Spyhopping the Right.
David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community (Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, June 2005), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, (Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2004), and In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press). His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. His freelance work can be found at Salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies. A native of California's High Sierra, she spent 20 years in Silicon Valley before moving to Vancouver, BC in 2004. Her lifelong interest in the social effects of authoritarianism have most recently led her to pursue the MS in Futures Studies at the University of Houston. She's also a student member of the Association of Professional Futurists, and member of the Accelerated Studies Foundation advisory board on social and cultural issues. For fun, she raises kids and travels. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara's recent series:
Cracks in the Wall: Parts I, II, and III.
Tunnels and Bridges: Parts I, II, III, and IV, plus a Short Detour.
Dave's recent series:
The March of the Minutemen
Intro: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Other books by Dave [limited availability]:
"The Rise of Pseudo Fascism": An essay
Available in Adobe PDF format here
Support independent journalism:
Suggested $5 donation
Original posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
"The Political and the Personal"
"Bush, the Nazis and America":
Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis
[Suggested $5 donation]
[In HTML: Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X,, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. See explanatory note.]
[Also available in HTML, and with art, at Cursor.]
Orcinus Principium No. 1
Orcinus Principium No. 2
Iraqi prisoners and war crimes
Saturday, May 01, 2004
It's no great surprise that the rest of the world is outraged over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American and British interrogators.
Moreover, it shouldn't be a surprise that it has happened. After all, it's happened before in this "war on terror." Indeed, the pattern now is so strong that serious questions arise about the possibility that American officials could be charged with war crimes.
Recall, if you will, that these torture techniques first cropped in Afghanistan in March of last year, even before we invaded Iraq. They elicited a letter of protest from Joan Fitzpatrick, a legal specialist in human rights, which I published in full previously:
- The "interrogation" techniques described in [the New York Times piece] "U.S. Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody" (March 4, 2003, A14) violate basic norms of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions require humane treatment of all prisoners, whether POWs or "unlawful combatants," and regardless of the nature of the conflict. All acts of violence or intimidation, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment are strictly forbidden. Does the Department of Defense argue that chaining naked prisoners to the ceiling, in freezing weather, and kicking them to keep them awake for days on end, are practices consistent with the Geneva Conventions? Is the DOD prepared to tolerate this treatment of American POWs in the Iraq war?
These practices also violate human rights treaties to which the United States is a party, specifically the prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The United States may not transfer Al Qaeda suspects to other states to facilitate their torture; that too is a violation. Moreover, there is no state on earth "that does not have legal restrictions against torture" ("Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Human, Legal and Aggressive", March 4, 2003, A13). The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.
If President Bush has commanded these practices, he has committed serious international crimes and crimes against the laws of the United States that are impeachable offenses. Congress must investigate immediately.
Secretary Rumsfeld last Friday again revealed his complete ignorance of the laws of war by suggesting that Iraqi POWs could be tried before military commissions. They may be tried only by court martial, under rules identical to those applicable to U.S. forces. As Bush and Rumsfeld are poised to launch a major war in Iraq, the world stands appalled by their utter disregard for the most fundamental norms of humanity in wartime. Heaven help our "enemies" and our own soldiers.
Fitzgerald's warning, clearly, was prophetic.
As Digby observes, the pattern continued with the torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay:
- One of the five Britons recently returned to the UK from Guantanamo Bay has claimed that he was subjected to cruel and sadistic treatment by US authorities.
Jamal al Harith, from Manchester, told the Daily Mirror today that detainees of Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta had to face frequent beatings, prolonged periods of isolation and traumatic psychological torture.
The 37-year-old was held at Guantanamo Bay for just over two years after coalition forces brought about the fall of the Taleban regime in Afghanistan. The divorced father-of-three said that the behaviour of prison guards was a deliberate affront to Islam and exacted to offend and terrorise the detainees.
Indeed, Amnesty International has already denounced this pattern of abuse, as well as the consistent denials of American officials that this is part of American policy, observing:
- Such responses smack of complacency. After all, the USA is a country where some 3,600 people, including scores of juvenile offenders and mentally ill inmates, await execution, and tens of thousands of others are held in "super-maximum" security facilities in conditions -- solitary confinement and reduced sensory stimulation -- which the United Nations Committee against Torture, has referred to as "excessively harsh".
Billmon today explores the problem in detail, suggesting that perhaps the techniques are originating with Israeli intelligence or, just as likely, the "independent contractors" whose bloody footprints are beginning to appear all over the Iraqi map.
The real question (as Seymour Hersh points out) is: How far up the chain of command does this go?
Digby has previously pointed out the hollowness of George W. Bush's disclaimers regarding the use of torture -- and indeed, his current claims of being "outraged" not only ring insincere, they are silly:
- "Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America."
No, it's just the way we do things in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan.
What's particularly disingenuous about Bush's disclaimers and his proclamations of extreme horror at the images (or is it just horror at having the images gain global distribution?) is that it tries to place the blame on the grunts who are carrying out the torture. It ignores the fact that these tortures could not take place without approval from above.
It's already been pointed out in the New York Times that the administration's response amounts to scapegoating:
- Mr. Myers said the accused men, all from an Army Reserve military police unit, had been told to soften up the prisoners by more senior American interrogators, some of whom they believe were intelligence officials and outside contractors.
"This case involves a monumental failure of leadership, where lower-level enlisted people are being scapegoated," Mr. Myers said. "The real story is not in these six young enlisted people. The real story is the manner in which the intelligence community forced them into this position."
As most news sources covering the matter have pointed out, these behaviors are clear violations of international treaties and international criminal law. Unfortunately, the same Bush administration under which they have occurred has demonstrated a longstanding (and utterly groundless) hostility to the international criminal courts -- including signing into law an act to protect Americans from being prosecuted by international courts for war crimes.
The fact that Bush and Co. took these steps beforehand should raise suspicions. Add to it the fact that the pattern has become a consistent one that appears throughout our handling of prisoners of the "war on terror," and truly grave questions arise regarding the level of culpability for these acts.
Indeed, if it can be shown that approval for this kind of behavior rises all the way to the upper echelons of the administration, then Americans may be confronted with the possibility that their leaders are in fact war criminals.
Professor Fitzpatrick, tragically, died suddenly two months after writing that letter. But when I interviewed her in March, she emphasized that any winking and nudging by the administration toward this behavior amounted to an impeachable offense.
Her call for a congressional investigation last year, of course, went utterly unheeded, as did her warning. Perhaps it's time we finally listened.
Salmon and Bushamentalism
Friday, April 30, 2004
It seems that, as we count down to the 2004 election, the Bush administration is almost counting on outrage fatigue: Erecting one insane policy after another in such an endless stream that, after awhile, the citizens aware enough to be outraged by it all simply can't keep up.
The most recent: The administration's decision, announced yesterday, to count hatchery salmon as part of the same runs as wild populations in determining which salmon will be protected under the Endangered Species Act:
- The decision, contained in a draft document and confirmed Wednesday by federal officials, means that the health of spawning wild salmon will no longer be the sole gauge of whether a salmon species is judged by the federal government to be on the brink of extinction. Four of five salmon found in major West Coast rivers, including the Columbia, are already bred in hatcheries, and some will now be counted as the federal government tries to determine what salmon species are endangered.
This may seem to everyone else to be a mere regional problem affecting mostly the Pacific Northwest. But its ramifications are far broader: If the administration pulls this off, it means that Team Bush can get away with ignoring the Endangered Species Act simply by moving the goal posts.
It is also indicative of what we have long known about Bush's environmental approach: If serious, well-grounded science runs against the administration's preferred pro-business policy, the Bushites merely declare it "bad science" and then concoct a policy based on pseudo-science engendered by the business interests they serve.
In other words, it's another case of Bushamentalism: The administration decides what its policy will be based on narrow political interests, and then goes looking for anything it can find in support of it, meanwhile excluding the wealth of evidence to the contrary.
In this case, it's ignoring its own scientists:
- A federal advisory panel of scientists convened by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has concluded that hatchery fish cannot maintain populations of wild salmon in the long term and should not be used to justify proposed removal of federal protections for wild salmon. But these findings appear to run contrary to the policies of the Bush administration, which told the panel that its conclusions go beyond science and into policy and are thus inappropriate for official reports.
The committee, which was formed to serve as an external review committee for the Pacific salmon recovery efforts, published its findings in the current issue of the journal "Science," a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The scientists said the decision to publish was taken out of the panel's concern for the recovery of wild salmon in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. They want to ensure the policy implications of their findings are not suppressed but reach a wide audience.
"We should not open the legal door to maintaining salmon only in hatcheries," said University of Washington ecologist Robert Paine, coauthor of the report and chairman of the panel. "The science is clear and unambiguous -- as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks."
The administration's current decision comes at the behest of business interests that are combating the effects of listing Northwest salmon under the ESA:
- The policy change was applauded by development and farm groups who have spent millions of dollars altering how they build or irrigate farms to accommodate plummeting runs of wild salmon. Builders often must avoid allowing runoff into streams from nearby construction. Farmers sometimes can't get as much water as they would like.
"It's about time," said Timothy Harris, an attorney with the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has been battling National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries in court over salmon listings. "I'm hoping this will finally result in de-listing of some of these salmon populations."
Predictably enough, the administration is denying that it is listening to such interests:
- "I assure you there is no political judgment or political expediency," said Lautenbacher, who appeared before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
"We are trying to make sure our decision is based on the best synthesis of scientific opinion we have today," he added. "The policy will guide decisions about whether species are listed."
This policy is such obviously bad science, however, that the administration so far has not even been able to present a single scientist who could defend it. Because everyone who studies fish knows that hatchery fish are substantially different in nature from the wild species:
- Many scientists, however, say naturally spawned fish are the most likely to conserve much-needed genetic variations. Genetic variability has allowed salmon to survive thousands of years in streams as varied as the steep, cold creeks of the rain-drenched Olympic Peninsula and the slow-moving, warmer waters where the Snake River creeps through arid high desert -- all the while hustling to survive through droughts, floods, stream-altering volcanoes and earthquakes, and in an ocean whose hospitality regularly surges and swoons.
Fish born outside a hatchery are genetically programmed to spread their risk.
For example, some lay their eggs in the well-washed gravel of those cool Olympic streams, where they are very likely to survive and hatch. Others nest in the beds of lower-level, warmer streams where they are more likely to be smothered by dirt. However, suppose a drought comes along. The fish in the lower river are most likely to have water throughout the summer. The upper mountain streams might run dry. Later, descendants of the survivors can climb high and recolonize the upper reaches.
... Meanwhile, hatchery fish compete with and overwhelm wild fish. Because they are typically released before wild fish hatch, hatchery fish early in life are larger -- so they gain an advantage competing for living space and food.
Also, the sheer number of hatchery fish allows fishing seasons to go on when they otherwise would be shut down for lack of fish -- yet some fish from struggling wild runs get caught, too. And diseases caused by hatchery conditions can be transmitted to wild fish.
As Joel Connelly points out:
- What's the difference between a salmon that grows up in a tank and a fish raised in a river or lake?
Casting for an answer, I dialed up a one-time Orofino, Idaho, lumberjack and angler -- Cecil Andrus -- who went on to serve four terms as governor of Idaho and a four-year stint as interior secretary.
"Of course you can tell the difference," Andrus explained. "A wild salmon is a heartier, stronger fish. A hatchery-raised fish does not have the genes in it for survival. A wild salmon is, well, a creature of the wild, and will fight to stay that way."
Up on the Skagit River, home to the greatest wild-salmon populations left in the Puget Sound basin, an expert fisherman who once edited the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's editorial page had a similar take.
"A fair number of hatchery fish are deformed, diseased and small," Jack DeYonge said. "They return from the ocean at a rate of slightly under 1 percent. Wild salmon come back at a rate of 3 percent.
"What the Bush administration proposes to do is wipe out the most efficient breed of fish and replace it with the least efficient."
The long-term ramifications of the Bush policy are profound. Because not only salmon are affected: Indeed, some 150 species -- including, of course, the native orca populations -- are directly dependent on the salmon. Even more species depend on a secondary level on their presence, including birds that feed off the insects that rely on the nutrients provided by the carcasses of returned salmon spawners. Under this policy, their gradual decline is simply inevitable. And the appearance of a hatchery-borne disease could wipe out entire runs in a single swoop, and with it all the animals that depend on them.
