from murder to congress?

It’s a little frightening when extrajudicial killings by a candidate – in wartime or not – are not considered a liability in an election.

Below are pieces of a Democracy Now! interview on Ilario Pantano, a candidate for a North Carolina House seat and an Iraq vet prosecuted for killing two unarmed Iraqis in 2004.  Full transcript is available here, and you can watch the interview above.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In North Carolina, a Tea Party-backed congressional candidate is facing scrutiny for having killed two unarmed Iraqis while serving in Iraq. The candidate, Ilario Pantano, has said he has no regrets about fatally shooting the two at point-blank range after detaining them near Fallujah in April 2004. Prosecutors later alleged that Pantano intended to make an example of the men by shooting them sixty times and hanging a sign over their corpses that read, “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Pantano did not deny hanging the sign or shooting the men repeatedly after stopping their vehicle at a checkpoint. He admitted to emptying one magazine of bullets into the Iraqis, then reloading and firing thirty more rounds.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite his admission, the military cleared Pantano of wrongdoing in 2005. He’s now in a tight race with incumbent Democrat Mike McIntyre in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. Pantano’s campaign has been endorsed by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin…

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Fast-forwarding to the congressional race this year in the 7th District of North Carolina, you would possibly think that this would be a liability for his campaign, but actually, the Democratic incumbent and Democratic Party have not made an issue out of it. It’s been almost no one is talking about it…

JUAN GONZALEZ: And that’s because that district has a lot of military or ex-military who live there? What’s the district like?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Well, yeah, there are a lot of ex-military people in the district, and it’s a conservative district. The incumbent, Congressman Mike McIntyre, is a conservative Democrat. So, yeah, I talked to local political analysts, and they said, “Look, it’s far too delicate an issue for the Democrats to touch. A lot of people see Pantano as a hero.” To give you an example of how much this is not a liability, he was endorsed, as you mentioned, by Rudy Giuliani and also Sarah Palin, both of them in their endorsements touting his military record. He recently actually held a fundraiser at a gun range and said, you know, “You pay $25 and see if you can outshoot Ilario Pantano.” So it’s almost like he’s drawing attention to this. And the Democrats, again, have not—have been basically silent on it, so it’s not really an issue…

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what’s very interesting is that he beat, in the GOP primary, a fellow Iraq war vet, Will Breazeale, who told the Daily Beast, as quoted by you, after his primary loss, that he considers Pantano “dangerous,” saying, “I’ve taken prisoners in Iraq and there’s no excuse for what he did.”

And these are the same candidates who argue that it will be gay marriage that will lead to the moral demise of the United States?

fun!, video

curious kitteh

Much overdue for an update – it’s been a busy couple of weeks with a lot of contact meetings and what have you! – but I have to continue to delay on writing a bit longer, so sorry!!  But for now, I’ll leave you with a little video I threw together of a much-loved kitty taken in by Keith, one of the fellow Bangla kids here.  A little kitty goes a long way, you know?

fun!, video

concentric circles

This past week was Durga Puja, and a few of us went and checked out the festivities at various times over the weekend (pictures forthcoming).

On Saturday night, we were waiting for a ride from Old Dhaka after the celebrations, talking with one gentleman who had been walking with us and acting a pseudo-guide for a while.  We were standing in a small circle chatting when we noticed a person or two come up behind us.  Five minutes later, this is what the area immediately surrounding our circle looked like.  It felt a bit funny making a video, but it was just too silly and absurd not to document.  I guess we stuck out a little?


little adventures

Gulshan 2 Circle.

This city whizzes by you at a break-neck pace.  You can be trying to cross a street where five people are running towards a moving bus, attempting to gain enough momentum to squish their way through the packed doorway of the hulking thing as it swerves through the hoards of cars zooming by, while four vendors are trying to sell you various goods and a rickshaw wallah is offering to drive you about the city for an hour, for a very good price.  All at once.  All the time.

Yet somehow, at the same time, things move painstakingly slow here.  I heard this from countless people before leaving for Dhaka, but couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it until I was in the midst of it – everything here takes about twenty times longer than it would in the US.  Any errand you need to run will more often than not consume a significant portion of the daylight hours.  Be prepared, they said.  Learn how to be patient.

The traffic, yes, is one thing.  It is continuous and mindboggling – we moved about 50m in 40 minutes the other day – but the most amazing thing is just the sheer amount of time it takes you to do even the seemingly simplest of things.  How between getting there, tracking down the place, finding the right person to talk to, getting the actual task done, and finding your way back – it is an ordeal each time.

