Afghanistan Feed

CIA Got Too Cozy with the Bad Guys

There's a really intriguing story in The New York Times concerning the CIA's relationship to a major figure in the Afghanistan drug trade, Haji Bashir Noorzai: An Afghan's Path From Ally of U.S. to Drug Suspect by James Risen.

The best line: "In Afghanistan, finding terrorists has always trumped chasing drug traffickers," said Bobby Charles, the former top counternarcotics official at the State Department.

At times, there was confusion within the government about what to do with Mr. Noorzai. In 2002, while he was talking to the American officials in Afghanistan, a team at C.I.A. headquarters assigned to identify targets to capture or kill in Afghanistan wanted to put him on its list, one former intelligence official said. Like others, he would only speak on condition of anonymity because such discussions were classified.

The C.I.A. team was blocked, the former official recalled. Although he never received an explanation, the former official said that the Defense Department officials and American military commanders viewed counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan at the time as a form of “mission creep” that would distract from the fight against terrorism. . . .

D.E.A. officials say . . . Mr. Noorzai was a major figure in the Afghan drug trade, controlling poppy fields that supplied a significant share of the world’s heroin.

. . . in January 2004, Mr. Charles, the State Department official, proposed placing him on President Bush’s list of foreign narcotics kingpins, for the most wanted drug lords around the world.

At that time, Mr. Charles recalled in an interview, no Afghan heroin traffickers were on the list, which he thought was a glaring omission. He suggested three names, including Mr. Noorzai’s, but said his recommendation was met with an awkward silence during an interagency meeting.

There is a subtext of symbiosis here; a deeply mutualistic relationship between the CIA and the Afghan (and even world) drug trade. The development of such relationships was obviously a big mistake.

Oh, by the way, this is Ground Hog Day.

Robert Young Pelton's Licensed to Kill: A Review

Ryp At long last, Robert Young Pelton's book, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, is out. (Back in December of 2005 when I pre-ordered it, I think it's scheduled pub date was something like April.) Despite its subject matter, the world of mercenaries and private military contractors, the book reads like a fascinating letter from a friend. It is thoughtful, funny, and humane in its exploration of a politically loaded topic.

Licensedtokill_1 In general, I expect that opinions on this book are going to gravitate around this issue of whether or not it's "biased," and in which direction. I'm not going to venture an opinion on that, since surely I am at least as "biased" as Pelton. What I will say is that Pelton treats his subjectmatter as ethically complex, which indeed it is. And he neither succumbs to over-identifying with the dudes he's hanging with, nor to simple repulsion at the whole enterprise.

The book opens with a Prologue detailing his meeting with Eric Prince, owner and founder of Blackwater, who articulates Blackwater’s ambitions, a corporately oriented optimism about the future of privatized military services. In the prologue, Pelton distinguishes between what in generally understood to be the distinction between mercenaries and security contractors:

Mercenaries fight, while security contractors protect,  . . . at least, that’s the dividing line that’s supposed to exist. (5)

Destabilizing this apparent distinction is a theme that continues throughout the book.

The book’s Introduction is just the sort of action scene editor’s like to have at the beginning of books: a round trip down the legendarily dangerous “Route Irish” to the Baghdad Airport with Blackwater’s Mamba Team:

. . . it’s 2:43 and we’ve just completed the most perilous eight-minute drive in the world. (13)

The main text of the book is in three sections:

1. Hired Guns, which discusses

  • the longest running CIA contractor, Billy Waugh,
  • contractors inside Pakistan involved in operations that aren't supposed to exist,
  • and the problematic use of American security contractors to guard foreign heads of state;

2. The New Breed, which focuses mostly on Blackwater; and

3. Of Rogues and Tycoons, which covers such characters as Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema, Tim Spicer, executives of Blackwater, Richard Bethell (Lord Westbury), Simon Mann, and Niek Du Toit.

A fair amount of what is in this book has been touched on at one point or another in my blog.

Billywaugh_1 The Prologue and Introduction introduce companies, characters and topics, while also promising more thrilling action. But it is with Chapter 1, Kill them All, that we really get going. It is the chapter about Billy Waugh and what, through a certain lens, might be seen as the Good Old Days when the CIA and it’s contractors could just go out and kill people; how the backlash against the Vietnam War reined in the CIA; how this played itself out later; how Waugh could have killed Osama bin Laden and didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to; and how this legacy played itself out in post-9/11 Afghanistan with both the CIA and the emergence of companies like Blackwater. Fascinating stuff. In principle, I knew a fair amount of what was in the chapter from reading a pile of CIA memoirs a while back, but Pelton’s chapter has a deeply unsettling historical momentum about it that the memoirs lack.

Chapter 2, Edge of Empire, is a wry discussion of the geopolitical realities (or unrealities?) of the area surrounding the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where bin Laden is sometimes said to be hiding. He finds an American base inside Pakistan that is not supposed to exist, that the actual border seems to be almost unmarked, and much else involving security contractors and surreal layers of deniability cleaving the official story from reality. Last year, when I was helping with disaster relief mapping following the Pakistan earthquake, I heard many peculiar things about the Pakistani government’s attitude towards maps—for example, that the exact location of some of the towns affected by the earthquake was initially considered by the government to be classified information—and this chapter puts some of that insanity into context for me.

Karzaisecurity Chapter 3, The Praetorian Guard, is an interesting exploration of the role of American security contractors as protectors for foreign heads of state. The examples in this chapter are Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, but Pelton revisits this topic toward the end of the book in his discussion of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, and what would have been Severo Moto’s situation had the coup succeeded: not good at all.

In Chapter 4, Confirmed Kills, we get a sense of the new security contractor utopia. The chapter opens at the Dallas Convention Center during the American Society for Industrial Security convention.

Before 9/11, the industry had only a limited market for the services of the men who now flock to these conferences looking for IC opportunities. The war in Afghanistan opened the door to more widespread employment of independent security contractors, and then Iraq kicked that door off it's hinges, stomped on it,  burned it, and scattered the ashes. Iraq has been to the private security industry what the development of the first user-friendly Web browser was to the dot-com boom. (97)

Bremer The chapter concludes with an important discussion of the role of Paul Bremer in the creation of this utopia, a section entitled "On Rules and Resentment."

Bush had opened up the War on Terror by issuing a license to kill with his post-9/11 presidential finding authorizing targeted assassination, but it would be Bremer's Order 17 that would really unleash the security contractors in Iraq. (114)

And this is what the Billy Waugh chapter has set us up for—to understand the nature of this utopia: these guys who might only find marginal employment in the US, can make $600 a day to go to Iraq and do what Waugh, for many years, was not allowed to do. The leash is off and the dogs are out.

Chapter 5, Blackwater Bridge, discusses the Fallujah incident, in which four Blackwater contractors died in gruesome ways and their remains paraded through the streets and hung from a bridge, as a turning point for the public perception of "security contractors" in Iraq, and its complex aftermath.

Chapters 6, Under Siege, is perhaps my favorite in the book. It explores the complexities of two notable combat situations, An Najaf and Al Kut. In the former situation, it seems that security contractors (whom the US military observed but did not assist) were expected to abandon their position on the roof of the Najaf CPA compound. Instead they stayed to fight and videotaped themselves doing it. The videos subsequently circulated on the Internet.

While the rules of engagement allowed contractors to fire in defense of their lives, the formulations of those rules had not anticipated contractors being dropped into a situation where they would engage in hours of combat without outside support. The other outcome that became very clear was that ex-soldiers given a license to kill may choose not to cut and run as they are trained and paid to do, but eagerly and repeatedly fire into the crowds that surround them. (153-154)

Najaf_1 This section gives a much clearer picture of why the security contractors circulated videos of themselves shooting at Iraqis: they were allowed to shoot when the US military and coalition forces were held back. In the "turkey shoot" video, the shooter, whom Pelton identifies as "Mookie Spicoli" clearly enjoys what he is doing.