In other words, the Bush plan is the first step in transforming the Northwest into the sterile plains that infect so much of the rest of the nation. As Connelly puts it:
- Rich Steele, a retired nuclear technician from Richland, has fought since the 1960s to protect the 48-mile-long Hanford Reach, the lone stretch of Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the Canadian border that has not been turned into a reservoir. Its population of fall chinook salmon is the river's last great wild fish run.
"The new policy is going to get the feds, and the counties and property owners, off the hook when it comes to protecting fish habitat," Steele said.
"When you can dump millions of hatchery fish into a river, why limit pesticides? Why limit logging along streams? It allows them to curtail the streamside protection we have talked about for years and years."
And, added Andrus, "Cold, clear unpolluted water not only sustains salmon; it sustains us."
This is true not only for the Northwest. It is true for the rest of America -- and, indeed, the world.
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Anyone sense a pattern here?
- Disregarded Iraq warnings appear prescient
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The warnings came not from anti-war Democrats, but from Republicans who were backing their president: Planning for a postwar Iraq was inadequate, they said. More U.S. troops would be needed. The United Nations should have a larger role.
In each case, the warning wasn't heeded. And in each case, critics now say it appears to have been on target.
Some senators say U.S. efforts in Iraq might be better off today if the Bush administration had worked more closely with Congress. They are encouraging the administration to keep that in mind as it makes plans for handing over control of Iraq on June 30.
Postwar planning was inadequate "and I'm hopeful that's not being repeated," said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Fat chance of that.
This is an administration that is addicted to breathing its own exhaust. Time and again -- from its failures to act on warnings about imminent terrorist attacks, to ignoring intelligence about the non-presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to its utter failure to properly prepare for the aftermath of any invasion of Iraq -- the Bush administration has demonstrated its modus operandi:
It determines what "the truth" is by a sort of faith-based process that is predicated primarily on whatever political advantage it might gain from policy. Then it pursues only the information that will back up that thesis. And it adheres to it through hell and high water, regardless of the consequences for anyone else -- particularly the nation. Its hallmark is a pronounced tendency to believe its own bullshit.
Note, in fact, its close similarity to religious fundamentalism, which determines the "truth" ahead of time and then seeks anything, even outright falsehoods, to support it.
Call it "Bushamentalism."
Patriot Act follies
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
When it comes to prosecuting supposed terrorists under the Patriot Act, the Justice Department's record is starting to look less than stellar. The only real success it has had prosecuting suspects under the law came in the cases involving the "Portland Seven" and the "Buffalo Six" -- and as Zizka noted at TalkLeft, the Portland pleas largely involved plea bargains that suggested the men were not the most serious of threats, as was the case in Buffalo as well.
Now, in a case that was supposed to showcase the Patriot Act's real value, federal prosecutors' evidence against a University of Idaho student named Sami Omar al-Hussayen charged under that act with secretly abetting Al Qaeda is turning out to be largely ephemeral.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Judge Edward Lodge -- a Republican appointee and noted conservative -- is on the verge of throwing out the government's most serious charges because prosecutors are apparently concocting evidence from thin air:
- Lodge told attorneys on both sides he will allow some foundation evidence that prosecutors already entered on a specific rule of evidence. The rule requires prosecutors to ultimately show co-conspiracy between Al-Hussayen and others to provide material support and resources for terrorism.
But if prosecutors don't prove that conspiracy to the judge's satisfaction, "this case is out as far as those charges go," Lodge said.
"I am not going to be led into a trap here," Lodge said, before chastising the lawyers on both sides for arguing about what should be admitted as evidence. "We are way out there (with evidence)."
Last week, Lodge already disallowed prosecutors' attempts to show the jury a Web page encouraging suicide bombings, saying the government had to prove that al-Hussayen created the page or endorsed its contents.
What's particularly disturbing about this trial is that prosecutors are proceeding with it in spite of the fact that another federal judge already ruled that the portion of the Patriot Act under which they are charging al-Hussayen is unconstitutional.
As Tim Egan's report in the New York Times explained:
- Earlier this year, Judge Audrey B. Collins of the Federal District Court in Los Angeles, struck down a part of the antiterrorism law being used in this trial, ruling that it was overly broad and vague. But Judge Collins did not extend her ruling beyond the one case in California.
... In that case, the judge ruled on behalf of several humanitarian groups that wanted to provide support to the nonviolent arms of two organizations designated as terrorist in Turkey and Sri Lanka. Judge Collins wrote that "a woman who buys cookies at a bake sale outside her grocery store to support displaced Kurdish refugees to find new homes could be held liable" if the sale was sponsored by a group designated terrorist.
There may be other reasons that the Justice Department is pushing so hard on this case despite its evidently flimsy foundation: It's trying to make an example out of the Patriot Act's key critics.
Two members of Idaho's all-Republican congressional delegation, Rep. Butch Otter and Sen. Larry Craig -- both of whom have strong libertarian streaks -- have been working hard to overturn key portions of the Patriot Act, particularly its "sneak and peek" provisions, which allow federal investigators to conduct searches without the property owner's or resident's knowledge and with warrants delivered afterward.
Craig is the co-sponsor, along with Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, of the SAFE Act, which would delete certain egregious provisions of the Patriot Act and replace them with measures which would still enable federal investigators to pursue terrorists without trampling on citizens' basic rights. It will also end, one can hope, the Justice Department's outrageous use of the Patriot Act provisions to pursue cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. (For those interested, here's a report on the efforts to reform the Patriot Act.)
More than a few observers have concluded that the Idaho case is proceeding in no small part because the Bush administration hopes to humiliate and punish Craig and Otter for straying from the party line. But in the process, it could well wind up hoist on its own petard.
Suicide or homicide?
Following up on Sunday's post about the strange hanging death of a Washington state black man named Roy Veal in Mississippi, the New Orleans Times-Picayune has put together a far more complete account that obviously contradicts much of the information in the earlier AP account:
- The townfolk rely on rumor, and the sheriff awaits the return later this week of crime lab and autopsy results. But he and other officials are virtually certain of one thing: No one was lynched in Woodville.
"I don't think this is some Jim Crow deal," Jackson said. "You've got to consider it with Mississippi's history, but I deal with the crime as what it is, and this is not a hate crime."
Jackson compared a lynching to terrorism, noting the killers want to spread fear and intimidate the living. In the classic examples, the victim's hands are tied, there are signs of struggle, and the body twists high above the ground as a grotesque warning.
