Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Observation from poet/activist Jake Berry

It is worth remembering that although the Greeks invented democracy. They couldn't hold on to it. It kept sliding into tyranny. It had the effect of turning Plato against it. The Romans made it work for a while, but that was before they became an empire. Empires are wealthy but unwieldy. Difficult to control. So many people scattered across so much space. It's impossible to know what is happening, especially with a democratic form of government. The drift is toward greater centralization of power. China is discovering that along with greater autonomy comes broader, and more clandestine, forms of corruption. They have tried dictatorship and now free markets. Either way the country is too big to manage very efficiently. During Mao's campaigns of terror and during the Bush regime's crackdown on civil rights post 9/11 there were brief periods where the oppositions were silenced. Very quickly, however, the voice of dissent begins to rise again.

In a small state, a city state say, the voice of dissent can be expressed directly in the form of town meetings. The debate is open and free. As long as there is no shortage of essential resources all is well, but when shortages come, and they always will, people abandon equanimity. Wealth concentrates. Under a series of administrations where false shortages generated by large scale capitalism have not been called to task a sense of desperation permeates the entire culture. A philosophy of immediate consumption becomes the driving ethic of the entire society. Grab what you can now because tomorrow it will all be gone. Becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or the secret fear that it will do so fans the flames of desperation. Under these circumstances it is easy to convince the populace that wars must be fought, resources must be secured at any cost. Empire. In the end the people wish they'd left the whole thing alone. The earth is plentiful, but can not bear the imposition of global empires and those that lie outside the empire will strike out against it. We may protest from inside, but it will do no good until the protest reaches all levels of society, even those with enormous wealth. There is a bit of protest on that level, a shadow of it in that Obama has been able to raise so much money, but even if he had a chance to win he's already made so many compromises that he'd would walk into the job as empire maintenance and nothing more.

- Jake Berry

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Attacked with a knife, stripped and hustled away. No, this isn't a crime in Central Park, it's the U.S. governement in action. Trail by jury? Jury of your peers? Wiretapping? Defending the right to torture? Those weren't campaign promises, they were carried out after taking office. So who on the campaign trail will take the law into their hands the worst in your opinion?

- Chris Mansel

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Plague: Democracy?

It happens all over the world, a relief worker will work tirelessly, to the point of exhaustion and those they are helping will become so concerned with the health of the relief worker and forget about their own suffering and offer their water or food. It is in moments like this that the true beauty of existence shines through. I have read tireless of aid workers in impossible situations, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Darfur and it never ceases to amaze me just how much suffering mankind can inflict upon itself. It is almost like Osiris hisself has crawled out of the book of life, the lone child of the book of Revelation and from the ribs of the beast spread suffering so thick in the form of a plague called democracy.

- Chris Mansel

Monday, October 15, 2007

For He So Loved The World

How broad a chapter is written when considering the suffering of the Iraqi civilians? Troops returning from iraq complain that too little is being reported of the good they are doing in Iraq. The personal contact they are affecting is lost in the horriffic savagery of the war it is true but the same was true in the Vietnam War. We need to do more to aid these returning veterans as they spend there small amount of time home before retunring again and again to the war zone.

- Chris Mansel

"Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
Pity me?"

- Robert Browning, Epilogue To Asolando

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This Poison Sun

a rural baptism, in a war zone
an I.V. of clear liquid will do
quarantining in a Sunni neighborhood
an Iraqi who is HIV positive
hooded and detained, white blood cells
retracting like concertina wire
the Marine charged to watch over the detainees
sits with a pistol in his mouth
repeatedly trying to kick off his boot
under a poison sun

- Chris Mansel

Friday, October 12, 2007


That one unadulterated singular voice this country needs in political office is not out there and it is certainly not running for presidential office. It takes more than speaking truth to power. It takes more than standing up for what you believe in. Who among us believes there is one politician who thinks beyond the passing of the resolution or law about the body count that will later ensue a month down the road, a year? Who in office speaks of change and follows it, pursues it? A sound bite does not a well thought out conversation make.

We need a President who believes in peace for the Palestinian people and who believes that the Israelis do engage in acts of terror. We need a President who believes in peace for the people of Tibet and a return of His Holiness the Dalia lama to his homeland instead of his stay in exile. We need a President who will finally pardon Leonard Peltier. I don't see anyone on the campaign trail offering anything close to this.

- Chris Mansel

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


There are hammers in the wheel well this evening and as the road passing by underneath at a high rate of speed the swinging goes on. You don't have to be on the road to the airport in Baghdad to know that the situation is out of control. These days the gangs of america run through the day lit streets of another country heavily armed and funded by the occupying force shooting indiscrimately.
My short story J. R. and I in Iraq (posted on this blog as well as tells the story of two correspondents gettng caught in the middle of a wave of gunfire on unarmed civilians by a private armed security force who might as well be named Blackwater. I wrote this story in December of 2006 and currently there is strong debate over just such an event having taken place. Who will handle the out of control gunmen of Blackwater? Who will sop the U.S. government who obviously has no problem with their tactics? The My Lai massacre didn't stop the Vietnam War, and niether will the secret bombing of Iran/Cambodia.

- Chris Mansel

"...all the rockers on the roads and all the boots in the streets.

- James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

"Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere."

