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May 15, 2005 - The State of Things

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One - Be all that you can be…


From CNN, Wednesday, May 11, 2005 you will find this


The U.S. Army plans to stop recruiting activities for one day this month to review procedures that its 7,500 recruiters use, an Army official said.

Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, head of the Army Recruiting Command, is expected to make the announcement, which could come as early as Thursday.

The move follows a CBS News report of least two allegations of recruiting abuse.

In one case, the network reported a recruiter suggesting how a potential volunteer might cheat to pass a drug test, and in another, a sergeant threatened a prospect with arrest if he didn't report to a recruiting station.

The Army said it is investigating the allegations. …


And from a Texas television station (KHOU, Houston) there is this


Will Ammons, 20, signed up for delayed entry at the Lake Jackson Army recruiting station last year.

But soon afterwards, he fell in love and changed his mind before he ever shipped out.

That's when, he says, Army recruiters crossed the line and started harrassing him.

"He told me I pretty much had two options," Ammons said. "I'd go before a judge and get a sentence of 15 years but he had the option to double it. It was either that or they were going to put me in front of seven other people with rifles and shoot me."


For giggle look up J. R. Hutchinson, The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore (1914) or  J. F. Zimmerman, Impressment of American Seamen (1926, repr. 1966).

A typical encyclopedia entry here


In England, impressment began as early as the Anglo-Saxon period and was used extensively under Elizabeth I, Charles I, and Oliver Cromwell. "Press gangs" forcibly seized and carried individuals into service; frequently subjects of foreign countries were taken. After 1800, England restricted impressment mostly to naval service. The Napoleonic Wars increased English need for sea power and led to the impressment of a large number of deserters, criminals, and British subjects who had become naturalized Americans. (Until 1850, England did not recognize the right of a man to renounce his nationality.) Frequent interception of American ships to impress American citizens was a major cause of the War of 1812. England generally abandoned such forcible measures after 1835. In Prussia, impressment was introduced by Frederick William I after 1713, laying the groundwork for Prussian military power in the 18th cent. It reached its height under Frederick II (Frederick the Great) who made forced recruitment on foreign soil an integral part of the Prussian military system. Impressment was used in many countries as a method of ridding society of undesirables. Persons of property, apprenticed youths, and other respectable citizens were often exempted by law. The system fostered gross abuses and was often a means of private vengeance. It filled the army and navy with a group ready for mutiny, desertion, or other disloyalty, and it adversely affected voluntary recruitment. After 1800 impressment tended to become a means of enforcing conscription, and it fell into disuse after 1850.


Here we go again.

But as of a method of ridding society of undesirables where persons of property, apprenticed youths, and other respectable citizens were often exempted by law.  That works.

One thinks of kids like that Lynndie England lass who join up just to get away from a no-prospects, no-future, stuck-stocking-the-shelves-at-Wal-Mart-for-the-rest-of-my life existence.


And then what happens?



Two – George Bush and Sam Peckinpah


Probably no one remembers the movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) directed by Sam Peckinpah.  Starring Warren Oates and Gig Young?  Whatever.  Warren Oates is out to collect the head of this Alfredo, in order to get the bounty money, and escape his low-paid job in a bar for a better life.  And he takes his promiscuous girlfriend Isela Vega along for the ride.  (Full plot summary here.)  It’s your typical sadistic Peckinpah bloodbath, intended to shock and appall the audience and all that.

So what to make of this from the BBC on 4 May? 

The CIA sent a team to Afghanistan days after 9/11 with orders to kill Osama Bin Laden and bring back his head, a former agent has revealed.

Gary Schroen flew out soon after the attacks on New York and Washington, helping to set up the 2001 invasion, he told US National Public Radio.

He recalled his orders from the CIA's counter-terrorism chief.

"Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice," he quoted Cofer Black as saying.

As for other leaders of Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan, Mr Black reportedly said: "I want their heads up on pikes."

Contacted by the radio network, Mr Black would not confirm that these were his exact words but he did not dispute Mr Schroen's account.