None of those elements were present here, the sheriff said.
Significantly enough, the new story directly disputes the detail in the earlier account that said his hands were bound and that there were signs of obvious trauma on Veal's body:
- Veal's hands were free, and there were no visible signs of trauma on the body that would indicate a beating or a fight. Veal's feet were just inches from the ground -- "like he could have tiptoed on the grass," Jackson said. The sheriff and two of his deputies on the scene that morning said there were no other footprints or tire tracks around the tree. Further, the cloth over Veal's head was a pillowcase, and its match was found inside Veal's mother's house a couple hundred yards away from the towering pecan.
Finally, rarely in a lynching is there a makeshift ladder by the tree, as there was here -- a long, rusted feeding trough that was still standing upright against the trunk.
The story also notes that the lawsuit which Veal was attending to involved a dispute over timber, not oil rights.
However, it is also worth noting that at least some of the Veals' neighbors aren't quite so quick to dismiss the suspicions that something foul was afoot:
- Tolliver's assessment of Wilkinson County's oil reserves doesn't square with that made by the customers at the Pine Ridge Grocery across the street from the high school.
The people gathered there said they would not be surprised to learn if race played a role in Veal's hanging, but they tied that to underhanded business dealings, not secret brotherhoods. Racism is real here, but it's not violent, they said. In other words, the parking lot gossip -- and those delivering it concede up front it's nothing but gossip -- makes the culprit an unnamed, ruthless businessmen coveting the black gold on Veal land, not racism in its old vile form.
"I've had no experience with the problem, but I know it's here. I mean, c'mon, it's everywhere," said Delores Carter, an African-American customer who agreed to discuss the matter on the record. "But my opinion is, if I'm going to kill myself, would I put something over my head like that before I did it?"
I'd wager the autopsy will conclude that Veal committed suicide. However, one can also be certain that uneasiness over the death will not be so readily dissipated.
Many thanks to reader Plexix for forwarding the T-P story.
Running on national security
Republicans have been rubbing their hands in glee over the recent poll results that showed George W. Bush's standing with the public gaining steam in spite of the pummeling he suffered in recent weeks news-wise.
That glee may have been just a bit premature. The most recent CBS News poll -- which is consistent, in fact, with the trends of the previous weeks, the WashPost poll notwithstanding -- shows Bush is in fact sinking rapidly in terms of his handling of national security and the Iraq war:
- The struggles in Iraq appear to have hurt assessments of the President. His overall approval rating (46 percent), his rating on handling Iraq (41 percent), and his rating on handling foreign policy (40 percent) are at the lowest points ever in this Administration. In each case, more disapprove than approve. 53 percent of voters are uneasy about Bush?s handling of international crisis, figures unmatched since before 9/11. But these declines come as Americans see economic improvement -- 55 percent now say the economy is in good shape.
The approval rating is particularly noteworthy. It's something of a given in politics that any approval rating below 50 percent is a sign of extreme danger for an incumbent. One of 46 percent is getting into roadkill territory.
It's clear that Kerry should be hitting Bush hard on national security and the war.
It's obvious Bush was asleep at the wheel on Sept. 11. It happened on his watch, and his malfeasance cost us 3,000 American lives.
That's gross incompetence, pure and simple. And it continues to this day, particularly in Iraq.
Kerry simply needs to make that case to the American people. And it won't be hard.
Kerry: Not AWOL
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Apparently the Bush campaign's bizarre decision to try to smear John Kerry with groundless speculation about his service record has brought out the warrior in the Democratic presidential candidate.
Today his campaign released this:
- Key Unanswered Questions on Bush's Record In National Guard
"If George Bush wants to ask me questions about that through his surrogates, he owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it. That's what we ought to have. I'm not going to stand around and let them play games." -- John Kerry, NBC News, 4/26/04
-- Bush Has Said He Used No Special Treatment To Get Into The Guard. How Does He Explain The Fact That He Jumped Ahead Of 150 Applicants Despite Low Pilot Aptitude Scores?
-- Col. Albert Lloyd Said A Report From Alabama To Ellington Should Have Been Filed. Where Is That Report?
-- Why Did Bush Miss His Medical Exam In 1972?
-- Where Are The Complete Results Of The Required Investigation Into Bush's Absence From The Exam?
-- Why Did Bush Specifically Request To NOT Be Sent Overseas For Duty?
-- Why Does The White House Say Bush Was On Base When Bush's Superiors Had Filed A Report Saying He Was Gone For A Whole Year?
-- Why Is The Pentagon Under Orders To Not Discuss Bush's Record With Reporters?
-- Where Are Bush's Flight Logs?
-- Why Hasn't Bush Himself Demonstrated That He Showed Up For Service in Alabama?
The rest of the release goes on to provide the documenation and substantiation for each of those questions.
Y'know, as I mentioned the other day, bringing up the military records, and all the comparisons that come with it, probably wasn't the brightest idea on the part of Republicans. Never mind the fact that you're talking about comparisons between a decorated combat veteran and a man whose commitment to his sworn duty finally culminated in a unilateral decision to skip a flight physical and then fail to ever retake it, resulting in the short-circuiting of his service.
No, this was stupid because the GOP had successfully snowed the press corps into submission on the whole issue of Bush's military records, even though -- as James Moore details in Salon -- the White House's much-touted release of those records in fact fell well short of being complete.
Now, as Josh Marshall suggests, the whole issue is in play once again, despite the self-evident lethargy of the Kewl Kids press corps: "I fear this is becoming another example of my press colleagues' deep-seated corruption." (Yo, Josh -- we pointed this out a coupla months ago.)
Maybe someone will finally get around to asking Dan Bartlett about those holes in the latest version of the explanation for Bush skipping that physical. Because someone should have figured out awhile back that it just doesn't add up.
Hopefully, they won't be fooled by responses like this one in the Washington Post:
- But retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald W. Shepperd, who was director of the Air National Guard until 1998, said missing a flight physical happens with many part-time pilots. Shepperd said he once did not take an annual flight physical and was grounded.
"It's not a big deal," Shepperd said. "You're grounded, and you take it again. As a longtime commander, I saw this happen on a regular basis."
No one bothered to point out, of course, that Bush didn't "take it again."
