Haiti

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 8th-15th, 2012.

  • A key player in the 2011 Conservative party campaign for Guelph is refusing to answer more questions, on the advice of his lawyer, from Elections Canada investigators probing fraudulent robo-calls in the riding during the last election that allegedly misled voters. In an extremely rare move, the Conservative government publicly backtracked on Tuesday on their plans to buy 65 state-of-the-art F-35 fighter planes, after many questioned the fact that the government didn’t bother soliciting bids from other manufactures.
  • New York’s Wall Street group warned it could run out of money by the end of the month, raising questions about the future of the movement that sparked nationwide protests against economic injustice last year. Thousands of people marched across the state of Alabama in the United States on Saturday, to protest against new electoral laws that would require voters to show strict forms of photo ID that they say is unfair to millions of African-American and Latino voters. On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on torture accused the US government of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, accused of passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks, at times forcing the soldier to strip naked and endure freezing temperatures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon released plans for a “heat ray” weapon to be used for crowd control that would direct electromagnet waves at people that would deliver sudden, unbearable heat to targets up to a kilometre away.
  • The bodies of four youths were found cut to pieces and left in plastic bags in the central Mexico city of Cuernavaca on Thursday along with a threatening note from a drug gang. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that police departments in Nuevo Leon state will begin giving a series of lie detector tests and psychological exams in an effort to stop corruption on the force.
  • The left-wing party of the ousted President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya named his wife as its Presidential candidate in elections next year on Tuesday. The former first lady is a relative novice in politics.
  • Polls opened in El Salvador on Sunday, in a big test for the first leftist government since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. By Monday, the Nationalist Republican Alliance was ahead with slightly more than 40% of the vote with 50% of precincts reporting.
  • A former Special Forces soldier, Pedro Pimentel Rios, in Guatemala was sentenced to a largely symbolic 6,060 years in prison for his role in the killings of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.
  • With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics fast approaching, authorities in Brazil’s Rio are racing to build new hotels to cope with the influx of thousands of tourist, leaving many behind in the wake of soaring prices and some 7 million shortfall of available homes. On Tuesday, prosecutors announced they would file charges against a retired colonel over the disappearance of five guerrillas during the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the first such case to be brought against any military officers from that era.
  • Two Pakistani UN peacekeepers in Haiti were sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison with hard labour after a trial found them guilty of sexual abuses and exploitation.
  • At least three protesters were killed and some 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru reportedly clashed with illegal miners opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… March 1st-8th, 2012.

  • President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina sought negotiations with the UK to establish several weekly flights from Buenos Aires to the Falkland Islands on Thursday, a move the Islands’ legislative chairman says is “about as likely as the Falklands Air Service landing flights on the moon”.
  • The independent federal elections agency in Canada announced on Friday that it is now investigating more than 31,000 complaints of voting irregularities related to automated telephone calls during the last election that allegedly sent voters to false voting stations. The irregularities have been linked to the ruling Conservative Party, though the party and the PM thoroughly deny any wrongdoing. On Monday, the Conservative parliamentary secretary refused to release its call records in the wake of the growing robo-call scandal, while at the same time calling upon the Liberal party to release their records and shifting blame to Election Canada, the independent election body. On Tuesday, PM Harper refused to explain why Conservative MPs rejected a request by Elections Canada for more power to verify campaign financial returns; while the Conservatives reportedly repaid taxpayers $230,198 for their previous “in-and-out” scandal from the 2006 elections. On Wednesday, the Vancouver Observer ran a report detailed a Conservative adjunct professor’s experience attending the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School where voter suppression tactics were allegedly discussed.
  • President Chavez of Venezuela announced that he will need radiation treatment for cancer in the run-up to the October Presidential elections; though he insisted there was no metastasis after the removal of another tumor. On Saturday, Al Jazeera ran a report on the country’s struggles to stop violent crimes. On Monday, the government and opposition traded blame with each other after a violent melee at a Presidential campaign stop where several people were injured by bullets in Caracas.
  • President Martelly of Haiti nominated his foreign minister and close advisor, Laurent Lamothe, as PM on Thursday, raising hopes of a swift end to the country’s political vacuum. On Sunday, the President asked government officials to find ways to clear several sites around the country being occupied by ex-members of the armed forces.  On Wednesday, a banker whose son is cooperating with authorities in a major US bribery investigation involving former government officials was shot and killed.
  • United States Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to outline the legal framework for the use of lethal force in targeted killings of Americans overseas in a major speech at Northwestern University law school on Sunday, suggesting that lethal force is legal under a September 18, 2001 resolution. On Monday, a bill reportedly passed in the House of Representatives (passing in the Senate on Thursday) that would expand existing anti-protest laws that make it a felony to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted”, which is defined in extremely vague and broad terms and could include a building or grounds where the President or other persons protected by Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting. Tuesday was dubbed “Super Tuesday” as 10 states opened their primary and caucus contests for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination.  On Thursday, two people were killed and seven wounded in a shooting at a psychiatric institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre; while a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre suggested that the number of hate and anti-government groups continued to rise in the previous year, fueled by racial tensions, conspiracy theories and anger over economic inequality. Reports suggested that a state senator in Wisconsin introduced a bill aimed at penalizing single mothers by calling their unmarried status a contributing factor in child abuse and neglect.
  • Police in Peru announced that they arrested a suspected leader of a Maoist faction of the Shining Path rebel movement on Saturday who was the apparent successor to “Comrade Artemio” who was captured last month.
  • Following the rebel group FARC in Colombia’s announcement that it intends to release the last of its captives and stop kidnapping for ransom, families of 10 people currently in FARC custody were provided with new hope. On Tuesday, the ELN guerrillas reportedly freed 11 oil workers who were kidnapped in late February.
  • President Correa of Ecuador rallied supporters on Thursday in a show of force against street protests by opponents who he said were trying to destabilize his government ahead of the 2013 election.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 23rd-March 1st, 2012.

