Ghosts

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By Ian Buruma

Volume 55, Number 11 ? June 26, 2008

The New York Review of Books
Two photographs, taken by digital camera at Abu Ghraib prison, on the night of November 5, 2003. The first picture shows a person in a ragged black poncho-like garment standing precariously on a tiny box. Hairy legs and arms suggest that this person is a man. His head is covered in a pointed black hood, his arms are spread, and his fingertips are attached to wires sticking from the concrete wall behind him. The pose hints at a crucifixion, but the black poncho and hood also suggest a witch or a scarecrow.
The second picture shows a young woman hunched over the corpse of a man. The corpse lies in a half-unzipped black body bag filled with ice cubes wrapped in plastic. His mouth is open; white bandages cover his eyes. The young woman grins widely at the camera. She holds up the thumb of her right hand, encased in a turquoise latex glove.

The photographs look amateurish, a crude mixture of the sinister and lighthearted. When they were published, first in The New Yorker magazine, we were provided with some background to them, but not much. The anonymous man in the first picture had been told that he would die of electric shock if he fell off the box. Hence the wires, which were in fact harmless. Information about the second picture was sketchy, but the woman seemed to be gloating over the man’s death. The bandages suggested serious violence. There were other Abu Ghraib photographs, published widely on the Internet: of terrified Iraqi prisoners, stripped of all their clothes, being assaulted and bitten by dogs (“doggie dancing”); of a naked prisoner on all fours held on a leash by a female American guard; of naked men piled up in a human pyramid; of naked men made to masturbate, or posed as though performing oral sex; of naked men wearing women’s panties on their heads, handcuffed to the bars of their cells; of naked men used as punching bags; and so on.
The photographs evoked an atmosphere of giddy brutality. The reputation of the United States, already tarnished by a bungled war, hit a new low. But interpretations of the photographs, exactly what they told us, varied according to the observer. After he was criticized for failing to apologize, President Bush said in a public statement that he was “sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families.” But he felt “equally sorry,” he said, “that people who have been seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America.” Donald Rumsfeld deplored the fact that the pictures had been shown at all, and then talked about charges of “abuse,” which, he believed, “technically is different from torture.” The word “torture” was carefully avoided by both men. President Bush, confronted much later with questions about a damning Red Cross report about the use of torture by the CIA, spelled out his view: “We don’t torture.”[1]
Susan Sontag, writing in The New York Times Magazine, had a different take on the pictures. She thought the “torture photographs” of Abu Ghraib were typical expressions of a brutalized popular American culture, coarsened by violent pornography, sadistic movies and video games, and a narcissistic compulsion to put every detail of our lives, especially our sexual lives, on record, preferably on public record. To her the Abu Ghraib photos were precisely the true nature and heart of America. She wrote:

Soldiers now pose, thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send the pictures to their buddies. Secrets of private life that, formerly, you would have given anything to conceal, you now clamor to be invited on a television show to reveal. What is illustrated by these photographs is as much the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic brutality.[2]


Many liberal-minded people would have shared instinctively not only Sontag’s disgust but also her searing indictment of modern American culture. One of the merits of Errol Morris’s new documentary on the Abu Ghraib photographs, and even more of the excellent book written by Philip Gourevitch in cooperation with Morris, is that they complicate matters. What we think we see in the pictures may not be quite right. The pictures don’t show the whole story. They may even conceal more than they reveal. By interviewing most of the people who were involved in the photographic sessions, delving into their lives, their motives, their feelings, and their views, then and now, the authors assemble a picture of Abu Ghraib, the implications of which are actually more disturbing than Sontag’s cultural critique.

At first no one knew the dead man’s name. He was one of the “ghost prisoners,” brought into the “hard site” of Abu Ghraib by anonymous American interrogators, dressed in black, also known to the MPs as “ghosts.” These ghosts belonged to the OGA, Other Government Agency, which usually meant the CIA. Ghost prisoners were not formally registered before their interrogation in shower cubicles or other secluded parts of the prison. They disappeared as swiftly as they came, after the ghost interrogators were done with them. All that the MPs heard of their presence were screams in the night. If the Red Cross visited, the ghost prisoners were to be hidden away.
The man who would soon die arrived in the night before the photographs published in The New Yorker were taken, with a sandbag over his head, and nothing but a T-shirt on. MPs were told to shackle his hands to a window behind his back in “a Palestinian hanging position” (a technique allegedly used but certainly not invented by the Israelis). The man was breathing heavily. Then the MPs were dismissed. An hour or so later, they were called back in to help. The prisoner was no longer responding to questions. They hung him higher and higher, until his arms seemed at breaking point. Still no response. A splash of cold water. His hood was lifted. The MPs noticed that his face had been reduced to a bloody pulp. He had been dead for some time. The ghosts quickly left the scene. Medics were called in to clean up the mess, bandages were put over his puffed-up eyes, and the corpse was zipped into an ice-filled body bag and left in a shower room until it could be removed. The officer in charge of the MPs at Abu Ghraib, Captain Christopher Brinson, declared that the man had died of a heart attack.
Meanwhile, in the same prison block, another torment was taking place. Another nameless prisoner had been brought in, suspected of having killed an agent from the US Army’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID). He refused to divulge his name, so he was handed over to Specialist Charles “Chuck” Graner, an army reservist. Graner, a hulking mustachioed figure, seen laughing at the misery of Iraqi prisoners in many Abu Ghraib pictures, was not trained as an interrogator; nor did he have more than the vaguest idea of the rules and conventions that are supposed to guide interrogations. A corrections officer in civilian life, Graner enjoyed a “bad boy” reputation, with a taste for sinister pranks and an eye for the girls. He should never have been put in charge of terror suspects. He did not even have the security clearance to be a military policeman with custody over prisoners.
Nonetheless, Graner was put in charge of the nameless prisoner and told by CID agent Ricardo Romero to “make his life a living hell for the next three days and find out his name.” Graner did his best, aided by Sergeant Ivan Frederick and other members of their Maryland reserve unit who happened to be around and were equally untrained in interrogation work. The prisoner was stripped of his clothes, yelled at, made to crawl on the floor, deprived of sleep, forced to stand on a tiny box, hooked up to wires sticking from the wall and told he would die if he so much as moved. This last game lasted for about fifteen minutes, long enough for Graner to take his photographs.
Morris didn’t manage to interview Graner. He is still in a military prison. But other witnesses of what happened that night, such as Specialist Sabrina Harman, claim that not much harm was done to the prisoner they nicknamed “Gilligan.” She said that he ended up laughing at the Americans, and actually became a popular guy of sorts, being given the privilege of sweeping up the prison cells. “He was just a funny, funny guy,” she said. “If you were going to take someone home, I definitely would have taken him.”


