The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.
No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:
- 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
- 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
- 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
- 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”
We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?
A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.
Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.
My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?
UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number. Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?
With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:
Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
- If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
- By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.
Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:
- Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself, you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
- Bouillon Products
- Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
- Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
- Frozen Food Products
- Gravy Mix Products
- Prepared Salad Products
- Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
- Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
- Snack and Snack Mix Products
- Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
- Spread Products
- Stuffing Products
If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them. That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:
- Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.
But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.
Fool you once….
Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.
Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.
And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.
Fool you twice, shame on you
On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:
Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.
There’s a sea of water bottles to choose from out there, but the list grows really short, once you cast out all the bottles made in China. While the ideal portable water bottle may be stainless steel, you’ll not find one on my list (below) of recommended bottles. This is because, without exception, all stainless steel water bottles are made in China. According to one manufacturer I contacted, who’d recently added a line of stainless steel bottles to their line:
Stainless is literally impossible to manufacture in the US unless you can charge $100 per bottle. There were only 2 factories in the entire US that entertained the idea. One eventually said they couldn’t do it, and the other could do it but for a price nobody would pay.
They’re right, of course. While there are apparently many consumers who’d think nothing of shelling out $100 or $200 for a $2 canvas or nylon Juicy Couture or a Burberry bag made in China, (or, say, $300 for a purple nylon Prada cosmetics bag no bigger than an index card, and which was, in all likelihood, secretly made in China for less than a penny on the dollar) – these same people would rail at the idea of paying $100 for a stainless steel water bottle. Particularly for a water bottle that — come next year — might be just as un-trendy as last year’s $200 handbag. This arrangement works out just fine for trend-savvy consumers, who demand their water bottles not only hydrate them, but make a fashion statement as well. Fact is, most reusable water bottles are really only so for a short time before they fall apart, spring a leak, develop a yucky taste or are found to be toxic.
Those manufacturers were also right about the cost to manufacture that $100 stainless steel water bottle. This isn’t due, as we’ve been told, to the evils of unions and industry regulations & standards in the USA. It’s because, in the real world, that’s how much it costs to manufacture a stainless steel water bottle. Germany knows this. Japan knows it. Canada knows it. Switzerland knows it. France knows it. Otherwise, they’d all be making their own stainless steel bottles, instead of setting up shop in China. And why shouldn’t they? After all, China is cranking them out by the millions for a fraction of the real world cost.
Case in point: Until Thermos shipped their operations over to China, the price for a 32 oz. stainless steel Thermos bottle was keeping pace (just like the cost of sugar, cotton, iron, steel and labor) with the Consumer Price Index of the BLS. So, yes, according to the BLS calculator, the $15 price tag on that 1960 stainless Thermos bottle would now be just over $100. That is, were the bottle still being made in the USA — or for that matter in any developed country where workers are paid fair wages, and where a modicum of industrial, environmental, worker and product safety standards are observed.
Yet, a stainless steel water bottle can easily be bought today for a mere $5 – a third of what they cost 50 years ago! The lack of a lifetime guarantee — or even a guarantee that, a year down the road, this same bottle won’t be found to contain toxic materials — seems to be no impediment to the lure of goods made in China.
All of which goes to explain the absence of stainless steel water bottles on my list. That leaves just glass and plastic, neither of which I’d recommend buying from China. The glass bottles I recommend are made in either the USA or Italy (with the latter made by Bormioli Rocco, the renowned maker of pharmaceutical, food-grade and fine glassware vessels). The plastic bottles are all made in the USA, with two partial exceptions to the rule, which are boldly noted in my descriptions, below.
But first, an update on BPA and phthalates….
All of the plastic bottles below are advertised as being free of the more famous endocrine disruptors — BPA and phthalates – with which most consumers are now familiar. However, the emerging science, which we’ll be hearing about soon enough, indicates that BPA and phthalates (such as DEHA and DEHP), are only a few of the hundreds of endocrine disrupting, estrogenic-active (EA) chemicals used in plastic manufacturing. And because EA chemicals tend to accumulate in the body with repeated exposures, and because they may also be associated with health issues ranging from from birth defects, low birth weight, diabetes, obesity, genetic damage and learning disorders, to male sterility and reproductive cancers, this seems an important factor for anyone — but particularly those with health problems or a compromised immune system – to consider when purchasing plastic products for personal use. To date, only one company, Hydrapak, has taken a pioneering role in addressing this concern and made a plastic water bottle certified to be EA-free. For this reason, Hydrapak’s PureBot water bottle tentatively (until the science tells us otherwise) earns the number one slot among plastic water bottles. But the number one choice for water bottles is glass which, after 3,000 years, is still the cat’s pajamas.
- HercuGlass Water Bottles (the almost unbreakable water bottle)– Face it, cold water just tastes better out of a glass bottle. If you grew up in the 1950s-60s, like me, and your mom kept one of those classic green glass bottles in the fridge, you know what I’m talking about. While there’s no such thing as break-proof glass, HercuGlass is designed to withstand drops that would shatter most glass. (Watch some trial drops in this YouTube video). These water bottles are available in 3 basic styles — flasks, sports bottles and the classic European mineral water bottle shape. The capacities range from 8 ounces to 34 ounces. Because they’re glass, all you taste is pure water. Plus, you can also drink fruit juices or add a lemon slice without fear of it interacting with the plastic. The manufacturing process on HercuGlass is a little different than most glassware, as the bottles undergo an additional ion-strengthening process, developed at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. The end result is a line of high-strength glassware — from beer steins to canning jars to water bottles — tested to withstand up to 7-foot drops without breaking. (But just to be safe, the company also sells $6 zip-up Koozies with their water bottles for insulation and as added protection against breakage.) While hikers, cyclists, campers and college students reportedly use HercuGlass water bottles without incident, there’s no getting around the fact that glass does require extra precaution to carry, which may be too impractical for some people and some situations. For those people, this bottle would still make a fine water bottle for home use, bed-side hydration and lighter-duty travels — perfect occasions for setting aside the plastic bottle which, no matter how you spin it, is inferior to glass in every way, except portability. Average price $8.45 to $14.95, depending on size/style. Made in either the USA or Italy, depending upon which bottle style you choose.
- PureBot Aside from being certified EA-free, the PureBot is durable, dishwasher safe, and reasonably priced. I’ve tried this bottle myself and found it to be leak-proof, lightweight, with no off-taste from the plastic. I like the pull-up sports top, which means it’s simple to get a drink of water — no unscrewing of lids, no sucking like a hamster, no ingenious contraptions to fall apart. (I could wish for an attached dirt/germ cover of some sort, but I’m not complaining). I also like the wide-mouth lid, which makes it easy to fill with ice cubes. It’s made of recyclable #4 plastic and comes in only two color-design choices (a grassy scene and a blue squiggly design), which may be a bummer if you’re the sort who also demands a fashion statement from your water bottle. This bottle is available in only a few select fitness/athletic stores, which means that most of us will have to buy it online, via Hydrapak. At this reasonable price, it may be worth taking up a pool and buying several to save on shipping costs. Average cost $9.99 for a 24 oz. bottle. Made in Texas, USA.
- Platypus Soft Bottle The first thing you need to know about the Platy, as it’s users affectionately call this water bottle, is that this is not really a bottle at all, but a bag that looks remarkably similar to an IV bag. As such, it is almost guaranteed to draw questions and comments from curious onlookers. The reviews of seasoned Platypus users are nearly always glowing. For starters, the Platy is astoundingly durable and featherlight — a huge plus for campers and hikers. While I don’t personally recommend heating plastic — ever — Platy users routinely freeze or boil the bag, using it for anything from from ice water to hot coffee (hence its double-duty as an ice pack or a hot water bottle). Most users report that it leaves no off-taste and rarely springs a leak — even after up to 10 years of heavy-duty use. And because it’s a bag, its shape conforms, unlike hard bottles, to fit inside purses, totes, luggage and backpacks when full. And when empty, you hardly know it’s there. Simply fold it and slip into your pocket or bag. The drawbacks? Some bag designs require a longer attention span to fill with water, and — although you can put it into the dishwasher — the only way to really cleaning the bag is to swish soapy water around the inside, then rinse. The larger bags require two hands to hold while drinking. Plus, if you’re the sort who likes to make a fashion statement, there’s nothing like sucking on an IV bag to convey the message, “I’m too sexy for my water.” Sizes range from a .5 liter (17 ounce) bag to 1 liter (about a quart) to a whopping 3 liter or even a gallon bag (for campers and such). There are several drinking apparatuses available — the hyper-flow bite valve, the push-pull sports cap, and the closure cap (a generic bottle lid, just like the ones on disposable water bottles). Average price $7.95 and up, depending on size. Made by Cascade Designs in the USA.
OTHER NOTES: I’m not sure what the Platypus is made of, as the company site (Cascade Designs) is down. According to one (likely incorrect) product description, it is made of “welded, triple-layer plastic laminate lined with food-grade polyethylene.” Another description — likely the correct one — reports that the Playpus is made of “#5 polypropylene plastic”. If I remember to, I’ll update this info once the Cascade Design site returns. For now, we at least know that, unlike some of the plastic bottles on this page, the Platypus is genuinely recyclable
- Thermos Tritan Copolyester Intak water bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The lid on this bottle was made in China. The bottle itself is made in the USA). The Thermos line of Intak bottles is made from Tritan CoPolyester, which is rigid, clear and claims to be BPA-free. The Intak offers 3 drinking apparatus designs — the screw-off lid, the straw, and the pop-up lid with spout. The first two designs (both 18 oz. bottles) have problems. The screw-off lid is a pain in the neck. The straw design is worse, as the water tends to sneak and wick up the straw between drinks, then dribble out (or, alternately, will create a geyser-effect and spray you when you open the straw). But I can highly recommend the pop-up lid design, which I’ve tried. I like the way it keeps the drinking spout covered between drinks — an important consideration for anyone working or playing in the dirt, or for those who might be using their bottle in germ-ridden places, esp. hospitals and doctor’s offices. There are two caveats. One, this bottle must be carried upright, as it may leak if carried sideways or upside-down. The Thermos company acknowledges this as the trade-off to creating this spiffy, easy-to-use drinking apparatus. The second caveat is about the little plastic seal in the lid of the cap. Don’t lose it. According to some users, this seal falls off, gets lost and renders the bottle terribly leaky. I’ve not had this problem — the seal seems quite secure — but, then, I always hand-wash plastic. I don’t put it into a dishwasher, which I suspect may play a role in making these seals more prone to falling off. Average price $8 to $12, widely available. Bottle made in the USA, lid made in China.