  • The Atlantic ran an interesting article discussing whether Central America should legalize drugs or not, in an effort to reduce the drug related violence in the region. Al Jazeera also took a look at rising drug related violence in Central America in the wake of a recent UN report.
  • A bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday in the Virginia state Senate in the United States when lawmakers returned the bill to committee. On Friday, Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks was formally charged with 22 counts, including “aiding the enemy”, after declining to enter a plea in a military trial; while gay marriage was set to be legalized in Maryland after the state Senate gave its final approval to a bill that will now be sent to the Governor. The Pentagon notified lawmakers of plans to boost American strength in the Persian Gulf in response to alleged Iranian threats close to the Straits of Hormuz on Saturday. On Monday, it was reported that millions of dollars of White House money helped to pay for a New York Police Department program that put entire American Muslim neighbourhoods under surveillance since 9/11; while a student in a high school in Ohio opened fire in the cafeteria with a handgun, killing one student and wounding four others before giving himself up to authorities (the death toll rose to 3 the following day). WikiLeaks published more than five million emails stolen from an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor that is now being called the Enron of private intelligence. On Wednesday, a Pakistani national in Guantanamo Bay plead guilty to five charges related to terrorism, murder, conspiracy and spying, reaching a plea deal that he provide “full and truthful cooperation” with the US government that limits his prison sentence.
  • The Prime Minister of Haiti offered his resignation to the President on Saturday after days of political tension between the premier and government ministers over issues of dual nationality. On Wednesday, several thousands of supporters of former President Aristide filled the streets of Port-au-Prince on the eighth anniversary of his toppling, demanding that President Martelly prove he does not hold dual citizenship and that the UN peacekeeping mission leave the country.
  • On Friday, five disabled protesters began a hunger strike in Bolivia in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people; while scores of disabled people fought police in La Paz after ending their 1,000 mile, 100-day trek through the country.
  • Police in Puerto Rico were alerted to a 6-foot-long military torpedo at a metal recycling centre along the north coast on Friday.
  • An American immigration judge ruled on Thursday that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against a former defense minister of El Salvador for his alleged involvement in torture and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s.
  • Protesters in Bahrain are angered at riot weaponry from Brazil that has reportedly been used on them in recent months, killing some 35 people and injuring hundreds of others. Protesters allege that the Brazilian tear gas has more chemical substances that has made people foam at the mouth and caused other symptoms, even causing the death of babies.
  • The PM of Canada announced he was unaware of allegations that his Conservative party had used dirty tricks to suppress votes to help them win by a narrow margin in last year’s federal election, after an Elections Canada investigation revealed that voters in several constituencies had received automated phone calls designed to prevent them from casting their ballots. On Monday, it was revealed that all the calls weren’t robo, automated pre-recorded voice messages, but rather real-time calls made into ridings across the country; a move that Liberal leader Bob Rae said definitely affected the election results, specifically in 27 ridings that were hotly contested.
  • Two British cruise liners were reportedly turned away from a port in Argentina as tensions mounted over the future of the Falkland Islands. On Wednesday, the British government accused Argentina of pursuing a policy of confrontation over the Falklands, after reports suggested they were calling on companies to stop importing goods from the UK.
  • FARC rebels in Colombia vowed to free 10 remaining police and military hostages and end its practice of kidnapping civilians on Sunday, calling the practice “nothing but a disaster”. The government greeted the announced with caution, as an “important and necessary step” for peace and that they would like to see an end to armed attacks, not merely a ceasefire. On Wednesday, at least 11 Colombian oil workers were reportedly seized by an unidentified armed group as they worked on a pipeline near the Venezuelan border.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 16th-23rd, 2012.

  • President Caledron of Mexico reportedly unveiled a large advertising board near the American border calling on the US to stop the flow of weapons into the country on Friday.  On Sunday, a fight between prison inmates inside a jail near Monterrey reportedly killed some 44 people. On Monday, reports suggested that some 30 members of the Zeta drug cartel plotted with prison guards to orchestrate an elaborate escape that resulted in Sunday’s prison deaths.
  • The Governor of New Jersey in the United States rejected a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state and called upon a ballot question to decide the issue a day after the state assembly passed it. On Friday, a 29 year-old Moroccan man was arrested in Washington DC as part of an anti-terrorism campaign, as he carried what he thought was explosives into the city. On Monday, the Obama administration’s plan to revamp the country’s nuclear weapons strategy and possibly reduce the number of warheads was leaked to the press, causing a major uproar among some conservatives who called the proposals “reckless lunacy”. On Tuesday, the US Marine corps discharged the long marine convicted in the 2005 killings of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha, but will not face jail time. On Wednesday, several members of the Congress received mail threatening biological attack and containing suspicious powder, later found to be harmless by law enforcement officials. On Thursday, at least seven US soldiers were reportedly killed after two helicopters collided during a training exercise along the Arizona-California border.
  • Authorities in Canada announced plans to toughen their refugee laws to filter out fake claims from “safe” countries like Hungary, which it says are clogging up the system and wasting taxpayer money. Critics say it is an attack on human rights, as it appears to target the large influx of claims from Roma “gypsies” coming from Hungary. The country has also allegedly threatened a trade war with the European Union over the bloc’s plan to label oil from the province of Alberta’s vast tar sands as highly polluting. An indigenous community has launched a lawsuit against the government and a petrochemical company SunCor for failing to prevent pollution that has taken a severe toll on their environment and health.
  • The top court in Ecuador upheld a jail sentence on Thursday against three newspaper publishers who were also ordered to pay damages for libelling President Correa. Rights groups claim the ruling puts freedom of expression under threat.
  • The President of Haiti was reportedly attacked as he walked in a Carnival procession in Port-au-Prince, but escaped unharmed on Friday. Witnesses say that “troublemakers” were throwing rocks at the President and his accompanying motorcade.
  • National police in Panama reportedly broke up protests over plans for a vast copper mine and hydroelectric schemes, killing three men, wounding dozens and detaining more than 100 others.
  • Flooding rivers in Peru and Chile displaced people and turned up old land mines from the 1970s, resulting in a closure of the border between the two countries on Monday.
  • President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela announced that he must receive another operation to remove a lesion on his pelvis where surgeons removed a large cancerous tumour last year, but denied rumours that there was any metastasis. Chavez’s imminent departure for his surgery has reportedly thrown his re-election campaign into uncertainty.
  • Hundreds of relatives of inmates who died in last week’s prison fire in Honduras reportedly forced their way into a morgue in the capital to demand the remains of loved ones on Tuesday. The government announced that a dropped cigarette may have set off the fire, going back on the original claims of a purposely set fire.
  • A group of 17 leading intellectuals in Argentina criticized the government for supporting the right to self-determination of Falkland Island inhabitants, questioning the country’s claims on the territory.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… February 9th-16th, 2012.