The Al Kut incident shows the flip-side of this. A group of security contractors alert Bremer to impending problems, who asks them not to exaggerate. The men are unsupported and under attack for days. Some are killed. When they finally come up with a plan to escape with their lives, an official of the CPA tries to prevent their escape. The CPA seemed determined to use them up and throw them away like so much Kleenex: truly appalling. Apparently, although the dogs are out, they are sometimes treated like dogs.

Chapter 7, The Dog Track and the Swamp, chronicles Pelton's visits to Blackwater training facilities, one of which is a dog track. This chapter contains one of the most entertaining sections of the book in which Pelton himself gets to teach in a training program called Mirror Image which simulates, "terrorist recruiting, training techniques, and operational tactics." His students are "Special Forces, Secret Service, marines, FBI agents, independent contractors, and other hand-picked attendees." (183)  Pelton, who has been to Chechnya, has his team play "Chechens." The section is hilarious. I wish they had video of this.

The targets will be expecting the attackers to approach via one of the roads that lead into the village, so the Chechens sneak in from behind the berm of a live firing range and attack from behind, something that freaks out the lead instructor, but gives the team the perfect element of surprise. (192)

Clearly, Pelton was having a good time.

In Chapter 8, we revisit the Blackwater's Team Mamba in Baghdad, first introduced in the book's Introduction. Pelton gives a detailed sense of their day-to-day existence and of the circumstances of their employment. The chapter contains another of the book's funniest sections: when outgoing Blackwater security contractors and the plane crew go through security at Baghdad International Air Port on their way out of Iraq to Jordan:

At the gate, an older American with a bad comb-over pats us all down in a needlessly touchy body search—particularly needless when a flight member admits to Mr. Comb-Over that he is wearing a loaded 9-mm Glock. He gets searched anyway, and then hilariously they put his gun through the X-ray machine before returning it. . . .

Once we're on the plane, the Blackwater crew breaks open a large aluminum box and hands out a loaded M4 weapon to each passenger. (223)

Part 3, Of Rogues and Tycoons, begins with another of the book's funniest sections: Pelton's chapter on Jack Idema, a man emblematic of just how far a wannabee can go in a failed state, in this case Afghanistan in the post-9/11 culture of fear and confusion. The voice of Billy Waugh returns:

We only had 80 guys involved in our [Afghanistan] operations and Idema wasn't one of them. (239)

The best part of the chapter concerns Idema's rewriting of Robin Moore's The Hunt for bin Laden prior to its publication. Pelton writes:

I am actually featured in The Hunt for bin Laden and can speak from my own experience . . . Though they never met or talked to Idema, and despite the fact that almost ten members had carefully detailed their actions to Moore at K2, the first chapter puts forth an account of the team's infill into Afghanistan that the men tell me has been entirely fabricated. (243)

The chapter concludes with a paragraph that begins:

That such a transparent criminal could so easily label himself a contractor to act out his own covert paramilitary fantasy is a warning about the growing ubiquity of independent contractors. (250)

Bookcover Chapter 10, The Very Model of a Modern Major Mercenary, concerns the rise of Tim Spicer, former President of Sandline, widely regarded as an example of upward-mobile failure (though Pelton does not say this), and Spicer's new company Aegis. The description of Pelton's interview with Spicer is a comedy of manners. What Pelton does not mention is that he was previously sued and settled out of court for his depiction of Spicer in a previous book. Our narrator, however, is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places and so does not fear to tread into the office of someone who sued him.  (I myself once had my own run-in with Spicer's attorney, Richard Slowe.) What I found most interesting in the chapter was former Sandline accountant Michael Grunberg's account of what the take was for those running Executive Outcomes:

Even though they had difficulty extracting payments from the second operation, the men had generated extraordinary persona income. After the successes in Angola and Sierra Leone, EO had come to a natural end. According to Grunberg, "Eben [Barlow] took ten million and walked away. They all did very well. Simon [Mann] pocketed $60 million and Tony [Buckingham] banked $90 million." (263)

Simon Mann, one of the Executive Outcomes founders, is to have a starring role in Chapter 12, in which the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt is discussed. Apparently, he wanted more from life.

Chapter 11, The Lord and the Prince, is an examination of how the legacy of Executive Outcomes ans Sandline informs and shapes the ambitions of the principals of Blackwater and of HART Security. Of particular interest to me was the account of HART's contract with the government of Somalia in light of my adventure late last year writing about Top Cat Marine Security's signing of a contract with the Transitional Government of Somalia. Pelton remarks of the HART contract:

Other similar ventures by former soldiers have always fallen apart due to inherent corruption in local governments. (290)

coup5.jpgChapter 12, The Bight of Benin Company, is the chapter I ordered the book for in the first place, back in December. It concerns the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, which is what first interested me in the subject of military privatization. If not for my reading about and researching what was up with N4610, a former US military plane which ended up in Zimbabwe with a load of mercenaries in it, back in March of 2004, I would not be writing this now, nor would I have read this book.

In addition to providing a smooth, gripping narrative of events I learned about by obsessively reading news stories coming out of Africa two years ago, he covers some documents I had previous access to, most notably a document entitled "Assisted Regime Change." All by themselves, these documents, with their paranoia and layers of duplicity even among plotters, give us a blueprint for a future dystopia if "regime change" is privatized on a large scale. Here's a sample:

The "Bight of Benin Company" (BBC), written in the archaic British schoolboy style typical of Simon Mann, is a Machiavellian plan laced with paranoia and greed. The document lays out a plan to turn EG into something resembling the British East India Company. It details the coup backers' intent to claim the sole right to make agreements ad contracts wit the newly installed government . . . The BBC makes it abundantly clear that Moto is disposable and that his main backer, Eli Khalil, was not to be trusted. (318)

N4610 One document he doesn't talk much about, but I have been told the contents of, is the contract for the purchase of N4610 from Dodson. One idiocy of the coup plot was that N4610 was a tail number registered to the US Air National Guard. So to me one big question was always why didn't the plotters take the trouble to paint on a different tail number. The answer is, I think, in the contract. The contract specified a buy-back price for the plane; viewed that way, it was essentially a rental agreement with a damage deposit. In my opinion, they didn't paint over the tail number because the plotters had to give the plane back; Sandline declared itself defunct about a month after the plane was impounded.

coup3.jpgWhile previous chapters showed how security contractors could be treated like dogs by those who employed them, one of the features of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot narrative is "the divide between the backers and those in prison." Though I have little sympathy for Simon Mann, for whom a $60 million take from Executive Outcomes was not enough, the coup backers did far too little to help him  -- and those arrested with him -- once he got busted. Simon Man is currently fighting extradition from his jail cell in Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, where he could expect a much longer jail sentence.

Pelton as it happens had once retained Nick du Toit, leader of the EQ-based portion of the plot, for security in a 2002 trip to Africa. He returns to Africa and interviews du Toit in jail.

What I learned from Niek is that in the debate between contractor and mercenary, it will always come down to the individual. When Niek du Toit was my security man, I knew him as an upstanding, loyal, dependable provider of security in what was at the time the world's most dangerous place. Now, four years later, he is a criminal behind bars for what appears to be the rest of his life. (333)

The book concludes with an Epilogue in which Pelton visits one of the Blackwater contractors he spent time with in Baghdad after the man's return the the US. The man was badly injured after Pelton's departure. The epilogue is a mediation on both the lack of accounting on the actual number of security contractor deaths, and on the contractors' own lack of accountability:

As of spring 2006, there has not been one single contractor charged for any crime that occurred in Iraq, though hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed for offenses ranging from minor violations of military code to murder. (341)

He remarks also:

Working in violent areas and being given a license to kill can be frightening to some and an addictive adrenaline rush to others. It is impossible to predict how successfully the thousands of security contractors now working in Iraq will integrate back into normal civilian life after their wellspring of employment dries up.  (342)

Rypinshadowcompany Elsewhere, interviewed in  Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque's documentary Shadow Company, Pelton is a bit more blunt. He says: "Some of these guys couldn't work in Walmart."