OTHER NOTES: Tritan Copolyester is a #7 plastic, which means that — until further notice — it is not recyclable in most municipalities. Lastly, according to the Thermos representative I contacted, all of their products are made in China, except for their plastic bottles.
- Nalgene water bottles Nalgene offers 3 lines of bottles that claim to be BPA-free: Tritan Copolyester, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and LDPE (low-density polyethylene). Within these three lines are many sizes/colors/styles/drinking apparatuses from which to choose. I have not tried these bottles but — like the Thermos Intak (above) — people seem to either love or hate them. This is primarily a matter of personal preference for one design/configuration over another. Amazon is a good place to read consumer reviews regarding the pros and cons on any given design/configuration to see what will best suit you. Average price $5 to $12, depending on size/design. According to the person I contacted at Nalgene, the bottle and lids are both made in New York, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Nalgene is phasing out its line of polycarbonate bottles, which do contain BPA. All of their standard water bottles are recyclable except for the Tritan Copolyester — a #7 plastic which is, again, not recyclable in most municipalities. Nalgene also carries a water bottle (bag) similar to the Platypus, however, it is made in China.
- Polar Bottles (EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The foil liners on these bottles are made in China. The rest of the bottle is made in the USA). Designed for cyclists, these nifty plastic bottles are made of LDPE and have an insulating outer cover, which keeps water cold and also helps prevent sweating. The drinking valve is made of urethane, which may or may not be an issue. I’m no chemist. I’ve not used this bottle, but it generally gets rave reviews from users, although (because this is a squeeze-type bottle) some complain about the amount of pressure necessary to squeezing water out. This may be an important consideration for younger folk (with smaller hands) or for anyone whose hand strength is not up to par. The Polar Bottle is BPA-free, recyclable, and offers a diverse color selection, with prices ranging from $9 to $12. Except for the outer liner, the bottle is made in Colorado, USA.
OTHER NOTES: Why did I made exceptions on the no-China rule with the Polar Bottle and Thermos Tritan components? Mainly to offer more choices, as there are really so few bottles being made in the USA. Here, it’s reasonable to expect that — since the bottles themselves are made in the USA, and because the liner and cap are not in constant contact with the drinking water — there may be less opportunity for leaching.
Bio Plastic Bottles There are several companies in the U.S. making water bottles from so-called “green” or bio plastics, which are variously made of corn and other vegetable matter (some of them GMO) and/or have additives in the plastic to help them biodegrade within just a few months or years, rather than the 1,000 for conventional plastics. Good idea. But the emphasis seems to be on biodegradability, with little attention paid to personal safety, in terms of what these plastics may be leaching into drinking water. This question is particularly pertinent to bio plastics with applied colors and designs – a matter than has yet to be raised in the drinking-water community, but which has been raised in the medical industry, during their trial efforts to use (and apply labeling to) these plastics. Also, while these bottles claim to be sustainably made and recyclable, they’re all #7 plastics, so they’re not really recyclable just yet. Users report off-putting tastes in these bio-plastics just as often as in conventional plastic. Bio plastics may or may not be a step in the right direction, in terms of sustainability, but in terms of their safety as drinking vessels, I’ve not found the research and testing to back this up. So I can’t give a thumbs-up, just yet, to bio plastics.
Aluminum or stainless steel water bottles — The only metal bottle not being made in China is the Siggs aluminum water bottle, made in Switzerland, which continues draw concerns — not only because of the questionable safety of drinking from aluminum, but from the ongoing concerns over the unknown safety of the resin liners in these bottles. Responding to these concerns, Siggs recently introduced their Steelworks line of stainless steel bottles, made in (where else?) China.
And speaking of China…
Because China has a proven track record of manufacturing steel products contaminated with everything from lead to cadmium, asbestos, Cobalt-60 and other radioactive wastes, I wouldn’t recommend any stainless steel water bottle from China, no matter how heroic the safety measures and guarantees, such as this one from a manufacturer of children’s stainless steel water bottles:
“We are an American company however our products are manufactured in China. We have done everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards. To do so, we visit our factories frequently. The factories are very clean, orderly and humane. Most importantly, they are ISO (International Standards of Operation) certified which is very difficult to attain and comes from an outside agency that audits for manufacturing processes and standards. Finally, we have the independent testing lab, STR, test all elements of our products from the steel and plastic compounds, to FDA and European child safety standards, to the durability of the stainless steel body – just to make sure.”
Just to make sure, I could ramble off a list of other manufacturers who, just a few years ago, were making similar claims claims about doing “everything to ensure our factories, worker conditions and products are up to our standards,” in the manufacturing of their brands of baby food, baby formula, baby furniture, children’s toys & jewelry, apple juice, cookies, dishes, exploding frying pans, dog food, rice, tea, chocolates, toothpaste, shampoo, clothing and drywall, that were later discovered (doh!) to contain melamine or dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde and/or a host of other contaminants.
Yet, American companies continue to tell us that the costs are too prohibitive to manufacture goods in the U.S.A. It’s somehow cheaper to do it in China — even with all the extra effort and manpower necessary “just to be sure” that their products don’t fall prey to the China-recall syndrome. Perhaps it’s the lack of environmental regulations. Or the lack of worker safety standards. Or the cheap ingredients. Or the shoddy workmanship. Or the slave-wage labor (12-cents an hour will buy you a lot more sweat than the living wages paid in the U.S.). Whatever it is, it must be worth it, because American companies continue to flock like lemmings to China, assuring us as they go that they are doing “everything” to assure the safety of these products.
If these manufacturers were genuinely concerned about the health and safety of their customers (not to mention the health of the American economy), they’d pull up stakes and move shop back to the USA. And not to a private US-prison, with its own built-in slave labor work force, but to a genuine American factory, just like in the old days, when we had a viable economy. And they’d quit bellyaching about complying with environmental, industry, worker safety and product safety regulations and standards. Because, truth is, our hands aren’t so clean, either. The U.S.A. turns out its own share of toxic, shoddily constructed products. We just don’t hear about it.
The bottom line is this: The cost of manufacturing goods in China has long been too prohibitive to the health of the American consumer — not to mention our economy. These so called “American” manufacturers might be surprised to know just how many people would gladly shell out the extra bucks to buy a water bottle (or a yard of fabric, a crib, a toy, a book, a tube of toothpaste, a dress, a purse, a bag of dog food, a bicycle, a candy bar, a cell phone, a smoked salmon, a television, a desk, a bottle of vitamins, and most anything you can name) that was not grown, processed and/or manufactured in China.
If one of these manufacturers would be so bold as to try peddling integrity as well as Juicy Couture and Prada market vanity, they could make a handsome profit. It doesn’t take much googling to see that the world is full of people looking for products not made in China. They’re not looking for another $5 stainless steel bottle made in China. Just a product they can be reasonably certain will not poison them, injure them, or make them sick.
Spin the Bottle
Back when I was a kid, we used to dig really deep holes in the sandbox — going for bedrock because, rumor had it, if we kept digging, we might reach China. So imagine my surprise to find myself today — all grown up, and still digging my way to China. This seems to be the only way anymore to find out where a product was made: start digging and keep digging until you get there.
This has been the case whether researching water bottles, board games, cosmetics & toiletries, fabrics, furniture or toys. It seems that companies are getting more and more clever about dodging the topic or disguising the country-of-origin in their advertising and on their websites. Over time, I’ve learned to spot some of the red flags. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, such as:
- When a company brags about being “headquartered” or “based” in the US, or that its product was “developed in the US,” or “designed in the US,” yet makes no mention of where their product was manufactured….
- Or if a company boasts that they are in “close partnership” with their global team, or that they “adhere to the strictest quality standards in their manufacturing,” yet makes no mention of where their product was made….
- Or if a company proudly tacks the letters “USA” to the end of its name, yet is remiss in mentioning where their products are actually made….
- Or if a company brags overlong about its 100 year history — offering, perhaps, a detailed timeline, beginning with Grandpa’s drug store in Podunk, New York — yet neglects to mention in whose third-world basement this product is now being made….
- Or if a company gushes green over their concern for the health of the planet and its people — and has a artfully laid out website, complete with a with a tasteful, minimalist line of products to back up their claim (and may even be involved in noble, charitable works to bring clean water to impoverished people) — yet makes no mention of where their oh-so sustainable, green, recycled, recyclable, responsibly manufactured products are being manufactured, you can bet the bank that they’re being made in China.
Still, it’s a basic human kindness to give them the benefit of a doubt. When in doubt, ask. Give them a call or write a short, polite email. Most, but not all companies will write you back. The usual explanation goes, “We found it prohibitive to manufacture this product in the USA.” But sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised to hear the voice on the other end of the phone tell you, “Yes, we make all of our products in the USA!”
Still, all this digging makes me a bit tired and soul-weary. I’ve dug my way to China more times than I can count, and I’m here to tell you its not as enchanting as I envisioned back in my sandbox days. But I made it, and I’m back to report that there are a lot of water bottles being made on the other side of the world. Here are a few:
- Bean Canteen
- Charity Bottle
- Contigo (Made by Ignite USA)
- Crocodile Creek
- DAJO Adventure Gear
- Fit & Fresh LivPure
- Good Life Gear
- Great American Products
- Guyot Designs
- Klean Kanteen
- Lifeline (including an extensive line of “Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness” stainless steel water bottles)
- Liquid Logic
- Lock & Lock
- Nalgene Canteen
- New Wave
- PMCI (Penn Marketing Co, Inc.)