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Monday, October 08, 2007

End of the Bush Years

The expiration date for the cold hard truth of the Bush administration will be in the form of a small bag of mushrooms that descend from a cloud of well wishers in the press room. Whoever is the Press spokesman at the time will peel off their clothes and start ramming their hips into the C-SPAN cameras, champagne will flow into the hoof-like boots custom made in Germany for the more elite of the conservatives who wore through the Reagan years, their true blue blood still intact as well their bigotry not dismayed with the previous years of breakthroughs in the democratic racial divide.

Yes, the end of the Bush years will come suddenly and with great flourish as some will be sacrificed as the Bush library will be constructed no doubt somewhere in Dallas, Texas since the president plans to move there after he leaves office so he can guard his official papers with a team of lawyers not seen before since Ed Meese protected his collection of pornography in Circuit Court.

- Chris Mansel

Friday, October 05, 2007

Flashing The Hash At The Watergate Parts 1-6

Part One:

Television news crews surround the steps of the courthouse as Scooter Libby begins a slow walk to his car after another day of testimony. Down the street looking like a moth eaten turtle in a helmet of burnt hair sits Karl Rove slipping rounds into an eighteen shot clip. Cursing quietly under his breath Rove ponders erratically the choice of taking out the cause of the spotlight on him or empty the clip into his face.

Jack Random and I were strolling by having recently relocated to Virginia to research a book on terror warnings, bank defaults and their ties to the white supremacist movement. I noticed Rove slamming his weapon into the dash of the car and just as I leveled the camera lens Rove hit the accelerator and sped down the street in reverse. The press up the street hardly took notice having heard the sounds of violence in the streets of Washington before.

Scooter Libby made his way out of the courthouse to his car. The press following and asking questions but not expecting any response. Like prison guards watching the monotony of inmates coming and going they hardly notice when a guard is attacked and the alarm doesn’t sound but the alarm will sound for Rove soon enough.

We tracked him to the Watergate Hotel and down the stairs into a conference room. Jack stood by the door with a high-powered microphone to eavesdrop on whatever was going on. I questioned the hotel staff tipping those on the lowest rungs of the pay scale and threatening with expulsion those who never got their hands dirty. Jack captured the goods and came back out to the car to play back the tape and as he hit rewind secret service agents surrounded the car. We showed our hands and they drew their weapons. Exiting the vehicle we were asked for identification. Some time ago we had made two press I.D.’s that showed we worked for the Washington Times that is owned by the Rev. Sun Yung Moon, a name that would open any door in the city of Washington, certainly the beltway. As we were held against the car we noticed Libby driving by in a taxi and exiting into the Watergate.

Part two

Fear looks like hope in the tall grass and that’s where we were, two inches of steel surrounded by a hard durable casing, the smell of cordite, and the kind of smell you recognize that the weapon has been recently fired. Secret Service agents who when they surround someone begin chattering on their communication devices and slamming themselves in place. They took a few minutes to analyze the fake identifications we showed them and slowly there was a look of recognition in the lead agents face. If I didn’t know better I thought the c*cksucker was going to drop to the street and begin his prostrations. I noticed a scar behind his right ear and Jack saw it too. It was the mark of a true believer, a West Pointer. Somewhere along the line he had been burned by something, he had known the smell of human flesh being singed into an emblem.

A huge crowd had gathered around us, a crowd of civilians. The agents knew he had to save face so he immediately started ordering his agents to make way for us and reducing the citizenry to a mass of insecurities. Their violent wand of intimidation about no cameras or questions led those around us to believe we were important. I could sense the onlookers squinting their eyes and trying to remember what we looked like so as to be able to identify us if we ever showed up on the news.

After the melee Jack retrieved the recorder from the car and we quickly made our way into the Watergate. Slamming into a booth in the bar we began to listen back to the tape.

We knew we had to try and hunt up Libby but first we wanted to hear what we had managed to capture on tape. The following is what we were able to transcribe.

Two or three agents will be enough.
The word is out on the limos and Duke (Cunningham) has f*cked that for us.
Hell we could get some pickup for that matter. If anyone can operate a shifter on the column it’s a hooker.
How much you think it would take to get the old Arab to squat over Durbin and piss?

Part three

In the bar we met up with a photographer who had been staying at the Watergate at the behest of the manager of the hotel in order to photograph the renovation. He was paid a flat fee and given a room at the end of a hallway on the first floor. He explained to us that more than once he had been accosted by the Secret Service for what they describe as “loitering with intent.” He explained that he had overheard some of the recording and with a smile added that maybe we might be interested in some of the photographs he had taken around the hotel. Something in the way he said this made us believe that there was something more to these photos. He opened the satchel in front of him and we joined him in his booth.

The photographs were amazing. Some were of the hospital staff in compromising situations, photos of the restoration included the construction workers smoking pot and generally laying around on the job out of sight of the hotel surveillance system. As we looked Jack asked if he had anything more official, and with that question he lit up and turned towards the back of the collection to reveal covert photos of the Secret Service removing stuff from hotel rooms. In one of the photos a Secret Service agent carries a life-size sex doll made into an exact replica of G. Gordon Liddy. In another, an agent was holding a drunken Scooter Libby against the wall while he awaited the elevator.

Jack leapt to his feet and stormed over to the bar and grabbed at the phone to make a call. The bartender came down the bar and said something to Jack that I didn’t hear and Jack screamed, “If you’re mother was in this kind of situation you’d be on this side of the bar asshole!” The bartender who had seen many crazed looks like the one in Jack’s eyes (many from politicians) sulked back down to his newspaper.

“News desk! Hey. Mike! What would you do for a photograph of Scooter Libby being sodomized by an agent?”

The photographer looked at Jack and back down at the photograph and then to me.

