Saturday, March 12, 2005

My Truth: Kidnapped Italian Journalist Speaks Out!

I'm still in the dark. Friday was the most dramatic day of my life. I had been in captivity for many days. I had just spoken with my captors. It had been days they were telling me I would be released. I was living in waiting for this moment. They were speaking about things that only later I would have understood the importance of. They were speaking about problems "related to transfers."

I learned to understand what was going on by the behavior of my two guards, the two guards that had me under custody every day. One in particular showed much attention to my desires. He was incredibly cheerful. To understand exactly what was going on I provocatively asked him if he was happy because I was going or because I was staying. I was shocked and happy when for the first time he said, "I only know that you will go, but I don't know when." To confirm the fact that something new was happening both of them came into my room and started comforting me and kidding: "Congratulations they said you are leaving for Rome." For Rome, that's exactly what they said.

I experienced a strange sensation because that word evoked in me freedom but also projected in me an immense sense of emptiness. I understood that it was the most difficult moment of my kidnapping and that if everything I had just experienced until then was "certain," now a huge vacuum of uncertainty was opening, one heavier than the other. I changed my clothes. They came back: "We'll take you and don't give any signals of your presence with us otherwise the Americans could intervene." It was confirmation that I didn't want to hear; it was altogether the most happy and most dangerous moment. If we bumped into someone, meaning American military, there would have been an exchange of fire. My captors were ready and would have answered. My eyes had to be covered. I was already getting used to momentary blindness. What was happening outside? I only knew that it had rained in Baghdad. The car was proceeding securely in a mud zone. There was a driver plus the two captors. I immediately heard something I didn't want to hear. A helicopter was hovering at low altitude right in the area that we had stopped. "Be calm, they will come and look for you...in 10 minutes they will come looking for." They spoke in Arabic the whole time, a little bit of French, and a lot in bad English. Even this time they were speaking that way.

Then they got out of the car. I remained in the condition of immobility and blindness. My eyes were padded with cotton, and I had sunglasses on. I was sitting still. I thought what should I do. I start counting the seconds that go by between now and the next condition, that of liberty? I had just started mentally counting when a friendly voice came to my ears "Giuliana, Giuliana. I am Nicola, don't worry I spoke to Gabriele Polo (editor in chief of Il Manifesto). Stay calm. You are free." They made me take my cotton bandage off, and the dark glasses. I felt relieved, not for what was happening and I couldn't understand but for the words of this "Nicola." He kept on talking and talking, you couldn't contain him, an avalanche of friendly phrases and jokes. I finally felt an almost physical consolation, warmth that I had forgotten for some time.

The car kept on the road, going under an underpass full of puddles and almost losing control to avoid them. We all incredibly laughed. It was liberating. Losing control of the car in a street full of water in Baghdad and maybe wind up in a bad car accident after all I had been through would really be a tale I would not be able to tell. Nicola Calipari sat next to me. The driver twice called the embassy and in Italy that we were heading towards the airport that I knew was heavily patrolled by U.S. troops. They told me that we were less than a kilometer away...when...I only remember fire. At that point, a rain of fire and bullets hit us, shutting up forever the cheerful voices of a few minutes earlier.

The driver started yelling that we were Italians. "We are Italians, we are Italians." Nicola Calipari threw himself on me to protect me and immediately, I repeat, immediately I heard his last breath as he was dying on me. I must have felt physical pain. I didn't know why. But then I realized my mind went immediately to the things the captors had told me. They declared that they were committed to the fullest to freeing me but I had to be careful, "the Americans don't want you to go back." Then when they had told me I considered those words superfluous and ideological. At that moment they risked acquiring the flavor of the bitterest of truths, at this time I cannot tell you the rest.

This was the most dramatic day. But the months that I spent in captivity probably changed forever my existence. One month alone with myself, prisoner of my profound certainties. Every hour was an impious verification of my work, sometimes they made fun of me, and they even stretch as far as asking why I wanted to leave, asking me stay. They insisted on personal relationships. It was them that made me think of the priorities that too often we cast aside. They were pointing to family. "Ask your husband for help," they would say. And I also said in the first video that I think you all saw, "My life has changed." As Iraqi engineer Ra'ad Ali Abdulaziz of the organization A Bridge For [Baghdad], who had been kidnapped with the two Simones had told me "my life is not the same anymore." I didn't understand. Now I know what he meant. Because I experienced the harshness of truth, it's difficult proposition (of truth) and the fragility of those who attempt it.

In the first days of my kidnapping I did not shed a tear. I was simply furious. I would say in the face of my captors: "But why do you kidnap me, I'm against the war." And at that point they would start a ferocious dialogue. "Yes because you go speak to the people, we would never kidnap a journalist that remains closed in a hotel and because the fact that you say you're against the war could be a decoy." And I would answer almost to provoke them: "It's easy to kidnap a weak woman like me, why don't you try with the American military." I insisted on the fact that they could not ask the Italian government to withdraw the troops. Their political go-between could not be the government but the Italian people, who were and are against the war.

It was a month on a see-saw shifting between strong hope and moments of great depression. Like when it was a first Sunday after the Friday they kidnapped me, in the house in Baghdad where I was kept, and on top of which was a satellite dish they showed me the Euronews Newscast. There I saw a huge picture of me hanging from Rome City Hall. I felt relieved. Right after though the claim by the Jihad that announced my execution if Italy did not withdraw the troops arrived. I was terrified. But I immediately felt reassured that it wasn't them. I didn't have to believe these announcements, they were "provocative." Often I asked the captor that from his face I could identify a good disposition but whom like his colleagues resembled a soldier: "Tell me the truth. Do you want to kill me?" Although many times there have been windows of communications with them. "Come watch a movie on TV" they would say while a Wahabi roamed around the house and took care of me. The captors seemed to me a very religious group, in continuous prayer on the Koran. But Friday, at the time of the release, the one that looked the most religious and who woke up every morning at 5 a.m. to pray incredibly congratulated me shaking my hand, a behavior unusual for an Islamic fundamentalist -- and he would add "if you behave yourself you will leave immediately." Then an almost funny incident. One of the two captors came to me surprised both because the TV was showing big posters of me in European cities and also for Totti. Yes Totti. He declared he was a fan of the Roma soccer team and he was shocked that his favorite player went to play with the writing "Liberate Giuliana" on his T-shirt.

I lived in an enclave in which I had no more certainties. I found myself profoundly weak. I failed in my certainties; I said that we had to tell about that dirty war. And I found myself in the alternative either to stay in the hotel and wait or to end up kidnapped because of my work. We don't want anyone else anymore. The kidnappers would tell me. But I wanted to tell about the bloodbath in Fallujah from the words of the refugees. And that morning the refugees, or some of their leaders would not listen to me. I had in front of me the accurate confirmation of the analysis of what the Iraqi society had become as a result of the war and they would throw their truth in my face: "We don't want anybody why didn't you stay in your home. What can this interview do for us?" The worse collateral effect, the war that kills communication was falling on me. To me, I who had risked everything, challenging the Italian government who didn't want journalists to reach Iraq and the Americans who don't want our work to be witnessed of what really became of that country with the war and notwithstanding that which they call elections.
Now I ask myself. Is their refusal a failure?


...................Biography..................

Giuliana Sgrena has been working at the daily Italian Paper “il manifesto” since 1988. Born on the 20th of December in the town of Masera in the state of Piedmont, Giuliana studied in Milan. During the early Eighties she worked for the weekly “Guerra e Pace” edited by Michelangelo Notarianni. At “il manifesto” Giuliana always worked at the foreign desk. A passionate expert of the Arab world she also dealt extensively with issues and stories concerning the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Maghreb. She covered for il manifesto the war in Afghanistan and the various stages of the Iraqi conflict: she was in Baghdad during the bombing of the city (and for this she was awarded by the President of Italy the title of merit “Cavaliere del Lavoro”) and returned many times again in order to describe the daily life of the Iraqis, documenting in a professional manner the violence caused by the occupation of the country. Together with her journalistic endeavours Giuliana also devotes her time to political issues. During the 1980's she was among the founders of the peace movement: she was one of the speakers during the first mass peace demonstration. She left for Baghdad on the 23rd of January.

Street Seen: What we stand for...

Street Seen was established in November 2004, as a campaigning Anti Poverty paper, primarily to be sold on the streets in the North by members of the Homeless community or those affected by Poverty directly.
Homelessness is an extreme symptom of Poverty and Street Seen through its associated projects intends to tackle the root causes of poverty locally and internationally.
Street Seen is a unique social experiment based on the philosophy of self help, a model that has been practiced successfully throughout the World. It gives homeless people a hand up not a hand out, empowering them through their own actions. Helping the homeless help themselves is one of the key principles behind Street Seen breaking people from dependency, offering an alternative to begging or crime. It allows people to make choices and develops their self-esteem. It provides empowerment; money they have earned through hard graft that comes with no rules to tell them how to spend it. They control the consequences. It teaches vendors how to run their own business
From selling the paper and earning their own living homeless people are elevated above the traditional hand out culture. Homelessness undermines human dignity and hinders the ability of people to benefit from their fundamental rights. Street Seen seeks to change the relationship homeless people have with their immediate environment, through giving them the ammunition for self initiated change.
Street Seen has not just enabled them to earn a living but it has empowered homeless people through their own actions, and thereby helped them to regain their self esteem. Equally as important, support and training is available to all vendors through our social projects. The purpose of the support and training is to enable vendors to re-integrate into society

