I've been thinking . . .

"A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity."    

Franz Kafka

"The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through--not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can't be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible."

John Steinbeck

On The Good Old Days

I've been thinking lately of a Toronto Star editor, a memory that gives me strength.

If there was that kind of conviction then, maybe it could come again.

It was 1993 and a U.S.-led hunt was heating up for Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed, a fugitive after his militia attacked and killed 24 Pakistani troops in the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Like any of the dwindling number of foreign journalists still in Mogadishu as the street war escalated, I wanted to interview the person we were now gleefully calling The World's Most Wanted Man.

Two British journalists, war reporters who taught me by example that you go all in or go home, let me in on a secret. They were writing a letter to Aideed asking for a meeting in hiding. 

I'm certain one was Sam Kiley, a Times of London correspondent who talked and looked like a Marine but always led the charge when we came in from the streets to hear the military's fantasies each afternoon at the U.S. Embassy compound.

if I remember right, the other was Mark Huband, a less bellicose, but equally brave, correspondent  for The Financial Times and The Guardian.

They kindly offered to let me in on the secret pitch to Aideed. I only had to sign the letter. 

Easy enough. It felt very good, in fact. Kiley and Huband took care of the hard part: getting the letter to Aideed.

They went to the best possible intermediary, the man used for years by the CIA or anyone else eager to get close to Aideed. They contacted a wealthy bagman, gun runner and who knows what else named Osman Hassan Ali Atto.

I soon knew for certain he got the letter. It was in Atto's pocket when U.S. Special Forces rappelled down ropes from hovering Blackhawk helicopters and snatched him, hoping to tighten the noose around Aideed.

Atto, we were told at the military briefing later, was flown to a remote island and held captive as the unravelling U.S.-led mission to arrest Aideed pressed on.

Paul Warnick, the Toronto Star's foreign editor, quickly got a phone call from the U.S. State Department. Warnick, a former U.S. Marine who would also work for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for the troops, was described in his 2011 obituary as "a gentle guy in a gruff business."

He always had my back, which is all I cared about. But I also liked him.

He wasn't much of a chatterer during business hours, so when he called me in Mogadishu, I sensed trouble.

He told me he had just got a call "from some guy at Foggy Bottom." Says your name was on a letter asking Aideed for an interview?

It seems the State Drpartment official was quite worked about it. By Warnick's description, he sounded like an apoplectic parent who'd found pot in his teen's sock drawer.

I was afraid the next sentence was going to be the order to get out. I will never forget Paul Warnick for what he said instead:

"I told him to fuck off. And I hung up the phone."

I miss that editor, that friend, now more than ever.