Wednesday, October 25

Who Are The Most Beautiful Women In The Middle East?

The Middle East is filled with ugliness. Wars rage, Dictators dictate, Terrorists terrorize. Human rights are few and far between. So worrisome and wearisome are the issues eminating from the region, we have to take a break every now and then and look for beauty in that part of the world.

And Great Beauty there is. The Women in the Middle East are Beautiful.

To decide for yourself and check out the many lovely ladies of the Middle East go here...

Tuesday, October 24

The Al-Durah Trials, Part 1

The image of Muhammad al Durah, "gunned down in a hail of Israeli bullets at the very beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada", was one of the most potent icons of the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Belmont Club explains:
The Augean Stables tells the story of how French bloggers are now on trial for questioning France2's account of the murder of Muhammad al Durah, who the network portrayed as having been murdered by IDF soldiers. At the time the charges were filed there was widespread French public approval of the action. But new information which emerged since has shifted the ground. ... The Augean Stables notes that whatever the charge sheet says, the media is a defendant too. "In the final analysis, these are not arcane French legal matters at stake, but tests of the French ability to meet 21st century challenges." In fact, a constitutional challenge. Without anyone noticing, in the years between World War 2 and the present the Press has acquired the power to be the arbiter of a great many events: the success or failure of public enterprises, the guilt or innocence of the accused and even the power to declare defeat or victory in war.

A media watchdog group founded by Philippe Karsenty alleged that the images were staged, with the knowledge or participation of France's France2 network. More questions followed:
By 2002, two investigative documentaries, one German and one French, had raised questions about the veracity of the tightly-shot footage and the claims accompanying it. Raw footage from that day was released and separate instances of the staging of injuries were clearly seen. The documentaries alleged that there was no sign of blood on the ground where the father and son were supposed to have bled for 20 minutes and questioned why there was no footage of an ambulance evacuation or records of an arrival at the hospital or autopsy for the boy.

France 2 refused to air the German documentary, but the French one sparked a demonstration in Paris outside the company’s offices. At that point, Karsenty wrote an article calling for France 2’s Enderlin and France 2 chief Arlette Chabot to resign. In response, Enderlin and France 2 itself sued Karsenty and two others.

Many of those who followed the first trial expressed optimism that the case would be judged in Karsenty's favor. The Belmont Club:
Nidra Poller completes her coverage of the Mohammed al-Dura libel trial against France2 at Pajamas Media. France2 comes off very, very badly in the evidence. And the prosecutor has already recommended that France2's suit against the first defendant, Karsenty, be dropped. Personally I don't think the trial is so much about the relative justice of Israeli and Palestinian causes so much as the absolute depths to which the modern broadcast media may have plunged.

Here's an excerpt from Nidra Poller's coverage of the September trial:
Philippe Karsenty takes the stand. The judge’s questions are pertinent, Philippe’s answers are clear and compelling. Does he personally think the scene was staged or simply questionable? Philippe replies that he was initially convinced by the Schapira film, but realized after further investigation that the incident had to be staged. He gives an example: when it became clear from ballistics tests that the al-Duras could not have been hit by direct fire from the Israeli position, it was claimed they were hit by ricochets. But the father says he was hit 9 times, and the boy 3 times. Twelve ricochets? It’s impossible.

Then comes the ten-gun question: why don’t Israeli officials protest? Karsenty’s answer is plausible: they think it would do no good to bring the image back to the forefront. Even if the truth could be established, it would turn against them.

Q: Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte, who viewed the 27-minute outtakes, said (Radio Communauté Juive) all the scenes were staged except the al-Dura scene. Jeambar cited a video of the father displaying his scars, a new element of proof shown by France 2 at a press conference.

A: I did not see the film because I was not allowed to attend the press conference. Leconte told me he was interested in the affair, and intended to investigate it. But Arte [French-German-Spanish cultural TV channel] warned him they would not work with his production company, Doc en Stock, anymore if he didn’t drop the subject. Jeambar was under pressure from inside l’Express, notably Jacques Attali. Alexandre Adler told me that Charles (who is his brother-in-law) was tricked by his fixer. Many people have told me privately that they know the scene was staged, but they won’t say it in public.

The judge’s features tighten as if he is trying to hide his surprise…or distress. ...

But despite what observers saw as a strong performance by the defense and a weak one (or none at all) by France2, the court ruled in favor of French TV:
Four years later, the trials have begun and the first verdict was received Wednesday. At his trial, Karsenty presented four expert witnesses backing up his claim that not only were Al-Dura and his father not killed by the IDF, the entire scene was most apparently staged with the knowledge of the cameraman.

The procureur de la republique, a court-appointed officer in the French legal system charged with assessing the case in the interests of civil society, recommended that the case be ruled in Karsenty’s favor. He said that Karsenty had offered enough evidence to make such assertions a legitimate part of public discourse. The judge ruled that Karsenty had not checked other sources thoroughly and had used unwarranted strong language.

Nobody from France 2 even showed up for the trial. The TV station’s lawyer called no witnesses to the stand and declined to cross-examine any of Karsenty's witnesses or comment on the evidence displayed. The plaintiff’s summation asserted that the honor and reputation of France 2 is beyond reproach and submitted a letter of praise from President Jacques Chirac.

The court ordered Karsenty to pay Enderlin 3,000 Euro and awarded a symbolic 5 Euro to France 2 Television. He plans to appeal the decision and the next trial is due to begin on October 26th.

The Augean Stables reflects:
To say that the decision was disappointing is obviously putting it mildly. But it was not unexpected. Numerous people wrote me to say, watch out. As one American blogger who lives in France wrote:

I followed closely your reports on the first part of the trial. I’m still pessimistic. The reason I’m pessimistic is because they’re only asking for the symbolic euro. France2 wants the case just so they can say the courts ruled in their favor, not in order for sanction actually to be applied. I’m afraid the French courts are so politicized that they will give them what they want.

Others noted that the absence of any effort on the part of France2 — no witnesses, no questions for hostile witnesses, no presence of either Enderlin or Chabot — could indicate not a lack of preparation (alone), but a secure knowledge that they need do nothing since they knew they’d win. Several people who claimed to know, informed me and Karsenty independently, that the fix was on before the trial. When I suggested that to an Israeli lawyer I know after the first trial but before the decision, she responded indignantly, “No. The French judiciary is really independent.” I wanted to believe that.

