I can’t recall the first time I met Sam. I had seen him around the Times building for the past 15 years or so, and from time to time when he would see me on the street, he’d tell me one of my columns “was a good one.” Sam was homeless, but I had never seen him holding a sign or asking for handouts. His hair and beard may have gotten a little long and his clothes were well worn, but he had always been clean.
Sam frequented the loading dock around back and helped the crew throw the metropolitan edition on the trucks when the bundles came down the chute in the early morning. He used the dock restroom to clean up and to wash out a change of clothes each day, which he hung to dry in a back storeroom. Everyone liked Sam, including the dock boss, for unlike most street people he seemed to be without anger. There was, however, pain in his eyes and a limp when he walked.
He carried a backpack and often had a book in his hands as he shuffled along. A visit to the central library was a part of his daily routine, and he had his favorite overstuffed chair on the glass bridge high above the escalators. Sam read and dozed most mornings, as he watched the people come and go. In the afternoon, he could often be found surfing the Internet at the public computers on the second level.
Sam got his main meal each evening at the Rescue Mission and though thin, he wasn’t malnourished. He looked to be in his late 40s, and except for his impaired leg and trembling hands, seemed to be in good health.
I had little cause to think much about Sam until he left a phone message for me one morning a few weeks ago. When I called him back, he said he had purchased a disposable cell phone. He had a story to tell and he wanted to go off the record to discuss some conditions. Curious, I consented and he gave me the name and room number of a cheap hotel around the corner. I wasn’t on deadline; I didn’t have an idea for the next column, and I was a little worried about Sam, so I agreed to stop by that afternoon.
He had rented a small hotel room on the third floor for a month. The room was clean; a hot plate and mini refrigerator was in the corner; and a comfortable chair was by the window overlooking the street, with a table and a stack of books next to it.
I had brought along a couple of cold sodas, which we shared as Sam told me his story and related his plan. As a veteran of the first Gulf War he was gravely concerned for the troops currently fighting in Iraq, and he was determined to bring them home. I found Sam to be a thoughtful, well-read and articulate man as he explained why he had called.
Sam had graduated with top honors from high school in 1987, and his teachers had encouraged him to continue his education. However, as the only child of elderly parents, college seemed impossible. An army recruiter sold Sam on enlisting for four years, so he would be able to help out his parents and receive educational assistance when he got out. After boot camp the army sent him to Germany where he was trained as a tank driver. Sam liked his job; he didn’t have to march, and he to got operate a 60-ton, 1500-horsepower, Abrams main battle tank.
The young man had liked the German girls, enjoyed the food, and used his leaves to backpack around Western Europe touring the libraries and museums. He was saving money for college and looking forward to getting a degree, becoming a teacher, and traveling the world during summer vacations. Having been raised alone, Sam wanted to find the right girl, get married and have a large family. He was counting the days until his discharge.
At first, Sam said, he hadn’t paid much attention when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, but then his division was ordered to Saudi Arabia to participate in Operation Desert Storm. His unit led the assault on the left flank on February 24, 1991 and quickly penetrated the defense line. Wheeling about, his brigade executed a maneuver they had been practicing for months. Their tanks had been equipped with large bulldozer blades, and they were ordered to flank each side of the primitive trench system dug by the Iraqis in the sand and to plow it under.
“The Iraqi conscripts, mostly old men and boys, had been ordered into their positions at gunpoint and expected to quickly run away. They only had light weapons, and there was nothing to stop us. We never gave them a chance to surrender. I just drove along at about 25 miles an hour looking through my periscopes as we buried thousands of them alive. Armored combat earth movers came along behind us and smoothed away any evidence of what we had done. Altogether, we covered up about 70 miles of trenches.
“Later, I read that Cheney, who was secretary of defense at the time, said there was a gap in the law of war that had allowed us to deny quarter. I don’t know about that, but I have never been able to get that horrible image out of my mind. In my dreams, I keep running my tank up and down those trenches. Night after night, I keep hearing the men cry out to Allah and scream for their mothers, as tons of sand poured down on top of them, crushing the air from their lungs and slowly suffocating them to death.
“Maybe it was karma, or just plain bad luck, but a couple of weeks later we were stopped near a captured ammunition dump in Southern Iraq when the engineers blew up a large stock of rockets. We were downwind, and afterwards we all came down with what seemed like the flu. Later, we learned the rockets had contained sarin nerve gas. I was discharged a few months later, but my right leg had stopped working right and my hands had started to shake. The Army and the VA told me it had nothing to do with our exposure, but I wonder: Is this my punishment?”
