Friday, October 20, 2017

A Chain of Events

Niger is a land-locked country in north-central Africa. It’s adjacent to Chad, whose troops have been key to efforts by the U.S. and allies in fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda-linked groups in Niger and Nigeria and other countries. Groups like Boko Haram, who kidnapped hundreds of girls. Remember them?

In September, the Trump administration suddenly added Chad to the list of countries whose people are banned from traveling to the U.S. No reason was given; maybe it was a mistake or one staffer’s hobby-horse. Everyone who knows anything about the region said it was a stupid decision, and the administration changed its mind a few weeks later, removing Chad from the list.

But. After the list was first published, Chad announced it was removing its highly qualified troops from Niger. Was it because of the insult by the Trump administration and its ban list? Maybe. Not too long after, a group of a dozen U.S. Green Berets were ambushed by a larger, hostile force while traveling through a formerly “safe” area.

Three U.S. soldiers died there, and one was left behind, Sgt. La David Johnson, 25 years old and from the Miami area. (There’s more to how messed up this situation was, having to do with military contractors not doing a head count to make sure they had everyone, and the use of French helicopters rather than American ones.)

Johnson’s body was recovered two days later. His family was told they could not have an open-casket funeral, so it’s assumed that some type of mutilation occurred.

Johnson was married, with two young children and another on the way. He had been orphaned at age 5 and was raised by his aunt and uncle, who became his parents. As he grew up, he was part of a youth program called 5,000 Roles of Excellence that was started by Frederica Wilson, a school principal who mentored not just him but his brothers. The 5,000 Roles program is well-known in parts of the Miami area. Johnson joined the Army around the time Wilson was elected to Congress in 2010.

When Donald Trump called Johnson’s widow, Myeshia, almost two weeks after Johnson’s death, she was in a car with her mother-in-law and Rep. Wilson. A military aide with them put the phone on speaker for the five-minute conversation. Myeshia cried at the president’s words, which included “He knew what signed up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.” Trump never used Sgt. Johnson’s name, instead referring to him as “your guy.” Not even “your husband.”

Afterward, Rep. Wilson was asked by reporters what Trump had said, and she repeated what she heard. Note: The reporters were there because the White House had alerted the press to the president's call, so he could take credit for calling.

Now we have Trump and his chief of staff, retired general John Kelly, attacking Rep. Wilson. Trump said she lied about what he said, but Kelly confirmed the version of Trump’s words she gave. Kelly decried the fact that Wilson was present for the phone call, as if she was eavesdropping for political purposes, rather than that she was there as a family friend and mentor of Johnson’s. That was bad enough.

But Kelly also told his own story about Wilson, from 2015, that appears to have no basis in fact. Both he and Wilson that year attended the dedication of a new FBI building in Miami, and he says Wilson spoke to the group, taking credit for getting $20 million from President Obama to build the building. But Wilson wasn’t even in office when the money for the building was lined up, and it took a lot  more than $20 million to build it. She did, however, quickly pass a bill to get the building named after two FBI agents who were killed in the line of duty in 1986, and was applauded for that by Florida Republicans. (Update: video of Wilson's speech from 2015 has been posted, and Kelly's version is inaccurate.)

Oh, and get this — Kelly never referred to Rep. Wilson by name. Instead, he called her “an empty barrel.”

And some people are making fun of Wilson’s personal style of wearing a cowboy-type hat. She does this in tribute to her mother, for personal reasons — but she’s being ridiculed by people like Sheriff David Clarke, who himself wears such a hat. And of course, she’s now getting death threats.

It’s a sickening and stupid chain of events and I just had to write all this down because I can’t get it out of my head. This is what we’ve come to.


Sources: the Miami Herald, the Washington Post, and the Rachel Maddow Show. Late addition: This analysis of the Kelly press conference by Masha Gessen is a must-read.

1 comment:

Linda Peters said...
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