by Mike Nourse
Two months ago, President Bush gave a speech outlining America's new priorities in the world. If you missed it, click here to watch a special version -- with all of the bullshit taken out.
By Jason Halperin
Two weeks ago I experienced a very small taste of what hundreds of South Asian immigrants and U.S. citizens of South Asian descent have gone through since 9/11, and what thousands of others have come to fear. I was held, against my will and without warrant or cause, under the USA PATRIOT Act. While I understand the need for some measure of security and precaution in times such as these, the manner in which this detention and interrogation took place raises serious questions about police tactics and the safeguarding of civil liberties in times of war.
That night, March 20th, my roommate Asher and I were on our way to see the Broadway show "Rent." We had an hour to spare before curtain time so we stopped into an Indian restaurant just off of Times Square in the heart of midtown. I have omitted the name of the restaurant so as not to subject the owners to any further harassment or humiliation.
We helped ourselves to the buffet and then sat down to begin eating our dinner. I was just about to tell Asher how I'd eaten there before and how delicious the vegetable curry was, but I never got a chance. All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.
by MICHEL GUERRIN
for Le Monde
Translated for CounterPunch by NORMAN MADARASZ
Laurent Van der Stockt, a photographer working for the Gamma agency and under contract for the New York Times Magazine, followed the advance of the 3/4 Marines (3rd battalion, 4th regiment) for three weeks, up to the taking of Baghdad on April 9. He was accompanied by New York Times Magazine editor, Peter Maas. Born in Belgium in 1964, Laurent Van der Stockt mainly works in conflict zones: the first Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Africa and the Occupied Territories. This is his eyewitness account of the Marines' march to Baghdad:
"Everything began at the Kuwait/Iraq border. I forced my way into the country and arrived at Safwan. American soldiers had seized the opportunity to tear up portraits of Saddam Hussein on the main street. They were doing this right in front of the local inhabitants, whose elation quickly vanished. The soldiers obviously didn't imagine that it was up to the Iraqis to be doing this, or that it was humiliating for them. These were the same soldiers who would topple down Saddam's statue in Baghdad three weeks later...
I understood that the Marines' general strategy was to not waste any time. In the cities they crossed, the Marines had to make a show of force. Then they would resume their advance by going as fast as possible up by the east through the desert, and avoid any contact with the population. It takes an effort to picture what an army looks like as it advances through the sands. It's an anthill. It's more than a city on the march. It's a world whose extremities are never seen. It's a cutting edge, mechanical version of Julius Caesar's army.
During the first few days, with colleagues from the New York Times and Newsweek, I tried to follow the convoys in a SUV by playing hide-and-seek. We were spending a lot of time then with the 1 500 Marines of the 3/4, commanded by Colonel Bryan P. McCoy. His troops gave us water, gas and food. In exchange for their tolerance, we respected the rules to not pass the convoy and to camp at such and such a place. We were just barely tolerated. The colonel could see that the 'few jokers were behaving well'. He knew we had experienced more wars than his own troops.
For McCoy, we were obviously interesting right from the start. We were the ones who could tell his story. Trust settled in between us. He let us drive at the head of the convoy. The Marines are generally less privileged than the army. They're trained to do the dirty work, the less honorary jobs. They have the oldest tanks, and the least up-to-date M16 rifles. They themselves translate 'USMC' (United States Marine Corps) by United States Misgodded Children, i.e. the US' forgotten children, forgotten by God.
Their motto is 'Search and Kill'. The 'Kilo' unit is nicknamed 'Killer Kilo'. The words 'Carnivore' or 'Blind Killer' are painted on their tanks. McCoy could snap with a 'Shame on You' -- a smile flashing across his face -- to the sniper who had just finished telling him: 'I've got eight, Sir, but only five'. Literally meaning: I've shot eight, but only five of them are dead.
I've never seen a war with so few 'returns'. The Iraqi army was like a ghost. It barely existed. Over the three weeks, I only saw the adversary fire a few short-range rockets and a few shots. I saw deserted trenches, a dead Iraqi soldier lying next to a piece of bread and some old equipment. Nothing that really made you feel that there was a real confrontation going on, nothing comparable to the massiveness of the means at the Americans' disposal.
On April 6, we were at the outskirts of Baghdad, facing a strategic bridge the Americans called 'the Baghdad Highway Bridge'. Residential zones were now much greater in number. American snipers got the order to kill anything coming in their direction. That night a teenager who was crossing the bridge was killed.
On the morning of April 7, the Marines decided to cross the bridge. A shell fell onto an armored personnel carrier. Two marines were killed. The crossing took on a tragic aspect. The soldiers were stressed, febrile. They were shouting. The risk didn't appear to be that great, so I followed their advance. They were howling, shouting orders and positions to each other. It sounded like something in-between a phantasm, mythology and conditioning. The operation was transformed into crossing the bridge over the River Kwai.
Later, there was some open terrain. The Marines were advancing and taking up position, hiding behind mounds of earth. They were still really tense. A small blue van was moving towards the convoy. Three not-very-accurate warning shots were fired. The shots were supposed to make the van stop. The van kept on driving, made a U-turn, took shelter and then returned slowly. The Marines opened fire. All hell broke loose. They were firing all over the place. You could hear 'Stop firing' being shouted. The silence that set in was overwhelming. Two men and a woman had just been riddled with bullets. So this was the enemy, the threat.
A second vehicle drove up. The same scenario was repeated. Its passengers were killed on the spot. A grandfather was walking slowly with a cane on the sidewalk. They killed him too (SEE PHOTO IN LE MONDE). As with the old man, the Marines fired on a SUV driving along the river bank that was getting too close to them. Riddled with bullets, the vehicle rolled over. Two women and a child got out, miraculously still alive. They sought refuge in the wreckage. A few seconds later, it flew into bits as a tank lobbed a terse shot into it.
Marines are conditioned to reach their target at any cost, by staying alive and facing any type of enemy. They abusively make use of disproportionate firepower. These hardened troops, followed by tons of equipment, supported by extraordinary artillery power, protected by fighter jets and cutting-edge helicopters, were shooting on local inhabitants who understood absolutely nothing of what was going on.
With my own eyes I saw about fifteen civilians killed in two days. I've gone through enough wars to know that it's always dirty, that civilians are always the first victims. But the way it was happening here, it was insane.
