Hey Reddit. Clayton Swisher will be here shortly to answer your questions.

Swisher, manager of investigative journalism at the Al Jazeera Media Network, was in Ramallah as the body of Arafat was exhumed.

In 2012, he produced and reported the exclusive documentary film "What Killed Arafat?", the result of a 9-month investigation that revealed the presence of radioactive polonium in the late Palestinian leader's personal belongings.

He also delivered the 2011 scoop known as the "Palestine Papers", the largest public disclosure of confidential negotiating records in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Prior to his current position, Swisher served as a Doha-based field reporter, covering the 2008 Presidential elections, the war in Afghanistan, ethnic strife in Kyrgyzstan, and the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

He is the author of The Palestine Papers and The Truth About Camp David.

Follow him on Twitter: @clayswisher

Comments: 512 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

The_Mephisto43 karma

Half-palestinian here: First of all I want to say that I'm a big fan!

Inside the pro-palestinian camp there is a lot of discussion about the role of the PA. Many see it as Israels subcontractors inside the west-bank. Do you think the "Palestine Papers" support this analysis? And do you think it is possible that some people from the PA killed Yasser Arafat?

ClaytonSwisherAJE61 karma

My views on the Palestine Papers can be found here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Palestine-Papers-Politics-Clayton-Swisher/dp/1843913534

As for your point whether a Palestinian could have been involved in killing Arafat, were he murdered: why not? An Israeli killed Rabin. An Egyptian killed Sadat. It's not exactly unheard of in this part of the world.

NinjaDiscoJesus35 karma

What will be the possible ramifications if it turns out to be true?

ClaytonSwisherAJE42 karma

Interestingly, Arafat's nephew, Amb. Nasser Qudwa, who opposed the exhumation and autopsy at the time of Arafat's death, said to the Wall Street Journal the following: "it would desecrate Arafat's corpse and could stoke violence and unrest if tests came up positive for polonium..." This seems to me a strange reason to oppose an opportunity to know the truth, but as a family member, it's obviously his right.
Worth noting that many in the PA felt that in 2004 if they knew/proved Arafat was poisoned that it would "end the 2-state solution" as no self-respecting Palestinian official could sit opposite an Israeli official who may have had a hand in killing their iconic hero. I'm not so sure that's the reason. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324469304578144552635184968.html There may also be implications regarding the involvement of the French judicial authorities, who initiated a Murder Inquiry based in part on the discoveries made in our film "What Killed Arafat?". For example, should Arafat's death be later ruled a homicide, the French may seek to question various officials from Israel/Palestine and elsewhere which could make some uncomfortable to say the least.

PFunkus20 karma

How did you get started with investigative journalism? Any advice for someone interested in the field and Al Jazeera?

ClaytonSwisherAJE114 karma

I began as a federal criminal investigator and bodyguard with the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (99-02'). I was also a basic military policeman in the Marine Corps (95-99) so from an early age I learned investigative techniques. I decided my time was better well spent in journalism when I saw the US reaction to the 9/11 attacks. The public swallowed whole the Bush Administration's lines about WMD in Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda. I still hold certain journalists responsible for cheerleading the deaths of so many innocents--all based on false information and ideology. We need more reporters unafraid of facts; journalists willing to speak truth to power rather than shmoozers seeking Christmas party invites.

ben_chowd18 karma

Is there any truth to the Israeli claim that Arafat was a billionaire and his wife spent millions of dollars?

Also, as the two-state solution seems to be on its death bed, do you see the inevitability of the 'one-state solution' and collapse of Palestinian Authority? Are more people talking about the idea of a binational state with everyone receiving equal rights and ability to vote?

ClaytonSwisherAJE9 karma

The Palestinian National Fund, which Arafat controlled, had a lot of cash (not sure BILLIONS) and a Financial investigation into Mrs. Arafat's alleged BILLIONS never led to any charges whatsoever. I have never as a journalist witnessed a more successful smear campaign against two people. 1) The narrative that Arafat rejected a generous Camp David offer in 2000 and created all the violence we see today. 2) That Gaza would be a cash-flush paradise of sunshine and lollipops were it not for the shopping indulgencies of Suha Arafat with aid money destined for Palestinian kids. Check out this scholarly report on the coverage of Arafat's death and the misogynistic attacks against Mrs. Arafat: http://cim.anadolu.edu.tr/pdf/2006/Hassencahl.pdf

anotherpinner17 karma

What are your thoughts on Switzerland's Institut de Radiophysique's statement that "clinical symptoms described in Arafat's medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210"?