Sabrina Harman also happens to be the young woman in the second picture, hunched over the corpse. Like Graner, she worked as a guard on the night shift at Abu Ghraib. Harman is described by other interviewees in Morris’s film as a sweet girl who, in the words of Sergeant Hydrue Joyner, “would not hurt a fly. If there’s a fly on the floor and you go to step on it, she will stop you.” The reason she joined the army was to pay for college. Her dream was to be a cop, like her father and brother. Not just a cop, but a forensic photographer. She loved taking pictures, with a special interest in death and decay. Another prison colleague, Sergeant Javal Davis, said: “She would not let you step on an ant. But if it dies, she’d want to know how it died.”

So when water started seeping out of the locked shower cell, and she and Graner uncovered the dead man in his body bag, her first instinct was to take pictures. She told Morris and Gourevitch that she

kind of realized right away that there was no way he died of a heart attack, because of all the cuts and blood coming out of his nose. You don’t think your commander’s going to lie to you about something. It made my trust go down, that’s for sure.

This is when Graner asked her to pose with the body. Harman adopted the pose she always did in photos, with her friends, with prisoners, in the morgue, and now in the shower: she grinned and stuck her thumb up.
Later, she returned to the same place alone, curious to find out more. She took off the gauze over the dead man’s eyes and “just started taking photos of everything I saw that was wrong, every little bruise and cut.” She realized how badly the man had been beaten up:

It looked like somebody had either butt-stocked him or really got him good, or hit him against the wall…. I just wanted to document everything I saw. That was the reason I took photos. It was to prove to pretty much anybody who looked at this guy, Hey, I was just lied to. This guy did not die of a heart attack. Look at all these other existing injuries that they tried to cover up.

In her interview with Morris, Harman looks rather impressive: intelligent, articulate, plausible. The interviews are actually more like monologues, for with rare exceptions Morris’s questions are never heard. His genius is to get people to talk, and talk, and talk, whether it is Robert McNamara in The Fog of War or Sabrina Harman in Standard Operating Procedure. The fact that he paid some of his interviewees for their time has been held against Morris by some critics. It seems of little importance. There is no reason to believe that cash changed their stories. If only the film had stuck to the interviews. Alas, they are spliced together with gimmicky visual reenactments of the scenes described in words, which take away from the stark air of authenticity. But perhaps that is Morris’s point. Authenticity is always elusive. Nothing can be totally trusted, not words, and certainly not images, so you might as well reimagine them.
But I think we are meant to believe that Harman is telling the truth. Her letters from Abu Ghraib to her lesbian partner, Kelly, suggest as much. On October 20, 2003, she wrote about a prisoner nicknamed “the taxicab driver,” naked, handcuffed backward to the bars of his cell, with his underwear over his face:

He looked like Jesus Christ. At first I had to laugh so I went on and grabbed the camera and took a picture. One of the guys took my asp and started “poking” at his dick. Again I thought, okay that’s funny then it hit me, that’s a form of molestation. You can’t do that. I took more pictures now to “record” what is going on.


Two pictures, then. The first one, of Gilligan and the electric wires, was analyzed by Brent Pack, a special forensic expert for the CID. After much thought, he concluded:

I see that as somebody that’s being put into a stress position. I’m looking at it and thinking, they don’t look like they’re real electrical wires. Standard operating procedure?that’s all it is.

He was technically right. A memo drawn up by the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, on November 27, 2002, recommending authorization of interrogation techniques in Category II?which included humiliation, sensory deprivation, and stress positions?was formally approved by the secretary of defense. Donald Rumsfeld even scribbled his famous quip at the bottom of this memo, stating: “However, I stand for 8?10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R.”[3]
And yet this picture, more than any other, including the ones featuring attack dogs and wounded naked bodies, became the most notorious, an icon of American barbarism, the torture picture par excellence, perhaps because, as Gourevitch writes, it left so much to the imagination. That, and its evocation of the crucifixion, Christ at Abu Ghraib. And Sabrina Harman? She was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private, a forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a bad conduct discharge. None of the men who were responsible for her subject’s death were ever prosecuted. No one above the rank of sergeant was even tried. As Morris said in an interview to promote his film, Harman and her friends caught in the photographs

were punished for embarrassing the military, for embarrassing the administration. One central irony: Sabrina Harman was threatened with prosecution for taking pictures of a man who had been killed by the CIA. She had nothing whatsoever to do with the killing, she merely photographed the corpse. But without her photographs we would know nothing of this crime.

It was just another death of a ghost delivered by ghosts.

2.

