Do not believe almost anything you read or hear about Africa, especially concerning the continent’s cultural sensitivity, ethnic peculiarities, or borders. The source of this information usually has an agenda, is an outright bigot or moron, or has some misguided notion of how African salvation might eventually occur at some wholly imagined point in the future. Forget everything and just be honest: Greater Africa is a country, or is at least treated as one by most of the world, no matter how politically incorrect it may be to plainly state such a thing. It’s a market and a marketing hook; it’s a carefully analyzed genre of the fashion, music, and travel industries; and above all else, it is and always has been a singular obsession of the West. It’s the place somebody is always trying to save.
We devoted an entire issue of the magazine to Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia’s sprawling 35,000-plus word epic exploration of the crisis in South Sudan. It’s a companion piece of sorts; watch the documentary and read the issue or vice versa. But you won’t get a full scope of the situation without doing both.
The “Saving South Sudan” Issue of VICE is unlike anything done before in the 21-year history of the magazine. It tells a single story over the course of 130 pages, following the writer Robert Young Pelton, the photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia, and a former South Sudanese refugee named Machot as they travel to Machot’s homeland, one of the most war-ravaged countries on Earth. For Machot, the trip was an attempt to help South Sudan out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of war, corruption, and power-hungry strongmen that has ruled the country for generations. For Pelton and Freccia, it was the chance to explore and document the conflict that is rapidly turning the three-year-old country into the world’s newest failed state—and to find out what, if anything, could stop South Sudan’s slide into hell.
Understandably, they ran into some problems on their journey. To begin with, they almost couldn’t find a pilot foolhardy enough to fly them into the middle of an ongoing war between the government in Juba and the rebels led by Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president. Then they had to haggle and negotiate their way into an interview with Machar before following his fearsome but undisciplined White Army to a battle in the town of Malakal that turned into wholesale slaughter.
Partly a history of colonialism and misguided Western interference in Africa, partly a profile of Machar as he plots and coordinates his rebellion in the bush, partly a look into one of the most dangerous, dysfunctional countries in the world, “Saving South Sudan” is a terrific, sobering work, and no one but Pelton and Freccia could have produced it. Pelton, the author of the bestselling, one-of-a-kind travel guide The World’s Most Dangerous Places (now in its fifth edition), has profiled “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, been kidnapped by right wing death squads in Colombia, and lived with an elusive retired Special Forces colonel training Karin rebels deep inside the jungles of Burma. Freccia—who like many journalists, was inspired by Pelton’s work—has made it his life’s work to document conflicts and crisis in Africa and elsewhere. His photos provide a stark, sometimes horrific look into the realities of life in South Sudan, and his video footage is currently a documentary now playing on the site.
Survey Says: Journalists Are Old White Cowards
Today’s typical journalist is an unhappily middle-aged white male who complains he’s losing his freedom while declining to use that freedom to threaten those taking it away. That, at least, is the takeaway from a survey of reporters that found they are older, whiter, and better educated than they were a decade ago—and more timid than ever before.
The survey, “The American Journalist in the Digital Age,” was carried out by researchers at Indiana University and is based on interviews with over 1,000 US journalists working for radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines, wire services, and websites. According to the survey, fewer reporters than ever say they have “almost complete freedom” in selecting stories—a third said that in 2013, compared to 60 percent in 1982—and fewer members of the fourth estate are willing to get their hands dirty in the service of speaking truth to power.
Check out frequent VICE photographer Giles Clarke’s photos of Zapatista families, featured on Social Documentary.
VICE Exclusive: How a Former SEC Official Manipulated the System for His Clients and His Own Financial Benefit
Two years ago, Spencer C. Barasch, a former high-ranking Securities and Exchange Commission official based in Fort Worth, Texas, paid a $50,000 fine to settle civil charges brought against him by the United States Justice Department for allegedly violating federal conflict-of-interest laws. The Department of Justice had alleged that Barasch, as a private attorney, had represented R. Allen Stanford, a Houston-based financier who was later found to have masterminded a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Barasch had done so even though he’d played a central role at the SEC for years in overruling colleagues who wanted to investigate Stanford’s massive fraud. Federal law prohibits former SEC officials from representing anyone as a private attorney if they played a substantial or material role in overseeing actions regarding them while in government.
