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SIPA Alumna Deborah Scroggins Wins Ron Ridenhour Truth-telling Award

By Katherine Moore

Deborah Scroggins

Investigative reporter Deborah Scroggins, SIPA '85, is one of three inaugural winners of the Ron Ridenhour Truth-Telling Award, presented in honor of My Lai Massacre whistleblower Ron Ridenhour. The awards were presented at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, October 15. Each winner received a $10,000 cash stipend.

Scroggins is the author of "Emma's War: An Aid Worker, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil -- A True Story of Love and Death in the Sudan" (Pantheon, 2002) about British aid worker Emma McCune and Riek Machar, the local warlord she married.

The book is a revealing portrait of 1980s and present-day Sudan -- a country embroiled in one of the longest civil wars in Africa's history. Fueled by the competition for oil, land and other resources, the conflict between the northern Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south has cost the country an estimated two million lives over the past two decades.

McCune spent much of her time in southern Sudan combating famine and disease, while opening more than 100 schools for Sudanese children. In announcing the award in September, The Nation Institute and the Fertel Foundation noted, "[Emma's War] best reflects Ridenhour's values of truth-telling and social justice."

Scroggins is honored for her work in 'Emma's War: An Aid Worker, Radical Islam, and the Politics of Oil -- A True Story of Love and Death in the Sudan'

"Scroggins connects the issues at the heart of the civil war with the very issues that are at present shaking the foundations of the West," said Randy Fertel, President of the Fertel Foundation. "Reading 'Emma's War,' we come to understand not only this local war but the ongoing global struggle of militant Islam against the encroachments of well-meaning Western modernism." "Emma's War" is now being adapted for the screen by Twentieth Century Fox. The movie, directed by Tony Scott for Ridley and Tony Scott's production company, will star Nicole Kidman.

Scroggins is a freelance journalist and editor living in Atlanta, Georgia. She was a Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford, Oxford, England from 1998-1999 specializing in African studies, and assistant political editor, and political and foreign affairs reporter for The Atlanta Journal of Constitution from 1987 to 1998. Scroggins won the 2002 Georgia Writer of the Year Award for the year's best non-fiction book written by a Georgia author in 2002. Her book "Emma's War" has been translated into four languages, with another four to follow.

The Fertel Foundation and The Nation Institute also presented awards to Joseph Wilson and Daniel Ellsberg. Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe, and a senior diplomat in Iraq, won the Ron Ridenhour Award for Truth-Telling. Wilson traveled to Niger to investigate U.S. intelligence that Iraq had sought to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Africa. He reported back to the Bush Administration that this was unlikely. After President Bush referred to the uranium purchase in his State of the Union address, Wilson publicly accused the Administration of exaggerating the Iraqi threat.

Writer and activist Daniel Ellsberg won the Ron Ridenhour Courage Award. Ellsberg is best known for leaking a 7,000-page document, which became known as the Pentagon Papers, revealing the United States' difficulty in securing a Vietnam victory despite government assurances to the contrary.

"The creation of these awards sends an important message," said Hamilton Fish, president of The Nation Institute, in the September release. "The truth-tellers in our culture, whether journalists, corporate or government whistleblowers, or everyday citizens, should be honored for their courage, not intimidated or pressured to conform."

The Fertel Foundation and The Nation Institute established the annual prizes, now in their first year, to recognize the tremendous contributions of the late Ron Ridenhour. A Vietnam veteran, Ridenhour wrote to Congress and the Pentagon in 1969 detailing the horrendous events at My Lai -- the most infamous massacre in the war's history.

Published: Oct 17, 2003
Last modified: Oct 17, 2003

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