It's A Three-Ring Disaster! ** UPDATED **
Earthquake, Mudslide, Snuff-For-Porn: Natural and Unnatural Disasters of the Moment
By Winter Patriot on 10/9/2005, 12:10pm PT  

Guest blogged by Winter Patriot

UPDATE: Your lowly and nearly frozen blogger has added heavily to the original text of this post, and in so doing has realized that it was probably posted too soon. Apologizes to those who were confused and I hope the series of updates inserted here will help. And apologies to first time-readers of this text as well. if you think this is a mess, you should see what it looks like in here [points to own head].

Disaster everywhere.

I've been reading the BBC and I'm seeing this:

Quake crisis overwhelms Pakistan

Pakistan's president has appealed for international help, saying his country cannot deal with the aftermath of the massive earthquake on its own.

At least 19,000 people are thought to have been killed in Pakistan, and it is feared the toll could rise much higher.

With some towns and villages completely flattened, Pervez Musharraf told the BBC that Pakistan needed "massive cargo helicopter support" and aid supplies.

Some stricken parts of disputed Kashmir have still not been reached.

CNN has something about this as well:

South Asian quake toll nears 20,000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) --- Rescue workers pulled survivors from rubble and uncovered bodies from debris as darkness fell in Islamabad and elsewhere, a day after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake caused devastation across South Asia.

Nearly 20,000 people were estimated killed in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan as a result of Saturday's quake.

The death toll is expected to rise once remote areas of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and the country's North-West Province are reached. Communication to many of those areas was cut off because of the temblor, and landslides had rendered roads inaccessible.

But I'm also reading Aljazeera, where I'm seeing even more:

Pakistan: Quake toll reaches 30,000

The estimated toll of the South Asian earthquake on Saturday has hit 30,000, Pakistan-administered Kashmir's works and communication minister says.

"Our rough estimates say more than 30,000 people have died in the earthquake in Kashmir," minister Tariq Farooq said on Sunday.

"There are cities, there are towns which have been completely destroyed. Muzaffarabad is devastated," he added, referring to the capital of Pakistan's sector of disputed Kashmir.

Pakistan's private Aaj television reported the toll in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and northwest Pakistan to be more than 25,000. It did not cite a source. Officials have said the toll will rise.

Bodies lay in the streets and villagers pulled debris from collapsed schools and mud-brick homes with their bare hands on Sunday, desperate to find survivors from the 7.6-magnitude quake that struck Pakistan and India.

Meanwhile, still at Aljazeera,

Quake survivors angry over aid delay

Earthquake relief has started to trickle into the hardest hit areas of northern Pakistan, but survivors say it has been slow in coming.

Residents and survivors in the Pakistan-administered Kashmiri town of Balakot, are angry at what they say is their government's slow response, Aljazeera's Ahmed Barakat reported from the devastated town, 180km north of Islamabad.

Striking out from the forest-clad mountains of Pakistani Kashmir near the border with India, the quake was the strongest to hit South Asia in a century.

Vast areas in Pakistani Kashmir were devastated and entire villages in northern Pakistan were wiped out, the local authorities said.

Pakistani army spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said: "The earthquake is the biggest disaster in the history of Pakistan.

"There are many villages that have been wiped off the face of this earth."

Relief had not reached many of the stricken areas because of heavy rains and landslides triggered by the earthquake.

I noticed this story about people who are angry because of the delay and I asked myself:

How much of a delay was that?

Fortunately I have access to periodic snippets from Aljazeera's English Home Page and they show the following headlines:

Friday 07 October 2005, 23:44 Makka Time, 20:44 GMT
ElBaradei, IAEA share Nobel Peace Prize
Mohamed ElBaradei has become the fourth Egyptian to win the world's most prestigious prize after he and the International Atomic Energy Agency received the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Saturday 08 October 2005, 5:30 Makka Time, 2:30 GMT
Nobel Peace Prize for ElBaradei, IAEA
New York normal amid terror threat

Saturday 08 October 2005, 11:23 Makka Time, 8:23 GMT
Dozens die in Pakistan earthquake
Hurricane Stan toll rising

Saturday 08 October 2005, 16:24 Makka Time, 13:24 GMT
Hundreds dead in S Asian earthquake
An earthquake measuring at least 7.6 on the Richter scale has left hundreds dead in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Saturday 08 October 2005, 21:31 Makka Time, 18:31 GMT
Quake kills hundreds in India, Pakistan
A powerful 7.6-magnitude earthquake near the Pakistan-India border reduced villages to rubble, triggered landslides and flattened an apartment building, killing more than 1000 people in both nations.

