Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Los Angeles to Nicaragua

How Ed Meese Changed My Life

Twenty years ago yesterday I was watching Ed Meese testify before the Iran Contra Committee. One of the Senators asked him why he'd informed Oliver North that he was about to be investigated, resulting in North, (now a host on Fox,) and Fawn Hall spending the next 48 hours shredding documents. Meese replied that just because he'd informed Col. North he was about to be investigated and that he and his secretary had spent the next two days shredding documents, (and in the case of Ms. Hall, smuggling them out in her underwear...) that didn't necessarily mean that the documents they were destroying were pertinent to the investigation.

He said that, and I'll never forget it because it was one of those moments that changed my life. The sheer audacity of the suggestion... the audacity and utter contempt it took to make such a statement in front of the whole country... somehow I couldn't help but take it personally, and the anger I felt towards him quickly turned back towards me. "Of course he can lie to you like that... what the hell does he care? You're a legal proofreader in LA - he doesn't give a flying fuck what you think."

I'd always wanted to be a journalist, telling myself that one day I'd drop everything and go for it. Ed Meese turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. I quit my job, put my stuff into storage, got in my van and start driving to Nicaragua.

At the Embassy

The next five months were like one very, very long Warren Zevon song: a succession of triumph, fear, heartache, heroes, whoremongers and mercenaries. Someday I'll write about it. When I was in Tegucigalpa I got to have lunch with the U.S. Ambassador, Everett Briggs. My mother had worked for his father, also a career diplomat, and was best friends with his sister, Lucy. The Ambassador introduced me to Rick Chittister, the U.S. Special Liaison to the Contras, (or "The Resistance" as they were fond of saying, since "Contra" had come to sound so much like "atrocity",) and I got to spend an hour or so in the War Room in the basement of the embassy, chatting with Mr. Chittister and his secretary about the situation in Nicaragua while sitting in a chair Oliver North had probably sat in a hundred times.

"Be extremely careful who you talk to, especially about religion or politics. They have death squads over there too you know. If you have any bibles or other religious artifacts, even if it's just jewelry... leave it here. Just giving a bible to someone over there could get them shot... possibly you too."

Mr. Chittister, (who fit the part of Reagan-era CIA perfectly by the way: he looked like Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby, giving the impression that he'd flown straight to Honduras from the tennis courts at Langley,) went on about the brutality and repression of the Sandinista Regime. Although I was pretty sure it was all just propaganda, I couldn't be sure it wasn't either. I'd never been to Nicaragua.


A few days later I was in the Sebaco Valley, drinking with the men of the village of Chaguatillo, which was where my van finally broke down. It was a week or so before Christmas and the women and children were up at the church preparing for the "Festival of the Virgin" while all the men went down to the river to drink and play guitar. The store had stopped selling liquor a few days before, saving up for the holidays. But now it was open again and everyone was drunk on Havana Club, singing and screaming along to songs I couldn't really understand. My Spanish sucks.

All of the sudden the party at the river broke up and everybody started walking back to the village. As if on cue, all the laughing and singing stopped, and all you could hear were a few murmured conversations among the hundred or so of us walking back in the darkness.

When we reached Chaguitillo all the men quietly lined up along the main street, took off their hats and bowed their heads. In the distance I could hear the soprano chorus of women and children singing. They came down from the church carrying candles and flowers and an altar to the Virgin Mary. Nicaragua is close to 95% Catholic, with obligatory military service for both men and women. The altar-bearers, and many others in the procession were female soldiers in uniform.

I'm not somebody who's normally touched too deeply by religious ceremonies, but this one was different. I knew, like we all do, that our government has been lying to us, but somehow having the message brought home to me like that, carried on the voices of that procession - the sing-shouting of the children and the droning of the old women... it just broke my fucking heart. It was the first, and I think only time I've ever cried for my country - and I've had lots of opportunities since then.

Maybe that's why I'm doing what I'm doing and you aren't yet, but something has to happen soon. The murdering bastards who told us Nicaragua, a country with one working elevator, was a threat to the United States are the same ones who sold us this war and they're the same ones who are planning the next one. And we've got to stop them.

And wearing orange one day a week isn't going to be enough. Not by a longshot.


Hecate said...

You so completely rock.

Freewayblogger said...

thanks hecate. and to think I owe it all to Ed Meese.

I wasn't kidding about Nicaragua having just one working elevator. It's true - it was in the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua, and I got to ride in it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is an amazing story. I found it via comments on firedoglake.

I have visited your site several times before, and love your work, as well as those you inspire. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Freeway,
You've reminded me that fascist amorality runs deep in Republicans and recurs like clockwork: Nixon and Haldeman, Ed and Oliver, George, Dick, Karl and Alberto. Indeed, they're on a first name basis with each other.
Please clarify one unclear pronoun for me in your second and third sentences: "One of the Senators asked him [Meese] why he'd informed Oliver North that he [who? Meese or North?] was about to be investigated . . .

Freewayblogger said...

Meese told North that his office (North's) was about to be investigated, prompting the weekend shredding party.

I just read somewhere that the same thing happened with Ted Stevens just now... someone from the justice dept. informed Stevens' lawyer the Senator's home was about to be searched.

It is nice to know some things haven't changed...

Anonymous said...

Anyone who is really interested in checking out Ed Meese's character should read up on the Insweb fraud controversy he was a principal perp in this shameful debacle. Few persons in public or commercial life have had such grubby hands while wrapping themselves up in so much sanctimony...we are in the wrong business, bub, lately, Meese gets over ten thousand smackaroonies per speech!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, correction, it was INSLAW not Insweb. Google it up kiddies.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your work and the inspiration you pass on.

Gregory Lyons

Anonymous said...

But of course, when you are walking around the city doing your daily grind, IN BETWEEN significant actions, wearing orange every Friday is another drop that can cause the waves of discontent to finally overflow. We can be, and feel, so invisable out there, and everyone can't do the more public or higher risk actions. I think making our statements for impeachment and more should be done on any + every level possible. Different lives call for different tactics. And even though I might perform a song about torture and Rumsfeld once a month, the rest of the month i can still wear orange on fridays for anyone who recognizes it, so they know we're in support. Your work is inspiring and outstanding -- and I hope that anyone who can do so WILL do so. Rebel and speak out, everywhere, with whatever tools we have. ona move.

Freewayblogger said...

If people were protesting on "any and every level" it'd be different. They're not.

The problem with wearing orange on Fridays, signing e-mail petitions or "Clicking here and someone gets a cup of rice" (remember that?) is that it makes people think they've done something when they haven't.

Another widely held truism on the left is "so long as you're contributing something, no matter how small, you're doing your job." I just don't think that's true. Seems to me we're not "doing our job" until the war's over and the people who started it are behind bars. That might be just me though.