Corporatizing war is presented by the purveyors of private military services as a way of streamlining, of cutting out the red tape, of increasing efficiency, under controlled circumstances. But throughout the book, Pelton has shown just how fluid the line is between security contractor and mercenary, between defending a fixed asset and just plain combat, between security guard and criminal.

Combine this with the current nostalgia for the olden days when political assassination was an essential part of the toolbox of American foreign policy, and a move to reinstate that practice happening simultaneously with a massive swing toward privatization, and we find that our world is a strange place indeed.

An important theme of the book is the contrast between American and British attitudes toward privatized security:

It becomes clear to me during the meeting that there remains a very high wall between the HART's very English view of security, and of Blackwater's view of a brave new neocon world.  . . . While [Blackwater's Erik] Prince paints a flashy, high-tech, road-warrior-style military company that could solve any client's problem by an application of sheer brute force and advanced weaponry, [HART's] Richard [Bethell] and George [Simm] calmly promote the idea of low-key and culturally integrated solutions. (301)

This contrast corresponds roughly to the contrast between American and British imperialism, but an imperialism at least partly uncoupled from the traditional imperialist powers, namely governments; an imperialism increasingly removed from oversight by the British and American publics.

What we have here, in the end, is an important book on where the 21st century is taking us, exploring the dystopian potiential of military privatization, even for the very people engaged in it. If there is any possibility to avert the dystopia, it lies in transparency. And so this book is very much a step in the right direction.

Robert Young Pelton: The Truth about John Walker Lindh

I received this interesting article from Robert Young Pelton, author of The World's Most Dangerous Places, via email this morning. I gather it is under Creative Commons License; I present it here in its entirety. Much of this is previously unreleased material. Its appearance here may well be its first publication. The transcript of Pelton's original interview, plus video clips,  with Lindh appear on the CNN website. This is his eye-witness account of Lindh's capture, in response to a recent campaign for clemency:

The Truth about John Walker Lindh
by Robert Young Pelton

Robert Young PeltonJohn Walker Lindh aka John Walker aka Suleiman Ferris aka Abdul Hamid aka The American Taliban is a person that I will mostly likely to be associated for some time to come. I am sure on my obituary there will be a bombastic note that I was “the journalist who “discovered” Lindh after the battle at Qali Jangi” (the afghans have that dubious honor) Many have told me that Lindh’s story was a big deal back in the States. I will never know. I was in Afghanistan covering combat operations with in the ongoing war against the Taliban for CNN so I will never have the chance to the get the full impact of finding an American professing his love for the Taliban.

To me Lindh was just an unpleasant arrogant kid who preferred to stay with his murdering friends. He was, in fact, the second Irish-American Jihadi I have met and interviewed. The first one was a one-legged psychopath who had been trained in the same camps and had fought in Kashmir, Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya and Liberia gave me his opinion. When I called him to discuss Lindh’s hejira, Aqil Collins simply called Lindh “a pussy.”  When I returned from Afghanistan I was quite aware of the outrage he had caused. In a deliberate effort not to influence his pending case, I did only interviews in which I spoke positively about Lindh.

Privately I warned his lawyers to keep me off the witness stand because I would send their little Johnny to prison. Wisely, Lindh copped a plea and I was spared months of inconvenience. Some people wanted a trial to get to the bottom of Lindh’s nefarious activities, among them the grieving family of Mike Spann. Lindh’s plea bargain denied them and the country of that truth finding.

So it was left to me to set the record straight. My decades of travels with jihadis and terrorists, my time with both the Taliban leadership, the Northern Alliance (aka the United Front), Dostum’s forces — as well as my own time spent during and after talking to the players involved with Qali Jangi — lead me to believe that I am uniquely qualified to pass judgment on Lindh and to accurately describe who he was and what he was doing there.

Now that Lindh’s father has decided to wrongly blame me for his son’s misery and seek clemency under false pretenses, I feel its time to reveal the truth.

Quite simply, in my opinion, Lindh was a terrorist, a member of what we call al Qaeda, and a man who chose to stay with killers even though he was afforded numerous opportunities to separate himself from his murderous associates. Twenty years in jail may be a blessing compared to how many of his friends have been dealt with since.

Frank Lindh cannot be blamed either for the emotions behind his need to reinvent history or for doing what he can to get his son out of jail. But he is lying. His son did not “love America”: He fought for bin Laden, against us. His son is not “honest”: He lied to his parents and others. His son is not a “decent” young man: He trained to be a murderer.  His son went to kill strangers in a stranger land. A spiritual quest? What part of grenades and AK 47s can be described as spiritual?  What part of patriotism is eating bin Laden’s food, listening to Usama’s droning hate-filled speeches against America, and sitting obediently within strangling distance of our greatest single enemy?

To think that the American public is that stupid is an insult. John Walker Lindh was an Arabic-speaking member of bin Laden’s terror legions. He called it Al Ansar (the correct term); we call them al Qaeda. He was never a member of the Taliban. Why? Because Lindh only spoke Arabic and English. He would have been useless in a combat situation among Pashto- or Dari- speaking troops. I have seen Taliban ID cards and spent time with bin Laden’s “055 Brigade, “al Ansar” members and al Qaeda. Lindh was exactly the person we were trying to kill in Afghanistan and now around the world. He was an educated, idealistic young Muslim who chose murder of innocent people as his path in life. He is no different that Mohamed Atta, Zarqawi, or thousands of other terrorists that come from nice middle class families.

The elder Lindh would have us believe that somehow America supported what Lindh, Jr. and bin Laden did at one time. Pure invention: Osama bin Laden never received any US CIA funding: He channeled Saudi money into what was then called the Office of Services and then into his own ventures. Yes, the Taliban were mujahids, but their draconian regime and support of bin Laden made them pariahs long before Lindh went there.  Later in the post-Soviet era of Afghanistan the CIA would pay Massoud money to try to kill Bin Laden. Lindh, Jr. went there to kill the members of Massouds’ fighters. When the war broke out, there was no clearer distinction of “with us or against us” than the forces of bin Laden and the Taliban against the combined Afghan forces we called “the Northern Alliance.” Lindh was on Bin Laden's side, against us. Period. End of conversation.

I agree with Lindh, Sr. that perhaps his son’s timing sucked. His son's need to run around Afghanistan looking to murder other Muslims would not have been that big a deal pre-9/11. Once he and his Arab jihadi friends heard on their BBC shortwave radio broadcasts that the US was coming—well only the dumbest or the most resolutely criminal were going to stay for what was going to be a high tech, high ordnance ass whupping. Lindh chose to stay. He watched America’s B52 contrails in the sky, he felt the destruction American bombs dealt his friends, and yet he stayed with his terrorist friends. When he fled to Kunduz he again chose to stay with his murdering friends and when a small group of foreign jihadis was chosen for a Hail Mary suicide mission to nearby Mazar i Sharif, Lindh was on board.

What, you say? I thought poor Abdul Hamid (Lindh, Jr.’s “jihad” name) was fleeing his evil master and seeking help. No. The group of around 460 jihadis that left Kunduz towards Mazar i Sharif were on their way to link up with Mullah Dadullah (now the leader of the Taliban military) in Balkh (just west of Mazar) and then attack the city while the US and Afghan forces were tied up in Kunduz monitoring the surrender. Yes, thousands of fighters did surrender peacefully. But Lindh, again, chose to associate with a rag-tag group of die-hards led by one of bin Laden’s lieutenants; Abdul Aziz, as well as the hardest-core terrorists that comprised Saudi, Uzbek, Iraqi, Russian, Sudanese, Yemeni and Pakistani jihadis.
This group was stopped heading west early in the morning and had an armed standoff with Afghan and US forces. (Yes, Lindh’s group was fully armed during their purported “surrender,” and they had no good reason to explain why they not going east towards Pakistan). The stand off was tense until bombers appeared overhead. Dostum drove by on his way to Kunduz and told them to be disarmed and taken to his garrison called Qali Jangi. Lindh, during that entire time, was within feet of western journalists and US forces and could have simply identified himself as an American. But he chose to stay in the company of killers. Lindh also knew that his cohorts were still secretly armed with pistols, rifles and even grenades tied by shoelaces and dangling around their groin area. A place where they knew Afghans dare not pat down.

