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A Marine faces fallout from Arab film

Candor draws superiors' ire; he may leave

WASHINGTON -- For most of the central figures in the Arab-produced documentary film "Control Room," the grisly images that emerged from the US invasion of Iraq last year were no cause for a change of opinion.

Jehane Noujaim, the producer, gives an inside look at the war through the eyes and lenses of Al Jazeera's journalists, based at US Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar. And over the length of her film, the chasm only widens between US military officials who speak about the "liberation" of Iraq and the Al Jazeera reporters skeptical of the invasion.

The exception is a Marine lieutenant named Josh Rushing.

Rushing, who was a Central Command spokesman assigned to escort the documentary makers during their time in Qatar, is among the film's most sympathetic characters. He is portrayed as a thoughtful young man moved over time by the grim reality of war.

At no point is he shown doubting the justness of the US effort in Iraq, yet the film documents a friendship between Rushing and an Al Jazeera reporter, Hassan Ibrahim. There are also moments on camera when Rushing is wrestling with the film's central themes: war, bias and the Arab world's strongest media outlet.

The Marine's role in the film turned him into a minor celebrity among those who saw the film. But the candid comments he made in the documentary and in interviews after its release ran afoul of his superiors in the Marine Corps, which he now reportedly plans to leave.

On camera midway through the film, Rushing spoke of being disturbed that footage Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite television network, had broadcast of civilian Iraqi casualties had not affected him as much as images shown the following night of dead American soldiers.

"It upset me on a profound level that I wasn't bothered as much the night before," Rushing said. "It makes me hate war. But it doesn't make me believe we can live in a world without war yet."

Rushing, now a captain assigned to the Marine Corps Motion Picture and Television Liaison office in Los Angeles, has been prohibited from giving more interviews about his part in the film.

Marine officials at the Pentagon have asked Rushing to keep his wife, Paige, from giving interviews after she made comments critical of how the military handled her husband's situation. Because of this, several friends say the 31-year-old Marine plans to leave the military in October.

Rushing declined to be interviewed for this article. His situation has angered many in the military public affairs community who say Rushing has been a passionate spokesman for the US armed forces and is being punished for appearing in a film that positively portrays Al Jazeera -- a thorn in the side of the Bush administration since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Here's a guy who represents the very best of public affairs in the Marines," said a senior military official who worked with Rushing at Central Command.

"For whatever reason," the official said, "it didn't play well with some of the senior brass in the Marine Corps at Pentagon. They're losing one of their finest."

A 14-year veteran, Rushing enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1990. After serving for nine years, he entered the University of Texas on an ROTC scholarship and earned a dual degree in classics and ancient history. This background, Rushing's friends said, gave him a more nuanced view of the Arab world and of its attitudes about the West.

"It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that's their audience, just like [the Fox News Channel] plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason -- American nationalism -- because that's their demographic audience and that's what they want to see," Rushing says at one point during the documentary.

For their part, Marine officials said their problem was not with what Rushing said in the film, but with comments he made after the film was released and received international attention. Some suggested that he did not understand his role as an officer.

"He did a few interviews that indicated he might not know what his lane is," said Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Kay, deputy director of Marine Corps public affairs at the Pentagon. "He was way too far in the opinion realm."

One of the articles Kay cited appeared in the Village Voice in May. "People don't understand what a complex organization Al Jazeera is," the article quotes Rushing as saying. "They say it's all Islamists, or Ba'athists, or Arab nationalists. You have all that, but you have really progressive voices too. Al Jazeera shows it all. It turns your stomach, and you remember there's something wrong with war."

This is a far different picture of Al Jazeera from the one normally described by top US officials. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has denounced the network from the Pentagon podium, calling it a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda and a vehicle of anti-US propaganda.

Kay argued that because Rushing was no longer posted at Central Command, it was not appropriate for him to give interviews about a project he worked on during his old job.

According to several officers assigned to Central Command during the invasion of Iraq last year, Rushing was directed to help the documentary team making "Control Room" in part because he was lowest in the pecking order of public affairs officers in Doha.

"We thought it was just a school project," said an officer who worked with Rushing at Central Command, who also declined to be named. "And Josh, being the first lieutenant that he was, was assigned to deal with these folks."

In fact, the film has had an effect far exceeding the expectations of the officers at Central Command. Filmed on a shoestring budget and banking $1.7 million domestically since its release in May, "Control Room" presented a look at the Arab world's experiment in breaking free from state-sponsored media.

As for Rushing, friends say the Marine has yet to figure out his plans for life after the military.

"I think it's too bad for the Marines," Noujaim said. "He convinced a lot of skeptical people in the Arab press that there are those in the US military coming from the right place."

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