At the roughest moment, the most humane of the troops was called Doug. He gave real warning shots. From 800 yards he could hit a tire and, if that wasn't enough, then the motor. He saved ten lives in two hours by driving back civilians who were coming towards us.
Distraught soldiers were saying: 'I ain't prepared for this, I didn't come here to shoot civilians.' The colonel countered that the Iraqis were using inhabitants to kill marines, that 'soldiers were being disguised as civilians, and that ambulances were perpetrating terrorist attacks.'
I drove away a girl who had had her humerus pierced by a bullet. Enrico was holding her in his arms. In the rear, the girl's father was protecting his young son, wounded in the torso and losing consciousness. The man spoke in gestures to the doctor at the back of the lines, pleading: "I don't understand, I was walking and holding my children's hands. Why didn't you shoot in the air? Or at least shoot me?"
In Baghdad, McCoy sped up the march. He stopped taking the time to search houses one-by-one. He wanted to get to Paradise Place as soon as possible. The Marines were not firing on the thickening population. The course ended with Saddam's statue being toppled. There were more journalists at the scene than Baghdadis. Its five million inhabitants stayed at home."
Interviewed by Michel Guerrin for LE MONDE, April 12, 2003.
Translated for CounterPunch by Norman Madarasz (email@example.com).
So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National Library and Archives - a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents, including the old royal archives of Iraq - were turned to ashes in 3,000 degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment was set ablaze.
I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history, I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.
And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last Baghdad vestiges of Iraq's written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero; with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?
When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning - flames 100 feet high were bursting from the windows - I raced to the offices of the occupying power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire". I gave the map location, the precise name - in Arabic and English. I said the smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the scene - and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.
There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo, printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad. In the National Archives were not just the Ottoman records of the Caliphate, but even the dark years of the country's modern history, handwritten accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and military diaries,and microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers going back to the early 1900s.
But the older files and archives were on the upper floors of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to the building. The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards and the concrete stairs that I climbed had been cracked.
The papers on the floor were almost too hot to touch, bore no print or writing, and crumbled into ash the moment I picked them up. Again, standing in this shroud of blue smoke and embers, I asked the same question: why?
So, as an all-too-painful reflection on what this means, let me quote from the shreds of paper that I found on the road outside, blowing in the wind, written by long-dead men who wrote to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to the Court of Sharif of Mecca with expressions of loyalty and who signed themselves "your slave". There was a request to protect a camel convoy of tea, rice and sugar, signed by Husni Attiya al-Hijazi (recommending Abdul Ghani-Naim and Ahmed Kindi as honest merchants), a request for perfume and advice from Jaber al-Ayashi of the royal court of Sharif Hussein to Baghdad to warn of robbers in the desert. "This is just to give you our advice for which you will be highly rewarded," Ayashi says. "If you don't take our advice, then we have warned you." A touch of Saddam there, I thought. The date was 1912.
Some of the documents list the cost of bullets, military horses and artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia, others record the opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz - soon to be Saudi Arabia - while one recounts, from the village of Azrak in modern-day Jordan, the theft of clothes from a camel train by Ali bin Kassem, who attacked his interrogators "with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and later bought off". There is a 19th-century letter of recommendation for a merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, "a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and who works with the [Ottoman] government." This, in other words, was the tapestry of Arab history - all that is left of it, which fell into The Independent's hands as the mass of documents crackled in the immense heat of the ruins.
King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel became king of Iraq - Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French threw him out of Damascus - and his brother Abdullah became the first king of Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.
For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan's grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq. Why?
"USA Encouraged Ransacking"
This is a translation of an article from April 11 from Dagens
Nyheter, Sweden’s largest newspaper, based in Stockholm. The
article was written by Ole Rothenborg and translated by Joe
Valasek. Khaled Bayomi, has taught and researched on Middle
Eastern conflicts for ten years at the University of Lund where
he is also working on his doctorate. He has given his permission
for this interview to be widely disseminated.
Khaled Bayomi looks surprised when the American officer on TV
complains that they don’t have the resources to stop the
plundering in Baghdad. "I happened to be right there just as the
American troops encouraged people to begin the plundering."
Khaled Bayomi traveled from Europe to Baghdad to be a human
shield and arrived on the same day that the war began. About
this he can tell many stories but the most interesting is
certainly his eyewitness account of the wave of plundering.
"I had gone to see some friends who live near a dilapidated area
just past Haifa Avenue on the west bank of the Tigris. It was
the 8th of April and the fighting was so intense that I was
unable to return to the other side of the river. In the
afternoon it became perfectly quiet and four American tanks took
places on the edge of the slum area. The soldiers shot two
Sudanese guards who stood at their posts outside a local
administration building on the other side of Haifa Avenue. Then
they blasted apart the doors to the building and from the tanks
came eager calls in Arabic encouraging people to come close to
"The entire morning, everyone who had tried to cross the road
had been shot. But in the strange silence after all the
shooting, people gradually became curious. After 45 minutes, the
first Baghdad citizens dared to come out. Arab interpreters in
the tanks told the people to go and take what they wanted in the
"The word spread quickly and the building was ransacked. I was
standing only 300 yards from there when the guards were
murdered. Afterwards the tank crushed the entrance to the
Justice Department, which was in a neighboring building, and the
plundering continued there".
"I stood in a large crowd and watched this together with them.
They did not partake in the plundering but dared not to
interfere. Many had tears of shame in their eyes. The next
morning the plundering spread to the Modern Museum, which lies a
quarter mile farther north. There were also two crowds there,
one that plundered and one with watched with disgust."
"Are you saying that it was US troops who initiated the
"Absolutely. The lack of jubilant scenes meant that the American
troops needed pictures of Iraqis who in different ways
demonstrated hatred for Saddam’s regime."
"The people pulled down a large statue of Saddam?"
"Did they? It was an American tank that did that, right beside
the hotel where all the journalists stay. Until lunchtime on
April 9, I did not see one destroyed Saddam portrait. If people
had wanted to pull down statues they could have taken down some
of the small ones without any help from American tanks. If it
had been a political upheaval, the people would have pulled down
statues first and then plundered."
"Isn’t it good that Saddam is gone?"
