Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Facing up to wrongdoing in Abu Ghraib

Yahoo%21 News - Abu Ghraib Soldier Admits to Some Charges

David Dishneau writes an information-packed story for the AP, revealing much more, I think, than the headline indicates.

  • One more admission of wrongdoing.

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - The highest-ranking Army reservist charged with abusing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison said Monday he will plead guilty to some offenses because "what I did was a violation of law."

Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, of the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, said in a written statement e-mailed to The Associated Press by his attorney: "I have accepted responsibility for my actions at Abu Ghraib prison. I will be pleading guilty to certain charges because I have concluded that what I did was a
violation of law."

The three-paragraph statement did not specify the charges to which Frederick will plead guilty, and it wasn't clear whether he would still contest any of the allegations. He is charged with maltreating detainees, conspiracy to maltreat detainees, dereliction of duty and wrongfully committing an indecent act.
. . .
Frederick, a Virginia state prison guard in civilian life, is among seven members of the Cresaptown, Md.-based 372nd charged in the scandal, which involves physical abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners.

He would be the second of the seven to admit wrongdoing. Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits of Hyndman, Pa., pleaded guilty to three abuse charges in May and was sentenced to a year in prison.
. . .

Frederick's mother, Jo Ann Frederick . . . said on Monday that she did not know what offenses her son planned to acknowledge.

"I can only say that Chip has told us things, and it's not that it was so much hands-on things, but he is responsible for what some of the others did, and some of the things he did he feels were not right," she said.

  • Evidence that more than "a few bad apples" were responsible.

    Frederick has claimed the abusive treatment was orchestrated by military intelligence officers rather than MPs, according to a diary his family made available.

    In his statement Monday, Frederick said he hoped that "all those within the Army who contributed to or participated in the chaos that was Abu Ghraib" accept responsibility.

Public recognition of the propriety Darby's whistle-blowing.

He also expressed concern about Spc. Joseph M. Darby, a member of the 372nd credited with tipping off Army investigators to the abuse. Relatives of Darby said last week that he is in protective military custody, partly because of threats from people in their communities who believe he betrayed his fellow soldiers.

Frederick said he harbored no ill will toward Darby: "He did what he thought was right, and it was right," Frederick wrote.

  • An indication that the Army is not doing as much as it should be to further the investigation of Abu Ghraib.

In Mannheim on Monday, a military judge hearing evidence in the abuse cases demanded that prosecutors speed up the investigation. Col. James Pohl expressed displeasure after being told a lone Army criminal investigator was reviewing thousands of pages of records contained in a secret computer server at Abu Ghraib.

I'm sure others will look at the meat of this story and draw many conclusions. It does provide a wealth of issues to look at. But what strikes me is the admission of wrongdoing, i.e., the act of admitting that one has done something wrong. That's a tough thing to do for just about anyone. It must be ever so much harder for someone who felt he was following orders and doing something important for his country.

Even harder, I think, will be task for those who defend the actions in Abu Ghraib to come to the conclusion that it was wrong, because it means, to some extent, that we would have to say that our country was wrong. That's a tough nut to swallow for any patriot.

Yet we know that, as individuals, we do grow when we face up to the wrongs that we have done. Without facing up to them, we are consumed by guilt and the struggle to rationalize our wrong behavior. When we admit the wrongdoing, we may still have to face the consequences, but we end the struggle to twist something wrong into something right, we lessen the burden of guilt, we can set about making things better. That might include reversing the wrong, compensating for the wrong, or simply not straying down that path again.

Abu Ghraib is a stain on our national honor. We can do better. I heartily wish that we would.

Monday, August 23, 2004


I started writing this a month ago and must have been interrupted before I finished it. (cwr)

Atrios--at Eschaton--has a short post at captioned: "Vote!" I can't figure out how to capture the trackback for the post itself, but it's not so very long, and the gist is that he's agreeing with someone that generic GOTV activities are less useful than voter registration. The comments are much more lengthy, with a lively discussion on several dimensions of voter registration, the importance of voting, voter apathy, and so on. If one had the patience to find the post and then go to the comments (I have to right-click on the link to open them in a new window--it really is a clunky interface for some reason), the richness of thought would be, well, thought provoking.

