant European scientists of his time, men who were laying the groundwork for what we now know about chemistry, electricity, and the atom—left his library, mineral collection, and entire fortune “to the United States of America, to found . . .“an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”—even though he’d never visited the U.S. nor knew any Americans.

In this fascinating, illuminating history, Nina Burleigh pieces together the facets of this quirky recluse’s life-a tale of illicit sex, madness, greed, generosity, science, and politics. She reveals how Smithson’s bequest was nearly lost due to fierce clashes among battling Americans-states’ rights advocates, nationalists, federalists, anglophiles, xenophobes, and others. Yet, she details, thanks to the patient efforts of unsung heroes, namely the bristly former president John Quincy Adams, Smithson’s legacy was finally realized in 1846 and has become today one of our most important educational, cultural, and scientific establishments.


A Very Private Woman

The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer

Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1999

In 1964, Mary Pinchot Meyer, the beautiful, rebellious, and intelligent ex-wife of a top CIA official, was killed on a quiet Georgetown towpath near her home. Mary Meyer was a secret mistress of President John F. Kennedy, whom she had known since private school days, and after her death, reports that she had kept a diary set off a tense search by her brother-in-law, newsman Ben Bradlee, and CIA spymaster James Jesus Angleton. But the only suspect in her murder was acquitted, and today her life and death are still a source of intense speculation, as Nina Burleigh reveals in her widely praised book, the first to examine this haunting story.

PRAISE FOR
The Fatal Gift of Beauty

"THE FATAL GIFT OF BEAUTY is the real, the true, and the complete story of the Amanda Knox case. It will draw you into a nightmare world of murder, conspiracy, corruption, false accusations, police incompetence, abuse, lies, and manipulations. Nina Burleigh is a first-rate journalist who presents a meticulously researched and reported account, with every fact documented and sourced. It is an essential read for anyone interested in this case. More than a murder story, is a look into the dark and complex soul of Italy itself."--Douglas Preston, co-author of The Monster of Florence

"Finally, the twisted tale of Amanda Knox, the all-American college girl convicted of murder in Italy, gets the telling this extraordinary story deserves. Nina Burleigh's immersion in Italian cultural history provides a context that allows us--first the first time--to understand how this international miscarriage of justice could have occurred. Stirring, compelling, and in the end a tragic tale worthy of Italian opera." --Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision, The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro and The Rogue

"The global media, in its frenzied coverage of the sensational Amanda Knox murder trial, overlooked what Nina Burleigh has skillfully unearthed and analyzed--a compelling chain of evidence, subtle levels of significance. Her telling of the tale is clearly the only one that gets it right."--John Berendt, author of The City of Falling Angels and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

"Nina Burleigh has cut through the confusion of conflicting and often inaccurate news accounts of the Amanda Knox murder case and given us a lucid, fair-minded account of the case. She shows, quite convincingly, that Knox and her co-defendant have been victims of a serious miscarriage of justice. Perhaps more importantly, she explains why, showing the case to be the product of cultural misunderstanding between Italy and the U.S."--Alexander Stille, author of The Sack of Rome

"[In] this powerful example of narrative non-fiction...Burleigh, who parses how the Knox trial was perhaps tainted, still presents a fair and unbiased portrait of a girl adrift in a foreign legal system and a culture rife with preconceptions about young American women." — Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Burleigh’s propulsive narrative and the many unsettling aspects of the case make this a standout among recent true-crime titles."—Kirkus Reviews

“Journalist/author Burleigh (e.g., Unholy Business) reconstructs a murder case that has proved to be about much more than murder.”—Library Journal



PRAISE FOR
Unholy Business

"Skillfully constructed as a series of narrative vignettes, Unholy Business is indeed reminiscent of a good, if rather dark film.

Burleigh has a marvelous talent for thumbnail character sketches and many of her protagonists seem to leap off the page... Burleigh...narrates the case of the James ossuary in detail and with a zestful sense of adventure..."
-- Associated Press

"In delving into the story of a high-profile biblical antiquities fraud case in Israel, Nina Burleigh found a journalistic treasure trove....a real-life thriller as consequential as it is entertaining...."
-- Barnes and Noble

"Bracing account...Burleigh skillfully navigates the theological dilemmas that attended the 'discovery' of the ossuary and the forensic evidence that finally sank it." -- Washington Post Book World

"In fast, noir-ish prose — imagine Sam Spade in the Holy Land — Burleigh tracks her story through the twilight world of Arab grave robbers and smugglers to the glimmering salon of a billionaire collector in Mayfair whose mission, writes Burleigh, is 'proving the Bible true.'" -- Time.com

"In her captivating chronicle, veteran journalist Burleigh enters a dark world full of shady dealings, illicit collectors and monomaniacal archaeologists. ... Burleigh draws her readers in from page one and brilliantly captures the compelling debates about archaeology's relationship to faith." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A "lively account. ... Ms. Burleigh uses the story of the James Ossuary to trace the eccentric and sometimes dodgy characters who buy, trade and deal in antiquities. But it is also a springboard for her larger meditation on the field of biblical archaeology." -- Wall Street Journal

"In a narrative befitting the intrigue and mystery surrounding the shadowy world of antiquities and archeology in Israel – the only country of origin in the world where it is legal to sell such things – Nina Burleigh tells a tale of greed and ambition mixed with political and theological yearning." -- The Toronto Star

"Shrewd and piquant journalist Nina Burleigh … tells the full story behind one of the greatest hoaxes of all time. … With brio and acumen, Burleigh follows the trail of antiquities fraud in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, visiting collectors' lairs, biblical sites, and archaeological digs. … In all, a provocative inquiry into the age-old pairing of faith and folly." -- Booklist



PRAISE FOR
Mirage

The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International bestowed its prestigious 2008 Educator's Award on Nina Burleigh for her newest book, Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt.

People Magazine
People staff writer Nina Burleigh spotlights the Indiana Jones-esque scientists who joined Napoleon's Egyptian invasion during the late 18th century.

The New York Sun
 . ..  . She tells a lively story. . . . . In her closing chapters, [Burleigh] vividly describes the nightmare that had befallen the occupiers. Devastated by plague, the French fitfully retreated in late 1801, as the English plundered the savants' finds. Holed up in a besieged Alexandria, a bedraggled, emaciated Saint-Hilaire deliriously contemplated a unifying theory of life, "a principle so gigantic it unified all the sciences," as he dissected an electric fish. Writing with manic energy as bombs exploded outside, Saint-Hilaire mused on "the imponderable fluids" of light, electricity, and heat as he tried to pinpoint a link to "all the phenomena of the material world." It is a stunning image, and a fitting metaphor for the overreaching ambition that drove the savants in their quest.

The San Francisco Chronicle - December 14, 2007
Burleigh…explains significant details without getting heavily academic. By separating the narrative into sections and sketching individuals-the chemist, the mathematician, the zoologist – she makes the discussion accessible…a fascinating read about an extraordinary time and place in world history.
Full review at The San Francisco Chronicle.

The New York Sun - December 12, 2007
One of Napoleon's more reckless gambles — there were many — was his ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1798. Determined to cut off Britain's trading routes with India, the petit general crossed the Mediterranean with some 50,000 soldiers and sailors, looking to drive the English from the Orient. But this was a military mission with an intellectual bent. Napoleon, intoxicated by the example of Alexander the Great, another conqueror with big ideas, had a grand vision: He wanted to modernize Egypt — even if he had to do it at the point of a gun — and explore the glories of the Egyptian past...
Full review at The New York Sun.

The New York Times Book Review - December 9, 2007
**EDITOR'S CHOICE**
Burleigh’s description of a young army overdressed for the sweltering heat (in Alpine wool uniforms), afraid and unable to communicate with the increasingly hostile locals, has echoes of the present.  Her principle subject, however, is not the military but the 151 "savants" Napoleon took along -- geologists, mapmakers, naturalists, artists, even a musicologist.  . . .Burleigh hurtles in less than 250 pages through the three grueling years the savants spent in Egypt, peppering her tale with multitudes of facts, digressions, and antidotes.
Full review at The New York Times.

More Magazine
Burleigh’s latest history gives us a fresh take on well-known material - Napoleon’s eighteenth – century invasion and Democracy–spreading mission in Egypt. His campaign did not go well. (Sound Familiar?)

LoadedQuestions.com
Author Nina Burleigh is an accomplished journalist who reported for Time magazine in Iraq in the 1990s. With Mirage she has written a very detailed book about Napoleon Bonaparte's march to Egypt with the French army beneath him. . . I certainly recommend reading this book. Burleigh's approach to this historical adventure is refreshing and very approachable -- history for the non historian.

The Associated Press
With an easy style and an eye for striking detail, Burleigh concentrates on 151 French scientists, scholars and students who joined the expedition, tempted by hero worship of Napoleon and the prospect of scientific adventure.

Library Journal
If you enjoy delving into small crevices of the past looking for little-considered gems of history, then Burleigh's (The Stranger and the Statesman) latest is for you. Focusing on Napoléon's expedition to Egypt in 1798-1801 and particularly on the scientists who accompanied the military forces, Burleigh illuminates an unfamiliar moment in the history of science.  . . .Burleigh's storytelling ability is mesmerizing; she skillfully fills in the backstory of the region in artfully crafted paragraphs, summing up thousands of years of history without slowing the flow of the narrative.

Publishers Weekly
Burleigh (A Very Private Woman) offers an absorbing glimpse of Napoleon’s thwarted bid for a grand French empire and its intellectual fruits.

Kirkus Reviews
A breathless account of the French invasion of Egypt in 1798.



PRAISE FOR
The Stranger and the Statesman

Most of us employed at Smithsonian have the vague knowledge that James Smithson’s disenchantment with British aristocracy was behind his curious bequest to create an institution to be founded in Washington, D.C., “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” But this is far from the complete story. Thanks to this lively and extraordinarily well-researched book, Nina Burleigh shows the situation to have been far more interesting and complex...
-- Geotimes, April 2004

Of all the great nineteenth-century philanthropists who used their wealth to enrich American civil society, James Smithson (1765-1829) is surely one of the more enigmatic. Millions flock to the Smithsonian museums that bear his name each year, yet few people realize he never visited America. And none can say why this illegitimate son of a British aristocrat used his fortune to endow what would become America's best-known museums. -- Martin Morse Wooster, The Philanthropic Roundtable

Burleigh's investigation reads at times like a riveting cold-case episode; she succeeds admirably in putting flesh on Smithson's skeletal remains. -- Chicago Tribune

The source of Smithson's desire to establish an institution in the new city of Washington "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge" is the psychological mystery at the heart of Nina Burleigh's engaging tour of his life and times,The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: the Smithsonian. -- San Francisco Chronicle

The Nation's Attic
When I started this slim book, a new account of the life of the enigmatic and eccentric English love child who went on to become the initiating benefactor of America's Smithsonian Institution, the auguries were far from good, and I thought that I would not like it at all. There were all manner of infelicities about the book that, initially at least, put me right off it. But I persevered and, 200-odd pages later, I put it aside, replete, delighted, enchanted, and fascinated -- and humbled too by the realization that a hasty judgment is often an unworthy judgment, and that all books should at least be given a chance... More at The Boston Globe. -- Simon Winchester, Boston Globe

This engaging book is well worth the time to read. Even James Macie, or James Smithson, as he came to call himself in middle age, might have applauded this "increase & diffusion of Knowledge" about the founding of the institution. -- Richmond Times Dispatch

This meticulously researched book reads like a suspense novel, looking for clues in James Smithson's odd life that might have led him to give a large fortune to a country he had never seen. Then there's the question of what America, then completely broke, would do with the money. The twists and turns of that political plot feature a hero-John Quincy Adams, who could be called the stepfather of the Smithsonian. It's a riveting story of two men, and a fascinating picture of the world where they lived. — Cokie Roberts

Nina Burleigh tells an unusual and exciting story, backs it up with impressive scholarship, and brings to life the sometimes vexed history of a great American institution. — Justin Kaplan

What a great American story! Nina Burleigh's The Stranger and the Statesman is a beautifully rendered account of the extraordinary circumstances that lead to the creation of the Smithsonian. John Quincy Adams comes bursting out of these pages full of tenacity and grit. The old adage that 'history is stranger than fiction' has never been more apropos. Highly recommended. — Douglas Brinkley, Smithsonian magazine review of The Stranger and the Statesman.

 



SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
A Very Private Woman

In this fascinating and painstakingly-researched account, Nina Burleigh has dissected Washington's most intriguing murder mystery and produced, all-in-one, a captivating biography, a thriller, and an insightful portrait of Georgetown in its golden presidential age of high-drama political dinners and late-night White House assignations. — From Christopher Ogden, author of Life of the Party

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil meets Camelot...elegant and evocative. ... Burleigh weaves a good tale. She's terrific on a Georgetown that no longer exists. — Washington Post Book World

Power is so utterly fascinating. Sometimes it's used for evil purposes, like the kind of power that has silenced the telling of Mary Pinchot Meyer's mysterious murder for over three decades. In A Very Private Woman, Nina Burleigh has finally told this tragic tale of a privileged beauty with friends in high places. — Dominick Dunne

A superbly crafted, evocative glimpse of an adventurous spirit whose grisly murder remains a mystery. — San Francisco Chronicle

Provocative, erudite...pure Georgetown noir. — The New York Observer

Mary Meyer, CIA wife, mistress of President Kennedy, murder victim, has long been a story waiting for the right author. In this book, with its incisive, unsensational but fascinating reporting, Nina Burleigh really delivers. ... Fine, well-judged work. — Anthony Summers, author of Official and Confidential and Goddess

While Burleigh avoids offering theories about the unsolved murder, she vividly evokes one conspiracy of titillating interest today: how Washington insiders of the era kept their "secretly swinging" activities discreet. — Entertainment Weekly, Megan Harlan

Nina Burleigh brings a rich array of real-life characters to A Very Private Woman, some of whom could have tumbled out of a John le Carré novel. — The New York Times Book Review, Patricia O'Brien

A scintillating true story ... [Burleigh] relies on well-documented evidence and recollections. ... An astute observer of the political scene. — New York Post

A sensitive study of a time, place and woman ... A Very Private Woman is a wonderful read. -— Weekly Standard

Burleigh provides an intriguing look into the mythology surrounding the Kennedy White House and the Cold War era, when secrets were a way of life. — Knoxville News-Sentinel

Proves that every Washington sex scandal is juicy in its own way. — Glamour

Journalist Nina Burleigh gives a fascinating account of the suspicions that have fed conspiracy theories of CIA involvement in the death of Mary Pinchot Meyer, married to a top CIA official and a mistress to President John F. Kennedy. Meyer was murdered on a wooded towpath in Georgetown, less than a year after Kennedy's assassination. As fascinating as the circumstances of her unsolved murder, including CIA concerns about the contents of Meyer's diary, her life was equally compelling. Born into wealth, member of the Eastern social elite, Meyer became part of the domestic scenery of the CIA during its most clandestine period. Burleigh conveys the CIA husbands' pernicious intrigues and the wives' suppressed domesticities. Secrets kept by Meyer's cold warrior husband contributed to the growing distance between them, even after the loss of a young child. Meyer retreated into her painting and lovers, including Kennedy. A close relationship with Timothy O'Leary led to allegations that she brought drugs, including LSD, into the White House for use with Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists will love this book. — Vanessa Bush, Booklist

The name Mary Meyer is unfamiliar to most Americans. Those living in Washington and Georgetown know it well. Mary Pinchot Meyer's story has waited 34 years for just the right author. An author capable of relating an insightful portrait of DC and Georgetown in the days of "Camelot." An author who could with high-drama dissect Washington's most intriguing murder mystery. Nina Burleigh, a contributing editor at New York Magazine and a resident of New York City is the writer who now steps forward to tell Mary's story of mystery and intrigue... — BusinessKnowHow.com

 

Nina Writes About Italy

Looking Through the Stained Glass WindowSlate, December 1, 2009

La Dolce Vita? Going Broke in ItalySlate, November 3, 2009

La Dolce Vita?Slate, October 5, 2009

La Dolce Vita: Learning to Speak ItalianSlate, October 15, 2009

African Immigrants in Italy: Slave Labor for the MafiaTime, January 15, 2010

Did Amanda Knox Get a Fair Murder Trial?Time, December 3, 2009

Amanda Knox Murder Trial Moves Toward a ClimaxTime, November 30, 2009

The Tough Women of the Amanda Knox CaseTime, September 29, 2009

Has Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Created Titillating TV Fascism in Italy?AlterNet, October 6, 2009

Israel and Iran Trump Michael Moore at VeniceHuffington Post, September 14, 2009


Other Articles by Nina Burleigh

Time Magazine, July 27, 2009
Israeli Settlers Versus the Palestinians
In a hilltop suburb South of Jerusalem called Efrat, Sharon Katz serves a neat plate of sliced cake insude her five-bedroom house, surrounded by pomegranate, olive and citrus trees that she planted herself. She clances out the window at the hills where, she believes, David and Abraham once walked. "We are living in the biblical heartland," she sighs. [continues here]

Time Magazine, June 29, 2009
Spotlight: Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox has finally spoken. Ever since the 21-year-old American student was arrested in Italy in late 2007 and charged with the grisly murder of her British roommate Meredith Kercher, tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic have bubbled with scandal and speculation. Was she, as Italian and British reports suggest, a promiscuous party girl who lived like a slob and took strange men back to the house? ... [full article at the link]

Time Magazine, June 15, 2009
Netanyahu, in Turnabout, Backs Palestinian State
If the 300,000 West Bank settlers identified by the U.S. President as an obstacle to Middle East peace were expecting Bibi Netanyahu to support their cherished dream of an Israel stretching from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, they were disappointed on Sunday night. The right-wing leader instead took a sharp and unexpected lurch to the center and said he would support a two-state solution, meaning something called Palestine is a step closer to being inked onto their 3,000-year-old biblical map... [full article at the link]

The New Yorker, January 5, 2009
Pamela Davis, blond suburban mother of three, was told that her bra would be the best place to wear the wire that kick-started a long investigation into Chicago graft and that ultimately caught the governor of Illinois trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat... [full article at the link]


People Magazine Articles by Nina

International Adoption Fraud

Iraq War Wounded

Teen Dating Violence

Obama Inauguration


Essays on Nina's Book Unholy Business

The Collector's Lair, part 1KillingtheBuddha.com
An atheist descends into the underworld of the Israeli antiquities trade
I didn’t go to Jerusalem to see the Holy Land. As an atheist and a journalist, I went to explore a curious case of forged biblical artifacts the Israeli authorities were calling “the fraud of the century.” My earthly reward was to encounter a set of unusual characters operating in a strange world where money, faith, science and politics are intertwined like nesting snakes...continues at link.

Wily Scholars and DetectivesThe Bible and Interpretation
Since the publication of my book, I have received a variety of messages from characters who want/believe the ossuary and tablet to be real. They consistently accuse me of having had an agenda in writing the book, which simply stated is to advance the agenda of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which faked the fakes, and then planted evidence against Mr. Golan, in the interest of destroying the Israeli antiquities trade itself...continues at link.

Gabriel’s Revelation TablePowell's Books
Recently, word of a 2000-plus year-old stone, with ancient Hebrew writing in ink, splashed across the world’s newspapers, beginning with the New York Times itself. The story is vaguely familiar — in recent years we have been bombarded with similar new-old discoveries from the Holy Land — yet also shockingly relevant to millions of faithful today... continues at link.

Hoaxes From the Holy LandLos Angeles Times, 11/29/08
Nina's esay about hoax antiquities runs in the Opinion section.


Essays on Writing Mirage

Scholars in the Land of the Prophet — Powell's Books
As I write these words in an office above midtown Manhattan, armed men are disembarking from black SUVs on the street down below. A helicopter beats overhead. It's just a Homeland Security exercise, another nail in the coffin of my long-dead sense of security. Farther downtown, there's a hole where 3,000 people died, murdered by fanatical practitioners of one of the world's three great religions...  continues at the link.

Groks Science Radio ShowHistory News Network, March 26, 2008
The exploration of Egypt and the Middle East remained largely unknown to European scientists until 1798. At that time, a group of scientists, engineers, and artists began exploring the region under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte. On this program, Nina Burleigh discussed Napoleon, his scientists, and the exploration of Egypt.


Opinion Pieces by Nina Burleigh

Read Nina Burleigh's many blog posts on the Huffington Post.

Read Nina Burleigh on AlterNet
AlterNet is a highly acclaimed Internet information source that provides readers with crucial facts and passionate opinions they can't find anywhere else. Since its inception in 1998, AlterNet has grown dramatically to keep pace with the public demand for independent news and now provides free online content to over 1.5 million readers every month. Nina Burleigh is a regular contributor to AlterNet; you can find her stories here.


Travel Essays by Nina Burleigh

United Airlines' Hemispheres Magazine — July 2009
"Chili Dog to Go," by Nina Burleigh. Photography by Erik Freeland
During a trip to Mexico, a pair of siblings make a mangy mutt a member of the family.

ELLE MAGAZINE — March 2003
Exit to Eden
Nina Burleigh maroons herself in the Seychelles and takes a bite out of the Good Life

Shadows of man-size leaves dapple the stones as my husband and I tread up a jungle path to our “Rejuvenation” treatment at the Banyan Tree on Mah`e island in the Seychelles.  We arrive at a tropical aerie overlooking the Indian Ocean, where our feet are bathed in mint water and we sip bowls of ginger tea.  After being scrubbed with crushed rice, apples, and honey, we bow our heads under outdoor showers while turmeric soap is poured down our backs.  The massage lasts an hour.  Outside, the surf is distant thunder.

Waves pounding like horses on turf are white noise in the Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago scattered across hundred of miles off the east coast of Africa, probably discovered by Arab traders more than 600 years ago.  Early explorers, impressed by the tiny islands’ pleasant climate, plentiful fruit and fish, and peaceful animals (plus lack of tropical disease), decided that the Seychelles may have been the original Garden of Eden.  Despite centuries of human inhabitation, the islands retain a prehistoric aura: Colossal trees grows for 600 years or more, and the massive land tortoises carry their shells like portable bomb shelters, lumbering among steel-hard millipedes the size of frankfurters and harmless palm spiders as big as fists.

Because of their remoteness, the Seychelles are not cheap; they attract people who want privacy and presume luxury.  The Banyan Tree is no exception.  It opened last year and now has thirty-six villas on a stunning crescent of sand and jungle once owned by Peter Sellers and George Harrison, who gave up on developing it when a since-deposed socialist dictator took control in the 1970’s.

As we lolled in the sun on the edge of our private infinity pool, it was hard to imagine doing anything as strenuous as trying to organize a people’s – or any – government.    Intimations of war may have been floating somewhere on the gentle breeze, but in this Eden it’s easy to lose all memory of earthly troubles.  Try as we might to retain it, our starched sense of duty wilted before the onslaught of ripe fruit, warm sand, and scented beds.

It didn’t take us long to get used to the indulgences at our “villa”, a two-room affair with white colonnades, an outdoor Jacuzzi, and a glass-walled shower that could become a steam room with the flick of a switch.  Our view of the Indian Ocean was partially screened by palms just low enough so that we never had to bother with clothing.  As Yanks given to self-reliance, it took us a bit longer to get used to the squadron of bowing staff desperate to do our bidding from reception to bathroom.  For a while we tried to avoid them, but by the end of our stay, we were trying to think up things they could do for us.

In this corner of paradise, the nature, sights, indulgences, pampering, our beds made with jillion-count threads, were all lovely.  Why did Adam and Eve ever rebel?  Here, lies the trouble in paradise.


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ADVENTURE — July/August 2000
The world on the cheap

After a long winter with a new baby, my husband Erik and I needed to get away, preferably to another dimension. So we were relieved and grateful to get The Call. On ADVENTURE’s $1,500 we could go someplace warm and do something athletic – preferably mountain biking, an activity that had been curtailed by the arrival of baby Felix. And nine months of being chained to feedings and changings made us eager to travel with the barest outline of a plan. We opened the atlas and zeroed in on Turkey.

I exchanged e-mails with a couple of Turkish outfitters, who generously suggested independent itineraries we could take on the southwestern coast. Known as Lycia, this stretch of the Mediterranean is easy to visit: It has an airport at Dalaman, English-speaking locals, and bikes for rent. Another critical consideration: The outfitters we contacted said that the area’s back roads are so rough that the fearsome Turkish traffic would be light to nonexistent. We’d ride beyond the reach of tour buses, following mountain tracks to ancient temples and theaters in the interior, and try to navigate what we’d been told was a spectacular coastal trail.

We nabbed discounted tickets at www.cheaptickets.com for $640 each (New York to Zurich to Istanbul on Swissair; Istanbul to Dalaman on Turkish Airlines). You can fly direct from New York to Istanbul in ten hours on Delta or Turkish Airlines, but it costs up to twice as much, depending on the season. With our Lonely Planet guide listing hotel rooms for less than $40 a night, we figured a week of freedom could be ours for $1,500 each. We talked Felix’s two grannies into sharing babysitting duties, smothered our son with kisses, suppressed parental guilt, and hit the road.

With layovers in Zurich and Istanbul, it took 20 hours to reach the Dalaman airport and nearby Dalyan, which is a tourist destination that still feels alien. Turkish names on the myriad hotel signs are reminiscent of a Star Trek episode. We passed the Volkan and the Zorlar before deciding on the Kilim, which had a freshly painted white façade and quiet location on the outskirts of town. A double bed, bath, and breakfast cost $20 for two.

The 16-room hotel was nearly empty. Even though the weather was sunny and mild, spring is considered the off-season. Hordes of tourists, mostly Brits and Germans, descend from June through September. To find the quiet and solitude we enjoyed in spring, all you have to do is bike – or hike – away from resort towns into the backcountry. For lodging, you can go into any village and ask a shopkeeper where to find the koy konagi – a private house whose owner will let you bunk for as little as a dollar a night, depending on your negotiating skills.

At the offices of Kaunos Tours in Dalyan we checked out our rented Turkish-made mountain bikes. The price was right ($30 for six days), but the rigs were in poor repair and heavy, and lacked suspension. (We’d have been far better off bringing our own bikes to Turkey.) Erik and I bolted the clip-on pedals that we’d brought from New York and rode down to the Dalyan River. On the far bank we saw a dozen or so ancient Lycian tombs that had been dug into a 50-foot-high cliff; some funerary chambers were simply squared-off holes, while others were ornate temples carved into the rock, complete with columns, and porticoes. In the days ahead, we would find these vertical cemeteries all over the countryside.

A flotilla of small tour boats bobbed at the dock, all idle. We asked a captain how much he would charge to take us downriver to the Sultaniye mud and thermal baths, where we hoped to erase our jet lag. The captain said ten dollars, we offered five: deal.

We loaded our bikes onto the boat and chugged a mile or so down to the baths. Except for the family tending the site, we were alone at the rudimentary spa, which consisted of a steaming swimming hole cupped in calcified rock, woven-reed privacy screens for undressing, and a kiosk selling soft drinks and tea. A sign listed an entrance fee that was equivalent to 50 cents, but no one asked for money. After a good soak, we were ready for more biking.

We’d heard about a trail that went west over the mountains and down to the harbor town of Candir on the Mediterranean. After a few false starts, we set off on a gravel track that took us past hundreds of buzzing roadside apiaries, and farmers and babushka-clad women on mopeds. As we entered a pine forest, we heard a strange clack-clack of turtle love nearly everywhere we rode.

It turned out we’d picked the right route. About eight miles from the baths, the track ended at the harbor town of Candir. For ten dollars, two teenagers agreed to ferry us on a small tour boat back to Dalyan.

For the next few days we used the town of Fethiye as our base of riding operations. As in Dalyan, there were so many hotels to choose from that we just wandered around until we found one that felt right. It wasn’t the Doruk’s charm that won us over (it’s a concrete blockhouse) but its economics. Forty dollars bought us a double, a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, and breakfast. Again, we were almost the only guests. The desk clerk seemed annoyed at the disruption of having to register us (he’d been watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon dubbed in Turkish on the lobby TV).

The next morning we set off in search of the coastal trail we’d been told went about 60 miles southeast down to Patara. Fueled only by ekmek (Turkish bread), honey, almonds, and some Clif bars from home, we pedaled up a grueling dirt-and-rock road that skirted cliffs and gorges. Along the way were stupendous views of the sparkling blue Mediterranean far below. Still, the trail did not lead anywhere near where we thought we were headed. Our “EuroMap of West Turkey” – the best cartographic source available –was accurate for highways but misleading for smaller population centers and secondary roads. (The Turkish army apparently considers data on dirt-and-gravel tracks to be a military secret.) Villages on our map never materialized; others that were not on the map suddenly appeared around a bend. Roads that were identified on the map as passable by car quickly disintegrated into goat trails.

One steep road took us from the town of Oludeniz up to the cliffside village of Faralya, where millions of butterflies flutter in a stunning gorge that can only be reached via a treacherously steep footpath. Far below is the Mediterranean; inland rises the forbidding summit of 6,480-foot Baba Dag –literally, “father mountain,” or Big Daddy. Unfortunately, the Faralya Motel, which looks like a down-market version of Hearst Castle, wasn’t open for the season. Too bad: it would have made a great base of operations. We could have hired a guide and ridden down to the shore or into the mountainous interior, then returned to relax in a pool overlooking the sea.

On the map, it appeared possible to continue southeast from Faralya down to Patara, so we headed up past crumbling rock terraces and the rude huts of goat herders. The trail petered out, but we never felt dangerously lost. We always ran into someone to ask directions: a farmer, a picnicking family, a solitary person walking along the mountain paths. We spoke no more than ten words of Turkish, but much can be accomplished by simply naming a town and following a pointed finger.

For the next few days we biked to archaeological sites selected randomly from our guidebooks. A steep half-day ride took us up to ancient Sidyma, which is now in a Turkish village called Dodurga. A guide named Rasik offered his services as soon as we rolled into town. We gave him a generous $20 because he insisted on carrying my bike on his back as he led us through fields and over low stone walls to the necropolis. After the tour, Rasik took us back to his house, where his wife Bedehar brought us tea and clover-shaped biscuits. Long silences ensued as Erik and I consulted phrasebooks, looking up words in a feeble attempt to make conversation.

Our hosts gazed at us and waited patiently for a word they understood. Across the road a mullah called the faithful to noon prayer. In the yard a rooster crowed. By the time we finished tea, we had learned that Rasik and Bedehar had two daughters in school and that the older girl likes to draw. As we said our good-byes, we had to step over an egg that the family hen had laid on the doorstep.

On another outing we ground up switchback after switchback to ancient Pinara. If I ignored the farmers in Ottoman-style baggy pants and the beasts yoked to plows, the landscape could have passed for southern California.

Just when my brain was about to burst inside my helmet from the exertion, a reward appeared around the final curve: a rock wall 1,500 feet high, pocked with burial vaults. Nearby, marble ruins crumbled in a green glade. A theater that once seated hundreds overlooked the fallen columns of a temple to an unknown deity. Goats grazed between carved sarcophagi nestled among wildflowers, the open stone coffins long empty of their esteemed dead.

As my breathing slowed I became aware of a chorus of bees making pine honey in the hills, the neck bells of goats, the faint click-clack of mating tortoises. There was no human sound until a faint noon prayer call floated up from the minaret of a village far, far below.

I wondered what Felix was up to.


Political Essays by Nina Burleigh

MIRABELLA — July 1998
KING OF HEARTS
Former White House reporter Nina Burleigh thought she was beyond being seduced by a man’s power, his status, his job. Then she played cards with the President on Air Force One.

For several years, I was tethered to Bill Clinton on pool duty, in which reporters from national magazines and newspapers take turns traveling with the president.  I had done it so often, Air Force One almost bored me, with all that windy waiting on the tarmac, Clinton’s practiced wave on the steps, the Secret Service men shoving and glaring at us through their mirrored lenses.

Pool journalists get closer to the President than most people but rarely closer than fifteen yards before being restrained by armed agents.  Unless Clinton decides to wander back in the plane to talk to one of us, we need a telephoto lens to read his expression.

On one of these trips last year, I found myself in the plane’s front cabin with only senior White House advisor Bruce Lindsey and a deck of cards between me and the President.  On that flight from Chicago to Jasper, Arkansas, where the President was stopping for a funeral, they needed a fourth for hearts.  I volunteered.  Before we were at cruising altitude, I was sitting across from Clinton, trying to concentrate on the cards, watching his hands shuffling the deck.  His white shirt cuffs were starch stiff, his cufflinks glinted gold.  He kept score-with a gold pen on a white notepad with an embossed golden-eagle Presidential seal.

I knew all about the President’s alleged attractiveness.  His “zipper problem” had provided hours of dinner-party amusement for my friends and me.  Although I was one of the people in Washington who didn’t believe Hillary Clinton stayed married for the power alone, I had always seen the President’s charms only in a theoretical way.  I had interviewed some of the women who were accusing him of sexual misbehavior.  I talked to Gennifer Flowers in 1992.  Later, I met with Paula Jones at a Capitol Hill townhouse.  Both women were believable-although in Jones’s case, I suspect she had been more willing than she was willing to let on.

Sex was not on my mind when I sat down across from the President.  I was more worried that I had forgotten how to play hearts.  He looked older in the flesh than from afar or on TV.  He had crow’s-feet and creepy skin.  He seemed lonely, as if the adulation of crowds and aides had given him a craving for more of the same.  I felt perversely sorry for the most powerful man in the world.  Maybe that explains his allure:  We women love a lonely man.

I hadn’t expected to be so near Clinton that summer day.  I was dressed for hot, humid Washington.  My hair had been whipped into knots while waiting on the tarmac and was restrained in messy braids.  I was wearing a short, green Betsey Johnson seer sucker suit, sandals, and no stockings-probably just the kind of outfit Clinton’s former deputy chief of staff, Evelyn Lieberman, would have sent an intern home to change out of lickety-split.  My knees were scarred from a recent bike wreck.  Bare legs still offend Washington propriety, and I now understand why: You never know when you’ll need to protect your modesty, and perhaps your chastity, around a powerful man.

To my left at the card table was Clinton’s boon companion, Bruce Lindsey, in his dark suit.  Lindsey is a taut, wired man with the density of lead.  His silent communication with the President was unsettling.  Everything Lindsey uttered seemed suggestive.  “Bet you’ve never been to Jasper, Arkansas, before,” he said to me with a sly grin at the President.  They laughed.  I wondered what they’d gotten up to together in Jasper.

For an hour or so, we only spoke about the game.  I made a valiant effort to seem deadly serious – the professional woman’s automatic defense against encroaching sexiness.  In a White House photograph of the scene, I could be conducting an interview about the federal budget.  Clinton didn’t say much, but I tried to preserve his few remarks for posterity.  The only comment worth remembering was that Hillary doesn’t like the game of hearts.  “She says she doesn’t get a game where you lose by winning points,” he said.

Of course, nothing happened.  The President’s foot lightly, and presumably accidentally, brushed mine once under the table.  His hand touched my wrist while he was dealing the cards.  When I got up and shook his hand at the end of the game, his eyes wandered over my bike-wrecked, naked legs.  And slowly it dawned on me as I walked away: He found me attractive.

No doubt the President’s lawyers and spin doctors would say I wishfully imagined that long, appreciative look, just as all those other women have fantasized their more explicitly sexual encounters with Clinton.  But we all know when we’re being ogled.  The weird thing was that I didn’t mind.  There was a time when the hormones of indignant feminism raged in my veins.  An open gaze like that, at least from a man of lesser stature, would have annoyed me.  But that evening, I had the opposite reaction.  I felt incandescent.  It was riveting to know that the President had appreciated my legs, scarred as they were.  If he had asked me to continue the game of hearts back in his room at the Jasper Holiday Inn, I would have been happy to go there and see what happened.  At the time, it seemed quite possible.  It took several hours and a few drinks in the steaming and now somehow romantic Arkansas night to shake the intoxicated state in which I had been quite willing to let myself be ravished by the President, should he have but asked.  I probably wore the mesmerized look I have seen again and again in women after they have met him.  The same silly hypnotized gleam was displayed on the cover of Time magazine in Monica Lewinsky’s eyes.

I like to think I have rejected the old customs and mores.  Masters of the Universe don’t do it for me.  The richer and more famous they are, the less appealing.  Donald Trump?  Ugh.  John F. Kennedy, Jr.?  A knockout, but imagine the maintenance.  Not that I prefer lumberjacks and day laborers, but men who run Big Things and attract a lot of attention are a full-time job for their mates.  And we have all seen powerful men apply the callousness that gets them through the day to their private lives.  Give me a sexy, funny man who finds me as interesting as the Dow Jones or his office politics, and I’m happy.  I like the statisticians who report that the strongest marriages are couples where the woman has some status-equalizing attribute, such as age or more education.  That makes sense to me.  The happiest I’ve ever been is with the man I’m going to marry, a younger man whose charm, looks, and wit are considerable, but who no interest in being a CEO.

And yet there I was, walking away from a close encounter with the President of the United States, stupefied and vaguely hoping that he’d sent an aide over to my hotel room to ask me up for a drink.  What is it in some of us, that powerful men make us pliant and willing with a mere glance?

In Greek mythology, Zeus so lusted after a mortal woman that he took the form of a swan and flew down from Mount Olympus to have his way with her.  William Butler Yeats’s poem  “Leda and the Swan” celebrated the scene with erotic imagery.  “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still /Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed /By the dark webs . . .”

Yeats was warned by his editor that this poem might cause conservative readers to “misunderstand” it.  The poem is hardly ambiguous.  Yeats honored the magnetic sexual pull a powerful male can have on a weaker female.  The beating wings of the giant swan enwrap the helplessly infatuated woman, whose “terrified vague fingers” cannot push the “feathered glory from her loosening thighs.”

I hated that poem as a college student.  I thought Yeats’s imagery celebrated a rape.  Fifteen years later, I reluctantly acknowledge the wild, unexpected attraction that “important” men have for women, even for a feminist like me.

I have thought about my mothlike encounter with Clinton in the months since Monica Lewinsky became world famous.  Distracting a powerful man from his business is one of the highest forms of flattery available to women.  Vanity makes us weak.  To feed it makes us feel strong.  To be so distracting that a great man’s career is on the line, even if you are despised afterward, is a tremendous show of power, when – still – too few women can acquire power any other way.  The last lines of Yeats’s poem suggest a kind of reward for the woman who submits.  “Being so caught up, / So mastered by the brute blood of the air, / Did she put on his knowledge with his power / Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?”

I still cling to the faith that there are women of good order who are immune to this stuff.  They were sensible clothes and keep their legs well covered.  I trust that Janet Reno, Donna Shalala, and Madeleine Albright are not rendered willing and pliant around Bill Clinton.  They don’t need to put on his knowledge with his power when they have their own.  For the rest of us, a powerful man’s admiring gaze is an intimation of all that is inaccessible, and that is the ultimate seduction.


MIRABELLA — March 1999/Iraq
LAST FALL, NINA BURLEIGH VISITED HER COUSINS IN BAGHDAD FOR THE FIRST TIME, IN HOPES OF BETTER UNDERSTANDING IRAQIS’ LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH AMERICA. BUT WEEKS LATER, AS THE BOMBS BEGAN TO DROP, HER OWN LOYALTIES WENT TO WAR

My first night in the Middle East, I feel as if I’m falling asleep on the dark side of the moon.  There is a smoky kerosene smell and a mullah calling “Allah akbar” (God is great) from the neon green rim of a minaret.  My flesh will take days to arrive in this time zone.

It’s three in the morning and I’m in Jordan, in a one star hotel called the Cleopatra, a warren of rooms up three flights of narrow marble steps.  A pink worm is writhing on the bathroom floor, and the night clerk has just called to ask if I need a massage.  The Cleopatra is next to the Amman bus depot, a way station for Third World travelers with little money and often nothing left to sell but themselves.  In the hotel lobby the next morning, I meet an Iraqi woman named Salamiya.  Her hair is bleached to a brassy nest and she wears a tight sheath and green nail polish, her chubby feet stuffed into stilettos.

She was sold by her parents to a Saudi man for $5,000 a few years ago.  She works at the nightclubs now.  She wants to get back into Iraq.

So do I.  Iraq is the enemy of my country and the country of my mother.  I’m a half-breed, as Cher used to wail back in the 70’s.  My parents are a blue-eyed man with an Anglo-Saxon name and a black-haired woman with a foreign accent.  Usually this mixed pedigree goes unnoticed, but in Louisiana, reporting on David Duke a few years ago, I stopped at a country gas station to ask directions to one of his rallies.  “Why do you want to go there?” one of the guys behind the counter asked in friendly wonderment.  “You look like a sand niggah to me.”

Since the Gulf War, I’ve made three trips to Iraq, all of them as a journalist because that’s one of the few legal ways to get into the country.  Before I leave for my latest visit, in mid-September, I meet with a representative of UNSCOM, the weapons inspectors who have been trying to locate Iraq’s nerve gas, anthrax, and botulism.  The UNSCOM man explains that Saddam Hussein has been hiding his weapons in a complicated shell game, and since the inspectors were about to uncover his stash, he shut the whole operation down.  (The next time Saddam failed to provide access to weapons sites, he precipitated the pre- Christmas bombing raid by the United States and Great Britain.)

I also speak with acting UN ambassador A. Peter Burleigh (no relation, though he does resemble an uncanny resemblance to my father).  Burleigh admits the sanctions are imperfect and that many countries within the UN oppose them, but the United States opposes any easing without Saddam’s relenting on the weapons front.

I leave for Iraq with the same set of conflicting emotions I packed with me on previous trips.  I am repelled by the Iraqi government, but I am not convinced that the people should be made to suffer for the policies of a leader they didn’t even elect.  The Baath Party seized power in 1968 after a series of bloody coups (by coincidence, I was an eight-year-old girl visiting my grandmother in Iraq at the time), and Saddam took over in 1979.  While the regime nationalized oil, and the dedicated some of the proceeds to improving education and the infrastructure, it has been notoriously brutal in repressing dissent.  Since the Gulf War, I have read the news of waxing and waning crises over Baghdad with profound sorrow as well as frustration.  By virtue of my bloodline, I feel I must know something I should try to communicate to other Americans.  I’ve felt restricted by the rules of my job as an unsentimental skeptic; by the war propaganda of the United States; by the limits the Iraqi government puts on journalists; and, most of all, by the Iraqi people’s fear of speaking openly.

On this trip, I decide to visit my own relatives in hopes of unlocking some door to understanding.

The only way to get to Baghdad in sanctions-era Iraq is to rent a car or truck in Amman and drive.  For fifteen hours there is only treeless dirt, a crust of earth floating on an ocean of oil.  There is so much oil under Iraq that at prewar pumping rates, it won’t run out until well into the third millennium.

As an American entering totalitarian Iraq, each border crossing has provoked in me a counterintuitive surge of personal liberation and power.  Flipping my passport onto the greasy desk of a condescending bureaucrat reminds me that I’m in fact “Burleigh,” born in the land of the free and—in Iraq if not always at home—a fully accredited member of the victorious nation.  By an accident of birth I’m not subject to Saddam Hussein’s regime, represented by the Baath Party’s green star, stenciled on everything that doesn’t already have Saddam’s portrait on it.

I share the car with members of a group called Voices in the Wilderness, Americans who risk prison and fines to enter Iraq in defiance of a U.S. State Department travel ban.  They visit hospitals to deliver toys and small amounts of medicine—and photograph malnourished children to illustrate the effects of eight years of sanctions.