  • The Pentagon in the United States announced their plans on Thursday to change rules in the armed forces to open up more than 14,000 positions for women to serve as frontline medics, helicopter pilots and intelligence analysts, bringing them closer to frontline combat roles. On Saturday, Republican Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney narrowly won Maine’s caucuses with 39% support; while the hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility for disabling the CIA website, making it inaccessible for several hours. On Monday, lawmakers in New Jersey passed a bill through the state Senate to legalize gay marriage for the first time, but Governor Chris Christie announced he would veto the bill. On Tuesday, Texas announced that they may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences beyond June because they are running out of supplies of lethal drugs; more than 1.8 million dead Americans reportedly remain listed as active voters, as the voter registration system is “plagued with errors and inefficiencies”; the US Defense Secretary told members of Congress that President Obama’s proposed smaller defense budget won’t compromise US “military superiority” around the world; while the US Department of Defense is apparently asking the federal government for almost $3 billion for “activities” in Iraq, even though they have supposedly withdrawn from the country.
  • Argentina accused Britain of sending a nuclear submarine to the disputed Falkland Islands on Friday, in an ongoing feud between the two nations. MPs from a parliamentary committee that oversees defence matters are set to visit the Falklands next month, in a move that is likely to heighten tensions even more between Britain and Argentina.
  • The Guardian reported on Sunday on defenders of the Amazon in Brazil who inform on illegal loggers often face death or exile; while the police strike in the north-east reportedly ended, though a similar action in Rio de Janeiro is still continuing.
  • Venezuela ran its first-ever opposition Presidential primary on Sunday, where it chose a single challenger to run against incumbent Hugo Chavez. Henrique Capriles, a state governor, won the primaries with around 62 percent of the vote. By Wednesday, allies of Chavez had allegedly begun a smear campaign against Capriles, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the vote, questioning his sexuality and disparaging his Jewish roots.
  • The top leader of the Shining Path in Peru has reportedly been found alive, but is badly wounded, after the military had earlier reported him dead. On Sunday, reports were suggesting that the leader was badly wounded after being shot and captured by security forces in a remote jungle.
  • Authorities in central Mexico say a mob of around 300 took three suspected kidnappers out of town’s police station and beat them to death, setting two of the men on fire during an attack on Friday. On Saturday, authorities for the first time appointed a female to the role of head of the federal police. On Wednesday, police reportedly found the mutilated bodies of six men inside plastic bags dumped on a road near the city of Cuernavaca with a threatening message inside.
  • A fire allegedly started by an inmate in a prison in Honduras killed some 356 prisoners, who were locked in their cells. Outraged relatives of the dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison on Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loved ones, but were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.  Reports suggest that most of the inmates in the prison had never been charged, let alone convicted of any crime.
  • The UN Security Council finished a four-day visit to Haiti and called for police reform and improvement in living conditions for those displaced in the January 2010 earthquake.

This Week in Conflict in the Americas… January 23rd- February 2nd, 2012.

  • The Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council adopted proposals to strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday. Included in the non-binding proposals were three recommendations that threaten the reach and independence of the Special Rapporteurship.
  • Last Monday, security forces in Mexico reportedly arrested 11 alleged members of the most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa cartel, during a helicopter raid of a ranch in the north-west. On Tuesday, six people, five of them policemen, were killed in a failed attempt to free two detainees in the central region.  A new study released this week suggests that the Zetas cartel has become the biggest drug gang in the country, overtaking the Sinaloa cartel. This Monday, police in the northern region captured an alleged member of the Zetas drug gang who had confessed to killing at least 75 people.
  • The Mexican ambassador to Venezuela was briefly kidnapped on Sunday night after being seized from his car with his wife in Caracas. Kidnapping is reported soared in recent years.
  • Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary for Republican Presidential candidates in the United States on Sunday, overthrowing favorite Mitt Romney; while the Occupy Oakland protests were halted, resulting in nearly 400 arrests. On Monday, the UN human rights chief said the US government must close Guantanamo Bay prison as President Obama promised over a year ago. On Wednesday, the director of the documentary Gasland was arrested and escorted out of a Republican-dominated Congressional hearing for refusing to stop filming the hearing; the only US marine to face sentencing for the murder of 24 unarmed Iraqis was acquitted of all charges; while President Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech to launch his 2012 re-election campaign. On Thursday, prosecutors subpoenaed the Twitter records of an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested in October. On Friday, Pentagon leaders outlined a plan for absorbing $487 billion in defence cuts over the coming decade by shrinking US ground forces, slowing the purchase of a next-generation stealth fighter jet and retiring older planes and ships; while Republican candidate Newt Gingrich promised to build a colony on the moon should he become President. On Saturday, Occupy Oakland protesters clashed with police as they tried to take over downtown buildings, including city hall, resulting in more than 300 arrests; while the Pentagon announced that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s heavily fortified underground facilities and that they are stepping up efforts to make them more powerful.  On Monday, Occupy protesters in Washington vowed to remain peacefully entrenched in two parks near the White House after a police order demanded they stop camping on federal land, defying the noon deadline to remove their camps. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney won the Florida Republican presidential primary, improving his chances of receiving his party’s nomination. An interesting report on a controversial project treating alcoholic homeless persons in Seattle caught my eye. Several discussions about drone strikes made the news this week, after many called Obama’s comments on them misleading.
  • President Rual Castro defended the one-party system in a speech this week at a conference of the ruling Communist Party, saying that allowing other political parties would threaten the independence of Cuba and the socialist system. He also reaffirmed plans to limit political terms to 10 years. Fidel Castro called the American Republican presidential race the greatest competition of “idiocy and ignorance” the world has ever seen and also criticised the news media.
  • On Wednesday, Argentina accused Britain of militarizing a sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands, after they sent a warship and the country’s future king to the islands. British diplomats accused Argentina of plotting an economic blockade on the Falklands amid fears that Buenos Aires is attempting to stop all flights from Chile from reaching the islands.
  • Authorities in Peru said they are struggling to keep outsiders away from a previously “isolated” Amazon people, as the river has become more popular with environmental tourists, loggers and mining companies who are encroaching on their land.
  • A new study was released analyzing how Brazil has assumed the visible leadership of peacekeeping operations in Haiti and Timor in order to increase its international status in a bid to gain a permanent seat at the UNSC. Last Sunday, riot police in the country stormed an illegal settlement of landless workers in Sao Paulo state to reclaim the land for its private owners, evicting some 6,000 residents who had recently lost a legal battle and resulting in intense criticism.
  • Transgendered persons and supporters in Canada were outraged this week as new screening regulations for airlines went viral. The new regulations stipulate that an “air carrier shall not transport a passenger if… the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents”, effectively banning transgendered persons from boarding.
  • The Clingendael Institute and Impunity Watch released a new report entitled “Breaking the wave: critical steps in the fight against crime in Guatemala.”  On Monday, at least 8 people were killed and at least 20 wounded in an attack at a nightclub in Villa Nueva. On Friday, former military leader Efrain Rios Montt appeared in court to face accusations of genocide and other human rights crimes allegedly committed during his 17 month long rule in the early 1980s.
  • Last Monday anti-government fighters in Colombia attacked a radar installation in Cauca province, killing a guard and delaying several flights. On Wednesday, the FARC rebels agreed to exchange 6 hostages for jailed guerrillas. On Friday, the UN warned that the country needs to do more to prosecute against forced displacement, after hundreds of thousands of people continue to be pushed from their homes each year by armed groups. On Wednesday, the FARC rebel group announced they would delay the release of six hostages due to military activity in the area. On Thursday, seven people were killed and more than 70 injured when a motorcycle packed with explosives was driven into a police station in the city of Tumaco.
  • Nine gold diggers were killed in a gunfight between rival gangs in French Guiana on Saturday. The two groups were allegedly fighting for control of the area.
  • A court in Ecuador suspended the appeal hearing lodged by newspaper editors facing charges for allegedly libelling President Correa. The suspension was reportedly the result of an ill judge.
  • The UN announced that it is investigating two alleged cases of sexual exploitation of children by UN staff in Haiti. The allegations come just four months after Uruguayan peacekeepers were recalled after being accused of rape. On Monday, a judge in the country announced that he is recommending that “Baby Doc” Duvalier face trial on corruption charges but not the more serious human rights violations during his brutal 15-year rule.
  • A wave of protests in Santiago, Chile forced the government to abandon its plans to force journalists to hand over images to police under a controversial new legislation. The bill would have granted new power for the law enforcement and security forces and criminalized expressions of opinion.
  • The President of El Salvador is being heavily criticized for naming an army general as the new head of police, with many calling the move “unconstitutional” and in violation of the 1992 peace accord.

PTSD and reporting on violence.

Hello all! Hope all is well!

I came across this post and was moved by it, so I thought since I’m not up to writing just yet, I’d share it with you! If you haven’t already checked out this blog, I suggest you bookmark it, because it’s top-notch! Thanks for letting me re-post it Amanda.

Peace!

Rebecca

Originally posted at http://wrongingrights.blogspot.com/2011/07/on-mac-mcclellands-tale-of-reporting.html

 

On Mac McClelland’s Tale of Reporting, Rough Sex, and PTSD

(Posts on Hamdan and DSK will hopefully be coming soon, but first I’m going to discuss what turned out to be the favored write-in candidate for my next post: many of you emailed me asking for my reaction to reporter Mac McClelland’s article about her own struggle with PTSD.)