My own thoughts have been provoked thusly:

Both GOTV (get out the vote activities) and VR (voter registration activities) are essential. Without VR, there's no point to GOTV. Without GOTV, VR is similarly pointless. Campaigns to promote the importance of voting to one group of Americans or another are intended to build a desire to vote and should, of course, be accompanied by some information about how to get registered to vote. Voter registration cards (in Texas, at least) used to come in little stands that said, "Register and vote!" (emphasis, no doubt, added). They probably still do.

The thing is, neither happens without some effort on someone's part. I was, for example, pleased to see that some local Austin Democrats were using the occasion of showings of Fahrenheit 9/11 as an opportunity to register voters. This was a targeted effort, based on the assumption that folks who saw had just seen this movie (as opposed to, say, Shrek 2, would want to register to vote. It seems to have panned out. Others are doing block walks in selected areas of the county, although I have not looked too closely at how they have made their selections. I myself take voter registration cards to workshops, in case someone needs to update their registration--or, indeed, register.

[Note to Jack: Yes, I saw Shrek 2 (with the grandson). Loved it. No, I didn't see Fahrenheit 9/11. I already knew the "plot" (pun intended) and couldn't bear to put myself through the emotional meat grinder. ]

In all cases, voter registration is a non-partisan activity. One might wish to register voters of one party or another in order to boost support for one's favored candidate, but that's not how it's done, nor should it be. Our right to vote is one of the most precious gifts of citzenship in our democracy. The one thing a VR drive should be doing is making sure that everyone who is willing to accept that gift receives it.

GOTV used to be fun on E-Day. I have fond memories of driving one of the old Volkswagen Rabbits as a sound car for a City Council race. Sadly, they only let me play a tape rather than letting me broadcast my own ad-libbed endorsements of the candidate and encouragement to "come on out and vote, folks," but it was fun driving through neighborhoods, waving to folks in their yards, and feeling so much a grand part of things. That was 20 years ago. I was already too upset with intrusive telemarketers to want to be a phone bank person, but I thought the sound car was a nice tradition. Nowadays, I'm sufficiently intolerant of noise pollution that I would probably have some second thoughts about voting for a candidate, sound permit notwithstanding, who destroyed the peace and quiet of my neighborhood (such as it is) to get me to the polls. And the real nitty gritty of GOTV is still those phone banks of identified voters. Find out who they are before E-day. Call 'em until they tell you they've voted. Ugh. GOTV of the sort that is being pursued with television and print ads, rock concerts, and wrestling events is much more "peaceable."

I've cut the rest of the essay, since I seem to have been trying to make a transition to a discussion of the need for some bipartisan civility when I was interrupted mid-sentence. This will have to stand as is since I've already done my freedom of speech rant for the day. (cwr)

Confessions of a Vietnam War Protester

Atrios has the complete text of John Kerry's April 1971 testimony to the Senate about his opposition to the war in Vietnam ( It is quite moving, reflecting a love of country that shines clearly throughout. I'm glad someone made it easy for me to read the whole thing, since it also places in context the excerpt about atrocities that seems to be the one piece that gets the most exposure in the corporate media. The context: Kerry was reporting the testimony of others, not making his own accusations in that particular sentence.

Recently a very dear friend of mine, who happens to be a Republican, sent me an email to let me know how much of a traitor Kerry had been in protesting the war. She knows how much I love my country, and I'm guessing that she was trying to make me aware of how misplaced my support for Kerry as candidate for president is. She has a son in the military, so her own need to find meaning in support for the president and his policies has an added level of motherly anxiety. The sad thing about the email is that she was forwarding some packaged piece that included a picture of Kerry standing in a smiling group of presumably North Vietnamese officials. The picture is displayed in some North Vietnamese museum and captioned with praise for Kerry. This "proof" of his being a traitor was dated very clearly: 1993.