ClaytonSwisherAJE20 karma

I think they're fiercely adhering to the facts. Arafat presented SOME but NOT ALL of the clinical features one would suspect. Having said that, there are only 6 cases in recorded history of Polonium 210 poisoning in humans, and the Swiss state the symptomology isn't guaranteed. For example, cancer patients under going chemo don't always lose their hair! Also, the French looked very hard for Radiation, showing they didn't discount its presence. But they tested for GAMMA radiation only---Polonium is an ALPHA emitting radionuclide. No one thought to test for it until Litvenenko's death in 2006. Watch the film.

herecomesnessie16 karma

While Al Jazeera is amazing for most news, if you're looking for news on the Arab-Israeli conflict I implore of you that you do NOT go to Al-Jazeera. They are one of the most blatantly biased news sources in the world. While I realize that Israel is to blame for a lot of things, I have not seen anything but negativity towards Israel. Al-Jazeera treats the conflict as being completely one sided, and that is not good journalism. Again though, I believe their reporting on the U.S election was second to none, but it's this one particular issue that seems to be a problem for them.

ClaytonSwisherAJE24 karma

Fact: More Israelis turn to Al Jazeera English than CNN International.

Fact: Al Jazeera Arabic was the first major broadcaster in the Arab world to utter those words "Israel" when it first went live in 1996.

You should check with more Israelis before speaking, even our critics!

thombudsman13 karma

Why did you start your investigation into Arafat's death?

ClaytonSwisherAJE21 karma

Following our 2011 scoop "The Palestine Papers", a mutual friend of Suha Arafat suggested I might want to meet the former First Lady. I learned from Mrs. Arafat that she had the personal diaries of her late husband dating to the Lebanon Civil War. I was incredibly interested, given my historical study of Arafat (see "The Truth About Camp David"), but when I met her in Malta one year ago I found her unwilling to share those items. She did let me study and review her late husband's entire medical file from the Percy Military Hospital, including some 600 pages + MRI's, XRAY's. It seemed to me that a good story lay therein, particularly as the French reported no "known cause of death"--an odd conclusion given all the experts who surrounded him in his final weeks of life. But I also realized I'd need a LOT of expert help (as well as translators) to make any dent at understanding what the file meant. In the end, it wasn't the medical files that proved valuable but the green gym bag Mrs. Arafat gave Al Jazeera containing Yasser Arafat's personal effects taken with him to France. The discovery of radioactive Polonium in biological stains contained inside obviously changed everything.

Rumicon12 karma

So we can conclusively say that Arafat didn't have AIDS? Glad we can get rid of that nasty bit of slander.

ClaytonSwisherAJE6 karma

Arafat DID NOT HAVE AIDS. 4 Tests were done by French alone; all negative. Tunisian doctors also ruled it out. Nor Arafat he have the HIV symptoms NOR did any of the doctors practice barrier nursing. See 21:50'' forward in our film "What Killed Arafat?" The "Arafat had AIDS" smear is Israeli propaganda. Sadly, some Palestinian officials at the time may have believed it, causing them to fear an autopsy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBT7o0piZ8E

thombudsman4 karma

Where were the stains? And who discovered the polonium there?

ClaytonSwisherAJE4 karma

Four primary areas, discovered by the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland. Shouts out to IRA Chief Prof. Francois Bochud and the technician on duty who made the find, Dr. Pascal Froidevaux.
1) Urine Stain in a pair of Arafat's underwear (he must have worn on the trip their or prior to check in at Percy on 10/29/04 as he was in a hospital gown thereafter). This stain had the highest concentration. 2) Blood stain taken from hospital cap removed from his corpse and placed in a black plastic bag after his body sent to the morgue. 3) Toothbrush. 4) Sweat stained collar of his jumper, among others...

grundlehunter11 karma

What exactly was the ratio of polonium to lead 204?

ClaytonSwisherAJE6 karma

beyond my competency

thombudsman3 karma

Could you describe the timeline and chain of custody regarding that bag?