The Uzbek terrorists among Lindh’s group were ecstatic. Qali Jangi was where they had trained under the Taliban and the storage rooms of garrison were literally overflowing with weapons confiscated and stored by the Taliban.

Upon arrival, one of the Uzbeks immediately killed himself with a grenade while trying to murder what he thought was Dostum. It was Dostum's Intel officer (who survived) and a Hazara general was killed. This event was filmed and once again, despite the presence of western media and the casual atmosphere (prisoners were even being interviewed by CNN and others), Lindh refused to identify himself or ask for help.

Terrified and outnumbered by the false surrender, the Afghan guards—there were only about 100 guards for the 460 prisoners—pushed the killers down into the basement of a fortified schoolhouse until they could be searched in the morning. That night, in the cramped five-room basement, there was an angry and desperate argument among the prisoners. The Saudis and Uzbeks planned an attack; they just needed a diversion to get to the weapons stored a few yards from the pink schoolhouse.  The Pakistanis wanted to just surrender and go home. According to the survivors I interviewed, Lindh was an Arabic-speaking al Qaeda member and had full knowledge of this discussion, and he has yet to admit which path he was going to choose. Some insist that Lindh was among the main proponents of this violent action. I was not in that basement, so I don’t know what happened. What I do know is that Lindh’s actions the next day would provide the damning answer.
The next morning two CIA officers went to Qali Jangi to interview the prisoners. Mike Spann and Dave Tyson arrived in separate vehicles. Tyson spoke a number of languages but Spann only spoke English.  The prisoners were brought up one at a time. They were searched, bound with their turbans and then marched into lines inside the southern courtyard. Spann walked up and down the lines of prisoners. He asked an Iraqi mechanic who spoke English if there were any other prisoners who spoke English. The Iraqi pointed out the “Irishman.” Lindh had been told to say he was Irish in the camps to avoid problems. Spann had Lindh brought over away from the main group and put out a blanket for him.  Spann and Tyson tried to talk to Lindh. Mike even calls him “Irish.” Away from his peers Lindh, just stares down.  Mike pleads with Lindh to talk. Lindh remains hostile and silent.
Spann and Tyson play a clumsy game of “good cop, bad cop.” But one thing is clear: they offer Lindh a way out. Lindh is alone with two of his fellow countrymen with full knowledge of the violence that is about to happen. He says nothing. If there was ever one moment that will define one man and damn another, this was it. Lindh is put back into the lineup and Mike Spann will die in the next few minutes as Uzbeks rush up from the basement, yelling Allahhuakbar and detonate hidden grenades. The fighting begins. Lindh has once again has been given a clear choice between right and wrong and once again.  He makes that clear choice again.

It is not known what Lindh and his fellow terrorists did for the next few days while fighting raged and Mike Spann’s still body lay there, two AK 47 bullet holes through his head, one straight down and one from left to right.  When the Afghan Commander Fakir used pleading, threats, then finally flame, explosions and flooding, to roust the killers, the first person that came up to negotiate on behalf of the jihadis was John Walker Lindh. The same murderous group that had shot and killed a clearly identified elderly Red Cross worker who went down to look for bodies a week earlier.

I had asked Dostum to bring me the prisoners. I wanted to interview and meet these men. At around midnight after Lindh and his 85 friends surrendered. Two open trucks showed up filled with shivering, screaming jihadis. One truckload was unloaded in front of me. I photographed and talked to the men while a group of Special Forces soldiers watched from a distance, their guns at the ready. This was not the first false surrender they had suffered. One truck was full of moaning and crying men. Way in the back sat John Walker Lindh. He slowly hides from view in my series of photographs. Once again, he had a chance to identify himself and surrender, but he chose to stay in the company of killers.

A few minutes later, Dostum’s cameraman runs into the living room and says there is an American. He shows me an image of Lindh repeating his name “John” on his Panasonic camera.  My first impression is that whoever this American is, he needs help. Fast. I ask the Special Forces medic if he will bring his medical bag and come with me.  We jump into a truck and I along with my cameraman and some SF team members go into the triage room. The doctor is whacking Lindh on the head trying to talk to him.  I motion for the doctor to back off and ask if I can ask the questions. I clearly identify myself to Lindh as working for CNN.  Lindh, Sr. forgets that all my initial questions are about his son’s health and if he wanted to contact his loved ones. Lindh, Jr. repeatedly states that he is not. I moved him to a private room so the medic can examine him properly. Downstairs, the doctors hate these people. They have just murdered their compatriots in cold blood there will be no pity for the men left downstairs. They are all now dead or in Gitmo. Lindh will be the lucky one.

Upstairs is Lindh. And despite our attempts to improve his condition, he was yet again rude, arrogant and unhelpful. I still press him for someone to contact. He refuses. He is being given gentle medical care by a US medic who was busy killing his murderous friends a few days earlier. There is a myth that morphine somehow forces Lindh to talk. But his statements (some of them true and some of them false) begin well before and are consistent until I turn off my camera and tell him to sleep.  I clearly identify to Lindh when he is given morphine (happy juice) and I ask no leading questions. My interest is simply understand who is he is and how he got there. In fact the reason Lindh talks to me is because he senses that I know about jihad, Muslims, and his cause. He even asks me if I am a Muslim.  I know jihadis and I know jihad. On tape I ask him if it is Ok for Muslims to kill other Muslims. He brushes me off saying the Koran deals with this. Finally I ask him what he thinks of his condition and decisions. He is unrepentant.

Despite his attitude and affections. I gave Lindh tea and cookies and once again ask him if he wants to contact his parents. He refuses. Finally I let him sleep and decide to take him home with me for his own safety. One of the special forces men, fresh from three weeks in combat, gave up his room so that Lindh could sleep in his bed.

The next morning he is taken to the Turkish School, rested, attended to and dressed in a clean pair of pajamas, and out of my control. I know what happened to Lindh after that because I met some of the Marines that did it. He could have suffered much worse.

For an entire month I called Lindh’s parents and lawyers to provide the details of his capture and events surrounding the uprising. They refuse to call me back, though his mother had time to chastise a gossip columnist for criticizing her relationship with her lawyer. During Lindh’s 15 minutes of fame, I respect my responsibility as a working journalist for CNN and do nothing that would influence his case. Despite my dark knowledge, I tell his lawyers to keep me out of it. They play games and still I refuse. They smear me in public as an agent of the government and harass me in private. They waste $64,000 of CNN’s money and work the media to present me as a greedy story-hungry freelance. I have made no additional money from Lindh’s story and never will. Now that Lindh’s father is now blaming me for his “exculpatory” interview and has restarted the negative spin. The gloves are off. The truth will prevail.

I don’t think about the evening of December 1, 2001, that much. I continue to cover conflict and the actors within but on a recent motorcycle trip from the east coast to the west coast, I found myself passing through Victorville close to where “Johnny Taliban” is staying. The cold dirty wind and high mountain air reminded me of Afghanistan. I thought about Lindh, felt the air on my face and wondered how lucky Lindh is to be still alive.  A privilege that Mike Spann, a real hero and American patriot will never have due to John Walker Lindh’s duplicity.

So for Mike’s sake, don't let John Lindh's PR and legal campaign change the fact that his son was the exactly the kind of person that fly aircraft into buildings, blow up American troops in Iraq and kill innocent Muslims on their "spiritual journey" to paradise.  He was and is a terrorist.

To hell with John Walker Lindh and his murderous ilk. They have done nothing to advance the cause of Muslims and they have caused a world of heartbreak in their arrogant pursuit of senseless death.  To support Lindh, Sr.’s naïve view of his son and his actions furthers that dark vision.

Links relating to Lindh's clemancy campaign:

See also Lindh's Wikipedia entry.

This was the beginning of the New Word Order. It is what we used to have instead of History: A Ken MacLeod Satire

The birds woke the kids just after five, who woke me from a dream of someone showing me snapshots of all the goings on at late-night sf convention parties that I can no longer go to because I always have kids in tow. (The dream involved people who are better off dressed taking off all their clothes, but that's sf conventions for you.)

I got the kids back to sleep. Then I lay, sandwiched between them, fantasizing about buying about 60 bags of topsoil and putting it in the area of the yard where the pool used to be and buying both a plasitic pond with skimmer and also a kiddie pool, the kiddie pool to be closer to the circle of stumps and the pond to be closer to the old pool steps and th electrical outlet and how much wildflower seed would I have to buy and where could I get frog eggs to put in the pond and do deer eat lily pads and . . . And I decided since it was almost 6 AM I'd rather get up than lie there thinking about buying topsoil.

So here I am with my coffee. We put my computer table in a new place, which requires some getting used to. The rising sun was shining in my face a few minutes ago, but now it's better.

Here's a treat: In HOW HISTORY ENDED AND WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS, posted on his weblog, Ken McLeod takes on the problem of things happening after history's end in the manner of a college undergraduate who has read too much criticism uncritically. Really funny and requires careful reading because he keeps using phrases you think you've read before, except that line after line, his sentences are like the punchline to the joke about the guy converting to catholicism who confuses Easter with Ground Hog Day: and Jesus rolls back the rock and comes out of the cave and if he sees his shadow, there'll be two more weeks of winter.

It begins:

Karl Marx said that communist society would bear the birthmarks of the old, and Mikhail Gorbachev bore one of them on top of his head. Gorbachev rose to power as a result of the Chernobyl Reaction, which came about because the Russians discovered that their previous two leaders - Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko (these are three, but the third does not count) - were dead but still standing.

and ends:

Afghanistan was bombed to get rid of Osama Bin Laden. He now no longer lives in Afghanistan but in the hearts of millions of devoted followers. Iraq was bombed to kill Saddam Hussein and to get rid of his Weapons of Mass Destruction, which are now in the hands of the people of Iraq.

America is still Top Nation.

Good fun!

LINKS: I've added links to a few sf-oriented bloggers I found by checking who linked to Birkerts' attack on sf. Welcome Tim Yu and James DiBenedetto.

Dawn at the Bird Cathedral

OK: It's 5:28AM and I'm bright-eyed awake. Now I know why my kids woke up at this time yesterday. It's when the birds start chirping and it begins to get light. Because of a nearby rock wall, sound has interesting properties in our back yard, and we have some very tall trees. At dawn at this time of year -- between now and late July -- our back yard becomes a bird cathedral; there is a choir of birds and the patches of bright orange sky through the trees are like stained glass windows.

SO here I am. I've made coffee and switched on one of the ambient space stations available over the cable modem which plays music I won't even notice while concentrating on what I'm doing.

I jot down stuff that was kicking around in my head during the night:

ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW: (1) Is anyone actually running against GWB for the Republican nomination? ANSWER: It's not allowed; forwards into Man and party are indistinguishable. (2) Does Santorum have a dog? What kind? Are there any pictures of man and dog on the web? ANSWER: Though Santorum wants his constituents to know that he is deeply concerned about dog breeding, I have found no information available on the web about whether he has a dog.

NEXT, I go to Breaking News at to see what other people (mostly to the East of me, given the time) think is important in this morning's news cycle. Technorati is quite handy at this time of day. Topics haven't yet been beaten to death. Also, there are a lot of smart bloggers who have an eye for important stories, but who aren't writers (lowercase 'w'). They either make links without comment, or their comments read like this: Disgraceful and disgusting acts of atrocities are ignored. So provides first readers for the slush pile of the morning's news. I'm a morning person.

Speaking of morning people, baby's awake. David brings her to me and goes back to bed. I nurse her and type with one hand.

The moment's top story is from the Independent: The allies' broken promises:

Tony Blair: 'We don't touch it, and the US doesn't touch it'  MTV, 7 March
The reality: Yesterday's draft UN resolution gives total control of Iraq's oil revenues to the US and UK until an Iraqi government is established

etc. Glad someone's keeping track. I've been exploring this general theme of shifting political realities, but have nothing immediate to say -- brief mental flash of the cover of Philip K. Dick's MARTIAN TIMESLIP. I'm not sure what to do with it yet. So I put this shiny infopebble in the bucket and move on down the beach.

The #2 technorati item is a fairly hard-hitting editorial in the Guardian, also on the proposed UN resolution: The new caliphs; US and Britain seek a free hand in Iraq

The new joint draft resolution is in other respects a deeply unsatisfactory document. Common sense again suggests that the UN should be afforded a leading role, as in Afghanistan, in facilitating the creation of a post-Saddam system of governance. Impartial UN mediators would be far better positioned to instil confidence, among Iraqis and in the wider region, in a process that will at best be complex and arduous. The contrary US-British intention to direct political reform via a new legal entity, the "Authority", controlled by them, and with only an advisory, non-executive role for a UN "special coordinator" is ill-conceived and potentially divisive. 

The resolution envisages a similarly tight US-British grip, also for at least one year, on exploitation of and revenue from Iraq's oil once UN controls, specifically the oil-for-food programme, are phased out. The proposed international oversight by a board of absentee luminaries drawn from the UN, IMF and World Bank is no real safeguard against the sort of abuse EU commissioner Poul Nielson warned about yesterday. Nor is it responsible to assume that the 60% of Iraqis who rely on UN-administered food aid will soon be able to do without it. While the US and Britain now - finally - accept their obligations under international law, what this resolution boils down to is legitimisation of an illegal war and of an open-ended occupation. It gives them a free hand in Iraq. What it will give Iraqis is much less clear.

Story #3 is Bush unveils Mid-East trade plan. I check it out. After reading it, I'm still not sure what Bush's plan is, but I have a few sacrcastic thoughts: What does he want to trade it for? To which US corporations does he want to trade it? I click on some of the blog links to see if anyone else understands it, but I find something better at a site called Nurse Ratched's Notebook, which she saw via atriosPresident Bush's Movements and Actions on 9/11 by Allan Wood and Paul Thompson. I skim it. This is real historical reseach, important stuff, a must read. It's full of things I didn't know.  I'll read more later.

Baby Elizabeth gets tired of playing with the toys on the floor by my feet and trying to learn how to crawl and starts to fuss. I turn on the TV and put on an infant stim video: Newton in a bottle: Physics for kids! For children 3 months and up.  I turn off the space music because it competes with the music-only soundtrack of the TV. (The bird have piped down by now, and the sky is between the trees is pale yellow. It's quarter of 7.)
Skimming down technorati, I see various stories I've read already from different sources . . . . Now here's a lurid one! Doctors 'stole brains for research': The brains of thousands of mentally ill people were illegally removed after their deaths. But this is really just a variant on a story I've read before about body parts illegally removed in UK hospitals, yes? Nonetheless, it's going to confirm the worst suspicions of some poor paranoid schizophrenic out there: His doctor really is trying to steal his brain! Whoopee!

Now here's someone who needs his brain removed for examination:

But John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "Without committing to deployment, research on low-yield nuclear weapons is a prudent step to safeguard America from emerging threats and enemies."

Newton in a Bottle ends just as I find out that army ants are a truly ancient species originating over 100 million years ago on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. Sunbeams are coming in the window now. I put on Baby Einstein and get a refill on my coffee.

Checking out CNN, I don't find much new . . . except, here's something:    fly fossils in Antarctica. I was wondering about the fossils of Anarctica just the other day, wondering what they might find if all that ice weren't in the way:

The tiny fossil of a fly discovered 300 miles from the South Pole could help scientists figure out what life was like millions of years ago in Antarctica.

Peter just woke up and brought me two books he wants me to read, one about aliens, and the other about jellyfish. So I'll stop here.    

8:43AM: Here's a few things I missed:

Washington Post: Med Students Performing Unauthorized Pelvic Exams on Unconscious Women

When Zahara Heckscher went to George Washington University Hospital last month to have an ovarian cyst removed, she asked her surgeon if medical students would be practicing pelvic exams on her while she was unconscious. She was shocked that the answer was yes.