“Well, you know the darkroom can do many things but these days a fraud can be spotted right away.”

I told him that it didn’t matter if the story was true or the photograph genuine. As long as it existed and was leaked in the right way it would show up on the news and get picked up by the wires.

I added, “If bullshit was the ration card of power the entirety of Washington would be bent over backwards digging corn.”

Part four

As we left the bar we saw a group of Secret Service agents running to the salon located in the Watergate. We followed behind them to see a drunken Scooter Libby rubbing mud on his face and screaming about a free facial. Karl Rove was standing across the room talking into his cell phone. The Secret Service stormed into the room and Libby twirled the chair around at them and grabbing the terrified makeup attendant he started spitting on her neck and rubbing it in and screaming in a voice reminiscent of Truman Capote, “Isn’t it pretty, isn’t it pretty!”

The agents tackled the lady and Libby and began kicking them both. Rove sat down at the front desk and began flipping through the call caddy and copying down the names. One agent turned to secure the area and noticed us photographing the scene. The agent grimaced and started toward us but he slipped in the blood pouring from the woman’s forehead.

We ran down the hallway and were almost out of the hotel when Jack suggested we head for the conference room Rove had just left. We ran across the lobby and through the door. Down the stairs we met by a cleaning crew. We flashed our I.D.’s and took the garbage bag from them for inspection. They could have cared less why we needed it or for our identifications.

Back in the car I eased into traffic as Jack fished through the bag. He began laughing hysterically when he found a list of congressmen who had participated in the Duke Cunningham hooker scandal. Rove had the names circled and beside several of the names were amounts of money and personal phone numbers. One name in particular hit us more than others: Matt Drudge.

Part five:

Any member of the press core will tell you that if you shove the head of a baby into an airsickness bag and pop the bag immediately you will completely unsettle anyone near you. The mother will confess immediately every cock she had ever sucked and whether or not she saw what she had seen and testified what she had testified to in a case against a politician. This has been done in the case against the Bush administration. We saw the tale and we were there to report it.

Jack Random and I armed with cameras, starkly open and brutal honesty, we traveled to the tomb of the unknown soldier where we had been told Karl Rove held private conversations as tourists watched two guys in dress uniform flip around rifles in peace time and during war. Rove would appear we had learned with a hat pulled down over his misshapen ears. So there we sat waiting for Rove to appear when we noticed a representative from the Fox network we had photographed once on the balcony of a hotel in Maryland. He watched as he exposed him self to a group of Catholic priests. The Priests stood motionless in the tourist bus windows.

Waiting for Karl Rove had gotten to be a favorite pastime for Jack and I. We would sometimes pay someone to tip off the Secret Service that he had seen a photograph of one of them transporting illegal aliens into the streets of San Antonio and watch as the agent shoved the tipster against the wall. We didn?t do it too often as it usually cost us a couple thousand dollars and once it took the promise of an introduction to a certain celebrity who enjoyed urine in more than a relieving manner.

As Jack listened again to the tape from the hotel I saw a couple of tourists taking a few steps backwards. I watched closely as two agents opened one of the men’s shirts to reveal a listening device. I grabbed the camera from around Jack’s neck as he cussed me loudly. The agent took notice of Rove arriving in a sedan flanked by two women.

The man with the listening device made an attempt to punch the agent in the face and the agent was beating him senseless immediately. Every tourist eyes went right away to the noise. Rove and the two women made their way past the tomb to section thirteen of Arlington National Cemetery. As they walked we strolled quietly by the violent outburst of several agents now subduing the individual. By the time we were in the wet grass of the cemetery they had the man down to his underwear.

Part six:

Once Karl Rove had hit a stopping point in his mind he shoved the two women into the wet grass and began taking photographs of them. As they writhed in some kind of illicit blessing of Ronald Reagan, Rove began kicking at them in his sock feet. Agents had circled the area and had re-directed tourists away. As we tried to inch closer and closer we noticed a startled Juan Williams, the regular Fox news contributor getting out of a SUV. One thing was unusual however: the SUV had diplomatic plates.

Jack and I at seeing Juan Williams stood up and walked gingerly towards the scene. We had had several conversations in secret with Williams and whenever he saw us around town he would begin trembling, as he had been a bit too honest for his parties good. He had detailed one night how the party had during the 2000 election attempted to impregnate several Gore staffers by force.

We knew that if we could get a photo of Williams alongside Karl Rove kicking two half undressed women in Arlington National Cemetery we could get Williams to open up about the tree house in the White House as he has been long rumored to be the one with the apple in his mouth.

Rove was in ecstasy. He didn't get the warning that Williams was approaching as agents had told him. As the women were beginning to scream now, the agents didn't notice us either. As we got closer we could hear Rove's ranting, "We'll call this HR 666! Yea, take that Bay Buchanan betrayer of the chair!" The harder Rove kicked the women the louder they would chant, "Four more years, four more years."

- Chris Mansel

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

J.R. and I in Iraq (parts 1 thru 10)

This piece was originally published on Jack Random's blog

Part one

Jack Random and I burst into Iraq like a widow at a train station all out of quarters for the condom machine for that last ride to New Jersey for the High school reunion. The White House press office kept offering us our own poppy fields in the hills of Afghanistan if we just wouldn't go to Iraq. After breaking the story of Karl Rove and the Washington sex trade they would do anything to keep us away from the story. We were determined and even thought to go thru the wilds of Pakistan but why muddle in with the retreat of the Taliban, we end up in their clutches soon enough we were wagering.