… Mr Schroen has released memoirs called First In, a reference to the fact that he and his team were the first US government personnel on the ground.

He says he is surprised that the CIA has still not managed to track down Bin Laden after nearly four years.


Well, if you want to see that on video, go here for the CIA agent who says he was asked to provide Osama's head on ice, dry ice specifically - as the president said he wanted that delivered to his office.  Chris Matthews on his MSNBC Hardball show asked the CIA guy last week the dumbest reporter-question of the year.  Where do you get dry ice in Afghanistan?  Yeah, we always wondered about that.

And from Sunday's Meet the Press Show (same link) –


MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Black gave you specific instructions on what he wanted you to bring home.

MR. SCHROEN: That's true. He did ask that once we got bin Laden and killed him, that we send his head back in a cardboard box on dry ice so that he could take it down and show the president.


Hell, you can't make up this stuff.  It only gets better by the day.

The president has watched too many Sam Peckinpah movies.  But we know now where he gets his ethical principles.  Remember our gleeful display of the mutilated bodies of Saddam’s two sons?  We have to show the world the kind of people we are?

Fine. We voted the man in for anther four years.  That’s what we want.

But over at the Christian Science Monitor we get more detail.  They report that when this guy spoke to Radio Free Europe he said it is unlikely we will ever get bin Laden, in a chilled cardboard box or not.  He’s probably in Pakistan, and getting him might just bring down the Pakistani government – and they seem to be our allies – as in this


[Schroen] says bin Laden is regarded almost as a "Robin Hood" figure among certain elements of the Islamic world. He says bin Laden's popularity is so great that Pakistan may not want to risk a potentially devastating political backlash by capturing him.


So no help there?  And on last weekend’s Meet the Press there was this - 


Q: "Is there a distinct possibility that [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf is afraid of capturing Osama bin Laden because he would fear that his government would be toppled?"

A: “In my opinion, that's a real likelihood ... to take on bin Laden, there would be an uproar within that country and around the Islamic world that would really cause the foundations of the Pakistani government to be shaken. ... And if we were able to find bin Laden, and identify that to the Pakistanis, I would suspect that there would be a great reluctance and probably a refusal to move forward.”


So George will not get his iced human head in a box.  This probably pisses him off no end.

There is no point in harping on what this all shows about our leader, or about us a people who want someone like this to lead us, or about what this would do to our already diminished reputation in what is called the civilized world.  George Bush holding up the severed head on television, and smirking – or more likely sneering – would please the Christian evangelical right.  Heck, they’d wet their pants in righteous delight and praise Jesus.  But one wonders if most other nations would just sever diplomatic relations with the United States in disgust.  Bush would love that.  Sam Peckinpah would just smile.




The Press



In the Louisville Courier-Journal on Sunday, May 8, you will find an item by photojournalist Molly Bingham – adapted from a speech she made at Western Kentucky University last month.  According to the newspaper, Bingham, a Louisville native, was detained in 2003 by Iraqi security forces and held in Abu Ghraib prison from March 25 to April 2, 2003.  Eighteen days after her release, she returned to Iraq to pursue stories for the New York Times, The Guardian and other papers.  The idea here?


Taking a short break during the summer of 2003, Bingham had the idea of working on a story to explore who was involved in the nascent resistance that was becoming apparent throughout Iraq. She scanned the papers that summer, looking for an article that would show some journalist had reported the story, had gone deeper to find out the source of the new violence. No one had. So in August 2003, Bingham returned with British journalist Steve Connors and spent the next 10 months reporting the story of the Iraqi resistance. Her account was published in Vanity Fair magazine in July 2004; Connors shot a documentary film on the subject. This speech was a challenge to journalists, and Americans, to speak up and be sure their comments, questions and thoughts are heard, and that the First Amendment is celebrated in all its strengths. Bingham began her career as a photo intern for The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times.


Local girl makes the big time, of course.