"He’s not gone. He has broken his army down into very small
groups. That’s why there hasn’t been a large battle. About the
official state, you could say that Saddam dissolved that already
in 1992 and he’s built a parallel tribal structure that is
totally decisive in Iraq. When the US began the war, Saddam
abandoned the state completely and now depends on the tribal
structure. That was why he abandoned the large cities without a
"Now the US is compelled to do everything themselves because
there’s no political body within the country which will
challenge the existing structure. The two who came in from
outside the country were annihilated at once. (The reference
here is to General Nazar al-Khazraji, who returned from Denmark
and the Shiite Muslim leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.) They were
cut to pieces with swords and knives by a furious crowd in Najaf
because they were thought to be American puppets. According to
the Danish newspaper BT, al-Khazraji was brought from Denmark to
Iraq by the CIA."
"Now we have an occupying power in place in Iraq that has not
said how long it intends to remain, has not given any plan for
civilian rule and no date for general elections. Enormous chaos
is now to be expected."
Our team in Baghdad just called. It is difficult for us to convey the obvious relief that we experienced upon hearing from them. The phone disconnected three times giving us less than 10 minutes to communicate with them. They told us U.S. soldiers and tanks are on streets and street corners, they seem to be everywhere. Further, they expressed with great emphasis that an excessive amount of bombs have rained down on Baghdad for the last week.
Today as we watch on television the countless hours of reporting on the tangible and symbolic destruction of a Saddam Hussein statue, the number of injured civilians, families losing loved ones, lootings, fires, and fighting increases. Meanwhile our team in Amman attended a press briefing where they heard statements from United Nations humanitarian coordinators. These statements have gone unmentioned in the mainstream media.
Carel de Rooy director of UNICEF in Iraq stated, "Before this conflict took place UNICEF had networks and systems in Iraq that helped achieve our life-saving vaccination campaigns, nutrition campaigns, and work in education. What is horribly worrying about the looting, chaos, and break down of order, is that those systems we counted on may completely collapse," he added that at the beginning of this week, the UNICEF Iraq appeal has received just 1/5th of its funding. "This is obviously and simply not enough. We have an emergency on our hands. Our actions in the next few weeks will determine the physical and mental well-being of a generation of Iraqi children."
A representative from the World Health Organization, speaking to the increasing humanitarian crisis added, "Reports from Baghdad tell of serious civilian casualties and growing pressure on hospitals and health workers. Electricity supplies are erratic, the standby generators are being overworked to the point of collapse; many hospitals are running short of clean, safe water, staff are working extremely long hours in unimaginable circumstances and some vital surgical and medical supplies are running short...in a hospital with a basic infrastructure not functioning, and where doctors and nurses have to perform difficult emergency surgical operations and provide intensive care without access to some of the most basic services and supplies."
Months prior to the "shock and awe" onslaught, UN officials, as well as delegates with the Iraq Peace Team, had warned and protested against the use of such violence due to the realities Iraqis are faced with today, the realities as outlined in the statements above. Adding greater concern to an already desperate situation, UNHCI commented on the inability for UN agencies to enter Iraq at the current time, because of the lack of safety on the roads and access to warehouses and offices.
As our team in Baghdad continues to bear witness, we ask all of you to continue to do the work that has just begun. The urgency for water and relief that is felt by many civilians throughout Iraq is one that must be heard and echoed throughout the world until their needs are met. In the most recent diary from our team in Iraq, Cynthia Banas wrote, "Death, destruction, maiming, and lifetime trauma are the consequences of war. We have witnessed children frightened beyond their years, and have seen their mangled bodies in the hospital. War for them will never end."
for Voices in the Wilderness
Oakland PD fired wooden pellet bullets, metal-shot "beanbags", tear gas, and "concussion grenades" at a peaceful picket of American President Lines, a military cargo shipment company working out of the Oakland docks. Several injuries, including dockworkers, resulting in the ILWU sending its workers home. We arrived shortly after this went down and saw some of the wounds and rescued ammo. Several photos, reports, and a video are available at www.indybay.org - which also has photos from the student shutdown of Hwy 280 in SF today, as well as several from the march/rally in Oakland this last Sat., which featured prominent labor organizations and students-of-color groups, making links between the illegal war in Iraq (& still continuing in Afghanistan, the Philippines, etc...) and multiple social and economic issues at home and elsewhere, giving the lie to still-repeated claims that the protesters are just a bunch of old white hippies.
-- David Buuck
As Well As Disobedient, Fluxus, Humorous, Intelligent, And Situationist
Through the grapevine I hear of problems some have with Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) This morning on W.B.A.I I listened to a discussion about the New York Times, ironically, accusing United For Peace and Justice of not supporting civil disobedience.
Even Taylor Meade--Andy Warhol superstar, downtown nightclub denizen, and raconteur--the evening of March 22, 2003, the day of a big anti-war march down Broadway from Times Square to Washington Square Park, says, "The anti-war movement is redundant!" Poet Frank Sherlock wittily replied, "Maybe but only because war is so redundant!"
I have only witnessed increasing joy and savvy in the anti-war movement since the semi-legal march in New York on Saturday February 22, 2003. Unfortunately the rancor and hatred from pro-war press and public is increasingly vociferous.
In spite of comments to the contrary what I witnessed near Rockefeller Center last Thursday, March 27, 2003 was a terrific expression of democracy incorporating art, carnival, comedy, poetry, and philosophy to critique the United States’ war on terrorism in Iraq.
More than 200 people were arrested for symbolically dying on 5th Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center, ground zero of U.S. corporate media. Several hundred more people gathered in front and near the center to protest, not only the war in Iraq, but media coverage of it. The demonstration was, for lack of a better word, organized by the M27 Coalition, because many participants heard about the event from National Public Radio the night prior, as well as various other sources. Furthermore, the last several years of the growing anti-corporate globalization movement has informed the current anti-war movement--loosely affiliated affinity groups gather to create a critical mass of dissent.
The inability to identify a leader always infuriates police and especially the press. There is no one to blame nor to soundbite. For example, I travelled to the march from Brooklyn with John Coletti, unaffiliated with any group. He learned about the action on the radio. He spent 22 hours in jail. He's just this person who opposes U.S. military intervention in Iraq.
The following 13 photographs document some of what I observed.
The wounds are vicious and deep, a rash of scarlet spots on the back and thighs or face, the shards of shrapnel from the cluster bombs buried an inch or more in the flesh. The wards of the Hillah teaching hospital are proof that something illegal – something quite outside the Geneva Conventions – occurred in the villages around the city once known as Babylon.