For example, I just spent two hours trying to mail a letter through DHL FedEx.  How exactly?  Well, I figured I’d dodge the traffic and walk to the DHL in Gulshan 2, about a twenty minute walk from my flat in Baridhara.  The walk there was no problem, past a small lake littered with bizarre signs about the benefits of walking and couples stealing discreet moments on the curb.

But upon arrival at the address indicated by GoogleMaps, there’s no DHL to be found.  I backtrack and then walk down the street again, scrutinizing the clusters of signage lining the roads.  I imagine myself walking by the storefront repeatedly, playing out the scene in my mind as it would in a movie, the kind where you find yourself yelling at the screen the sixth time the protagonist has strolled by the exact location s/he’s looking is looking for.  I ask various guards and food vendors DLI kotai?, where is the DHL?, and after many replies of ami janni na, I don’t know, my gaze lands on The Westin.  I decide to head up to the concierge desk to see if they can point me in the right direction.

Ten minutes later, I set back out again, this time with a new address.  I dodge the chorus of, 1 hour rickshaw, madam! show you the city!  yes madam! from the rickshaw wallahs lining the street of the hotel and head back to the main circle.  After another fifteen minutes of walking in loops, I find myself standing in front of the address that is scratched out on the hotel stationary clutched in my hand.  Yet again, no DHL in sight.  DHL kotai? It’s moved.  To a different part of the city, Banani, another twenty minute walk from Gulshan 2.

I shift my plan, pull out my guidebook to find the address for the nearest FedEx.  And hah! – there’s one in Gulshan 2, in the very circle in which I’m standing!

But still, not quite there yet.  I ask how to get to the building it’s in – Botajil Towers – and receive a vague, shoja, straight, with an arm thrown vaguely in the direction of a tall building across the circle.  I wait for the line of traffic to slow, pick my way across the street with the hoards of other pedestrians.  Again, FedEx kotai? And this time, a hand points to a doorway, through which I see – a FedEx sign!  Yes!!  Finally!

I nearly skip past the guard and down the stairs to the dingy room, which looks more like a processing facility than a customer service counter.  Which, as it turns out – it is.  You cannot place orders here, madam, the clerk tells me, you must go to the other location to do that.

With a half-laugh half-sob I press him – is he sure I can’t do it here? It’s just a letter, a small one – I pull it out of my bag to show him – see?! He shakes his head and tells me, no, it must be posted at the other store.

Defeated and vaguely amused at the absurdity of the process, I ask him for directions.  Again comes the vague, across that way.  I ask him again, tell him I don’t know the area well.  He decides to walk up the stairs with me to point out the place.  As we trudge up the stairs, I imagine the complex route he’s going to offer up, curving through this city’s tangled mess of streets.  How I’ll spend another forty minutes retracing my steps, only to have to give up the search to make it back before the sun dips out of sight.

But instead he simply points across the circle, to the Landmark building 50m away.  I break out into a huge smile and thank him profusely, waving goodbye as I weave through the mass of people just emerging from their offices, out of work for the weekend.  I greet the guard with a quick asaalam and follow the signs up the stairs, past the familiar logo, and through the door to push my little electric blue envelope onto the counter.

Two hours after I set out, I’m in a rickshaw back to my flat, laughing at how steep the learning curve here is, how I’ll never spend that long looking for that FedEx ever again – but probably will for a dry cleaner, or camera shop, or new acquaintance’s home.  Because even the littlest of things can turn into an adventure here.


mailing address!

So I think I’ve misled some of you about how to send letters over here to Dhaka.  While it IS possible to ship them to my apartment address, it’s also possible, and perhaps has a greater likelihood of actually making it to Dhaka, if you ship it though the embassy.  Plus, that means you don’t have to post letters abroad, making it way cheaper!  It’s a slightly weird address, which is below:

Elizabeth Herman, Fulbright
American Embassy Dhaka
6120 Dhaka Place
Dulles, VA 20189

It’s a letter-writing kind of day over here – a little too hot to roam around outside, with lovely light and a clear view through the window.   So let me know if you’re itching for some snail mail!!


exploring the market

Felt like a bit of a walk the other day, so grabbed my camera and headed out to the market at the end of the street.  After photographing around the vegetable stalls for a while, dodging stares and rickshaws throughout, I decided to explore some of the twisting roads winding behind the market area.