Morris has been faulted for not pointing his finger more directly at people more senior than Harman, Graner, Frederick, or Lynndie England, Graner’s girlfriend at the time, who held the naked prisoner on a leash. But this is missing the point of the film. For it is not about Washington politics or administration lawyers, or at least not directly, but about a particular kind of concealment, the way photographs which seem to tell one story actually turn out to hide a much bigger story. Compared to what was really happening at Abu Ghraib, where men were tortured to death in hidden cells, where children were incarcerated with thousands of other prisoners, most of them blameless civilians, exposed to daily mortar attacks, living in unspeakable conditions of filth and squalor, where there was no way out even for men who had been declared innocent, where unarmed prisoners were shot dead by nervous guards?compared to all that, the photograph of Gilligan was just fun and games.
The first thing human beings do when the unspeakable becomes standard operating procedure is to change the words. Even the Nazis, who never seemed to have been unduly bothered by what they did, invented new words, usually of a cold bureaucratic nature, to conceal their crimes: “special treatment” and so on. In public, the US policy toward “security detainees” or “unlawful combatants,” to whom, according to White House and Pentagon lawyers, the Geneva Conventions did not apply, was couched in the kind of language favored by Vice President Dick Cheney: “We need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.”
The phrase “the gloves are coming off” gained currency. As in an e-mail, quoted by Gourevitch, sent to MI unit commanders in Iraq by Captain William Ponce of the Human Intelligence Effects Coordination Cell: “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees. Col. Boltz”? Colonel Steven Boltz, the deputy MI commander in Iraq?”has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.” The likes of Harman, Graner, England, and Frederick were at the very bottom of the chain of command. They were told to “soften up” the prisoners, to make their lives hell. They should “treat the prisoners like dogs,” in the words of Major General Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison and interrogation camp at Guant?namo Bay. He said this before the photographs were taken, during a visit to Abu Ghraib, where he felt the prisoners were treated too well. His methods, honed at Guant?namo, were soon adopted. One of Morris’s (or Gourevitch’s) more arresting ideas is that the photographs of the treatment meted out to the prisoners are evidence that the people who were ordered to take their gloves off, if you will, had not entirely lost their moral way. Gourevitch writes:

Even as they sank into a routine of depravity, they showed by their picture taking that they did not accept it as normal. They never fully got with the program. Is it not to their credit that they were profoundly demoralized by their service in the netherworld?

Credit is perhaps not the mot juste. Nazis who took pictures of naked women lined up in front of their own mass graves might not have considered the scene quite normal either, but this does not mean that they were not with the program. Heinrich Himmler was well aware that what he was asking from his SS men was not normal. That is why he told them to steel themselves against any feelings of humanity that would hamper them in their necessary task.
That Harman, for one, was often disgusted with what she saw at Abu Ghraib is indeed clear from her letters to her partner, Kelly. And even Graner, the baddest of the bad apples, was apparently taken aback when he was told by “Big Steve” Stefanowicz, a contract civilian interrogator, just how roughly prisoners were to be “broken.” Graner was reminded of 24, the popular television series, starring Kiefer Sutherland, about the necessity of using any means, including torture, to stop terrorists. Graner claims that he told Big Steve: “We don’t do that stuff, that’s all TV stuff.” Graner was surely unaware that 24 had actually been discussed in all seriousness at brainstorming sessions at Guant?namo led by the staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She recalled the mounting excitement among her male colleagues, including men from the CIA and the DIA, as different interrogation techniques were being bandied about. She told Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.”


That was in Guant?namo, where ideas were hatched, noted on legal pads, recorded in memos, debated in air-conditioned offices. Now back to Graner in the filth, noise, and menace of constant violence in Abu Ghraib prison. As the authors point out, there is a kind of pornographic quality to many of the pictures which would indicate that Susan Sontag’s cultural critique was not entirely off beam.

The deliberate use of women, for example, in the humiliation of Arab prisoners is striking. Graner may have asked his girlfriend, Lynndie England, to pose for a picture holding a prisoner on a leash. This might have given him, and possibly her, an erotic frisson. And Sabrina Harman, too, is seen to have been a grinning accomplice in several of Graner’s pranks with naked prisoners. That is why she ended up being convicted. But in fact these games?some clearly staged for the camera as cruel photo-ops?were also part of the program. The women’s panties, the nudity in front of women, the poking of the genitals, the enforced simulation of sexual acts, were all part of the program. Graner was told in writing by his commander, Captain Brinson, that he was “doing a fine job.” He was told: “Continue to perform at this level and it will help us succeed at our overall mission.”
The MPs at Abu Ghraib, as Gourevitch rightly observes, knew little about Middle Eastern culture, but they were given “cultural awareness” training at Fort Lee, before being flown out to Iraq. They were told that sexual humiliation was the most effective way to “soften up” Arab detainees. A person does not have to be corrupted by the popular culture deplored by Susan Sontag to be vulnerable to feelings of pleasure when the sexual humiliation of others is officially sanctioned, even encouraged. Graner’s real sin for the administration was not that he went too far (which, measured by any moral yardstick, of course he did), but that he took pleasure in what should have been a grim job. As Dick Cheney said: “It is a mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena.” Hard dicks should have been kept strictly out of sight, under conference tables. But Graner turned the dirty business into his own pornographic fantasies; and what is worse, he recorded them on film, for all the world to see.
Lynndie England played a walk-on part in these fantasies. She loved Graner. She would have done anything he wanted. That was her tragedy. England was sentenced to three years in a military prison for maltreating detainees. “All I did was what I was told to do,” she said, in the oldest defense of men and women landed with the dirty work. “I didn’t make the war. I can’t end the war. I mean, photographs can’t just make or change a war.”
Harman, too, acted out her fantasies, of being a forensic photographer, of recording death. As a result, she made the program public, and forced the president of the greatest power on earth to issue a public apology. As Morris says, in his interview: “Under a different set of circumstances, you could imagine Sabrina winning a Pulitzer Prize for photography.” Instead, she was charged not only with dereliction of duty and maltreatment, but with destroying government property and “altering evidence,” by removing the bandages from the dead man’s eyes. She told Morris: “When he died, they cleaned him all up, and then stuck the bandages on. So it’s not really altering evidence. They had already done that for me.” Since her pictures revealed the truth of this statement, these particular charges were eventually dropped.
Both Morris’s film and the book based on it by Gourevitch are devastating, even without going into detail about the complicity, or indeed responsibility, of top officials in the Bush administration. The photographs embarrassed the United States, to be sure. But for the US government, this embarrassment might have actually helped to keep far greater embarrassments from emerging into public view. Preoccupied by the pornography of Abu Ghraib, we have been distracted from the torturing and the killing that was never recorded on film and from finding out who the actual killers were. Moral condemnation of the bad apples turned out to be a highly useful alibi. By looking like a bunch of gloating thugs, “Chuck” Graner, Ivan Frederick, et al. made the law-yers, bureaucrats, and politicians who made, or rather unmade, the rules?William J. Haynes, Alberto Gonzales, David S. Addington, Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Douglas J. Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney?look almost respectable.
And Gilligan, by the way, was probably not the man anyone thought he was after all, but an innocent who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just like up to 90 percent of the men and boys locked up in Abu Ghraib.