The Augean Stables has a comprehensive introduction to the Al Durah affair at this link.

All of TAS's Al-Durah-related posts may be found at this category link.

Neo-Neocon will be covering the second part of the Al Durah / France2 defamation trial.

If the Guard Doesn't Change, Will They Change the Guard?

I have a much more in depth post on this at my own blog, (linked to here), but in the event that the Democrats don't take over the House of Representatives, will they change their leadership? In 2002. they had a disappointing showing, and Dick Gephardt "resigned" as minority leader. So, do the Dems similarly throw Pelosi under the bus if they don't take over the House? If Pelosi is gone, do they choose a more moderate minority leader, or will they go to another leftist like Murtha?

That makes me think, if the Republicans do hold on, is Hastert still the Speaker? I would surmise that Hastert's days in leadership are soon to be over, but Pelosi keeps her leadership role no matter how the election turns out.

Thursday, October 19

The In T View: Bill Putnam, Combat Photographer On Iraq, War, Photography, And Blogging

Bill Putnam from Portland, Oregon, today's guest in the In T View, served for eight years as a photojournalist with the American military in both Kosovo and Iraq. After his tour of duty with the Army's 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment in Iraq ended, he returned to the country as an embedded Photojournalist working for the Zuma
Press and as a freelancer for Time Magazine.

Bill, who has written for newspapers, journals, and magazines, besides doing radio reports for North Country Public Radio, is also the proud proprietor of the very fine An independent look at Iraq blog, where you can peruse his wide range of beautiful photographs and his thoughts about Iraq. Bill will soon be moving to a new photographic assignment in Washington D.C., where he'll be covering the White House and Capitol Hill.


Mister Ghost: Should the United States have gone to War against Iraq?

Bill Putnam: That's a hard question to crack. I never thought about the grand political schemes or conspiricies that drove the war. I just know from the trench level, where I spent 99 percent of my time, that the Iraq was wasn't what we were told. So the question of whether we should've gone to war or not really, to me, is unanswerable. Everyone has their own opinion on the subject. The tough answer whether we like it or not is that we're there, we're stuck and we have to do what we can.

Mister Ghost: In one of your blog entries, you said your tour of duty in Iraq was over in about five months and you were never returning to Iraq. You were pretty emphatic about it. And yet, there you were, less than a year later, back in Iraq as a civilian photojournalist. What motivated you to return to the country?

Bill Putnam: I went back to cover the biggest war of my generation. It took a chance meeting with a veteran war correspondent to motivate me. Then I started thinking about photographing war. My first bit of conflict photography came during my deployment to Kosovo in 1999. I just felt like I was photographing something real, something tangible. Having the opportunity to photograph the war wasn't an easy one to decide upon. So the decision to come back was a big one that only happened after a bit of luck and a lot of thinking.

Mister Ghost: How difficult was it to actually return to Iraq? What obstacles did you face?

Bill Putnam: Going back wasn't too difficult. The only obstacle I faced was getting the mental stamina to go back. I'd been there for a year before and was thoroughly exhausted by it.

Mister Ghost: Had you had any prior combat photography experience in a War Zone before you got to Iraq?

Bill Putnam: The only experience I had in a war zone was my two deployments to Kosovo in 1999 and 2001. But I can't really count that second trip as a war zone. Kosovo was calm by then.The first trip though, I think, prepared me mentally for the stresses of it very early in my career.


Mister Ghost: Did the Iraq of reality match up to the Iraq of your fantasies or dreams?

Bill Putnam: Fantasies or dreams... I never had dreams or fantasies of Iraq.

Mister Ghost: Iraq, the Hot. You were there in the Heart of the Dragon's Breath. Describe the Heat to us?

Bill Putnam: Ok, I can sink my teeth into this answer. The heat is unimaginable to anyone from the West. Imagine sitting in a sauna set at 140F. You're wearing anywhere from 25-50 pounds of gear. Now, hold up a hair dryer going full blast to your face. You're obviously sweating, a lot. The sweat chafes your skin almost raw. Your face, hands and feet swell up from the heat too. You drink water and gatorade all the time but the sweat never ends. Now put a 5-pound kevlar helmet on. Soon your head gets hot. Yes, it really is hot and I'm not sure I can even adequetly describe it. Hopefully this answer does it some justice.

Mister Ghost: You were a Corporal in the Army's 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Can you tell us what your role in Iraq was and how it was different from your experience in Kosovo?

Bill Putnam: Comparing Kosovo and my first time in Iraq is hard. Both missions were different. Most of the Kosovars loved NATO's presence. Most Iraqis don't want Americans or foriegners there. Job wise it wasn't that different. I covered the military and dealt with the civilian media a lot.

Mister Ghost: Baghdad is?

Bill Putnam: A Hobbesian landscape of the strong eating the weak.

Mister Ghost: Mosul was?

Bill Putnam: A place where the fault lines of Iraq lie completely naked. Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Christians... all groups live there and all are vying for control. I only regret not being able to stay longer and explore them.

Mister Ghost: You mentioned garbage, garbage, everywhere in the neighborhoods of Baghdad. Piling up next to tidy houses, blowing in the hot breeze, children jumping over it, trash being burnt by the Iraqis... and the Raw Sewage wafting out in the open.. So, what type of impression did this leave on you?

Bill Putnam: The immense amounts of garbage... was a sign of the war and the collapse of Iraqi society. Its also a sign that humans can adapt to almost any situation. At first I wondered why anyone could live hat way. Its obviously unhealthy so why not clean up your block? But the ironic thing was every home's courtyard was clean. Some even had a small patch of grass. Then after a time I understood the trash and sewage outside was a sign of Iraqi society. It had devloved into something like anarchy. In other words it had become "I don't care about you, just about me and mine." That understanding helped me deal with it. That trash was also a sign the Coalition was swimming against the current.