The wailing children, the young women with breast and leg wounds, the 10 patients upon whom doctors had to perform brain surgery to remove metal from their heads, talk of the days and nights when the explosives fell "like grapes" from the sky. Cluster bombs, the doctors say – and the detritus of the air raids around the hamlets of Nadr and Djifil and Akramin and Mahawil and Mohandesin and Hail Askeri shows that they are right.
Were they American or British aircraft that showered these villages with one of the most lethal weapons of modern warfare? The 61 dead who have passed through the Hillah hospital since Saturday night cannot tell us. Nor can the survivors who, in many cases, were sitting in their homes when the white canisters opened high above their village, spilling thousands of bomblets into the sky, exploding in the air, soaring through windows and doorways to burst indoors or bouncing off the roofs of the concrete huts to blow up later in the roadways.
Rahed Hakem remembers that it was 10.30am on Sunday when she was sitting in her home in Nadr, that she heard "the voice of explosions" and looked out of the door to see "the sky raining fire". She said the bomblets were a black-grey colour. Mohamed Moussa described the clusters of "little boxes" that fell out of the sky in the same village and thought they were silver-coloured. They fell like "small grapefruit," he said. "If it hadn't exploded and you touched it, it went off immediately," he said. "They exploded in the air and on the ground and we still have some in our home, unexploded."
Karima Mizler thought the bomblets had some kind of wires attached to them – perhaps the metal "butterfly" that contains sets of the tiny cluster bombs and springs open to release them in showers.
Some victims died at once, mostly women and children, some of whose blackened, decomposing remains lay in the tiny charnel house mortuary at the back of the Hillah hospital. The teaching college received more than 200 wounded since Saturday night – the 61 dead are only those who were brought to the hospital or who died during or after surgery, and many others are believed to have been buried in their home villages – and, of these, doctors say about 80 per cent were civilians.
Soldiers there certainly were, at least 40 if these statistics are to be believed, and amid the foul clothing of the dead outside the mortuary door I found a khaki military belt and a combat jacket. But village men can also be soldiers and both they and their wives and daughters insisted there were no military installations around their homes. True or false? Who is to know if a tank or a missile launcher was positioned in a nearby field – as they were along the highway north to Baghdad? But the Geneva Conventions demand protection for civilians even if they are intermingled with military personnel, and the use of cluster bombs in these villages – even if aimed at military targets – thus crosses the boundaries of international law.
So it was that 27-year old Asil Yamin came to receive those awful round wounds in her back. And so five-year-old Zaman Abbais was hit in the legs and 48-year-old Samira Abdul-Hamza in the eyes, chest and legs. Her son Haidar, a 32-year-old soldier, said the containers which fell to the ground were white with some red and green sometimes painted on them. ''It is like a grenade and they came into the houses," he said. "Some stayed on the land, others exploded."
Heartbreaking is the only word to describe 10-year-old Maryam Nasr and her five-year-old sister Hoda. Maryam has a patch over her right eye where a piece of bomblet embedded itself. She also had wounds to the stomach and thighs. I didn't realise that Hoda, standing by her sister's bed, was wounded until her mother carefully lifted the little girl's scarf and long hair to show a deep puncture in the right side of her head, just above her ear, congealed blood sticking to her hair but the wound still gently bleeding. Their mother described how she had been inside her home and heard an explosion and found her daughters lying in their own blood near the door. The little girls alternately smiled and hid when I took their pictures. In other wards, the hideously wounded would try to laugh, to show their bravery. It was a humbling experience.
The Iraqi authorities, of course, were all too ready to allow us journalists access to these patients. But there was no way these children and often uneducated parents could manufacture their stories of tragedy and pain. Nor could the Iraqis have faked the scene in Nadr village where the remains of the tiny bomblets littered the ground beside the scorch marks. A crew from Sky Television even managed to bring a set of bomblet shrapnel back to Baghdad from Nadr with them, the wicked little metal balls that are intended to puncture the human body still locked into their frame like cough sweets in a metal sheath, They were of a black colour which glinted silver when held against the light.
Again, were the aircraft that dropped these terrible weapons American or British? The deputy administrator of the hospital and one of his doctors told a confused tale of military action around the city in recent days, of Apache helicopters that would disgorge special forces on the road to Karbala; one of their operations – if the hospital personnel are to be believed – went spectacularly wrong one night recently when militiamen forced them to retreat. Shortly afterwards, the cluster bomb raids began, although the villages that were targeted appear to have been on the other side of Hillah to the reported abortive American attack.
One thing was clear: there is no "front line" in the fighting around Babylon, that US forces strike into land around the Tigris river by air and then withdraw and Iraqi forces do much the same in the other direction. Only the Americans and British, of course, have air superiority – indeed there is no evidence a single Iraqi aircraft has taken off since the start of the invasion – so even the US and British officers back at Qatar headquarters can hardly claim the cluster bombs were dropped by Iraq.
The most recent raid occurred on Tuesday when 11 civilians were killed – two of them women and three of them children – in a village called Hindiyeh. A man sent to collect the corpses reported to the hospital the only living thing he found in the area was a hen. Iraqi bomb disposal officers were ordered into the villages yesterday afternoon to clear the unexploded ordnance.
Needless to say, it is not the first time cluster bombs have been used against civilians. During Israel's 1982 siege of west Beirut, its air force dropped cluster bomblets manufactured for the US Navy across several areas, especially in the Fakhani and Ouzai districts, causing civilians ferocious and deep wounds identical to those I saw in Hillah yesterday. Angry at the misuse of their weapons, which are designed for use against exclusively military targets, the Reagan administration withheld a shipment of fighter-bombers for Israel – then relented a few weeks later and sent the aircraft anyway.
It is not easy to listen to Iraqi officials condemning the use of illegal weapons when the Iraqi air force has itself dropped poison gas on the Iranian army and on pro-Iranian Kurdish villages during the 1980-88 war against Iran. Outraged claims from Iraqi officials at the abuse of human rights sound like a bell with a very hollow ring. But something terrible happened around Hillah this week, something unforgivable and something contrary to international law. One hesitates, as I say, to talk of human rights in this land of torture but if the Americans and British don't watch out, they are likely to find themselves condemned for what they have always – and rightly – accused Iraq of: war crimes.
It is March 18, exactly 4:00 by my watch , which means 3:57 by the school’s clock, as I unlock my office door. The phone rings. Hello this is S. He is asking if I would be a reference for a federal job. Of course, what’s the job. The job is to assist in archiving an Islamic library in Dearborn. What have you been doing he asks. I’ve just returned from witnessing with Asa an act of non-violent civil disobedience.
We agree to meet for coffee after the war begins. Perhaps we should meet at the zoo. I am thinking about Victor Shklovsky’s Zoo or Letters Not About Love. What happens when one becomes a correspondent from a distance? Shklovsky, the herding animal, wanted above all to get back into his country. I am a migratory creature, one who has little means to travel, but I manage to see enough to bring back some news to my students confined in the unwieldy metropolis. The Middle East is not in my flight path except through the poets, faculty, and students I know here on the ground.
I would meet at the butterfly exhibit. Would you? With butterflies from all over the world. We could talk while meditating on fragility and its opposite, prolific regeneration. Within this beautiful container we could discuss the problem of violence. And the way that violence, gives us, like it did Shklovsky, poetic devices.
Let us consider, for example, the path of the butterfly crossing the path of the automobile. Let us consider the potential fragility of the automobile in the path of a bomb. Or consider a bomb, which can not regenerate in the prolific manner of the butterfly.
Or a body instead of a gun.
S. tells me about the Koran, that the intellect is more important than the heart. Is that because one doesn’t have to wait for a “good” or “powerful” feeling to make an ethical judgment? That one can act ethically toward others without having to know them or have any particular feeling for them? This begins with one’s transcending of one’s fear of Allah.
He lives in the paradox between idealism and pragmatism. This is something he considers deeply.
Then he said, there are not enough people who can act ethically. It is human nature to forget. The people who retain the memory to act correctly are too small in numbers.
Right now I am thinking about shoes and boots. Black boots laced up above the calves of a large man in a black uniform with an insignia, federal marshal, on the pocket lapel. He stands in front of a gray-haired man, who, dressed in black trousers and a black t-shirt printed with the insignia pax cristi, is lying on the Federal Building steps. There are about ten people similarly dressed lying down on the steps. Behind them more marshals and federal agents. People are stepping over the bodies. People who have business in court. Lawyers. Clients. Our lawyers also. At this entrance there are about 35 or so supporters at first, until the people, perhaps 17 of them, on the other side are arrested. Then all of the supporters are here: we’re possibly two hundred in number, watching the die-in and singing, carrying anti-war placards, and waiting for the people doing the action to get arrested. It is going to be a federal criminal charge, blocking a federal building.
Last night Bush declared his pre-emptive war on Iraq in the guise of a preposterous demand. We are at the Federal Building today announcing our non-compliance with his war and with his refusal to obey international law. We indict him for intention to commit genocide.
Also at the Federal Building is the first day of the trial of four or is it three? people accused of being terrorists. It is no accident that the jury for this historical trial is being selected the day after Bush has made his baby furious declaration.
We are all being taken care of by a furious baby. Papa baby, who decided to side with the hawks, playing the role of their commander. Where shall we go today hawks? Iraq? Iran? Saudi Arabia? North Korea? When I was quite small, I used to watch the hawks in an empty field near my house and contemplate their vast travels. How glorious it would be to be a baby in charge of hawks, and by extension the baby parent of everyone, including my own father and sister Elizabeth, who must be at least in her 80’s seated in her wheelchair abutting the steps of the federal building.
But what I want to emphasize is how ordinary everything feels and looks. It is only the mind that tells me anything extraordinary about these events. It is cold. We are shivering. Most of us didn’t wear winter coats. Time is passing. Some of us are lying down on hard steps. Some of us are singing. And time is passing. There are a lot of cameras, all sorts. No butterflies, few birds. But it is all very quiet. And no one is in a hurry to get anywhere. We are just here, being. But H., H., who wants to be a lyric poet, has already been arrested on the other side. Everything is simple. Ordinary. The day goes by. I am standing alone at a garage entrance looking out for official vehicles carrying those who have already been arrested. A federal agent in a brown suit passes me. How are you, he asks? I’m okay. And yourself? We are actors with a script, and off stage, we are simply people at work.
At last, federal marshals carefully bend over the bodies on the steps. They ask them to get up. One by one people refuse to get up and one by one they are put under arrest. It is a small ceremony. Quiet, a tap here or there, and another person in black street clothes walks up the steps slowly with a marshal or two marshals in black uniforms on either side of them. They disappear into the Federal Building one by one. Some, who refuse to get up, are carried up, gently, as a civilian casualty might be carried by a medic in a war zone. We are all at the funeral together. Goodbye Judith, goodbye Bill, goodbye Billie. And this part is over.
Bus Ride and March in Washington
At 9:30 Friday night, I got on one of four Detroit departing buses, sponsored as far as I can tell by a coalition that included both the peace and anti-racist activist organization A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the International Socialist Party of Michigan (I wrote my $60 check to the ISP), and traveled overnight to the national demonstration against the on-going and forthcoming war in Iraq in Washington D.C. Most of the people on the bus were not affiliated with any specific organization, however. The man I sat next to was an ex-marine who used to work in the tourist industry and who hadn’t been to a demonstration since 1972, when he had been involved with veterans’ participation in the Viet Nam anti-war movement. [...]
He and I were of a small number of people traveling alone on our bus. Seated across from me was a woman with her three grown-up sons and a family friend. There were students from local high schools and the University of Michigan, and some people I took to be young Chomsky-style anarchists: one of them, or so I imagined, Corey, was a friend of Asa’s, but Asa now tells me “she doesn’t know what she is.” It was a happy coincidence that two of Asa’s friends were on the bus, as neither Asa, Barry, nor my friend Katie could make the trip. The other of Asa’s friends was Matt, who has become a committed member of the Socialist Party of Michigan. After the march on Saturday, Matt and I spent a good long time together looking for our missing bus in below-twenty degree weather.
On the bus were also a handful of “aging” street-style activists, including a new age-y radical wearing yellow ski pants and donning a head of thick bottle-enhanced deep yellow hair who claimed to be from Berkeley. I grew quite fond of this man and also to rely on his cheerful pants as a familiar fixture amongst the seas of travelers in the truck stops, all of who, like me, were bundled up against the bitter cold in similar dark clothes.
I was told there were 19 buses from Michigan altogether, with one from the resort town Traverse City. At the Pennsylvania truck stops jam packed with buses from all over the Midwest, I learned there were four busses from a village in Northern Wisconsin, eleven from Ohio State University, eleven from Milwaukee and many more than that from Minnesota. Loud speakers announced the departures of the busses: the bus from Missouri is leaving. Bus number such and such from Chicago is leaving. Another bus such and such from Chicago is leaving. A woman from Chicago in front of me on line for the women’s room had never been out of Chicago. She was looking into the gift shop window and asking, are we in Pennsylvania? I just bought all these D.C. postcards thinking I was in D.C.
I ate grits and cold eggs and soft biscuits at 5:30 a.m. with two women traveling on the Northern Wisconsin bus. They said that they knew 50% of the people on the four buses from their town. One of them was a high school math teacher. One of her students had decided to go at the last minute—she laughed and said, “That’s pretty good for my conservative school.” I asked her if she was able to introduce discussion of the war crisis into her teaching. Yes, a little bit, with probability problems. She started to mumble something about how to get away with it. We talked about fear of speaking out, but as we were speaking the fear was felt as past tense. I hope that with the nation-wide demonstrations achieving a larger, critical mass, the fear will be put behind us.
Ironically, when we woke up this morning, Asa’s car windows were painted with Fear in big red letters. Around the corner of our driveway is a flag Asa mounted on Christmas Eve. It says Hope.
Back to Pennsylvania--two older white women from West Detroit had met on a tour of Italy. One of them had bent arthritic hands. I wondered how she would do in the cold. They told me, over truck-stop coffee, that they had boarded a bus in Warren because they were afraid to leave their cars downtown. They had never been to a demonstration before, but they said they had to go—what Bush is doing is too scary they said. They also said that they expected we would all be ignored.
At first, I couldn’t believe that all of these buses, herds of them, were going to D.C. Weren’t any of them vacation tour buses? In the murky light of the eating halls, I kept trying to make myself see something else, something I could have imagined—even that didn’t make sense (who would be going on a vacation tour bus at 4 a.m. in the middle of winter in this part of the world?) other than what I did see. We were all war protestors, crowding into the slushy cafeterias somewhere on the mountain passes of Pennsylvania in the middle of night—this was not 1968, it was January 17, 2003 and we weren’t supposed to be here: we were supposed to be in snug, or not so snug, in isolated enclaves ignorant of each other dreaming our neo Orwellian dreams as the world’s boundaries stretched and warped unfathomably beyond us.
Every one of us was going to D.C. A few were affiliated with Christian organizations and schools. More were traveling under the sign of Wellstone---there were Wellstone buttons everywhere. In the march, I met people from Boston and Buffalo and Alabama and Colorado who had traveled by plane. Where are you from and how did you get here and how long did it take? We asked each other in the cafeteria and rest room lines, sharing tables for meals, and while marching. We were between the ages of eight and eighty.
I met Tom at the rally. We wandered around the three squares across from the capitol and caught up with each other, mostly talking about children, work, his experiences of Pakistan, writing, and friends. How is everybody? For the most part, the speeches weren’t news, although, I had earlier been impressed by a Korean American woman critiquing the deployment of the phrase “axis of evil.” I learned later that each square, when full, held 250,000 people—this according to one of the protest organizers. Later, I heard that we were 500,000 in all. Tom and I went for coffee at Starbucks, which was filled with demonstrators, including a man seated at a nearby stool who seemed to be suffering from a terrible headache. Later, after the march, lots of people had aches—a woman on my bus had frostbitten toes and the woman seated across from me seemed to be suffering from a little hypothermia as she was shivering uncontrollably.
In spite of the cold and the problem finding buses after the event was over, the march was wonderful, a joyful and determined experience. It took hours. In some places, I’m remembering particularly the Botanical Garden building, there were so many of us there already and so many others joining us that we couldn’t walk more than ten steps a minute. When we finally stretched out making a line you couldn’t see the end of, things would speed up and then slow way down, sometimes stop. As we got out of the government area and into the shopping area, we were greeted with NO WAR signs in the windows of shops and bistros. Dressed up young Asian women working at a nails salon, waved and danced on the balcony as we passed. The march had a nice beat: there was lots of hand drumming and singing and Bread and Puppet and other agit prop weaving its way through the crowd. A group of Philippino-American performers moved to the edge of a crowd, encircled themselves with a banner. Please move around us, we are going to congregate here, they said. I was moving past: it was hard sometimes to stop for performances. When I looked back, they had melted into the crowd. Another group weaving their way through the march were dressed all in black carrying a big black banner they held like a rope to keep them connected to each other. The grim, the parodic, the quiet were gathered in a massive harmonic. People chanted this is democracy. Masked Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds skipped and strutted around us, trying to shake our hands: we mocked them, laughed, and they moved on.
When I talked to my 85 year-old 88 pound mother on the phone, she said, “I wish I could have been there.” “Next time, I’ll carry you,” I said in a mock-heroic tone. She also wanted reassurance that the crowd of protestors was diverse and was happy to hear of the placard that read, “Conservatives against the war in Iraq.”
[Glad to see that they're using smart bombs -- imagine this kid got hit in the eye?]
Saja Jaffar, 2, is treated by a hospital nurse after being wounded by a bomb that landed in West Baghdad Friday, March 28 2003. Five died in the blast according to local hospital sources. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
[Transcription of a very good radio interview with Robert Fisk in Bagdhad.]
Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Host: Set the scene for us in Baghdad right now.
Robert Fisk, The Independent: Well, it’s been a relatively—relatively being the word—quiet night, there’s been quite a lot of explosions about an hour ago. There have obviously been an awful lot of missiles arriving on some target, but I would say it was about 4 or 5 miles away. You can hear the change in air pressure and you can hear this long, low rumble like drums or like someone banging on a drum deep beneath the ground, but quite a ways away. There have only been 2 or 3 explosions near the center of the city, which is where I am, in the last 12 hours. So, I suppose you could say that, comparatively, to anyone living in central Baghdad, it’s been a quiet night.
The strange thing is that the intensity of the attacks on Baghdad changes quite extraordinarily; you’ll get one evening when you can actually sleep through it all, and the next evening when you see the explosions red hot around you.
As if no one really planning the things, it’s like someone wakes up in the morning and says, “Let’s target this on the map today”, and it’s something which sort of characterizes the whole adventure because if you actually look at what’s happening on the ground, you’ll see that the American and British armies started off in the border. They started off at Um Qasr and got stuck, carried on up the road through the desert, took another right turn and tried to get into Basra, got stuck, took another right at Nasiriyah, got stuck—it’s almost as if they keep on saying, “Well let’s try the next road on the right”, and it has kind of a lack of planning to it. There will be those who say that, “No it’s been meticulously planned,” but it doesn’t feel like it to be here.
[Just picked this up from the Commondreams site.]
Editor's note: The parents of Rachel Corrie, the American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza this week, released excerpts of an e-mail message Corrie sent them Feb. 7. This material is taken from that e-mail.
I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what's going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States -- something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don't know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I'm not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An 8-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me, Ali -- or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me "Kaif Sharon?" "Kaif Bush?" and they laugh when I say "Bush Majnoon," "Sharon Majnoon" back in my limited Arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) . . . . There are 8-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago -- at least regarding Israel.
Nevertheless, I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it, and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality: What with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and, of course, the fact that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean . . . . When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint -- a soldier with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I'm done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.
They know that children in the United States don't usually have their parents shot and they know they sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and once you have spent an evening when you haven't wondered if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and once you've met people who have never lost anyone -- once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn't surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed "settlements" and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing -- just existing -- in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world's fourth largest military -- backed by the world's only superpower -- in its attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew . . . .
Currently, the Israeli Army is building a 14-meter-high wall between Rafah in Palestine and the border, carving a no-man's land from the houses along the border. Six hundred and two homes have been completely bulldozed, according to the Rafah Popular Refugee Committee. The number of homes that have been partially destroyed is greater . . . .
I've been having trouble accessing news about the outside world here, but I hear an escalation of war on Iraq is inevitable. There is a great deal of concern here about the "reoccupation of Gaza." Gaza is reoccupied every day to various extents, but I think the fear is that the tanks will enter all the streets and remain here, instead of entering some of the streets and then withdrawing after some hours or days to observe and shoot from the edges of the communities. If people aren't already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region then I hope they will start.
I also hope you'll come here . . . . There is also need for constant night-time presence at a well on the outskirts of Rafah since the Israeli Army destroyed the two largest wells. According to the municipal water office, the wells destroyed last week provided half of Rafah's water supply. Many of the communities have requested internationals to be present at night to attempt to shield houses from further demolition. . . .
I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.
George Lakoff updates his famous Metaphor & War talk for today.
[I'd like to reproduce Ron Silliman's recent post on The Social Mark symposium on Circulars but it's proving to hard to format, so I advise going to his blog to read the post -- which goes on to consider Ginsberg and various aspects of affect and content in "political" poetry -- in its entirety.]
"Like its cousin ambiguity, empathy is something that is exceptionally difficult to communicate in any function of life, let alone a poem. It is absolutely not possible in a text that seeks agreement, or which seeks to demonize anyone..."
by Lytle Shaw and Emilie Clark in New York
Many friends have asked for more details about our spending the night in jail for taping up flyers last Thursday, February '3. So we wanted to offer a description of what happened.
First of all, the flyers we were putting up were images of daily life in Baghdad taken by Paul Chan. As many of you know, Chan was in Baghdad in December and January as part of the Iraq Peace Team, a project of Voices in the Wilderness. Last Thursday night about fifty people met to pick up 8.5 x ''-inch copies of Chan's photos and begin posting them around Manhattan. The goal, of course, was to particularize and humanize our soon-to-be victims.
At about '':20pm, three plain-clothes cops (two men, one woman) in a converted taxi approached us at the corner of Mercer and Prince where we were in the process of taping a poster to a metal lamppost. (We were not using wheat paste). After flashing their badges, they asked if we had permission to poster and what we were putting up. Their next question was if we were going to the march on Saturday. We were told that postering was a "quality of life infraction" and that we would have to go to the station. We explained that Emilie was 7 months pregnant and asked if it was possible (since we both had our drivers' licenses) for them to write us tickets instead. They refused. We were cuffed, and put in the taxi-cab, and taken to the first precinct, on Varick. They explained that this was just a "procedure" and that it would only take an hour or so.
At the station we waited in our separate cells for about two hours while they fed our information into their computer system. During this period five NYPD officers were more or less continually involved processing our arrest. At around ':30am they announced that because their fingerprinting machine was not functioning they would have to take us to a different precinct for the fingerprinting. We were led out of the cells again, cuffed, packed back into a car, and driven to a precinct in Chinatown. Here Lytle was put back in a cell while Emilie was fingerprinted and vice versa. The fingerprinting machine did not work well and Emilie's fingers were rolled over and over again, sprayed with Windex, and then pressed yet again. The officer appeared to be having a hard time with the machine. No one offered to help him; and he didn't seek help. This process took about an hour, after which we were again cuffed, led out to the car and driven back to the first precinct.
They explained that after our information was sent to Albany it would take about an hour and so long as we didn't have any warrants, we could be let go with a court date. But at 5 am we were still locked up, with no information. Eventually (just after 5) Lytle's clearance came through. Emilie's, however, did not. And they could not tell us why. Only after repeated questions were we finally told that Emilie's finger prints had not been legible (though the machine approved or rejected each print at the time of its initial printing, and this was the reason it had taken so long in the first place). Emilie, we were told, would have to be taken to yet a third precinct and fingerprinted again. At this point we began to protest our treatment. Emilie had a bloody nose and was feeling weak and sick. She is, to say it again, seven months pregnant, and so staying up all night in a piss-soaked cell is just not a good idea. The only water she received was sent in by her brother, Andrew (who had been postering with us and was, now, luckily, waiting outside).
We asked, again, if we could have a paper ticket written. But they refused again. This time Emilie was taken alone to "Transit," a police station in the ACE station at Canal. Andrew and Lytle followed on foot. They then waited for Emilie for two more hours while the police re-printed Emilie and then cuffed her to a chair, while her information was sent, again, to Albany. At just before 7am Emilie was released.
This, then, is the basic narrative of what happened. But it's important to mention that this entire time we were being worked on by the police in a variety of ways‹and it's as much what they said (as the base fact of our incarceration) that gives a picture of how they wanted to intimidate us.