ClaytonSwisherAJE4 karma

Mrs. Arafat stated the bag was in the care and secure custody of her personal attorney during the past 8 years in Paris until I collected it in February from her. It was under watch and lock from the time I received it in early February until I took it by train to Lausanne to turn it over to the laboratory. Admittedly, it wasn't a perfect chain of custody. While I didn't notice any spooks breaking into my hotel room to dab Polonium in the bag, that's not to say it is entirely impossible (just highly improbable!). Now that the French, Swiss, and Russians have all witnessed Arafat's exhumation, the proper chain of custody for entrance as evidence in court has hopefully been established (no idea until now how the French/Swiss/Russians got the samples out of the country through Israeli checkpoints; it's possible they all used diplomatic pouch).

Angstweevil12 karma

What's the best investigative piece you have ever done about the government of Qatar?

We're you nervous?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

With a population of 200,000, what do you think is so pressing and scandalous in Qatar that I've missed? Other colleagues have covered stories here from the jailed Poet to conditions in labor camps. I think over all we've done a proportional job. When I did the Palestine Papers, where Qatar was mentioned, I faced no interference when publishing segments potentially embarrassing to its Emir.

JonCantTweet12 karma


ClaytonSwisherAJE63 karma

Some people will never be convinced of compelling evidence no matter what you say or show them. Their minds are sealed, so save your energy. Don't also engage people who believe the moon is made of Swiss cheese. As Jay Z said, "A wise man said not to argue with fools..."

ivandelapena9 karma

Al Jazeera has risen quickly since it begun. What do you think separates Al Jazeera from other media outlets and why has it been so successful?

ClaytonSwisherAJE17 karma

Not trying to spike the ball, but I believe Al Jazeera has some of the best field reporting available. Checks us out and make your own mind. aljazeera.com

makemesometea19 karma

I've been watching AJE for years now. It is indeed fantastic reporting, among the best in the world. A bit off-topic, but it's also interesting and enlightening to see reporting on U.S. issues from a completely neutral perspective. Thank you for all that you guys do!

ClaytonSwisherAJE6 karma

you're welcome!

busting_bravo9 karma

How would you rate the following in terms of bias, from least biased to most biased:

  • Fox News
  • Al Jazeera
  • CNN
  • BBC
  • Haaretz
  • Pravda
  • Washington Post
  • NY Times

ClaytonSwisherAJE16 karma

To quote Jon Bon Jovi, "It's all the same, only the names have changed." (slightly kidding)

busting_bravo12 karma

Nice dodge...

Follow up question then: How do we, the media consuming public, best counter/handle/react to/deal with/whatever bias in all it's forms of journalism?

ClaytonSwisherAJE52 karma

Drink as many different varieties of KoolAid as possible and do your own research. What's happening in the world has profound consequences on our lives and collective security. Some would prefer the masses stay content with Amber alerts and political scandals...whatever drives ratings or makes sales, I guess.

Josephat4 karma

How about other foreign news sources/papers? Who do you respect?

ClaytonSwisherAJE11 karma

I really enjoy the Guardian and the Nation. NYRB good too.

ClaytonSwisherAJE7 karma

Gonna rack out folks, it's almost midnight here in Qatar. I'll check back in tomorrow with your excellent questions. So long!

ben_chowd7 karma

Will Israel face any repercussions for targeting journalists during Operation Pillar of Cloud?

The issue was hardly covered in Western press. I assumed that ANY journalist would have been concerned about such an issue.

Excellent AMA by the way. Thanks for doing this! Don't worry, you'll soon overtake the AMA of the locksmith

ClaytonSwisherAJE11 karma

Watch this awesome interview between my colleague Darren Jordan with Israeli Spokesman turned classifier of who is journalist or terrorist @MarkRegevPMO


Palestine_BraveBalls6 karma

Given that is been a year since your initial investigation, is there any chance the polonium could have degraded to undetectable levels? If he was in fact poisoned, will we know for certain?

Thank you for putting so much time and effort into this, my family and I loved the documentary.

ClaytonSwisherAJE3 karma

Thanks for this post. There is a chance the Polonium has blended into background levels, meaning we won't know if there is reactor-made Polonium (indicating poisoning) or not. When we interviewed the Swiss in June, they said there was a greater than 50 percent chance of finding Polonium in Arafat's bones, but added (my own emphasis) "WE HAVE TO MOVE FAST BECAUSE POLONIUM IS DECAYING". 147 days passed from our broadcast on 3 July until the French launched an investigation and convinced the PA to open Arafat's grave on 27 November 2012. I guess we'll know the results (positive/negative/inconclusive) in a further 3-4 months time, according to the Swiss.