I responded to my friend by pointing out--as gently as possible--that the captioned picture was probably made while Kerry was doing some of his official Senate business on the MIAs and was taken 20 years after he was actively protesting the war. I then pointed out that, in this grand country of ours, it's not illegal to protest the actions of the government and that I, too, had protested the war in Vietnam.

I recall the day I became an activist quite clearly. It came as a direct result of the killings at Kent State. I had, up to that point, been almost totally absorbed in my studies. I was supportive of decisions that fellows in my circle of friends made to seek draft deferments because of school, didn't know a soul who actually sought military alternatives to the draft. I was politically naive, ignorant of the causes and reasons of the war, but generally of a mind that it was too complicated for me to have a legitimate opinion one way or another.

Then Kent State happened. This frightened me. If it could happen at Kent State, could it not happen at my school? There were protests going on all the time. As I walked across campus to get to the library or attend classes, I had witnessed police in riot gear fast-marching in another direction but not 100 yards away from me. What was I doing that made it acceptable for some random shot to strike me down?

When the call came to shut down the campus and march en masse to the center of the city, I decided that it was time to join with my peers and make a statement. The decision came on a day when I was dressed for class--in the same way that I always dressed. Pleated skirt, turtle neck sweater, girdle, stocking, Mary Janes with about 2" heels. Some marching outfit.

There were thousands of students who joined the march. There were also several colleges in the city, so the plan that I heard including simultaneous marches from all the campuses meeting in the downtown area. I joined my march and enjoyed the spirit of determination and, yes, high excitement of those around me.

Eventually, however, that girdle took its toll. There were very few restrooms on that march. A service station on the route allowed folks to use the facilities, and the line outside the women's room was really long. I didn't actually need the facilities so much as I needed a place to get rid of that darned girdle. I cut the line with an explanation to that effect. I think I brought no little amusement to those at the head of the line who witnessed the shedding of that garment.

That garment, you must know, was an essential item. First, nice girls wore one to stop the unseemly jiggle that might otherwise manifest itself when walking. Second, in the days pre-pantyhose, it was the only way to hold up the stockings that were also part of the nice girl uniform. Being a southern girl at a northern campus made me a fish out of water in any number of ways, but that day, I think, was the most emblematic. Everyone else around me was dressed for the march, either having made the decision to join it some time before arriving at campus or already dressed in the more casual--even grungy--mode that typified the campus. The amused reactions of my fellow marchers when I announced that I just wanted to step into the ladies room to take off my girdle provided a watershed moment for me.

I rethought a lot of values that day. I can't say that I came to any clearer understanding of the roots of the war or that I resolved all of my own internal conflicts about the policies that led to it. I could only grasp it in limited terms, finite terms. How did it affect me? How did I feel about what was going on around me?

I never finished the march. The Mary Janes eventually did me in, and I had to take the bus home to nurse the blisters on my feet. The next day, however, I was better dressed for action and could join in other protest efforts. For a while I "manned the barricades," carrying a protest sign back and forth near one of the barricaded entrance to our campus. One side of the sign referred to Kent State and the other to Cambodia. (I didn't understand the issue about Cambodia, so I tried to keep the Kent State side showing to the passing cars.)

On another day, I joined the group that had taken over the campus radio station to help get the real news out to the public. That was my first experience with censorship. I was given the task of editing the incoming teletype stories for broadcast on the radio. Generally, I was just cutting the stories down to size for manageable broadcast--and I was quite enlightened by the stories that I read before they were broadcast. One, however, sticks with me: Jane Fonda had gone somewhere to protest the war and, according to the wire story, appeared with her blouse unbuttoned enough to expose her breasts. That didn't seem very nice to me, so I cut the line describing her appearance. I felt very guilty about trying to shape her image in a more seemly way, but, at the time, I was thinking that it wouldn't reflect well on the rest of us if her less-than-ladylike appearance. I still feel guilty about "censoring" the news--but I also never forget that any news we hear is likely to be filtered through the biases and concerns of the editors that get to see and hear it before we do.

Once I became involved in the protest, it also meant that there were any number of organizing meetings to attend. I hadn't learned in those days that I was supposed to keep my mouth shut and hand out coffee to the guys. (Never did learn that one, in fact.) So I asked questions and generally participated in discussions as if I could have a legitimate opinion. I cannot forget the fellow who towered over me, yelling at me about my faith in the proper system to report and protest any potential police brutality. That exchange was emblematic for me because I had never before considered that a policeman might deliberately hide his identity in order to harm a citizen. I was frightened at the thought--and more frightened by the realization that our definitions of civilized and lawful society were capable of such distortion.

At some point, the campus settled back to its normal routines. Someone negotiated to open the barricades, to end the occupation of various buildings. I went back to classes, walked across the campus with a little more awareness of what it meant to be safe there, and continued to struggle with the implications of the war in Vietnam for our own society.

One definite outcome of these events is that I never wore a girdle again. It's less clear to me how we are to view the war in Vietnam. It was clearly an unjust war (my opinion now, take it or leave it), but the aftermath and the lessons they might have taught us are much more troublesome. There has been a long division in our country about the nature of patriotism, the value of military service, the role our country should play in the world. We've never gotten over Vietnam--and we've never really resolved many of the issues that arose from that war.

I think, however, that it is absolutely clear that our country must be one in which people are allowed to speak their opinions freely and without being labelled a traitor for expressing their heartfelt belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction in foreign or domestic policy. None of us will--nor can we--share exactly the same life experiences and knowledge that will always and inevitably lead us to exactly the same conclusions about the direction of the country. I disgree with my Republican friend about some of the beliefs that she holds. I even disagree with John Kerry about some of the things that he is advocating for future policy. But I treasure my friend, because she is a friend and because I respect the life that she has led and also because I care about the concerns that lead her to some of the conclusions that she has reached. I care about John Kerry, too, and have high hopes for the election in November. I believe that he is a good man, and I am glad that we live in a country where he--and I--and all the rest of us have the right to face our government and say: "This is right. This is wrong. We can do better."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Senate Hopeful Obama Is Kenya's Favorite Son

Senate Hopeful Obama Is Kenya's Favorite Son

C. Bryson Hull writes for Reuters from Kogelo, Kenya, that "When it comes to U.S. politics the world may be focused on the presidential election but in Kenya, a U.S. Senate race in Illinois is grabbing the headlines and the attention. " He is referring to the campaign of Barack Obama, which has been drawing a fair amount of attention in the blogosphere if not in the corporate media for some time.

I know little enough about Obama. I did not hear his speech at the Democratic convention, although I read enough excerpts to know that he appealed powerfully to the desire that we all share to see more unity in this country. He is in all likelihood a shoo-in for this election, which, in my mind, is not a bad thing.

In this, however, my sympathies are not with the Democratic Party but with Kenya. I have no idea--right now--whether Obama is as knowledgeable about Kenya in particular and Africa in general as he might be, given his heritage, but (a) I hope so and (b) I intend to find out more. That he might bring such knowledge--or at least awareness--to the U.S. Senate is a good thing for several reasons.

First, U.S. policy towards Africa has been dismal for as long as I can remember. The only interest that the U.S. has had in Africa has been its value as a pawn in the Cold War or the presence of exploitable natural resources, particularly, these days, oil. If and when funding has been allocated for any sort of assistance, it seems to have been directed toward unsustainable projects which became little more than white elephants for struggling economies, military aid poured like oil on a fire, or one shot infusions of "relief" that provided no sustainable infrastructure. There doesn't seem to have been any sustained attention to the continent or even the courting of allies on the continent with a view to promoting healthy economies and open goverments.