Medical students, interns and residents at teaching hospitals across the nation routinely learn how to perform such examinations by practicing on patients under anesthesia, medical educators say, and GWU Hospital officials say their program is no exception.

Also from the WP, Seven Nuclear Sites Looted. I took this for an old story, but there are more sites than previously reported.

MEANWHILE, Arthur Hlavaty directs our attention to this marvelous graphic by Edward Tufte: Thinking With Bullets.

The Bed with a Mind of Its Own

Here is another essay from those tense times in late 2001. --KC

I was sick, becoming very sick, in October.

"A cold," I’d said to my husband, David, "With added features." It felt like a bad cold with allergy symptoms sitting on top.

On October 17th, my son Peter’s fourth birthday, I went to the doctor: "A virus," he said. "Come back in a week if you don’t feel better."

My one A+ at Columbia University was in statistics. This month, when I was getting sick, the "A" word  was everywhere: anthrax. The odds, I calculated, were millions to one. The only risk factors I could think of were ridiculous: stuff like husband is editor for major publishing company that has a mailroom; or stayed at house of White House electrician in September. But the limits of my suggestibility were tested: skin, ear, and eye problems, runny nose, chest pain, sore throat. So many symptoms.

Wednesday, October 24th, a week later, I didn’t feel better: in the morning a searingly sore throat. I called David and called the doctor. By lunch time, lightheadedness, tingling lips, prickling finger tips, and chest pain like a clenched fist just beneath my right shoulder blade. But no wheezing. (I’d had pneumonia before, and even a lung collapse, once.) I knew that they would hear no wheezing. Part of my lung seemed locked. I had been driving around trying to buy the right toner cartridge for our printer, to Hartsdale and then to White Plains, feeling more and more lightheaded as I drove.

Arriving home, no message on the machine: the doctor’s office had not yet called me back. I called them: The nurse and I discussed whether I should go to the emergency room. I said I wanted to see the doctor. (I didn’t tell her that I wanted to avoid to the ER, for fear that they’d think I was a hypochondriac faking anthrax in order to get Cipro.) I changed the toner cartridge, printed out the issue of our small press magazine and called the doctor’s office again. I finished my work at noon, then crawled into bed feeling too sick to go to the doctor.

I called my sister to find out if her husband, Tom–an electrician who had been helping move the White House mail-processing center off site–was being put on Cipro yet. They guys from the other shift had been nasal-swabbed the night before. When I talked to her the previous night we’d had five minutes of hysterical giggles on the subject of household decontamination tips–greeting her husband at the door with a can of Lysol and such.

In this conversation, I suggested that she insist that he wear a condom. To work. A really big one that could cover his whole body. She said, "If you feel too sick to go to the doctor, call an ambulance."

The doctor’s office called, asking me to come in. I went, driving carefully, afraid I would be pulled over. After a bit of a wait–during which the waiting room carpet sparkled in ways it shouldn’t have and I remained determinedly vertical, though I really wanted to lie on that carpet–the doctor offered hospital admission. I made a few calls on my cell phone to arrange for Peter to be picked up at preschool. I felt too sick to be bothered with going into the hospital, so I said yes, admit me. The doctor offered an ambulance, but I drove myself.

Five hours in the Admit unit did not bother me. Sitting and standing were no longer demanded. People were close by. I thought, Whatever I have is no longer my problem.

As the nurse helped me into my gown, she said "What can you tell me about this rash on your chest?"

"What rash? I don’t know about any rash," I said. But on my chest there was a rash like a faint sunburn.

They put in my IV and they wheeled me down the hall for a chest X-ray. I needed help to stand up for the X-ray, and remained standing by leaning against the equipment. While I waited to be returned to the Admit Unit, a woman wearing a face mask was brought in on a gurney by hospital masked hospital staff. I wasn’t sure whether to look at her and smile or to look away. I did an awkward combination of the two. Obviously, she had something contagious, but what?

Once back in the Admit Unit, eavesdropping was my entertainment: The infectious disease doctor across the hall asked the young female patient, "Have you been out of the country recently?" and made a phone call to determine if current protocol demanded a nasal swab for anthrax. (It didn’t.) They sampled her spinal fluid; for what purpose, I knew not. But I was curious.

Although I hadn’t been given any medication, I felt like I was on heavy drugs. In the room next door, an old man sent in from a nursing home was told they will give him Cipro in trade for a urine specimen. He was so thrilled to be taking the drug du jour, though only for an apparent urinary tract infection.

My nurse called upstairs every half hour to see if my bed was ready yet. The nurses chatted with their children on the phone: one about school books crucial to the homework assignment left at school; another explained she wouldn’t be home until bedtime. I missed my son.

Gradually, a headache came on, a headache like slamming my head into a wall.

"Oxygen," said the chipper nurse. "Maybe your oxygen would help." Once she turned it on, the headache, or at least its intensity, was gone in seconds. When my head cleared, I remembered that the Admit instructions had authorized oxygen. But I had been too sick and confused to ask.

A room, I needed a room. From 3 to 8 PM my room upstairs remained uncleaned. When I finally arrived there via gurney, at about 8:30, the room smelled funny, vaguely like a diaper pail. I saw a dampness through the sheet and patted the bed to be sure that it was disinfectant and not what it smelled like. I had never spent a night away from my little boy before.

I got into the bed. It made a quiet mechanical noise, though I had pushed no buttons. Click. Whir. Click. I had a bed at last. I complained about nothing.

Nothing to read. A pen, but no paper. Only TV. And though sick, I was so bored! I turned on the TV: all anthrax all the time. What I have is no longer my problem. The bed clicked and then shifted subtly of its own accord, and clicked again.

I had thought that I still knew how to watch TV, but I had partly lost the skill of extracting actual information from a television. Initially, for example, I could not simultaneously read the scrolling headlines and follow what the news anchors were saying. After a while though, I got the hang of it.

History Channel: Visual: Tracking shot of lower Manhattan, focus on the Twin Towers. My first thought: The towers were so big! My God, they were big! Then I hear the voiceover. Voice: "... and as water levels continue to rise, the next ice age will pose serious problems for the future." This shot is a cheat of course, because they are using the sheer size of the WTC to imply that water will engulf the smaller skyscrapers. Nonetheless, it was touchingly naive for them to suggest that the biggest threat to the WTC was an incoming ice age.

After I turned off the TV and tried to sleep, I worried that the self-propelled bed would keep me awake. Instead it was a comfort, a mechanical echo of the small movements of my husband and son asleep at home.

Thursday, despite antibiotics and oxygen, I did not feel better. My ears hurt. My chest X-ray, taken on admission, was OK. The doctor ordered a CATSCAN.

When I felt my suggestibility tested yet again, I tried a thought experiment: What would it mean about the anthrax outbreak if I, Kathryn Cramer, who does not work for the government or the news media, were to be a documented case of inhalation anthrax? I would be a mysterious outlier. It would change everything. It would be big news. That wasn’t going to happen. It was all going to unfold predictably with neat little chains of evidence. Therefore my TV-induced fears were absurd.

David and Peter came to visit, bringing pajama bottoms and a couple of small press fiction magazines. Peter climbed on my bed and watched kids shows on my TV. While he was watching, I realized why I had not been watching them: I’d seen all these shows before: Blues Clues, Dragon Tales, Pokemon. I’d seen them with Peter. So not only could they provide me with no entertainment; they made me miss him. The bed moved and Peter and I talked about how it had a mind of its own.

Peter was very worried by my oxygen tube and my IV. I told him that both were to help mommy feel better. I turned the oxygen tube so it blew on him for a moment to demonstrate what it did, and I let him touch the IV. When he was just short of two, Peter had been hospitalized for an afternoon to be rehydrated when he had pneumonia. He had had an IV, which had to be taped on because he was a little kid.  The hand swelled and the IV became extremely painful. Because of his concern, I asked if he remembered having an IV before. He said, "Yes.  It really hurt, mommy." I assured him that mommy’s didn’t hurt and was helping make her feel better.

After they left, I tried keeping the TV off. But the old man across the hall was very hard of hearing and so spoke very loudly; he had many visitors whom he entertained by telling them his opinions of the developing anthrax story he was watching on TV; they had to talk loudly for him to hear them. I tried reading the magazines, but the stories in them weren’t making very much sense, even though I tried reading them two or three times. Actual TV was preferable to the verbal instant replay of the anthrax stories, so I turned the TV back on, trying to find more innocuous channels.

I wanted music. From my lung collapse and from my hospitalization for Peter’s birth, I remember that the hospital cable used to have MTV, so you could just have music on in your room. MTV was gone. There were a couple of channels that had music shows, but they would play only about fifteen seconds of a song and then blather about the band to a constantly moving and cutting camera. Even I, in my current state, had more attention span than they were demanding of their viewers!

Friday, the doctor said the CATSCAN showed inflamed nodules in my lungs. At last a name: inflammatory lung disease. The bed shifted on its own: click, whir, click. My immune system turning against me? What I have becomes my problem again. 

I finally used the A word: I said to the doctor, "You know the question everyone has been asking? They all want to know if I have inhalation anthrax." The doctor told me that if that’s what I had, I was still covered: the antibiotic Levaquin is a relative of Cipro. He also said that prior to the current outbreak, the last case of inhalation anthrax had been seven years before he went to medical school. "Gotta feel bad for the doctors who missed the diagnosis on those two postal workers who died," he said.

On all the news channels, the postal situation was heating up, with new detections of anthrax spores in sorting machines every few hours. My favorite moment of that coverage was when William Smith of the New York Postal Workers Union said on CNN, "The postal workers value their lives just as much as members of congress value theirs." I saw him say it only once, though some of his lesser sound bites the various stations repeated for days. He was making an excellent point, and this is the sound bite that should have received the endless repetitions.

Channel 13 had some good stuff during the day, after the kids’ shows. And on weekends CSPAN 2 becomes BookTV, which was great: readings, scholarly lectures, book events that I would like to have gone to, some in book stores I think I’d been in.

The hospital’s interfaith chaplain paid me a visit. I told him the story of my admission, my symptoms, and about how careful I had been to avoid having to go through the ER to get treatment. He said he’d heard that in some Manhattan ERs, you had to say that you did not think you had anthrax and did not want Cipro in order to be allowed to see a doctor. We shook our heads and chuckled. He said a prayer of healing over me and continued on his route.

Saturday, I felt worse, not better. The prednizone helped, but not enough. I was supposed to be released, but I didn’t feel good. David, Peter, and I were supposed to depart for Toronto on Sunday, but we weren’t going to be able to because I was in the hospital. The doctor came in with lab results: two secondary infections detected. More steroids. An additional antibiotic: doxycycline to cover the possibility that this was caused by Lyme Disease, to which I have a vast possible exposure in our wooded, suburban yard which is on a main deer trail: I get five tick bites a week during some parts of the summer.

Too many drugs, said David, but I suspected not enough. David said Karen said Tom is on Cipro. My eyes stung and the eyeballs looked sunburned. I could not read. Not only did my eyes hurt, but turning pages was too much effort.

One of the first things I found to watch that I really enjoyed was Joan Didion reading from her book Political Fictions, followed by a discussion of her reading, on Channel 13. I loved her final sentence from the discussion period, which I wrote down: "Some things are unknowable, but most things are more knowable than we think." I immediately called David and asked him to stop by Borders on his way up to see me and bring me a copy of her book. He didn’t. Instead he brought me two books he’d bought at a yard sale on the way.

Later, author Steven E. Ambrose, appearing with Peter Mayle and Dan Rather on Book TV on CSPAN 2, read from his book, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany, on the bomber that George McGovern flew in WW2. He read an anecdote about McGovern's plane accidentally destroying a civilian farmhouse while trying to get a stuck bomb out of the plane's bay doors. McGovern lands the plane, feeling just terrible and is informed of the birth of his first child. During the program, the phone kept ringing, my parents called, David called, maybe my sister too. But I couldn’t seem to hold up my end of the conversation, and finally I had good TV, I wanted to watch TV now. I didn’t want to talk because it was too hard to figure out what to say. In my dresser at home, I have my mother’s old McGovern in ’72 campaign T-shirt. There was some vast object of tragic contemplation to be had from the WW2 anecdote about McGovern, my mother’s Viet Nam era T-shirt, and the news reports of casualties here and Afghanistan.

I was having respiratory therapy every six hours, including during the night. At about 2:45 am, the therapist would come in and put me on a nebulizer for twenty minutes, and then, at my insistence, I would drink a nice cup of tea, watching whatever good stuff I could find. I saw part of a documentary on Isaac Stern. The most striking (and relevant) image was Stern playing a concert in Israel during the Gulf War. The air raid sirens go off. His audience puts on their gas masks but does not leave. Stern continues to play. I thought about how I felt taking Peter to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, in late September, about how embarrassed I’d felt when a pair of Arab men noticed my careful scrutiny. But you have to go on, just go on.

Sunday, once I felt a little better, I started trying to get off the oxygen. I asked to take a shower, but was told I needed my doctor’s permission for that. I was still unsteady on my feet, so the nurse and I compromised on my washing my hair in the sink, which was fine. I had not even combed my hair since admission, somehow thinking I would be released soon and would do it at home. With washed and combed hair, I began to try to patch my poor damaged skin back together with A & D ointment; David said the ointment gave me a "greased" look, but it sure felt good. He brought me a rhinestone American Flag pin, which I pinned to my hospital gown and wore feeling as though it were an amulet.

Kicking oxygen didn’t work, though I figured out what was wrong with my eyes: They were oxidizing. Going off the oxygen made me very confused: I began to wonder if anthrax is communicable through the television.

I turned the oxygen back up to half strength. The woman in the next room screamed for more pain medication and accused someone of torturing her. Her husband or son, unable to stand this, screamed at a nurse on her behalf. There were raised voices. As near as I could tell, the nurse was obeying instructions in order to avoid giving the woman an accidental lethal OD, and her family was trying to browbeat him into doing it over his better judgement. I wanted to empathize, but that woman had a high-pitched, sing-song, wheedling voice that made it impossible for me to identify with her. I was too dopey to care about them, but they were keeping me awake. The bed shifted beneath me and I turned on CNN quietly in the background so I could sleep.

All Monday, I tried to get off the oxygen, but failed miserably. I wanted to read, but couldn’t comprehend single written sentences. Writing came easier than reading. In the evening, the doctor visited. I asked him to explain how I got sick. He said he thought it started out viral, then went bacterial.

A juxtaposition: 1) Dr. Nancy Snyderman, ABC Medical Correspondent, documenting the nature of the injuries of Afghan refugees streaming into hospitals in Pakistan. (No one at the hospital asks the political affiliation of the 3 year-old with shrapnel in his brain.) Many are injured by houses that have fallen in on them. 2) CNN correspondent in Kandahar talking about the heavy, mud construction of the buildings and their vulnerability to being shaken by the bombs. Discusses the people's concern's that their houses will fall down. Conclusion: These Afghan cities and towns have no meaningful building codes. Even if civilian homes are not bombed directly, it looks to me like many people will be (and perhaps are being) killed because the houses are unable to stand up to the impact of bombs dropped 1/4 and 1/2 mile away. That, it seemed to me, is what it really means when one hears reports of these cities being "shaken" by the bombing.

Oxygen back up to 2. My dose of prednizone increased again. I colored obsessively with crayons for five hours: first a stylized picture of brightly colored-candy corn for Peter in compensation for all the Halloween preparations that I was not doing this year; then a stylized American flag with five stars rather than the usual number. I’m sure the last time I drew a flag can’t be more recent than high school. My mood when drawing the flag was like that of someone making a cross to hang on the door to keep out vampires. My coloring was much admired by the hospital support staff who seemed previously not to have noticed me much. John Ashcroft warned of unspecified new terrorist threats. The bed fidgeted. As the chemicals began to fuck with my brain chemistry, I ran water over my hands in the sink for five or ten minutes for the sheer joy of the sensation.