Sunday 09 October 2005, 3:12 Makka Time, 0:12 GMT
Thousands die in India, Pakistan quake
A massive earthquake has triggered landslides, toppled an apartment building and flattened villages of mud-brick homes near the border between Pakistan and India, killing more than 3000 people in a wide swath of devastation.

Sunday 09 October 2005, 10:49 Makka Time, 7:49 GMT
Pakistan earthquake toll hits 30,000
The estimated toll of the South Asian earthquake on Saturday has hit 30,000, Pakistan-administered Kashmir's works and communication minister says.

Sunday 09 October 2005, 14:29 Makka Time, 11:29 GMT
Quake survivors angry over aid delay

The delay in this case appears to have been roughly 30 hours... which made me think: Does anybody remember Hurricane Katrina?

What? I'm just saying ...

Closer to home, and via Radio Netherlands, I'm seeing this:

Guatemalan village wiped out

A village in Guatemala has been completely wiped out by heavy rainfall and mudslides. One thousand four hundred people are reported missing. Rescue workers have given up hope of finding anyone alive under the rocks and mud which in some places is 12 metres deep.

The rainfall follows tropical storm Stan, which claimed over 500 lives in Guatemala. The total number of bodies recovered in Central America now exceeds 600.

Fresh flooding is making rescue operations more difficult. Hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless.

CNN has something about this as well:

Guatemala slide toll may hit 1,400

PANABAJ, Guatemala (Reuters) --- A Guatemalan village buried under tons of dirt and debris may be declared a Mayan mass grave as rescuers give up digging for the remains of up to 1,400 people killed in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Stan.

After days of heavy rain, mud, rocks and trees crashed down a volcano's slopes and into the Maya Indian village of Panabaj as people slept early on Wednesday, covering it in a quagmire up to 40 feet (12 meters) deep in places.

And there's a similar but more detailed story at Aljazeera:

Hundreds die in Guatemala mudslide

About 1400 Guatemalan villagers are feared dead under a huge mudslide triggered by rains from Hurricane Stan, in one of Latin America's biggest tragedies of recent years.

Fire department spokesman Mario Cruz on Saturday said some 1400 people had disappeared after the fatal quagmire of mud, rocks and trees crashed down a volcano's slopes and into the Maya Indian village of Panabaj in the early hours of Wednesday.

"There are no survivors here. It happened more than 48 hours ago. They are dead," Cruz said on Saturday.

Diego Esquina, mayor of the Santiago Atitlan municipality that runs Panabaj, said on Friday the number of dead in the village could reach 1000.

The village had about 4000 inhabitants before it was destroyed and over 2100 escaped to shelters, the fire department and municipal officials said.

UPDATE: from Radio Netherlands:

Ninety Guatemalan villages cut off by Stan

In Guatemala, rescue workers are struggling to help those hit by the devastation following tropical storm Stan. At least ninety villages are still cut off as a result of mudslides caused by heavy rains.

1,400 people are reported buried by landslides in the Maya villages Panabaj and Tzanchaj. The authorities believe it is unlikely anyone survived, and they are considering declaring the area a mass grave.

Tropical storm Stan raged across Guatemala last Wednesday. El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras were also hit. The official death toll in Central America is currently put at 600.

Meanwhile, still closer to home, in a very different kind of disaster...

From Orlando, Florida, via Olympia, Washington, The Olympian has this report:

Man faces obscenity charges for site

ORLANDO, Fla. --- Authorities have arrested a Lakeland, Fla., man on obscenity charges after investigating his graphic Web site, which has gained international attention for allowing U.S. soldiers to post pictures of war dead on the Internet.