Second, Africa is much more critical globally than most of my fellow Americans seem to want to recognize. The stereotypes that have been maintained for centuries seem somehow to continue through even the most contemporary news stories in the corporate media--and we cluck with satisfied dismay to hear of more famine, more massacres, more corruption as our stereotypes are confirmed. But here are a couple of thoughts to bear in mind. HIV originated in Africa and has become a global pandemic from that epicenter. One-fourth of the population of Africa is Muslim; three major Al Qaeda-linked attacks have occurred in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Mombasa. At least one other was attempted. Africa would seem to be ignored at our peril.

Then there is the loss of endangered species. Desertification. Genocide. Oppressive governments. Imminent famine in a couple of places. Things we say we care about but don't seem to do anything about until it's either too late or damned near it.

Why will it matter for Africa if Obama gets to the Senate? Well, if he will speak for Africa, he becomes a legitimate voice for the concerns and needs of millions. Yes, he must represent Illinois and its needs. But Illinois will be well served--as would we all--if the U.S. begins to look at Africa intelligently and respectfully, if the U.S. begins to spends its funds there with more wisdom, if the U.S. recognizes that the "world" isn't cut off at the Equator.

It's past time to begin building good health services in Africa, sustainable agriculture and water supplies, laying some better seeds for democracy than big shiny dams and power plants that break down when there is no foreign currency for repair.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Texas Heroes (Part III)

On Thursday, we had to make the long drive North Texas for a funeral. Aunt Lessie had died. She was 92. We had been expecting this for some time. She, bless her, even picked a convenient time. My Prince is retired, and I am on vacation, so no plans had to be urgently rearranged to pay our last respects.

The funeral was lovely, held in the First Christian Church of that small town. A sweet looking elderly pianist played several hymns with great expression. The minister spoke well and remembered that the service was Aunt Lessie's funeral and not a Sunday morning service. It was, if anything, too brief to remember such a long and special life.

There were not very many people at the service. At Lessie's age, she had outlived most of her family and friends. Her only living sister was too ill to attend. She had no children of her own. The 10 family members present were nieces and nephews of the great and great great generations. There were a few flowers from friends and family and the various organizations she had served over time, but none for her coffin. That was covered with a flag.

Aunt Lessie served in the Women's Army Corps in World War II. She was a nurse, first at Camp Swift, then for a while at Fort Hood, and then back to Camp Swift. At Fort Hood, she set up the nursing service there. At Camp Swift, the most serious burn cases were treated. She left the Army in 1945, having achieved the rank of Captain.

Apparently, she never much wanted to talk about her work as an Army nurse, because the stories were simply too painful. But she clearly kept her military bearing throughout her life and continued to serve her community in a number of ways for many years afterwards.

In her little church, the tradition seems to have been for the people attending the funeral at the church to stand outside waiting for the coffin to be brought out to be placed in the hearse. They stood on either side of the walkway. As the flag-draped coffin passed by, one fellow remembered and saluted.

Aunt Lessie would have liked that, I think.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Texas Task Forces

Now there's task forces, and then there's task forces. It happens that I myself serve on one of those things called a "task force." Hellifiknow exactly what that makes me, but it sounded kind of empowering when I first got on it donkey's years ago.

While it's my heart's desire not to mix my work with this blog--and that is itself a mighty struggle--boundaries seem not to be my forte these days. I am, you see, on vacation. So why, you may ask (and so do I), am I working on a grant proposal for that blasted task force right in the middle of my vacation? Once more comes one of my favorite words: hellifiknow. (That's much more ladylike than damnedifiknow, y'know!)

The task force, just for a bit of context, is, in fact, a drug task force, 'cept we don't carry guns or wear badges. Well, a couple of folks have the badges, but nobody has any guns (so far). And the drugs are actually either the legal kind or the wannabe legal kind (as in fraudulent, counterfeit, hoax, generally bad for you).

