April 18th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

'Three Cups of Tea' author threatened with lawsuit for defamation

Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst

(CNN) - The best-selling author of "Three Cups of Tea" and another book that cast light on the need to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan may face a legal battle and a review from the book's publisher amid allegations that key stories in the books are false.

Greg Mortenson shot to worldwide fame with the book "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time," which describes his getting lost in an effort to climb K2, the world's second-highest peak, being rescued by Pakistanis in the village of Korphe and vowing to return there to build a school for local girls.

In the book, Mortenson says he was captured by the Taliban and held for several days before being released. In the sequel, "Stones into Schools," he even provides a photo of his kidnappers, 13 fierce-looking tribesmen, many of whom are clutching guns.

Among them is Mansur Khan Mahsud, who directs a Pakistani think tank that specializes in research in Pakistan's remote tribal regions. (Mahsud has done research for the New America Foundation, where Peter Bergen is a director.)

Mahsud told CNN that Mortenson was not kidnapped. He said Mortenson's account of his trip to the tribal region of Waziristan, along the Afghan border, "is a pack of lies and not a single word of it is true."

He also said he plans to take legal action against the high-profile author.

"Mortensen has defamed me, my family and my tribe," Mahsud said. He said he plans to sue Mortenson, a man he once considered "a friend."

According to Mahsud, Mortenson came to South Waziristan in 1996 with one of Mahsud's relatives and stayed in the family village, Kot Langer Khel, for more than a week, where he was treated as a guest.

Rather than being kidnapped, Mahsud says, Mortenson was treated by his family as "an honored guest."

"We were his protector in South Waziristan," he said.

"If you see the two other pictures in which Greg is holding an AK-47 rifle, and from his face expression you can clearly judge that this man has not been kidnapped," Mahsud said.

Mahsud claims Mortenson made up lies to "sell his book."

In response to the questions raised about the book - in particular, a CBS "60 Minutes" investigative report that aired Sunday - Viking, the publisher of "Three Cups of Tea," said Monday that it plans to "carefully review the materials with the author."

Jon Krakauer, best selling-author of "Into Thin Air," was featured on the CBS report, saying Mortenson's account is "a beautiful story, and it's a lie."

Krakauer is a climber and former donor to Mortenson's charity. CBS said he was one of Mortenson's earliest backers, donating $75,000 to his cause, but withdrew his support over concerns the charity was being mismanaged.

He told CBS News investigator Steve Kroft in the Sunday broadcast that a "close friend" of Mortenson's who hiked back with him from K2 says Mortenson never heard of Korphe, the village he says he stumbled into, until a year after the failed climbing attempt.

In a transcript of Mortenson's written responses to questions posed to him by CBS - a transcript posted on the website of Mortenson's charitable organization, the Central Asia Institute - the author denies the claim is false.

He says he did visit Korphe in 1993, after his failed attempt to climb K2, but the local people "have a completely different notion about time" than those in the West, implying they would not have been able to recount the exact year he visited.

"60 Minutes" also raised questions about the veracity of other episodes in the book, including his supposed 1996 kidnapping in Waziristan.

Full story

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • Pakistan • Peter Bergen
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Lisa in Louisville

    I have read "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools." I have also heard Greg Mortenson speak at the public library – his story touched me and I have purchased many copies of "Three Cups of Tea" to share his mission and passion for educating Pakistani girls with friends. Yesterday's story on 60 Minutes sickened me. I don't want to believe the story told by Steve Kroft. I would like to know the truth – I suppose it's somewhere between Greg Mortenson's books and the 60 Minutes story.

    April 18, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  2. Sanjuana Gabriela Galvez Galvan

    The photo really does seem to be of Mansur Khan Mahsud – In that case, it's incredibly dumb for Mortenson to have done that

    His entire organization could be jeopardized by this

    April 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm |