Friday, August 24, 2007

Hey, Freedom Man

It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, 'Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.'

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I.
(President Ronald Reagan's farewell speech from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989.)

A few weeks ago The other day, I mentioned to spd that I had found a "feel good" story I wanted to post here at HH about the widow of an American journalist who, after a two-year crusade, was "reunited" with the Iraqi translator who was at her husband's side when he was murdered.

It took but only a few Google searches to realize that my "feel good" video byte, courtesy of late night cable, had a dark underside that didn't paint a pretty picture for Iraqis working with the U.S. government.

For a number of reasons Because of work demands, I chose to bail on posting the post but like the sailor in Reagan's anecdotal retelling, I couldn't get out of my mind the "small moment with a big meaning" of a young Iraqi woman exiting through JFK's automated doors in Jamaica, New York, and the determined American woman who made it happen. So here goes. Stains, and all.

I am the widow of Steven Vincent, the freelance journalist who was kidnapped and murdered in Basra, Iraq on August 2, 2005. Two days prior to his death, Steven had an op-ed piece published in the New York Times in which he broke the story of how the Iraqi police force was being systematically infiltrated by Iranian-backed fundamentalists and Shiite militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr rather than to the central government. He also wrote of the "death squads" that roamed Basra in police cars and trucks filled with uniformed men who snatched their victims off the streets and murdered them with utter impunity. When one of those vehicles came for him in broad daylight, his translator, fixer and friend Nour al-Khal bravely stood by him as five men in police uniforms descended on them and wrestled Steven into the truck to take him to his death. From what I was later told by the FBI, the thugs who targeted my husband had no interest whatsoever in Nour; they repeatedly pushed her away, telling her to leave. But she would not abandon Steven; she kept inserting herself into the struggle until they took her as well. She had no idea what her kidnappers planned to do, where they would be taken, what, ultimately, the end would be. For all she knew she was going to her death, yet she did not hesitate for a moment, this tiny, 5-foot-tall woman, to try and protect the man who had hired her to be his guide.

She and Vincent were gagged, beaten, thrown in the back of a truck, driven to the outskirts of town, set free, told to run - and shot from behind. Steven was hit at close range and in a final act of God's mercy died instantly; Nour, who had been let go first, was farther from the truck, so even though she was shot in the back three times, she survived.

But Nour's nightmare was not over. Hardly. Rescued by the "good police" she was handed over to the Green Zone for medical treatment, then held incommunicado for three months while she was "interrogated, mentally and emotionally bullied, threatened, [and] told she would never be given a visa to come to this country." Finally released into the Red Zone without papers, and unable to return safely to her home in Basra or to the family who no longer wanted anything to do with her, she spent the next 18 months on the lam fearing for her life while Vincent's widow doggedly sought to gain her asylum.

[i]n some small attempt to repay her for her dedication, bravery and selflessness, I have spent the last year trying to get Nour into America. I have dealt with officials at the Baghdad embassy and the State Department. I have filled out forms. I have made countless calls, sent innumerable emails. I have pledged to stand financial security for her. I have gotten a promise from the UN Bureau Chief of Al-Arabiya that he will hire her when - if - she gets here. And each path I have gone down has proven fruitless. I have been told she does not qualify for refugee or asylum status because Iraq is now a democracy, hence there should be no reason she would need to flee. I spent months working with embassy people who assured me they were extremely touched by her plight, would move heaven and earth to see she got "special treatment" and who then, in the end, told me she needed to go to Amman and apply for a visa like every other Iraqi. I was told the U.S. government was no longer accepting Iraq's S-passports because supposedly there are so many forgeries it's impossible to know who is really holding them, so we won't take any of them. The embassy in Amman is no longer accepting applications from Iraqis; the Jordanian government is beginning to crack down, stopping Iraqis on the streets who then run the risk of being deported; Egypt is now demanding that before Iraqis come they get a letter of invitation from a certain government official. The noose is tightening, and soon there will be no place in the region where Nour will be able to feel safe. She sits and waits, still hopeful, but the reality is her hope is dwindling, as is mine."

It wasn't until Vincent's widow was afforded the opportunity to provide the chilling details of Nour's plight in her testimony before a Senate hearing in January--and with the cameras running-- that the wheels of "make it happen" justice began to turn in her favor. Six months later, Nour, who had risked her life to save Steven Vincent's, stepped off the plane at Kennedy Airport, and into the arms of the woman who had saved hers.

Since the war in Iraq began 4 years ago, approximately 600 Iraqis have been granted amnesty in the US. In the first six months of 2007, the US admitted 63 Iraqi refugees, including Nour.

I am not naive enough to think that the US could--or should-- throw open its doors to large numbers of people who have been uprooted since the war began. I recognize that it is enormously more complicated and dangerous than relocating 130,000 South Vietnamese as we did in the first year after the Vietnam War ended. I am cognizant of the fine line the Administration walks between wanting to provide aid, and not wanting to encourage more flight. Nevertheless, I do think that we owe special consideration to the brave Iraqi citizens who are risking their lives because of their association with the United States military, its contractors or the MSM news organizations.

Moreover, beyond the obvious morale or humanitarian responsibilities that we face, there are far reaching geopolitical reasons to extend a lifeline to our Iraqi friends:

"If we screw this group of people, we're never going to make another friend in the Middle East as long as I'm alive," said Kirk W. Johnson, who served as regional reconstruction coordinator in Fallujah in 2005 for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who is advocating the resettlement of Iraqis who have worked for coalition forces. "The people in the Middle East are watching what happens to this group."

Last month, a bipartisan group of senators, including Gordon Smith and Ted Kennedy another Senator introduced the “Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act” legislation that will create 5,000 special visas for Iraqis who work directly with the United States and are in imminent danger of death, and allow persecuted Iraqis with close work or family ties to the United States to apply directly for resettlement in the United States. In late July, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, called for issuing visas to all Iraqis who are employed by the U.S. government.

My "feel good" story is starting to feel...

* * * *
Beyond the 100,000 Iraqis who may be targeted as "collaborators" because of their work with the U.S -led coalition, there are an estimated 4 million Iraqis who have been uprooted by the Iraq conflict. Nearly 2 million (plus) Iraqis have fled to safety (?) in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; another 2 million are displaced within their country's borders. Approximately 40,000-60,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes every month. The daunting effect of this migration (which is worthy of its own future post) should not can not not be minimized. The relocation of the Palestinians in 1948, alone, which is dwarfed by the size of the current migration, portends a similiar tipping point. You can read about more about this looming "crisis of historic proportions" here. You should. You. Really. Should.

Update: Here's the video clip of Nour's July '07 arrival at JFK.

(Posted by Portia)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Habeas Porpoise

I'm back from the beach. Tanned, rested, and, after one day back at work, ready to swallow a pistol.

But rather than simply soil ms. rdr's drapes, I thought instead that I'd give you a quiz.

What do Rosie O'Donnell, the Kremlin, David Duke, CNN, Waffle House, and the 2005 Philadelphia Eagles all have in common?

If your first answer is along the lines of them all being/having assholes, you're only partially right. In fact, all of the above are named as defendants in federal civil suits filed by one Jonathan Lee Riches©, a person aggrieved currently enjoying a federally-funded vacation.