And that really is the bottom line to the problem with Bush's military record: It reveals a young man who didn't think enough of his duty to even live up to his sworn commitment. A man who couldn't be bothered to maintain his flight status even after his political work in Alabama was complete. A man who knew his family connections could fix that problem, just as it had gotten him the plum assignment in the first place.
John Kerry maybe put it best today in an interview with Chris Mathews:
- "I've never begrudged people the choice that they made, but once you've made a choice, I think you have a responsibility to honor the choice that you made," he said.
This is a point that appears lost on our feckless press corps. But maybe that's the problem: They have so much in common with the Preznit.
Jay Severin, attempting to defend his indefensible suggestion that we should just kill Muslims:
- Severin, who on his show yesterday afternoon vehemently defended the comment, said that anyone who listened to his show for "any length of time longer than 10 minutes has heard me say that Muslims are not our enemies, that all Muslims are not terrorists."
"But, thus far, all the terrorists killing us are Muslims, and that distinction is one I have made every single time, including last Thursday, and every single time that we have discussed the topic of Islam and the war on terror, as those of you who listen, at least most of us who listen know," he said on yesterday's show.
Hm. Funny that.
I guess Oklahoma City has gone down Jay's memory hole too.
Of course, that's not all that Jay has conveniently forgotten:
- "I believe that Muslims in this country are a fifth column. . . . The vast majority of Muslims in this country are very obviously loyal, not to the United States, but to their religion. And I'm worried that when the time comes for them to stand up and be counted, the reason they are here is to take over our culture and eventually take over our country."
As it happens, the same argument was raised in 1942, when the nation decided to incarcerate 110,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps. And raising it again, of course, raises the likelihood of repeating the same mistake.
UPDATE: Roger Ailes has a terrific takedown.
Oklahoma City, 9/11, and the Face of Terror
Part 2: Waco in Iraq
Nearly everyone who was alive and aware in the 1990s knows about Waco. But hardly anyone, it seems, has a clear idea what happened there in 1993.
And that, as it happens, affects how we think about what's happening in Iraq in 2004.
Just as with the Ruby Ridge matter of August 1992, there's so much mythology that has been built around the fatal assault on the Branch Davidian compound of April 19, 1993, that it's probably not surprising that the public's understanding of the real causes of the horrifying deaths of 74 people -- including some 20 children -- that day is confused at best, and grotesquely misinformed in many cases. (For a useful textual resource on the Waco matter, see this Web site.)
No small part of the cause of this lies with the far-right Patriot movement, which transformed the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents into significant recruiting tools. For the remainder of the decade, the movement thrived by spinning conspiracy theories about both cases, claiming that they represented the opening steps in a massive plot to enslave all of mankind under a "New World Order" that represented the overthrow of America. Central to this theory was the Patriots' claim that the FBI itself set the flames that burned the compound to the ground. This belief still holds wide currency not just among Patriot types but is bantered about even today by such "mainstream" conservatives as Ann Coulter and Kathleen Parker.
This accusation, as it happens, has in fact been thoroughly debunked. As the jury that heard all the evidence in the case ruled, it is unquestionable that the fire in fact was set by Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his lieutenants as a mass-suicide response to the government's assault. Video analysis and a thorough review of the actual facts of the case makes clear beyond any serious doubt that this was the case.
However, even though the government was not directly to blame for the deaths, that hardly means it did not do anything wrong in Waco. Quite the contrary. In the ensuing years, many Americans continued to feel -- conspiracy theories or not -- the federal agents' actions that day were extraordinarily misguided. For that reason, the failure for anyone in government to face consequences for Waco has also seemed like a miscarriage of justice and a whitewash.
And they are right. Because the fact is that the Waco debacle did not have to happen. And in fact, the government's wrong-headed course of action directly caused the fatal response of the Davidians.
Specifically, what happened at Waco was that the FBI had two competing factions involved in the armed standoff: a negotiating team, and a tactical unit. The former worked relentlessly to persuade Koresh and his followers to surrender peacefully -- and in fact, there are indications that this team was close to success, and might have completed a peaceful resolution to the confrontation within the following 10 days or so. However, their efforts were constantly, and ultimately, overruled by the tactical unit, which impatiently determined to enter the compound by using brute force on April 19.
The wrong-headedness of this decision was later underscored by the peaceful conclusion of the 81-day standoff involving the Montana Freemen in Jordan, Montana, in 1996. As my text In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest explains in detail, the negotiating team was given the lead position in that standoff, and their patient approach ultimately prevailed; the 25 or so people inside that compound eventually emerged without bloodshed and surrendered to federal authorities.
However, it's important for the public to understand the details of how and why things went wrong at Waco with the tactical unit -- and particularly, to understand the role of the military in the mix of the disaster.
Most of the details of this matter can be found in the exhaustive report [PDF file] by the independent commission to examine the Waco matter headed up by former Sen. John Danforth. The commission itself exonerated the government fulsomely, though many of its conclusions actually ran counter to much of the factual material contained within the report.
Jean Rosenfeld, one of the religious-studies experts consulted for the Freemen standoff (and a colleague of the similar experts consulted for Waco), examined the Danforth report carefully and concluded that, when it came to the question of the military's role at Waco, the commission inappropriately exonerated the people involved. She published her conclusions in the journal Nova Religio, in a piece titled "The Use of the Military at Waco: The Danforth Report in Context."
As Rosenfeld describes it, the popular scapegoat for the debacle, Attorney General Janet Reno -- who had only been sworn in a little over a month before -- was reluctant to approve a forceful entry for precisely the reasons that manifested themselves on April 19. However, she gave FBI Director Louis Freeh and his team the real reins in the matter. And both the FBI and the BATF (which had conducted the initial assault that sparked the standoff) had been consulting for some time with military specialists who provided advice to the tactical unit in charge. Their advice, in turn, proved to be the fatal and disastrous turning point in the standoff.
- While U.S. law prohibits the "direct participation" of the military in police operations, it permits such "indirect support" as "offering expert advice" to law enforcement agents. It does not, however, allow military advisors to "grade" a tactical plan. During the first week of the standoff, FBI directors developed an emergency tactical plan that called for armored vehicles to punch holes in the building and insert gas, providing "avenues of escape" for those who wanted to leave. Variations on this "initial template" were discussed for the next five to six weeks by FBI and Justice Department directors, White House presidential aides, and, on April 14, by Delta Force officers. Because the crisis "defied traditional assault methods," the FBI developed two scenarios for a final assault, one that called for the gradual insertion of CS gas (tear gas) over a period of two to three days and one that called for the total and rapid insertion of gas into the residence. If the Davidians did not exit along prescribed routes, the FBI would tear down the walls to insert gas in the center of the building.