Anyway, we hit the Iraq oil fields to the sight of an American truck broke down. Roadside bombs it was said weren't going off near the oil fields anymore since it was common knowledge the Americans would be out of the country in force by the end of 2007. The George Baker plan had just hit and all of Beirut we had read over the wires had ordered a copy and soon all of Iraq would be reading it through the black market. Once again Ed Meese would be popular among those who killed for pleasure.

The drivers of the two trucks both U.S. military soldiers were cursing at the four Iraqi members of the police who had driven by earlier and had took off quickly and laughed at the two of them stranded. One of the soldiers wanted to go off and shoot the Iraqi police and the other had for weeks left on the most recent one year tour in country. When we asked them about the term "boots on the ground" they responded with as much hate and vigor as they had when we asked about the Iraqi police.

"Boots on the ground, goddamn! I tell you what the boots on the ground think about this f-cking war, there's too much blood, too much Iraqi blood and too much American blood, and not enough old blue blood from any red states!" The soldier kicked the front of the truck violently and looked back at us quickly, "Just why are you here anyway? I don't see no boots on the ground here between you two."

We reassured the two soldiers that we wanted to report an honest portrayal of what was going on in Iraq. The other soldier who had remained quiet for most of the time spoke up, "Let me tell you something. We were on a patrol about a month ago maybe two. A roadside bomb goes off and these Iraqi troops start firing at one another, ripping each other apart and we have to mop it up. How long have we been here and we are getting killed every day. Sometimes I just want to start shooting and I don't honestly give a shit what I hit."

Part two

How many screams did you hear until you knew they were coming from someone you could identify as someone other than yourself? That's a question you need to ask yourself when you have spent any time in a war zone.

Here we were in a war zone and as soon as we arrived we noticed that the poppy had followed here from the shores of America, from the rocky cliffs of Afghanistan. We investigated the cities amidst the sound of automatic gunfire and saw parents in the desert grip of drug addiction dealing with the unthinkable loss of three children in one day. We saw one child get his legs torn apart as visiting dignitaries bid farewell to the high security fences of Halliburton's white table cloths on CNN and its high rise bleachers. The grimace of Donald Rumsfeld quoting the words real or imagined from a wounded soldier at Walter Reed hospital.

In the days of slavery the crowd were treated to question and answer sessions between the seller and the slave. The slave was usually being judged by the crowd as to their build or visual strength so the Q&A were usually for the delight of the crowd and so in Iraq are the questions to Iraqi civilians as weapons are put in their faces by privately hired security, militia anywhere else in the world, or if you like insurgents in Iraq if it were not for the tax form they can produce given six months notice. We ran into these thugs several times and had our lives threatened until we lied and said we were with some government agency we made up on the spot. This never ceased to amazed us as it always pumped them up more in their blood lust and obscene patriotism for the red in the flag.

On American television the obsession is with crime scene investigation and forensics. There are no investigations to speak of in a war zone, especially not in Iraq. For instance, if you wanted to dig a mass grave and hide it with any education it wouldn't be too difficult, after all it is a desert region. This can work to the benefit of both sides in any war. Body counts make for headlines a soldier said once, just draw a line straight to the head, and you'll usually find more than one.

Part three

Dodge City, that's what the Marine's called the area we were in. One marine, so young he shaved once or at least twice a week whether he needed it or not had already killed three people. When I asked whether or not they were insurgents or civilians he just answered, "Well, one was shooting back and the others weren't, but screw'em man. I say arm yourself, shit we're MWA bitch, Marines with attitude!" Raised on MTV this white marine was born in Tennessee and had served a tour in the KKK while still in high school he told me before I even asked where he was from. When I asked him how he liked serving alongside other Marines he laughed and spit at the burning sand.

"You want to know what I think about all these highly esteemed people of color? They're all marines ain't they?" Then he laughed and patted his weapon and slapped it down to his side and saluted me and added, "You think nobody fragged anybody since Vietnam?"

How bad an epidemic racial strife between soldiers serving in Iraq was we might never know. Jack had secured an interview with a Major and was coming back across the camp and looked worried. As he walked he looked around, his head looking this way and that the way someone does before they tell you a secret or avoid someone they do not want to see. In the soundtrack in my head I instantly heard "Peace Frog" by the Doors. I don't know why these things always occur to me but they do. I remember a time in Chicago when I was covering a story on the heated talks betwen labor and management and War's "Spill That Wine" hit me all of a sudden and within minutes violence broke out and I spent the night in a jail cell fighting for my life.

Jack got over to me and his voice was quiet which was unlike him in so many ways. "This Major I went to talk to just got a call about an ambush of civilians. They were targeted by security forces." I looked around now because I wanted to be the first to get there and because the security forces always have friends serving in just about every platoon in Iraq and many after their tour is up will join private security to cash in.

I asked Jack, "How do we get there?"

Jack replied, "That's just it, the guy that called him while I was sitting there is his brother, and his nephew was in charge of the group that opened fire. I just got out of the office before the crazy bastard could call a corporal to detain me."

I looked around and as far as I could see were Marines with weapons at the ready, well trained and loyal to their commanding officer, the chain of command. I stood to scout a method of transportation, a friendly ride to anywhere other than where we were and saw the Marine from Tennessee. I turned to Jack and looked back at the racist marine and I thought I might have a plan. Shit it worked in Hollywood.