Finding it necessary to defend his constitutionally-protected rights against the wanton abuses so prevalent in these dark days of the Bush administration, Mr. Riches© has brought suit against a host of people, places and things, (purportedly) to include the following:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, John Snow, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Google, Pope Benedict XVI, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden, Alan Greenspan, Jerry West,, Bill Gates, John Deere, Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, Def Jams, Jay-Z, the Queen of England, Stephen Spielberg, Tony Danza, Don King, Paris Hilton, the University of Miami, Marion Blakey, Matt Drudge, the State of Israel, the Salvation Army, CNN, tsunami victims, Sirius Satellite Radio, Jessica Alba, the Houston Chronicle, the ACLU, Donald Trump, Outback Steakhouse, the Vatican, Chris Berman, Vince McMahon, P-Diddy, John Grisham, Columbine High School, Richard Daley, UPS, BET, Jewish employees of NBC Universal, Brad Pitt and the son he adopted with Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Smart, Charlie Sheen, George Pataki, Oliver North, Vladimir Putin, George Orwell,, the Kremlin, Kelly Clarkson, David Letterman, George Tenet, Plato, the Lincoln Memorial, Warren Buffett, Scooter Libby, Christina Applegate, Mein Kampf, John Walsh of America's Most Wanted, Venus Williams, Anna Nicole Smith, the U.S. Marines, Denny's, Larry King, Grace Jones, Rolling Stone magazine, Planet Hollywood, NASCAR, Eminem, the Screen Actors Guild, The Da Vinci Code, Mike Tyson, the Sears Tower, Holocaust survivors, Mt. Rushmore, Dennis Hopper, Barbara Walters, Lambeau Field, Pizza Hut, Ray Nagin, Barry Bonds, the Ming Dynasty, Jenna Bush, Tom Ridge, eBay, General Motors, Booker T. Washington, the NHL, Diane Sawyer, Comcast, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, Phil Donahue, the Geneva Convention, the 2005 Philadelphia Eagles, Bill O'Reilly, Burt Reynolds, Paula Abdul, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, David Stern, Whoopi Golderg, the Olsen twins, the Roman Empire, Wolf Blitzer, Demi Moore, Michael J. Fox, Verizon, the Rose Bowl, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Vanna White, Ross Perot, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sammy Sosa, Rosie O'Donnell, Joey Buttafuoco, Marco Polo, the Eiffel Tower, USA Today, John Wayne Bobbitt, Yao Ming, WKRP In Cincinnati, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Kevin Bacon, the Humane Society, Fabio, Bono, The Home Depot, Geraldo, Russell Crowe, Ben Roethlisberger, Paul Revere, Michelangelo, the Boy Scouts of America, Viagra, Suge Knight, Randy Johnson, Anheuser-Busch, the widow of Peter Jennings, Jeb Bush, Julia Roberts, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Yahoo!, the Hoover Dam, Bob Villa, Tonya Harding, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Lopez, Pete Rose, Joe Lieberman, Sly Stallone, Patty Hearst, Ken Starr, Rush Limbaugh, Chandra Levy, Louis Farrakhan, The Waffle House, Gray Davis, Lucy Liu, the Black Panther Party, Elian Gonzalez, Bob Barker, Danny Glover, Chris Matthews, Wendy's, Drew Barrymore, Rudy Giuliani, Louis XV, Elton John, the planet Pluto, Lil Kim, Trent Lott, the Virgin Mary, the Golden Gate Bridge, Monica Lewinsky, Dennis Rodman, John Ashcroft, Noelle Bush, Jackie Chan, Colin Powell, John McCain, Michael Moore, the Boston Globe, the World Wide Web, the Academy Awards, Oprah, David Duke, Napoleon, Guantanamo Bay, Katie Couric, Sandra Bullock, Bob Saget, NCAA basketball, Sandra Day O'Connor, Boston Market, the Backstreet Boys website, Teri Hatcher, the Great Wall of China, George Clooney, Mariah Carey, Kiefer Sutherland, Burger King, Tina Turner, the Minnesota Vikings, Gene Hackman, Southwest Airlines, the Pentagon, the King of Prussia Mall, Tony Blair, the LAPD, Michael Irvin, Chubby Checker, the PGA, Super 8 Motels, Justin Timberlake, Madison Square Garden, Emeka Okafor, the World Anti-Doping Agency, Betty Crocker, Weird Al Yankovic, the Warsaw Pact, Barack Obama, the Doobie Brothers, Emilio Estevez, Cal Tech, Pat Roberts, YMCA, Ken Jennings, Mel Gibson, Jacques Chirac, Al Pacino, Martha Stewart, Skittles and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Far be it for me to judge whether Mr. Riches© 's claims are justiciable, but Word on the street is that the charges brought by Mr. Riches© against the Ming Dynasty are headed for Celestial Mediation.

Events of the day, however, have put Mr. Riches© 's claim for "63,000,000,000.00 Billion dollars backed by gold and silver" against Michael Vick into the Heigh-ho legal spotlight. As you are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Vick today plead guilty to being the stupidest human being on the planet. He also plead no contest to allegations that, t-shirt sales notwithstanding, he never really played up to his over-hyped potential as a NFL quarterback, anyway.

As a result of Mr. Vick's guilty pleas, his days as a professional football player are sooooo over- or at least until the Los Angeles Oakland Los Angeles Al Davis Raiders sign him up straight out of prison to throw shivs down the heart of the secondary. Even then, however, Mr. Vick's legal troubles are only just beginning.

Thanks to your faithful scribe's slight of hand and secret handshake, my assistant was able to procure a copy of Mr. Riches© 's latest legal assault on those who would trample his constitutional freedoms. I post Mr. Riches© 's Complaint here as a public service, and also as a warning to those who might dare to physically hurt Mr. Riches© 's feelings or attempt to dash his hopes.

Click for bigger. And consider yourselves warned.

Good to be back, folks.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Have a nice week.
I promise that I will too.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Dog days

Meet Fenway, number three black dog.

How could anybody look at that face and still root for the Yankees is beyond me.