It wasn’t the first time I’ve been prominently libeled in The New York Times. Nor was it the worst.
Compared to Stanley Fish’s grotesquely mendacious 2006 op-ed trashing me for something I never did—advocating 9/11 truth in the classroom—Alan Blinder, Julie Turkewitz and Adam Goldman treated me fairly well on today’s Sunday NYT front page by calling me a “controversial scholar of Islam” while accurately reporting what I said about Monica Witt, the ex-Air Force officer accused of spying for Iran.
The arguably libelous part came in the previous paragraph. I was introduced as part of “a crowd filled with fringe academics, Holocaust deniers and the lover of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal” where “Ms. Witt at last found herself among people as critical of her country as she was.”
This is an absurdly libelous description of attendees at the February 2013 Hollywoodism Conference, a rubric of the Tehran Film Festival that was not a New Horizon conference. Leaving aside the question of how a whole conference could be “filled by… the lover of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal” (Carlos liked really big women?) the bit about America-hating “fringe academics” and “Holocaust deniers” is seriously misleading.
Most of the US attendees might better be described as sincere American patriots. Former Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), whom I personally recruited for the conference, is widely acknowledged as an all-American hero for his principled stance against the Vietnam war, his role in exposing the Pentagon Papers, and his courageous advocacy of 9/11 truth. Merlin Miller, a family values oriented filmmaker who once ran for president, is another all-American hero who attended the Hollywoodism Conference.
Merlin Miller’s pro-American, anti-Zionist-Hollywood perspective is as patriotic as it gets. And then there was Culture Wars editor E. Michael Jones, another conservative American patriot who wants to take his country back. While all three all-American heroes are in varying degrees critical of Israel and its occupation of American politics and media, none could possibly be viewed as America haters.
The bit about “Holocaust denial” is also misleading. The Holocaust was not on the agenda, in any way, shape, or form, at the Hollywoodism conference, nor at any New Horizon Conference. The New York Times apparently chose to lob this gratuitous insult because a tiny handful of the hundreds of attendees at New Horizon conferences have published on this issue—an issue that in any event merits fearless discussion and debate, as readers of Ron Unz’s “Holocaust Denial” will discover.
The New York Times, echoing the US government’s indictment of Monica Witt and the Treasury Department’s sanctioning of New Horizon, offers a narrative almost entirely unsupported by any evidence. According to the official narrative, New Horizon and Press TV anchor Marzieh Hashemi are somehow responsible for Monica Witt’s decision to move to Iran and allegedly share secrets she learned in the Air Force.
Leaving aside the questions of whether Monica Witt actually did move to Iran, and if so whether she shared any secrets, and if so whether those secrets were genuinely important, the cases against New Horizon and Marzieh Hashemi are obviously bogus.
First consider the case against Ms. Hashemi, a leading international news anchor, who was kidnapped by the FBI without charges and held for ten days under circumstances bordering on torture. The rationale for kidnapping Ms. Hashemi was the claim that she was a “material witness” to Monica Witt’s alleged spying. But Ms. Hashemi was never charged with a crime.
After several interrogations, she was released without charges. Yet the indictment of Monica Witt states that “Individual A” who can only be Ms. Hashemi “engaged in acts consistent with serving as a spotter and assessor on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services.”
Obviously if there were any actual evidence that Marzieh Hashemi was so employed, she never would have been released without charges. So we may assume that “acts consistent with” really means: “Marzieh Hashemi is a journalist who reports critically and fearlessly on American issues, and in so doing interviews sources who might be characterized as whistleblowers or dissidents.”
In other words, Hashemi regularly commits a crime called “journalism.” And just as journalist Glen Greenwald, in the course of his journalistic duties, interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Russia (Edward Snowden) it seems that Marzieh Hashemi may have interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Iran (Monica Witt). But, contra USG, neither Greenwald nor Hashemi are spies. Both are journalists who, unlike certain mainstream media hacks, actually do their jobs.
The case against the New Horizon NGO is as bogus as the one against Marzieh Hashemi. The only “evidence” against New Horizon is that Monica Witt spoke at the February 2013 Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran. But that was not even a New Horizon conference! It was actually part of the Tehran Film Festival. So if the Treasury Department thinks the Hollywoodism Conference was guilty of something, it should sanction the Tehran Film Festival, not the New Horizon NGO, which only had a peripheral role in that event.
But why blame the conference at all? The official narrative seems to be that Witt had such a wonderful time there that she later decided to move to Iran (and supposedly spill some secrets). If that were true—and I can testify that just about everybody who attends Iran-based conferences has a wonderful time—the conference organizers would be guilty of the crime of putting on a wonderful conference. Last I checked, that wasn’t grounds for Treasury Department sanctions.
Is there any evidence that New Horizon conferences are really about recruiting spies, not exchanging ideas? The notion is preposterous. Just look at the participants lists! Virtually none of the conferees are people who could be expected to hold any secrets. On the contrary, the many New Horizon conferences I have attended have been—up until May 2018—remarkably bereft of US military and intelligence veterans.