People in Iraq are suffering.  The UN concedes that five thousand children per month are starving to death, and the professional class has been destroyed by the collapse of the currency.  But weird rumors abound in this isolated country where information is controlled by the government, and Voices in the Wilderness members are too willing to believe them.  My fellow travelers insist that uranium shells used in the war have caused leukemia and birth defects—possible, but there are no medical studies to confirm that.  They also pass around demonstrably false tales:  Schoolchildren’s pencils are banned under the UN sanctions as a “dual use” item, meaning they can be used as weapons; ditto for chlorine, essential for purifying water; a killer worm dropped on Iraq by the U.S. is eating children’s brains.  I see pencils; UNICEF officials say chlorine is available; and, as for the killer worms. . .

Two of the four Voices representatives have never been out of the United States before and began fasting to protest the sanctions a month before the trip.  One, a pallid college student who carries a backpack decorated with antinuke buttons, will later almost pass out while visiting a hospital, overcome by hunger, heat, and the sight of infants with deformities that the Iraqis blame on the Gulf War.  He and the others are compassionate, but their refusal to acknowledge anything but American violence seems terribly naïve.  Were they Iraqis and the situation reversed, they wouldn’t make it to the border of their own country without being shot.  Dissent here is punishable by death.

Green specks of vegetation mark the approach to the oasis that is Baghdad.  Near the city, the heat increases exponentially; the air outside feels like the inside of a pizza oven.  Built by the caliphs on the Tigris River 1,200 years ago.  Baghdad is bathed in yellow twilight, the color of evening in Iraq.  Neon signs and pedestrians and date trees are ghostly in the gathering dusk.

The hotel where we stay overlooks the date-tree-lined banks of the Tigris River.  After dark, packs of wild dogs, the offspring of pets nobody could feed, emerge from the riverbank and hunt.  Disco music blares from the high-rise hotel across the street.  The same tape with Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, and the Eagles replays until three A.M.

Iraq is saturated with our culture.  The state television broadcasts bootleg videos while films are still in American theaters, so Iraqi children have all seen Titanic and Godzilla; rich kids even have Leo DiCaprio T-shirts.  For adults, the United States provides another sort of entertainment.  One night I find a group of men gathered around the TV in the hotel lobby, watching President Clinton, I stand a minute in the smoke of their cheap cigarettes before realizing they’re watching his just-released grand jury testimony—already dubbed into Arabic.

At the Iraqi Women’s Federation, a bureaucracy of Saddam’s cheerleaders, as it were (where I go on a failed mission to try to confirm reports that growing numbers of Iraqi women are turning to prostitution), the front door is decorated with “Down with America,” in Arabic.  But during one of my visits, the secretaries and clerks, shy women dressed for some reason in party clothes (one even wears a rhinestone tiara), crowd into the room to share celebrity gossip and ask about current fashions.  I only realize how truly isolated they are when one asks whether Princess Caroline of Monaco has her hair back.

Iraqi’s widespread awareness of Western culture and internal American politics makes their submission to Saddam’s regime that much more puzzling.  How can they not fight for freedoms they know exist elsewhere?  What would it take to make these people rise up?

Iraqi is full of people who will look you in the eye and tell you what a great guy Saddam is.  Some of them appear to mean it, too.  They’re the ones who’ve benefited from his long rule and continue to receive rewards—including the right to associate with Westerners and, if they can find one who needs some help, get paid in American dollars.

My third day in Iraq, I hire a translator through the Information Ministry.  Mariam comes from a prominent family, so prominent she refuses to give her last name—aristocrats aren’t supposed to have to work for a living.  Over tea, her blue eyes fill with tears as she ticks off Saddam’s acts of kindness.  He sent her a Patek Philippe watch after she wrote a story he liked, and later he sent her several large screen TVs.  “Americans do not understand how generous he is,” she says.  “He used to walk in the streets and talk to the people.  His phone number was in the book; anyone could call him.  He paid for surgery for the poor!  He bought people houses!  He was so generous.”  She shakes her head.  “And now he must hide because the Americans want to kill him.”

She refers only obliquely to the terror under which Iraqis live.  She tells me that to associate with Iraqis on my own could get them into trouble.  That may be true in some circumstances, but I suspect that the warning is most frequently issued by people like Mariam, who wish to earn hard currency from frightened Westerners.

My visits to my cousins’ house, on a middle-class Baghdad street a few miles from UN headquarters, are inchoate affairs.  I can’t speak their language and they barely speak mine.  The family—my mother’s cousin, partially paralyzed by a stroke, and his wife; their son, who’s ten years younger than I but looks ten years older, his wife and three young daughters—aren’t starving.  But none of them have jobs.  They’re supported by a brother in Sweden who’s a doctor.  They’re not the kind of Iraqis who get gifts from the president.

As I sit in the quiet of their walled garden, they bring out glasses of an orange drink on a tray and show me old family photos.  I am transfixed by a picture of the grandfather who died before I was born, receiving a handshake and a gift from a ruddy British corporate type for his lifetime of service to the Iraq Petroleum Company.  I.P.C. was the multinational that pumped and profited from Iraq’s oil until it was nationalized.  My grandfather looks thin and shy, a clerk unused to attention.

Because of the money sent by the brother in Sweden, the food on the table is plentiful—chicken, stuffed vegetables, rice— all served by my second cousin’s plump young wife, who refuses to eat with us in the time-honored tradition of women in Iraq.  (I am the esteemed guest and eat first, like a man and with the men.)  She is not yet twenty-five, and her submission to her husband and my aunt and uncle is unwavering.  I watch for signs of rebellion, but her mien never cracks.

In their spartan living room with Assyrian Christian symbols on the walls, I think of my mother’s fractured life, an d her sudden flight as a college girl in the mid 1950’s to Norfolk, Virginia, where she lived with members of a church group.  Though my mother was never involved in political activity, her parents sent her away for fear she would be rounded up with other intellectuals during a coup taking place at the time.  She has coped by not looking back, and consequently, my siblings and I never learned the language or the customs of her country.

As I strain to communicate with my relatives, I worry I might be violating some taboo.  Childless, unmarried, traveling alone, I’m not male or female but an androgyne from another planet.  I wish I had brought pictures of my boyfriend.  I’m a mere generation away from that man who worked his whole life for the oil company, but now I’m of another race, the one privileged with information and access and money.  I’m suddenly homesick.

When I leave my cousins’, a man in black is standing outside watching.  The Iraqi secret police, the mukhabarat, are the regime’s eyes and ears.  As much as I might wish the Iraqis would revolt, I, too, am frozen with fear at the sight of this watcher in the yellow twilight.

My last night in Baghdad, I bring my relatives’ children the only soft toys I can find without noise boxes squawking English inside.  The gifts are stuffed Mickey Mouses—American talismans I half-imagine them clutching in future bombings.  As I leave, I ask my cousin what he plans to do.  He shrugs with a fatalistic air, then echoes what a hotel clerk told me: “We have no future.”

I am no more able to explain Iraqis now than I was before.  Their submission to Saddam and simultaneous veneration of America is something I’d rather not understand, like death.  We look away from the lost because we cannot go with them.  When my cousin asked whether I thought there would be more bombing, I told him yes.  His response was impassive, like his wife’s submission, and I saw my own inconsequentiality mirrored in him.

On December 16, I watch CNN’s eerie green footage of Baghdad at night, waiting for the bombs to fall.  In my mind’s eye, I see my cousin making preparations, hiding his daughters and his paralyzed father under their beds.

Then I turn off the TV and go to a Christmas party.

 


America, Beacon of Hope? Once It Was
Published 11/10/03 at History News Network

A few weeks ago, President George W. Bush went before the UN, asking for money for the United States from the global community. It remains to be seen whether anyone will come to our aid, but it's easy to imagine the eye-rolling in Europe and especially in third world countries, at the sight of the swaggering superpower asking alms.

The fact that our president has to hold out the hat before a chilly, unfriendly audience of global diplomats shows just how much America as an idea has changed. Not so long ago, the nation was an idea that embodied the best hopes and dreams of Europeans. The power of this idea was so strong in the early nineteenth century that an English scientist who was a complete stranger to our shores -- who had never set foot here and who knew Americans only as they were caricatured in the British press (that is, rail-splitting provincials ) -- gave his entire fortune to the United States to found at Washington an institution "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

In the two years since the day of the weapon-ized jets and crumbling towers, many Americans have grown leery of traveling to Washington D.C. Those who still visit stroll the green swath between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol building and pass the ubiquitous signs bearing the name "Smithsonian." If they investigate further, they find that even today, entry to each and every one of the Smithsonian museums is absolutely free.

The national mall is today a living memorial to a man tourists must assume played a prominent role in the founding of our nation. On the contrary, James Smithson, a minor eighteenth century scientist and bastard son of the British nobility whose half million dollars in 1836 money founded the nation's foremost cultural repository, had never seen the country nor probably met many Americans at all. His experience of America was entirely intellectual.

Living today, with "U.S.A." a synonym for global supremacy in military power, we and the Europeans tend to forget that eighteenth century Europeans -- from wealthy intellectuals like Smithson to the poor and tyrannized masses -- had a vision for the new nation forming across the water. Whether they huddled in seasick droves to get here, or merely thought and read about America, as did Smithson, the distant, still-savage land represented not brute power, but the promise of a better human condition.

Smithson and his peers believed this vast wild land would spawn a new Athens, with a thriving culture built on freedom of thought. They certainly had no inkling that America would someday be symbolized by fighter bombers or the bullying power of its leaders to force an issue like the invasion of Iraq. Rather, they imagined a place where art, literature, and - for Smithson especially - science would thrive and flourish under a national government that had codified individual opportunity in an officially classless society.

Then, as now, there were American politicians who thought it "beneath our dignity" to take money from a European, and who feared that to spend money on cultural institutions would dangerously expand the power of the federal government. It took a decade for the money to be accepted and put to use to seed the Smithsonian museum complex on the national mall today.

The optimistic spirit of scientific inquiry for the public good that motivated Smithson's bequest was a trend that developed in England during his lifetime. In 1800, Smithson joined with a group of British scientists and reformers -- including the poet William Blake -- to found the Royal Institution, an organization specifically created to diffuse scientific knowledge among the public through a series of lectures.

When Smithson bequeathed his money to the United States, the nation was hardly an emblem of Enlightenment. The trade in human flesh was thriving and shackled blacks could be seen from Capitol Hill, being bought and sold near the banks of the Potomac. The cultural pastimes of Washington D.C. consisted mainly of tobacco-chewing and duelling.

In spite of that, Smithson believed that the diffusion of knowledge among those less likely to attain it could be implemented in the United States, and that that diffusion would bring about a better world. In just a few hundred years, he was proved right. Since Smithson's death, the world has changed beyond the imagination of eighteenth century Europeans, with many of the changes initiated by American scientific men who were not to the manor born.

Living on the cusp between two centuries, Smithson the scientist discerned that the world was on the verge of the vast transformations we now know occurred, but he could not have envisioned the speed, human longevity and global communications that we take for granted. All Smithson had, really, was faith that great and positive changes could emanate from America.