Mister Ghost: Bill, Iraq receives such negative publicity: bombings, killings, unrest, kidnappings, civil strife...It's sort of portrayed as Hell on Earth by the Media. Having experienced Iraq from both a soldier's and photojournalist's perspective, what did you like about the country?

Bill Putnam: My experiences with Iraqi civilians was fairly limited at first. Either they worked for the Coalition or I met them during a raid on their homes. It wasn't until I came back as a civilian and lived downtown that I really met them. So I can say I miss the people I met over there.

Mister Ghost: And conversely, what did you dislike about Iraq?

Bill Putnam: The fact I could be kidnapped and murdered simply because I'm a westerner.

Mister Ghost: What didn't you have in Iraq, that you had in the States?

Bill Putnam: I didn't have a lot of alcohol in Iraq.

Mister Ghost: In the end, do you feel that Iraq was worth your time and effort?

Bill Putnam: I do feel Iraq was worth the time and effort. It was the biggest war my country has fought since Vietnam. Covering it, even if my bit of it was small, means I'm part of the historical record.

Mister Ghost: You said in an interview with David Sommerstein on NCPR that, "I just wanted to tell the story of Iraq." Do you think you succeeded?

Bill Putnam: I think I told one small part of the story. Unfortunately I couldn't move around downtown and talk with individual Iraqis and photograph them going about their lives. I believe I would've done a better job telling the story of Iraq as it goes through this war if movement around the country didn't make me a target.


Mister Ghost: Are the Iraqis a likeable people?

Bill Putnam: Yes, I like the Iraqi people.

Mister Ghost: Tell me about someone you met in Iraq who impressed you and why?

Bill Putnam: The Iraqis who really impressed me were the journalists or those who worked with Western journos. They risked a lot to tell the story of Iraq.

Mister Ghost: The Iraqis are known to be hospitable. Can you give us an example of this?

Bill Putnam: Sure. One day in January I was out with an infantry platoon from 1-10th Mountain north of Abu Ghraib. We arrived at a house in the ville and this old man, he said he was the ville sheik, invited us in for tea. We sat in his house for a couple of hours talking with him about his home, his family and the recent elections. A couple of months before that in Mosul, I was out on an operation with squad from 2nd of the 1st Infantry. We were out on a rooftop and the family came up and offered us tea and cookies. Little things, sure, but worthwhile to remember and experience.

Mister Ghost: You were worried about the Interperetors or "Terps" and other Iraqis that worked with the Coalition forces. The insurgents were threatening them and killing them off. You had a good, brave Iraqi friend Leon, who served as an interpretor for your unit and you tried to help him and his family emigrate away to a safer place. Can you give us an update on Leon?

Bill Putnam: I've lost track of Leon and its impossible for me to figure out where is right now.

Mister Ghost: Bill, you're a big guy at 6-5, 250 pounds, do you think your size intimidated the Iraqis you encountered, since they lived and still live, in a fear and respect-based society?

Bill Putnam: Mmmm, you know that's a good question. My hope is no, my size didn't intimidate anyone. I liked to talk with the Iraqis and made my body language open to them. I smiled and laughed with them as well. I also tried speaking very, very rudimentary Arabic. If they said something to me I would say "na'am, na'am" or 'yes, yes.' Or I would say 'mer-haba' or which usually means 'welcome' or 'hello' This, I think, helped me talk with them.

Mister Ghost: During your time in Iraq, you had a chance to meet with American and Iraqi soldiers, but because of the security situation, you felt you would be a big target if you tried to interact with Iraqi civilians. Do you regret that you weren't able to have a friendly relationship with the regular Iraqis?

Bill Putnam: Yes, very much so. I have a whole list of things I want to do with Iraqis that I couldn't because of the security situation. Maybe one day I'll be able to do that stuff. The locals have a saying for that hope too: "insha' allah."


Mister Ghost: You said in an early post in your blog, Grown women in this society are ghosts, seen and not heard; they seem so relegated, sadly, to nothing in this society. Did you find this was the case throughout Iraq, or were the Iraqi women in the larger cities like Baghdad a more visible open presence?

Bill Putnam: Iraqi women were always visible but speaking to them wasn't really an option. The only time I did talk to them was the random encounter I had with women journalists.

Mister Ghost: Didn't you mention that the Coalition forces were going out of their way to be kind to the Iraqi women, trying to win them over, because they possessed a great deal of influence in the domestic sphere?

Bill Putnam: The relationship I saw between men and women was a skewed one. Much of the time I was around regular Iraqis the men were sheltering the women to protect them.

Mister Ghost: "La chokalota - la chokolata," the Iraqi kids screamed out, as the American soldiers handed them candy. "Mistah! Mistah! Give me chockalot! Give me Pepsi!" they said to you. Did you get the sense the Iraqi children were starved for attention and niceties?

Bill Putnam: It depended on where I was but I had a sense kids were starved for attention and niceties, espcially in places around Baghdad like al-Dora, a generally poor mixed neighborhood.

Mister Ghost: In Baghdad's al-Rashid neighborhood, you saw a father with his child's blood on his hands. It was the night of the church bombings, and the Iraqi man apparently panicked and ran his car through the military checkpoint. The soldiers opened fire and one of the bullets grazed the child's temple, causing a blood clot and eventual death. Bill, what can you say about something like that? Is it a memory that haunts you, or after witnessing so much violence, you become desensitized to another death?

Bill Putnam: Its funny you ask that question. I was just looking at those photos last night. Sure, that night does haunt me to a degree. What I remember most are the sounds. Of men trying to save this boy's life. Of a father wailing in anguish. Of radios. Of Humvees idling. I don't think I'm desensitized to death. I've seen a lot of it and its all tragic. What bothers me, what haunts me really, is the seeing this boy fighting a losing and ultimately unnessacary fight.

Mister Ghost: Are you optimistic about the future of Iraq's children?

Bill Putnam: No, I'm afraid not. Life for them in the forseeable future is going to be hell.

A Photo of Bill in Staff Sgt. Aaron Lefeat's sunglasses April 25, 2006, during Operation Swift Sword, Day 3. by Bill Putnam


Mister Ghost: You spent time embedded with the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, I believe in Mosul. How many different units were you embedded with in Iraq and did you have a favorite?