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Kalpana Chakma’s unresolved abduction 20 years on…

Photographs and interviews by Saydia Gulrukh

Kalindikumar Chakma (Kalicharan)
Kalpana?s eldest brother
?The hill people do not get justice, look at Yasmin, some justice was done, but people of the hills don?t get any justice. It?s been twelve years…The VDP [Village Defence Party] member Nurul Huq, and Saleh came with Lieutenant Ferdous to this house that night. They still strut around. They live in the neighbouring Bengali village. Go there. You will find them. I have told the BDR [Bangladesh Defence Rifles] commanding officer, you say you can?t find him, well, his accomplices are around, why don?t you question them?
Kalpana?s clothes kept in her brother Kalicharan?s home
?She had a black bag, she took it to Dhaka. I have kept all her things in it. All these years. But the mice have been at it. She had many books… I educated her up to I.Com, I got her admitted to the degree classes, I thought our lives would become a bit better, but no, they came and took her away… I do not know to this day whether she is dead or alive… They should at least tell me that she has died so that we can give dharma, do what religion asks of us. People of all religions have a right to do what should be done.?
Mithun Chakma
Kalpana Chakma?s comrade
?I was picked up by the army when I was delivering a speech at a PCP rally, on the 6th of August 2004. They took me to Khagrachari camp, blindfolded me, took me to a room, asked me to lie down [on a bench], put up my legs, then they began beating me on the soles of my feet with the butt of a hockey stick. They beat me for a long, long time, they said things like, ?What is your name? What do you do?… [Why do] you take up arms? What are your ideals?? Lots of other things, ?You do not know that we ? the army ? have learnt how to torture, we have had training from the US.? They also said other things, ?And the Kalpana thing, well we did that, but nothing happened, right???
The well in New Lallyaghona village, in front of Kalpana?s house
?They brought Kalpana and her two brothers to this well, and blindfolded them… I think they pushed them over to that beel [marshes]. They got her to enter the waters, and then shot her… [The next day] villagers scoured the waters all day long with fishing nets. But her dead body was not found.?


by Meghna Guhathakurta


Kalpana, a first year graduate student of Baghaichari College, was a conscious, vocal and hardworking activist who fulfilled her role as organising secretary of the Hill Women?s Federation with commitment and resolve. Systematic and pervasive military presence in the hill tracts has made Pahari women more conscious of their rights. This is vividly borne out by what Kalpana writes in her diary, recovered by journalists from her home after her disappearance. Parts of this diary were serially published in the Bengali daily Bhorer Kagoj. Later, it was reprinted along with other writings in an anthology, Kalpana Chakma?s Diary, published by the Hill Women?s Federation (2001).
Kalpana introduces her ?daily notebook? through the following lines: ?Life means struggle and here are some important notes of a life full of struggle.? In depicting the life of a woman in the CHT, she writes, ?On the one hand, women face the steam roller of rape, torture, sexual harassment, humiliation and conditions of helplessness inflicted by the military and Bengalis. On the other, they face the curse of social and sexual discrimination and a restricted lifestyle.? However, Kalpana?s understanding of oppression embraces all women of Bangladesh, ethnic and Bengali. She writes elsewhere: ?I think that the women of my country are the most oppressed.? In expressing her yearnings for freedom from oppression she uses a beautiful metaphor: ?When a caged bird wants to be free, does it mean that she wants freedom for herself alone? Does it also mean that one must necessarily imprison those who are already free? I think it is natural to expect the caged bird to be angry at those who imprisoned her. But if she understands that she has been imprisoned and that the cage is not her rightful place, then she has every right to claim the freedom of the skies!?
Kalpana?s reading of the woman question is a feminist one. Her feminism allows her to look at the woman question in terms of Bengali domination, as well as in terms of sexual politics within her own community. This is striking and unique since in most nationalist or ethnic movements the gender question becomes a subtext to the larger ?national? one. Kalpana?s feminism differs sharply from that of her middle-class Bengali sisters. Her struggle, unlike theirs, pitches her to confront military and racial domination in a manner incomprehensible to most privileged Bengalis. ***

Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures: Family, Law and Politics

Brill Academic Publishers, 2005

By Suad Joseph and Afsaneh Najmabadi

IN THE late 1980s conflicts of state versus community were sharply on the rise. In Bangladesh problems over the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from 1980 led to a series of massacres, plunders and destruction of villages… [this conflict] had historical roots [it] became particularly violent in the 1980s and 1990s…in all these movements women played an important role in conflict resolution.
People in the CHT were antagonistic toward the government of Bangladesh from the time the Kaptai dam was built (1957-62) and thousands of people became homeless. In the early 1970s the whole of CHT was brought under military control. The original inhabitants of the CHT were the Jumma (tribal) people. They were aggrieved not just because of the dam but also because the state had undertaken to change the demographic balance of the region through a policy of settling Bengali Muslim people from the plains in the CHT. The protest of Jumma people brought forth severe counter-insurgency measures leading to extra-judicial killings and massacres by the state. The rebels also formed a military unit called the Shanti Bahini. In all of this the tribal women were targeted; this was dramatically brought to the fore by the abduction of Kalpana Chakma in 1996. While the region was being torn apart the Hill Women?s Federation (HWF), a secular women?s organization was formed in 1989 by women students of the Chittagong University. By 1991 it had become extremely popular…The main aims of these groups were justice for the tribal people of CHT and an end to violence. They were among the strongest voices for peace.