Residing in France for the last few years, I was often confronted with the scornful image that modern Europeans hold of Americans. The cliché is familiar to us all: fat, SUV-driving, culturally backward, anti-intellectual, swaggering, armed-to-the-teeth boors. I see their point, but for all our flaws, we must never let the Europeans - or ourselves - forget that this country did live up to the greatest aspirations of the European forebears. Yes, our popular culture has flooded the world with Britney and bad television, and our scientists have developed monstrosities from the Humvee to the atomic bomb. This same national culture has produced people whose inventions -- cars, airplanes, telephones, light bulbs, and the Internet, to name just a few -- have utterly and forever changed life on earth for the better.

In these post 9-11 times, we have all been trying to understand -- or deny -- the hatred directed at our nation. It is worth remembering that it was not always thus. The act of a man giving the nation a vast fortune because he felt America was the place from which to "increase and diffuse knowledge among men" is a good place to start. To reflect on Smithson and his bequest is to remind ourselves of the facet of our nation that was and is still good, a beacon in the imagination of people living in darker times and places.


US WEEKLY — October 15, 2001
Life for Laura Bush
As she settles into her latest role as comforter-in-chief, the president’s wife recalls how she heard the news and describes how her life has changed

FOR FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH, THE MORNING OF SEPTEMBER 11 STARTED OUT JUST LIKE ANY other day at the White House.  She got up early.  There were her two dogs, Barney, a frisky black terrier, and Spot, an English springer spaniel, to walk, meetings to attend and senators to see.  The president was out the big doors first, catching Air Force One for a day trip to an elementary school in Florida.  Soon after, the in-laws, former President George Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush, who had spent Monday night at the White House, hopped a private jet to Minnesota for a political speech.

The first lady was the last Bush to exit the White House on that sparkly late-summer morning.  Just before 9 A.M., she was heading off to Capitol Hill, scheduled to be only the fourth first lady to testify before a congressional committee.  Her mind was focused on the speech she was to deliver about early childhood education.  As she stepped into a waiting car, her Secret Service agent informed her that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.  “Of course, at that time we thought it was just some weird freak accident,” she recalls.

She didn’t think terrorism until she got to the Hill.  “That’s when we learned that a second plane had hit,” she says.  “Senator [Edward M.] Kennedy met me at the door.  We both agreed then that we would postpone the hearing.  I went in and stayed in his office for a while.  Senator Judd Gregg joined us.”

While her agents and senior staff frantically worked their earpieces and cellphones to get a handle on the unfolding attacks, Laura Bush did little but sit stunned, watching the tragedy unfold on a small television in the inner sanctum of one of the GOP’s arch-foes.

THE WORLD HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO WEEKS, AND LAURA BUSH HAS CHANGED with it.  The former librarian from Midland, Texas, has transformed her image from the behind-the-scenes presidential wife most comparable to Mamie Eisenhower to the nation’s comforter-in-chief.  In numerous public appearances, she has managed to express grief with dignity and convey an impression of resilience at the same time.  Last week, before a meeting with the queen of Jordan to bolster Arab-American relations, Bush sat down in the White House Map Room and talked to US weekly about her new role and the altered world in which we live.

Wearing a pair of slim black slacks, a black sweater and a loose-fitting hunter-green knit jacket, Bush, 54, looks more petite and delicate in person than she seems in pictures.  She has a small of aquamarine studs in her ears.  Her fingernails are unpolished.  There’s a gold wedding band and an oval diamond on her ring finger.  The diamond is relatively new – a present to her from the president last Christmas.  Previously in their 23 years of marriage, she wore only the gold band.  “Bushy,” as she calls her husband, never had the time, she has said, to buy her a proper engagement ring.

Bush recalls the minutes in Kennedy’s office on the morning of September 11 as being a blur.  “The TV was on, but we weren’t watching every minute of it,” she says.   “I mean, we knew what was happening because people kept coming in, but we weren’t watching the call she most wanted: “The president phoned as soon as he knew that it wasn’t just an accident and probably as soon as he could find me,” she says.  “We said the same thing to each other: ‘How horrible.  How terrible.  I’m OK.  Somewhere safe.  The girls are safe’ ”

Next, she made calls to each of her 19-year-old twin daughters.  Barbara, at Yale, first heard the news on her clock radio, when the alarm woke her up.  Jenna, at the University of Texas and in a different time zone, was still sleeping when the attacks occurred and was awakened with the news by a Secret Service agent.  The girls were quickly moved to secure locations in their separate cities.  Both girls, according to the president were “freaked.”  Bush did her best to reassure them.  “I talked to them to make sure they were fine and to tell them I was fine,” she says.  Then she dialed a number in Midland that she knows by heart, to get some comfort for herself.  “I called my mother to tell her I was fine,” she says.  “But the fact is, I was calling her to hear her voice to be reassured myself.”

From that point on, Bush spent the afternoon like most other Americans, glued to the television.  “Horror,” she recalls slowly, trying to describe her feelings.  “Unbelievable sadness as we watched those buildings fall, and you know, you knew what happened to all those people inside.  Everyone had anxiety and uncertainty, not knowing if this would happen all over the country.”

The first lady was perhaps more at ease than the average American because her agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.  “I guess we weren’t that worried that something would happen in Houston or L.A.,” she recalls.  “Certainly, in that first part of the day, we didn’t know.  Then, after some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television.  So at some point we started feeling reassured that it wasn’t going to happen again that day.”

At around 4 P.M., her security detail decided it was safe to take Bush back to the White House.  She finally saw her husband late in the afternoon, in a secure room with Vice-President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney.  The reunion with “Bushy” was not private.  “I know the Cheneys were in the room.  It didn’t seem like we were the only ones there,” she says.  “We hugged, of course.  We were really glad to see each other, but also the enormity of what had happened in our country had really sunk in by then, and so we just comforted each other.”

Later that evening, they tried to contact George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush.  They knew that George W.’s parents had been diverted from their course to Minnesota, but like many other Americans, the president could not reach his own parents, because, Bush says, he had only a cellphone number for his father, and the wireless system was overloaded.

The following morning, the first lady started hearing from her girlfriends in Texas.  She communicates only via telephone or fax, not e-mail.  Because her friends thought she was too busy to talk on the phone, they faxed messages of concern and prayer to her in the private residence.

THE FIRST LADY IS RESERVED ABOUT THE DETAILS OF HOW SHE AND THE PRESIDENT ARE dealing with the crisis in private.  She says she wants to preserve a sense of continuity within the household and project the same to the country.  By most accounts, she seems to be succeeding.  During his recent New York visit, the president alluded to his wife’s determination when he answered a question from a World Trade Center rescue worker about his family.  “Freaked out, the girls are,” he replied.  “Wife’s OK.  She understands we’re at war – got a war mentality.”

As to whether the private conversations between the president and his wife have changed, Bush says that she and her husband are discussing national security more than they used to.  “We talk about it like everyone else in America.  We are all involved in that sort of discussion, more than we were before,” she says.  “But in general, we are like every other married couple.  We talk about what we’re going to do on the weekend, what our plans are for the evening and what our kids are doing.”

Bush admits to feeling some degree of maternal anxiety over the fact that her children are so far from home.  “It’s hard.  It’s very hard,” she says.  “I haven’t seen them.  But like every other family, we are talking to them more now.  And it’s not just us calling them, they are calling in more now.”  She says there really hasn’t been a marked “before” and “after” transformation in the domestic White House routine.  Getting back to daily activities, the Bushes went out last week with two friends to a suburban Washington, D.C., Tex-Mex restaurant, where the president indulged his taste for enchiladas and nonalcoholic beer.  “We continue to have a very normal life here,” she says.  “We want to encourage Americans to go about their lives in a normal way.  But I do think everyone’s lives changed in the sense that we became very aware of what really does matter.  And the first people we called are the people that really matter.”

Since the strikes, the White House cabinet has come together more frequently and in more intimate settings.  The weekend after, for example, a war cabinet met at Camp David.  At the end of a day of somber brainstorming, the group came together around the piano in the living room.  Attorney General John Ashcroft played, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a concert pianist herself, sang hymns and patriotic American songs.  The first lady says the music soothed the stressed-out crew.  “It was really comforting and relaxing to listen to them,” she says.  “And I know it was really comforting for them because music is an important part of both their lives.”

The first lady says she has grown closer to Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s wife, Alma, and Lynne Cheney.  Rice, because of her position, had often accompanied the Bushes to Camp David on weekends before September 11, and she has been a ubiquitous presence around the president since.  “I love Condoleezza Rice!”  the first lady says.  “I see her more than any other cabinet member.  I really love to be with her.  One of the great things for me about the job she has is that I’ve had a chance to get to know her.”

LAURA BUSH HAS BECOME A NATIONAL SYMBOL OF RESILIENCE, AND SHE HAS stepped into her new role without hesitation.  She was the steadying hand behind her husband when he visited burn victims from the Pentagon.  She also served as the official mourner at a variety of memorials.  At the service commemorating the hijacked jet that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, she recited lines from poet Kahlil Gibran, in reference to the final cellphone calls of the passengers who ultimately overwhelmed their hijackers and forced the plane into the ground instead of a target.  “Love knows not its own depths until the hour of parting,” she read.  In the Pennsylvania field, Bush also urged mourners to remember the last goodbye of one passenger, who told his family that he would see them again.

Two days after the terrorist attacks, a very calm Laura Bush appeared on the morning TV shows.  Smiling reassuringly and speaking in an even tone, she urged Americans to try to help their children feel safe again.  “They need their parents to give them a lot of hugs,” the first lady said.

A week after the attacks, she traveled to Chicago to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.  The two women held hands through most of the broadcast.  Bush again urged parents to talk to and listen to their children.  “It’s very reassuring for children to hear their parents’ voices,” she said.  “Of course, we can’t explain terrorism, you know, we really can’t,” she added.  “It’s just a horrible, evil thing.”

Bush’s tight circle of Texas girlfriends has often described her as a woman who doesn’t like to dwell on difficulties.  Her behavior since the attacks has proved to be true.  She has tried to address the national grief and fear without losing sight of her primary focus, which remains promoting education.

She told US Weekly that she was personally most moved by the stories she heard from the teachers of P.S. 234, the New York primary school that’s closest to Ground Zero.  ”The courage those teachers showed, and the impact [the attack] had on them . . ..”  She pauses.  “They are still dealing with what happened, and not only are they dealing with themselves but also with the children in their schools who they are comforting.  I think we have to ask ourselves, Who is comforting our teachers?  Who helps them as they go back to school, and who helps them deal with their own uncertainty?  We need to be the ones who comfort teachers.

“If there is some good that comes out of this – and I really hope and pray that there will be – it is that people will focus on what’s really important,” she continues.  “I think more people will look for jobs that they find fulfilling.”