McClelland, who writes about human rights and foreign affairs for Mother Jones, developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a series of difficult reporting assignments in Haiti, during which she interviewed rape victims and was also herself the object of predatory sexual behavior. She has written a number of pieces about her healing process, including several that chronicled the self-defense classes she took at the behest of her editor. And then, a little over a week ago, she wrote an article for GOOD magazine in which she chronicled her PTSD in more detail, and described how having violent-but-consensual sex with someone she trusted helped her to overcome her trauma:

“And just like that, I’d lost. It’s what I was looking for, of course. But my body—my hard-fighting, adrenaline-drenched body—reacted by exploding into terrible panic. The comforting but debilitating blanket of tension that’d for weeks been wrapped around my chest solidified into a brick. Then the weight of his body, and of the inevitability of my defeat, descended on my ribcage. My worn-out muscles went so taut that they ached. I stopped breathing.

I did not enjoy it in the way a person getting screwed normally would. But as it became clear that I could endure it, I started to take deeper breaths. And my mind stayed there, stayed present even when it became painful, even when he suddenly smothered me with a pillow, not to asphyxiate me but so that he didn’t break my jaw when he drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into my face. Two, three, four times. My body felt devastated but relieved; I’d lost, but survived. After he climbed off me, he gathered me up in his arms. I broke into a thousand pieces on his chest, sobbing so hard that my ribs felt like they were coming loose.”

Her essay has been greeted with derision, vitriol, and worse – especially from her fellow journalists. Marjorie Valbrun, writing for Slate’s XX factor blog, called it “offensive,” “shockingly narcissistic,” and “intellectually dishonest.” Reporter Damian Cave tweeted that she was a “geisha to the NGO republic.” And 36 female reporters and Haiti researchers signed an open letter to GOOD, claiming that “the way she uses Haiti as a backdrop for this narrative is sensationalist and irresponsible,” and that

“[McClelland] paints Haiti as a heart-of-darkness dystopia, which serves only to highlight her own personal bravery for having gone there in the first place. She makes use of stereotypes about Haiti that would be better left in an earlier century: the savage men consumed by their own lust, the omnipresent violence and chaos, the danger encoded in a black republic’s DNA.”

The various critiques fall into three rough categories:

  1. PTSD isn’t real, it’s just San Francisco therapy-speak for “having a bad day,” so McClelland must have been a self-obsessed narcissist to write about it as if it’s something to be taken seriously;
  2. PTSD is real, but McClelland either had no right to develop it or was faking it, because reporting about other people’s trauma doesn’t seem like it should be that hard; or
  3. McClelland was allowed to get PTSD, but isn’t allowed to write about it being triggered by reporting from Haiti, because that might give people the impression that bad things can happen in Haiti, and that is clearly racist and colonialist.

I find these reactions confusing. The piece in question is a personal essay about her own struggle with PTSD. It wasn’t reportage on Haiti, or anything else for that matter. So why all the snarls and slashing claws?

In the interest of lighting candles instead of cursing darkness and all that, I figure I’ll address each of the arguments in turn.

PTSD = Not Really That Real?

In fairness, none of the responses I read came right out and specifically said that they think PTSD is fake. However, I have to believe that many of them think that. Because why else would they call McClelland “narcissistic” for developing it? I assume that when they hear that a person has caught malaria, their response isn’t “That self-obsessed bitch! Doesn’t she know that other people have been bitten by way more mosquitoes, and never had a problem?”

Flashbacks and vivid nightmares might be less obvious than 104-degree fevers, but that doesn’t mean they’re made up. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – it’s totes real, y’all! Not a fake thing that people like to claim they have, just because the stigma of mental illness is so super fun!

Perhaps the easiest way to conceptualize PTSD, if you’ve never experienced or encountered it yourself, is as an emotional allergic reaction. With physical allergies, your immune system becomes over sensitized to a physical substance, and will react so strongly when it encounters, say, a peanut, that the result can be serious injury or even death. PTSD can be thought of as the emotional version of that: the body’s emotional system won’t stop fighting, even when it’s no longer necessary. It’s a severe, involuntary over-reaction of of the brain’s normal responses to trauma, and the results can be devastating – the mental equivalent of anaphylactic shock.