In part because of that episode, Barasch, rightfully or wrongfully, has served as an example for critics of the SEC who say that it—and the US government as a whole—has done too little to hold accountable those financial institutions responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and other corporate wrongdoers. James Kidney, a respected trial attorney for the SEC, drew attention recently when he asserted in his retirement speech that the agency’s pervasive “revolving door” has led to a paucity of enforcement actions against seemingly untouchable Wall Street executives. More than two dozen current and former SEC officials that I have interviewed about these matters largely agree with Kidney on the takeaway: Quite simply, American investors can no longer expect the protection they once did, and that powerful Wall Street executives who have violated the law will continue to go unchecked.
A three-month investigation by VICE has uncovered evidence of numerous similar instances of misconduct and potential violation of federal conflict of interest regulations and law by Barasch since he left the SEC. And while Barasch’s legal representation of Stanford might have been the single most consequential and egregious example of such misconduct, the new information shows that Barasch’s actions in representing Stanford were hardly an anomaly. The new disclosures serve as further ammunition for those who argue that the SEC has been tepid in its enforcement of such regulations and its punishment of those who would violate them.
In this dispatch, Simon Ostrovsky tells the story of his abduction in eastern Ukraine, his days in captivity, and why he thinks he was targeted by “mayor” Ponomarev.
It turns out, I had it pretty easy, because I was let go.
The SS Doctor Who Converted to Islam and Escaped the Nazi Hunters
The Holocaust, as you’ll probably know, produced some of history’s worst human beings. The thing is, though, besides those who made it into your textbooks—the Hitlers, Görings and Himmlers—many escaped unscathed, free to live out the rest of their days pretending to be mild-mannered ex-pats who’d moved to Argentina simply because they preferred empanadas and polo to bratwurst and car manufacturing.
One SS member to ultimately escape prosecution was an Austrian concentration camp doctor called Aribert Heim, who later became known as “Doctor Death.” The atrocities committed in the Nazi camps have their very own scale of horror, and Heim sits somewhere near the top (his trademark was injecting gasoline into healthy people’s hearts and keeping their skulls as trophies). However, despite his horrific crimes he managed to mostly evade the authorities, and when they did finally catch up with him in the early 60s he had already fled Germany.
Almost 50 years later, New York Times journalist Souad Mekhennet got a tip that Heim had converted to Islam and had been hiding out in Cairo. Teaming up with another NYTjournalist, Nicholas Kulish, the pair decided to follow up what they’d heard, hoping to track down Heim and explain what exactly had happened after his sudden disappearance.
An article about Souad and Nicholas’ search for Heim was first published in the New York Times, before the pair turned their investigation into a book, titled The Eternal Nazi. I recently spoke to the writers about their experience, the briefcase of Heim’s possessions they were handed in Cairo and the effect the story had on them and those closest to Dr Death.
VICE: Hi guys. So let’s start at the beginning; when did you start investigating the story of Aribert Heim?
Souad Mekhennet: It started in 2008, when I received a phone call from an old source of mine. We met, and he took out this photocopied photo of Aribert Heim. He told me that he was the most-wanted Nazi doctor, “Doctor Death.” There was information that Heim used to hide out in a certain neighbourhood in Cairo, but it wasn’t confirmed. So I spoke to Nick and we decided to take on the challenge. I took this photocopy to Cairo to see if it was true. We went from small hotel to small hotel, until, on our third day, we found someone who recognized him.
What exactly had Heim done to become the most wanted Nazi in the world?
Nicholas Kulish: He worked as a Waffen-SS doctor in a series of concentration camps, including Buchenwald in Germany and Mauthausen in Austria. He was accused of committing hideous crimes in Mauthausen in 1941, including operating on healthy living patients, killing them in the process, and injecting gasoline into people’s hearts. He also used to take the skulls with particularly good teeth as trophies and keep them on his desk.