For her own piece of mind, Bush says, she reads.  “I immediately turned to books,” she says.  “I love mysteries.  I have ever since I started reading Nancy Drew years ago.  They have always been a great diversion to me.”  The weekend before the terrorist attacks, she had hosted the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.  Mystery author Sue Grafton gave the first lady her latest novel, P is for Peril, which Bush plowed through in the days and nights after September 11.  “I read [Grafton’s] book very quickly, and I gave it to Alma Powell that first weekend [at Camp David when] we were all together.”  Her staff has to fetch a bag of safety pins to help make her loose jacket fit a bit better.  She leans stiffly against a plastic chair and poses for the camera with the expression of one who has done the same thing many times and is neither nervous nor terribly comfortable.  After 10 minutes of flashing bulbs, she asks whether she might not look better sitting down in an overstuffed chair nearby.  When no one agrees, she continues to lean on the hard plastic, smiling gamely.

The first lady says that the attacks have transformed a key aspect of what most Americans, and perhaps the rest of the world, have come to regard as the hallmark of American popular culture: celebrity worship.  “Now the heroes are the celebrities ? the firefighters, the teachers, the people who sacrificed their lives to save other people,” she says.  “The ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  All the people who gave blood, who made cookies for the firemen, who wrote letters – that is where we see the true character of our country.”

She left the East Garden in a hurry, removing safety pins herself while she walked.  In another wing of the White House, the queen of Jordan was waiting to meet her.


MIRABELLA — March 1999
The liar’s club
Like a certain President of the United States, Dr. Barbara Battalino was caught lying about sex in a civil case. Unlike Bill Clinton, she lost her job immediately, served time for perjury, and became a darling of the right wing.

To find a perjury case like the President’s, the seeker must dive into a rabbit hole where the characters are fun-house-mirror versions of the ones we have come to know and love.  Down this hole, just as in Washington, logic and reason are bent by lies, bureaucratic jargon, and possibly, personality disorders.

Conservatives –eager to prove that average citizens get punished for exactly the kind of behavior the President had gotten away with for nearly a year –ventured into this Wonderland and unearthed President Clinton’s legal double.

Her name is Barbara Battalino.  An osteopath and a former Veterans Administration psychiatrist, she stands just under five feet tall and speaks with a New Jersey accent softened by a decade in the West. Married three times (her first marriage ended in annulment, the second in divorce, the third when her husband died of a heart attack two months after their wedding) and childless, she has the avid friendliness of someone who’s lived too long in isolation.  Last April, she pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to a federal magistrate about oral sex she gave a patient in 1991 in her office at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.  Sentenced to six months of home detention ending in February, she is required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around her left ankle; when she ventures as far as the edge of her garden with her miniature terrier, Tippy, the monitor sends an alarm to private security guards, who call to make sure she’s staying put.  Battalino hasn’t been idle during her house arrest, however; she’s fielded several dozen radio interviews –most of them with ardent impeachment supporters –and hosted television producers from two networks.  In a few short months, the psychiatrist has taken her place in the Clinton-haters’ pantheon of Women Wronged.

Battalino’s Monica Lewinsky is a burly Vietnam veteran who looks like a white-haired Fred Flintstone.  His name is Edward I. Arthur.  The recipient of a Purple Heart –he injured his foot and back during a helicopter crash –he lives on VA disability payments near Columbus, Ohio.  He’s sixty-three, twice divorced, with four adult children.  Seven years ago, Arthur filed suit against the VA and Battalino, charging that the oral sex he had with her was an “assault” and that, subsequently, the agency failed to adequately treat him.  He now says he relates to women who’ve been sexually harassed.  “A lot of vets are macho guys who ask me why I didn’t just lie back and enjoy it.”  He shakes his head in disgust.  “Now I know where all those women are coming from.  Nobody cares about the victims!”

As with Monica and Bill, Barbara and Arthur say their feelings have changed dramatically since they first had sex on a summer afternoon in 1991 – and began an affair that lasted through the year.  During those months, Arthur admits he enjoyed Battalino’s attentions.  But he now calls the diminutive doctor a “calculating, vindictive person”; Battalino labels her former lover a “sociopath.”

Also as with the President and his paramour, there were gifts –Arthur got the doctor’s cobalt blue Porsche, the use of her house, and the promise of $100,000 a year if he moved to California with her.  And there were many hours –twenty-five, to be exact –of incriminating, surreptitiously recorded phone conversations.

Battalino’s biggest defender and very own conspiracy theorist (a la Hillary?) is her mother, “Big Barbara” Battalino, as she calls herself.  Big Barbara, eighty-four towers over her fifty-three-year-old namesake, who’s serving her time in her mother’s San Luis Obispo, California, home.  The elder Battalino sees a vast left wing plot in the fact that her daughter lost her career for lying about sex, while Bill Clinton (probably) gets to stay in the White House.

Big Barbara is the superego to her daughter’s id.  When her mother enters the room, Little Barbara gets quiet and switches from the personal to the political.  With pale-green cat eyes, Big Barbara watches as her daughter is interviewed, frequently interjecting her own political opinions, “The issue here is not sex, the real issue is lying,” Little Barbara says.

”Yeah?truth or consequences!”   Big Barbara bursts in.

Finally, Battalino’s Ken Starr is another disabled Vietnam veteran and a former Boise VA hospital social worker: Henry Parker.  Parker, who suffered leg and back injuries in Vietnam and also has a history of psychological problems, says he was so incensed by what he believes was the VA’s whitewashing of Battalino’s ethical breach (and by other sexual shenanigans he alleges occurred among hospital staff) that he tried to commit suicide, twice.  But he recovered from his self-inflicted wounds?an overdose of tranquilizers and a hanging?to ultimately bring Battalino’s lie to the attention of the world.

These days, Parker, a slight, impeccably dressed graying blond who retains a trace of his native Alabama accent, sits in his Boise townhouse with a black kitten named JuFu and notebooks full of court papers and obscure VA documents, eager to tell anyone who will listen the long, complicated saga of his downfall.  “I found out you better have everything in writing and on tape,” he says, admitting that he once hired a private detective to spy on a former colleague. “And I found out that even if you do that, they will still nail you.”

For Barbara Battalino, it wasn’t supposed to end with national notoriety over a blow job.  Raised in North Bergen, New Jersey, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, she was “always a good girl,” her mother says.  The Battalinos were devoted Catholics, and Barbara even spent ten months in a convent after college.  She changed course after her father, an osteopath and the local police surgeon, decided his daughter would have a more promising career following in his footsteps.  So Battalino went to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and later did residencies in psychiatry at several hospitals.

A few years after her dad died in 1981, Barbara, then in her early forties and between marriages, and her mother and younger brother (also an osteopath) moved to California.  Her brother joined the state prison system and she followed, landing a job counseling inmates.  Both Barbaras had been Democrats while Mr. Battalino was alive, but they changed parties once they moved to the coast.  Her mother was always a Republican “philosophically,” Battalino says, but registered as a Democrat for her husband’s sake.  She calls her own switch of allegiances a “matter of maturity.”

In 1990, Little Barbara decided she wanted a change of scenery and moved to Boise to take a job at the VA hospital.  Through the looking glass, the hospital campus, nestled on a ridge below the picturesque mountains surrounding Boise, might be considered a perfect setting for romance, with its gnarled old trees, gazebo, old officers’ quarters?and legions of lonely men.  It was there, in Battalino’s office in the oldest Federal-style building west of the Mississippi, that the nation’s second most litigated act of oral sex occurred.

Now, sitting in her mother’s ranch-style house festooned with Catholic icons and Christmas decorations, Battalino tells how she first met Ed Arthur, who at the time was being treated by the hospital’s post-traumatic stress disorder team and had been seeing VA therapists for at least two decades.  Concerned about the side effects of antianxiety medication prescribed by other VA doctors, Arthur consulted with Battalino in her office three times, but she says their ensuing affair wasn’t improper because she wasn’t officially his psychiatrist (he was an outpatient; she treated inpatients), and he initiated the meetings.

The American Psychiatric Association’s ethics code states, however, that because of the inherent imbalance of power between therapists and patients (current or former), sex between them is always unethical, whoever starts the relationship.  And for Battalino to say that Arthur wasn’t her patient is an outright lie, contends her former boss at the VA, chief of psychiatry Larry Dewey, M.D.  In his office, circled with chairs for group-therapy sessions, Dewey recalls Battalino’s “intransigence” when he confronted her about Arthur.  “She couldn’t see anything wrong with what she was doing with Mr. Arthur.  It’s ridiculous.  She charted on him, she prescribed medications, she did everything you do as a treating psychiatrist.  She continues to lie about it, and it outrages me to hear her lying again,” says Dewey, who asked Battalino to leave after he discovered the affair.

In any event, Battalino’s visits with Arthur quickly became more than clinical for her.  “He was a good-looking man; he’s put on weight since then,” she says.  Indeed, Ed Arthur was once a lean, slit-eyed soldier?although that was likely long before Battalino laid eyes on him?and he has a vast collection of pictures of himself to prove it.  Some of them appear in Headhunters, a book about Vietnam that Battalino borrowed from her VA colleague Parker soon after she met the man who would become her lover.

Whatever the initial spark, Battalino says she “had feelings” for Arthur after his third visit and believed they were reciprocated.  “Each visit, he was more dressed up, heavy cologne, very engaging, telling jokes,” Battalino recalls.  “I was aware this man was coming on to me.  He was attractive.  He had no kind of psychotic disorder?this idea that he was a poor sick veteran is a distortion of fact.  So after that third visit I was going to tell him to go back to his regular team, and I was not going to continue to see him on VA premises.”

There is no longer any debate about what happened in her office on Arthur’s fourth visit.  There is only disagreement about who made the first move (though that, too is irrelevant, according to APA ethics).  “My sole intention was to tell him to go back to his PTSD team,” Battalino says.  “When I said that, he at first said, “Is there no discussion?” I said, ‘This is the way it’s got to be.’  He asked if I would agree to see him on a social basis, and I said, ‘You and I are single.  I see no problem with that.’  He asked me for my home phone number.  I wrote it on a piece of paper, turned around to hand it to him, and that’s when he held me close.  I started to push him away.  He said, ‘Will you please have oral sex with me?’”

That led to a six-month affair, and, eventually, after Arthur refused Battalino’s offer of $100,000 to follow her to California?”That’s prostitution! I’m not a male whore!”  Arthur indignantly recalls?he began taping their conversations.  His lawyers urged him to do it, Arthur says, but he was hardly reluctant about setting the trap.  He’d concluded that his lover was “too pushy” and wore too much makeup; plus, he says, her “Brooklyn accent” had begun to get on his nerves.

Ed Arthur’s home in icebound rural Ohio is crammed with military and police memorabilia.  Sitting on his couch smoking a cigar (“I don’t inhale,” he snorts) and watching pro football on a large-screen television, Arthur wears a blue shirt emblazoned with “POLICE.”   A bulletproof vest lies within easy reach.  Although he’s a volunteer with the local police department, he concedes it’s rare that he actually needs the vest.  His main duty, he says, is to occasionally counsel juvenile delinquents.  But he is a devoted police buff that he jokingly answers the phone, “Homicide.”

