Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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  • Castro: 'Oswald Could Not Have Been the One Who Killed Kennedy'

    What Cuba's former president thinks really happened in Dallas 50 years ago this week

    According to Castro, Cuban officials recreated the circumstances of Kennedy's shooting after the assassination. "It wasn't possible for one man to do," he says. (Claudia Daut/Reuters)

    Fidel Castro shares at least one belief with the majority of Americans: He is convinced that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was not the work of a lone gunman, but was the culmination of a broad conspiracy. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in Dallas 50 years ago. But Castro suspects that Oswald might not have been involved in the assassination at all. Here is what he told me–to my great surprise–over lunch one day in Havana: “I have reached the conclusion that Oswald could not have been the one who killed Kennedy.” Castro is of course a confident man, but he said this with a degree of surety that was noteworthy.

    I was visiting Havana three years ago at Castro’s invitation. I had just written a cover story for The Atlantic about Israel’s threat to strike militarily at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Castro read the article, and sent me a message through the Cuban Interest Section in Washington: He would like me to come to Cuba as soon as possible in order to discuss my findings with him. I obliged.

    Kennedy was only a peripheral subject of our discussions. Castro, I found, was preoccupied with the threat of nuclear war and proliferation, as one would expect him to be: He was one of the three key players in an episode, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, that nearly brought about the destruction of the planet. John F. Kennedy was his adversary; Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, was his patron. At one point, I mentioned to him the letter he wrote to Khrushchev, at the height of the crisis, in which he asked the Soviets to consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attacked Cuba. "That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense," he wrote. In Havana, I asked him,  “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?" He answered: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it at all.” I expressed relief that Khrushchev ignored his request.

    Castro was also deeply concerned about the level of anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from Tehran, and wanted to communicate his displeasure to then-president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, through an intermediary. (I wrote about Fidel’s views of Iran and Israel here.)

    Jeffrey Goldberg, Celia Guevara, and Fidel Castro at a
    dolphin show in Havana

    I brought with me on this trip a friend named Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba at the Council on Foreign Relations. Julia and I wound up spending the better part of a week with Fidel. (You can read about our trip to watch a dolphin show at the Havana aquarium with Fidel and Che Guevara’s daughter here.) By the time of our meetings with Fidel, he was recovering from a serious illness, and he was already semi-retired. His brother, Raul, was running the country, although I was under the clear impression that nothing important happened in Havana without the assent of Raul’s older brother.

    One afternoon, after a marathon interview session, we gathered for lunch—Castro, his wife Dalia, his son Antonio, a couple of aides, Julia, a translator, and myself—and an expansive Castro told stories of the early days of the revolution, and entertained a series of random questions from us. I knew, from Julia, who has studied Castro for years, that J.F.K. was seldom too far from his thoughts, but our discussion of U.S. policy actually began with other presidents. Castro spoke about a biography of Lincoln he had just read.

    “Is Lincoln the most interesting American to you?” I asked.

    “No,” he said, “but much more than Washington.”

    “Much more than Kennedy?” I asked.

    “Yes,” he said, but unconvincingly. “Kennedy made many mistakes. He was young and dramatic.” Fidel reserved his animus mainly for Robert Kennedy, who was attorney general in his brother’s administration and loathed Fidel and his revolution. It was Robert Kennedy, Fidel believes, who was behind U.S. plots to have him assassinated. But he blames J.F.K. for the invasion, by a ragtag Cuban exile army, of the Bay of Pigs. “Kennedy was humiliated by his defeat at the Bay of Pigs, but all that we did was to protect ourselves.”

    Then Castro began talking about J.F.K.’s assassination. “It is a very sad story,” he said. “It was a very sad day when it happened.” He said he remembered the moment he heard of the shooting. “I won’t forget it. As soon as we heard, we all rushed to the radio to listen.”

    Self-preservation was also on his mind in the days after the assassination. He understood, he said, that he would be blamed for J.F.K.’s death, especially after it was learned that Oswald had vociferously opposed American policy toward Castro’s Cuba. Castro tried hard to communicate to the Americans that he had nothing to do with J.F.K.’s death, and as Philip Shenon reports in his new book, A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination, Fidel even arranged to be interviewed by a Warren Commission staffer on a yacht in the water off Cuba. “Immediately after the assassination, Castro very justifiably worried that he would be blamed, and he was worried that if he were blamed, there would be an American invasion of Cuba,” Shenon told me. But Castro’s denials were credible, Shenon said. Despite the many arguments advanced by conspiracy theorists, he said, “there is no credible evidence that Castro was involved personally in ordering the assassination.”

