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December 16th, 2004

12:26 pm: Yahoo News Story
I'm going to have to paste the entire story here since yahoo's infamous for deleting stories older than a month:

Detainee Abuse by Marines Is Detailed

Wed Dec 15, 9:09 AM ET

By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post Staff Writer

Marines operating in Iraq over the past two years committed a variety of abuses against Iraqi prisoners, including burning a detainee's hands by igniting alcohol-based cleanser in August 2003, according to internal Defense Department documents released yesterday.

Several other incidents, most of them previously undisclosed, are described in investigative reports and legal summaries. In Karbala in May 2003, one Marine held a 9mm pistol to the back of a bound detainee's head while another took a photograph. Two months later, in Diwaniyah, four Marines ordered teenage Iraqi looters to kneel alongside holes and then fired a pistol "to conduct a mock execution."

In April of this year, shortly before the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal shook the U.S. military, three Marines in Mahmudiya shocked a detainee with an electric transformer, forcing him to "dance" as the electricity hit him, according to a witness, one document states. The Washington Post reported that incident in June, after two of the Marines pleaded guilty in the case.

This new catalogue of abuses involves members of a variety of units, and is distinct from earlier disclosures of the torture of prisoners by Army reservists at Abu Ghraib and the maltreatment of detainees in Afghanistan by Army soldiers and Special Operations troops.

Overall, according to a summary prepared for the Pentagon's inspector general but obtained and released by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 10 substantiated incidents of Marines abusing prisoners. Those involved 24 members of the Corps, and resulted in 11 court-martial convictions and three lesser punishments. Charges were dismissed against six other Marines, and four cases are pending, the summary said. All the abuse involved members of various units within the 1st Marine Division.

The August 2003 burning incident, which occurred at Camp Dogwood, near Iskandariyah, blistered the Iraqi detainee's hands and resulted in a special court-martial in which a Marine was found guilty of assault, confined for 90 days and demoted. Other incidents resulted in similar punishments.

The most severe sentences were handed down in the case of the detainee being shocked, the summary said, with two Marines court-martialed at Camp Fallujah in May. One received a one-year confinement, and the other eight months. Several other prosecutions are pending in that case, the document noted.

The internal summary also stated that there were 11 other incidents in which allegations of abuse were not substantiated and five cases in which investigations were pending.

The dozens of documents were obtained by the ACLU under the Freedom of Information Act. The organization recently distributed a series of documents it received from various parts of the military. "Abuse of detainees was not aberrational," ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer said in a statement accompanying the release. "The Defense Department adopted extreme interrogation techniques as a matter of policy."

Supporting that assertion, the ACLU said, is a statement taken in October by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in which a Navy corpsman who had been attached to the Marines in Iraq stated that it was routine to take a prisoner to an empty swimming pool, place cuffs on his hands and legs, put a burlap bag over his head, and then "the EPW [enemy prisoner of war] would remain in the kneeling position for no longer than 24 hours while the EPW was awaiting interrogation."

A Marine spokesman said the documents underscore not only that abuse occurred but that allegations involving mistreatment are taken seriously. "Each of these acts referred to by the ACLU resulted in courts-martial convictions," Maj. Nat Fahy said. "This clearly demonstrates our commitment to thoroughly investigate all allegations of detainee abuse and hold those people accountable. Any behavior that does not constitute humane treatment of detainees is simply not tolerated."

Fahy said he was unaware of the Marines' having issued statements disclosing any of the incidents, but said, "We made the information available if people asked for it."

Lawrence T. Di Rita, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said that there have been more than a dozen major investigations of the handling of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that probes of individual cases have resulted in about three dozen courts-martial and an equal number of lesser "nonjudicial punishments."

"We've held a number of individuals accountable," he said at a Pentagon briefing. "We will continue to hold people accountable. And we will continue to pump out documents."

John Miller, who commanded a Marine rifle company during the Vietnam War, said he thought the incidents of abuse were an aberration for Marines. "The Marines are very well-schooled in the law of war," he said. But, he added that "there are guys who were bums when they came in, and they'll be bums when they get out."

December 13th, 2004

08:16 pm: Huh
I got a bizarre email from someone explaining the stalker/weirdo that has been posting on my journal. It's from a girl who says this person thinks she is me. My question is, why?!