And the grant is a federal grant. My least favorite kind. Everything has to be explained in detail. And, then, in the next section, it all has to be explained again, in the same detail, like they can't read the first section and figure out that it says the same thing. By the time you get to the fifth section, you've said it five damned (oopsie!) times in just about the same words and your face is turning red. Not to mention the bad words that have begun to creep into your project description.

I was just about finished--as in "let her finish the blasted thing up; she's the chair"--when I got to the budget. Well, now, a budget can be an interesting thing. Sometimes it can actually be kinda fun to be the girl who writes the budget. Or, in this case, the girl who edits the budget.

Once you figure out what the original budget is supposed to have done, you can tinker a bit. Up this number a bit (my plane ticket could cost more than that), lower that number a bit (who needs that many envelopes, for garden seed?). Then you can start thinking about what else should be there (oopsie, she left out the website domain cost). After you've whacked a bit here and there, you've saved up some money. Now what to do? What do we really need to make this task force better? Well, it wouldn't hurt to actually get the task force printer repaired rather than using mine all the time. How about that? And maybe some actual ink for the printer? Oooo, now it's getting good.

So you go back to add up the numbers, because there actually is a cap to all of this. It is, after all, a federal-state "partnership." You know, one of those things where the feds put out a pittance and expect the state to pick up the bulk of the tab, but the state passes as much of it on to the community (read "nonprofit organizations") as possible? (I would be "the community" in this little arrangement--and I get my money by standing on street corners with a tin cup--or something very like that.) So the whole thing can't be more than a ridiculously low total amount. (And, no, using federal ink for federal work doesn't bother my conscience in the least. Who do you think writes most of the educational material for this task force?)

Well, the numbers are adding up. I'm getting happy. I just have to make sure that all the quintuplicate narrative is matching the numbers--and what do I see? The aforementioned chair has made a monstrous error. Not an addition error, mind you. She just left out one-whole-honking-sixth of the budget. No wonder she had so much money left over for stamps and envelopes. She left out a whole task force meeting.

A whole meeting. One-sixth of the pitifully small budget. And we had talked about it at least three times. I could only laugh. The task force, you see, is a Texas task force. As in Texas, the state that could have been five states. The state that takes a couple of days to drive across. The state that takes several hours to fly across. Every year we have to explain this to the folks back east. Texas is b-i-g. So, to have a meeting of all the task force members, who live in places like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and even El Paso, we can't just hop in the car, drive an hour, meet a couple of hours, and be home for dinner. Somehow the guys in the east just can't seem to understand why it costs so much for a task force meeting.

It's expensive to meet. Airfare, hotel, per diem all mount up, even for just 8 people. But we cut our meetings down to twice a year and do as much of our work as possible by email and conference call. Our two meetings each year are training sessions, work sessions, business meetings, planning meetings--combined with community outreach in whatever city or town we are in (and we move around the state to maximize the outreach). We pile in everything we can to make the meetings "value added," cut every corner we can (e.g., some of us even car pool), in order to make sure that we have made our point ever so clear: This is a good thing. And then we explain the cycle of the year and the nature of the issue that we are dealing with so that it justifies the two meetings per year. Over and over again in that blasted proposal.

I really did laugh when I saw the missing numbers. It had to be some sort of reverse Freudian slip. We've just been battered so many times about those meeting costs, and I'm guessing that the chair (nice lady, overwhelmed by the fedspeak of the grant instructions anyway) just flinched.

But maybe it's time to fight back. The grant instructions do say that a map showing geographical location of the project can be attached. Maybe I should do that. I'm thinking that I happen to have a pile of old leftover TxDOT maps--with Ann Richards' picture on 'em. Maybe some hand lettered drawing with mileages and driving times might give them a clue to just how big Texas really is. A nice big, fold out map that covers their desk and slaps 'em in the face with the fact that it takes longer to drive across Houston than it does to cross Rhode Island (probably). Yes, that would be fun.

Of course, now I have to go cut stuff out of the budget in order to squeeze in that second meeting. That sucks canal water.

What I did on my vacation . . .