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Friday, May 19, 2006  


On Wednesday, a week ago, my friend Gavin tried to kill himself. He's a nice guy with a keen intellect and good sense of the creative, and it was his excellent use of these attributes that led him to the clever suicide method he chose. He wanted the deed to be clean and efficient. Everything in its place, like his apartment.

He did his research. The gun was too messy: you couldn't be sure that a shot to the head would yield immediate death, and he wasn't keen on the gun-barrel-in-the-mouth technique, although that's usually a sure thing. He thought about the shotgun, but he imagined the horror at the splatter on the walls of his living room. He considered using the shotgun outside, but he wanted to be sure that his body would be found, and he wasn't comfortable with the thought that his body would end up lying in the sun for several days, the bloating feed bag of scavengers. Similarly, he discounted throwing himself under a train or in front of a fast car or truck.

Poison was out. You had to ingest it (drink it, chew it, swallow it) and that meant contending with the metabolic system and he wasn't much of a chemist, anyway, and that itself ruled out the injection. He wanted this to be a sure thing. Well, there was gas, but his accommodations were all electric, so that didn't make his list either. He didn't favor electrocution, so he moved on to other ideas.

He thought hard about using carbon monoxide and he could use his car and a hose for that, but he decided against it because he wasn't sure that it would be foolproof and he had a fear of waking up in the hospital still alive but brain damaged. He also didn't like the smell of car exhaust.

And then there was the knife and the many ways he could cut himself to get a good arterial bleed. It had to be a good bleed, because we have the clotting factor and the blood flow has to be sufficient to get past that. The wrist slash would hurt too much; he wasn't sure that his aim would be good enough for him to cut his own carotid artery, even with the aid of a mirror, and he couldn't picture himself fumbling with a sharp knife trying to do something as important as killing oneself. Plunging a knife or ice pick into the heart might work, but he really had a problem with the pain part, so that too was scratched off his list.

The bridge suicide was also ruled out. Gavin lived in a village in rural New York. There aren't any really tall bridges in rural upstate New York and he thought he might talk himself out of it if he took a plane to San Francisco. There were the gorges in Ithaca and high bridges in the Hudson Valley, but for this deed he wanted to be sure that it would be a success, that he would actually die and not end up with fractures and brain damage at the bottom of a long drop. There was, of course, the Empire State Building, or any of the other really tall structures in the big cities, but he hated the thought of the mess he would make on the sidewalk below, and he couldn't be sure that he wouldn't land on a person walking below. He wanted this to be a suicide, not manslaughter. Drowning was scratched from his list because he disliked the pain of not breathing. For several reasons, then, Niagara Falls was out.

He thought hanging might work for him—after all, many famous criminals were dispatched using that death method. As it happened, he had an aesthetic objection to that method, effective though it might be.

As he was cutting lettuce for his salad one evening about two months ago, he thought of the ideal method: Guillotine. Actually his first thought was the axe, and as he calculated in his head how he might axe himself to death, he hit upon the guillotine. It was clean and quick and ensured death. It was painless, or at least he thought that it would be painful for no more than a moment or so, and he could do the deed in his apartment, without much residual mess. Perfect. The guillotine is basically an angled knife suspended and dropped onto the neck, severing the head completely. He thought: Wasn't Saint Paul beheaded? Perhaps there is something to this guillotine thing. France made it famous, but it was last used for execution there in 1977. Gavin believed that he could revive it as a suicide machine. [ MORE ]

posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 1:15 AM |

Wednesday, May 17, 2006  

My Lai is, like, so 20th Century

NBC News is reporting today that the killing of 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians by US Marines in the city of Haditha in November 2005 was neither "collateral damage" nor self-defense. Rep John Murtha said that the Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," and evidence from the US military's own probe confirms this. Among the 15 dead were seven women and three children:

Murtha, a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, said at a news conference Wednesday that sources within the military have told him that an internal investigation will show that "there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

"This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.

In March Time magazine reported on these killings, contesting the official account with an Iraqi video that detailed the aftermath of the attack.

When I first learned about the attack in November, my first thoughts were to the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968. In brief, US Army soldiers from Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, led by Lt William Calley, killed several hundred old men, women, children, and babies in a vicious frenzy that included rape and torture and execution in ditches. Calley was convicted of premeditated murder, served 3.5 years of house arrest, and then freed. Twenty-six others were charged, but not convicted.

Today we learn that the truth about these innocent deaths were again smothered in layers of denial and distraction. Different country, different war, same crime.1 One would think that they aren't the same, that the number of those killed in each incident is so very different, but that isn't the case. They are the same, and they would be the same if even one innocent person had been killed. Murder, massacre—the words are irrelevant here. Our soldiers do not belong in Iraq.

1.  Let's not forget the incident at No Gun Ri during the Korean War. This massacre by US troops was hushed up for fifty years. From the PBS NewsHour online report: "The Army launched its probe into soldiers' Korean War conduct after The Associated Press published a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative report on an alleged incident at a bridge near the Korean village of No Gun Ri. According to some former servicemen, American GIs carried out a mass killing of civilians there in July 1950 after they received orders to open fire. Military leaders apparently feared that North Korean guerrillas were hiding among the refugees, the AP's sources said. / According to ex-GIs and Koreans who say they were there, as many as 300 were killed during the alleged attack." The AP report was published in 1999. The federal government's subsequent investigation resulted in the US Army's Report of the No Gun Ri Review (available in PDF form) in 2001. See also the "Statement of Mutual Understanding Between the United States and the Republic of Korea on the No Gun Ri Investigations" at the Department of Defense. There are several links to this and other updated information at the online PBS NewsHour site.

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posted by Merle Harton Jr. | 11:45 PM |
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