Author's Note: (Before beginning to write this next installment I see this excerpt from the New York Times, and I am constantly reminded that the ugliest of man often occurs to me and as I see through their eyes it makes me want to close mine. I had no idea of this report before I wrote about the racist Marine but I am not surprised as human nature often tends to lean toward that line from Apocalypse Now that quotes Abraham Lincoln, you know the one, "Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature and good does not always triumph." I don't see any good in this, after all where can there be good in starting out to shoot someone because of thier skin color?)

"Lance Corporal Woods is black. He smoked in the darkness and said it has been a topic of conversation in his unit, Mobile Assault Platoon Five. "Valdez and me talked about that," he said. "He's Hispanic. He said, 'Man, I'm going to paint my skin darker, man.' That's what he said. And the next day he got shot."

"I hate this place," he said..."Out here, it really makes you love your country. I love my country, man. I love my country. I didn't hate my country before, man. But I had some problems with it."

"The United States of America," he said. "That sounds like heaven right now."

C.J. Chivers, "Marine Unit and Iraqis Fend Off Attacks and Boredom," NY Times, 7 December 2006.

Part Four

Jack and I came up with a plan. Racists are notoriously patriotic, reference most of America's history, governmental and citizenry for evidence of this, and certianly ignorant, so Jack approached the marine from Tennessee playing the role of a C.I.A. agent.

Jack approached the racist marine who was kicking at the sand and aiming his weapon at the horizon.

"Hey, you hear about that American got shot in Fallujah yesterday?"

The marine looked around and then looked Jack up and down. He didn't take but a second or two to size up Jack. "Yeah, terrible shot that guy, took'em two."

Jack laughed, "Yeah well, what are you gonna do, poor training."

They both laughed and Jack shot me a worried and disgusted look.

Jack went on, "Say, John Russell, C.I.A., in country to take care of some loose ends. Not saying we need some help but always looking for some willing participants, those who can be covert and keep their goddamn mouth shut. It's below the radar of course." Then Jack snatched the weapon from the racist marine's hands so fast he told me later it scared even him, "So, you got the balls to pull the trigger without caring where the rounds land or are you just another weekend faggot here till your wife fucks the whole town back home?"

The racist Marine stood up and drew a knife and said, "I'm an American, ever since 9/11 I wanted to do what was necessary for my country to fight terrorism!"

Jack didn't break a sweat and went back after him, throwing the weapon to the ground, "Since 9/11? What were you doing before that? Working in a conveinence store and cheating on your mother? Real American? Shit!"

The racist Marine was livid now and was ready to open fire on anyone. Jack knew he was ready and in less than five minutes.

Jack said, "Ok,you're what we need. What we need right now is a humvee. Think you can get one here and I mean now Marine?"

The Marine flashed a shit-eating grin, "Before you know it!."

Part five

Driving through the wasteland that has become Iraq you pray you'll run into an arms dealer and you'll also pray he'll have some legs and a few hands, some teeth and eyes. You hope he'll start the bidding with a request for just a drop of water to pour atop the loaves and fishes he has brought to feed the warring tribes as they sit down and start to calmly discuss the atrocity that is unfolding on american television that has been unbelieved so far on Al Jezerra. Maybe you'll cringe when he says offhandly that he was kept out of Rwanda because the prosthetics he had brought along couldn't make it through customs years before the tightened security of 9/11. But then again in Iraq as in many other war zones in modern times the dust will get in your eyes and you'll be able to blame the blurred lines of aggression, of morality, on the weather and the politics of plurality, the obscenity of greater good, on something in your eye. but to the racist marine Jack was dealing with it was something eaten away at his soul a long time ago. Not a speck of dust introduced at the factory but a giant ball of hatred either beaten or lovingly enthralled upon a young boy who before he knew hot to hate was taught that one man was better simply by the color of his skin and it was unfortunate for his fellow Marines and the citizens of Iraq that this individual was not weeded out and was armed and set loose in a war zone. A casualty is a number in any year whether it contains an election or not, and in Iraq as well in America the news was not good.

Then almost as if on cue came the Marine from Tennessee behind the wheel of a Humvee. In the distance came a mortar attack, it's the sound you'll never forget if you ever hear it once. The entire camp reacted at once. The Major that Jack had interviewed came out of his command post and was scanning the desert for the action. Marines were running for their companies and there was hollering all around us. The Marine from Tennessee seemed unfazed. In Jack he saw a direct line to the killing and he was not about to be tied down to waiting for orders and seeing whether or not he would see action that day.

The Humvee came to a sudden stop in front of Jack as he tried not to jump out of his skin. The Marine jumped out and started counting the clips for his M16. "Gotta go get some, just a mortar, maybe just a few of'em!"

Jack was still keeping an eye out for the Major who hadn't discovered us just yet. But we had a problem. Jack was on one side of the camp and I was on the other and in the middle was the Major and a camp in a frenzy stocked full of Marines with posters of Osama Bin Laden with supermodels taking a dump on his face and handdrawn pictures of Bin Laden on diaylsis being tied down to an electric chair repeatedly.

Just as Jack and I were about to lock eyes across the camp and exchange a voiceless means of communication we had managed to develop in some of the world's worst hot spots, an incendiary device went off inside of the camp and the mess tent went up in flames. The explosion was minimal but sent a surge further into the camp as another mortar landed about a hundred yards away from the camp.