by Mithun Chakma


ON THE night of 11 June, 1996… Barely 7/8 hours [later] voting for the seventh National Parliamentary Elections [begin]…at about 1:30am..Mrs. Bandhuni Chakma, Kalpana?s widowed mother got out of bed and opened the door, her whole body was trembling in fear. They came out one by one: Kalpana, her two brothers, Khudiram and Kalicharan, the latter?s wife. The house was surrounded… A soldier flashed a torch on their faces, and Kalicharan recognised Lieutenant Ferdous, who had visited their house a few days back, and two VDP members ? Nurul Haque and Salah Ahmed. Amnesty International in an Urgent Action issued on 1st July 1996 wrote: ?Six or seven security personnel in plainclothes, believed to be from Ugalchari army camp (actually Lieutenant Ferdous was commander of Kojoichari Army camp), are reported to have entered the home of Kalpana Chakma in New Lallyaghona village, Rangamati district in the early hours of 12 June. Kalpana Chakma and two of her brothers were forcibly taken from their home, blindfolded and with their hands tied.?
What happened? The Ain-o-Salish Kendra report [says], They (army) took Khudiram near a lake and told him to step into the lake. As soon as he went in, the order to fire was given. Frightened, Khudiram took shelter in the water. He swam around for some minutes, then rose up and took shelter in a neighbour?s house, he had no clothes on his body. In the meanwhile, armed personnel blindfolded Kalpana and her brother Kalicharan. He heard the firing, ran and managed to escape. While running to save his life he heard two shots being fired, and heard Kalpana screaming. Kalicharan said, ?They shot at me and when I ran I could hear Kalpana crying out Dah Dah Mare Baja (Brother, brother save me!)…?
A cover-up attempt was made from the very beginning. Initially, the army termed it a ?love affair? [between Lieutenant Ferdous and Kalpana Chakma]. However, they backtracked later, and flatly denied their involvement in the abduction. When the issue refused to die down, they launched a vicious disinformation campaign. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission in its report Life is Not Ours (update 3) said, an NGO named Bangladesh Human Rights Commission declared at a press conference on 15th August 1996: Kalpana Chakma had been seen in Tripura (India), she herself had plotted her own abduction. Kalpana Chakma?s mother rejected BHRC?s statement and termed it a ?blatant lie?.
After months of protest and mounting international condemnation, the government constituted a three-member inquiry committee on 7 September 1996, headed by Justice Abdul Jalil. The other members were Sawkat Hossain, Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong and Dr. Anupam Sen, professor of Chittagong University. The committee is reported to have submitted its findings to the Ministry of Home Affairs a couple of years ago, but the government has still not made it public.
Meanwhile, a storm of protests swept the CHT. A general strike was observed in Marishya, the area to which Kalpana belonged. While the Jummas wholeheartedly supported the programme, some Bengali settlers attacked a rally, and shot dead 16-year old Rupon Chakma. The settlers also hacked to death Sukesh Chakma, Monotosh Chakma and Samar Chakma, on their way to Baghaichari bazaar to take part in picketing.
Lieutenant Ferdous, [allegedly] the mastermind behind the kidnapping, is reported to have been promoted to the rank of Major and posted back to Karengatoli army camp, not far from New Lallyaghona, Kalpana Chakma?s village.
Mithun Chakma is general secretary, Democratic Youth Forum. Edited excerpts from http: //jummonet.blogspot.com/2007/06/11th-year-of-kalpana-chakma-abduction.html




Sonali Chakma

President

Hill Women?s Federation

Kalpana Chakma will always remain a symbol of resistance in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The army?s attempt to silence Jumma women by kidnapping Kalpana in the dead of night has failed and will always fail. She will continue to inspire generations of women activists in the country.
It is regrettable that the inquiry report has not been made public after twelve years of her disappearance. We demand that the report be published without further delay and Lieutenant Ferdous, the [alleged] mastermind, and his accomplices be punished.

Sultana Kamal

Former adviser, caretaker government

Executive Director

Ain O Salish Kendra

Nearly twelve years ago we lost Kalpana Chakma, a person, a co-worker and a human rights activist. Her absence hurts us immeasurably. It evokes feelings of losing a friend, but not only that, it also raises questions about our nation?s conscience. Many of us have tried our best, we have made repeated appeals to the state, but to no avail. We have no reason to believe that effective steps have been taken.
If Kalpana is still alive, we would like her to know that we still remember her, that we look forward to her return. If she is not, if our worst fears are true, that she was murdered after being abducted, we want to stress that if we fail to realise her dreams, we fail to live up to our convictions.

Khaleda Khatoon

Human rights activist

Long live Kalpana, you have given voice to the protests of Pahari women. We need you. We need more women like you. We need leaders like you.
I want to raise two issues: first, a case was registered against Lieutenant Ferdous. Why is that not being revived, does the current government not have any responsibilities in this regard? I say this especially since Devashish Ray as special assistant to the chief adviser is now part and parcel of the government.
Second, the Kalpana Chakma abduction committee report has not yet been released. Since the caretaker government is considering a Right to Information Act, I would like to propose that they begin their journey by making this report public.

Moshrefa Mishu

Convener

Garments Sramik Oikya Forum

On the twelfth anniversary of Kalpana Chakma?s abduction, I demand that the incident be investigated urgently, without any prejudice or fear, so that we can learn what really happened, and that her family be provided security.
I also demand that the army be withdrawn from the Chittagong Hill Tracts and that the hill region be made autonomous. The person(s) who abducted Kalpana must be tried. We must keep Kalpana?s memory alive, and demand that justice be done. We must pay respect to her through re-creating her struggles.
I salute you Kalpana Chakma.

Anu Mohammed

Professor

Department of Economics

Jahangirnagar University

Kalpana Chakma?s abduction urges us to look again at the nature of the Bangladesh state. Kalpana belongs to a group of people fighting against ethnic domination, a group struggling hard to be rid of the army?s suffocating grasp. She has been missing for the last twelve years. An investigation committee was formed but all those accused were successfully hidden from public view. Inequalities, oppression, discrimination continue to exist in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and so does the struggle.
Kalpana Chakma is a symbol of protest and resistance. She will remain so forever.

