Last Thursday (4/3/14) freelance Middle East journalist Sara Elizabeth Williams broke the story of a CIA/US Military run training camp for Syrian rebels in the Jordanian desert. VICE UK ran her investigative story, “I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan,” which international Syria experts thought hugely significant, yet it got little attention on this side of the Atlantic. Top Syria expert in the US, Joshua Landis, announced on his Twitter account Thursday: “Sara Williams gets the scoop on the top secret FSA Training Camp in Jordan.” This courageous young freelancer revealed, with photos, the ins and outs of this secretive facility.
Sara sees her role as one who will pursue the truth no matter where it leads; her bold reporting will hopefully stir serious national debate in the United States and other countries. She says of her goals as a journalist in the Middle East:
“I think people should know what governments are doing in their name, with their taxes.”
Please carefully read and spread her VICE UK story, “I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan.”
Sara kindly agreed to answer Levant Report’s questions on her groundbreaking report:
Levant Report: How did you come to realize that this was such an important story to pursue?
Sara: I think people should know what governments are doing in their name, with their taxes. So when I heard about this covert or less-than-overt US involvement in the Syrian conflict, I thought it was worth pursuing: people – Americans and the rest of us – have a right to know.
LR: Were you able to get a glimpse of the actual training base in the Jordanian desert, either through photos, or viewing from afar?
Sara: No. I do not know its precise location and I have never attended or seen photos. I have heard a number of rumors pointing to a location, but nothing concrete.
LR: Concerning the US military instructors, did your sources identify which branch or group of the military to which the instructors belonged? (Army Special Forces, Marines, contractors perhaps, etc…)?
Sara: No he did not.
LR: Did you get the impression that once sent back inside Syria, the fighters would have American oversight or legal accountability monitoring their actions on the battlefield?
Sara: The fighter I interviewed was aware of no oversight or continued relationship. Other people I have spoken with in Syria, and some articles by leading US and international publications, refer to the US paying salaries to FSA fighters and providing logistical support in an ongoing way, but I do not currently have any knowledge of this.
LR: I understand that you are learning Arabic. There are a number of established Middle East correspondents that don’t speak it – why is it important that you learn Arabic?
Sara: There are some very talented journalists who can cover a region without speaking the language, and do a marvelous job of it. I commend them. For me, learning Arabic is a priority because it gets me closer to the story: operating through an interpreter can have a distancing effect. And when you understand the language you can soak it in from all sides – interviews, chatter on the street, newspapers, television, demonstrations, all of it. You can also be a lot more nimble: no need to hire a translator (as a freelancer, this is significant!) or pause online chats after every line while you check the meaning. Finally, there’s a sense of cultural understanding that comes from knowing a language. And if you can do it, I think that’s important.