Jack grabbed the Marine from Tennessee and screamed, "What are you boy a Dixie Chick or Daniel Boone? Get in there and get some!" Pointing at the spot whers the mortars landed he got the Marine's attention and he raced off to where Jack had pointed. Jack seized the moment and jumped behind the wheel of the Humvee. Dodging troops who were running for the mess hall more from curiousity than anything, Jack skirted the perimeter and made his way to me and I jumped in the open driver's side and we were off. Speeding down the only road out of the camp that wasn't being hit by mortars we were on our way to the site of an ambush knowing all along that a marine Colonel knew who we were and that we knew that he was related in more than one way to the incident.

The words of the racist marine rung in my ears, "You think no one has fragged anybody since Vietnam?"

Part six

Moving around in Iraq you can be reminded of the image of James Cagney's famous line, "Top of the world ma!" But only if you look at it from the ant's point of view. Imagine the ant as an insurgent. Yeah, top of the world but the top has a hole in it and it goes all the way to the bottom. The bottom branches out and comes up to a point and resembles a volcano. But rather than resemble the fiery furnance of the first Gulf War, (the image of the Iraqi oil fields graced all manner of media around the world) but now the volcano is purging blood, oozing limbs and the mangled childhoods of burnt and homeless Iraqi children.

How do you approach a crime scene in a war zone? How do you make your way through a maze of distraught family members who are rushing around helpless to the carnage of their family members having been shot by officially licensed gunmen by the government who has invaded their country. If you are a reporter you make it clear to all those who are around that you are a reporter, a correspondent, and are not armed. If the privately armed security force is still present you make it damn clear that you are american, but you also make it clear that you are someone more important than you are. You impress upon them that it wouldn't be so good to open up on you and you pray like a virgin on her wedding night that their cell phone batteries have gone dead and haven't gotten a call from a particular Marine major.

As we sped away we could see in the distance black smoke billowing out of a building in the distance. Ahead of us in a pickup two Iraqis were shifting around nervously in the seat and as we came alongside them they shot a nervous glance at us until they realized we were not U.S. soldiers but they could not know if we were not private sercurity forces, who in some circles have been called cowboys. There was even a rumor in command circles of a Taliban website that referred to the "cowboys" being displaced in Iran, not unlike the way american forces were moving across the Cambodian border in Vietnam. As we rode alongside the truck for what seemed like two minutes the Iraqi in the passenger seat raised a pistol up to eye level and aimed at my head. I yelled for Jack to speed up and Jack hit the gas and we sped along as four shots bounced off of our Humvee.

I yelled over to Jack, "I hate to ask a stupid question but how much gas do we have?"

Jack answered, "As far as I know we've got enough to get to the site of the ambush but what do you think about ditching this Humvee?"

I thought for a minute and asked, "I don't know, something bothers me about that shit back at the camp. How the hell do you lob mortars at a camp and miss by a hundred yards and manage to hit with a fragmentation grenade? How the fuck do you explain the physics of that one?"

Now Jack looked worried, "You think the frag was a cover to get at me?"

"Well Jack, you did hear the phone call..."

Part seven

As we approached the scene of the ambush the humvee took fire. Families were gathered over the wreckage of what were once bodies. If you have ever seen footage on television of men and women in some third world backwater holding one another and crying uncontrollably and waving their arms at the cameras and pointing at the bodies then you didn't smell the bodies burning. You didn't see the casual way the network cameraman replaced the film in his camera and began taking photos again like the carnage was just another stop on the way to the Pulitzer. He knows that he will be back in another watering hole soon enough.

In Iraq it's not like in Vietnam. You didn't just hop aboard a C-140 and then grab a Huey out to a shithole to scrap about to the shit. In Iraq the shit was the day of Tet, every single day. Thanks to a foreign policy of "Bring 'em on." One thing Jack and I could never figure out was why they called the area where the american troops where located the Green Zone. The only thing we came up with was when we interviewed the civilians in Iraq and they all responded with the same word, "Halliburton."

Halliburton had funded this attack. Private security forces had opened fire on innocent men, women, and children.

We turned around and around, Jack turning the humvee against the shooting and slammed the front across the curb of the highway. Both sliding out of the driver's side, we were still taking fire.

Jack screamed out, "You see where it's coming from?"

I was caught, frozen in the moment. I was watching a woman as she caressed the head of a boy. As she lifted his head up to her lips I could see that half of his head had been shot away. Blood had caked around his nostrils and from there, there was nothing. Somewhere on the bloody street his bloody mouth had been torn violently from him. As rounds exploded all around her she wept uncontrollably. While others ran for cover and Jack and I tried to save our lives she was shot through the heart while mourning the loss of this child.

Jack gripped my shoulder, "You see where it's coming from?"

I was shocked back into consciousness when a shot knicked my wrist and sent blood shooting across my hand. Before I had a chance to cuss or holler I looked up and noticed an Iraqi man wearing a black handkerchief aiming at my head from across the street. I jumped up instantly and grabbed Jack and jumped into the pool of blood in the grass by the front wheel.

The Iraqi man fired just as I jumped and just missed me. Jack cussed as I crushed all of my body weight on top of him, sending him face first into the bloody grass. We rolled and came up for air just as a car bomb exploded up the street.

The news cameraman crawled over to us, "Either one of you journalists?"

Jack and I looked at each other, I responded, "Now just what in the hell does that matter now?"

The cameraman didn't bat an eye, "I thought you might get my film to the network office, my cell is fubar."

I stared at the cameraman a moment and said, "Oh sure, yeah, we'll get it there, no problem."

He answered, "Great, tell'em about ten or twelve dead maybe more, I'm going after the car bomb."

The cameraman made his way crawling on his belly through the bloody grass in the direction of the explosion.