The charges against Christopher Michael Wilson, a former police officer, are likely to reignite the debate about obscene material in the Internet age. It also raises questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said late Friday that the 300 obscenity-related charges against Wilson all involve sexual content posted on his Web site --- and not graphic war-scene images posted by soldiers.

"It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct," Judd said. "It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct, which rises to the level of obscenity, as we've ever investigated."

Judd, however, said he could not describe the sex acts because the words "would put me in the same arena as the subject." He added, "They really can't be printed in the newspaper."

And from Montana, where it's been snowing, The Billings Gazette has a few more details:

Man whose site shows war dead arrested

ORLANDO, Fla. - Authorities have arrested a Lakeland, Fla., man on obscenity charges after investigating his graphic Web site, which has gained international attention for allowing U.S. soldiers to post pictures of war dead on the Internet.

The charges against Christopher Michael Wilson, a former police officer, are likely to reignite the debate about obscene material in the Internet age. It also raises questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said late Friday that the 300 obscenity-related charges against Wilson all involve sexual content posted on his Web site, not graphic war-scene images posted by soldiers.

"It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct," Judd said. "It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct, which rises to the level of obscenity, as we've ever investigated."

U.S. Army officials said they could not confirm whether photographs on Wilson's Web site, presumably showing Iraqi and Afghani war dead, were posted by U.S. soldiers.

Wilson, 27, was allowing soldiers access to normally paid portions of his Web site in exchange for the graphic war-scene shots, or proof that they were fighting in the Middle East, for instance.

Late Friday, Wilson's site, which the Orlando Sentinel will not name, still had grisly images of war dead.

Did you notice how the level of detail improves from one account to the next?

yeah, well ...

Listen: I know the name of the site too but I'm not posting it here either.

And did you notice the places where the "focus" always seems to wind up? Wilson is in trouble because of the sexually-disgusting element of his site only. And the media coverage, such as it is, talks of

... the debate about obscene material in the Internet age... questions about whether the federal government played a part in motivating the prosecution...

What? I'm just saying ...

You won't see anything about this on CNN. But there's much more about it at AlJazeera:

Head of US war porn website held

The administrator of a pornographic website that also displays photographs of Iraqi and Afghan war dead allegedly sent in by US soldiers has been arrested on obscenity-related charges, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reports.

"[Chris] Wilson is charged with one count of wholesale distribution of obscene material and 300 misdemeanor counts related to 20 online films and 80 photographs obtained from his website," the paper said in its online edition on Friday.

The arrest came more than a week after the story of the website and the graphic nature of its contributed images made headlines in mainstream media.

and of course there's more, including a links to and quotes from a previous item:

US: War pornography inquiry closed

Thursday 29 September 2005
the US military says it is taking the allegations of impropriety by its personnel seriously.

"Army criminal investigators examined this recently as a preliminary inquiry but found no evidence of a felony," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Joe Carpenter told Aljazeera.net.

Carpenter said the US military was taking the allegations seriously and would take appropriate action based on the facts as they are learned.

Yeah, suuuure they will!!

What? I'm just saying ...

Suuuuure! Because

The pornographic website, administered by 27-year-old Chris Wilson, boasts dozens of often nauseating pictures of Iraqis after they were killed allegedly submitted by US military personnel in exchange for gaining access to the website.

In one picture, the skin of the face of an unidentified person is peeled off apparently blown off - and lies on a Baghdad street. Body parts are strewn about the street and another picture depicts bits of his flesh splattered across a building wall.

A picture of a man with his internal organs visibly torn out of his body is accompanied with the caption "What every Iraqi should look like".

Another picture shows the near-unidentifiable remains of a man, his upper body mangled in a bloody pulp.

I've been to the site [which is still up, by the way] and I can verify the characterizations you have just read. And then some.

Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, believes the US military has not done enough, however.

"They closed their inquiry into it - I think their decision is premature," he said.

"We have since learned that 30,000 members of the US military are registered on the website. They use their military email addresses to register on the site."

Website administrator Wilson declined to be interviewed. He did not reply to an email asking for confirmation of the figures cited by CAIR.

"For the military to say they found no evidence is to me staggering," Hooper said.

Helena Cobban, author of the Just World News blog and a columnist for the Christian Science Monitor questions the length of the inquiry.

