Dear Mr. Zogby,
I note that you plan to be a panelist at a conference later this month sponsored by the Miami Herald in which the Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky is also taking part.
Earlier this week, I sent you an article I wrote in Spanish about Verbitsky that appeared in OffNews, an online publication in Buenos Aires, in February of last year. I sent it to you because I believe it provides useful questions about Mr. Verbitsky's veracity and professional career. (Read the article)
Today I received a call from your office asking what the article was about, as apparently there was no one there to translate it into English. The article is too long for me to translate this evening, and even if I were to do so, some of its "gracia" (humor) would be lost in translation.
So, in what follows, I will try to give to you just a few of the most salient points that I made in the OffNews article.
I used to be a good friend of Verbitsky's, dating to the time that I was the Washington Post and Newsweek special correspondent in Buenos Aires in the 1980s. (Verbitsky used to joke that I was his "first and only" American friend.) When I later went to work for Sen. Alan Cranston on the professional staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we spent considerable time trying to help Verbitsky in his various scrapes with the corrupt government of Carlos Menem.
The longer I knew Verbitsky, however, the more I found out about how much he misrepresented his role in Argentina's tragic past--and how he continues to distort that history even now. Yet, because--as a former leftwing guerrilla colleague of his once said--Horacio "throws crap around (at others) as if he pees holy water," I thought you might like some information about Verbitsky outside of what you might receive from his official biography
Before I get into that, however, I urge you to look at Verbitsky's own broadside against his North American journalistic colleagues, printed last September 5 in Horacio's own newspaper, Pagina/12.
In the article, he defends "partisan and militant" journalism a lo latino, as opposed to what he calls "the presumed objectivity and equilibrium of U.S. journalism (that), taken to its extreme, involves listening with attention to a Jew and a Nazi and then letting the public draw its own conclusions." Verbitsky's comments were made in Mexico at a conference on the "New IberoAmerican Journalism," which, if anything like the views he expressed there, seems to me more a school of propaganda than a journalistic effort to inform the public. It would be interesting to see if Horacio would express himself in the same way before an American audience.
(As an long-time American journalist, these days I worry about our profession's plunging public image--due in no small part to the American people's concern that we are not "playing it straight" with them. It seems to me that they are, rightly, demanding the same standards of objectivity much maligned by Verbitsky.)
But I digress ...
The article I sent to your office explains that, while Mr. Verbitsky loves to accuse others of "ethical betrayal" ("claudicacion etica")--a phrase he frequently uses to attack people he does not agree with--he himself has a history of political opportunism, support for undemocratic movements (including leftwing terrorists and rightwing dictators, no less), and the denial of his own betrayal of his former comrades in arms.
An example, from my article, was that Horacio still dines out on his friendship with the well-known Argentine journalist Rodolfo Walsh, who in the mid-1970s was the chief of intelligence for the leftwing Montonero guerrillas. Walsh was killed in 1977 by an Argentine navy death squad after denouncing the atrocious human rights abuses of the military junta.
Horacio still writes about Walsh in glowing, approving terms, despite the fact that, as objective historians agree, the actions of Walsh, like his fellow Montonero intelligence subordinate Verbitsky, helped give the generals the excuse they needed to take power.
No where that I know of has Verbitsky--Walsh's "biographer"--addressed the issue of how in 1974/1975 Walsh interrogated two wealthy businessmen/brothers while they were being held by the guerrillas--after an associate of the two was killed in the same bloody ambush in which they were abducted.
Obviously, a more balanced approach to Walsh's biography would include his participation in such an act, along with the Montonero's anguish about the conduct of military's "dirty war."
But Verbitsky has already said that he does not believe in such an approach--as might a U.S. journalist, for example, or one trained in the American "school" of objective journalism that Horacio chooses to ridicule.
That might be bad enough, but there is much more. Verbitsky likes to tell people that he valiantly tried to keep up Walsh's clandestine efforts to inform the world about the military massacre, but eventually--alone and in danger for his life--he had to give up Walsh's information campaign.