They wanted to talk. Having locked up a pregnant woman and kept her awake all night, they now wanted to appeal to what they supposed would be her protective, maternal instincts. They offered the friendly advice not to go to the march on Saturday, February '5. This, they all thought, would not be a good place for a pregnant woman. They expected violence. Mace was mentioned. They stressed that 8,000 cops would be there. They also emphasized that many of them would be rookies and suggested that they would be looking for violence. They said they wouldn't want to read our names in the deaths column of the newspaper. When Emilie was escorted to the bathroom, the female cop again laid into her about the danger of going to the protests while pregnant.
They also mentioned terrorism: they'd heard there might be suicide bombers at the rally. (The logic in this one was stunning: just as Americans begin to manifest large-scale public dissent for the murdering of Iraqis and Afghanis, the U.S.-based Al Qaeda cells from those countries would specifically seek out that constituency for staging its first suicide bombing in the U.S.). We're all exasperatedly familiar with how this larger threat of terror has been played, again and again, as a way to shut down civil rights. In these last statements we saw it in its most reduced and illogical form.
Both of us are physically okay, though extremely angry.
We hope to organize a presence at our March '3 court date and will be in touch as that develops.
Once again, thank to all of you who have shown us your support over the last week.
Brooklyn, 2/16/03: Yesterday, New York City was a hall of mirrors.
Brooklyn, 2/16/03: Yesterday, New York City was a hall of mirrors. Riding the subway was like navigating bumper cars--trains going in the opposite direction of where they were supposed to be headed, the N train running on the V line for no apparent reason, the east bound Brooklyn L train headed west, skipping stops, stopping all together and with no warning telling people to get off and transfer to the train across the platform, which when it finally arrived was headed in the opposite direction of where it was supposed to be going, proceeding three stops, stopping again and instructing people to either walk across the platform and transfer, or stay on the same train if they wanted to get back to where they started from (with no instructions as to how they were supposed to get where they were actually going).
The first stop in Brooklyn was a sea of confusion--most of the people there did not know how or why they had spontaneously manifest in Brooklyn when they thought they were headed for the West Village. This chaos apparently started around 11:30 am--exactly at the time when people were attempting to gather for the anti-war protest. Why the MTA (Mass Transit Authority) would purposely scramble their trains to prevent people from getting to the protest is baffling. Perhaps it was just a coincidence--"construction" as the drivers said--but since when does construction in an otherwise efficient city effect every single train simultaneously?
And the mass confusion caused by the MTA was mirrored by the police—as if it was all a part of some bizarre master plan orchestrated by some conniving jack-in-the-box politicians and police commissioners. They blocked the streets for (as I understand) 30 blocks, preventing anyone from walking East along the side-streets to get to the main rally on First Avenue. If you were lucky enough to be on First Avenue already, you could walk West. But once you crossed Second Avenue, there was no turning back. People who crossed the line and then wanted to turn around were forbidden from entering. It was like walking through liquid mirrors that solidified back into glass once you passed through them.
These bizarre East-block barricades extended up to 5th Avenue. "Why are the streets blocked," we asked the officers as we crossed the avenues, headed west. Sternly: "Because there has been vandalism and complaints from residents." With a humble smile: "Honestly I don’t know." Snootily: "Because all these people wandering around are a disaster waiting to happen."
All the people wandering around was truly a remarkable sight. A "disaster waiting to happen" that was caused explicitly by the police. Because they were forbidden from walking to the rally, large groups of people with their anti-war signs paraded up and down 2nd Ave, 3rd Ave, Lexington Avenue, even 5th Avenue, forming their own marches. It was beautiful. Passers-by trying to shop were confused, befuddled, annoyed. The police were barraged by a litany of questions: "You mean I can’t even get to the park?" "You mean I can’t even get to a restaurant on 3rd Avenue where I am supposed to meet a friend?" "You mean I can’t get to Bloomingdales!!?" "You mean I can’t get to a rally which is legal!!!?"
It was inevitable that this would lead to dramatic action. According to this morning’s Daily News, "It grew especially heated several times between 1 and 3 p.m. on Second and Third avenues, when officers prevented arriving protesters from walking east to join the majority of the crowd. Police officials later said demonstrators refused to walk north where they were allowing protesters to enter First Avenue." To walk north in order to walk east, they would have had to have walked over 15 blocks. It was 10 degrees outside. Right, ok. No problem. Finally the agitated protestors broke through the barrier. The police used their horses to shove people on the sidewalk. A couple horses suffered injuries. MTA busses were used to escort people who had been arrested. A friend who witnessed this said they put people on one bus at a time, in order to separate them from other protestors.
How did this connection between the MTA and the Police come into effect? Since when is it public transportation’s business to work with the police to curb people’s rights to assemble? It was clear that the police were making up their own rules. It was clear to anyone roaming the streets yesterday, trying to walk east to attend a legal protest, trying to ride the subway in any logical direction, trying to manoeuvre the streets--that our "freedom to assemble" is, like other constitutional rights, vanishing before our eyes. Pooof. When directions are scrambled, streets blocked off, our own internal maps of our city are distorted. The message they were trying to get across was clear—you people have no power.
Of course, although they may have succeeded in confusing people, they failed miserably to contain us. Walking the streets yesterday it was clear how many people came out to oppose to the war--no matter how the officials try and fudge the actual number of protestors, people were out in droves. The police underestimated the crowds (I guess they were baffled that Code Orange didn’t succeed in terrifying us to make the trek to Home Depot for duct tape, like those people in the very-susceptible-to-be-attacked suburbs). At 1:45, two hours after the rally started, Chief of Department Joseph Esposito declared a Level 4 mobilisation, the force's largest emergency deployment. This cost the department $5 million in overtime—a cost that easily could have been curtailed had simply allowed a marching permit.
Most significantly, the protest here was happening simultaneously 100 times over around the globe. We could see ourselves reflected in Rome, London, Copenhagen, San Francisco. We were numerous, and today breath a sigh of relief. The papers report this morning that the U.S. and Britain are re-drafting their UN resolutions against Iraq. Of course, this sigh (a moment of hope) will inevitably turn back to anger and disbelief in the coming weeks as our hawk administration proceeds war-head strong in their illogical and asinine plans to inflict chaos and mayhem in the Middle East. And no doubt, we’ll be back on the streets again--this time a little bit more knowledgeable about what tricks the city is capable of.