Tuesday Reads: Comedies and ErrorsPosted: June 3, 2014
Every why hath a wherefore.
William Shakespeare from Comedy of Errors
I’ve found several stories worth following today.
First, it seems that Somaly Mam of the Cambodian foundation that rescues underage girls from sex work is under heavy scrutiny and criticism. Mam has been the focus of a series of articles in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof as well as documentaries and books. It seems she got creative in her storytelling. Kristof has yet to write or speak on the matter.
In Nicholas Kristof’s columns in the New York Times, he portrayedMs. Mam in an extraordinarily positive light. He was not alone in doing so. Ms. Mam attracted many high-profile supporters, from Susan Sarandon to John Kerry to Sheryl Sandberg.
In a 2009 column, Mr. Kristof told the story of Long Pross, a teenager (also known as Somana) who said that her eye had been gouged out by a pimp, after she was forced into prostitution. Newsweek has reported, based on medical records, that the girl’s missing eye is the result of surgery to remove a non-malignant tumor when she was 13.
A great deal of money has been raised to combat sex-trafficking, in part as a result of Mr. Kristof’s writing about Ms. Mam on multiple occasions. And there’s little doubt that sex-trafficking is a problem worth paying attention to, and working to end. But now that Ms. Mam has stepped down from the foundation that bears her name — following not only the Newsweek story but the foundation’s internal investigation — many readers, on Twitter and in emails to my office, are asking what Mr. Kristof’s responsibility is for setting the record straight.
Somaly Mam’s story is incredible. Her autobiography, “The World of Lost Innocence,” detailed how she was born in a village in the Cambodian rain forest and sold into sexual slavery as a child by her “grandfather.” She was stuck in Southeast Asia’s sex industry for 10 years until she finally escaped in her early 20s (her exact age isn’t clear as she has no birth documents).
Mam began to settle into regular life, marrying a French man, moving to Europe and having children of her own. But her childhood experiences led her to save other girls who were suffering a similar fate. She returned to Cambodia and set up Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (known by its French acronym Afesip), a charity devoted to rescuing women and girls in Cambodia and neighboring Laos who are forced into prostitution.
Her efforts gained her international recognition – a 2009 appearance in the Time 100 was written by Angelina Jolie – and in turn raised millions for the protection of children and women from prostitution. But as incredible as that story is, its accuracy is now in serious doubt. On Wednesday, Gina Reiss-Wilchins, executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that acted as a fundraiser for Afesip, said that Mam had resigned from the foundation after being presented with the findings of an investigation by a California-based law firm, Goodwin Procter (Mam is not currently employed by Afesip).
While the exact details from Goodwin Procter have not been released, allegations of inconsistencies in Mam’s past have been around for years. Doubts went back at least as far as 2012, when Mam gave a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that said that the Cambodian army had killed eight girls after a raid on her organization’s Phnom Penh center in 2004.
Following an investigation by Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily, Mam admitted that the claim was inaccurate. “I had in no way intended to allege that girls were murdered during the shelter raid,” Mam told Cambodia Daily in an e-mail, adding that her comments had been “ambiguous.”
Later that year, Pierre Legros – Mam’s French ex-husband – came forward to describe another incident that had not occurred as Mam had described it. In 2006, Mam told Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl, in an article for Glamour Magazine that her teenage daughter had been abducted by human traffickers as revenge for her activism. Mam mentioned the incident again in her U.N. speech, which prompted Legros to respond. His daughter had in fact run away with a boyfriend, he said, claiming that he wanted to protect her privacy and stop her being used as “marketing” for the Somaly Mam Foundation.
What the Somaly Mam story highlights is a state of affairs that many of us in the social change movement bemoan, namely that simple stories of exploitation rarely grab the public’s imagination, the donors, or the press. Unless the overdone images of runny noses, torn clothing, or worse, naked children in a cage waiting to be sold, are splashed on glossy pages, the actual suffering of human beings too often fails to trigger widespread empathy or outrage.
In addition to this heightened need for sensationalism, our society craves numbers. Suffering in small quantities is rarely enough. Given the undercover and “hidden in plain sight” crimes of human trafficking, no entity has been definitively able to pin down the actual number of victims. From the United Nations to national statistics, the numbers range widely from 2.5 million to 20.9 million. Irrespective of the range, all agree that the majority of those estimated individuals are women and children with a majority of that group ending up in the sex trade. In a recent report, theInternational Labor Organization estimated that profits from human trafficking generated $150 billion, two-thirds of which, or $90 billion, stem from commercial sexual exploitation.
Cambodia is designated as a source, transit and destination country for labor and sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department also found that the sale of virgin women and girls continues to be a problem and that Cambodian men form the “largest source of demand for child prostitution.” Regardless of its founder’s personal failings, the Somaly Mam Foundation has plenty of urgent work ahead.
In collaboration with the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, Dr. Melissa Farley, of Prostitution Research and Education, interviewed 133 Cambodian men who purchased commercial sex. The study shows that almost all of these male buyers interviewed in Phnom Penh stated that they witnessed extreme violence inflicted on the prostituted women, more often than not controlled by pimps. The men surveyed also saw children available for paid sexual abuse in brothels, bars and massage parlors. One of the “johns” astutely said that “prostitution is the man’s heaven but it is also those girls’ hell.”