You can find a commentary on the item here, but here are a few choice excerpts –


…the basic point for this discussion is that we both thought it was really journalistically important to understand who it was who was resisting the presence of the foreign troops. If you didn't understand that, how could you report what was clearly becoming an "ongoing conflict?" And if you were reading the news in America, or Europe, how could you understand the full context of what was unfolding if what motivates the "other side" of the conflict is not understood, or even discussed?

… One of the hardest things about working on this story for me personally, and as a journalist, was to set my "American self" and perspective aside. It was an ongoing challenge to listen open-mindedly to a group of people whose foundation of belief is significantly different from mine, and one I found I often strongly disagreed with.

But going in to report a story with a pile of prejudices is no way to do a story justice, or to do it fairly, and that constant necessity to bite my tongue, wipe the smirk off my face or continue to listen through a racial or religious diatribe that I found appalling was a skill I had to practice. We would never walk in to cover a union problem or political event without seeking to understand the perspective from both, or the many sides of the story that exist. Why should we as journalists do it in Iraq?

… the other thing I found difficult was the realization that, while I was out doing what I believe is solid journalism, there were many (journalists and normal folks alike) who would question my patriotism, or wonder how I could even think hearing and relating the perspective "from the other side" was important.

…To seek to understand and represent to an American audience the reasons behind the Iraqi opposition is practically treasonous.

Every one of the people involved in the resistance that we spoke to held us individually responsible for their security. If something happened to them -- never mind that they were legitimate targets for the U.S. military -- they would blame us. And kill us. We soon learned that they had the U.S. bases so well watched that we had to abandon our idea of working on the U.S. side of the story -- that is, discovering what the soldiers really thought about who might be attacking them. There were so many journalists working with the American soldiers that we believed that that story would be well told. More practically, if we were seen by the Iraqis going in and out of the American bases, we would be tagged immediately as spies, informants and most likely be killed.
… I could go into a long litany of the ways in which the American military has treated journalists in Iraq. Recent actions indicate that the U.S. military will detain and/or kill any journalist who happens to be caught covering the Iraqi side of the militant resistance, and indeed a number of journalists have been killed by U.S. troops while working in Iraq. This behavior at the moment seems to be limited to journalists who also happen to be Arabs, or Arab-looking, but that is only a tangential story to what I'm telling you about here.

… The gatekeepers -- by which I mean the editors, publishers and business sides of the media -- don't want their paper or their outlet to reveal that compelling narrative of why anyone would oppose the presence of American troops on their soil. Why would anyone refuse democracy? Why would anyone not want the helping hand of America in overthrowing their terrible dictator? It's amazing to me how expeditiously we turn away from our own history. Think of our revolution. Think of our Founding Fathers. Think of what they stood for and hoped for. Think of how, over time, we have learned to improve on our own Constitution and governance. But think, mostly, about the words I just used: It was our decision and our determination that brought us where we are now.

… How many other American journalists, perhaps not as secure in their position as I, have thought to do a story and decided that it's too close to the bone, too questioning of the American government or its actions? How many times was the risk that our own government might come in and rifle through our apartment, our homes or take us away for questioning in front of our children a factor in our decision not to do a story? How many times did we as journalists decide not to do a story because we thought it might get us into trouble? Or, as likely, how often did the editor above us kill the story for the same reasons? Lots of column inches have been spent in the discussion of how our rights as Americans are being surreptitiously confiscated, but what about our complicity, as journalists, in that? It seems to me that the assault on free speech, while the fear and intimidation is in the air, comes as much from us -- as individuals and networks of journalists who censor ourselves -- as it does from any other source.


What's happened to the documentary that Bingham and Connors filmed last year in Iraq?  From last month, this


...Meanwhile, I'm told by another source that “Dateline” executive producer David Corvo recently declined to pick up an hour-long documentary from photojournalist Molly Bingham, who spent four months filming with anti-American insurgents in and around Baghdad. “Really interesting footage,” I'm told Corvo said. “Not something my audience wants to see.”


Of course not.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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