Sam had become obsessed with the current Iraq War. Although the American body count is more than 1,875 and thousands more have been grievously wounded, he agonized most over the 30 percent of returning soldiers who suffer from mental illness. Sam imagined tens of thousands of them having the same kinds of nightmares that had kept him awake over the years. He had been thinking about what he could do to stop the war and to bring the troops home.
Sam had considered fasting, but decided no one would notice. He briefly thought about dousing himself with gasoline and self-immolating in Pershing Square, but concluded, while that might be noticed, few would care. Sam had a new idea, but he swore me to secrecy before he revealed it.
He had seen a photograph on an Internet site of an eight-year-old Iraqi boy named Ali, whose fingers had all been blown off when he picked up a brightly colored unexploded canister from a cluster bomb. Sam wondered how it would be to go through life without fingers, to be unable to write or to hold and read a book. As he thought about the boy and the pain he must have felt, Sam conceived what it was he could do to stop the war.
Sam proposed to fast for two weeks, except that he was going to chew off one of his fingers each morning for five days, take the weekend off, and continue the next week for five more days until they were all gone. He would stop if President Bush agreed to immediately bring home the troops. Knowing that concession was unlikely, all Sam asked of me was to write a daily column about what he was doing and why, publish a photograph to prove his progress and help keep his location secret from the authorities. He feared being arrested as a mental case and he was determined to finish once he had started. We talked all afternoon. I concluded that I couldn’t help Sam maim himself, but I did agree to tell his story.
My nationally syndicated column usually runs in about 30 newspapers on Sundays and Thursdays; however, my editors agreed to publish a special series of daily columns for the duration of Sam’s quest for peace. A Times photographer returned with me to Sam’s room, and took a series of portraits of Sam and his hands. He said he had a lot to think about before Monday, and I had a column to write.
The first piece came out on a slow-news Sunday and didn’t particularly attract a lot of attention. I simply told Sam’s story and what he planned to do. Having invested some credibility in Sam, I went to the hotel Monday morning, wondering if he had found the courage and will to do what he had promised. Using the key he had given me, I found him sitting by the window, a blood stained bandage on his left hand.
According to plan, Sam had started with his left little finger, which he considered the least necessary, and had bitten off the first two bones at the joint. He had thought about using a knife, but had decided that a part of his commitment involved actually chewing and swallowing the finger. He had not wanted me to watch, only to document and report his progress. To avoid infection, Sam had first brushed his teeth and scrubbed his hands with soap. Afterward, he had stopped the bleeding, applied an antibiotic ointment and wrapped the stump and hand in a sterile dressing. I photographed his hand and recorded what he had to say.
“Some say that war’s a part of our nature, but not if we believe that humans are somehow special. How can we believe in a gentle and forgiving God who kills? If we’re created in God’s image, then shouldn’t we be striving to end all war? I don’t think we’ll ever be able to travel to any significant place in the Universe or to other dimensions until we overcome deception, hatred and war.
“It has been said that World War II was the last justifiable war, but how can we defend the firebombing of civilians in Dresden or experimenting with the plutonium bomb on the people of Nagasaki? I don’t think war has been honorable since we stopped being able to look into the eyes of those we killed. Certainly we can never justify intentionally killing non-combatants, and for the slaughter of children there can be no redemption.”
Tuesday’s special column ran with the photograph of Sam’s hand showing the severed finger. By the next morning, a few early e-mailed letters to the editor had come in and one of the anti-war blogs had picked up the column and begun to circulate it. Mostly, Sam was being treated as just another kook from LaLa Land.
I walked over to Sam’s hotel and found him with both hands bandaged. He said he hadn’t been able to sleep, not because of nightmares from the war, but from fear of what he had committed himself to do at dawn. The pain was so great in his left hand that he had considered taking the next finger on his left hand to save his right hand from pain, but he stuck with the plan and chewed off his right little finger as sunlight began to shine in his window.
Sam said the pain was more than he had expected, but he continued to refuse to take any medication. He wanted to experience the pain felt by those soldiers who had avoided death, but who were maimed for life, and by those whose mental anguish seemed beyond all endurance. But mostly he wanted to share the pain of children who suffer and die from the cowardly acts of those who glorify war.
“Before we crossed the border in 1991, the Air Force extensively bombed Iraq, but the strikes were not limited to military targets. To overcome the will of the Iraqi people to resist our invasion, we destroyed their power grid, water treatment plants and sanitation systems.
“After Saddam surrendered, and Bush Sr. stupidly failed to order him out of the country, we imposed economic sanctions that prevented the Iraqis from rebuilding their infrastructure and denied them access to adequate food supplies and essential medicines. As many as a million Iraqis died as a direct result of the sanctions, half of whom were children. How can we ever justify the deaths of those 500,000 children? Will their families ever forgive us? Will God?”
Wednesday’s special column ran with another photograph showing Sam’s hands with both severed little fingers. Most of my subscribing newspapers had picked up the special column and it had run across the country. Letters and e-mails to the Times were increasing, and a couple of letters were published on the editorial page. I was called for interviews by several radio stations, but they were less interested in what I had to say than how to find and interview Sam. It was becoming increasingly clear to the public that Sam was determined to do what he had planned, and people were fascinated by the prospect.
As I walked over to Sam’s hotel, I was apprehensive about what I might find. I kept wondering how anyone, without being absolutely crazy or under the influence of PCP or something, could chew off and swallow his own finger, much less do it day after day.
I found Sam passed out on his bed. A pile of bloody bandages was in the trash can and there was a foul odor in the room. Sam aroused and told me his left ring finger had been a bleeder that wouldn’t stop. He had been wrapping a rubber band around each finger above the joint before he severed it, and afterwards he used direct pressure to stop the bleeding. That morning an artery wouldn’t close off. Sam had finally cauterized the stump on the red-hot ring of the hot plate.
I helped wrap Sam in a blanket. I opened the window, and he sat in the chair to talk and to sip some water. I asked him how, physically, he was able to bite off his fingers. Sam said he had researched the strength of the human jaw; it is actually more powerful than a dog’s, or even a shark’s. He knew, if he could just ignore that it was his own finger and quickly bite down as hard as possible directly at the joint, he could tear the finger away and sever any tendons or strips of flesh with his teeth. I asked Sam what he thought about as he bit down on his fingers, and he said he had concentrated on the image of the young boy, Ali, looking up into the camera and holding his small mutilated hands out in supplication.
(The United States is virtually alone in continuing to use cluster bombs; 140 other nations, including England, have signed the Ottawa Agreement to outlaw them because unexploded canisters lay about the ground and pose a particular risk to young children. America has rained down more than 10,000 cluster bombs and artillery shells upon Iraq since the war started.)
Sam believed our political leaders had come to see themselves as military commanders, rather than statesmen, and that war, rather than peace, had become the primary objective of our government. He talked about this peculiar fascination with war by a new generation of politicians who had never seen combat.
“Nixon predicted that Clinton would win in 1992 because Bush Sr. wasn’t smart enough to keep the Gulf War going through the election, as Nixon had done with Vietnam in 1972. However, the 90s produced an adult reality version of the video war games that were becoming popular with teenagers. A new breed of conservatives, the neocons, decided the American people would be better off without their European allies, who they believed had lost their will to fight and their faith in traditional values. These idiots had already forgotten that millions from other nations had died in World War II along with our troops to establish international organizations and effective laws to avoid war.
“Most of these guys were ‘chicken hawks’ who had never served in the military. They had actually come to believe in an American Empire that should send its cavalry around the world and establish permanent military bases throughout the Middle Eastern frontier. Much like spoiled boys who quickly tire of their latest toy, they fantasized about deploying new space-based weapons to rain destruction down upon their enemies and even more exotic nuclear weapons. Funded by a group of equally deranged millionaires, these neocons gained influence over the corporate news media in preparation for the ‘New American Century,’ and set about to elect a president who shared their passion for violent games of war.”
By Wednesday evening, several of the local television stations had picked up Sam’s story, and the Associated Press put its first story about him on the wire.
My regular syndicated column ran on Thursday and the Times dedicated a full op-ed page to letters. Even though the mail was running 50 to one in support of Sam, the paper balanced the page with equal numbers of letters. The primary complaint was that Sam was obviously insane and the Times was facilitating a potential suicide. Those who supported Sam praised him for his sacrifice and for giving voice to their fears.
That morning, I found Sam in what appeared to be an altered mental state. When I photographed his hands with both missing ring fingers, he joked he would never be married because he no longer had a finger on which to wear a wedding ring.
Sam said his pain had become so terrible and unremitting he could no longer acknowledge it in his mind; both hands were throbbing unbearably, and incessant pain was shooting up through his arms and into his chest, back and neck. Sam no longer slept; from time to time he just passed out for a few minutes. He was constantly thirsty and had drunk a lot of water. I helped Sam into the tub, bathed him, washed his hair and helped him dress in clean clothes.