Street Seen seeks to change the relationship between homeless people and the public by directly challenging traditional stereotypes surrounding the homeless in a number of innovative ways. Firstly by keeping the issue of homelessness and poverty in the paper, as well as in the national media - press, radio and TV, challenging stereotypical perceptions in the mainstream media. Secondly by giving homeless and marginalised people a voice in the paper, editorial which is written by homeless people locally and internationally about their own experiences.

We aim to produce a good read, not a pity purchase, so that the public buy the paper on its own merits and they are not in a sense, buying the condition of the vendor. However, Street Seen is a campaigning paper, raising issues that don't get coverage in the national press and more importantly providing a platform for homeless people and those who would not normally find space to share their experiences and opinions. Street Seen contains regular contributions from Iraq, Palestine and the many groups working towards social justice here and further afield and welcomes submissions from progressive groups and individuals.

We see working with other groups that have a common aim as crucial in helping to lay the foundations for social change. As such we have built links on the ground and with those agencies that work directly with the homeless and with the various agencies and groups that tackle poverty locally and nationally.

Current and future Projects:

· Recently held an ongoing successful Sleeping Bag Appeal, gathering enough items that will last for the next few months, with items distributed to the East Belfast Mission, The Welcome Centre (W Belfast), Home Plus and other outreach groups that work directly with the homeless Community..

· Creating Photography and creative writing classes so as to increase involvement with the Homeless Community and their paper.

· Producing a documentary, made by the Homeless so as to tell their own story, to be screened on terrestrial TV.

· Supporting and developing an International Homeless Forum where members of the Homeless Community and service providers can communicate and exchange thoughts and ideas. http://www.forums.homeless.org.au/

· Developing our own web space to increase inter reaction with our readership and supporters. http://www.streetseennews.blogspot.com/

· Working on creating Belfast’s Homeless Soccer league with associated coaching, refereeing and training courses

· Working with and promoting the Make Poverty History Campaign amongst other campaigns.

· Outreach Work with the Homeless Community addressing immediate needs and concerns


We do not rely on advertising or the backing of wealthy patrons to keep Street Seen afloat; we keep our cover price low so most people can afford it. It is more important for us to get the message out from the street than profit from poverty. At the moment we come out every three weeks with the intention to go fortnightly at the earliest opportunity. This has been a large undertaking but we feel confident for the future, the success of the Sleeping Bag Appeal exemplified to us that people really do want to make a difference.
Street Seen intends to stick around and assist anyone or group who are willing to attempt making that difference, you know where to find us…..


For more info mail: streetseen04@hotmail.com 0774 327 5533

National Missing Persons Helpline

Having been involved with the Homeless Community for quite a while now, on an almost daily basis I would receive calls from people with Missing relatives or friends. Many of these calls are in desperation as they do not who to call and there is a possibility that their loved ones are living rough on the streets. With this in mind Street Seen, as part of an ongoing campaign, profiles an organisation that exists to assist those with missing people dear to them.


It’s very hard to be precise about the amount of people who go missing every year. Opinions differ on who counts as a missing person. The police do not look for people except in cases of vulnerability or crime. According to Home Office estimates, about 210 000 people are reported missing in the UK each year. The vast majority return safe and sound within 72 hours - but thousands do not; the distress experienced during this time is when families need help most. State agencies such as the police are sometimes unable to help, leaving the National Missing Persons Helpline (NMPH) to fill the gap.

NMPH was established as a charity in 1992 to advise and support missing people and those who are left behind. It gives priority to the vulnerable - the very young, the old, the sick and distressed. NMPH has the most detailed 'missing' database in the U.K, registering both vulnerable and non-vulnerable missing people. The charity also offers its services to organisations outside the family circle; the police, social workers, hospitals, care homes, foster homes and international organisations. NMPH is like most charities dependent entirely on voluntary donations.

NMPH receives thousands of missing person’s reports every year, but on a positive note the charity helps to resolve 70% of cases it works on. Its helplines handle more than 150 000 calls per year.


Other specialised agencies, official and voluntary, deal with various aspects of the missing person’s phenomenon, but none has an overview of the problem as a whole. There is no central or single source of general or statistical information on a growing social problem which causes much distress to the absent and those they leave behind alike.