Walking down a narrow alleyway, a flash of bright orange caught my eye.  I backtracked a few steps, and peering through an open doorway into a work site, a woman with whom I had just exchanged smiles caught me looking.  She motioned for me to follow her into the yard, filled with deteriorating bricks, an old shack, and some murky pond-like thing.  Sitting around a small fire with a number of pots carefully scattered at their feet was a group of women, alternatively cooking supper and calling out to the children darting around the plot.  My original connection proceeded to introduce me to the rest of the assembled crowd – her extended family – and once we had sat for a while amongst the relatives and bubbling pots, she led me across the street and through another narrow doorway, into a small courtyard.

We wove from window to window, swapping assalam aleikums with her various relatives within the room-sized houses.  We continued to chat back and forth until my Bangla vocabulary ran out, and then smiled at each other for a while before it started to get dark and I had to head back.

For someone who has been feeling a little anxious about getting out and moving about within this city, this was an exceptional reminder.  That the fear you feel sitting in your room, those butterflies that pop up at the thought of approaching an unknown situation with a camera in your hand – that’s just the first step.  It’s always there.  You just have to bring it outside and see where it takes you.


Women Warriors: Hue, Vietnam

Returning for a moment now to a project that I worked on last summer in Hue, Vietnam, on women who fought in the war with the United States.  In addition to the small written piece below, you’ll find portraits of the women with testimonies accompanying each image.  This is still a work in progress, and so any and all feedback is much appreciated!

Yes, she acknowledged, the women had been good soldiers.  But they had paid dearly for their war service, in ways that men had not…stress, backbreaking labor, malnutrition, contact with death and blood had eventually robbed these young girls of the very future they sought to defend when they left home in the first place.

Karen Turner, Even the Women Must Fight p 4

Thirty-six years after she last took aim with her AK-47 assault rifle, Ngo Thi Thuong’s phone rang.

General Võ Nguyên Giáp was looking for the young lady who had shot down the American bomber in June 1968.  In the nearly four decades that had past since then, she had worked many jobs and raised three children.  And until now, her tale had little recognition beyond a retelling to her kids.

Heroines and striking female figures are not new in Vietnam – they have played an integral role in Vietnamese history for millennia.  In the 1st century C.E., the Truing sisters, often called Vietnam’s earliest national patriots, rebelled against the Chinese Han Dynasty for three years.  The female legacy is no different today; in all of Vietnam’s recent conflicts, women were crucial. They fought alongside men and carried heavy loads down the Ho Chi Minh Trail until 1973.

Yet their stories remain largely unheard.  As Karen Turner notes in Even the Women Must Fight, “women warriors, so essential to Vietnam’s long history and so important in the most photographed are in history, have remained invisible.”

These are the stories of six women, all soldiers for the North Vietnamese Army in the American War, and mothers of the nation’s children.  For some, motherhood came before they fought.  For others, it was not until after they had returned home.  In all cases, their experiences fighting directly shaped their children’s lives – those children that became the next generation of Vietnamese.  Their stories provide a means of seeing how a nation torn by conflict for decades has rebuilt itself, has been nurtured back into a whole.


the importance of global reporting

Mort Rosenblum, a wonderful writer and reporter; former editor of the International Herald Tribune; special correspondent for The Associated Press; AP bureau chief in Africa, Southeast Asia, Argentina, and France; and founding editor of the quarterly, dispatches, has just written a correspondents’ field guide and a fascinating view into foreign reporting, by the title of Little Bunch of Madmen.  He is committed to the need of training young reporters and having people on the ground, where and when news is happening, rather than receiving it through a wire service, and his book speaks to why and how this needs to happen.

He recently wrote a short piece on these matters, and I don’t think you can’t say it much more clearly than this:

Now any citizen can commit journalism, and this is a wondrous thing. No longer, as A.J. Liebling wrote, is freedom of the press restricted to those who own one. This is also scary as hell. Simply owning a scalpel does not equip you to remove a gall bladder. And even with med school behind you, you cannot operate from an ocean away…Societies get the news coverage they deserve. Our endless national debate is not about “the media” but rather its target: all of us. Demand something better and pay the cost. Go viral. Get mad as hell and don’t take it anymore.

You can read the piece in full here.  I strongly encourage you to check out the book – very reasonably priced at $12! – and to consider what he says: to think about the news you’re getting, how it can get better, and how you can help make it so.