Jack smiled as he watched me open the film canister and expose the yellow film to the flames not three feet away from us. I handed the film to Jack and he tossed it in. We weren't going after the car bomb, we were going after the truth and fame and glory didn't have any role in this tragedy.

Part eight

The only human right you have in Iraq these days outside the idling engine of a military transport plane is just that, you are a human at that moment. But step out of the plane into the dusty air and you are the margin for victory, a landslide on the abacus. Translate that into political capitol and you are the means to an end, the straw on the camel's back that like a dowser's wand leads the way to the oil, damn the body count, this is war. Damn men, stiff upper lip and all, this is economics.

It's hard to keep a global ledger in mind when you are bleeding on an Iraqi street. It's even more difficult when you are in the grass which is much cooler but is covered not only in your blood but the blood of children and the twisted metal of automobiles and weapons. Any weapons in a firefight can be a weapon of mass destruction when paint is tearing and flicking away into your eyes, remember that if you ever find yourself hunted by the military of your own country in a foreign land.

The car bomb exploded again as best we could figure as there was another explosion almost right away. One thing you will never understand if you are ever in Iraq is the term, Improvised Explosive Device. That description alone brings to mind Timothy McVeigh going into a Wal-Mart and buying a few items and coming out with two shopping bags and some d cell batteries. There is nothing improvised about any of these devices, nothing thrown together on a whim. It's not like the Vietcong rushed down from the jungles of North Vietnam with just some nails and fertilizer and had to first find a rental truck or take flying lessons. Read back through the reports from Iraq when Saddam was in power and there weren't any I.E.D.'s being exploded. Create the demand and journalists will recoil only slightly before rushing in and that was where we were, rushing in on our bellies.
I looked up and noticed the Iraqi man with the black handkerchief had taken off his disguise and had exposed his american features. I grabbed my camera and shot a few stills of him reloading. Using the second explosion as cover the famalies who had been caught out in the open ran to cover as shots sprayed the streets like vipers snipping at their heels. I grabbed Jack and pulled his face over to mine, his look of confusion moved to anger as he noticed the american.

Jack whispered to me, "Dirty son of a bitch!"

Looking around us we noticed the famalies had made it to cover and one man was waving us over to the door of a storefront.

I grabbed Jack by the shoulder and notioned to him, "We got to make it, the bastard knows we're here."

As soon as I seriously allowed myself to consider running across a street being riddled with gunfire I instantly thought to myself, "You're a journalist and this asshole is trying to make you a soldier!"

I choked back fear and crippling anxiety and slinging blood from my hand onto the street I darted across the street with Jack alongside me. We made it just as the entire front of the building erupted in flames and smoke as a grenade was shot into the street in front of the wall. Once inside the man and his family motioned for us to follow them. As we made our way through the store the man stooped for a moment and stopped to pick up the body of a woman who had been shot. The bullet had gone clear through her skull and glass had sprayed her face, scarring it horribly. Jack and I each grabbed a leg and with the man we made our way to a vehicle outside.

We searched the roofs for private security forces but saw none, evidently they hadn't planned ahead and this gave us pause. We were at least 45 minutes late to the scene and this was as far as they had gotten. What had stopped them? What had we missed? Somehow we had to find out if they had suffered any casualities and we had to ask our saviors here what had happened but first we had to reach a safe distance.

Part nine

If you took the weight of the ocean that erupts in pain at the slightest breeze from across the world and threw it at a child and then took notes on the impact you'd see before your very eyes what war can do. Those notes would be the propaganda you could use to turn the tide on the floor of the U.S. congress and that propaganda could sustain any rationale of turmoil or loss or life. Sound irrational? In the young year of 2007 the political landscape of the world has become the wall that mankind has been backing up towards since the beginning of time. The spear flies through the eye of the storm, through its splendour and blue skies, through the calm and bereft moment of wreckage only to land as the clouds begin to darken and the rains re-approach from the east.

There is no soundtrack on the ground, "boots on the ground" as they say. No combat photographer in khaki has a camera crew following him or her around making sure they are captured in the right light as they help the wounded child to safety or as they seduce the Catholic missionary in the dimming light of the battlefield. War is ugly, it is obscene and the sounds you hear are the screams and the sounds of gunfire, the recoil. If you listen close enough you can hear the gunman next to you change his field of vision, not because you have spent so much time together in a war zone or in that distinct battle but for the fact that your senses are so heightened that your fears are leaping so far from your skin they erupt like the ocean with the slightest breeze from the gunman's movement from across the room.

Jack and I had been in many situations before where our lives were in danger and we had been in situations where we were so compelled into an idea that as we moved along with the story we ached for adventure or excitement.

On the campaign trail, following presidential candidates we would often sneak away from the subject and do what the industry calls a "human interest" story. You've read that line before and wondered what that means. It's not slice of life or inspirational as you might think. A hardened newspaper or wire service editor will call it a story about a nobody, a worthless sidebar or whatever he can come up with at the moment until it gets picked up or noticed. Then you are gold.

For instance we did a story once on a midnight shooting about a woman who was shot two blocks away from a hotel where a candidate was staying. It was a parallel piece. We mirrored their movements. As the candidate was taking the stage and fluffing out his speech she was being struck by the first shot. As the candidate told the first of many jokes in his speech the cartilage in her leg exploded and severed the nerve in her leg and she began to bleed uncontrollably.