Maheen Sultan

Member

Naripokkho

The struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts for the protection of their lands, identity and cultural heritage is an ongoing one. Of the many violations suffered, the disappearance of Kalpana Chakma is one that drew attention of the human rights and women?s rights movement in Bangladesh. Twelve years on, her disappearance is still a puzzle. Demands for an official enquiry, like all other national enquiries, resulted in nothing. It is ironic that while much lip service is paid to good governance and transparency, the public has never been presented with the findings of the enquiry. The lack of transparency is particularly acute in the case of the defence forces. Just as ordinary citizens are in the dark about the defence budget and expenditures, so are we in the dark about the militarisation of the CHT, and whether any actions have been taken against the innumerable wrongs committed against our own peoples, simply because they are not Bengali.
We demand that the present government make the enquiry report public, so that justice can be done.




New Lallyaghona
1/4/96

Shaikat Da,
Greetings. I got your letter yesterday. We are in good health. But I feel unsure. Something terrible might happen any moment. I am very worried.
News from here ? on 28.2.96 a miscreant called Ishak was taken away. Since then the Bengalis have been wanting to attack the Paharis. In this agitated situation, the third annual conference of Pahari Chhatra Parishad?s branch was successfully held on 7.3.96 (according to its earlier schedule). A nineteen-member Thana Committee has been formed with Purba Ranjan as the President, Dharanimoy, its Secretary, and Prabir, its Organising Secretary. The Baghaicchori branch held a cultural programme for the first time, where the 1988 play Norok was staged.
And [news from] there, Bengali agitation has increased since 11.3.96. They have been holding meetings and processions. Paharis have become fearful, ?ready to flee? at any moment. But I was not here. I had gone to Barkal on organisational work. I returned on the 13th and heard the details. Bengalis have forbidden Paharis from entering the bajar area or Bengali neighbourhoods, they have even forbidden Paharis to talk to Bengalis. After this, the work of uniting Paharis began. In other words, resisting attacks in the whole Kassalong area. Guarding at night has begun. On the other hand, Lieutenant Ferdous, the army camp commander of our village, has made false promises to village elders, and held meetings with them. Many other incidents, small in nature, have kept occurring. Especially, since the Bengalis have targetted four of our neighbouring villages including Battala.
In this situation, on the 19th of March, cries were heard all over Kassalong, and that infamous Lieutenant Ferdous came to our New Lallyaghona village and burnt down 9 homes that belonged to 7 families. They beat up the Pahari nightguards most severely. After this, the DC, SP and Communications Committee (JSS) Secretary Mathura Lal Chakma had meetings which calmed the situation somewhat. They were told that if Ishak was not released by the 5th [of April], Bengalis were likely to muddy the waters further. The DC and SP are unable to bring the situation under control. At present, people are fearful of what might happen after the 5th. We are leading uncertain lives.
It is Bengalis who are behind this agitation and this time we have been able to teach them a lesson. Usually, Paharis flee from their villages but now they go to those very places from where you can hear cries. Bengalis, indisciplined as they are, have been taken aback at this unity and are afraid, along with the others. The administration has also witnessed this unity.
The present situation: Baghaicchori is isolated from all other parts. Chakma telephone lines have been cut, Paharis are not given access to other lines. We are not allowed to go to the marketplace. Maybe there will be no postal communication until the situation calms down. Maybe there will be no letters even.
That?s all for now. Lastly, I send you advanced Boishabi greetings.
Yours
KC
PS: I wrote this letter hurriedly. If my sentences are awkward, please correct them.
Shaikat Dewan is a member of Pahari Chhatra Parishad. Source: Kalpana Chakmar Diary, Dhaka: Hill Women?s Federation, 2001, pp. 69-70.



1993-1996


1993? Kalpana?s political life began as women?s secretary of Baghaichari Pahari Chhatra Parishad.

March 1993? took on responsibilities of the convening committee, Hill Women?s Federation, Marishya branch.
January 15, 1995? took part in the first central conference of the Hill Women?s Federation, Khagrachari.
May 21, 1995? Kalpana is elected organising secretary of the central committee at the HWF conference, held in Khagrachari.
November 17, 1995? meeting of three Pahari organisations held in Naniarchar Khedarmara High School premises to express grief and outrage at Naniarchar killings in Rangamati. Kalpana addresses the meeting.
February 28, 1996? Ishak, a Bengali, is abducted from New Lallyaghona village. Tension increases between Paharis and Bengalis.
March 19, 1996? Nine houses belonging to seven Chakma families of New Lallyaghona village burnt down. Kalpana protests against the arson attack.
April 1996? Lieutenant Ferdous goes to Kalpana?s house a few days before Baishabi (New Year festivals). He is accompanied by 20-25 soldiers. Heated exchange between Kalpana and Lieutenant Ferdous.
April 12, 1996? meeting of three Pahari organisations held at the Rangamati Shilpakala Academy on the occasion of Baishabi. Kalpana appeals for unity.
June 12, 1996? at 1:30am Lieutenant Ferdous and 7-8 others in plainclothes enter Kalpana?s house, they order her, and her brothers Khudiram and Kalicharan, to go with them.
This chronology has been constructed from letters, news reports, and `Investigating the Kidnapping of Kalpana Chakma?, Ain O Salish Kendra Report, published in Kalpana Chakmar Diary (Diary of Kalpana Chakma), Dhaka: Hill Women?s Federation, 2001