- PMI (Pacific Marketing International)
- Pure Hydration
- Shinzi Katoh
- Siggs (Stainless Steel bottles only)
- Thermos (all lines but the plastic)
- Together Bottles
- US Canteen
So long as we keep buying them, these manufacturers will keep giving us exactly what we demand — millions of cheap, pretty bottles that may or may not be hazardous to our health. Chances are, we’ll never know.
submitted by L. Lance
Last week I got the news that my 17 year old niece’s liver is “shot.” Tests are pending to determine how this diagnosis will effect the potential of a bright, intelligent, beautiful young woman who, until last week, believed that the greatest challenge before her was financing her college education. According to her doctor, the liver damage is the result of “unintentional overdosing” on Tylenol + allergy medications.
Most of us have heard at least a few of these stories about people who inadvertently took “too much” Tylenol — stories about people who unknowingly and unintentionally overdosed by taking Tylenol + other medications that contain acetaminophen: stories about perfectly healthy people who, out of the blue, developed acute liver failure and died.
There are some who would like us to believe that liver damage from acetaminophen is entirely self-inflicted — the result of suicide attempts, or a by-product of alcoholism or pain-killer addiction. While these may account for a large number of the cases, research has also been revealing, for years now, that a surprising number of cases involve people who were taking the recommended dose — or less — or who unknowingly took several medications containing acetaminophen. And it doesn’t take years or even weeks to deliver a fatal dose to your liver. It takes only a few days. Just a few days of accidentally doing the wrong thing.
According to a July 2009 LA Times piece, acetaminophen overdose is the #1 cause of acute liver failure in the United States. And, unlike other forms of liver failure that take years to develop, such as with alcoholism and disease, acute liver failure from acetaminophen overdose can develop in just 48 hours. In California, alone, of the nearly 8,000 cases of actual acetaminophen overdose in 2008, 4,368 were unintentional.
This has grown to be such a problem that other countries, such as the UK (whose evil socialist government “runs” health care and therefore — unlike the U.S. — has a financial stake in the health and well-being of its citizens) have made changes to the dosage, packaging and marketing of acetaminophen in an effort to put the brakes on what had become an epidemic of acute liver failure due to acetaminophen overdose. These efforts have cut back dramatically on the incidence of acute liver failure from unintentional acetaminophen overdoses.
The U.S. tried something similar last year. The title to the June 2009 ABC news report pretty well summed up the impetus: FDA Panel Urges Cuts in Acetaminophen Dosage: Concerns Over Unintentional Overdose Hazards May Change How Drug Is Marketed
Here, history seems to be repeating itself. In 1977, an FDA advisory panel issued an urgent recommendation that Tylenol labels be required to carry this warning: “Do not exceed recommended dosage because severe liver damage may occur.” The emerging science concurred, as seen in this 1979 news article:
It took nearly 30 years of ignoring the science and millions in wrongful death lawsuits against Tylenol, but the FDA finally heeded the panel’s urgent recommendation. As of 2006, Tylenol labels began warning that taking more than 8 Extra Strength Tylenol tablets can cause severe liver damage. Last year’s urgent recommendations to the FDA have been similarly left to collect dust. For the record, the panel’s four recommendations were as follows:
- Lowering the maximum total daily dose of nonprescription acetaminophen for adults, which is currently set at 4,000 mg. per day [which makes sense, considering that, according to the warnings info on the Tylenol website, 4,000 mg. per day is safe, but anything over this may cause “severe liver damage,” which seems an awfully tight rope to walk, considering that one pill per day too much can mean the difference between a “safe” dose and severe liver damage].
- Reducing the maximum single dose of non-prescription acetaminophen for adults to 650 mg from the current maximum of 1,000 mg [which also makes sense, considering that one could dutifully follow the label directions on Extra Strength Tylenol to take “two caplets every 4 to 6 hours” — perhaps overlooking or downplaying the importance of the warning to not exceed 8 caplets in 24 hours — only to unintentionally overdose (6 doses x 1000 mg. = 6,000 mg per day) to the tune of 2,000 mg. over the safe limit per day].
- Making this 1,000 mg. adult single dose by prescription only [Reminder for those terrified of big government intrusion into your lives: this regulation wouldn’t prohibit determined people from doubling up and taking as many over-the-counter mgs. as they please; it would only make the dispensing of this higher risk dosage less haphazard than it currently is.]
- Eliminating acetaminophen from combination prescription products.” [Another reminder for folk terrified of big government take-overs: this regulation would not take away your Vicodin and Percocet. It would only remove acetaminophen from these products, to help avoid the potential for overdosing on acetaminophen. There would be nothing preventing you from taking over-the-counter acetaminophen with your Vicodin and Percocet].
In response to these recommendations, the makers of Tylenol — McNeil Consumer Healthcare – released a statement:
“While we share the FDA’s mutual goal of preventing and decreasing the misuse and overdose of acetaminophen, we have concerns that some of the FDA recommendations could discourage appropriate use and are not necessary to addressing the root causes of acetaminophen overdose.”
At first read, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what the folks at Tylenol hoped to convey in this statement.
Is their goal to spare others the fate of, say, my 17-year old niece? If so, then it would have behooved them to extrapolate a bit on the terms, “appropriate use” and “root causes of acetaminophen overdose.” Otherwise they run the risk of appearing to be more concerned about their profit margin than the margin of safety for those who use Tylenol.
But since they didn’t extrapolate — and since the advice of the FDA panel has yet to be followed — I’ll seize the mantle. Allow me to extrapolate because, according to the FDA, “about half of the deaths associated with taking painkillers containing acetaminophen are due to unintended overdoses.” Allow me to extrapolate, so that I may enlighten the average American consumer to what I wish my sister-in-law had known 17 years ago — back when the makers of Tylenol were still arguing with science and stonewalling efforts to post warnings on their labels — back when my sister-in-law first started medicating my niece with Tylenol in conjunction with various allergy and cold medications, many of which also contained acetaminophen. Allow me to extrapolate.
By my math, if a parent dutifully follows these instructions, then — over the period of 24 hours — they will have dispensed 7 doses of Tylenol to their child, which is, if you bother to read the accompanying warning on the package, two doses too many — precisely enough to cause, according to the package, “severe liver damage.”
One could hardly blame parents — preoccupied with the needs of their sick child — for not doing the math, for failing to notice that the dosing instructions are utterly contradicted by this warning: “Severe liver damage may occur if your child takes more than 5 doses in 24 hours.”
The packaging for Regular Strength Tylenol for adults contains a similar mathematical sleight of hand, as adults are advised to take “2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours” (which could equate to 14 tablets per day), even as their warning utterly contradicts this advice: “Severe liver damage may occur if adult takes more than 12 tablets in 24 hours.”
If the folk at Tylenol were genuinely interested in “addressing the root causes of acetaminophen overdose,” they might have opted to be more clear in the instructions on their Children and Adult Tylenol packages by simply directing: “Take every 6 hours.”
The problem is — and we all know this — Tylenol tends to wear off in 4 hours. To someone in pain, or to a parent with a feverish child, the implicit permission to dose every 4 hours is not only a blessing, it’s a necessity. Six hours is just too long. The folks who peddle acetaminophen know this. We all know this. How to market a product with this built-in flaw — where the de facto effective dose is also enough to potentially cause acute liver failure?
The answer seems to be this: Give 2 sets of contradictory instructions, then put the onus of noticing the discrepancy onto the consumer. Riddle consumers with a mystery wrapped inside an enigma, then tell them, “We’ve told you, in so many words, what to do. If you screw up and heed the wrong set of instructions, don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
To this end, the folk at Tylenol waged an ad campaign telling their customers, “If you’re not going to take Tylenol properly, we’d rather you didn’t take it at all.”
A math-savvy consumer could counter this with, “If you’re not going to tell your customers how to properly take Tylenol, we’d rather you didn’t sell the stuff.”
NOTE: For practical advice on avoiding accidental acetaminophen overdose, Medicine.net has some sound guidelines to follow, including the advice to not exceed the recommended maximum dose per day, which seems the safest bet, given the ambiguities of the label directions on every single acetaminophen package I’ve consulted.
Because, earth to acetaminophen peddlers, no matter how carefully you follow the letter of the law — carefully protecting yourself from liability by printing mathematical enigmas on your packaging, which are supposed to suffice as warnings — the fact is that most people think of Tylenol as an entirely safe drug, never suspecting that, given the perfect storm of circumstances, the threshold between a “safe” dose and a potentially liver-damaging dose may be as little as one pill per day over the course of a few days.
Equally disconcerting are the factors that go into making this perfect storm — such as being sick with the flu and not eating or drinking normally for a few days. This, in itself, is enough to tip the “safe” dose into the liver-damaging category, which Tylenol sort of, kind of hints at on their site in so many words.
HOW MANY DAYS IS IT “SAFE” TO TAKE TYLENOL? (The translation)
According to the warnings on the Tylenol site for the Children’s Tylenol:
- Pain gets worse or lasts more than 5 days.
- Fever gets worse or lasts more than 3 days.
- It is not safe for a child to take Tylenol for longer than 5 days, (10 days for an adult) unless directed by a doctor.
- A sick child (or adult or anorexic), who may not be eating or drinking normally, should not take Tylenol for more than 3 days.
The latter point was more authoritatively stated by Dr. Robert Squires, clinical director of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University Pittsburgh School of Medicine. As written in the above-mentioned ABC news article from last June:
“While four grams per day for a day is safe, [NOTE: 4 grams = the 12-tablet maximum dosage on the adult Tylenol package] there may be circumstances that would make this dose problematic,” he said. These circumstances, he said, could include cases in which acetaminophen pills are taken with other acetaminophen medication, taken with alcohol, or taken in association with the prolonged fasting one might experience when they are sick.
It would surely come as a surprise to many Tylenol users to know that — should they be off their feed for a few days while sick with, say, the flu while simultaneously taking Tylenol according to label instructions — they might be “unintentionally overdosing” on acetaminophen. All the worse if they are also taking other medications for cold, cough or sinus symptoms that contain acetaminophen. Too, you’d hardly think that just a few days of taking the recommended dose of Tylenol could have such dire effects.
Or, in the case of my niece, that you could be engaged in everyday teenage pursuits — learning to drive, going to the beach with friends, planning college, arguing with your mother, sneaking text-messages in class, over-obsessing about your imperfections — only to be told, seemingly out of the blue, that your liver is “shot.”
According to an AP news report released today, the FBI is “wrapping up one of its most vexing investigations” by closing the case on Bruce Ivins, thereby formally ending, “the long, frustrating hunt for the killer after years of false leads, no arrest and public criticism.”
A sad ending to a sad story about a man who was posthumously convicted for crimes which — if evidence counts for anything — he didn’t commit.
Too, the words, “public criticism” seem so mild — a euphemism, really — for the depth of grief and outrage expressed by those who knew Bruce Ivins best. Nor do these words begin to describe the reactions felt by those who didn’t know Bruce Ivins at all — but who recognized, in his persecution and his tragic passing, the death of American justice itself. “Public criticism” is such a benign phrase for the fight that I, myself, tried to wage in words as I watched a fellow human being — an American citizen, at that — fall prey to the Dick Cheney One-Percent Doctrine, a legalized form of witchhunting that, beginning in 2001, replaced over 200 years of constitutional law in this country.
Today, in memory of Bruce Ivins, I am posting some of the “public criticism” that has been waged on behalf of Mr. Ivins. The first two statements were made yesterday, in response to the FBI’s announcement that that were closing the case and naming Bruce Ivins as the sole person reponsible for the antrax mailings:
- Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, whose district included the Princeton mailbox used in the attacks, said of the FBI’s decision to close the case: “This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning. The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court. But because their prime suspect is dead and they’re not going to court, they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case.”
- According to this same AP report, Ivins’ lawyer, Paul Kemp, said “There’s absolutely no evidence he did anything. All they have confirmed is that they suspected him belatedly after finding out he had psychological problems. Sadly, they substitute that for proof.”
Below are some of the comments spoken by those who knew Bruce Ivins best. These are re-posted from my August 2008 post on Bruce Ivins, with direct quotes in bold italics:
- Ivans’ attorney, Paul F. Kemp, asserted Ivins’ innocence and stated that Ivans had been cooperating with the anthrax probe for more than six years, using his expertise as a scientist to help the government, and had also been cooperating for over a year, after the investigation was turned toward Ivins. In a statement made after Ivins’ death, Kemp said, “We are saddened by his death, and disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to defend his good name and reputation in a court of law.” In another statement, Kemp said, “We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have established that at trial. The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people, as has already been seen in this investigation. In Dr. Ivins’ case, it led to his untimely death.”
- Dr. Russell Byrne — Bruce Ivins’ friend and colleague for 15 years — believes that federal investigators were going after the wrong person, and that it was their pressure on Ivins that led to his suicide. In an interview with MSNBC, Dr. Byrne describes the effect the investigation had on Ivins, starting a year ago, as it incapicatated him to working. Dr. Byrnes scoffed at the “ridiculous motives” offered by federal investigators, and cited examples to disprove their claims against Ivins.
- Arthur O. Anderson, a medical doctor and scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, and a co-worker for many years, said of Dr. Ivins, “He was concerned with how the Institute was perceived and how he was perceived. That manifested itself in the care he took in conducting his research.” Dr. Anderson futher described Ivins as “a hard-working individual with a high level of integrity and pride in both his workplace and his individual work.” Dr. Anderson believe in Ivins’ innocence and believes that Ivins has been used as a scapegoat in the anthrax case.
- Retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Adamovicz — former director of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID — told The News that the FBI’s probe into the 2001 anthrax killings had upended the work of the lab by turning scientists into suspects – and pushed his pal over the edge. “I just cannot see that Bruce would in any way, shape or form be responsible for something like that,” he said. “I’d like to see these charges substantiated, because just like [with] Dr. Hatfill, there could be nothing to these allegations.” He said the FBI has created a psychologically toxic atmosphere for scientists at Fort Detrick. “We were there processing information for agents and then one day they turned around and treated us all like suspects. The agents’ criteria for additional suspicion was “who’s working the most overtime,” said Adamovicz, who also was questioned by the feds. “The Bruce I knew,” Adamovicz said, “would not have anything to do with this.” In statement to the Washington Post, Adamovicz said, “I really don’t think he’s the guy. I say to the FBI, ‘Show me your evidence’.” He added, referring to the intense investigative pressure on Ivins, “A lot of the tactics they used were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.”
- Friends and neighbors said he was an avid gardener, an active walker and a volunteer with the Red Cross. Ivins and his wife of 33 years, Diane, had 24-year-old twins, whom they raised in a modest white house with red shutters across the street from Fort Detrick in Frederick, where Ivins worked at the U.S. Army’s institute for infectious diseases.
- “Anybody that knew Bruce through his church affiliation is just dumbfounded,” said Bill McCormick, who attended St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick with Ivins for 25 years. He said Ivins was a “quiet, giving kind of guy,” and the news that he was about to be charged in the attacks did not fit with the Ivins he knew.
- David Danley, who worked with Ivins at Fort Detrick to develop a new anthrax vaccine for almost 10 years until 2003, says he has a hard time believing Ivins could be the anthrax killer. He remembers a cute gesture he would make to his daughter when they would see Ivins at their church. “My daughter was involved in a little theater in Frederick,” Danley said. “And whenever she was in a musical, she would walk into church, and [Ivins] would be at the piano. And he would start playing a tune from the musical she was in … just as a quiet sort of hello.”
- Two military scientists who had worked closely with Ivins on projects for years, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday they were stunned and angry that he was being depicted as a suspect in the attacks without hard evidence being released by the FBI.
- “Nobody thinks Bruce did it,” said one scientist. He described Ivins as “socially awkward, but he certainly wasn’t a recluse or a hermit.” He added, “He was kind of a geeky scientist.”
- Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, who worked with Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick, says he thinks the government needed a scapegoat. He says the FBI was under a lot of pressure after paying nearly $6 million to Steven Hatfill — another researcher who had been under suspicion in the anthrax attacks. “Unfortunately, Bruce Ivins was a good guy — he was probably more vulnerable, and with the pressure they applied to him, they forced him to this position,” Hedlund remembers the scientist as an outgoing, friendly man who juggled at parties. Hedlund says he feels sorry for Ivins’ wife and children, and he is bothered by what he calls the government’s rush to say the problem is solved. “It’s a damn shame that they’ve chosen him as a fall guy, and I think they’ve chosen him as a fall guy because he was too human,” Hedlund says.
- Another colleague said, “I’ve talked to several friends, and we’re all just really sad and shocked. I hate to see him painted as a person who could’ve done this.”
- The official statement issued by USAMRIID in the wake of Mr. Ivin’s death said, “The agency mourns the loss of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who served the institute for more than 35 years as a civilian microbiologist.” Time magazine commented: “That seems like an unusual thing to say if you believe one of your employees had something to do with an anthrax attack. It now remains incumbent on the FBI to reveal what information it had linking Ivins to the attacks. Given the federal government’s record on the anthrax investigation, and the national security interests involved, Ivins’ death should not be used as an excuse for the case to be closed without a full, public airing.”
- Several of Ivins’ neighbors said they believe the government had the wrong man — and suggest that perhaps the real killer is still out there.
- “I feel so badly for his family,” said Duggan, an adult-education worker who has lived next to the Ivinses since they bought the 1,500-square-foot house in 1990. It was just the opposite, she said. Whenever she saw him on the street, he would wave heartily and they would chat. She said he walked regularly, perhaps to help his bad back. When she needed a chain saw for some yard work, Ivins showed up and did the job. “Bruce was the kind of neighbor that anyone would want to have,” Duggan said.
* * * * *
Somewhere along the way (while we were sleeping I suppose, but long before the case was officially “solved”) the anthrax case was renamed “Amerithrax” as a cue to remind us that this was a domestic terrorism case. The name change became a necessity, of course, once it became known that one of the anthrax strains that was mailed in the letters came from a U.S. government labratory and could no longer be passed off as the handiwork of al Qaeda, intent on perpetuating the terror of 9-11.
The good news was that, by then, the anthrax had served its purpose. It paved the way to the passing of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and, in the process , whipped Congress and the media into compliance, lest they wanted to be called soft on terror or terrorist appeasers, which is a real bummer when it comes to ratings and re-election bids.
The bad news was that — even with all the tools at the FBI’s disposal — it turned out to be more difficult than anyone imagined, this business of framing an innocent man for a crime he didn’t commit.
What sounded so good in theory — accusing Bruce Ivins of being a mad scientist bent on testing a new vaccine for this Ames strain of anthrax — turned out to be impractical, since (d’oh!) not all of the anthrax letters contained the same strain of anthrax.
Too, there was that Nevada-Malaysia letter, which may or may not have contained anthrax and pornography, and which neither Steven Hatfield or Bruce Ivins could possibly have mailed (double d’oh!). Not to mention that the precise strain of anthrax sent to Senators Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle was identical to one of the strains in the possession of the CIA, which the CIA initially concealed from the FBI during the early investigation.
The theory now is that Bruce Ivins’ motive came from “intense personal and professional pressure,” over fears that the funding for his anthrax vaccine research would be phased out. As evidence, Bruce Ivins sure did write and say some strange things, didn’t he? God forbid that other people’s interpretations of my most stupid moments, my rantings, my foibles — or yours — should ever be held up as evidence of a crime.
If the early settlers to this country and the later pro-Americans of the McCarthy era learned nothing from their mistakes, history at least knows: when we deviate from our laws, from our constitution, we place our democracy at risk, not to mention our humanity. But this is old news. Let’s move forward. Prologue schomlogue, there’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on the past.
As the old saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. This applies to the latest fiction circulating the internet about this “new” law in South Carolina — the Subversive Activities Registration Act — which requires subversive groups to register with the Secretary of State and pay a $5 processing fee, or face a $25,00 fine and/or up to 10 years in jail.
For starters, this law is nearly 50 years old, a relic from the McCarthy era Red Scare — no different from the laws that still exist on the books in many states. The fact that this dusty South Carolina law is on the books is not new, nor is it news.
However, the fact that four South Carolina state senators recently filed a bill to repeal this law may very well be news. Think about it. What would compel four Republican senators from South Carolina (the first state to secede from the Union and the next-to-the-last state to relinquish Jim Crow segregation) to repeal a law requiring subversive groups to register with the Secretary of State?
I’m just saying.
Think about it. Take a closer look at these four Republican senators — all of whom jumped onto the tea party bandwagon with both feet, all of whom have spent the past year as part of the “tenthers” movement and any other movement that constitutes an affront to the Obama Administration — and ask yourself: What do you suppose would compel them to want to repeal this dusty old law?
Senator Lee Bright: Sponsored Senate Bill 424 in February 2009 to “remind” the U.S. Congress of South Carolina’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. It took a year of fighting with South Carolina Democrats, but the Republicans finally won out, as — just a few weeks ago — the S.C. Senate officially and for the record declared our state’s right to just say no to the federal government. Afterward, Senator Bright said he was “glad to be finished with the protracted battle,” then added with a laugh, “If at first you don’t secede, try again.”
Senator Kevin Bryant: Made national headlines in July 2008 when he posted a photo of an Obama-Osama T-shirt on his blog (see webshot, below) which read “The difference between Obama and Osama is just a little B.S.” Naturally, Bryant was flummoxed when fellow South Carolinian leaders called his decision to post the photo “classless.” When asked to explain himself, Senator Bryant said,
“It was meant tongue in cheek. I’ve got some questions about Senator Obama’s ties to — such as his comment that we should negotiate with Iran. Iran’s a country that would like to destroy Israel, that bothers me. But is this picture appropriate? I don’t know.”
Senator Larry Martin: After serving for 30 years in the South Carolina legislature, Senator Martin is what you’d call old school. He doesn’t pull dumb stunts like posting classless photos on his blog, nor make jokes about seceding from the Union. But he’s firmly in the camp of the tea baggers. And he’s on board with the tenthers, too, having served in the forefront of the later movement in South Carolina, which began shortly after Obama’s inauguration, when Senator Martin — sensing a state of emergency — astutely urged the S.C. chamber to give priority status on the Senate calendar to the 10th Amendment Resolution so that South Carolina could wage a war of redundancy and hopefully reaffirm, ASAP, our sovereignty under the 10th Amendment. Sen. Martin also does favor for good old South Carolinians. In 1998, for instance, he rallied on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — and the Confederate flag for which they stand — during the infamous Battle of the Azaleas. (What say? You’ve never heard of that battle? Read the SCV’s blow-by-blow account here.) And, lest we forget, it is Senator Martin who is also heading the move, as introduced in the bill last week, to repeal the Subversive Activities Registration Act.
Senator Lee Cromer: A relative newcomer to the South Carolina ratpack, Senator Cromer has flashed enough racial code, through the teabagger, tenther and other anti-Obama movements to ensure a long political career in South Carolina politics. You do the research.
Think about it: What would compel these four South Carolina senators, who have been riding Obama’s ass ever since his inauguration — resurrecting the ghosts of John C. Calhoun, nullification, states’ rights and secession — to repeal a law that targets seditionists? What would compel four senators who — having just recently celebrated their latest state’s rights victory (as reported here on the “tenther’s grapevine”) to introduce a bill to repeal the Subversive Activities Registration Act?
Think about it: nullification, sovereignty, state’s rights, secession, repealing the Subversive Activities Registration Act…. Could sedition and/or civil war be far behind?
Rust Never Sleeps
To truly understand the tea baggers, the tenthers and this latest effort by these four South Carolina senators to repeal a dusty old bill aimed at thwarting communists and other subversives, it’s helpful to remember that — once upon a time in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South — civil rights activists and the NAACP were considered to be subversive groups. Billboards were erected throughout the South to warn us about this communist threat in our midst. President Truman became a subversive, too — at worst, a communist, at best “soft on communism” — after he proposed efforts to end discrimination, after he integrated the military and proposed integration of public places, after he proposed (but never followed through) on the idea of enacting anti-lynching laws. It was the height of the Red Scare. Astute Southern politicians — finding themselves backed into a corner — seized the opportunity: they hijacked McCarthy’s House un-American Activity Committee and made it their own; they capitalized on the Red Scare by painting blacks as communists; they exploited state laws on subversive groups as yet one more tool to deny civil rights to blacks.
Billboards, such as the one above, showing Dr. King and Rosa Parks attending an integrated event at the Highlander Folk School in 1957 were erected across the South. To the white power structure, integration was a communist plot against the “Southern way of life.” Therefore, anyone attending an integrated event was — by definition — a communist.
Flash forward to the mid-1970s (only 5 years after South Carolina had finally been forced to fall in line with the rest of the South and actually integrate its public school system — and with various anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws being passed at the federal level) and you’d find South Carolina legislators dusting off those old McCarthy era laws. Even as the Supreme Court had long-since ruled such laws unconstitutional, and even as the rest of the country had put the McCarthy witchhunts behind them — Southern leaders began warning us again of the subversives among us. Borrowing from fears of the communist threat of Viet Nam, they chastised the rest of the country for growing complacent about the subversives among us. In 1976, a handful of South Carolina legislators (Senators Gilbert McMillan, Cooley and Wise, and Reps. Fewell, Klapman and Hines, not to mention the venerable U.S. Senatory Strom Thurmond) grew so concerned that they revived the state’s Internal Security Committee, an offshoot of McCarthy’s HUAC. They began meeting again and watching “certain” blacks for signs of subversive activity. Rep. Hines even named a few blacks in the state who he said, “might bear watching” for signs of communist activities. These leaders could at least take some comfort in the fact that NAACP members — being deemed along with the Ku Klux Klan as part of a subversive group — were not allowed to buy guns.
It was Lee Atwater, in the Reagan era, who perhaps saved us from this pathetic attempt to resurrect the ghost of Joseph McCarthy, as Atwater found a new tool for disenfranchinsing blacks — the fiscal conservative movement. Through this nifty tactic, Southerners could now deny equal rights to blacks by pointing out the cost of any program that might benefit or level the playing field for blacks. In the wake of the Atwater era, minorities and the evil liberals who promoted their causes were deemed fiscally irresponsible and to blame for the national debt and our chronic deficits. No matter that it was, and has since been wars and the defense industry sucking our national coffers into the red — the Southern leadership capitalized on the Atwater offensive and used it to wake the slumbering beast that is racism. Atwater’s movement was so successful, in fact, that — in the early 1990s — South Carolina leaders deemed that dusty old law obsolete and took a mind to repeal it. In 1994, Bill 4654 was introduced to repeal South Carolina’s Subversive Activities Registration Act. While it initially generated some enthusiasm, it was ultimately referred to committee, where it fell back into obscurity to collect more dust.
It is no coincidence, today, the timing of this latest effort to repeal that law. Call our legislators knuckle-draggers, call them what you will, but they are nothing if not law-abiding citizens. They make the laws and they keep them. And when the laws no longer suit their purposes, they get rid of them. Or they make new laws. When all else fails, they cry “States’ rights!” and wage war.
This is why the Civil war was about state’s rights, not slavery, and certainly not about morality. The Jim Crow era was also about state’s rights, not white supremacy. The battle against desegregation — the bombing of black churches, the torching of houses, the killing and violence committed against blacks during the civil right era — this, too, was about state’s rights. The ongoing battle with the Obama Administration, just like the battle against the Truman Administration, is also about states’ rights. And — courtesy of Lee Atwater’s legacy — it is also about that sleeping beast that was awoken at the moment Obama took office: the fiscal conservative movement.
Nevermind that these same fiscal conservatives sat on their hands for 8 years, raising nary a pip while the Bush Administration nearly doubled the debt per family (teabaggers and evil liberals alike) to $82,292. Nevermind the economic armageddon — the collapse of our economy, the soaring unemployment, the skyrocketing foreclosure rates — that Obama inherited from the Bush Administration, prompting the stimulus bill that added another $10,000 to this total. This is not about race, folks. It’s about saving our country.
To this end, our state leaders find themselves between a rock and a hard place — between a black president and the laws of the land. They are staring down the barrel of a long gun, realizing that unless they do something drastic, blacks might actually — despite centuries of slavery, Jim Crow law and the myriad subversive efforts to institutionalize discrimination –make gains in their long struggle for equality. What the fiscal conservatives need is a transformative figure. To this end, they have resurrected the ghosts of John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, Joseph McCarthy, Westwood Pegler, Ronald Reagan and Lee Atwater. But what they need is a flesh and blood leader, a living demagogue to serve as a lightning rod to their cause.
Several have applied for the position — from Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, to Joe the Plumber and Joe Wilson. While these folk have made impressive inroads, none have gained quite the degree of fervor necessary to inciting violent rebellion. If history is any indication, however, it may be just a matter of time before some capable hand lights the fuse. And when that time comes, our leaders will be ready. They are, if nothing, law-abiding citizens. To this end, there’s that dusty old law on the South Carolina books that needs to be repealed — an effort whose urgency should be self-evident to anyone who knows the history of our country.
FROM THE BLOG AIKEN CHRONICLES
In the late Middle Ages, a person accused of sorcery was deemed guilty if — submerged in water — she drowned. Later, during the Salem witch hunts trials in America, drowning served as proof of innocence. Today’s American justice system is no less capricious. It seems we’ve regressed as a people. Perhaps this is because our existing justice system was not equipped to convict the accused based on the level of hysteria and fear their alleged crimes induced in the populace — nor to process evidence concocted through primitive methods such as torture and trial by ordeal. Under our new American system of justice, guilt is determined before trial — and, indeed, even before the accused has been arrested. Confessions by torture only confirm our suspicions. The formalities — judge, jury and due process of law — have been reduced to sham procedures, as if by putting on such a show we could still lay claim to the right to call ourselves a civilized nation.
Googling the news for “Aafia Siddiqui,” the first headline that came up told us all we need to know about the kangaroo trial that started today in New York: Aafia Siddiqui, aka ‘Lady Al Qaeda,’ thrown out of court after ranting at jurors again.
While other headlines and stories echoed this tone, deeming Ms. Siddiqui’s comments as “strange” and “angry,” none of these news-writers seem to have been possessed by the sort of journalistic curiosity and integrity that once defined American journalism. None bothered to ask themselves (nor seek answers for their readerships), exactly what Aafia Siddiqui might have meant in one of her courtroom “outbursts” when she said:
“I never get a chance to speak! If you were held in a secret prison and your children were tortured….”
Or when she said:
“There was no list of targets against New York. I was never planning to bomb it! You’re lying!”
That’s the problem with kangaroo courts. The verdict is already in. The rest is just for show. The official record will never show what she meant by those words. In fact, the topic of terrorism (headlines notwithstanding) has been formally forbidden in her trial, officially scrubbed from the record. The verdict is in. All other points, including the truth, are moot.
We at canarypapers have been writing about Aafia Siddiqui since August of 2008, shortly after her alleged “capture” by Afghan authorities in July 2008. For those interested in the background on her story, we have several extensively-linked posts in the canarypapers’ archives. (See links at bottom of page).
Until the Obama Administration takes a mind to bring out of the dark, secret places all of our government’s illegal activities over the past 9 years (e.g. extraordinary renditions, secret prisons and confessions by torture — including the torture of detainees’ children), how can we take seriously our government’s accusations against any “terrorist suspect” — past, present or future?
The question is this: Is there truth to Aafia Siddiqui’s allegations that she and her three children were imprisoned and tortured for 5 years at the hands of U.S. authorities? If so, we can hardly give credence to this same government’s say-so that she was carrying out a terrorist plot when she was “captured” just a few days after she claims that she and one of her children were finally released from this prison in July of 2008 (Note: Her other two children are still missing, with her infant daughter believed to have died in this prison). If Aafia Siddiqui’s allegations are true, she is no doubt, as reported, psychologically scarred — not to mention justifiably outraged.
Yet, Aafia Siddiqui is not on trial for terrorism. She has already been presumed guilty of this on the say-so of the very government that justified “any means necessary,” including primitive torture, to produce evidence of guilt. Going by such monikers as “the female bin Laden,” and “Lady al Qaeda” and “al Qaeda Mom” in the headlines, Aafia Siddiqui stands before the American public as evil incarnate, guilty of a crime for which she’ll never be tried.
How to proclaim one’s innocence under such circumstances? How to defend yourself, when your side of the story has been censored from the official record, as if your words were nothing but the ramblings of a madman?
The behaviors of the witches who vehemently proclaimed their innocence only sealed their guilt, in the minds of the officials and the gawkers. Time will tell, but there is little doubt — if today’s headlines are any indication — that Aafia Siddiqui’s behavior is also on trial and will be used by the American press to help indict her in the court of public opinion, which is about all that is left to us of our former justice system.
To the credit of Ms. Siddiqui’s attorneys, they are at least making a sound case that she has been falsely accused of the crime for which she’s been charged — attempted murder, for allegedly attempting to shoot at a group of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, an incident in which the only person shot was Aafia Siddiqui, who was gravely wounded. Her attorneys have produced forensic evidence and credible witnesses to substantiate her innocence. However, these attorneys are walking a thin line. On the periphery of her defense is the unspoken story — her allegation that she and her children were imprisoned and tortured for 5 years at the hands of U.S. authorities — a story that sounds eerily similar to those told by so many other detainees renditioned to secret U.S. prisons around the world.
How else to try her, except in a sham trial, where she has been issued a gag order regarding any of the events that transpired during the 5 years leading up to her arrest and the alleged shooting? To allow her allegations to surface in any credible manner would be to put the U.S. government on trial. And that’s not going to happen.
Our most recent article on Aafia Siddiqui was in June 2009 post titled, 183 Times is the Charm: The Accusation (by Torture) of a Young Mother Named Aafia Siddiqui. Herein, we told the stories of but a small handful of the victims of the Bush- Cheney war of terror. Below are some excerpts from this post. But to better understand the case of Aafia Siddiqui, and others like her, we would urge you to read the entirety of “183 Times is the Charm…” as this post frames these stories in a more comprehensive context. Again, the excerpts below are from that June 2009 post, so some of the information may be dated.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Aafia Siddiqui
We begin with the events of March-April 2003, when Aafia Siddiqui and her three children disappeared.
- Various news agencies (CNN, Boston Glove, UPI) reported that Aafia Siddiqui’s name had surfaced during the “interrogation” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which we now know involved 183 waterboarding sessions.
- In the wake of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed waterboarding sessions, the FBI issued an alert, on March 18, for Aafia Siddiqui.
- On March 31, Aafia and her three children disappeared.
- On April 3, various news agencies (NBC, Associated Press) report that, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and U.S. intelligence officils, Aafia Siddiqui was recently captured and was being held for interrogation at an “undisclosed location.”
- On April 4th, the FBI “backed off” their initial claim, explaining that it had been a case of mistaken identity.
- Aafia was not seen or heard from again for over 5 years.
We offer full version of her timeline from March 2003 through June 2009, with pertinent links, here.
The Story of Aafia Siddiqui
Imagine this: You are a 31-year old mother of three; you are also an MIT graduate with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. [In hindsight, there is cruel irony to the topic of your dissertation, in which you explored how people learn — specifically, the interaction between visual memory and perception. In your abstract, you wrote, “Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”] . It is late March of 2003. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. went to war in Iraq and — as is now known — the CIA, the FBI and the Bush Administration at large were working around the clock to put together the intelligence necessary to justifying this war.
Up until a year earlier, you’d spent 12 years living in America as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. You’d originally moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college and be nearer your sister and brother — a Harvard-trained neurologist and a Houston architect, respectively. While living in the U.S., you married a medical student in Boston, who went on to work as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You gave birth to 2 children. Neighbors and friends described you as a devoted mother, spending the bulk of your time in the everyday routines of raising your children, overseeing play groups with their friends. You were also a devout Muslim and donated both time and money to charitable causes and missionary work to help less fortunate Muslims.
Because contributing to Muslim charities constituted a red flag in post-9-11 American, the FBI was watching you and had been since the fall of 2001. According to U.S. intelligence sources, your husband purchased night goggles and body armor off the internet in 2001, which he claimed were intended for big game hunting. Because of these purchases, you, yourself, were brought in for questioning by U.S. officials. Although you were released after questioning, this interrogation served as further evidence that the post-9-11 hostility toward Muslims was escalating. This factored into your decision to return to Pakistan — a debate that had already caused considerable strain in your marriage: you wanted to raise your children in America, while your husband wanted to raise them in Pakistan. In 2002 — with your marriage now on the rocks — you and your husband returned to Pakistan.
By March of 2003, you’d been estranged from your husband for over 7 months, during which time you lived with your mother and gave birth to your third child, who was now 6 months old. Three months earlier, in December 2002, you’d returned to the United States to apply for jobs in the Baltimore area, where your sister was now working at Sinai Hospital. After making several applications — and interviewing with both Johns Hopkins and SUNY — you opened a post office box to receive replies from prospective employers, then returned to your children and your mother in Pakistan.
Now imagine that the FBI believes the only reason you opened that post office box was to receive communications as part of an al Qaeda plot to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore area. Imagine, too, that during the course of the FBI’s 18-month surveillance of you and your husband, they discovered that, during the summer of 2001, one of your former Muslim acquaintances from Boston had been wired $20,000 from Saudi Arabia (a sum which, according to the explanation given by a Saudi official to the Boston Globe, was sent to pay for medical treatment for the man’s wife). Lastly, imagine that, the FBI believes that this $20,000 is connected to a purported diamond smuggling trip, made by a mysterious woman in the summer of 2001, to fund al Qaeda operations. According to the FBI, that mystery woman is you.
To this story add water, then quickly spin
It is now March 28, 2003. Just a week earlier, on March 20th, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Several weeks earlier, on March 1st, the alleged architect of 9-11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. It seems that — during one of his 183 waterboard interrogation sessions — your name came up. Such confessions do not arise out of the blue.
Here’s how it works: The interrogators accuse the detainee of a crime, supplying him/her with the details of the alleged crime (e.g. flying to the sabbath on a broomstick or plotting to blow something up). The detainee is then — over a period of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and/or years – beaten, cut, sliced, subjected to electric shock, freezing cold, left naked and forced to stay awake for days on end, hung from the ceiling by his wrists, starved, suffocated, water-tortured, and/or threatened with rape or death to himself, his wife or his children (who may, indeed, be heard screaming in an adjoining room) and otherwise tortured, threatened, humiliated and terrorized until he confesses to the crime(s). Next, the interrogators demand the names of his co-conspirators – supplying the detainee with the names and specifics of their alleged crimes (e.g. supplying broomsticks or bombs to other witches). He is then tortured until he tells the interrogators what they want to hear. New arrests follow. The accused co-conspirators are likewise tortured into confessing crimes and fingering still more co-conspirators. New arrests follow….
Your name is Aafia Siddiqui, and you have just been fingered (albeit under torture) by none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is March 28, 2003. You have just left your mother’s house, with your three children, to visit your uncle in Islamabad. Only, you never arrive. Over the next several days, your name is broadcast in headlines around the world. According to a statement by the FBI, which had issued an alert for you only 10 days earlier, you were apprehended in Karachi, Pakistan and were being held for interrogation at an undisclosed location. A few days later, the FBI retracts this statement, saying that — despite their initial optimism — it was a case of mistaken identity. They had not captured you, after all.
The fact nonetheless remains: You and your three children seemingly disappeared into thin air. Over the next 5 years, your mother, sister and brother would search for you, traveling back and forth between the United States and Pakistan, demanding answers from authorities. Pakistani citizens joined humanitarian agencies and human rights groups the world over, waging protests on your behalf and demanding answers. The U.S. and Pakistani governments staunchly denied owning any information on your whereabouts, although, during 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III announced that an informant in Africa had seen your picture and fingered you as the diamond-smuggling woman from June 2001, which placed you on the FBI’s offical list of wanted terrorist suspects.
An attorney now working on your behalf says that she can prove that you were in the U.S. during June 2001. The likelihood of this evidence ever being presented at trial is, so far, slim to non-existent.
Your name is Aafia Siddiqui, just one in a long list of names of ghost detainees, being spirited from prison to prison, torture session to torture session; just one in a long list of terrorist suspects who have been fingered — under torture – by another terrorist suspect, who was perhaps fingered, under torture, by yet another terrorist suspect; just another body in another secret prison.
“Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”
While the words Abu Garib and Guantanaomo Bay have been out of the closet for several years now, the words Dark Prison, Camp Slappy and the Salt Pit have yet to emerge in the American vernacular. These are but a few of the twenty or so secret prisons in Afghanistan — and a mere fraction of the total number of “dark sites” worldwide – where the Bush-Cheney Administration sent detainees for the explicit purpose of extracting information through torture. Part and parcel of these detentions has been the fullscale denial by the Bush Administration — and, now, the Obama Administration — that these prisons (and, by extension, the prisoners, themselves) even exist.
Pertinent to the case of Aafia Siddiqui is the word Bagram Prison, which has been alternately a stopping point and the ultimate destination of thousands of Bush Administration terrorist suspects (the distinction between a bona fide terrorist and terrorist suspect being a moot one, within the current framework of the U.S. justice system). Within this tortured system of justice, the only evidence that these prisons exist has come from the ghosts that inhabited these prisons — those terrorist suspects who were eventually released, and have since given testimony to the various forms of tortures they endured, some of which make the stomach wretch just to read about them.
It can be seen as a sign of progress that the word waterboarding, along with enhanced interrogation and extraordinary rendition, have now made their way into the daily dialogue of mainstream media, granting the average American citizen permission to discuss these words without being branded a nut-job. But these words are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg that is the Bush-Cheney torture program. Beneath the surface are so many other words — much-spoken elsewhere in the world, but yet to emerge in the American vernacular: hoods, electrocutions, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, dog terror, starvation, hypothermia, the rapes (both threatened and consummated), the electric prods, the “dog box,” the rubber bands on the penis designed to stop urination for days at a time, the hot metal rods, the threats to harm a prisoner’s wife or child (some allegedly carried out), the razor cuts and pepper spray on the genitals – not to mention the full menu of “sanctioned” tortures that have also been inflicted on the thousands of human beings — including uncounted scores of innocents – chained and shackled at the mercy of their torturers, whose explicit job description was to extract information through whatever means were necessary.
Beneath the surface, still, are the numbers of detainee children (ages from infancy onward) who have been imprisoned and held for the cruelest ransom: a full confession from their parents. Further, still, beneath the surface are the stinging insects and the deprivation of food and water — two tortures which have been repeatedly alleged as being used on these children. And we have yet to learn the extent and nature of those “gruesome” forms of torture, such as “crushing the testicles of a person’s child,” that were approved by the Bush Administration for use on detainee children. In this vein, it must be remembered that, along with Aafia Siddiqui disappeared her three children — ages 6 months, 4 years and 6 years in March 2003.
It would be another five years before Aafia Siddiqui would see the light of day.
HEADLINE: The Female Osama bin Laden is Captured!
Aafia Siddiqui ‘reappeared’ in the summer of 2008. She was promptly arrested, and — even as she was dubbed “the female Osama bin Laden,” with her capture deemed to be “the most significant break in U.S. intelligence in 5 years” — her story drew only small mention in the mainstream U.S. media before disappearing completely off the radar.
Given the seriousness of the accusations waged against her, it’s astonishing that few American have even heard her name, much less know her story. What’s even more astonishing is the utter absence of natural or professional curiosity by those U.S. media outlets that did cover her arrest in the summer of 2008. More astonishing, still, is the menu of accusations waged against her in the court of the U.S. media — in which she was essentially tried and convicted — and with much relish by one ABC anchor (seen in the video, below), as he recited the laundry list of allegations against Aafia Siddiqui, as if they were fact:
What has made her capture so important is what the FBI says it found in her handbag: maps of New York City and information on subways, Time Square, the Statue of Liberty, and the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center, run by the Federal government. Also discovered, according to court documents, information on explosives, chemical weapons, and other weapons involving biological material and radiological agents being researched by al Qaeda….”
Perhaps the most important discovery, says the FBI, is a computer thumb drive, packed with emails to what she called ‘her units’ — a possible roadmap to plots in the works…
Among the many plots authorities say she was connected to was a reported effort to assassinate former presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton using chemical or biological agents. While her friends and family say she is an innocent woman being persecuted by the U.S., when she was captured, she was discovered to have a large quantity of cyanide in her possession, perhaps prepared to take her life to avoid capture…..
She was also told by leaders “Have lots of babies. Raise little jihadists.” …. She was ideal to have more little jihadists.” ,
Those well-versed in the talking points of human rights’ abusers might have noticed, in the above news segment, the heavy-handed treatment given to Aafia’s children, as they were pre-emptively dehumanized. See, these are not real human children, folks. They are “little jihadists.” Don’t let their size fool you. Pint-sized Miriam (who, at six months of age, was likely just learning to sit up and could, perhaps, even say the word, “coo” and wave goodbye) was a full-fledged terrorist, in miniature. And don’t be swayed by the fact that her older siblings, Suleman and Ahmed (ages 4 and 6 years of age, respectively) were both American-born citizens. This was no doubt part of the global terrorist plot to infiltrate America and destroy our way of life.
With Aafia Siddiqui’s children thusly dehumanized, we Americans could go on with our lives (rent a flick, buy a new pair of stilettos, plan a trip to Vegas) with a clear conscience. No need to give a second thought to the fate of those three children — two of whom are still missing, with Miriam believed to have died in captivity.
The story of Aafia Siddiqui, as told by her brother
The most comprehensive and — by virtue of its source — the most compelling account on Aafia Siddiqui was given just last month, in April 2009, by her brother, at the Muslim Legal Fund of America’s annual fundraising dinner. The full text of his speech is given below (following the asterisks).
Perhaps one day someone in the mainstream U.S. media will take aim at the story of Aafia Siddiqui. Perhaps, if her story were told in the full light of day, it would be legitimized and could thereby be removed from the minions of so-called conspiracy theorists (like us) and the so-called terrorist appeasers (like Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Cageprisoners, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, to name a few). Maybe, then, all the other stories could be told, too. Because the truth — which is not so foreign outside of the U.S. — is that Aafia Siddiqui is not the only one. (Here is another. And another. And another….)
The stories of these prisoners make clear that — no matter how much Obama and Cheney protest that these torture incidents are mere aberrations, committed by a small handful of “a few bad apples” — the U.S. torture program is, by design (and a clever one, at that) as elusive as it is systematic. And, even as there are many Americans who fully condone torture — saying yes, “Hell yes!” to torture — surely, surely no one would condone torturing a child, even if her mother were, indeed, guilty of the most heinous crimes.
Surely, the American soul has not succumbed to such putrid rot. Or has it?
* * * * *
THE TEXT OF THE SPEECH GIVEN BY AAFIA SIDDIQUI’S BROTHER ON APRIL 25, 2009
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you information about my little sister, Aafia Siddiqui’s case. I especially want to commend you for your courage and support in that you are here tonight.
I have been given the difficult task of presenting a short briefing regarding the facts surrounding Aafia’s case.
However, a brief explanation will not allow me delve into all the angles involved in the case so I will try to focus on the core points from my perspective.
So much has been claimed about my sister. So many labels have been applied to Aafia that unfortunately her humanity has been lost. In order to put the case in context, I will have to digress slightly, and perhaps the best place to start is the beginning – the beginning for me was our upbringing.
Aafia was the youngest child in our small family of three. She was always an accomplished student, who treasured education and it was this pursuit of education that lead her to the U.S. at a young age. When she came here, she lived with me before getting her scholarship to MIT. During this time, my little sister devoted herself to her studies and Muslim student activities. She always had a soft spot for helping people and dawah work.
Aafia also had a passion for children, which sounds nice to say; however, proof was in the fact that she dedicated her education at MIT and Brandeis towards the developing of creative and easy techniques for teaching children. Her own dream was to start a school where her techniques could be put into practice. And when she had children of her own, she was totally devoted to them.
Here is one of the many cruel ironies of Aafia’s life in that someone who dedicated her life to children would end up losing her own.
It was just over 6 years ago that my family’s nightmare began.
In March 2003, my little sister and her three small children all disappeared from Karachi.
It was Aafia, her oldest, Ahmad, who was 6 at the time, Maryum who was 4 and Suleman, who was only 6 months.
After many attempts by my family to find out what happened, we heard reports from both the Pakistani & U.S. press that Aafia had been picked up by security officials and handed over to the U.S. for questioning.
Then nothing… Silence. We could get no official word.
As we started to raise questions, my family was “advised” to stay quiet and told we would be left alone…
I am sure you all remember the atmosphere of the time. There was a tremendous climate of fear… and many reports of people just disappearing, especially overseas. Over time, we made discreet inquiries but as hope began to fade we resigned ourselves to the belief that she and her children were probably dead. My mother would search burial sites as not a single day went by that we forgot her but we kept our pain private as we struggled to move on.
Meanwhile, my sister Aafia, the human being, the mother of three was lost in her own abduction. Her story made her fair game. She was transformed into a flash point, a talking point for all sorts of allegations and speculations in the press, while legends evolved around her from parties with their own interests and agendas.
While we were silently grieving, many human rights groups added Aafia’s name to the growing list of missing persons. It seems Aafia’s was not an isolated case. There were hundreds…
Some of you may recall the time when the issue of missing persons became a hot button in Pakistan. It was during this time, when the Chief Justice started asking about the missing persons, that he was sacked.
In early 2008, Moazzem Beg, a former detainee at Gitmo identified Aafia among the women prisoners at Bagram. By early July, a prominent Pakistani politician, Imran Khan and British reporters released reports about Aafia being a detainee in one of the secret prisons.
Then suddenly, in late July 2008, we learned directly from the FBI that Aafia had been shot in Afghanistan and was being brought to the US on charges of attempting to shoot U.S. servicemen.
We were in total shock – on the one hand my family was overjoyed to learn that Aafia was alive… yet at the same time she faced such extraordinary charges and allegations that we feared for her future.
In an instant, we experienced simultaneous joy and horror; hope and despair, a miracle and an extraordinary test.
And the children – Only one of her children is accounted for. The others, to this day are still missing.
I have often wondered what it must have been like for her and I cannot imagine … just imagine what you would do if somebody took your children? Or, rather what would you not do?
It is important that you understand this, because unless you grasp this, you will not grasp the enormity of this case and what it represents. Why Aafia is where she is and how she acts. Why so many feel for her and why others may feel threatened by her case.
Officially she is charged with the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers. She has categorically denied these charges. Several journalists, including one of the first foreign journalists from Reuters who visited the scene and interviewed eye witnesses have disputed the official version, echoing Aafia’s account.