More is known about those under 18 who go missing than any other group. According to the Children's Society each year in the U.K. 100, 000 young people run away or are forced to leave home to escape problems. Of this figure 77,000 children under 16 are running away for the first time. The research suggests that around a quarter of runaways run before the age of 11. One in fourteen children who run away, first run before the age of 8.
According to research carried out for NMPH, girls are over twice as likely to be reported missing as boys between the ages of 13 and 17. The Children's Society report of 1999 states that 45% of children in care run away overnight compared to 9.5% of those living with their own families. Almost one third of children who spend time in care run away three times or more.
One disturbing indication of what happens to these young missing people is that children who have been away for a week or more have a 44% chance of being hurt while on the run and 67% of those who stayed with someone they had just met had been hurt.
Missing young people face many dangers: around 40% of young runways sleep rough while they are missing and almost one third stay with a stranger. Some young runaways experience physical or sexual assault while missing.

Some young people disappear as a result of abduction. Most incidents of abduction involve the child being taken by one of their parents due to a custody dispute. According to Reunite (The National Council for Abducted Children) the cases of parental abduction reported to them have increased by 79% since 1995. Abduction by a stranger or non-family member is rare. Whilst the police record several hundred offences of abduction and child abduction every year covering a range of scenarios (including parental abduction) there are very few offences which involve the abduction and murder of a child by a stranger.



Very little general information exists on missing adults. NMPH commissioned research in this area. The findings of the research, undertaken by the University of York, culminated in the "Lost from View" report 2002.
Males in their late 20s are more likely to disappear than any other group of adults.
Among those aged 60 years or over, the most common reason for going missing is dementia, or mental health problems.
28% of the samples of adults go missing sleep rough, as do two fifths of young runaways.
Adults are more likely to go missing if they are going through a crisis or a difficult transition, or if they are vulnerable due to chronic difficulties

WHY PEOPLE GO MISSING

Reasons for going missing vary widely. A large body of empirical information gives some clear pointers. Reasons include:
Family conflict / relationship problems
Debt
Illness or accident
Abuse
General anxiety or stress
Stress, depression or other mental illness
Amnesia, senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease
Alcohol, drug or solvent misuse
Abduction (most feared but least likely)

It should not be forgotten that people over 18 are at liberty to choose to go away and break off contact. NMPH therefore guarantees confidentiality to seekers and found alike; its commitment to confidentiality has won the respect of people around the country. It recognises the right to stay out of touch and can forward an 'alive and well' message to put relatives' minds at rest without revealing the sender's whereabouts. The Helpline believes every individual has the right to be in a safe environment and will not coerce anyone into returning against his or her will.



HOW THE CHARITY WORKS

The charity operates three nation-wide Freefone telephone Helplines manned 24 hours a day, and provides a variety of other services relating to missing persons. NMPH charges no fee because many families of missing people cannot afford one. But donations are encouraged because the Helpline now needs £4.1 million a year to provide services to the ever-increasing number of families who turn to them for help and support.

MISSING PERSONS HELPLINE 0500 700 700

The core Helpline of the charity, offering support, help and advice to families and friends of missing persons. Staff and volunteers also try to reunite families by searching for missing people via its network of contacts and sources throughout the UK, Europe and beyond.

MESSAGE HOME HELPLINE - 0800 700 740

Message Home is a 24 hour, national Freefone Helpline for those who have left home to send a message to their family or carer, to seek confidential advice, and if necessary to be helped to a place of safety, which can reduce a caller's time of vulnerability.

RUNAWAY HELPLINE - 0808 800 70 70

Another national Freefone confidential Helpline offering support and advice to young runaways. Callers can leave a message for us to pass on to a relative, social worker or carer and can request help and advice. Often young people who have run away feel that they cannot make direct contact with their family or carer, even to phone someone to say that they are alive and safe. The Runaway helpline can act as a non- judgmental intermediary.


The NMPH offers a very valuable service and Street Seen will endeavour to support their work in any manner possible. We will regularly run a missing persons section and can only hope that this will in some way alleviate the anguish that so many people are enduring. There are a number of ways that you can help too. Donations are very important for this service to survive:

How to donate to NMPH

1. Secure Online donations
http://www.missingpersons.org/

2. By Phone
Call the donations line on 0208 392 4592

3. By Post
Send a donation to:

NMPH,
Roebuck House,
284 Upper Richmond Road West,
East Sheen,
London SW14 7JE

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Pitstop Ploughshares Trial begins


PITSTOP PLOUGHSHARES TO BE PUT ON TRIAL.

