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Writer’s Block


(Photo by AFP/File/Paul J. Richards.  You can almost feel the mist in this shot, can't you?)

I get an e-mail Tuesday morning asking if I can cover a couple of early morning posts or so, and I reply, "okay." But I’m worried, because I can never write when asked to do so. I spend the rest of the day reading work stuff, but not really; I’m wondering what to say.

Just before lunch, I print out several posts looking for ideas. Christy is already covering the NY Times story about our President stalling about announcing his new Iraq policy while the public forgets they voted to do the opposite of what he seems to be planning. She has a link to a story about the British troops raiding some Iraqi jail in Basra, liberating some Iraqis who were apparently being mistreated by the local authorities.

I shrug it off, since we've read several stories about US and/or British troops uncovering torture chambers in Iraqi detention centers since Abu Ghraib, and we know these are run by members of the Iraqi government and/or their related militias, including the same "moderate" Shi'ites we've been urging to join a coalition. Nothing new there.

During lunch, I take the Times and Boston Globe and Juan Cole's "Ten Myths about Iraq" that Christy cited and read all the Middle East and Washington stories, hoping there will be something else worth writing about. No luck. Just more details, and another story about how hundreds of Iraqis are disappearing into the Kurdish prison system, being held indefinitely under terrible conditions with no charges, no trials, no hope. Yeah, we do that too, so I keep looking.

I check the Globe and see we may recruit foreigners for the Army.

WASHINGTON — The armed forces, already struggling to meet recruiting goals, are considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks — including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and putting more immigrants on a faster track to US citizenship if they volunteer — according to Pentagon officials. . . .

The proposal to induct more noncitizens, which is still largely on the drawing board, has to clear a number of hurdles. So far, the Pentagon has been quiet about specifics — including who would be eligible to join, where the recruiting stations would be, and what the minimum standards might involve, including English proficiency. In the meantime, the Pentagon and immigration authorities have expanded a program that accelerates citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military.

I'm thinking I dont' know a lot about Hessians, but at least our officials are working hard to avoid a draft to cover the expanded armed forces everyone says is such a great idea. And it's nice that those confronted by this may soon have another choice and a legal way to become good American citizens. I keep reading.

In the Times, there's a story about how the US arrested some Iranian diplomats in Iraq, and are still holding some of them, but it's just a little story on page 18. No big deal. Apparently, we suspect the Iranians are supporting factions in Iraq. Both the Iraqi government and Tehran object to the kidnapping arrests, but of course, the US can't have foreign countries providing money and arms and training for anyone fighting in Iraq. That would interfere with the US providing money and arms and training for anyone fighting in Iraq. If outsiders do this, it could foment a civil war. It apparently doesn’t matter that the "sovereign" Iraqi government invited their neighbors, people with diplomatic immunity, to come there for discussions. Nor does it matter that we're having a little spat over whether we will allow the Iranians to have da bomb and are moving more naval forces into the region just to prove we can do that and step on gum in Iraq at the same time. I move on, becoming a little concerned about how the news isn't very interesting today.

Driving home, I'm listening to NPR and I'm hearing these same Iraq stories, only this time I hear the NPR reporters interviewing the British officer who apparently briefed the media about the prison raid. In a very calm and unemotional tone, he explains the details of what the British troops found at the jail run by the local "Serious Crime Unit." I'm driving and it's dark, but I catch a few phrases and start linking to what I’d read earlier: " . . . dozens crowded into small cells . . . many showing signs of torture . . . some with bullet wounds to legs and knees . . . their hands and feet had been crushed . . . this wasn't sectarian violence . . . just tribal rivalries . . ." I keep driving.

The next NPR story is an interview of some young US troops whose job is to clear mines and IEDs along highways/streets in and around Baghdad. They go out every night to do this, returning to their base in the early morning. They sound young, very young. I listen as these kids talk to each other as they go about their jobs. They describe their V-shaped armor-plated trucks, designed to deflect shrapnel and protect the team if they run over an IED. Another vehicle has mechanical arms and tools for probing suspected objects, flipping them over, checking for explosives, a process the troops call "sporking." A young voice explains that it's "better to have it [the equipment] blow up" then one of our guys. "After five hours of this, you're fried," one says, but they're not finished yet.

As the interview continues, we hear another young soldier say there's a small object ahead, that needs "sporking" and when they get closer, it appears the object is a body, a dead body. Bodies may have been tortured, but the concern is whether it is booby trapped with explosives. They decide they need to "spork" the body, but then realize it's a small body, possibly a child. There is a momentary silence, and then we hear the first voice say something like, "I hate it when we have to spork kids." I drive home.

I watch the news — CNN, CBS, a little bit of PBS — and hear the number of bodies (47) found shot and tortured (850 for the month), and the number of people blown up at a school (3 children dead, plus 8 more wounded) or at a market (20 dead). There are also summaries of the British liberating the jail, but fewer details and nothing about "sporking." A WH reporter then notes that the President will not announce his New Way Forward until he’s “comfortable” with it. They mention the high US death toll this month, but no one dwells on the fact that the number of Americans killed in Iraq (2977 killed, 22,400 wounded) now exceeds the number of people who died from the attacks on 9/11.

Instead, the big CNN story is about how pleased the Bush Administration is that the Iraqi highest court has upheld the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, so they're planning to hang him, in public, sometime next month. It seems the White House sees this as an advance for democracy, another major step forward they say. I guess this means that Florida, which has suspended executions, is regressing. Then the commentators speculate on whether the surviving members of Saddam's family will return to Iraq to witness the hanging.

I stare at the television for a moment, and then turn it off, and continue to stare at the silent screen, still not knowing what in heaven's name I can possibly say.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley