Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mr. Reagan Would Not Have Dismissed the Story of the Dolphins 

Zemblan patriot M.F. forwards an article from an obscure Manhattan tip sheet, the Wall Street Journal, about former White House interpreter Frederick Burks, who, much to his credit, uses his real name and has no known history of prostitution. However:
Frederick Burks believes in UFOs, communes with dolphins, runs a Web site that promotes conspiracy theories about U.S. complicity in the 9/11 attacks and thinks Washington may have had a hand in blowing up bars on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

And, until last October, he had the ear of the world's most powerful man: The 46-year-old California resident worked as an interpreter for George W. Bush in the president's dealings with the leader of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Now Mr. Burks has popped up in Jakarta as a star witness for the defense in the terrorism trial of a fundamentalist Islamic cleric. "He has some anger but he's a nice old man," says Mr. Burks of Abu Bakar Baasyir, the 68-year-old preacher the U.S. believes was behind the 2002 Bali bombings. The cleric is also believed by the U.S. to be the leader of a regional terrorist network linked to al Qaeda, but he strongly denies that and, in an earlier trial in 2003, an Indonesian court cleared him of directing a terrorist outfit . . . .

Speaking to the Jakarta court in fluent Indonesian, Mr. Burks described a secret 2002 meeting between a U.S. presidential envoy and Indonesia's then president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. He said the American had demanded that Ms. Megawati secretly detain Mr. Baasyir and then hand him over to the U.S. This demand preceded the Bali bombings and, says Mr. Burks, shows that the U.S. had it in for Mr. Baasyir even before his alleged crimes and suggests a frame-up . . . .

Worried that Mr. Burks's testimony might upend Indonesia's most high-profile terrorism case, the prosecution has sought to undermine the American's credibility as a witness and grilled him in court about drug use and oddball writings rhapsodizing about a dead dolphin. (A previous attempt to prosecute the cleric fizzled: the only charge that stuck involved immigration violations.) Mr. Burks, who grew up in New Jersey and California, says he has experimented on occasion with ecstasy and peyote as part of his "spiritual journey."

"I was in disbelief that this guy was an interpreter for the president of the United States," said prosecutor Salman Maryadi after the hearing. "Considering his condition, how could he interpret for the leader of the world's sole superpower?"

Mr. Burks, a former high-school math star whose friends called him "Freddy Whiz-o," says he never hid his views or enthusiasms. He says he had a mandatory, low-level security clearance, mainly a testament that he didn't have a police record, but declined to sign a confidentiality pledge. He says he also balked at filling in lengthy forms required to get secret clearance because he'd have had to confess to having twice taken ecstasy. "I couldn't lie," says Mr. Burks . . . .

When President Bush traveled to Bali for a meeting with President Megawati in October 2003, the State Department had another interpreter lined up, but the White House insisted on having Mr. Burks. Ms. Brooks, then the National Security Council's Indonesia expert, says she personally requested that he get the job because he was so good and "Megawati loved him."

On the morning the two presidents met, Mr. Burks took an early morning jog on the beach and came across a dead dolphin, an encounter he later described in an e-mail he sent to friends and colleagues. He says he knelt down and "opened to the spirit of this dead dolphin" and "felt its presence with me...and the joyful presence of the entire school of living dolphins." Their "loving presence," he says, penetrated the traveling White House in Bali and made senior U.S. officials act in a strangely friendly way. The White House declined to comment on that.
Of course, a profound appreciation of dolphin spirituality never threatened Peggy Noonan's popularity at the White House (nor, we might add, her sinecure as a contributing editor of the Wall Street Journal), so we knew there had to be another, more compelling reason why Mr. Burks had not worked for the Bush administration since October of last year.

Upon reflection, we fear that we have met that reason, and it is . . . us.

Imagine our mortification when we remembered the item we ran shortly after the second debate, on Monday, Oct. 11, when the President's mysterious back-lump (eerily reminiscent of the gelatinous, brainjacking alien parasites in Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters) was much in the news. That item was entitled "The Wire That Inspires," and the bulk of the text came (since, as the Bible tells us, it is easier to cut-and-paste than it is to write) from an e-mail Mr. Burks sent to Bob Fertik:
During those 90 minutes, President Bush not only covered all the points, he covered them quite well and without any notes! Not once during the entire meeting did he look at any notes or receive cues from anyone present in discussing the Indonesian political situation with depth and intelligence. I was astonished! "How could this be?" I asked myself. It was a huge surprise. I concluded either that Bush was much more intelligent than we had been led to believe, or that somehow someone was feeding answers to him through a hidden earpiece. At the time, I really didn't know which of these was true.

Having worked directly with President Bush twice since then, and having additionally talked with many of my fellow interpreters who have worked directly with him, I am now certain that he could not have had that much knowledge of Indonesia. He doesn't even read the daily newspaper to keep up with what's being reported in the press. I am convinced that he must have been using some sort of earpiece through which someone was telling him what to say.
We offer our belated but sincere apologies to Mr. Burks for our part, however small, in scuttling what was no doubt a lucrative gig. There is, however, some consolation to be had from the thought that we were, at the very least, tactful enough to omit the closing paragraph of his e-mail:
Politics is not a pretty business. I have many stories from my experiences interpreting at international conferences and secret meetings attended only our leaders and their interpreters. I have seen a number of our world's leaders (not just Americans) acting like high school boys playing power games. But for now, I just wanted to confirm my own strong belief that President Bush is often fed what he is supposed to say at important events. Though he can truly be a friendly guy, I have not found him to be particularly bright or competent. To be fair, I must admit that I tend to be of a more liberal persuasion, but I thought you all would appreciate knowing some of what goes on behind the scenes. You take care and have a great day!

With best wishes, Fred

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us