Waco Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar and HRT Commander Richard Rogers both favored the rapid insertion gassing plan, while FBI directors preferred the gradual insertion of gas. On April 12 President Clinton asked for a military review of the FBI?s final version of the gassing plan, which resembled one proposed by HRT Commander Richard Rogers when he was HRT commander at Ruby Ridge in 1992. The Rogers plan at Ruby Ridge had been rejected by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson because it was too much like a "military assault plan." However, the rapid insertion plan, which Jamar and Rogers reverted to on April 19 after the Davidians reportedly opened fire, was an even more aggressive scenario than the rejected Ruby Ridge plan.
Even before the President?s request, Commander Rogers and the FBI had arranged to bring two Army Special Forces officers to Washington. They are referred to in the Justice report as the "current and former commanders of Delta Force" who met with Janet Reno on April 14. They were selected for the meeting "because of their tactical training and experience." Danforth reveals that one of these officers was Brig. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker of the III Army Corps at Ft. Hood. The other was an Army Special Forces colonel from Ft. Bragg who remains unnamed in the government reports.
On February 28 Gen. Schoomaker advised Texas governor, Ann Richards, about military equipment. On March 1 he drove to Waco, met with HRT commander Rogers, and "discussed the situation in general terms." At Rogers' request, Gen. Schoomaker returned to Waco on April 13 for an aerial tour of Mt. Carmel. Rogers and Schoomaker then flew to Ft. Bragg to pick up a Special Forces colonel and continued on to Washington to answer Janet Reno's questions about the FBI's plan to gradually insert gas into the Davidian residence. On the way to Washington, Commander Rogers asked Gen. Schoomaker to comment on the gassing plan, and Gen. Schoomaker declined. Gen. Schoomaker also told Janet Reno that he could not "grade" the specific tactics of the gassing plan, because that would be illegal. Gen. Schoomaker and the colonel did tell the Attorney General, however, that if the HRT were military troops under their command they would:
- -- Recommend that the HRT team "stand down" for rest and retraining
-- Focus on "taking out" the leader (Koresh)
-- Conduct a rapid, total, and violent gassing and demolition of Mt.Carmel
One of the two officers later testified before the Subcommittees that he had never been to the Branch Davidian residence before April 13, and the other testified that he had not ever been to Mt. Carmel, but the Danforth interim and final reports place General Schoomaker at Waco on March 1 and April 13. From the government's own reports, one can piece together a pattern of consultation between Delta Force and the FBI on March 1 and on April 13-14, 1993.
The FBI wanted to assault the Davidians on April 14, but the Attorney General delayed her acceptance of the gassing plan until after she met with military advisors on April 14. She signed a document on April 17 permitting the gradual gas insertion plan, but agreed to allow the on-scene commanders to make all tactical decisions once the operation commenced. It was later claimed that the document included the proviso that if the Davidians fired on the HRT drivers of the two CEVs inserting the gas, they could switch to the rapid gas insertion plan favored by onsite FBI Commander Jeff Jamar, HRT Commander Rogers, and the Delta Force officers. Commanders Jamar and Rogers felt they had to revert to the rapid-insertion-of-gas plan once a sniper-observer reported the Davidians firing at HRT forces nine minutes after the assault began.
According to FBI log-books, within seven minutes of launching the assault on Mt. Carmel at dawn on April 19, the Davidians opened fire, and the FBI abandoned the gradual gas-insertion plan in favor of a total, rapid injection of gas by CEVs and Bradley vehicles. In order to minimize danger to their agents, the HRT had to risk their objective of saving the children. Women and children sought shelter in an interior room, where many of them were "buried alive" or died of "smoke inhalation." Thibodeau reports that the Davidians' gas masks did not fit the younger children.
It is important, of course, to understand that the Waco disaster -- and the government's smug refusal to face up to its mistakes and the responsibilities for them in its aftermath -- proved to be a nearly direct proximate cause of the largest terrorist attack on American soil before Sept. 11 -- namely, the Oklahoma City bombing precisely two years after Waco on April 19, 1995.
The acknowledged bombing conspirators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, both referred to Waco as the precipitating event in their decision to take up arms against their own government. McVeigh himself traveled to Waco and talked to federal agents at the scene even before April 19; he later described to the authors of American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing how the events of April 19 completely radicalized him and set him on the path of the mass murderer he became. He watched and rewatched the bogus Patriot conspiracy-theory tape Waco: The Big Lie (which purported to show FBI tanks shooting flames into the buildings) and even sold the tape -- along with BATF ballcaps into which two bullet holes were stitched -- at the gun shows he frequented around the country. The selection of the date and the target (the Murrah Building was believed, somewhat incorrectly, to have housed many of the agents who were at Waco) speak for themselves.
This is intrinsic to the nature of modern terrorism. It is inspired not just by fanaticism, but fueled in many cases by unaddressed grievances, many of which are not simply matters of fantasy but may be grounded in actual fact (mingled, inevitably, with the usual doses of irrational belief). And among the most egregious and radicalizing of these grievances are those involving violent attacks that appear to target deeply held religious and political beliefs. This is as true of Oklahoma City as of Sept. 11 -- and will remain true well into the coming century.
This is, in fact, the dynamic currently at work in Iraq -- particularly the increasingly volatile situation in an-Najaf, the city now under control of the followers of the Shiite sect headed by Muqtada al-Sadr. Indeed, al-Sadr is beginning to look a lot like David Koresh; and the response of the United States is beginning to look a lot like that of the federal government at Waco.
Which should not be a surprise, since some of the same people responsible for the Waco disaster -- the same people whose careers probably should have ended there because of their role in encouraging the catastrophic course of action that was taken -- are now running the show in Iraq.
Rosenfeld discussed this at length in an unpublished op-ed I ran recently -- pointing out that, in fact, both Peter J. Schoomaker and William G. "Jerry" Boykin, key players in the Iraq drama, were the same two men whose advice as Delta Force officers led to the FBI's use of the worst possible tactical approach at Waco. Schoomaker is Donald Rumsfeld's hand-picked Army chief of staff and one of the chief overseers of the Iraq occupation; Boykin -- whose bizarre religious comments last year sparked a brief controversy -- is the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, the man charged with tracking down terrorist leaders and cracking down on insurgents in Iraq.