[deleted]5 karma

I love how my borderline extremist pro-palestine collegues are like "Don't watch Al-Jazeera it's a zionist conspiracy".

And my borderline extremist pro-israel collegues are like "Don't watch Al-Jazeera it's nothing but anti-semetic".

If anything - that must be a good measure that Al-Jazeera is being fairly even-handed and objective on Middle East matters.

Just my 2 cents, and keep up the great work.

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

Hahahaha yes, that's a familiar effect. Thank you

jisa5 karma

Even if Arafat tests positive for polonium, that would still be insufficient to conclude that Israel was responsible. Turkish sources are reporting that polonium was one of four poisons found in the remains of former Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who died in office in 1993.(Other three poisons being DDT, cadmium, and americium.) Israel had no reason to poison Ozal-Israel/Turkey relations were strong under his rule. If Ozal was actually poisoned with polonium, it demonstrates that there are other actors in the region with access to polonium and a willingness to kill with it.

Has Al Jazeera looked in to the allegations of Ozal being poisoned? Are there any suspects, and did these suspects have reasons to kill Arafat or have ties to those who would have such reasons?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

I was fascinated with the Ozal toxicology report, issued on the day before Arafat's exhumation. We are still studying it and learning more.

ClaytonSwisherAJE4 karma

Shwarma for sure. Though I love a good falafel with Shatta from Palestine. AJA & AJE are brother and sister. Don't ask me to identify gender. The synergy is great and the editorial reach and resources we give each other unrivaled.

kodos964 karma

Are there any ideological litmus tests for working at Al-Jazeera? Were you asked your opinion on Israel/Palestine for instance during your hiring process?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

No litmus tests. But if you worship at the journalistic alter of Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck-style journalism you'd probably never submit your CV in the first place.

syakazza3 karma

I'm a journalism student and I'm really interested in knowing how working in the journalism field affects your family life? Numerous proffesors have told me that it is extremely hard to have a stable family life while being a good and active journalist, is this true?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

Balance in life is always critical. You have to make time for family while at the same time they have to accept your travels and frequent absences, not unlike families of a soldier or first responder. The more adventurous assignments and hardships are best done early in life, and without children, but at the same time you may also be too inexperienced to add value in reporting and no one likes war tourism. I guess its a judgment call best left to your editors and own intuition.

thombudsman3 karma

What advice do you have for young investigative journalists?

ClaytonSwisherAJE6 karma

Build your personal and professional contacts. Nurture them. Write, write, and write more. And if you're in TV like me, study pictures with the best of them and find a mentor whose journalism you admire.

stankaholic3 karma

How do you foresee the future of journalism, especially re: the decline of print media and shrinking profits of news orgs. Is investigative journalism doomed? And if not, how does it survive?

ClaytonSwisherAJE1 karma

Must, Must, Must read on this subject, which I have an intellectual fascination with: http://www.amazon.com/Will-Last-Reporter-Please-Lights/dp/1595585486

See the chapter on the future necessity for publicly funded journalism

palaeastur3 karma

did you always want to be a journalist, or did you dream/aspire to something completely different when you were younger ( ie. teenage years )?

ClaytonSwisherAJE3 karma

I was always a news junky and wanted to become a journalist but my grades in high school suggested I temper my enthusiasm. My High School guidance counselor suggested Ship Building school (with no disrespect to those who build ships--thanks for your confidence Mrs. Holden!). The Marine Corps helped me straighten out my act and get some discipline (and ultimately to get accepted into university--Go Pitt!). I studied criminal justice as I wanted to be a federal agent following my Marine Corps tour. While I enjoyed being a special agent and learned a lot, I think reporting for the public, rather than a prosecutor, is far more satisfying. RE: what to study, I don't think a journalism degree is all that valuable. History, Political Science, Religious Studies, Writing Degrees, all more useful IMHO.

Quaffit3 karma

What in your opinion is the best impartial summary of the reasons for the current political situation with regards Israel and the region?