The behavior that results from this “mental allergic reaction” can be bizarre and disturbing. One of the first clients I ever worked with was a middle-aged man who was seeking asylum, who also had a severe case of PTSD. As a result, he would do almost anything to avoid discussing his trauma. Because I needed to know what had happened to him in order to file the claim, this was a big problem for our working relationship. He lied to me repeatedly, and often became explosively angry at seemingly random moments. Working on the case made him crushingly fatigued, no matter how much coffee he drank. On one memorable occasion, he fell asleep while talking to me – literally dozed off in the middle of his own sentence.

Another time, I was interviewing a woman about sexual assaults she had suffered as an adult, and she began to impersonate her six-year-old self, who couldn’t be questioned about the assaults because they didn’t happen until she grew up. I’ve had other clients who were initially too traumatized to tell me what happened to them at all, forcing me to suspend work on their cases until after they received treatment from a therapist. It bears repeating that these were asylum cases – winning them was potentially life-saving, so these people had every incentive to cooperate, but their PTSD was so severe that they literally couldn’t.

The thing to draw from these stories, (other than “become an asylum lawyer! Meet vulnerable people, and make them re-live their past traumas for fun and profit!”) is that the symptoms of PTSD can, in many cases, be almost indistinguishable from the symptoms of being an asshole. But there’s a key difference: assholes act that way because they don’t think you deserve respect, while PTSD sufferers act that way because their brains mistakenly think that something is trying to kill them. I don’t know about you, but I think that a person engaged in the activity of “trying not to die” deserves to be cut a bit more slack than a person engaged in the activity of “trying to annoy you.”

Yeah, But McClelland Didn’t Go Through Anything That Bad, Did She? She Must Be Faking, Right?

Nor do I have much sympathy for all the be-internetted mutterings about how ridiculous it was for McClelland to claim PTSD after “only” interviewing a rape victim and not being actually raped herself, or after “only” one trip to Haiti, or “only” whatever else.

For one thing, that’s an unnecessarily restrictive reading of her story, which mentions a number of traumatic situations, including: two trips to Haiti, during which she reported on a brutal sexual assault and mutilation; being the object of sexually predatory behavior by her driver in Haiti, who “cornered her,” an “upstanding member of the Haitian elite,” who stalked her, and a group of convicted ex-felons in Oklahoma who “got handsy” and suggested that she’d be “pretty fun to pass around for lively intercourse;” and the difficulty of reporting on the Deepwater Horizon spill in New Orleans a few months earlier, which had brought back memories of living in that city during Katrina. That doesn’t sound like “only” anything to me.

But even if it were really true McClelland was traumatized by her reporting on the story of Haitian rape victim “Sybille,” that wouldn’t matter. Because not only is PTSD totes real (see above), it also isn’t something that people can control. It’s not like you get to say “sure, this seems bad, but far worse things are happening to other people elsewhere, so I think I will actually not develop PTSD today.”

Again, that’s a courtesy that we extend automatically to people who suffer physical injuries or diseases. If someone loses a leg in a car accident, we don’t dismiss their pain on the grounds that other people lose their legs fighting in wars.

Although I have never had PTSD myself, my personal experience is still enough for me to know that you never know which events are going to leave you traumatized. In my case, my closest actual brush with death – getting run over by a car at age 17 – left me physically bashed up, but emotionally fine. But sometimes exposure to other people’s trauma, through some of the cases I’ve worked on, has on occasion left me a jangly-nerved wreck. For me, those symptoms have tended to manifest in the form of hackneyed-metaphor nightmares (example: I’m in a school that’s bright and sunny, but then I go downstairs and the basement is full of mangled corpses – I get it, subconscious, I get it), and a complete inability to watch torture scenes in movies. Casino Royale left me shaking in my seat, holding my head between my knees and trying not to pass out or throw up.

Luckily, for me, such problems always went away quickly, on their own. I’ve never needed to go to a trauma therapist, or to have someone punch me in the face during sex. But that’s just good luck. It wasn’t strong moral fiber on my part, any more than it was weakness for me to be affected by my clients’ stories in the first place. Just as it wasn’t any more impressive for me not to develop PTSD after getting hit by a car while walking to class one sunny morning than it was for me not to develop an allergy to peanuts. Just as it wasn’t weakness for McClelland to develop PTSD, or to get over it the way that she did. (As treatment plans go, “have the violent sex you crave with a person you can trust” is quite niche, but I’m glad it worked for her.)

And I’m glad that she wrote about it, partly because her prose is vivid and engaging, but partly because I think there is value in embracing the weirdness that mental illness causes, and the weirdness that can be encountered when overcoming it.