As Rosenfeld put it:
The irreplaceable Juan Cole has been tracking the situation in Najaf closely. His recent post on the Najaf problem points to a similar conclusion, quoting from the Iranian charge d'affaires to Iraq:
- I believe that the hard tactical approach being contemplated in an-Najaf, if negotiations now under way do not result in al-Sadr's surrender -- is the same approach contemplated and executed at Waco. Capturing or killing al-Sadr will not neutralize what he is regarded as symbolizing to Shiites angry at "occupiers" in Iraq or in Israel. It will only amplify it. There are better ways to defuse the problem of al-Sadr. We should not take a tactical approach because it suits the politics or flawed strategy of the current administration. We may have to change our strategy in Iraq to accommodate new realities instead. This may be tough political medicine, but it will save us from terrible consequences down the road.
I believe [the Bush administration's] approach is similar to the tactical one taken at Waco against another "messiah." It resulted in many deaths and a legacy that led us to the "commemoration" atrocity in Oklahoma City. As one of many scholars who study these cases of religion and violence and who have not seen our findings incorporated into law enforcement (we did have some input into the FBI's millennium approach) or the military, I am very concerned that the standoff in an-Najaf has the potential to become "another Waco."
- " 'If the occupying forces disregard the internal political, social and security situation in Iraq and launch military operations in the holy cities, including Najaf, then this will only lead to increasing clashes and the present crisis will only escalate. In fact, this will also lead to the emergence of serious popular resistance and will confront the occupying forces with serious problems. In that case, one can only predict the increasing lack of security in Iraq and the crisis will escalate to all the other parts of Iraq.' "
Cole's most recent post suggests the direction the situation is taking, ever since Schoomaker and Co. decided to attempt to shut al-Sadr down:
- My guess is that the US will gradually encroach on Najaf and will eventually try to capture Muqtada. He gave an interview to the Italian La Repubblica on Monday, in which he predicted that if the US arrests or kills him, the Iraqi people will unleash on them the fires of hell. It seems to me likely that his cadres will in fact launch a long-term, low-grade guerrilla war in the South if the US captures or kills Muqtada. The question is whether, in putting down this insurgency to come, the US will alienate other Shiites, setting the stage for further failures. The US shouldn't have gone after Muqtada to begin with.
The al-Najaf problem is a microcosm of the larger problem of the Bush administration's misbegotten approach to dealing with terrorism. Rather than recognize the assymetrical, often corpuscular nature of terrorism and come to terms with its origins in unaddressed grievances with an intelligent strategy that undermines those sources and does not inflame and worsen them, Bush has taken a course precisely 180 degrees removed: Use the brute force and bludgeoning power of the military, largely in the vain hope of asserting American dominance as a way of discouraging anyone from challenging it.
In that sense, the entire misadventure in Iraq resembles the fiasco at Waco: Too impatient to let inspections and diplomacy work their course, Bush ordered a military invasion of another nation without reckoning all of the consequences of doing so. Most significant among those consequences is the high likelihood of actually undermining any serious effort at actually attacking terrorism at the source.
Similarly, of course, it is not Bush or his minions who will pay the price for this foolishness, but the American people, as well as the soldiers we keep shipping to Iraq and whose bodies keep being shipped back here in coffins.
After all, Oklahoma City followed Waco. It is difficult to calculate just what horrors will follow any brute-force attack on al-Najaf, but it seems certain that they will be horrors just the same.
Moreover, if Bush continues to wage a "war on terrorism" that repeats this pattern not just in the Middle East but everywhere else, then it is nearly certain that we are doomed not just to failure but to unmitigated disaster.
If we are to avoid this catastrophic course, it's going to be essential to come to terms with the nature of terrorism. Because Sept. 11 was the work of Muslims from overseas, the event itself has been used to muddy the public's understanding of the challenge the nation faces for the foreseeable future. As Dana Milbank's recent Washington Post piece explained:
- Political strategists and public-opinion experts say a good part of this resilience of public support for Bush and the Iraq war stems from the president's oratory. They say Bush has convinced Americans of three key points that strongly influence overall support for the war: that the United States will prevail in Iraq; that the fighting in Iraq is related to the war against al Qaeda; and that most Iraqis and many foreign countries support U.S. actions in Iraq.
The latter two of these assertions, of course, are dubious at best if not downright duplicitous (and the first is looking less likely the longer Bush's incompetence remains in play). But because the administration and the media have consistently come to portray terrorism as something originating from abroad and deriving from other nations -- rather than the amorphous and assymetrical threat it actually is -- the public has been misled almost too easily.
One of the reasons that most Americans misconceive the nature of the terrorist threat, though, may lie in Oklahoma City. Because just as they have only a dim understanding of what happened at Waco in 1993, they have even a less clear picture of what happened two years later.
The reality is that the nation has never fully come to terms with what happened at Oklahoma City. That reckoning is not merely overdue -- it may prove essential to our long-term survival.
Next: The Murrah Mystery
[Cross-posted at The American Street.]
A question for Karen Hughes
What did George W. Bush do with his medals?
[Update: Great minds and all that ... Joe Conason asks the same question.]
A terrorist targets liberals
Sunday, April 25, 2004
Regular readers know I've already discussed ad nauseam the Bush administration's failure to take domestic terrorism seriously (and will have more tomorrow, I hope, on my current series discussing the broader ramifications and consequences of that). Some of you may recall that I've also repeatedly voiced concern that right-wing extremists may be planning violence against liberals this summer and fall and how it might affect the coming election.
Both of those concerns, it seems, have coalesced in the arrest last week of an Illinois man named Michael J. Breit for plotting the deaths of government officials:
- Police came upon Breit after an anonymous caller reported a gunshot going off in his apartment Sunday night.
When officers arrived, Breit told them, "I screwed up."
He explained he accidentally shot off his AK-47 semi-automatic assault rifle in his home, blowing a hole through his door frame.
Breit agreed to a search of his house and car, according to the complaint.
The search turned up several hundred rounds of ammunition, components for pipe bombs, shotguns, more than 700 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, a cannon fuse and a recipe for dynamite.