    Whether Fidel’s agents or sympathizers encouraged Oswald, on a visit to Mexico, to assassinate J.F.K., is another question, one that Shenon explores in his book. “My question is whether people thinking that they were acting in Castro’s best interest might have provided the motivation,” he said. The second question: Whether Oswald believed that killing Kennedy was what Fidel Castro wanted him to do. “In September of 1963, Castro gives an interview to the AP in Havana in which he seems to suggest that Kennedy’s life is at risk: ‘I know the Americans are trying to kill me and if this continues there will be retribution,’ was the message," Shenon said. "This report runs in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Oswald reads the Times-Picayune avidly. Perhaps Oswald said, ‘Ah ha, I’m going to kill Kennedy.’”

    This is what might be called the Jodie Foster theory of the Kennedy assassination: Oswald sought to demonstrate his loyalty to the man he admired above all others, Fidel Castro, by killing the president.

    Fidel told us at lunch—as he would—that none of his associates or officials had anything to do with the assassination, and that the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, which Oswald had visited, denied him permission to visit Cuba, fearing that he was a provocateur.

    I asked Fidel why he thought Oswald could not have acted alone. He proceeded to tell the table a long and discursive story about an experiment he staged, after the assassination, to see if it were possible for a sniper to shoot Kennedy in the manner the assassination was alleged to have happened. “We had trained our people in the mountains during the war”—the Cuban revolution—“on these kind of telescopic sights. So we knew about this kind of shooting. We tried to recreate the circumstances of this shooting, but it wasn’t possible for one man to do. The news I had received is that one man killed Kennedy in his car with a rifle, but I deducted that this story was manufactured to fool people.”

    He said his suspicions grew especially pronounced after Oswald was killed. “There was the story of Jack Ruby, who was said to be so moved by the death of Kennedy that he decided to shoot Oswald on his own. That was just unbelievable to us.”

    I then asked Castro to tell us what he believes actually happened. I brought up the name of his friend, Oliver Stone, who suggested that it was the CIA and a group of anti-Castro Cubans (I used the term “anti-you Cubans” to describe these forces aligned against Castro) that plotted the assassination.

    “Quite possibly,” he said. “This is quite possibly so. There were people in the American government who thought Kennedy was a traitor because he didn’t invade Cuba when he had the chance, when they were asking him. He was never forgiven for that.”

    So that’s what you think might have happened?

    “No doubt about it,” Fidel answered.

    We talked a bit more about Kennedy and his legacy. He told us about his many subsequent contacts with members of Kennedy’s family, including with Maria Shriver. “She’s the one who married Schwarzenegger,” he said. “The world is a very small place.”

    We turned to other subjects, but Fidel came back to Kennedy once more, the next day, when he said to me, apropos of nothing, “Kennedy was very young.”

    I later asked Julia Sweig what this might have meant. For Castro, she said, Kennedy may forever stand for something out of reach. “He’ll never know what would have happened had J.F.K. lived. He may have reserved for Kennedy in his own mind the possibility of greatness. It’s completely fascinating and frustrating to him.”

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  • Signing Off

    I'm not going to rehearse the manifold victories of Goldblog, or wallow in its setbacks.

    So, for whatever reason (psychological, I have to assume), I haven't formally signed-off from Goldblog, after threatening to do so for more than a month. But here goes -- this is it, halas, the end. Dayeinu, in other words. At least for now. I will continue to file stories for The Atlantic (the one and only original print magazine), but I will be found digitally at Bloomberg View (and, as ever, on Twitter, at @jeffreygoldberg).

    It's been five years since I decided to start this experiment in unfiltered Goldbloggery, and I've only regretted my decision a couple of dozen times. I've made mistakes along the way (or should I say, mistakes were made along the way), but overall, I have to say that this was a thrilling experience, due mainly to my wonderful colleagues, and to a large cohort of  wonderful readers (including those who e-mailed every week with withering criticism, but not including those readers who are actual Nazis, or Hamas members).

    I'm not going to rehearse the manifold victories of Goldblog, or wallow in its setbacks. I think it would be best simply to thank the many people at The Atlantic who made this possible, starting with David Bradley, the proprietor, who always, and very charmingly, said he read every word I posted (which explains why he now knows the names of so many utterly obscure rabbis); James Bennet, the editor-in-chief (and pre-Atlantic friend of Goldblog), who originally cooked-up this idea; Scott Stossel, my long-suffering story editor, and the editor of the magazine; Bob Cohn, the maestro of Atlantic Digital, who brought our traffic up from 2 to 25 million (I don't mean two million -- I mean, literally, two); John Gould, the deputy editor, and my fellow zombie-obsesser; Betsy Ebersole and Clarissa Rappoport-Hankins, who had to explain to me over and over again which button on Movable Type did what; past interns and assistant editors, including Josh Miller; Justin Miller; Steve Miller and his band; Elizabeth Weingarten, and many others; and of course Jim Fallows and Ta-Nehisi Coates and all of my fellow bloggers, who proved that you could build a disputatious but civilized community on the Web. Jim and Ta-Nehisi in particular made this an experience worth experiencing. (And to paraphrase Jim one more time, there's something you can do to keep The Atlantic vibrant and strong, which is to subscribe!)  

