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Robert Scheer: Journalist Fred Branfman Risked His Life for Ordinary People

Fred Branfman was one of the bravest and most decent journalists I ever encountered.

He exposed the terrorism of the U.S. "carpet bombing" over Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia that was explicitly aimed at "drying up the sea" of millions of innocent village people that the U.S. government claimed were providing cover to the enemy during the Vietnam War. And when those people refused to accept our definition of their enemy, and return the love offered by our fragmentation bombs shredding their children's bodies, we bombed them more still.

That immense tragedy was all the more poignant in Laos, one of the most underdeveloped and isolated nations in the world. It had nothing to provide but its bewildered population to serve as possible targets for Pentagon planners.

I had been to Laos before Fred and after he did his brave, epic reporting on the devastation of that country by U.S. bombing of technologically primitive villagers, whom I had delighted with gifts of pencils. We shared many sorrowful discussions about the madness of U.S. policy and the immense suffering that our country had visited upon a people who were barely aware of what the bombers were up to.

Fred risked his life repeatedly for years gathering the stories of people in Laos, whom U.S. policymakers denied had stories worth listening to, and instead were treated simply as inevitable collateral damage of no moral importance.

Fred, who had spent years as an aid worker, knew better, respecting the humanity of people who had never flown in a jet plane but sensed far more about the value and meaning of life than the sophisticated killers who so casually destroyed them.

His great work, driven by an immense humanitarian concern, continued in his last years and provided Truthdig with the honor of being allowed to publish one of the world's most sensitive journalists.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @Robert_Scheer, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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