More questions: Was this girl pretending to be me? And why is some random guy stalking her? She said she doesn't know him either. And then I have to wonder if she's telling the truth. Did the guy get the girl to write the email for him? They have different IPs. I'm pretty sure they are different people.

She was at least polite and apologetic about it. I think I will email LJ with my complaints, and hopefully they can sort it out.

December 9th, 2004

04:35 pm: Link
Wow.... I am amazed by this ruling.

Mom's evesdropping violated law

I'm not sure what to think about this. I agree it shouldn't be valid evidence for a trial.

December 7th, 2004

06:25 am: Homelessness update
I haven't heard from any of "my" homeless people for an age. I have to go up for a doctor appointment at 2 PM today; am going to attempt to find 'em and see how they're faring, but if I manage to locate just one it will be a success. I will bring up a few bags of groceries, a flashlight or two and some batteries, and I am pretty sure they're going to need some propane for their gas stove/heater.

I am really, really hoping that Tom made it into a shelter. He was calling them every day, I know, but I can't call him, is the problem. It is a real hinderance to be living 45 miles south of them now. So much harder to help. Ron used to be able to stop by on his way home from work, drop off a few groceries, etc. Now it has to be basically a scheduled trip.

I also think I'll take an excursion into Washington DC (sigh) and navigate the endlessly confusing streets in order to find the homeless people in the parks. This is more dangerous, since a lot of them are severely mentally impared, but after my experience with Judith, I can't just give it up. I don't think I've talked about Judith yet in this journal; my next entry will describe her and how I met her. She's really awesome, just an incredible person. I hope I'm able to find her again today.

December 6th, 2004

04:08 pm: Frustration
I wrote this a couple days ago, but didn't get a chance to post it until now.

Aaaaargh!!!!! American Sign Language, or ASL (as I'll abbreviate it from now on) is not consistant, at all, as a language. In several of the best and biggest dictionaries of signs, lots of signs differ; and not by just a regional or local dialect gap, either. It's just a completely different sign. So how do you tell which one is right? Do you just make up your signs as you go along? It seems like that's what's happened in a lot of cases. And then there's "pigin sign language" as well as regular. "Pigin sign language" is simplified ASL and a lot of the signs are different from what they are in American Sign Language. It's a current fashionable trend to teach newborn babies pigin sign language, but I think that it only confuses the issue. The real ASL signs aren't that much more complicated. It's like teaching babies the word for water is "wawa" instead of actually saying "water."

I wish that ASL could be officially standarized. Good grief, there's a man employed by the French government to give official names to things like "Le Internet" and decide whether they're masculine or feminine nouns, but with sign language, an entire verb like "to cook" or "to arrive" varies.

And there's really no good way to teach yourself ASL either, unless you're fortunate enough to be able to enroll in courses at a college and learn from actual deaf people who already speak it. That's basically what every book says when they attempt to answer the question, "how do I learn sign language on my own?" They say, "well, the only real way to learn is to practice with other deaf people." GREAT. Send me a few in the mail so I can get started.

So what do you do with a 3 year old who is deaf but doesn't know sign language and doesn't have an opportunity to learn signs from deaf people? I can't teach him it because I can't tell him what the signs mean. I can't explain a concept- how do you even explain what the alphabet is if you can't speak?! I can't show him pictures or flashcards for the word "to think" or "to awake". Flashcards are useful to teach him nouns and objects, but there are so many things in the world that require more explanation. Like for example, colors. Colors in themselves aren't that difficult a concept; we all point at something and agree, "it's green." Whatever your specific concept of green is might very, but we're at least all agreed that we are describing the pigmentation of the object and how it looks. If I point at the grass and sign "green" I'll get a puzzled look, and rightly so- because he doesn't think it's "green", he thinks the sign is "grass." How can I explain I'm describing the grass?! If I sign "green grass" he thinks I'm just modifying the original sign and now all grass must be signed "green grass."

I am reminded so many times of Helen Keller's life story when I'm thinking about all this and how impossible it seems to be to break through and help him. There is a profound sense of sadness about the whole thing, though we both are doing our best to make signing happy and cheerful. But I've never seen a 3 year old before that hangs his head in depression when unable to express what he wants. His entire body just droops and he looks downward as if- well, the weight of everything is just too much. I'm looking at an intelligent mind trapped in what is essentially darkness.

I think that what makes it worse is that Mrs. Smith (not her real name) who has had the boys in foster care for 6 months, ever since they entered the system, makes little to no effort to sign with him. If Mrs. Smith ever reads this, I hope she understands I am NOT saying she is a bad foster parent, on the contrary, I think she is great. She's patient, kind, has a sense of humor, and I am confident that she would never, ever abuse a child. (Unfortunately I know that a lot of parents who do foster care are often as abusive as the original parents.) I've even come across one or two of them so far... one woman went so far as to tell me "there are lots of options for how you can dicipline them so long as you don't care about following the rules." She proceeded to tell me to pick them up by the ankles and hold them upside down and spank them that way. My husband thinks I should report her to CPS, (child protective services) but I am pretty sure no investigation would be done because it's just my word against hers- I never actually SAW any abuse. In addition to which, she's very, very rich- and I've noticed that the police are very hesitant to associate abuse with someone who has a lot of money. An extreme case being that of Michael Jackson.

So considering what's out there, I must commend Mrs. Smith. I really wish more foster parents were like her. She's so laid back and easy-going. Sure, that tends to spoil kids, especially kids like Ryan, but I would so much rather see a child who's spoiled rather than abused. Mrs. Smith is a grandmother and loves children. She's a single parent. Next to her I feel like a wimp- I can barely keep on top of my house's mess and 2 kids, even with the support of my husband. She basically has all she can do to keep up with her own 4 children without the extreme effort it takes to learn ASL on her own. I can't say I blame her- she is already carrying a huge load. And learning ASL really has to be something you with a tremendous effort- even my husband is kind of flagging, feeling as if ASL is impossible to learn and he'd like to give up. After he started noticing discrepancies between the signs in ASL, he got discouraged. "What's the point of learning it if the letter K can be signed 3 different ways?!" he says, and I understand where he's coming from.

I am also confused as well because the social worker asked me if Ryan was 'responding at all' to signs we made to him. She said "at all" as if she was pretty sure he hadn't been responding, but she needed to check. I said, confused, "sure, of course he's responding." I didn't get what the problem was. She got very excited and said, "Wow, really, because he doesn't respond to signs with Mrs. Smith at all." That's because SHE DOESN'T SIGN WITH HIM. How can he respond to non-existant signs?

I said, "He responds about as often as I'd expect a 3 year old to respond verbally- about half of the time." Even children who can hear don't always respond to your questions at age 3. They're still taking things in, learning how things work. But yes, I said, there's been no problem with getting him to RESPOND to signs. He'll sign "more- eat" if he wants more to eat. He'll sign "potty" if he needs to go.

(To go off on a tangent, I have just realized that I now know the word for "potty" in not only English, but American Sign Language, Spanish, and Swedish.) Babysitting and fostercare may not improve your math skills much, but it sure does wonders for your vocabulary. I'm picturing the next time I visit Sweden. Stepping off the plane, smiling, I wave to the crowd. "Time out!" I say. "Potty and pacifier!" "Ikea!" Then I follow it up with "nap time". I do know how to say goodbye, which sounds like "Hey dough", but I'd rather close requesting a nap. I've never had anyone over age 12 argue with that one. I figure I could campaign for and win the presidency of the United States simply on an "enforced naps daily" platform.

So my problem, boiled down, is basically, how to get "Ryan" to learn new words and signs, especially those of concepts. I have no idea. All I really have is a profound pity for him and a determination to help, if I can. And it needs to be done soon, because not only can he not communicate, he is getting badly spoiled because of it. I spent Thanksgiving weekend basically putting him in and out of time out. I hadn't even set many rules, only the basics, like "no hitting", "no scratching", "no pulling the dog's leg until she cries." I think these are probably universal rules, or they should be.

I can understand the urge of Mrs. Smith to give him his way about everything and not enforce any rules because he's deaf. It really tugs on your heartstrings to see how depressed and frustrated he gets when he doesn't understand why he can't do a particular thing- for example, banging his toys really hard on the top of our glass coffee table. Sorry, that's just not acceptable. Time out. Potty and Pacifier. Ikea.

December 5th, 2004

06:07 am: Just a warning...
I'm glad to see that whoever was spamming this journal with obscene and harassing material has stopped, for the moment at least, since that makes my decision easier. My husband and I have been debating about whether to report the harassment not only to the individual's ISP, but to the social service agency and police as well. As foster parents, we are aware that what could be random harassment might not be; and if so, the state needs to hear about it, and conduct an investigation if needs be. These are children with special needs or strange circumstances, and as such, the state is prepared to investigate on their behalf.

Part of the reason we have been debating whether or not to report this is because I have been getting some strange emails as well, which have been asking for personal contact information in a very deceptive manner. They may or may not be connected to what was posted in this journal- but as foster parents, we've been told to report anything suspicious. There have been several instances of obsessive parents and relatives who have stalked and harassed their child's foster parents, both online and in person. So this is basically my open warning to whoever is taking an interest in this journal; it needs to stop. Otherwise, I will assume you are a stalker with an interest in the children and I will react appropriately.

To anyone else reading this journal; because we're not sure if an investigation will have to be done, the comments cannot be deleted, so I would advise not viewing the comments on previous posts. This is (hopefully) the last time I will need to address the subject.

December 3rd, 2004

04:40 am: Caution.....
Friends and LiveJournal friends....

Watch out, there is a spammer who's been responding to my journal. Until I can take care of the situation, it's probably best not to click on "comments". He has posted some disgusting photos there. I will not take them down until his ISP has finished investigating the complaint.

He was kind enough to leave his IP address, however, so steps can be taken against him, as most ISP providers will terminate the account of anyone who attempts to flood or spam another person. But I wouldn't leave your email address or anything lying around in this journal. Just a word of caution.

November 24th, 2004

04:07 am: My new position
Well, I am now officially a mom. I picked up my first two foster kids today from preschool and afterward, sheparded them through the very first meal at McDonalds (and what I hope will be the last at that particular restaurant, but hey, it was their choice.) I attempted to say "How about Wendy's? Subway?" but got looks of disgust and decided, why not let them pick. Besides, I've never been one to argue with the magic words "Happy Meal." There's just something about a cardboard box with a toy inside that makes you feel good.

I just feel overwhelmed right now... one of those few, rare moments in life where you are filled with happiness. Yes, I realize that I'm up at 4 AM because one of them just had a nightmare, but I don't care! It's nice to be needed. I have wanted to be a mom for so long... I have always known it was my calling. If you can really call it a 'calling.' Even back in high school, once somebody looked at my school picture and said, "Wow. You look like a mom." I remember feeling proud. I suppose most people would have been a little bummed, especially since the guy who said it was one I had a crush on. But no... besides, he always was a stick in the mud.

It was so sweet to wake up hearing him cry. I mean, I was alarmed at first, but it turned out he'd just had a nightmare. Only a hug was needed. Poor little guy, looking so lost and confused. He went right back to sleep too. I would have sung him a little song too but unfortunately, he's deaf.

My foster kids are two boys, age 4 and age 3, and the youngest is deaf. It's so strange... so much I never realized about how the loss of one of your senses changes everything, even relationships with other people and the way you grow up. Of course, logically I know these facts, but you know- I've never SEEN the impact. I have watched the Miracle Worker before and read a lot about Helen Keller, but I have never realized until today how strange and sad it is to see a mind imprisoned, unable to communicate adequately. I'd estimate that "Ryan" (these aren't their real names, but I'm not supposed to share their real ones), my deaf child, knows about 25-50 signs, perhaps. I mean, when I think about it, my DOGS understand more human words than he knows signs. He's not had much time to learn them, plus he is so confused, being taken away from his birth home, placed in a temporary home, taught a mixture of what they call 'pigin' sign language and real sign language. Sometimes, watching him, I think about my friend's children, who are both at the same ages, 4 and 3. It makes me sad, thinking of how her intelligent little 3 year old talks and talks and talks, exploring her world through sound, while little Ryan is imprisoned in his mind. He doesn't understand so much of what goes on, but Ron and I, just in the space of 10 hours, have been able to see a basic, fundamental intelligence there. Actually, we estimate it's probably ABOVE the average level of intelligence. He's a smart kid. But what is so sad is his inability to communicate- I don't think that right now he even understands why we're moving our mouths.

His brother (I'll call him "George") is interesting. Though they share sibling rivalry typical of that age, it's facinating to see how protective of Ryan George has become. And nobody's told George (He's only 4, of course!) that he should protect his brother and make sure he understands what's going on- he seems to do it instinctively. So George is a bit... older, I'd say, in wisdom and relationships. Other than that, yes, he is a normal 4 year old. I almost burst out laughing at a few of the things he said while we were in the car. But I held it in. If there is one thing kids hate, it's to be condescended or laughed at.

So we're doing all right, day 1. But I'd better get back to sleep or that could quickly change... I don't want my lupus to flare.

November 14th, 2004

09:41 am: Thinking of splitting it up
I'm thinking of splitting this journal up into basically two things: a log of the interaction with the homeless and how things go in that direction, and a separate journal for everything else in my life. I don't want to babble on and on about personal things if someone comes here to read about the homeless and what they can do to help- you know?

I recharged the phone card and it's been used consistantly every day since. I haven't gotten up to DC yet, been about 2 weeks, but will probably go either today or tomorrow to drop off more food, refill the propane cannisters, photograph the burned out building/shelter, and talk with the guys. I'm hoping that Terry will be there because I've never been able to really talk with him much. I need to figure out what his specific needs are and if we might be able to get him off the street as well. I realize that in the end, nobody will be really able to get him of the street but himself- but for God's sake, someone can provide a helping hand. And that's what we're trying to do.

I'm going to attend the Al-Anon meeting tomorrow. I'm hoping it will be a bit more helpful than AA. Well, AA was helpful, but most of the people that were there.. I got the feeling that maybe they were not the best candidates for helping others since it seemed like they were doing their best to just keep going on their own. Which is great, I support that, not everyone can give. Not everyone wants to.

What bothered me a lot was a feeling I got from some of the AA people that they were ashamed to be there. It wasn't a strong feeling, but it was still there. It kind of puzzled me.

November 8th, 2004

09:31 am: I forgot to add....
I forgot to add that yesterday, we stayed after church and asked the Reverend if the church could help us in providing support to the homeless, especially if we ended up taking Tom in to stay with us for awhile. We felt so lucky that we are members of an awesome church that is willing to help us- they even have AA and Al-Anon meetings every week. Actually, those groups are meeting there tonight, and I think I will go to see how they work and talk to the people there. Just in case Tom doesn't manage to get into a shelter or loses his place in line, Ron and I have decided that yes, we will take him in... though there is a lot of stuff to do beforehand. For example, if we do, we'll write up a contract stating exactly what his responsibilities would be while living with us, and what we would be willing to provide for him. And unfortunately, the time would be limited- we could only offer him about 6/7 weeks of shelter with us because on January 1st, we have committed to starting foster care.

Which brings me to another snag- will the foster care people be worried about the fact that we are helping a homeless person and he is staying with us for a little while? Even if he won't be staying with us while we are doing foster care, it still might alarm them. The Rev. helped us talk out some of these issues and I am kind of ashamed to admit I cried a lot... the stress of all of this is getting to me and I feel so helpless in the face of these problems. It's like the juxtaposition of walking into a third world country and then saying "hope you guys will be all right!" and walking back to my comfortable (if old) car and driving home. Having enough to eat, and more! It just.... I dunno, it has been mentally a huge stress on me. Perhaps I haven't even realized what a big stress it is. We prayed and Ron and I asked for guidance from God. I know that it's difficult for Ron to pray- we are both so open that we feel that God is too big to fit into just one religion- but that doesn't change the fact that we need the bigger support of God and people who are compassionate.

I feel that we got an answer to our prayers when we got the message from Tom- he doesn't seem to need to come stay with us right now, but I will keep it in mind as an option, and make sure I am prepared.

You might ask, why Tom? Don and Terry need help too... but the fact is, Don and Terry are not fighting anymore. I realize this. They've been on the street for so long, they are almost accustomed to it in a way (which is not to say they're not miserable on the street, they are.) But helping them is, I realize, beyond my reach. Whereas Tom has been on the street for less time; he has the desire to leave it, and will really make an effort. Though he's addicted to alcohol, I have a strong feeling that he can break his drinking habits because he is still fighting- Don is not.

My heart bleeds for Terry and Don, but my husband and I realize we have to start with the person we feel we could actually help. Tom is fighting his way up and to be honest, he may make it to a long-term shelter without much more help from us (other than the food, clothes, propane, and phone cards.) If he does get in a shelter, I'll visit him there, and help him write a resume and apply for jobs. He has skills as a carpenter which are really in demand right now- real estate is booming. I am hoping our mental support will pull him through. Where we go from there, I have no idea.

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