First published on New Age 12th June 2008

Searching for solutions

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It was 1985, when Jun Jun and I came over for our first trip to Nepal. I had nearly died of hypothermia in our trip to the Everest Base Camp, and Jun and a Japanese explorer had saved my life. My subsequent trips to Nepal have been marked by other drama. As I left for the airport yesterday, Navaraj, the tutor at Pathshala from Kathmandu reminded me that I was going to a new Nepal, one no longer under the rule of the king. Sapna, the human rights lawyer we interviewed in Kathmandu today, remarked wryly, that it was a Nepal ruled by many kings. With the Moaists now in government, one hopes that at the least the violence will go down. Too many lives have been lost.
The killings and disappearances in Nandigram in the largest democracy in the world, and the recent killing of the Adivashi Garo activist Choles Ritchil in the most brutal manner imaginable – ?Choles?s two eyes plucked, testicles removed, anus mutilated, two hand palms smashed , nails of 3 fingers of the right hand removed, left hand thump finger nail removed, two palms had holes, upper right hand had severe wound, several blood stains on the back part of the body, in both thighs middle part there had been two holes, back part of the body had several black marks, several deep marks of wounds on both lower legs, there had been black marks on feet, no nail on thump of right foot, all fingers of two hands were broken.? – by the much lauded new regime in Bangladesh are worrying signs. With conventional media under threat, bloggers become the lonely and marked whistle blowers.
Majority world photographer and All Roads winner from Guatemala Sandra Sebastian is one of many activists in search for solutions.
Sandra Sebastian
I couldn?t believe that passers-by weren?t killed when a shooting occurred between drug traffickers on a busy day in one of the principal avenues in Guatemala City. Two presumed drug traffickers were murdered in their car, which had lots of AK-47 bullet-holes. There were hundreds of bullet-holes all around the avenue. The walls of a school and a bus stop where many people usually sat, were also riddled. Unfortunately two men died, but it could have been a massacre. How many people have to be killed before something is done?
I wasn?t the only astonished person. I took the picture because I want to document and leave a testimony of the time I live in and show the danger that ordinary people face. In the last year alone (2005) more than 5,000 people were killed in street violence in a country of 13 million people. The reasons? Delinquency, organized crime, drug trafficking, poverty, broken homes. I want to talk of the inefficient justice system and the impunity with which some operate. I want to point to the consequences, and hope people can understand and search for solutions.

Sandra Sebastian, Guatemala

The Campaign Begins

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“We travel to Dhaka, in Bangladesh for a celebration of South East Asian photography thanks to a festival called Chobi Mela, on its fourth edition so far. Their theme this year is ‘boundaries’: ideas, aspects, images that divide peoples and cultures. Perfect backdrop for the violence in the country ahead of forthcoming elections…” http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/the_ticket.shtml. They did a hatchet job on Anita’s interviews, but at least the BEEB did give coverage to Chobi Mela IV.
Besides Cristobal (asleep on the rickshaw) and Norman, all the others have gone back.
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Richard, Wubin and Cristobal, testing out environmentally friendly modes of transport.
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Rupert claims his neighbours need sunglasses to cope with his glistening green punjabi from Dhanmondi Aarong.
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The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) motorbike cruised slowly past Drik in the morning. Earlier I’d seen them cruise in Gulshan and Baridhara. It was like a scene from Easy Rider, though the ‘crossfire’ victims might not think so. I’ve never seen them in the troubled areas of Paltan, or Muktangon, or anywhere there are clashes between the public and the police. The RAB seem to have different priorities. For the moment at least, the elite force seems only concerned with protecting the elite.
Meanwhile, a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) takes a strange and undefined ‘leave’, with veiled threats of “I shall return”, and the fighting gives way to election frenzy.
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The Police in a different role
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The campaigner, a new kid on the block
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Hired supporters, a new form of employment
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Employment for all
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And the inevitable traffic jams
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For those trying to avoid the winter chill, the priorities are somewhat different. A girl cooks dinner at Russel Square. Earlier the burning cars provided the flames.

Taking care of the caretaker

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It was a dramatic ending to Robert Pledge?s presentation. Via Topu and Omi, I?d received the news that the military had been called out. Robert wanted to finish the presentation, but once I?d announced the government?s decision, the auditorium of the Goethe Institut quickly emptied out. This particular Chobi Mela IV presentation had come to an abrupt end. It was 1987 revisited.

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Noor Hossain had painted on his back ?Let Democracy be Freed? and the police had gunned him down on the 10th November 1987. But the people had taken to the streets and while we were scared the military would come out, there was no stopping us. It had taken three more years of street protests, before the general was forced to step down. The people had won. But then it had been a military general who was ruling the country. This was a civilian caretaker government. The general mistrust of a party in power, had resulted in this unique process in Bangladesh where an interim neutral caretaker government headed by a Chief Adviser (generally the most recently retired Chief Justice) and consisting of other neutral but respected members of the public were entrusted with conducting the elections. Why then the military? Yes, the president was a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP, the largest party in the outgoing coalition government) appointee, there are ten advisors who are meant to be neutral.

A free and fair election hasn?t yielded the electoral democracy we had hoped for. After each term, the people have voted out the party in power, only to be rebuffed by a political system that has never had the interest of the people on their agenda. Still, the elections were held, and despite the fact that there had been one rigged election in 1996 (rejected and held again under a neutral caretaker government), an electoral process of democratisation, was slowly developing.

This time however, the total disregard for the electoral process has created a sham, and the three key people in this electoral process, the president, the chief adviser, and the chief election commissioner (CEC), are colluding against the people. The first two, being represented by the same person, was a BNP appointee. He also happens to be the head of the military. The CEC, now a cartoon character, had also been appointed by the BNP while it was in power. Coupled with a clearly flawed voters list, this has removed any hope of a free and fair election. Can the caretaker government genuinely conduct a fair election? I believe it still can, if given the chance, despite the president?s lack of credibility. But for that to happen, the military, the bureaucracy and the police need to remember that it is with the people that their allegiance lies.

However, it does depend upon the removal of the other obstacles. The election commissioner cannot constitutionally be removed, and his removal is central to the opposition demands. What then can we do? There is only one body higher than the constitution, the people themselves. The advisors need to be empowered if they are to pull off this election. Sandwiched between a partisan executive head and another partisan CEC, the advisers risk becoming irrelevant. The only way this can be checked is if people come out in droves. Not ?hired for the day? supporters but ordinary people committed to civilian rule, and a multi-party system.

It is we the people who need to take to the streets. And it is time we sent out the message to all political parties, that an entire nation cannot be appropriated. They need to be told that we did not liberate our country in vain, and despite the poverty and the hardship that we go through, we will not be cowed down, and will not blindly tow a party line, when the party itself has disengaged from the people. If tomorrow, every woman man and child takes to the street of Bangladesh, there is no power, not the military, not the president, not the advisers, not the CEC, not the BNP and not AL that can stop us.

There is hope yet. The advisers have had the good sense to reverse the home ministry?s unilateral decision to call out the army and the president and chief adviser has been challenged for taking such a step. Whether the advisers can continue to take such bold steps depends on our ability to bolster their nebulous position.