    And so, farewell, and thank you.    

  • If You're in Washington, D.C., on May 28 and Think About the Future of Israel ...

    Come to our panel!

    ... Then come to an Atlantic-sponsored discussion at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue about Israeli democracy, demographics and, also, everything else. The panelists will be Ari Shavit, Israel's leading columnist and the author of the forthcoming My Promised Land (which I have read in galleys, and which I guarantee you, you will want to read, too), along with Goldblog. Moderating the discussion will be Akiba Hebrew Academy graduate and CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper. You can find more information about the event right here. We promise that it will be very exciting.

  • Just What Makes Goldblog a Middle East Expert, Anyway?

    A look at the archival evidence

    Since I announced that Goldblog would be coming to an end, I've received many e-mails from longtime readers who have expressed various kind thoughts about the blog, and about my efforts here. I also appreciate, grudgingly, the criticism directed my way, except for the criticism from Nazis, Hamas apologists, and Hebron settlers. I've also received many questions from readers about issues they felt I'm leaving unaddressed, and I'll try to answer a couple of those questions before my final post in this space, later this week.

    One question that came to me, from a hostile reader, was this: "Just what do you think makes you qualified to comment on Middle East affairs?"

    It is a legitimate question to ask, but as luck would have it, I have an answer. Thanks to the assiduous archiving of family documents by Goldblog's mother, I have recently discovered written proof that my studies of the Middle East date back several decades, and were quite rigorous, even in my youth. The document in question is a report card from my Hebrew School confirmation class, which I attended in 1979 and 1980.
     
    The synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, on the South Shore of Long Island, is one of the leading temples of the Reform movement (it is now known as as Temple Am Echad, following a merger with another local temple); the rabbi, who is mentioned in the report, was Harold Saperstein, who is generally regarded as one of the giants of 20th century Reform Judaism. Though this transcript contains one troubling note (which I will discuss below), I think this will help Goldblog readers understand why I'm uniquely qualified to comment on Middle East politics:

    Goldberg-Report-Card.jpg

    Overall, I did very well, I think. I was absent very few times, I would note, though I clearly wasn't the most enthusiastic service-goer. Surprisingly, my worst grade came in the class called, "What is the P.L.O.?" Also a surprise: That Temple Emanu-El taught a class called "What is the P.L.O.?"

    My children now attend Hebrew school, and I'm pretty sure they are not studying the history of the  P.L.O. I'm not actually sure what they're studying, but this is a subject for a different discussion.

    UPDATE: A number of supporters of the Hebron settlers wrote me to complain that I'm equating their friends with Nazis and Hamas apologists. I'm not. I'm simply saying that they send really execrable hate mail.   

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  • Is This the End of Goldblog?

    Watch this space for further developments.

    Some home news: In the all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end department (and, for those of you non-fans out there, in the all-bad-things-must-come-to-an-end department), Goldblog is going away. Not today, but shortly. I've decided to spend more time focusing on my column at Bloomberg View. I've found it difficult to divide my online work between The Atlantic and Bloomberg View, and this seemed like an obvious way to bring some clarity and order to my life.

    The good news (or, again, bad news, depending on where you sit) is that Atlantic readers will still have me to kick around. I'm going to continue to write stories for The Atlantic itself (for the big enchilada, the print magazine), which makes me very happy, because I've been so proud to be affiliated with this magazine, which is one of history's all-time greats. TheAtlantic.com is also wonderful, though not yet one of history's all-time greats, because it's like 10 minutes old.

    Anyway, when I started-up Goldblog (I'm not sure who gave it that name -- it might have been me, or Andrew Sullivan, or the Knesset), shortly after the end of the Civil War, I never thought I would have the energy to keep it going for as long as I have. Several thousand posts later, here we are. Watch this space for further developments. I'm not disappearing yet. Later, I'll thank my editors, lawyers, agents, and especially the people who have explained to me 600 times how to post pictures in this space.

  • Do You Really Need a Silencer to Kill a Deer?

    Silencers have their legitimate uses. But hunting Osama bin Laden is one thing; hunting "varmints" is another.