We sat by the window and Sam told me what he thought about the president.
“It’s possible Bush Jr. is smarter than Bush Sr. Junior hired and promoted Karl Rove to help him lie and leak, while his father kept firing Rove for deception and deceit. But neither one will ever take a prize for commonsense or empathy. Stupidity may be genetic, but greed is learned, and the Bush family has a long history of selling out to the highest bidder, including the Nazis.
“The neocons had stacked the Supreme Court with enough members of the Federalist Society to give the 2000 election to a simpleton, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and who had never learned to talk, much less think for himself. Bought and paid for by big oil, it’s no wonder that Bush Junior’s first and most immediate priority was the removal of Saddam, who controlled the third largest pool of oil in the world. Clinton tried to warn him about terrorism, but Junior believed that he could make a deal with Osama bin Laden, whose family had been financially bailing him out for years.
“The economy went in the toilet as soon as Bush was elected; however, he felt the pain of the disadvantaged all the way to the bank, as he busily went about delivering tax breaks to his wealthy and corporate friends and destroying the public school system to keep the poor in their place.
“Bush ignored every warning that Osama was planning to strike American targets using hijacked airplanes. He took a long vacation on his Texas ranch in the summer of 2001 and watched his dog, Barney, chase armadillos while al Qaeda finalized its plans to attack America.
“Bush’s administration was on notice of the threat of imminent attacks and they could have been prevented, but Bush was either too busy relaxing to be concerned or else he needed an excuse to play his war games. Where were you when the planes hit the World Trade Center? Our intellectually challenged president was trying to read a book about a goat to an elementary class, and he was too stupid and uncaring to stop and attend to his people.”
The picture in Friday’s special column showed that Sam only had his thumbs and the fore and index fingers on each hand left, which we normally use in opposition for delicate tasks. If Sam stopped then, he might lead a somewhat normal life. But it did not appear there was any chance he would be able to quit.
With the AP story, Sam and his fingers had become national news. The president’s press secretary had been asked about Sam on Thursday for the first time, and he telegraphed the Rove party-line “message.” The president was saddened by those who are mentally ill and by those who choose to live on the street. Homelessness is a problem, and the president’s program to stimulate the economy will provide jobs for everyone who wants to work. The press secretary deplored that the liberal Times was exploiting an insane veteran to sell newspapers.
It was an obvious effort to “swiftboat” Sam, but the corporate media couldn’t find anything to exploit. Other than for being homeless, Sam had little or no history. He had been a good student who had gone off to war and was honorably discharged. His parents had died and he was the beneficiary of a small life insurance policy, which he had put in the bank. Although Sam lived on the street, he was respected by everyone who had contact with him. He washed dishes each night after his supper at the Rescue Mission. He had never been arrested and he unfailingly treated others with respect.
On the fifth day of his fast, I found Sam in a much weakened condition, with his left index finger missing. He was in bed and the usual trembling in his hands had given way to uncontrolled shaking. It was difficult for him to hold anything. Sam was worried about infection. Despite his best efforts to scrub his hands and to treat his wounds with peroxide and antibiotic ointment, his hands were feeling hot. He knew he would have to go to the hospital if blood poisoning set in.
Sleep deprivation was also catching up with Sam. He had spent the night thinking about what he would say when I visited, and he said it.
“If the invasion of Afghanistan to capture Osama and to destroy al Qaeda was justified after 9/11, why didn’t Bush finish the job? Why did he invade Iraq instead? Why is Osama still running around making videos threatening the United States? Oil’s the simple answer. Afghanistan didn’t have any, and Bush and the neocons were determined to send the cavalry into Iraq to establish permanent military bases to control the Middle Eastern oil supply. The only problem was international law, which prohibited him from simply invading another country to take what he wanted, and the American people, who require something more than greed to go to war. To get what he wanted Bush had to market his war and create a demand for death.
“This isn’t the first time an excuse was cooked up to start a war. The Japanese dynamited their own railroad in Manchuria in 1931, and Germany attacked its own radio station next to Poland in 1939. The Big Lie created by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of his Gang was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction which he was going to give to al Qaeda. It didn’t matter that all such weapons had already been destroyed by the U.N. or that Saddam and Osama couldn’t stand each other. Learning well from the Nazis, the Gang peddled its Big Lie to the American people, over and over, relentlessly, and the corporate media was its willing agent.”