Late Monday night, Rudy Guiliani had a press conference to tell me that the odds are not what I thought: People who don’t work for the post office or the media are coming down with anthrax, one a New York City hospital worker. I thought, I must get out of here. I still have the chance to get out of the country. It’s not gone yet. David and Peter and I are still scheduled to go to Montreal. But I can’t leave unless I can wean myself. The bed shifted and squirmed, echoing movements of CDC anthrax protocols squirming into new shapes somewhere in the distance. I tried not to think at all, tried to let the bed do all my thinking for me.

This was the Ashcroft cure: That man and his warnings had terrified me, flooded me with adrenaline. And Guiliani had undermined my article of faith that made the infostream bearable. That, and the additional 10 mg of prednizone I’d had with dinner got me pumped up enough to try again: I cut the oxygen down and later cut it more. I was much more brutal with myself than I had been willing to be previously. This was my chance to get out.

I turned off the oxygen and moved the legs of the bed up and the head of the bed down low to help my poor addled brain cope. Intellectually,  I understood what CNN was saying. Emotionally, I believed we’re getting anthrax from TV.

By Tuesday morning, I was off the oxygen tube. The night nurse, just going off shift, asked what my symptoms were on admission. I told him. He looked alarmed and asked what I do for a living. "Editor," I told him, and he looked scared. I explained that I edit anthologies and a small press review magazine (but he wasn’t listening anymore). I asked him to refill my water pitcher, but he left quickly, claiming his shift was over and that the nurse coming on duty would do it. She didn’t, not for several hours. I coped and even read The New York Times, psyching myself up for survival without my oxygen tube.

At quarter after eight, when the new nurse finally came and brought me water and my morning medication, I saw International Space Station U.S. commander Frank Culbertson on ABC. The news anchorman read from a letter Culbertson had written about his reaction to 9/11 and the loss of a friend, the pilot of flight 77 that hit the Pentagon. The quote I wrote down, because it was such a stunning image was, "Tears don't flow the same in space." The anchorman asked how they did flow in space. Culbertson replied, that they go any way they want to.

Saw Joan Didion again; saw Stephen Ambrose again: the life of the mind in reruns. My eyes felt better. But my chest hurt. They did a few more tests–blood tests plus one in the radiology department–then released me at 4PM. I turned off the TV and David took me home.

Tonight I will sleep in my own bed, a bed with no mind at all and no TV. Tomorrow, we head for the border.

October 30th, 2001, Pleasantville, New York

On Lincoln Pond

This was composed at the advent of the attack on Afghanistan. --KC

October 8th, 2001
I took Peter to Lincoln Pond, a small lake in the mountains between Elizabethtown, New York, and Lake Champlain. It was the day after we began bombing Afghanistan -- we, the US.  We, Peter and I, crossed the Bouquet River and passed the home of Learned Hand, a nineteenth century Supreme Court Justice, and took the righthand fork headed east out of Elizabethtown.

We drove uphill through the bright trees for about six miles. Peter complained about his ears hurting and I reminded him to relieve the pressure by yawning.  In principle, he already knows about ears popping, but here it is out of context for him, since we are not in an airplane. "I fixed my ears, mommy," he said. "I fixed my ears!" The cap popped off the lemonade and I slapped it back on.

As we drove through the woods on our way up, we passed a few houses. Some were vacation houses, recently painted and with pretty views. Some were run-down log cabins and farmhouses with swayback rooflines and formerly gracious porches used to store anything that might come in handy. (Culturally, Essex County is the northern tip of Apalachia. A third of the county is on welfare, and of the few jobs there are, most involve delivering social services to those on welfare. There is very little crime however.)

Peter gets restless in the car, and I ask him to count the colors of leaves as we drive. He says, "Red and yellow and orange and green and brown." He is happy, on an excursion with mommy. We pass a field with horses and that makes him happy too. He looks out the window, watching for new colors and for animals.

We round the corner, and I see a causeway across a small lake. It doesn't look quite the way I remembered it, but I had only been here once before. There is a little parking area beside the road. There is no sign, but I see a few distinctly public-looking fire pits and the back of a sign nailed to a tree which has the look of a park sign. A mother and daughter have parked and are unloading cayacks. We park.

On the near side of the causeway, I see a few ducks. Here it is colder and windier than Elizabethtown. By the thermometer in the car, it is 42 degrees; the wind is blowing at about 15 to 20 miles and hour. The sky is a clear, intense blue. Because of the wind, the water is choppy except right next to the causeway. It is a very dark blue. I put Peter's coat on him and then put on my own coat. Before leaving the car, I tuck two slices of bread in my pocket to feed the ducks.

We cross the street and try to feed the ducks. These are wild ducks more familiar with duck hunters than with people come to feed them, so they swim away at first. I persist, throwing small bits of bread. The ducks get the idea, but slowly. I give Peter a few small pieces to throw, but the wind is strong, so they land at his feet. To feed these shy ducks, I have to throw the bread into the wind as hard as I can.

We cross the causeway to the other side. Peter asks where the ducks are on this side. I worry that he will insist we go back, and so distract him by pointing out that the water by the causeway on this side is smooth and the reflections we can see. He bends down and picks up a freshwater clam shell, saying, "Mommy, mommy, I found a pretty shell!" He's hooked.

We proceed up the beach. There are many small brown snail shells and shells from what seem to be several species of freshwater clam. As we beachcomb, the mother and daughter paddle along the shore in their cayacks. They have gloves on. We don't. (It was 40 degrees warmer when I packed the car on Thursday.) Peter wants a cayack. I say, "When you're older. You have to be able to swim."

I tuck the shells in my pocket. He finds a feather, probably a duck feather, and I put that in my pocket too. I think about the shells and how clams came to live up here in the mountains. At this altitude, we are too high up for Lincoln Pond to have ever been salt water. But I think of Lake Champlain, another five or six miles up the road. That could have been part of a vast inland sea a very long time ago and if it were bigger, it would have been deeper and therefore closer. And I think of sea gulls gathering clams on the beach there and dropping them on stones, stones sometimes a few miles away. And some clams would survive. And their distant descendants would have left shells on the beach for Peter to find.

I see a small woodpecker. First, I hear the tapping. Then turning around I see it. "A cute little woodpecker, Peter. Look," I say, but he looks too late. It has gone to the other side of the tree. "Mommy, I want to see the cute little bird," he says. "Where's the cute little bird." "Too late," I say. I look back at the park sign. It says not to block the boat launch area.

As we walk down the beach, I look out across the lake at the houses on the other side. At a few of the docks, small boats bob. I think I see one that is for sale. I recognize it from the real estate brochure: a dock with a boat; a house with a large deck overlooking the lake and big picture windows. Utopia in summer. Unusable in winter.

On the beach, I find a five or six pound chunk of granite, worn smooth, with patterns of black and white almost like an animal hide. It is not like the other stones here: The others are smooth basalt. Not quit zebra, not quite cheetah. I pick it up to use in my rock garden at home. Home.

I don't want to go home. I want to buy the house we looked at this morning with the real estate agent. I don't want to have to listen to endless TV and radio chatter about anthrax and bombing and what terrorists might do to us; to go home, I need to listen to make sure no one has blown up Grand Central Station or anything like that, to make sure it is OK to drive south.

Carrying the rock, my hands get very cold very fast. But I don't want to put it down because it is for my garden at home. I herd Peter back in the direction of the car, but it takes a while. He keeps stopping to find new shells and pretty leaves and feathers.

And as I think about the implications of these shells being here I think about the implications of other things like the tracers over Kabul I had seen on TV. Over the previous month, I had prepared myself to feel compassion for people in places the US would attack, but with only images of tracers to work with, they seem more remote than the saltwater ancestors of these clams.

Compassion is the only moral anchor in this situation, but compassion has made me very tired. My hands are numb. Peter says,"That was a great excursion, mommy. Can we go on another excursion?" We get in the car and drive back to Elizabethtown.