ClaytonSwisherAJE9 karma

Impartiality when covering this conflict is fiction, as it normally means giving equal time and attention to the narratives put forward by both sides, even if they're illogical, without justice, or lack common sense. I revert to my earlier about getting lots of different Kool Aids, I'd recommend you read everyone from Israeli rightist Benny Morris to Israeli leftist Akiva Eldar and of course on the Palestinian side Ali Abunimah @aliabunimah Ben White @benabyd and Youssef Mounayyer @YousefMunayyer

jetfool3 karma

Are you forbidden from investigating matters in Qatar?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma


jamie_wilson2463 karma

hi, Just wanted to say I think you are doing fantastic work and keep it up! what advice would you give to a 22 year old fresh out of uni wanting to into journalism?

ClaytonSwisherAJE4 karma

Learn a language, intern without pay, and travel as many non-glamorous places as possible, preferably outside Europe and the US. Central Asia is fascinating and not many journalists knowledgeable about it. Lots of opportunity.

oryx_and_crake3 karma

Are you scared

ClaytonSwisherAJE5 karma


skangerland3 karma

How do you see the future unfolding for investigative journalism? Is funding for longer-term projects becoming more difficult to secure?

How do you think social media news ventures (like storyful, for example) might be used for investigative work rather than just immediate reporting?


ClaytonSwisherAJE3 karma

I think roundly that answer is yes, less funding for investigative projects owning to global financial crisis. Pity because its EXACTLY when the world needs to know what's going on !

rravisha3 karma

Where you ever afraid for your life? When was this and what/who caused it?

ClaytonSwisherAJE3 karma

Check out some of my pieces from Afghanistan here. There are lots more at Jazeera with far more combat experience though, so maybe you should ask Andrew Simmons or James Bays: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=clayton+swisher+afghanistan&oq=clayton+swisher+afghanistan&gs_l=youtube.3...1281.3718.0.3875.

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

Yes, same as any journalist covering a war, and we have MANY at Al Jazeera. Being in a conflict situation, having live rounds/rockets/mortars fired at you is scary, but most of my peers have been in far worse and at risk of sounding cheesy I'll dodge this one too. I'm all yours on Arafat though.

Schrodingers_Hamster3 karma

What are your thoughts on Rampart?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

Generally a fan of anything that has a cameo with Ice Cube

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

Okay folks, it's been real. Thanks for having me on AMA and again, if you haven't watched our exclusive film "What Killed Arafat?" , click here and enjoy the next 50 minutes. Yours, Clayton


jack_spankin2 karma

What have you heard about the numerous rumors that Arafat was having sexual relations with underage males?

Curious. It was whispered in intelligence communities but after he died you didn't hear much about it.

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

I interviewed 3 former CIA Station Chiefs in Tel Aviv who worked directly with Arafat. They all tell me it was untrue that Arafat was a homosexual. This was a smear campaign that traces back to a Romanian intelligence officer, who found an amplifier among Israeli critics of Arafat. They know full well that homosexuality is deeply taboo in Arab culture. So though it wasn't true, it was an effective way to attack him.

ManOfTheInBetween2 karma

Does Israel have the right to exist?

ClaytonSwisherAJE6 karma

Why do folks insist on this litmus test? What country has ever required others to say "No admit we have a right to exist." America? Canada? UK? This shows the great insecurity created by Israel's occupation. It wants others to "admit" its right to exist while it denies the Palestinians their right to exist in freedom and security. I reject this formulation.

44razorsedge2 karma

Maybe a science-y question, but since polonium is primarily man-made thanks wikipedia can it's presence be "fingerprinted" to a manufacturer or, dare I say, a country?

ClaytonSwisherAJE8 karma

I am not an expert in Radiophysics, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn.


So I'll punt this to those who are.

Elsieach2 karma

Did you poison him just to have a scoop on the story?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma


trail_carrot2 karma

Fun Fact about your job?

ClaytonSwisherAJE2 karma

I get to work with Adrian Billing and a lot of other talented folks, including New Media, Social Media and other young bucks on our website pushing our content out to new reaches.

twizzter2 karma

What would you say is the least biased large news channel?

ClaytonSwisherAJE16 karma

I don't know but I NEVER had any problems getting through a half hour of PBS, especially when Bob Ross was on. Happy little clouds.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLO7tCdBVrA

Salacious-1 karma

What important stories have you looked into that may be true, but there just wasn't enough evidence one way or another to "break" the news?

ClaytonSwisherAJE13 karma

Now if I couldn't report it for Jazeera, how could I here :)