There is also value in writing an article that tells other people that healing is possible, but that the road might be peculiar. I couldn’t put it better than commenter Goodspices, who left this comment on Mac’s article:

“Reading this article is an awakening that the feelings I’ve experienced as a victim of PTSD aren’t wrong, happen to others, and most importantly, can be worked through with help. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for everyone but if it worked together for the good, why should we feel the need for judging her?”

If that’s not a good reason for her to have written and published this article, I don’t know what is.

McClelland Shouldn’t Have Written That Her Trip To Haiti Triggered Her PTSD, Because That Is Clearly Racist And Colonialist

I almost feel like I shouldn’t even address this argument, because I think it is so stupid. Those of you who read this blog know that I have basically zero tolerance for the “land of rape and lions” brand of reporting on developing countries, so I feel pretty comfortable with my ability to tell the difference between that, and a personal essay that includes relevant facts. McClelland’s piece is the latter: she was writing about her own experience of Haiti, and that experience included interviewing rape victims, being stalked and harassed by men who felt entitled to have sex with her, and observing an awful lot of guns. I struggle to see how having those experiences, or writing about them, constitutes racism.

When it comes to the Gang of 36’s arguments, I find myself in agreement with Conor Friedersdorf:

This is what a hit piece reads like when it’s cloaked in liberal arts school vernacular. If you scoffed when Pres. Obama was smeared as having a Kenyan anti-colonial mindset, witness the other side’s answer to Dinesh D’Souza: in their telling, we’re to understand the writer by presuming that she has a colonial mindset. How dare someone travel to refugee camps plagued by an epidemic of gang rape, get cornered by her driver, develop PTSD, and focus an essay about her ailment on “ugly chaos”?

Their tactics are especially galling because McClelland never mentions race in her piece, but that doesn’t stop the signatories from using loaded terms to imply that she is racially unenlightened (a “heart of darkness” dystopia with “savage” men). It’s easy to make a writer look bad when you impute to her ugly sentiments she never actually expresses.

And Una Moore:

That 36 well-respected women working as journalists, aid workers and researchers deemed it necessary to endorse a letter that shames a reporter grappling with PTSD for things she did not even write is evidence of just how widespread support for self-censorship is among a network that, were it to live up to its ideals, would encourage bold self-expression, but instead mobilizes to stamp it out and sow fear of independent thought.

To sum up:

  • I liked the article;
  • PTSD = totally a thing; and
  • People should stop being such jerks about it.

Responsible Re-Building in Disaster Zones

One of the biggest tasks after a natural disaster strikes involves the rebuilding of homes and lives for those who have been left with nothing. Problem is; most of the rebuilding efforts of this sort happen in places where natural disaster is ripe to strike again someday.  If rebuilding is done in traditional ways, disaster is surely to strike again, and more lives will be destroyed. Without proper rebuilding, the potential for violence in the region grows, as people are forced into alternative choices to feed, shelter and support themselves and their families. Peace can only truly begin to be built when people have access to their basic needs.

Recognizing that earthquakes don’t kill people, but rather poorly constructed buildings do when they collapse, Elizabeth Hausler set up Build Change. Build Change uses five steps to make safer homes in disaster regions:

1)      Learn which homes collapsed, and which ones didn’t  and why

2)      Design more earthquake-resistant homes

3)      Educate locals to build their skill sets using disaster-resistant technologies

4)      Stimulate local demand for new types of housing

5)      Measure the change over time

Elizabeth believes that earthquake-resistant construction will become common only if the right technology is locally available, widely known, cost effective and culturally accepted and she is working very hard to see that happen.

Earthship biotecture has very similar goals for rebuilding in disaster zones; using locally obtained materials, educating locals to help rebuild for themselves in the long term, and building more earthquake resistant homes. Imagine being able to help those devastated by earthquake in Haiti or Chile build a home with more fully sustainable utilities and food supplies for only $4-6,000. This is the mission the earthship team is now taking on.

Earthships capture and store energy from the sun and wind, collect rain and snow for water usage, treat sewage with botanical planters, heat and cool the interior of the building naturally and even grow most of their own food.  They are often made by stacking rammed-earth tires or using insulated rebar caging that result in high thermal mass and greater disaster resistance. The earthship team has helped build new homes in India after the 2004 tsunami, and is now making plans to head to Haiti to do the same.

You can help them in this mission by donating camping food, gear, money, and vaccines. Every little bit helps! Please check out http://earthship.org/haiti-disaster-relief.html for further details.

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