The search also turned up a list of federal officials, political and public figures with the word "marked," next to the names. Breit told agents it meant "marked to die," because the people were liberal, opposed to gun rights or opposed to the current government.
Police also found a note that reads: "I will die for my cause, for it is just. I won't put my hands up and surrender -- I will not rest till I purge these United States from the treasonist (sic) parasites."
What the Sun-Times story neglects to tell readers is that it appears that nearly the entirety of his targets were Democrats and liberals. That information comes from a news release from the Brady Campaign:
- Federal agents say they recovered seven guns, more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition, pipe bomb making components and other explosives, a list of government officials and political and public figures with the word "marked" written next to them, and a written plan for 15 heavily armed men to kill 1,500 people at a Democratic presidential meeting.
Breit's library included The Turner Diaries, the anti-government cult novel that inspired Timothy McVeigh, and Guns, Freedom and Terrorism, the book authored by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, investigators said.
The latter text may not necessarily be relevant, though the title, obviously, points up the extreme irony of the situation.
But what remains especially disturbing about this case is that, once again, an obvious case of domestic terrorism has received so little attention.
Information about this case is nowhere to be found at the Web sites of either the FBI or the Justice Department -- though of course, both carry voluminous reports discussing threats from international terrorists. And of course, the FBI has a full phalanx of reportage on various aspects of "eco-terrorism," which is currently the agency's prime domestic-terrorism focus.
Even the Chicago Tribune carried only a brief version of the story -- even though last week, the same paper carried an in-depth report on domestic terrorism and the fact that these threats are ignored by media and played down by federal law enforcement:
- With the nation focused on terrorist threats from abroad in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, experts wonder if the Krar case, which FBI agents discovered only by accident, could be a harbinger of homegrown attacks to come.
"All of this homeland security, all of the orientation of the government's war on terror is about protecting our borders," said Ken Toole, director of the Montana Human Rights Network, which monitors right-wing groups. "We're moving back into this period where radical right-wing activism is being dismissed as goofy and loopy, whereas the Al Qaeda threat is around every corner. But the right-wingers are much closer to home. And they are still there."
Mark Pitcavage, director of fact-finding for the Anti-Defamation League, noted that criminal acts by right-wing extremists "remain at a very high level," including the slayings of three law enforcement officers last year.
Also unanswered in the Breit case is the lingering question that almost certainly would be raised were we talking about the arrest of a Muslim man: Is there any evidence that his plans to employ 15 other conspirators to gun down Democrats proceeded beyond the mere fantasy stage? As with the Texas cyanide bomb case, there seems to be relatively little concern about the possibility of active and uncaught co-conspirators.
As I say, I'll have more on all this soon.
[Thanks to reader Ann Salisbury for the heads-up, and to Jonas M. Luster for the first post I've seen on this case.]
A brief report
Not a lot to report from this weekend's National Writer's Workshop in Seattle, a gathering primarily for working professionals (journalists, mostly) and students.
The panel discussion I headed up with Tom Brown on blogging was a modest success. We had about 30-50 people in the room as we discussed how and why blogs matter, especially for journalists. A number of them seemed to have trouble wrapping their brains around the whole blogging concept, but most were receptive and contributed some excellent questions to the talk.
Probably the best question was from someone wondering how blogging could make them a better writer. My answer: It won't necessarily, except to the extent that just the act of writing itself makes you eventually better. I used my own work as an example; much of the time I use the blog to keep my writing gears turning, especially when I'm in the middle of another project. I've found that the sheer discipline of big projects can be stultifying and causes my gears to jam up; at those points, I'll often turn to the blog so that I can think about something else, albeit briefly, and pound out a post or two. This keeps me writing and the words flowing, and when I return to my project, I'm often fresh and ready to go again.
Of course, blogs -- much like journals -- also give you a chance to work out some of your worse writing habits, and refine your techniques, and in that regard I think they also help make you a better writer.
In any case, it was a fascinating workshop. Of course, I couldn't attend everything, but I found those sessions I made it to well worth the time. Charles Pierce made a great presentation at the keynote speech; Tim Egan gave a really useful workshop on how to turn from journalism to book writing; Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times gave a witty and fun presentation on film criticism; and two of Seattle's finest local columnists, Robert Jamieson and Joni Balter, were spot-on in discussing the finer points of opinion writing.
On a personal note: Charles Pierce is every bit as charming and smart as he appears in print, and it was a real pleasure meeting him. Likewise with Elvis Mitchell, whose massive dreads were almost as impressive as his obviously penetrating intellect.
A nice weekend, and I was honored to take part.
Strange Fruit redux
Contrary to recent contentions that the bad old days of violent racism are ancient history in the South, recent news reports out of Mississippi bring us the story of the death of a man from Washington state in which the circumstances are extremely suspicious, to say the least.
The man, a 55-year-old named Roy Veal, had recently returned to the Woodville, Mississippi, area intending to maintain his family's title to land that was being contested in a lawsuit, largely because the large tract was believed to potentially hold oil.
On Friday, he was found hanging from a tree with a hood over his head. His body carried various signs of unusual trauma.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, however, the local sheriff is treating it as a potential suicide:
- "We can't say if this was a homicide or a suicide at this point. We'll have to await further results from the crime lab," Jackson said.
Veal, 55, of Washington state, had been living with his mother in the Donegal community, a few miles south of Woodville, the sheriff said.
"He was last seen at his mother's house Wednesday evening," Jackson said.
A pillow case was over Veal's head, authorities said. Jackson said signs of trauma were visibly noticeable on the body.
Well, as the gruff old police detective told the cub reporter viewing the corpse of a woman stabbed 47 times, "That would be one hell of a suicide."
And it doesn't take much to find a motive:
- Officials at the chancery clerk's office in Woodville said a lawsuit pending in chancery court names several members of the Veal family as defendants, including Doris Gordon and Roy Veal. Chancery Clerk Thomas Tolliver Jr., said the case involved title to land in the county and damages.
Roy Veal's mother, Thelma Veal, 79, said the lawsuit sought portions of land owned by her late husband and his brothers. She said her son had obtained a map of the property and was collecting documents to prove the family owned the land.
She said her husband owned more than 40 acres in the area southwest of Woodville and that it was being sought because it might have oil deposits.
There is oil production in that area of the state.
It will be interesting to see if this death is treated in the, shall we say, classic Southern tradition.