Bill Putnam: The 1-10 Mountain was around northwest Baghdad. My first embed was in Mosul with the 172nd Stryker Brigade. I was embedded with... *counting on my fingers* five different units of brigade (about 3,000 soldiers) or battalions (about 600 soldiers). My favorite, if I had to pick one, was the 187th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Most of the grunts were veterans of the March 2003 invasion. A few of the first deployment into Afghanistan in late-2001. One battalion commander I met jumped into northern Iraq during the 2003 invasion with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. I spent about four months with one company, Abu Company, 1-187th Infantry, who were stationed in and around Bayji, Iraq.

This unit really understood counter-insurgency warfare and approached it with a good vision. Instead of just patrolling, which is something most units are guilty of, they actually got out and interacted with the locals. It resulted into a situation that could've been a very hard insurgency in the middle of the Sunni Triangle into something more manageable. Of course, there was some bang bang and that made life interesting. But I believe it could've been a lot worse and the unit did everything they could to difuse the situation.

Mister Ghost: How much freedom were you given as an embedded photojournalist? What restrictions were placed on you?

Bill Putnam: I was given pretty much open access to the units I embedded with. Obviously I could hear but not talk about certain things because they would violate operational security. Other times photographed detainees and couldn't transmit photos with their
uncovered faces; that would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Mister Ghost: As a former soldier yourself, how tough is the job the soldiers do?

Bill Putnam: The job these guys and gals face over ther is incredibly difficult. It was very, very difficult in 2004. By late 2005 and early 2006 the situation had become almost untenable. Sectarian violence had reared its ugly, distorted head. The individual grunt down in the trenches sees all this going on and is trying his best to stop it. Whether this Herculean effort can stop all the violence won't be decided down at their level. That's to be decided by the Iraqi people.

Mister Ghost: From your own perspectives as first a soldier, and then a member of the Media, do you feel your fellow members of the American Media are doing a good job of accurately portraying what's happening with the American Military in Iraq?

Bill Putnam: Yes, I think they are. Its a tough tough situation for both sides and covering that isn't easy. I still marvel that it still gets done.

Mister Ghost: Can you tell us what your scariest experience in Iraq was? What gave you serious heart palpitations?

Bill Putnam: My first raid as a civilian journo was by far the scariest. During my time as a soldier-photog, I carried a weapon. This time I was naked. Nothing. Approaching that house in the dark with just my cameras was the scariest thing I'd ever done.

Mister Ghost: You were staying near the Al-Hamra Hotel in Baghdad when it was bombed. When you are close by to a large explosion like that, what do you feel at the time? What thoughts are racing through your head?

Bill Putnam: The first reacion I had was "what the fuck was that?" Then I woke up and walked out into the living room of the house. The local staffers were there and kept telling me to go into my room. I was about to turn when the second -- and much bigger -- bomb went off. My only thought when the shock wave hit and the room brightend up considerably was "hoooollly fuuuck!"

At that point, with gunfire going off in the near distance, I ran into my room threw on some clothes, grabbed my cameras and ran out the door. I was one of the first two photogs on the site. As you can imagine, it was incredibly chaotic. I just wanted to capture what was going on around me. Doing all that I had one thought running through my mind like a tape reel: "this is unbelievable..."

I still think about this first minutes after the bombing and wonder who we got out of it alive.


Mister Ghost: Could you tell us about the genesis of your blog, An independent look at Iraq? How did it come about, and why you became interested in blogging?

Bill Putnam: I first started blogging in 2004 during my time in Baghdad as a soldier. I kept it very low-key and didn't tell anyone in my unit about it. It was interesting to me because it was the advent of a new type of journalism, something immediate and what I thought was pure.

How I found them originally is something I'm not sure about.

Mister Ghost: When you were in Iraq, did you have a chance to read any of the Iraqi blogs? If so, did you think their perceptions of life there, concurred with your views of the situation?

Bill Putnam: I had a chance to read some blogs occassionally. But nothing on a regular basis.

Mister Ghost: Back in 2004, the US Military cracked down on Military Bloggers like Colby Buzzell of My War, because they were allegedly revealing sensitive information. Did this have any effect on your blogging? Was it an overreaction by the DOD and do you think they were trying to filter the news coming out of Iraq?

Bill Putnam: Yes, I do think this was DOD over-reacting. But I don't think this was direct attempt to filter the news coming out of the war. That was just an unintended benefit.

I remember reading about Colby's blog, reading it myself and liking it immensely. Here was a guy who trully reflected life in a war for what it was: brutal and boring.

The problem with shutting blogs down is the justification is its entirely subjective. Cobly's blog went against the grain... ie "this war sucks ass" then someone who believes in the war and is a position of power can shut you down. This happened to Colby.

What I don't think has been discussed is this reaction by DOD might be an echo of Viet Nam. In Colby's case he was actively saying what war was like. His command probably saw this is a threat to good order and discpline in the unit.

After all, if he felt this way how many others did?

What commander would want a bunch of guys breaking down the order of a unit in the middle of a fight, even if the fight was probably unjustified? This happened in Viet Nam. This may sound simplistic but commanders saw this happening in Viet Nam. The Army didn't want that happen. So they cracked down on it the first time something similar came up. They justified it by saying ti was about operational secrity. If they were really concerned about "op sec" they'd censure our emails and listen to our phone calls.

Mister Ghost: Do you have any favorite blogs you like to read and can recommend?

Bill Putnam: The one I actively followed was Chris Allbritton's blog Chris has moved on to Lebanon so there's not so much Iraq coverage anymore. Other times I'd run into blogs and read them but nothing like dedicated reading because I didn't have the time. Now I have the time and NBC News' blog is a good one. I've also read Bill Roggio's blog too. Iraq The Model is a good one as well. Recently I started tuning into The Angry Arab News Service.


Mister Ghost: How did you hook up as a free-lancer with Time Magazine?

Bill Putnam: This is pretty funny story. About five or six days before the Jan. 30, 2005, elections I was on Camp Liberty where the rest of my unit was stationed. Coming back from a detail I saw Michael Ware and Franco Pagetti standing by a Humvee. They'd just been picked up after a long embed with the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade. I walked up to Michael and introduced myself.

"I liked your stuff with the insurgents," I told him. He looked geniunely surprised to hear that from an American soldier. That was when I had the brilliant idea of wanting to come back. I'd kicked the idea around a bit but never thought about just asking someone for help. So I did.

Michael said he could help me out so I could come back and photograph for the magazine. A few weeks later a letter arrived from Michael. So I went back with that one and my agency letter.

Mister Ghost: What do you think you are saying through your photography? What exactly are you trying to tell us?

Bill Putnam: My approach to photography is to make people think about war and conflict. I want people to think about what we're doing to ourselves.

Mister Ghost: Good Photography. A Science? An Art? Hard Work? Intuition? Experience?Or all of the above?

Bill Putnam: Definitely all of the above and I'm still learning it. I'll never stop learning it because no image is perfect. Nor is any photographer.

Mister Ghost: Is there an act of creation involved in taking a photograph?

Bill Putnam: Yeah, I think there is an act. You're capturing one/one-thousandths of a second of time. It takes a bit of preperation and luck to capture that time.

Mister Ghost: You carried about 45 pounds of equipment and three cameras while on assignment in Iraq. Did you really need all those cameras? Is combat photography really that rough on the equipment?

Bill Putnam: I definitely needed all that equipment and it really was rough on my gear. I've spent around $1,500 cleaning and readjusting it all.

Each of my cameras did a different job. One was my Leica M6; I shot film with it. Shooting it caused me to think a different way and try and capture moments the differently. My main body was my Nikon D1x with a 17-35mm lens. I used that in close in moments. The other body was my Nikon D2h with an 80-200. I hardly ever used it.

Mister Ghost: The last thing the insurgent saw before he died was you taking a picture of him. Were there some photographs that you didn't make public, and could you tell us why?

Bill Putnam: I didn't release that photo for personal reasons. Early in my career I read about photogs who'd done that very act and wondered how they could live with themselves. I never intended to take that man's last moments alive.

There were also other photographs I took that couldn't be released because they'd violate my embedding ground rules.

Mister Ghost: Combat photography is a dangerous occupation. Would you put your life on the line to get the perfect shot, say a "Pulitzer Prize" winning photograph?

Bill Putnam: I don't know if I would risk my life for a shot like that. Most Pulitizer winning shots aren't readily apparent. Its only during the post-processing work that you realize that.


Mister Ghost: So, what does the future hold for Bill Putnam?

Bill Putnam: I'm moving to Washington, D.C. this winter to finish up my degree in History. I'll continue my photography there by covering Capitol Hill and the White House for my agency, ZUMA Press.

Mister Ghost: Would you like to go back to Iraq?

Bill Putnam: I never say never but the chances of me going back to Iraq are slim.

Mister Ghost: Will you be covering any more wars?

Bill Putnam: My next trip will be to Afghanistan next summer in between semesters.

Mister Ghost: Final question Bill, and thanks very much for a gracious In T View: Do you have any advice for a crazy person like myself, who would like to go to Iraq unembedded and blog from all around the country?

Bill Putnam: Yeah, don't do it unless you have a lot of money for security and just general living. Thanks for having me.

Friday, October 6

Debka: Terrorists Planned Synagogue Massacre in Prague

Here's the report:
Arab terrorists planned mass murder of Jews in a Prague synagogue after taking them hostage, according to Czech intelligence

October 6, 2006, 10:28 AM (GMT+02:00)

This plot, according to the Prague Daily Monitor, triggered the special security measures announced in the Czech capital for the first time two weeks ago. According to the sketchy information released, unidentified “Arab extremists” planned to penetrate a synagogue during a Jewish holiday, pose unspecified conditions that would not be fulfilled and then blow up the synagogue with explosives they would have had ready for use. They intended killing scores of Jewish worshippers inside. On Sept 23, the Czech government deployed armed guards around dozens of buildings and on the streets of the capital after security services announced an unspecified attack was imminent. They have not divulged any further information. The country’s once flourishing Jewish community was decimated by the Nazis during World War II.

What is it going to take for Western liberals to get a clue?

Arutz Sheva:
According to a report appearing in the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes on Friday, Islamic terrorists in Prague planned to abduct tens of Jews and then execute them.

According to the newspaper, the leading paper in Czech Republic, the terrorists planned to kidnap the victims, hold them hostage in a synagogue and make outrageous demands that would not be met. The hostages would then be killed.

Quoting unnamed intelligence community sources, the report indicated the terror plot was foiled.

Czech Chief Rabbi Ephraim Sidon stated the terrorists planned to strike Central Prague’s Jerusalem Synagogue, not the Jewish Quarter, a popular spot for tourists.

More from Arutz Sheva:
An Ominous New Threat to Diaspora Jews in the Czech Republic
A report by the Yediot Aharonot daily newspaper Friday added an additional grim reason to the concern for the future of Diaspora Jewry: the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Reports of an Islamic terrorist plot to kidnap and ultimately murder a large group of Jews in Prague brought back frightening echoes of the pogroms of Eastern Europe. The plot, which came to light around Rosh Hashana, has meant increased police patrols and questions for residents and tourists in the Czech capital.

The Mlada Fronta Dnesnewspaper quoted unnamed intelligence sources who said the terrorists would have imprisoned the captives in the Great Synagogue of Prague while demanding unspecified terms they knew would not be met.

According to the source, the terrorists planned to blow up the building, destroying everything and everyone inside. The report did not include information on whether anyone had been arrested in connection with the plot, nor did it offer any clue as to the identity of the conspirators.

Wednesday, October 4

A Special Place In Hell

Should be reserved for the likes of Fred Phelps and his sheeple of the Westboro Baptist Church plan, who plan to protest the funerals of the Amish school shooting to... teach the Governor a lesson. Yes, these decieved and disturbed people, who commit sin after sin after sin in the name of "Christ" are planning to stage a protest that has nothing to do with the event. Like a flock of vultures, they plan to pick at the carcus in an effort to gain another 15 minutes of fame. Disgusting.

It is not dispicable enough that they protest at the funerals of fallen soldiers, but now they want to inflict more pain on the families of this tragedy and the community, by bringing their "mission" to this somber event. Attempts to gain access to the flyer posted on their website have failed; the PDF file won't open. Perhaps a little devine intervention is in play... I sincerly hope so.

Fred Phelps and his congregants don't have a clue, but as the shepard of this church, he'll still be held to account on judgement day for leading others to the path of destruction.

Hey Fred... God hates sin, but loves sinners. And your idolitry and rebellion (which is akin to witchcraft) is an abomination before GOD. You'll be burning in HELL right along with those you hate. You are no minister of the gospel.

I just hope the Patriot Riders show up in force to block the WBC and sheild the families from this vile and putrid demonstration that comes straight from the pit of hell.

I pray peace and comfort for the Amish community, the families of all involved, and of course for the community. I pray that the LORD of all will pour out his mercy and grace, and comfort the afflicted.

Fred Phelps and the WBC need a serious wake up call.

Monday, October 2

Remembering Merideth Howard, The Oldest American Servicewoman Killed In Combat

Photo of Merideth Howard courtesy of Seattle Times

Merideth Howard, died a heroine.

She was the oldest servicewoman killed in the annals of American Combat.

52 years old.

Old enough to be your grandmother.

A gray-haired woman in a helmet...

She was all of 5-4.

She had to stand on a box to see over the turret to man the .50 caliber machine gun on the Humvee she rode shotgun on in Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard died in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 8 of this year, when a Suicide Jihadist drove a Toyota Corolla into her Humvee, and detonated his bomb, killing her friend Staff Sgt. Robert Paul, who was driving and Meredith, manning the machine gun in the back.

And 14 Afghanis.

It was tremendous explosion.

Left a crater, six foot wide in the road of the infamous Jalalabad Road, Kabul's suicide-bomb alley.

It took a big bomb to diminish the likes of a dynamic woman such as Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard.

And dynamic, Howard was, the native of Corpus Christi, Texas strove far in life and accomplished much. While at Texas A& M University, she was a member of the first women's tennis team there, and became the second woman to graduate from the University's Brayton Fire School.

She went on to become the first woman to join the Bryan, Texas Fire Department, working at Fire Station 1 as an engine driver for about 3 1/2 years. While there, she gained the respect of her collegues, no easy task, being the lone woman in an all male department, but she was more than up to the challenge. Innovative, she developed a way to recharge the department's respiration tanks on site. Compassionate, Howard helped start a car wash to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association and "Jerry's kids." A go-getter, Merideth moved on and became a fire-risk-management specialist with insurance companies, eventually helping set up a consulting company in California.

She decided to join the military in 1988 at the age of 34, as a medical equipment repairer for the Army Reserve. David White, Howard's instructor at the Brayton Fire School tells us why, "She joined the Army because she thought it was something she should do..." In 1996, because her medical unit was disbanded, she was assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves, for soldiers without a unit.

It was as a member of the IRR, that Merideth was called up for active duty in Afghanistan in the spring of this year. Before she left, Howard, cognizant of the dangerous nature of her assignment, married her long time partner Hugh Hvolboll, wanting to make their relationship official. Hugh explains why, "As a boyfriend, I would have no status with the Army...As a husband, I did."

Arriving in Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Howard was part of a provincial-reconstruction team, assigned to a Civil Affairs unit at the the Mehtarlam base in eastern Laghman province. As one of 24 provincial-reconstruction teams in Afghanistan, their task was to help rebuild roads and schools and other infrastructure needed in the war torn and depleted country.

At first, Howard handled paperwork at the Mehtarlam base, tracking projects and applying for money. She was an industrious soldier, often going to the "Home Depot" area of the base, where the wood was stored and engaging in some basic carpentry with her hammer, which is still sitting in her room on base. She built a side table, a rudimentary armoire, and eventually the box, which she used to stand on, to man her machine-gun on the Humvee.

Merideth was good at her job, but disliked being confined within the parameters of the base. She wanted more, she wanted to be let out, to interact with the Afghani people, to go out on missions.She wanted to be a gunner.

It is not part of official Pentagon policy for women to serve in Combat units, but Sergeant Howard got her wish and found herself in Combat missions, because her Civil Affairs team was short-handed. One soldier went home after a noncombat injury, another was sent to Nuristan and the gunner to Jalalabad. The way was open for Merideth's wish to be granted.

And Sergeant Howard seemed to have embraced her new role with her customary gusto. She told her husband that one day she realized she enjoyed it. In August, she said she was thinking of extending her tour. Hugh provides us with an insight into his wife's enthusiastic acceptance of her new endeavors, despite the danger, "Merideth liked to live life as an adventure..."

And an adventure it was.

Riding shotgun on the Humvee, as her friend Staff Sgt. Robert Paul drove the vehicle. Merideth, standing on her box, the trigger of the .50 caliber machine gun clutched in her hands, alert, adrenaline flowing, a grayed hair woman in a helmet,in a land of Burkha-clad women, constantly scanning the countryside for signs of trouble.

And trouble did arive that day of September 8, when a Suicide Jihadist took Merideth and others lives.

But he did not take from us Merideth's memory.

We honor her, she died a Heroine.

Rebekah Bridges-Tervydis shares her thoughts with us about Merideth

MG: Hi Rebekah, how did you come to know Merideth?

Rebekah Merideth had just moved from Texas to relocate to the SF Bay area, while looking for a home to purchase she moved into what we affeciately came to call 'the home'. It was a clean, respectable, residence club for Women, near the heart of downtown San Francisco.

Many of the women were in transition, like Merideth relocating, I had just finished College and was moving from another state, to live in the 'big city'.

I met M., as I came to call her, passing in the hallways, perhaps at dinner or breakfast, even possibley the huge Women's restroom located on each floor. One thing, anyone will tell you, was Merideth has/had a one of kind, incredible laugh. (In fact, that's the one comment I continue to hear from folks "you mean, I'm never going to hear her laugh again?"

Anyway, it was the first week of July and our little Miss Firecracker was about to celebrate her birthday in the big city, I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate. It was there, that Meredith and I realised, we had a very similiar somewhat ribauld, irreverant senses of humor despite our nearly 10 year age difference.

When I heard of Merideth passing, after wailing some two or more hours, crying more tears than I thought my body could produce, what struck me was two things " Not only had a I lost the woman that I had grown up with, who without any doubt in my mind was as much my blood family as could be conceived. But, I had in facted lost one of three persons in the world, who actually could appreciate our wacky senses of humor, our take on life". My sorrow was completely selfish, I couldn't comprehend how the most intelligent woman I had the priviledge of knowing, the kind of woman that I wish I could have been, could have been taken so senselessly. What a waste, what a horribly, pitiful waste our Country had just suffered.

MG: It seems that Merideth was a very upbeat person, someone who was not afraid to take on another challenge. Is that how you found her?

Rebekah: Upbeat... that's just one word you could use. Merideth was never a 'label' but she absolutely knew she could play with the big toys and on the big boys playground. I think Hugh (Merideth's husband) said it recently in an interview "life was an adventure to Merideth." She was never in competition with anyone else except herself. She didn't need to be the best, she just needed to be the best that she could be. And she never expected you to be anything more than what you were, however we became close enough in our lives, that she would not sit by and watch me allow myself to shrivel, wallow in self pity. Even her emails from her deployment... nope, I wasn't going to get away with that behaviour even if she was half a world away.

I used to call her my 'touchstone' because I had a tendency to fly about life, alighting from one fun thing to the next, but if I started to feel weary or out of touch I'd go back home to M. and with one of her wondeful hugs she'd say exactly what my Mother (had she been alive) or my big sister would have said "Snap out of it, be responsible and be yourself."

Her wit and intelligence always made me take a double time step to catch up with her thought process, after about two years of this, I finally gave in and realised to follow her lead in most instances. There were areas's that she simply relied on me to take the lead, but I'm not sure if that wasn't just generousity on her part.

MG: Did you have a chance to see her before she left for Afghanistan?

Rebekah: Yes, M. made a special trip back to Alameda, to finish up some business. By then my husband and I had relocated two hours North, near Sacramento. Meredith called and said she'd be there by dinner. We had one night of laughter, fun, luckily the same as we always had. (It's difficult for me to realise that was the last time I saw her. She traveled so much for her job, that my mind continues to tell me she's in Hartford doing some inspection.) That evening we just laughed at some of the silly things we had done, said, seen or witnessed. I won't forget that last hug she gave me. Some tears on my part, M. wasn't prone to tears...unless the room was dark and we were watching some sappy show on tv. Hugh was very good at knowing exactly when she needed a hanky!

MG: Did she express any unhappiness or misgivings about going to Afghanistan?

Rebekah: Never unhappiness, despite my rantings and ravings about how our Government would send a 51 year old, highly educated with a Master Degree, reservist to the front! Notice, I did not say WOMAN. To Meredith we were all the same Man or Woman, it was our resposiblity to be the best we could be and explore those areas where we excelled.

As for misgivings.... I have two things to say to this. There have been reports by someone in M. s family (someone, I don't recall in over twenty years, ever having heard of) that she felt she was unprepared and that she hadn't been trained well enough by the military to go there. Knowing M. what she meant was, she hadn't been able to absorb the training entirely that was offered. She took it upon herself to finish the training as she felt would best serve her unit and her unwaivering desire to be her best.

Once over there, I think the reality of the situation certainly woke her up. This was no longer just an adventure, this was an opportunity to do what she had been trained to do and on some very serious missions. Merideth was always bright, cheery, positive but could be deadly serious when it was required. It became required.

MG: Did you have a chance to communicate with her when she was in Afghanistan?

Rebekah: Oh yes! Thanks to the Good Lord for the internet. Mail would take three weeks to get there, but the written word is so lovely by hand, that letters and packages did get exchanged. But we emailed quite often. I almost feel jealous now seeing how many folks/friends she was chatting with while there.

I'm somewhat ashamed to say it, but in the depths of my waxing and waning depression with the loss of M., I still write her email address. I do this just when I know my head will explode if I really, really have to realise she's not coming back.

MG: Did she like the country and the people?

Rebekah: Oh very very much. A few weeks before she died, Meredith sent us photos' of the land. Where there was water, the land was wonderfully green. Where water was not present the backdrop could have been the moon for all I would have known.

As for the people, M truly truly enjoyed the children and the elders she met. There were never specifics about different folks, but the regard and hospitality of the people were truly extraordinary to her. She relayed a time when her CO (I think that's the rank, I'm afraid I'm an event planner by trade... military grade is completely lost on me) was made to sit outside a typical Afghan home, while she and another woman were admitted inside to have tea and melon for an hour or two. I know M. must have enjoyed that tremendously, having a chance to get to talk with the women and be in a typical home. Again, it was an adventure.

MG: Is there anything you would like to say to Merideth's fellow servicemen and women, the brave soldiers that served with her?

Rebekah: You know Mister Ghost, please read this entry entirely before feeling I've sullied the choice of being a solidier. Because that is not my aim at all.

I'm ashamed to say I maybe the typical, stupid American, that just doesn't truly understand the process of war....we tear down, just to rebuild to our specifications? Is that it? Why is our country on another country's land, I don't get it. I don't have any misgiving's except my own ignorance of the situation. I can't truly judge until I truly understand all sides. How does it relate to 9/11/2001? How does this act ensure we are any safer, by putting our own people in harms way?

And I simply don't know who to trust for the honest word about why, is it the media I should trust? Our current Government seems to be so out of touch with reality at times, that it appears they don't have to hold themselves accountable, I mean the Suits in Wash. D.C., not the fatiques in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wasn't until Merideth went there and began relaying that her job was to help obtain native folks to rebuild their comuunities. To help give care packages out to the children and families in desperate need. That, it no longer mattered what our Country was doing there in Afghan, I was honored and proud to be an American, to support our troops, knowing they were the good guys trying to help. I'm very proud that her service and that of Sgt. Paul and the others that serve there and in Iraq, I'm so grateful that your presense has made me the Proud American, instead of just the befuddled American!

MG: Can you share with us a favorite memory of Merideth?

