NEW CASTLE —
Clayton Swisher once helped keep Yasser Arafat alive.
Little could Swisher have known that, ultimately, he would find himself investigating the Palestinian leader’s death.
The 36-year-old Neshannock High graduate, the manager of investigative journalism for Al Jazeera Media Network, led a group that released a film, “What Killed Afafat?” (Al Jazeera Investigates), which is nominated for an award for best Current Affairs documentary at Sunday’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts at Royal Festival Hall in London. The BAFTAs are the equivalent of the Emmy Awards in the United States.
Swisher, a son of Mary Swisher of Michigan and James Swisher Jr. of Pittsburgh, holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.
He says his success did not come without the overcoming of some obstacles.
“In high school, I was best known for troublemaking, but football and work at New Castle Auto Wrecking left me too exhausted to find myself in too deep,” he said. “In fact, it was the mentorship of good Neshannock folks that helped me escape my adolescence, especially Emmanuel “Junior” Morrone and “Hank” Forney.
“Later, while in college, Neshannock constable Robert Capezio and (then) Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino also gave me opportunities to pursue law enforcement rather than law-breaking,” Swisher added in jest.
While at Pitt, Swisher served in the Marine Corps Reserves with a Military Police Company in North Versailles, and following his graduation, spent three years as a special agent with the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
It was there that he came to meet Arafat, while serving as a bodyguard to him on four occasions in 2000 during attempts by the United States to negotiate a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first time was during Arafat’s June visit to the United States; the second was later that month during then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s visit with Arafat to Ramallah, in the Occupied West Bank, to plan the July Camp David Summit; next was during the Camp David Summit, attended by then-President Clinton, Albright, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; and, later that year, the final chance arose during an emergency meeting at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to France with Albright and then-CIA director George Tenet.
“My interactions with Arafat then were purely professional,” Swisher said. “There was a peace process ongoing then between Israelis and Palestinians, so negotiating with Arafat was central to that process. Keeping him alive and protected from any harm was our narrow mission.”