"That is simply not serious, and certainly does not look sufficient either to determine the full level of criminal responsibility of people up the whole length of the US command for such behaviour, or to deter its occurrence in the future."

Did you catch that phrase?

"to determine the full level of criminal responsibility of people up the whole length of the US command"

Criminal responsibility?! How quaint!!

But wait... Is that the whole story? Of course not!

Carpenter, however, insists that the US military is not taking the issue lightly.

"The different components of the armed services and the Multinational Forces all have policies which prohibit pornography and non-work related material on government computers.

"If a serviceman is proven to be engaged in this they will be prosecuted according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he told Aljazeera.net.

Yeah, suuuuuure!

Don't look now but Who are the 30,000?

It's a disaster. It's a three-ring disaster.

What? I'm just saying!

UPDATE: I know more about this site than you could tell from the original post. As correctly pointed out in this comment from BRAD BLOG reader MarkH, some very important questions were left unanswered. I plead guilty the crime of leaving big messy dots unconnected. So sorry.

John Aravosis of AmericaBlog wrote a good item and called it:

US soldiers allegedly trading pictures of dead Iraqis & Afghanis for porn.

His article starts this way:

WARNING: The links in this story are to graphic, gruesome pictures of dead bodies, and some include graphic sexual content as well.

and I didn't want to go there. Not on a Sunday morning anyway. But here's the deal: John's headline conveys information missing from the original text here. Oops.

In other words, it's a mostly-free site with a few restricted areas, where they put the pictures of the wives and girlfriends engaged in "the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct". To get access to those areas you have to be a "supporter"; to become a "supporter" you can either send in money or pictures. Among the pictures they accept as payment: shots of wives and girlfriends engaged in "the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct" and original shots from Iraq. Some of the Iraq pics are scenery and the rest are explicit depictions of death in wartime.

The Iraq shots are placed in the public area, but "the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct" is in the "supporters-only" areas. So, in fact, the headline at AmericaBlog, "US soldiers allegedly trading pictures of dead Iraqis & Afghanis for porn", appears to be quite correct.

Furthermore, those who submit pictures can add captions, so you can see a picture of a corpse on the street with the caption "this is what all Iraqis should look like". And so on. Click here if you really want to know more. And click on the links John Aravosis provides there if you really want to see more than that.

UPDATE:It has been asked whether the website in question [whose name I still have not mentioned] is "posting those pictures so other soldiers could see them or was this an effort to publicize the true story of how gruesome the war effort is?" Maybe some of each; here's what they say about it:

Some have questioned why we republish explicit, even gruesome, images of wartime violence. One only need look back to World War II when most images of dead soldiers were censored by the government, and no cameras were allowed on the battlefield ... Such whitewashing of the truth is at odds with the First Amendment freedoms that this country enjoys. These soldiers fought to preserve our freedoms, and the truth has a way of coming out. As Time Magazine said when it published the first wartime casualty photos of 3 dead soldiers on a beach in New Guinea being washed up in the tide:

"Dead men have indeed died in vain if live men refuse to look at them."

We agree.

Here's something else "they" say:

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Well they've got some stones, I will say that. Chris Wilson and the others who work on this site have ticked off a few people, from all appearances. The statement quoted above, "America isn't easy..." may seem a bit over the top; it may strike you as a cynical attempt to wrap the First Amendment around the most vile perverted activity imaginable. And I won't disagree with you. But consider this:

This link leads to a photograph of a dead Iraqi laying in the street in a pool of blood with part of a leg blown off and intestines visible on the ground. Oh, that's not a link? Oh well. My bad. Here's a severed arm in the middle of an abandoned street. Was that link broken too? Oh well.

Listen: those pictures are available for all of us. But we can't see the private stock, the "supporters-only" stuff, unless we send in pictures like these. Or else I suppose we could send money.

What? I was just saying!

There's something to be said for freedom of speech and we usually lean in that direction around here. There's also the basic guiding principle that says: if the Pentagon doesn't want us to see certain things, we should be anxious look at them. I read somewhere that if images such as these were published on the front page of every newspaper every day, nobody could support war on ideological grounds. Not sure whether I agree with that, in particular, because I know some people are very sick, but I do appreciate the sentiment.