Arthur says a VA psychiatrist assigned him to Battalino.  He initially resisted because he didn’t think a woman could understand problems like his recurrent nightmares.  “What’s a female doctor going to know about combat?” he recalls.  “It’d be like me trying to understand the emotions of a woman giving birth.”

Arthur was born in 1935 in Columbus, the son of a railroad worker.  His mother abandoned the family when he was a boy?an event he says prompted a lifelong distrust of women, exacerbated by Battalino’s crossing the professional boundary with him.  As a child, Arthur repeatedly ran away from home, joining the Ohio National Guard at thirteen.  He was discharged after two years for being underage, then enlisted in the Army.  In the early 1960’s, he belonged to a CIA-funded unit called Commandos L that helped arm anti-Castro Cubans trying to overthrow the government.  According to articles published in the Miami papers at the time, Arthur tooled around the waters of the Florida Bay in a small, armed motorboat painted with “PT-109.”  In Vietnam, he served with the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division and says he killed sixty-six Vietcong close range.  After he came home in 1970, he was so disturbed by all the killing that, he says, “I couldn’t touch my wife for months.”

His civilian career since then is a matter of dispute.  He says that while receiving VA disability payments he’s been involved with local law enforcement on a volunteer or paid basis in Ohio, Colorado, and New Mexico.  He proudly points out one of the plaques on his wall: a “Lifetime Achievement Award” granted to him by the American Police Hall of Fame in 1996.  But the executive director of that group says it was rescinded last year, due to evidence brought out in court that Arthur had presented false documents to qualify for the honor.

Arthur’s Army service record is equally murky.  At the trial, military-records experts testified that the discharge documents he routinely showed to prospective employers had been altered to increase his years of education and his Army exploits.  That revelation cost him his membership in the Ohio Military Reserve, a state militia similar to the National Guard.

Not surprisingly, Arthur’s recollection of the oral sex differs from Battalino’s.  He agrees only that she approached him in the hall and asked him to come to her office.  “When she said, ‘I’ve got to talk to you,’ she was real nervous, and I deduced from that there was something wrong with me?something bad, like cancer?and they were going to use my psychiatrist to lay it out for me.  I spent a couple hours walking around the campus with all kinds of thoughts going through my mind.  My main thought was my fifteen-year-old son.  I thought, Good God, I don’t want to die yet.

“So I go to her office and sit down.  Now, before this, she had been telling me the men at the VA were all trying to kill me with these drugs; they were trying to keep me doped up with Valium.  She had me pretty well convinced.  At this meeting she said, ‘I have something to tell you; I have feelings for you.’  Then she went over behind me, turned the lock in the door, came over to me, and the rest is history.  I just remember looking out the window, staring at this tree . . ..”

Beyond the tree, just a block away and visible from Battalino’s old office, is the white rectangle of the Boise federal building, where Ed Arthur’s lawsuit eventually came to trial.  The affair had begun to unravel when Arthur revealed his relationship with Battalino to his VA therapist, who in turn told Dewey.  After Battalino left the hospital, Arthur says he felt “dumped” by the VA, even though his therapist asked him to resume therapist.  He didn’t go back, he says, because he worried hospital staffers would whisper and gossip about him.

About a year later, Arthur filed his suit.  Battalino was dropped from the case in 1995 after filing for bankruptcy, but Arthur continued pressing his claim against the VA.  Battalino’s lie had come early in the proceedings, when she denied any in-office sex before a magistrate, but the contradiction between her testimony and Arthur’s tapes wasn’t noticed by the Justice Department until 1997?thanks to the dedicated efforts of one Henry Parker.

Even before Battalino and Arthur got together, Parker believed there was too much hanky-panky going on at the VA, with what (he says) doctors having affairs with student nurses and the director having an affair with his secretary.  The former director, James Goff, left in 1992 under a cloud, says Dewey, the chief of psychiatry.  Although the nature of Goff’s troubles was never made public by the VA, his former secretary, Barbra Carlson, signed an affidavit describing his insistence that she have sex with him on his office sofa.  In an interview, Carlson says she complained about her boss to VA higher-ups, but to no avail; eventually, she says, she took a lower-paying job at another agency to “get away from him.”  Bruce Stewart, the associate director of the Boise institution, says that he and the current director started after Goff left, but they didn’t know of any formal or informal complaints against him.  Goff, now the director of the VA medical center in Palo Alto, did not return calls requesting comment.

Parker’s first suicide attempt came the day he lost an expected promotion ?the result, he says, of his reporting a VA attorney whom he heard making salacious jokes about Battalino and Arthur.  That evening, he took an overdose of tranquilizers, which sent him to an intensive-care unit for several weeks.  (Dewey says Parker himself chose to heave his job, due to his psychological instability.)  Since then, Parker has devoted his life to getting revenge on the VA.  He spent hours at the federal courthouse poring over the transcripts of Arthur’s tapes and other documents.  When he spotted the lie, Parker alerted the local police, but they did nothing.  Then, he says, he contacted the FBI.

In the fall of 1997, federal prosecutor Jonathan Mitchell flew to Boise to interview the participants.  “I recommended that Battalino be charged in November of 1997, and I finished my prosecution memo in February 1998,” says Mitchell, who now works at the state attorney general’s office in Boston.  “In the meantime, the world was introduced to Monica Lewinsky.”

Mitchell and his colleagues at Justice were always aware of the parallels between Battalino’s perjury and the President’s, he says.  “But nobody thought much of it because we just assumed there had been other cases like this, sexual harassment cases in which someone lied and someone else had the goods?a tape or dress?and a perjury prosecution followed.”

In April, Battalino signed her plea agreement, and in July she was sentenced to house arrest.  Because she voluntarily resigned her medical licenses at the time, she can appeal to get them back.

Finally, in September, a month after Battalino began her detention, a federal judge in Boise ruled on Arthur’s malpractice claim.  The case was dismissed, in part because the judge agreed with government psychiatric experts who said Arthur had a personality disorder “manifested by embellishment and deceit,” and, thus, his charges that the VA had harmed him were unreliable.

Arthur insists that despite the public humiliation he’s endured, he made the right choice to file suit.  In his own eyes, he’s the classic American hero, the little guy who nobly?albeit unsuccessfully?took on a behemoth and lost.  “I knew other people who were worse off than I was.  What you have at the VA in Boise is a clique of guys who all play golf together.  That institution is their playground.  These cute little nurses come down from the University of Washington, and they’re patting them on the butt!  You don’t have the right to use your position of authority to do things to people.”

Battalino might have served out her sentence in obscurity?had the White House and its supporters not begun proclaiming last spring that no one’s ever prosecuted by the federal government for lying about sex.  Steadfast Clinton loyalist Geraldo Rivera even offered $10,000 to anyone who could find such a case, Jonathan Mitchell recalls, though he didn’t take the bait.  Instead, impeachment commentators Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing got the ten grand for bringing Battalino to Geraldo’s attention.  The winner should have been David Tell, however; he wrote an editorial about Battalino’s case in the conservative Weekly Standard on June 22.  Tell refuses to name his source, but, he adds, “This was not a feat of superhuman journalistic effort.”  (In fact, the Boise Weekly had beaten him to the punch months before.)

The next thing Battalino knew, she got a call from the House Judiciary Committee offering her an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to testify at the impeachment hearings.  Sitting in a witness chair before the committee on December 1, 1998, Battalino told the world about the “one act of consensual oral sex: she had lied about and concluded that without the Rule of Law, “atrocities like slavery, genocide, potential nuclear and biological warfare, and oppression are sure to surface their ugly heads again.”

Like Ed Arthur, Battalino sees herself as a crusader for a previously ignored group of victims?perjurers who decide to come clean?and believes she has found a purpose in “this terrible nightmare.”  The call to testify made her realize she was part of God’s greater plan to bring Clinton to justice.  “I believe from the way things have evolved that divine providence, somehow or other, was at work.  I felt a moral responsibility when Mr. Hyde’s aide called me.  This is about much more than me now.  There are double standards to be addressed everywhere.”

Plucked from the rabbit hole that is Weird America, her private peccadilloes now a matter of congressional record, Barbara Battalino has joined that coterie of men and women whose grubby secret lives have been hitched to the impeachment train.  She has hired a PR man to steer her through the publicity and has learned to find comfort in the opportunity for mass confession provided by big media.  She even has fans.  Thanks to her frequent radio interviews (the day before we met she spent two hours on the phone with Ken Hamblin, a conservative African American radio host in Denver who calls himself  “The Black Avenger”), Battalino has been contacted via phone and letter by scores of people offering moral support.

It’s important to follow the Commandments, not only because they’re in the Bible, but because it’s part of a good citizen,” she says.  “On one show a woman called and said her youngsters are saying if they get away with something at school, they ‘pulled a Clinton’!”

Big Barbara huffs and heaps more contumely on the President: “This guy is the most defiant idiot!  If he were my son, he’d have gotten a lot of kicks in the pants!”

Counting the days before her release from home detention, Battalino is also planning to try to get her professional license back.  “I will eventually get on with my life,” she says.  “I can empathize with Clinton just wanting to get on with his job, but nobody said to me I had two years left on my license, and that I could finish them.  If Mr. Clinton isn’t convicted, I will be requesting my prosecution be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.”

Of course, there’s always the literary route, if she fails to get reinstated as a psychiatrist.  She may soon be writing a book.  “I think I should, because it’s just so complicated,” she says.  “And it doesn’t sound real.”

 

The Explorers Club, New York — November 2008

Nina discusses the inspiration behind her book Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land.


Oriental Institute Members' Lecture Series — March 3, 2010

Nina discusses Biblical Archaeology, the Limits of Science, and the Borders of Belief.

Nina talks about her book, The Stranger and the Statesman, on C-Span Video.

Chicago Weekly Online, February 13, 2009
Unholy Business: Chicago-bred writer Nina Burleigh discusses her latest book, religion, and the ugly side of journalism, by Sean Redmond.

Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio - 11/17/08
In Unholy Business, Nina Burleigh investigates the world of forgers who create fake artifacts to "prove" Biblical stories true. (First Chapter Excerpt also available at the link).

Coast to Coast with George Noory - 11/15/08
Phony Biblical Relics
Investigative reporter Nina Burleigh talked about the James Ossuary and other contentious archaeological 'finds' from the Holy Land. Many of the archaeological digs in Israel are being financed and carried out by Fundamentalist Christians, Burleigh said. The person who crafted the James Ossuary played into their desire to find ancient objects that could confirm the validity of Scripture, she noted.

Toronto Star Online—November 4, 2008
Forgery of Antiques is Big Business
If you're going to fake a Biblical antiquity, keep it simple... And don't mention Jesus...

USA Today—October 21, 2008
Phony biblical relics spark controversy
Read an article about the James Ossuary, and an interview with Nina Burleigh on the impact of this find and the wider world of biblical archeology.

Visit Nina's personal website at www.ninaburleigh.com.

Publicity requests can be arranged through:

Rachel Rokicki
Random House - New York
(212) 782-8455

Nina's Literary Agent is Deborah Grosvenor.