On 3rd February 2003, as part of ongoing resistance at Shannon Airport, the Pitstop Ploughshares disarmed a US warplane. Within the month, three of the four companies contracted to ferry US troops and weapons had left Ireland. The Ploughshares activists Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damien Moran and Ciaron O'Reilly are charged with two counts of criminal damage. The criminal damage charges of $US 2.5million to a U.S. Navy war plane and €200 to a hangar window at Shannon Airport arise out of their non-violent disarmament action on February 3rd. 2003.
(www.ploughsharesireland.org)
Following their arrests the five members of the pacifist Catholic Worker movement (www.catholicworker.org) spent over a month on remand at Limerick Prison before being released on bail. If convicted the criminal damage charges carry maximum sentences of ten years imprisonment.

The Pit Stop Ploughshares have attracted widespread international support including a "presidential pardon" from Martin Sheen of the "West Wing", a blessing from Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Tutu, concert dedications from Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, Damien Dempsey and Liam O'Maonlai.
A spokesperson for the group stated, "We draw our inspiration from the prophecy of Isaiah to non-violently beat swords into ploughshares. We follow in the footsteps of many brothers and sisters who have disarmed nuclear and intervention weapon systems. We acted to protect the children of Iraq dying under sanctions and threatened by the mobilisation of the US war machine against them.

PLOUGHSHARES TRIAL DATE - March 7th, 2005 Please show solidarity with the Pitstop Ploughshares community as they journey towards trial through the Irish courts in Non-violent resistance to the Irish Government's complicity in the U.S./U.K. war on Iraq.

www.indymedia.ie for Trial Updates

Peace groups object as jobs go, but war stays.

Troops through Shannon up 26% on previous year. Workforce is down 50%...

That's the same workforces who were force- fed the story that their jobs depended on US military use of the airport. Other lies surround the economic arguments of US Military use of Shannon Airport. Figures released this month by the Dept of Foreign Affairs show that 158,549 US troops passed through Shannon Airport in 2004 (compared to 125,855 in 2003) The figures indicate that these troops arrived on 1,502 flights (which would be the chartered American Trans Air [ATA], North American, and World jets seen daily at Shannon) and that also there were 753 military aircraft (i.e. officially declared marked aircraft such as the Hercules, C-9s and C-40s) and also 816 'aircraft carrying munitions' which would basically cover the chartered cargo flights operated by Evergreen International and other charter companies, carrying weapons and explosives through a civilian international airport. Contrast this dramatic increase in business to the dramatic decrease in staff at Shannon, where 260 of the 520 staff are expected to lose their jobs. During the peak of the opposition of US military use of Shannon, some of the workers spoke out against servicing military aircraft, but they were told time and again by their bosses and the government, that their jobs depended on the US military dollar at Shannon. Yet, after keeping a lid on Shannon's darker activities, and watching record military business, half of them are facing the chop because of Government decisions, not the actions of peaceniks. On ex-worker described a 'climate of fear' in the airport, where workers were expected to keep quiet about what came through the airport and “just give em the food and fuel”. Some threatened to boycott work on military flights, as illegal and immoral work. According to the former worker, they were told that they would be sacked for this, and that the unions would not back them up. Another current worker, speaking on condition of anonymity "said that the US military flights at Shannon are treated like royalty". Although the troops represent only 6% of passenger figures, 95% of the security costs are from the military flights. They have their own gate at the airport - Gate 42- which is reserved for the military, and it has had special fences and guard cabins erected, and regularly has armed Garda stationed there, as well as a recently installed hi-tech 'invisible barrier' that uses microwave beams to detect motion around the perimeter near the enclosed military stand. There are also specially fenced off and illuminated parking areas in the centre of the airfield for cargo flights carrying ‘uninspected items’ for the Pentagon. These are regularly guarded by the Irish Army and Garda Siochána. The likes of Aer Lingus and Ryanair only see a security van as it passes them by going from the military cargo area to the troop flights. Official figures repeatedly refer to ‘revenue’ of over €18 million from the military business. But revenue is merely income before profit, and when the costs are removed, the military business is costing the taxpayer plenty. Firstly, there’s the €3 million euros in Air Traffic Control fees that the Pentagon refused to pay last year, and which was paid instead by the Irish Dept of Transport. Then there’s the extra security for the military. The new cameras and motion detectors are not cheap and the extra garda and army overtime cost is estimated at over 20 million (about half of which was on the weekend of the Bush visit to Clare).
When these costs are considered, the US military landings at Shannon, are sucking money OUT of the tax coffers, not putting them in. If the government’s attitude to Shannon doesn’t change it could well end up like Prestwick in Scotland. Prestwick is large modern airport, with its own train station. It was previously busy, but following government policy changes, most of its business comes from Ryanair, and the US and Israeli militar