The charges are hard for me to understand because my little sister loved this country (The U.S.), where she earned an outstanding education. She disliked violence and respected the American work ethic and the value placed on merit and self achievement. Her own life exemplified this. She completed her education at MIT by working campus jobs and earning scholarships. She balanced her religious faith with a desire to forge a modern education. – And here is another one of those cruel ironies – as that very education is being used to vilify her.
Currently, the court proceedings are lingering. This adds to all the confusion and hype surrounding the case, not to mention challenging her physical and mental well being and even the ability to build a proper defense.
Then, there is the atmosphere of fear that we still live in today as those who would rise up and speak boldly are few and far between. I hear many private testimonials from people who knew her and still speak highly favorably about her but most fear speaking out publicly.
Aafia has alleged that she was held captive for over 5 years. The government’s response was to initially send Aafia for a mental evaluation and their own doctors determined she was incompetent to stand trial and may have post traumatic stress disorder.
The prosecution, not liking this, decided to get outside experts to overrule the findings (their own original findings) and currently the original doctors are revising their findings so she can stand trial.
Meanwhile, so much time has passed and Aafia continues to linger in prison. But despite all these challenges, she remains spiritually strong and her faith is undiminished although I do find myself questioning my own at times.
Aafia does have court appointed lawyers. But we learned over the past few months that court appointed lawyers have severe restrictions. For example, in 9 months not one defense lawyer has visited the scene of the crime nor interviewed a single witness or even made a motion for bail.
Court appointed lawyers are paid low fees, and even then, the lawyers constantly struggle get funds pre-approved from the judge. In this system, the other side knows everything you are doing.
Appointed lawyers do not even have to have expertise or experience in the area of charges relevant to the case of Aafia.
So, how can Aafia build a trusting and confidential relationship without a lawyer of her own choosing?
The case is complex and requires independent investigation and a team of capable and experienced lawyers.
This is why are teaming up with MLFA. They have experience in getting a solid legal team in place and are set up to do proper fund raising and accounting for cases like this. They have access to the best legal minds and experts and the ability to negotiate the best fees.
I never thought anything like this could ever happen to my family… I mean this is, or this was, something that only happens to other people…. We were professionals going about our daily lives and yet, here I stand before you after 6 years, 6 long and painful years that have taken a very heavy toll on all our lives, the lives of our children and on our community.
But I stand here because I want to thank you for your courage, your support and your prayers. In spite of, or perhaps because of all the contradicting reports, you are here tonight. Help us help Aafia.
I believe that perhaps the most striking duality about my little sister’s case is that while justice has eluded her, perhaps she can help establish justice for others.”
by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers
Links to our other posts on Aafia Siddiqui
Note: Please excuse the discordant font sizes in the earlier posts. We transferred these from a different blog server and, for some reason, the fonts arrived in a jarring mix of big fonts plus fonts so tiny you can barely read them. We make no apologies, however, for any expressions of outrage we may have expressed in our writings in our posts on Aafia Siddiqui and her three children.
The good news is that — despite the current investments of $87 billion in Iraq + $65 billion in Afghanistan + 115,000 troops in Iraq, + 98,000 troops in Afghanistan — the United States still has enough troops on hand to eke out a military presence in Haiti.
The bad news is that, for all its military might, the U.S. is impotent when it comes to delivering humanitarian aid. This may be because U.S. SouthCom (short for U.S. Southern Command), which is in charge of operations in Haiti, has never been intended, nor equipped, to handle actual humanitarian crises, even as it flies under the flag of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. Quite the contrary.
The job of U.S. SouthCom and its five brothers in the “Unified Combatant Command” — U.S. NorthCom, Africom, CentCom, EuCom and PacCom — is to is to provide a more efficient means for warring. Tasked with “global security,” these various commands oversee specific theaters on the world stage (see map below). By no coincidence, the U.S. deems this task most urgent in the oil, gas and pipeline strategic countries around the globe — hence the neat overlap between the map, below, and the global “energy profiles” map, seen here.
That this latter “energy profiles” map reflects a grand total of zero for Haiti ‘s oil, gas and coal production is both a blessing and a curse for this country.
The blessing is that Haiti has, so far, been spared the invasion of a large U.S. SouthCom military occupation; spared the fate of, say, Africa, where U.S. Africom’s stated mission is to “develop a stable environment on the continent to promote civil society and improved quality of life for the people there.”
To this end, the U.S. has a long history in Africa of bribing corrupt dictators, toppling democratically elected leaders, waging faux wars on terror, and providing funding, training and weaponry to the guerrilla armies that fight our clandestine and proxy-wars, so that we may destabilize governments, create civil war and — ultimately — seize control of the country’s oil, gas or other minerals. In the paths of these covert wars are the victims of America’s crimes — genocide in Sudan, rape and murder and other crimes against humanity in Somalia.
This is not to say that Haiti has been spared the rod of U.S. intervention. Au contraire. After all, there is the sugar industry to exploit, not to mention the risk — which has only grown in the wake of the earthquake — that Haiti could be transformed into a second Cuba, with the country potentially falling under the rule of our arch enemy, Venezuela, with whom we are covertly warring against to seize control of South American oil and pipelines in South America (via SouthCom’s fake war on drugs and faux war on terror in Colombia and Ecuador, but that’s another story).
The blessing is that, lacking oil or gas, there’s been no need to raise false flags over Haiti; no need to occupy the country and wage a faux war on terror.
The curse is that — through all the political coups and exploitations (many of them orchestrated by the U.S.) and natural disasters that have repeatedly driven this impoverished nation to its knees with chronic starvation, disease, homelessness and oppression — the plight of Haitian citizens has been invisible to the United States.
Unlike Africa, where certain charitable NGOs are funded by the oil and defense industry to provide the humanitarian aid to the victims of our pillaging and plundering, the citizens of Haiti have been left to their own devices — left homeless, suffering from disease and malnutrition, forced to subsist on a diet of mud cakes made from clay and water dipped from potholes. Unlike Africa — where the promise of protection, food, shelter and medical care to a brutalized population of sick, starving, scared, homeless people is an excellent tool for coercing cooperation and compliance — there is no such incentive in Haiti.
In this context, the U.S. aid effort to Haiti makes better sense.
Within 3 days, the U.S. was able to dispatch 10,000 troops to Haiti, with another 2,000 expected to arrive any minute. The international community has poured billions in donations to the earthquake victims. Organizations such as the International Red Cross, the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders and others have poured their full weight of their resources into Haiti.
Or, at least, they’ve tried.
Turns out, U.S. SouthCom, which has taken control of the airport in Haiti, has been denying airport access to these organizations. Just yesterday, Doctors Without Borders was denied landing to deliver the much-awaited inflatable hospital. Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières have also been denied access, as have France, Cuba and Brazil, prompting global criticism toward the U.S. and accusations that the U.S. is exploiting this tragedy for political motives.
Meanwhile, a mere mile away from this same airport, rats are feeding on the diapers of elderly nursing home residents, who have been without food, water or medical care since the earthquake. One-by-one, these elderly residents are dying, after which the rats can presumably begin feeding on their bodies, as well.
To those of us who simply don’t understand the logistics of getting aid to people, the incompetence of the U.S. aid effort in Haiti seems criminal. To those of us who don’t understand the “security concerns” of working in a disaster zone, it doesn’t make sense why a contingent of armed SouthCom troops could not be dispatched to hoof the 20-minute walk to provide food, water and basic medical care — or to, perchance, shoo away the rats feeding on the feces of the dwindling number of nursing home residents who are still, against all odds, clinging to life.
Nor does it make sense that, with an army 10,000 strong and counting — a military specifically trained and equipped to provide “security” around the globe — the U.S. has not yet felt secure enough to provide aid to these nursing home residents, much less to the hundreds of thousands of victims of this tragedy, a mere 5 miles from the airport.
For the record, I’ve already done the math. It takes 1,320 people to make a human chain one-mile long. Half of the 12,000 troops could be used to make a 5-mile long human chain to pass the food and water from the airport to Port-au-Prince. Of the remaining troops, 3,000 could be used to guard the human chain (that’s approx. one guard for every two soldiers). The rest of the troops, roughly 2,500 of them, could be put to work dispensing food & water and shooing rats from the bodies of the living dead. Might even be a few to spare toward the long-overdue effort of digging survivors out of the rubble.
Granted, the human chain may be somewhat of an over-simplification, but it’s a hell of a lot better starting point than doing absolutely nothing except blaming our failure to act on a lack of infrastructure or on security concerns.
Let them eat cake
The good news is that, in addition to the 12,000 troops, President Obama has also dispatched two former U.S. presidents — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — to help oversee this aid effort. Both presidents are well-versed in providing security to those oil, gas and pipeline strategic locations around the globe, once they’ve mysteriously disintegrated into civil war. Perhaps these ex-presidents can offer their expertise in Haiti, now that its people have grown so desperate for food and water that they’re now resorting the violence the U.S. has been predicting (and blaming for their lack of action) for the past 6 days since the earthquake.
If nothing else, the U.S. can put those 12,000 troops to good use, providing security for these ex-U.S. presidents. Too, there is some hope that Bush can redeem himself for his criminal failure to provide aid to the victims of Katrina. The icing on the cake would be if Obama could finally prove, once and for all, that his dream of bipartisanship was not just another pipe dream.
As for the earthquake victims in Haiti, Obama has already promised them, “You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.” These folk just need to be patient. Once Clinton and Bush arrive — and the stagecraft has been properly set — America will unveil its most generous aid effort, proving that the U.S. is, indeed, the most caring nation on the planet. To those who would ascribe political motives or grandstanding to Obama’s efforts, shame on you.
As Obama said in his promise to the people of Haiti 5 days ago, “In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”
Patience, Haiti. While America was unfortunately not able to be there during your hour of greatest need, we will be there soon. Promise. And if we don’t make it in time, please assure that elderly gentleman writhing in the dirt beside the fallen nursing home that soon, soon, America will have your country up and running again. Soon, you can pull yourselves up from that dirt, scoop it into your hands and — mixed with a little rainwater — bake it into the clay cakes that will have to sustain you once the troops, the ex-presidents, and the photo-ops depart.