Rebekah:I honestly wish I could, but there are too many. When you spend your life with someone, groving up (my parents died while I was quite young and I had little family to rely on) with someone like Meredith as your role model, your confident, your best friend, I cannot fathom choosing one memory to share. I'm afraid my journal is going to have to keep all those funny, stoic, honorable times private because Merideth was bigger than life to me. One memory just won't do.

MG: Thanks very much Rebekah. How best should we remember Merideth?

Rebekah: AH.... I hope the world will remember her for so much more than just being the oldest female soldier to die in the two wars. Her age, her sex, never held her back and I would hope that what people hear about her life is that it was a life well lived, service to the poor both in heart, spirit and poverty. Honor her memory by always trying to be your best in whatever capacity that is.

Merideth Howard was Rebekah Bridges-Tervydis best friend and served as Maid of Honor at her wedding in 2004. We kindly thank Rebekah for sharing her thoughts about Merideth, despite the difficult circumstances.

Roses from Robert by Missyasmina - Flickr

Merideth Howard In Her Own Words

To her boyfriend -- and future husband -- Hugh Hvolboll who manufactured fireworks.

"You set them off, and I'll decide how much damage they cause..."

On Her Connection with the Afghan People

"We have a good relationship with the people here in the village and, of course, as everybody in Afghanistan they are in need."

On Rebuilding Afghanistan's roads, schools, and water system

"The very basic things that we in America take for granted all of the time."

Improving the Lives of Afghan's Children

"We wanted to do a humanitarian drop here so we can help the kids out. We're giving them some backpacks for school. Most of the kids are in school, even if it's just a few hours a day."

On The Afghani People and Afghanistan's Future

"The people of Afghanistan are very warm and friendly people. And there are millions of children here, and I think this is the key to the future of Afghanistan."

On why she was in Afghanistan (as told to Command Sgt. Major Daniel Wood, U.S. Army)

"...she was here for the people of this land, and she realized that the only way this long war could be won is by interacting and engaging with the children of Afghanistan, as well as with the young adults and the women."

Those Who Knew Her Speak Out

Words cannot express how sad we are about Merideth's passing. My Wife, Lori and I were blessed and honored to know and love Merideth. She was 'one of a kind'. We got to know her through work, but we soon became friends. She loved to play tennis and her love of life and travel were second to none. She had the most infectious laugh...She would start laughing and then we would laugh, and then she would laugh, and so on.

The last and most heart-breaking correspondence we had with her was we discovered she and Hugh got married, just before her deployment to Afghanistan. I asked her when, oh when were we going to have a reception for their wedding! She said just as soon as she got back home to the U.S.A.

We will all miss her. God bless her.
Jeff Arita

Merideth had a wicked sense of humor. Every time I saw her she had a smile on her face. May all couples have the joy her and Hugh had together. Even though she will be missed she will always be in our memories.
AM Ledbetter

The world was a better place for having Merideth in it. I know I am a better person for having her for a friend for a quarter of a century. I will miss her. And am oh so glad we went paragliding. Keep them in line in heaven Merideth.
Amy Downing

Meredith lived, "…What we do for others is our legacy, and lives on forever…." Having worked with Meredith for a dozen years, I have nothing but grateful and happy remembrances of her as a person, her chosen profession, her dedication to our Country, and extend my sympathy to her family for your loss. As I write this brief note, I will never forget her identifiable laugh, which will last in my memory forever. Sincerely,
Brach Schmidt

"She was just one of those people who inspires you."

David White, Howard's instructor at at the Brayton Fire School.

I met Merideth at Fort Bragg, we were in training together for several months for this deployment. Our ranks are close and we both worked for a Fire Dept so we had a few things to talk about. She was instantly likeable by anyone she met. She was always smiling. I will miss her very much.
Robert McLaughlin

I'm currently deployed in the unit that SFC. Howard was a part of when she passed away. This in undoubtedly the worst tragedy to have befallen this unit. SFC. Howard was, without question, the kindest and most sincerest of people I have ever met. She treated us all with respect, regardless of rank, and on many occasions, she seemed like a mother making sure I had everything I needed to do my job (comfortably). I can think of no one else that did not deserve this less than she did.
PFC Stephen Mondaca

I had the honor to serve as SFC Howard's Commander at Mehtar Lam for two months and work with her for an additonal month before I departed Laghman Province for Nuristan Province where I still continue to serve.

She came onto my Forward Operating Base with the new group of Provincial Reconstruction Team personnel at the end of April and I was to change command with her Commander. He broke his wrist and I remained in command for an additional two months working closely with SFC Howard and the rest of the new Team.

To say she was a phenomenal soldier is an understatement. She was responsible for managing the Commander's Emergency Response Fund (CERP) in addition to her Civil Affairs job. She replaced a high speed Civil Affairs NCO who had developed an excellent approach to how we managed CERP at the PRT. SFC Howard came in and made the best CERP Program in Afghanistan even better. She was organized and detailed. She made our program one to envy but more importantly one that delivered millions of dollars in development to Laghman and Nuristan Provinces. She was one of a kind and an absolute pleasure to work with.

I am a career Infantry Officer with over 20 years of continuous service on active duty in defense of our nation. The hardest day I've ever had was the day she and SSG Paul died in Kabul. It was a black day for me. I have been in Afghanistan now for over 21 months continously and I have never felt so frustrated or angry than on that day. I am genuinely optimistic about Afghanistan's future but her death took even my optimism away. I recovered after thinking back on the many talks she and I had about what CERP, the PRT, and the Coalition presence was doing for Afghanistan. I mentally dedicated my last few months in this country to her memory.

I will leave Afghansitan, lord willing, in November. My last act will be to celebrate Thanksgiving with my Team in Eastern Nursitan. I will give thanks for how the lord has blessed me and my various team mates since my arrival in Afghanistan in January 2005. I will give thanks for SFC Merideth Howard. I am a better person for having served with her. She made a difference in the lives of many people and for that she will always be remembered.

LTC Anthony Feagin Infantry - Past Commander Mehtar Lam PRT and current Commander Nuristan PRT

We thank you Merideth for your duty and sacrifice.


The Seattle Times: Nation & World: At 52, soldier was distinctive in how she lived, and died

CNN Transcripts

North Shore Journal

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