The Somaly Mam episode cannot be used as an excuse to deny or ignore the undeniable exploitation of countless human beings in the sex trade
Tons of controversy surrounds the capture and release of American POW Bowe Bergdahl. I’ve been reading some on this and there are several threads of outrage going on. Some felt Bowe should have been left to the Taliban because of some evidence that he went AWOL. Others believe that it’s a value of our country and are armed services to leave no one behind. The right wing is going berserk over some twitters posted by Bergdahl’s father. I’m not sure what the implication is supposed to be, but the entire thing is turning into a circus act. Snow Flake Snookie has hit the grifting trail in search of outrage and funds. Some how, she has decided the soldier’s guilt and fate so any potential military tribunal should just STFU. I’ve been looking for less outraged and more informative sources. Here’s the story from one soldier who was assigned to hunt for Bergdahl along with other soldiers. Some of these soldiers were KIA.
Our deployment was hectic and intense in the initial months, but no one could have predicted that a soldier would simply wander off. Looking back on those first 12 weeks, our slice of the war in the vicinity of Sharana resembles a perfectly still snow-globe—a diorama in miniature of all the dust-coated outposts, treeless brown mountains and adobe castles in Paktika province—and between June 25 and June 30, all the forces of nature conspired to turn it over and shake it. On June 25, we suffered our battalion’s first fatality, a platoon leader named First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw. Five days later, Bergdahl walked away.
His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours. The combat platoons in our battalion spent the next month on daily helicopter-insertion search missions (called “air assaults”) trying to scour villages for signs of him. Each operations would send multiple platoons and every enabler available in pursuit: radio intercept teams, military working dogs, professional anthropologists used as intelligence gathering teams, Afghan sources in disguise. They would be out for at least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a stretch. In July, the temperature was well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day.
These cobbled-together units’ task was to search villages one after another. They often took rifle and mortar fire from insurgents, or perhaps just angry locals. They intermittently received resupply from soot-coated Mi-17s piloted by Russian contractors, many of whom were Soviet veterans of Afghanistan. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work. The searches enraged the local civilian population and derailed the counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time. At every juncture I remember the soldiers involved asking why we were burning so much gasoline trying to find a guy who had abandoned his unit in the first place. The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was all the result of some kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition.
Some of the contentiousness is due to the five Taliban who were swapped for the soldier. None of these guys will ever be up for humanitarian awards and some feel they are still a danger.
Below is information about each of the detainees released.
Khairullah Khairkhwa is the most senior ex-Guantanamo prisoner who comes from “the fraternity of original Taleban who launched the movement in 1994,” according the Afghanistan Analysts Network. He surrendered to President Hamid Karzai’s brother just before he was captured in January 2002. His most prominent position was as governor of Herat Province from 1999 to 2001. He served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
Mullah Norullah Noori served as governor of Balkh Province in the Taliban regime and played some role in coordinating the fight against the Northern Alliance. He was a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001.
Mohammad Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001 and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. Human Rights Watch says he could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country. Fazl joined the Taliban early, never held a civilian post, and rose through the ranks because of his fighting ability, ending up up as one of their most important and feared military commanders, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
Abdul Haq Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban regime’s intelligence service and the cousin of the head of the service, Qari Ahmadullah, who was among the Taliban’s founding members, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
Mohammed Nabi was a Taliban official in Khost Province. He served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office in Kabul.
Conveniently forgotten US history includes huge numbers of deals like this. Ronald Reagan’s arms for hostages deal is only one among many.
The US has all along negotiated with the guerrillas it has fought on the battlefield. William Howard Taft (later president) in the Philippines was all for negotiation with Filipinos who rejected US rule, and he created “attraction zones” to win them over. At the conclusion of the Aguinaldo resistance to US occupation in 1902, Teddy Roosevelt declared a general amnesty for the resistance fighters. These resistance fighters had committed some atrocities, including on captured US troops, but Roosevelt just let them walk free. Talk softly, carry a big stick, and let all the terrorists go, seems to have been his motto.
The US negotiated with the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, who were very much analogous to the Taliban and whom the US would now certainly term “terrorists.” In 1973, the US used intermediaries to negotiate with the Viet Cong for release of captured US soldiers at Loc Ninh. Americans on the political right made a huge issue about 1300 US soldiers never having been released by the Viet Cong (only about 400 were), and the shame that these men were left on the battlefield by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Conservatives seem to want to have it both ways. If you negotiate the release of US captives with the enemy you are “negotiating with terrorists.” If you don’t, then you have left soldiers behind on the battlefield. The fact is that the only way to have freed them was to have offered something for them in detailed negotiations. As for the Viet Cong “terrorists,” many of them are in government now and the US has cordial relations with them.
In the 1980s radical Shiites in Lebanon took American hostages. In order to free them, the Reagan administration not only negotiated with I han’s Ayatollah Khomeini but actually stole T.O.W. anti-aircraft munitions from Pentagon warehouses and shipped them to Tehran, receiving the money for them in black bank accounts and sending it to right wing death squads in Nicaragua. Khomeini and his government were listed as terrorists by the State Department at the time, and selling weapons to Iran was highly illegal. Not only that, but the US was allied with Iraq at the time, so Reagan screwed over Baghdad this way. Reagan did it, in part to free US hostages in Lebanon (Iran put pressure on its clients for their release).
One of the big gag reflexes from the right appears to be the label of “terrorist” as compared to insurgent.
We’ve talked about the horrible damage caused by concussions before. Other players have settled suits but this one is from a big name player.
Yes, you read that right. Female named hurricanes don’t get any respect.
Can I ever get to the point where I can’t say that the GOP is just bug fuck crazy?
So, those are the items that caught my interest. What’s on your reading and writing list today?