I know the New Horizon organizers fairly well, and even helped them on more than one occasion by suggesting prospective guests. When I repeatedly suggested that they invite such illustrious ex-military/intel types as VT Senior Editor Gordon Duff, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, ex-State Department issuer of Visas for al-Qaeda Mike Springmann, former US Army counterterrorism and psy ops expert Scott Bennett, and others from USG backgrounds, I was told that while the New Horizon NGO would love to do so, the Iranian government makes it hard for such people to get visas. Finally, in May 2018, in an attempt to foster goodwill and trust, the Iranian government relented. Giraldi, Springmann, Bennett, and Michael Maloof — along with VT Editor Jim Dean — were invited and attended. On the final day of that Conference, Bennett and others spearheaded an attempt to convince the Iranian government to bring 9/11 truth into an American federal courtroom.
I believe the real reason for the witch hunt against New Horizon and Marzieh Hashemi is New Horizon’s and Press TV’s success at fostering dialogues that include voices that are suppressed and censored in the US and the rest of the West. The 9/11 truth movement, in particular, obviously terrifies the Establishment. When the May 2018 New Horizon conference in Mashhad nearly persuaded the Iranian government to throw its full support behind a major 9/11 truth initiative—one that could have led to discovery proceedings forcing suspected 9/11 perpetrators like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and others to testify under oath— the neoconservative element of the Establishment must have panicked. The current witch-hunt is their way of lashing out.
Think about it: If this is really about Monica Witt supposedly spilling secrets, why did they wait so long? According to the feds, Witt, supposedly possessing vital national security secrets, has been living in Iran as a Shia Muslim convert since summer 2013. Since Witt was on US authorities’ radar screen as a dissident and potential whistleblower long before that, it seems obvious that damage limitation measures would have been taken by mid-2013 at the latest. Any operations Witt could have compromised would have been shut down or revamped at that time, if not earlier. So the narrative that Witt has gravely damaged US national security, and we are only hearing about it now, seems implausible. Instead, the timing of the indictment, and the simultaneous persecution of Marzieh Hashemi and sanctioning of New Horizon, suggests that the neocon Deep State is panicking over Press TV’s and New Horizon’s success at fostering dialogue on suppressed issues like 9/11 truth—dialogue inclusive of loyal and patriotic US military and intelligence insiders. Presumably the neocon Deep State has invented a fake or exaggerated tale of Monica Witt’s alleged spying as an excuse to try to persecute and silence truth-loving journalists and intellectuals.
But let’s consider all the possibilities. In the unlikely event that Monica Witt really has spilled important national security secrets to Iranian intelligence—this according to the neocon Deep State tale that the entire mainstream media has swallowed uncritically—who would really deserve the blame? Journalists who covered her whistleblowing? Conference organizers who offered her a completely transparent platform? That’s the propaganda line. But it’s preposterous.
Anyone who has spoken extensively with Monica Witt, as I did at the Hollywoodism conference in 2013, knows that she is a highly intelligent, deeply sincere person who was horrified and traumatized by the war crimes in which she was forced to participate. Today’s New York Times article cites her classmate Cory Ellis:
“‘She would talk about how she couldn’t sleep at night, the stuff she saw and was a part of,’ said Mr. Ellis. Ms. Witt, he remembered, would mention drone strikes, extrajudicial killings and atrocities against children, all of which she claimed her colleagues in the military would brag about.”
As a whistleblower, she testified about some of these atrocities to journalists, including Marzieh Hashemi, and apparently also approached Wikileaks. And of course she participated in the Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran.
So who is really at fault here? The journalists? The conference? (Kill the messengers!) Or the war criminals who rape and dismember children, massacre women and children in drone strikes, and engage in sexual assault against their fellow service members with impunity?
If the US government wants to prosecute the people responsible for Monica Witt’s decision to move to Iran, they should begin by investigating the US military personnel who committed the atrocities she witnessed—the atrocities that traumatized her and forced her to follow her conscience, wherever it may have led her.
 I was witch-hunted in 2006 by State Rep. Steve Nass for “teaching 9/11 conspiracy theories” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But in fact I had never done so, nor had I any plans to do so. While teaching African Studies, Folklore, and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison between 2001 and 2006, I had never once revealed to students my personal views of 9/11, nor did I ever discuss the research that gave rise to those views. None of my students up to that point even knew what my views of 9/11 were, unless they had stumbled upon one of my occasional teach-ins, or read my published work on the issue, which I did not bring into the classroom. Yet Stanley Fish lied brazenly about me in his NYT op-ed, libelously claiming: “Mr. Barrett, who has a one-semester contract to teach a course titled ‘Islam: Religion and Culture’ acknowledged on a radio talk show that he has shared with students his strong conviction that the destruction of the World Trade Center was an inside job perpetrated by the American government.” In fact I neither acknowledged nor did any such thing. I immediately wrote to The New York Timesurging them to correct their libelous error. They refused to do so. Instead, they published several other letters all taking for granted Fish’s outrageous and utterly baseless lie.
 New Horizon is an Iranian NGO dedicated to fostering intellectual exchange among genuinely independent thinkers and activists from all over the world. It has sponsored on average one conference each year, mostly in Tehran, since around 2012.
 The New Horizon NGO had nothing to do with the December 2006 Holocaust Conference in Tehran—a conference whose primary purpose was to defend human rights by challenging the West’s annihilation of free speech and free thought on this important topic.