Blockades and hartals do hurt the economy, and ironically, it is the person in the street who is the most vulnerable. But faced with an attempt to take away the only chance she has to exercise her right to elect the government of her choice, she has little option left but to take to the streets. As the world is finding out, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and wherever else there is conflict, a military victory is never a victory. If the anger of the people is to be quelled, then the underlying causes of discontent need to be solved. Flexing the muscles of the military, will only put a lid on the boiling pot, and the longer the lid is pressed down, the bigger will be the eventual explosion. More have died today, and with every death, the flashpoint looms closer.

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Chobi Mela IV has continued despite it all. The dancing in the all night boat party,

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the heated arguments at every meeting point, the mobile exhibitions, all went on despite the turmoil. The presentations on the night of the 11th, with Yumi Goto, showing work by the children from Bandar Aceh, Neo Ntsoma showing her work on youth culture in South Africa, Chris Rainier showing his long term projects on ?Ancient Marks?, and the deeply personal, but very different accounts of Trent Parke

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and Pablo Bartholomew, made one of the most intriguing evenings I can remember. The packed audience that had braved the blockade had perhaps an inkling of what was to come. Morten had a full house for his ?gallery walk? at the Alliance Francaise and Trent?s workshops were packed out. The grand opening was at the National Museum, where we had one fifth of the cabinet opening the show. Kollol gave a passionate rendering of his song ?Boundaries? written especially for the festival. The rickshaw vans designed to take the festival to the public, plied the streets of Old Dhaka, Mirpur and other areas not used to gallery crowds.

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The chief guest, adviser C.M. Shafi Sami, the special guests adviser Sultana Kamal and Robert Pledge, photographers Morten Krogvold and Trent Parke and the scholarship recepient Dolly Akhter all spoke eloquently. Little did the audience know about the drama that had taken place the night before. With the museum functionaries doing their best to keep us from putting up the Contact Press Images show (http://www.chobimela.org/contact_press_images.php), we were under pressure, but working all through the night and sleeping on the museum floor, we managed to put the show up on time.

Last night, the empty streets, looked ominous as I dropped off Chulie, Robert and Yang, and people have been dying in the streets.

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Since then we have had Morten Krogvold?s passionate presentation at the gallery walk at Alliance, Rupert Grey?s clinical dissection of the law and his dry British humour,

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both at the British Council and the Goethe Institut, Saiful Huq Omi?s disturbing but powerful images of political violence, Cristobal Trejo?s poetic rendering of an unseen world, Richard Atrero De Guzman?s honest response to difficult questions about representation and my own presentation on natural disasters and their social impact have all been well attended, despite the tension in the desolate Dhaka streets. The evening presentations close tonight with an insightful film by Indian film maker Joshy Joseph, presentations by Norman Leslie and a behind the scenes look by the photographers at the Drik Photo Department, Md. Main Uddin, Shehab Uddin and Amin, Chandan Robert Rebeiro, Imtiaz Mahabub Mumit and Shumon of Pathshala and Mexican exhibitor Cristobal Trejo. The shows go on as they always do at Drik.

In 1991, a woman with her vote had avenged Noor Hossain’s death.

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A fortnight ago, the city was in flames, and a stubborn chief election commissioner is stoking the flames again. It is a fire he and his allies will be powerless to stop.
Shahidul Alam
Dhaka
Chobi Mela site
Blog by Australian curator Bec Dean
Short video on Chobi Mela IV


Dhaka Burns

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Well I’m finally stumped for words. A party affiliated president, now
has the triple roles of president, head of the military and head of
the ‘neutral’ caretaker government. While rumours of a military
takeover abound, and the prime minister’s son threatens that they will
not go to the streets ’empty handed’, the news that the leader of the
opposition has not threatened immediate protests, but has rather opted
to see how the new head of the caretaker government conducts himself,
is a healthy sign. Too many lives have already been lost.
A lot of changes need to take place to erase the mistrust created. A
genuinely non partisan group of advisers need to be selected, the
election commission and the voters list, both clearly not neutral,
need to be changed, and he has to clearly demonstrate that he is no
longer a puppet. Unlikely based on his track record, but one can hope.
Given the current mood, another sham election will surely light the
fuse.
Shahidul Alam
29th October. Dhaka
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Clashes between opposition and Jamaat due to demand for neutral head of caretaker government. (upload incomplete)
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Above photographs taken on 28th October 2006 by Shahidul Alam.
And today 29th October 2006, a party affiliated president, makes himself president, head of military and head of ‘neutral’ caretaker government. Today’s photographs taken by Shehab Uddin. No unauthorised copying of any kind. To publish these or high res images, contact library@drik.net. More pictures and text to follow.
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Thailand coup d'?tat

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?There?s been a coup d’?tat,? said Cherrie breaking into our meeting at the Imperial Tara Hotel in Bangkok. Some of the participants have just returned from shopping and there were little signs of the unrest that it implied. My camera had been handed in for repairs, and my first instinct was to see who had one I could borrow. Suvendu kindly and only half reluctantly offered his. Zaheer and I decided to go out, but he returned soon afterwards, seeing the pouring rain.

 

Rainy Street
There was some housekeeping to be done. Several participants were due the next day and decisions needed to be made as to whether they should make the trip. Spending as little time as I could get away with, I clutched Suvendu?s camera and broached the rain. Some shops had closed, but there were people in the streets. The Japanese restaurant at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 26 wasn?t full, but did have customers.

 

 

Seven Eleven
Zaheer needed a SIM card, but the girl in the 7/11 simply said ?no card?. Military takeover, or political unrest didn?t seem to pervade the air.

 

 

 

Train station
The train station was closing, perhaps a bit earlier than usual as it wasn?t midnight yet, but the traffic in the streets seemed normal. People outside the 7/11 waited for the bus as they normally do.


Must try and sneak out of the meeting tomorrow to go downtown where the tanks are meant to be, but here the only sign a conspiracy theorist could use as ammunition was the Securicor car waiting outside the bank. Perhaps an ominous sign.

Shahidul Alam

Imperial Tara Hotel

Bangkok