Conflict & Justice

Top 5 most groundbreaking stories of 2011


A crew chief completes a post flight inspection of a Predator drone on Sept. 15, 2004 at Balad Air Base, Iraq.


Rob Jensen

GlobalPost’s core mission is to fill the void of foreign reporting left by traditional media outlets forced to cut back on their international budgets. With this in mind, GlobalPost correspondents fan out across the globe, often to the farthest corners, to investigate the stories that aren’t being told. Here’s a look at some of the stories we consider to be our most groundbreaking in 2011.

1) Obama’s Hidden War: Drones in Pakistan

GlobalPost correspondent Aamir Latif traveled to North Waziristan, where few other reporters have dared to tread, earlier this year to investigate first-hand the use of unmanned drones by the United States to attack suspected militants.

US President Barack Obama dramatically increased the use of drones in recent years to mixed results. Latif spoke to residents of North Waziristan who said they were so terrorized by the persistent drone attacks that they were finding themselves, for the first time, sympathizing with the militant’s anti-American doctrine — a reality that could potentially reverse any benefits the drones have had.

Latif’s series was followed by a vast in-depth report on the Drone Wars by GlobalPost reporters in Pakistan, the United States, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya, shedding light on a new technology that is likely to change the face of war forever.

2) The Syrian Uprising

GlobalPost correspondents Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand, from their base in Beirut, Lebanon, have produced some of the most insightful coverage of the Syrian conflict to date. Using a team of Syrian reporters inside the country, a team that was assembled when Macleod and Flamand lived and worked in Damascus, they have been at the heart the uprising from the beginning, covering events in protest centers like Daraa, Hama and Homs as well as loyalist enclaves like Aleppo.

They have revealed the leaders in the regime who are behind the violent crackdown and were among the first to meet with the Free Syrian Army, a newly formed group of defected Syrian soldiers that is now waging attacks in an effort to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Macleod and Flamand have also dutifully recounted the shocking human toll the uprising and crackdown has had on ordinary Syrians, a sorrowful reality that looks unlikely to change any time soon.

3) China: Relocation Nation

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Kathleen E. Mclaughlin, who is based in Beijing, set out this year to produce a multimedia project on one of China’s largest infrastructure projects ever, and the devastating effect it will have on millions of ordinary Chinese.

China has begun to relocate more than 3 million people from Shaanxi province as it transforms a stretch of the rural Qinling mountains into a vast urban landscape. But in the country’s headlong drive toward development, many of those being relocated are left to suffer as internal migrants mired in debt, without farmland or any source of income.

Demolition and forced relocation in China have now become the biggest flashpoints for social unrest, a reality that is not lost on the Chinese government, which spends more on domestic security than on its military budget.

4) Buddhists in Arms

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn, who is based in Bangkok, traveled to Thailand’s volatile south this year to investigate a growing Islamic insurgency and the Buddhist armies that have sprung up to defend themselves.

Far from the eyes of the partying tourists farther up the coast, Islamic guerilla fighters are seeking, through a bloody campaign of violence, to carve out a section of southern Thailand and establish the world’s newest Islamic state.

Ethnic Thais have fled the violence en masse. The hardened core that remains have assembled all-Buddhist militias composed of men and women, teens and the elderly. Their temples, a favored target, have become fortresses ringed with sandbags and razor wire.

Now, for the first time since the insurgency’s 2004 renaissance, Thailand’s political leadership is openly uttering a once-forbidden phrase: “special administrative zone,” code for ceding more autonomy to Islamic Thailand. Military officers begrudgingly admit to “peace talks” with the shadowy network that has killed thousands of troops, cops and civilians.

5) War Crimes in Libya

Col. Muammar Gaddafi was not well liked, either by the international community or his own people — a reality made starkly apparent by the months-long civil war waged by a ragtag rebel army, which was sanctioned by the United Nations and aided by the international community.

During the conflict, there was a lot of coverage of the human rights abuses perpetrated by Gaddafi’s forces. But as GlobalPost correspondents Tracey Shelton and James Foley discovered during their months following rebel forces, war crimes were not limited to just the one side.

Perhaps the most-shocking violation came in the final hours of the conflict as the rebel army defeated the last remaining loyalist soldiers holed up in Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. According to firsthand accounts told to Shelton and Foley, who were the first on the scene, rebel forces just outside the city captured Gaddafi as he took cover in a roadside drainpipe.

The former leader was then beaten and spit on as he was dragged from his hiding place to the back of a pickup truck. He would later die of gunshot wounds to his head and chest. Cell phone video from the scene, obtained by Shelton, proved that Gaddafi suffered the wounds at the hands of his rebel captives.

The video also revealed another horrifying violation of human rights — Muammar Gaddafi, as he was dragged through the street, was sodomized with a knife by a rebel fighter. The GlobalPost video is now being used by human rights groups who are investigating abuses on behalf of the rebel army.