So clearly [to me, at least] being able to see images of the casualties of war is a good and necessary thing.

I don't support the practice of collecting such photos by offering access to the porn in the private areas, but if that's what works then that's what people will do. In any case it's quite clear that this is exactly what they have done.

I wish everyone could see, acknowledge, and deal with, the reality so often dismissed as "collateral damage" or "well worth the price"... but I'm reluctant to post such images here at the BRAD BLOG, which tries to be a family blog [well, most of the time, anyway]. So here's a compromise: if you don't want to see a sample of the freely available images from Iraq, don't click here.

How much do you love freedom of speech? How much do you love your country? How much do you love your humanity?

America isn't easy? Iraq isn't easy either. And neither is Afghanistan. And neither is Pakistan. And neither is Guatemala.

I'm just saying!

UPDATE: I've found an even earlier article. It's from East Bay Express and the headline reads:

War Pornography: In an echo of the Abu Ghraib fiasco, grisly images of dead, mutilated Iraqis are traded for access to pornography, an apparent breach of Geneva Conventions.

Among other things, it says:

For almost a year, American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been taking photographs of dead bodies, many of them horribly mutilated or blown to pieces, and sending them to Web site administrator Chris Wilson. In return for permission to post these images, Wilson gives the soldiers free access to his site. American soldiers have been using the pictures of disfigured Iraqi corpses as currency to buy pornography.

At Wilson's Web site, you can see an Arab man's face sliced off and placed in a bowl filled with blood. Another man's head, his face crusted with dried blood and powder burns, lies on a bed of gravel. A man in a leather coat who apparently tried to run a military checkpoint lies slumped in the driver's seat of a car, his head obliterated by gunfire, the flaps of skin from his neck blooming open like rose petals. Six men in beige fatigues, identified as US Marines, laugh and smile for the camera while pointing at a burned, charcoal-black corpse lying at their feet.

The captions that accompany these images, which were apparently written by soldiers who posted them, laugh and gloat over the bodies. The person who posted a picture of a corpse lying in a pool of his own brains and entrails wrote, What every Iraqi should look like. The photograph of a corpse whose jaw has apparently rotted away, leaving a gaping set of upper teeth, bears the caption bad day for this dude. One person posted three photographs of corpses lying in the street and titled his collection DIE HAJI DIE.

This could become an international public-relations catastrophe. The Bush administration claims such sympathy for American war dead that officials banned the media from photographing flag-draped coffins being carried off cargo planes. Government officials and American media pundits have repeatedly denounced the al-Jazeera network for airing grisly footage of Iraqi war casualties and American prisoners of war. The legal fight over whether to release the remaining photographs of atrocities at Abu Ghraib has dragged on for months, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers arguing that the release of such images will inflame the Muslim world and drive untold numbers to join al-Qaeda. But none of these can compare with the prospect of American troops casually bartering pictures of suffering and death for porn.

Two years ago, if somebody had said our soldiers would do these things to detainees and take pictures of it, I would have said that's a lie, sighed recently retired General Michael Marchand, who as assistant judge advocate general for the Army was responsible for reforming military training policy in the wake of Abu Ghraib. What soldiers do, I'm not sure I can guess anymore.

But for Chris Wilson, it's all in a day's work. It's an unedited look at the war from their point of view, he says of the soldiers who contribute the images. There's always going to be a slant from the news media. ... And this is a photo that comes straight from their camera to the site. To me, it's just a more real look at what's going on.

One more very interesting bit and then I'll shut up for a while:

Wilson's Web site has made the news before but not for posting pictures of murdered people. Last October, the New York Post reported that the Pentagon was investigating him for posting naked pictures of female soldiers in Iraq. After a few months, the Post reported that the Pentagon had blocked access to the site from US military facilities in Iraq. In the wake of the Post's stories, Wilson says, he was bombarded with requests for interviews from newspapers and radio stations. Even after he began posting photographs of corpses late last year, media inquiries focused exclusively on his nudie pics. It wasn't until reporters from the European press contacted him in early September that anyone took notice of Wilson's snuff-for-porn arrangement with American troops.

Snuff-for-porn.

What? I'm just saying!