Verbitsky also likes to remind people that the Argentine military's extreme rightwing Catholicism was responsible for the torture and, for a time, disappearance of our colleague Jacobo Timerman, at the time of his abduction the editor of the newspaper La Opinion.
In fact, if not for international pressure--led by the Carter State Department--Timerman could very well have ended up like the some 30,000 desaparecidos who remain missing to this day.
However, even before Timerman was released, Verbitsky, had found other work. He has limited his public comment about it to saying that he helped "ghost" a book on "Argentine air transportation."
What Horacio doesn't say that the author of the work, retired Argentine Air Force senior official Juan José Güiraldes, himself a former Timerman business partner, bragged later on--to me and, separately, to another Argentine journalist--that he (Güiraldes) helped convince the Israeli ambassador in Buenos Aires during that period not to intervene on behalf of Argentine Jews who were being tortured and murdered by the Nazi-sympathizing generals.
The book ghosted by Verbitsky, "The Air Power of the Argentines," was published by the Air Force Circle, a quasi-official group of military retirees, in 1979--the same year that Timerman was finally released by the military junta.
But the story doesn't end there. Güiraldes' book is dedicated in part to the Air Force high command--the same people Rodolfo Walsh accused of running the death squads. And, in it Güiraldes singles out for special thanks, using his first and last name, his "ghost writer"-- Verbitsky.
As Timerman would later comment to me, how was it that Verbitsky, well known as a former Montonero intelligence official, was allowed to live undisturbed in Buenos Aires during the worst of the military repression? To which I would add: How was it that Verbitsky could be mentioned, by name, in a book read by the same vicious military he said he was fighting, and not be bothered?
Some of this might seem ancient, if rotten, history, if not for the fact that Verbitsky still seems to thrive on distorting it, and his own role during that time.
On Dec. 12, 1999, Horacio spoke at a memorial ceremony in New York City held in honor of the recently-deceased Timerman. Present were such notables as Jimmy Carter's human rights czar, Patt Derian; Rep. Ben Gilman, then chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and New York Times columnist (and human rights crusader) Anthony Lewis.
Verbitsky's talk was titled "An Irishman and a Jew," Walsh being the Irishman, Timerman, the Jew. In it, the ever self-reverential Horacio said that Walsh and Timerman "taught me the violent business of being a writer, as Walsh called it." He also referred to Walsh as "the principle hero of the internal resistence"--certainly a debatable point, given Walsh's own participation in bloody acts of terror.
It was a perfect trifecta of dissimulation: Verbitsky, who had earlier worked (in the 1960s) for pro-military media in Argentina before he became a leftwing guerrilla, lectured authentic luminaries of the U.S. human rights movement about Argentine history, equating Timerman--who detested the guerrillas--with the head of the intelligence operation of what (as they used to brag about) was once Latin America's largest urban guerrilla organization.
And, it appears, no one in the audience of what was supposed to be a memorial service for Jacobo was any more the wiser to the fact that a little over a year after Walsh was killed, his supposed disciple (Verbitsky) was ghost writing the book of a retired military man who tried to keep the state of Israel from defending Argentine Jews in distress, and who dedicated the work to those Walsh charged--rightly, just before his own murder--were in charge of the military-run, supposedly "uncontrolled," rightist death squads.
In closing I might also mention that Verbitsky, who likes to parade around the hemisphere as a poster child for free speech, has been a frequent visitor to Cuba, the world's longest running dictatorship, where, as he told me, he participated in official awards ceremonies honoring Latin journalists. He is also the author of an article that insinuated that AIDS was the product of U.S. government laboratories, a charge that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was shown to part of a Soviet disinformation campaign.
I am very happy to discuss this further if you wish. If not, I hope this gives you a bit of background, in case Horacio once again mounts his high horse (in a panel whose subject is "Anti-Americanism in Latin America and Among U.S. Hispanics," no less) and tries to make himself the star of the show by attacking others.
As I pointed out in the OffNews article, Verbitsky has made other, positive contributions, to Argentine democracy and free speech in that country. However, the record is much more uneven than he would allow, and certainly not one that should allow him to criticize without being questioned in return.
Martin Edwin "Mick" Andersen
Read Horacio Verbitsky Bio