When the story was presented the next day we were attacked from one end of the country to the next for sensationilizing the candidates visit to that dear city. We were told directly not to come back. This was the way we felt as we raced ahead of a grenade in Iraq in the back of a car with a family who's only thought earlier that day was survival.

As we each grabbed a leg and the man cradled her head we hurried as best we could out the back of the house. The noise was unbelievable. We could hear the private security forces shouting in english behind us. I was bleeding and all I could think about was their safety and Jack's and going back out the front of the house and somehow returning fire with whatever I could find. I had been shot at before by americans in my own country but not in Iraq. These were criminals, government sponsored thugs who were sure to get away with murder if we didn't do our job.

As we got outside the man's family was cowering in the front of the car mindful that we had to get the now deceased matron of the family into the backseat. I've never helped to put a dead body into a small car, especially one that I had to ride in also. I looked up and Jack's expression was of hurt and anger. He was quiet which was unlike him in a situation of stress but I was aware that he was focused.

As we got her into the car the man noticed that my hand was bleeding. In poor english he took me by the bicep and said, "Wait, here."

He reached into the backseat and tore a piece from the old woman's dress and wrapped it around my hand and tied it there. I couldn't move I was so struck by what he had done. Tears sudenly and immediately streamed down my face. The man padded me on the arm and shook Jack's hand and motioned us into the backseat of the car.

I looked at Jack and he looked at me. I couldn't do it and neither could he. There was no way we could crawl inside on top of the woman even if it meant that we would be shot at any minute. That was the difference between people like this man and his family, people like Jack and myself and the people who were terrorizing this country from both sides. We were good at heart and could not and would not break the simple and fundamental means of life that make us who we are.

We motioned for him to get in the car and go. He tried and tried to get us to get in but we said no.

Jack stammered, "No, take your family and go! Go! Go!"

As we watched the man drive away his son turned around in the front seat and watched us with no expression. I don't think he had any idea what was taking place but it saddened me to know that this boy would remember it all some day. War is no place for a child.

Part ten

In the final stage of the Gulf War, American troops engaged in a ground assault on Iraq, which like the air war, encountered virtually no resistance. With victory certain and the Iraqi army in full flight, U.S. planes kept bombing the retreating soldiers who clogged the highway out of Kuwait City. A reporter called the scene "a blazing hell...a gruesome testament....To the east and west across the sand lay the bodies of those fleeing."

- Howard Zinn, Introduction to the book, "Target Iraq: What The News Media Didn't Tell You" by Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich.

To date almost 35,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq.* You can't stand them end to end as the old saying goes because a good number of them are not all there anymore. Have you seen what these so-called improvised explosive devices do to the legs of a child? You wouldn't see it on American television because it just isn't shown. If you have a sateilite you might catch a glimpse of it on Al Jazeera but that has been dismissed as propaganda so you would just flip away to something else.

As Jack and I watched the man and his family drive away from his home, the dead woman's body in the backseat, we had a pretty good idea what a roadside bomb could do to a body. We had a damn good idea what an american grenade could do to an Iraqi woman of about 70 to 75 years of age. In the front of the house we could hear the radio traffic, it was american military signal. The nearby camp, the one we had just left, was mopping up a recent attack.

It was just a year before that I had seen a reporter from The Sunday Times get decapitated in Jerusalem in an attack that didn't officially happen during an official visit by the British government while he was riding in a car that I was almost riding in. Every time I watched a car drive away without me in it I had horrible feelings, like a waking nightmare where the monster crawls up from under the bed and begins assembling the ropes strand by strand and explaining why he is here to kill me.

My worst fears were soon upon me as Jack and I searched intensely for an escape route out of the situation we had volunteered for. It was a small stretch of houses and there was not a lot of room to hide if the security forces came looking for us which they were sure to do. They had "skin in the game" to quote a terribly inept phrase of the last century. As the car made its dusty way along the cratered field it came under fire. Jack saw a hole under the house two doors down we could escape through and was pulling me in that direction but just like when I watched the lady gripping the body of the boy in the street before I was frozen in horror. Jack slapped me twice and kicked me in the leg, shouting, "They're coming through the house, damn it come on!"

As we shriveled our way under the house and into a pathway that led up and into the next house over (a pathway which must have been created to escape what I don't know but it was convenient to us), the security forces came through to where we had been standing and on their radios directed the fire on the car the man and his family were trying to escape in.

Up and into the next house which had been abandoned due to the shelling and bombing, Jack and I ran to the front window and saw American military racing to the front of the house. It would be a few moments before they would organize and attempt to secure the area. It was now or never.

We bolted out of the door and ran into the street and turning the corner we ran into a pack of Iraqi civilians who were just as shocked to see us as we were to see them. A man who must have owned the house we came out of screamed at us in English for leaving the door open, "They will tear the place apart, asshole!"

We had to reach a vantage point to keep in view of what was going on but not so close as to remain in the line of fire or identification. In the streets of Iraq this is almost as impossible as in the jungles of Thailand or Laos when you are two American journalists sprayed with blood and shaking in fear.

- Chris Mansel

Castigation Repetition

At a Denny's just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. the now retired Donald Rumsfeld sits scowling in his small glass of ice water and carving a swastika into the table top with a large bowie knife. His security personnel, now trained and used to dealing with such circumstances peel off three one hundred dollar bills and push them into the hand of the dumbfounded manager. Repeatidly cussing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Law and the media attacks on Blackwater, a company that Rumsfeld supposedily owns a great deal of interest. After all, someone like Rumsfeld would be well aware that death pays.

- Chris Mansel