    As Goldblog readers know, I believe, quite strongly, that Americans have the right to defend themselves with arms, provided that the aforementioned Americans are screened, vetted and trained by the appropriate authorities. What I'm not for is handing out silencers to gun owners. I missed this Mother Jones piece when it came out, but I think it is worth noting, as frequently as possible, that the silencer industry -- yes, there is a silencer industry -- is trying to loosen the laws that restrict sales of their product:

    In 2011, frustrated by the silencer's image problem, (Silencerco CEO Josh) Waldron, along with Advanced Armament Corp., Gemtech, and other silencer manufacturers helped founded the American Silencer Association. Their goal, Waldron told me, was "to get more people and legislators to understand that silencers are actually safety devices and not what everybody thinks they are because of Hollywood."

    The ASA and the NRA, which receives financial support from Waldron's Silencerco, are pressuring state legislatures to ease up and let people own and use silencers for hunting. Several states have obliged recently, including Wyoming, and Montana and Georgia are in the pipeline, too. The NRA touts the health benefits of sparing hunters' hearing. It also plays the Roosevelt "varmint hunting" card, arguing that silencers enable ranchers to kill rodents without scaring the livestock.

    Silencers have their legitimate uses. I would never want to tell SEAL Team 6, or some other special-forces unit, that they could not use devices that suppress the noise made by their weapons. But hunting Osama bin Laden is one thing; hunting "varmints" is another. Silencers, in civilian life, have an important purpose -- to help criminals commit violent crimes without drawing too much attention to themselves. A person defending his or her home from a violent criminal does not need a silencer. Quite the opposite -- the sound of a racked shotgun (as Joe Biden will attest) is often enough to scare an intruder out of your house, without a shot being fired.

    It is true that guns are loud, and that hunters who don't wear ear protection may eventually damage their hearing. The solution is to wear ear protection. No silencer needed. It is also true that livestock can be scared by sudden sounds. But as a person who worked in a big dairy operation for a time, I can tell you that everything scares livestock. And what are the consequences of scaring livestock? Not much. They usually just calm down.

    The campaign to broaden the market for silencers is just another example of needless extremism among some gun advocates, and some manufacturers (obviously, the manufacturers are motivated by money, more than ideology). For more on this sort of extremism -- extremism that gives responsible gun owners and manufacturers a bad name -- please read this National Journal piece by Ron Fournier, who outlines the lies and exaggerations of the gun lobby, and then argues that its tactics "undermine reasonable efforts to protect gun rights:"

    It is understandable that many Americans don't trust the federal government, especially when the White House is controlled by a Democrat. Some members of Obama's party are virulently antigun.

    But rather than serve pro-gun Americans, the gun lobby and its GOP co-conspirators are exploiting their fears. If they overreach and lose credibility with the public, their actions today may be more threatening to the Second Amendment than anything Democrats want to do.
  • Remembering Michael Kelly

    I miss Michael a lot, not least because he was one of the few funny people in Washington, but also because I miss what he would have written over the past ten years.

    Today marks the tenth anniversary of Michael Kelly's death in Iraq. Michael was once the editor of this magazine, which he shaped in lasting ways (Here's a very good obituary from Jack Shafer).

    The day doesn't feel much different than any other day without Michael, but I thought it would be worth noting today, for the sake of people who didn't know him, that he is missed very much. Like Jim Fallows, and everyone else who knew Michael, I won't ever forget the moment I learned of his death. I was in northern Iraq; a group of us had just returned from covering an operation Michael would surely have liked to cover -- U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish guerillas -- the peshmerga -- had just routed an Islamist terror cell near the Iranian border -- when Chris Chivers, of The Times, got the news somehow that Michael had died several hours earlier, outside of Baghdad. He passed the news on to me, and I called my editor at the time, David Remnick, to confirm. From David's voice, I knew that it was true. Our whole gang of reporters in Sulaymania was shell-shocked. So was everyone else.

    I miss Michael a lot, not least because he was one of the few funny people in Washington, but also because I miss what he would have written over the past ten years. It's a bit of parlor game to guess what Michael might have made of the aftermath of the Iraq war (and of everything else to come). I tend to think he would have turned on the Bush Administration for its incompetence and negligence (I have a feeling Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, would have been the unhappy, and deserving, recipient, of Michael's righteous anger), but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have repudiated his support for the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein. He hated Saddam, and what he did to the people of Iraq, too much, to disavow his overthow.  Here's one passage from Michael, written in February of 2003, shortly before the invasion was launched, that helped shape my thinking on this:

    I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, over-muscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

    We'll never know what he would have thought, of course, and we, his friends and loyal readers (including those readers he regularly drove mad), are the poorer for it. HIs sons, who were so young when he died, should know, and should be told regularly, that their father is a hero to many, many people.

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