Sam had survived the first week, and he had the weekend to recuperate. A doctor had offered, off the record, to prescribe a strong antibiotic without examining Sam, because he didn’t want to have to report his patient as being a danger to himself. The doctor also suggested a regimen of nutritious foods to build up Sam’s strength in preparation for the second week’s ordeal.
A retired registered nurse, who had served in Vietnam, volunteered to stay in a room next door to look after Sam. She agreed to administer the antibiotics, to help treat his wounds, and to be on call by a baby monitor we installed between the rooms.
I asked Sam if there was anything special he would like to have with his supper? Although he did not normally use alcohol, Sam said a small brandy would be nice. I went out and bought the most expensive bottle I could find, and I joined him for a drink.
Sam rested and ate light meals over the weekend. In spite of the continuing pain, he was able to get some sleep.
We installed a computer in his room with wireless access to the Internet, so he could see the world-wide phenomenon he was creating, and I brought him the Sunday paper.
For the first time ever, the Times ran my regular column on the front page, above the fold. Sam’s story was also reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and it was discussed on the Sunday morning political talk shows. CNN and MSNBC provided respectable coverage, but Fox News dismissed the story with its usual trash.
On Monday morning, I found Sam sitting by the window. He said that starting all over was the hardest thing he had ever done. However, Sam had found a photograph on the Internet of a horribly burned baby in a Baghdad hospital and he sat and seared the image into his mind as he bit down on his right index finger.
Sam was ready to continue talking about the war.
“Bush and his lap dog, Blair, did not wait for the United Nations to determine whether or not Saddam actually possessed weapons of mass destruction or for Congress to act. They immediately started an intensive bombing campaign, without any legal authority, in hopes of provoking Saddam into a response that would provide a justification for the invasion they had been planning all along.
“As a cover, Bush demanded that the United Nations take action, which it did. Inspectors went into Iraq and failed to locate any weapons of mass destruction. Bush ignored their findings and created more lies that Saddam was trying to purchase materials for nuclear weapons and that he had mobile chemical weapon laboratories. His demand for a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq was properly opposed by three of our allies, but Bush and Blair decided they were above international law.
“Bush went before Congress and flat-out lied to its members about the presence of weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda in Iraq. It’s a felony crime to lie to Congress, but Bush did it without conscience and with criminal intent.
“The Downing Street documents have now proven what many suspected all along. Our invasion of Iraq was the result of a secret conspiracy at the very highest levels. It’s a continuing crime against humanity.”
I woke up Tuesday morning to find that Sam’s fingers had become the most frequently used search term on Google–”worldwide. The UK Guardian had published a magazine spread over the weekend, and TIME had obtained permission to use a portrait of Sam taken by my photographer on its front cover.
When I visited Sam, he seemed to have gained a second wind. He was no longer worried about infection and appeared to have transcended any awareness of pain. When he showed me his left hand with the missing forefinger and its remaining thumb without an opposable digit, he smiled and gave me a “thumbs up” for the photograph.
Sam wanted to talk about the cost of the Iraq War.
“Tens of thousands of Americans have had a family member killed or maimed by Bush’s war games. He’s spending five billion dollars on the war every month! He’s already wasted 200 billion, which could have been much better spent on schools, health care and finding alternative sources of energy. What have we purchased with the lives, limbs and sanity of our brave young men and women and our hard-earned tax dollars? Nothing but hatred, disgust and ruin.
“What about the Iraqi people? We didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction when we invaded, but we will leave behind over 3,000 tons of depleted uranium munitions when we leave. Every exploding shell or bomb scattered clouds of radioactive particles, which will remain chemically toxic for billions of years.
“Bush is now telling us our ‘noble cause’ is to bring democracy to the Iraqi people and to fight terrorism there before it comes here. He promises we will ‘stand down’ when the Iraqi people are ready to ‘stand up.’ Unfortunately for our troops, the Iraqis are already standing up. They’re resisting our illegal occupation of their country, and they’ll continue to do so with all their might and with right on their side until we leave them alone.
“Can we even conceive of the harm Bush’s war has caused? 100,000 Iraqis have died! How would we feel if we were invaded and a million Americans were slaughtered? We have destroyed and allowed the theft of priceless cultural artifacts going back to the birth of human civilization. How would we feel if the Smithsonian was gutted, the Statute of Liberty was blown apart, the New York Public Library was burned, and our art museums across the country were looted? We have created a civil war that is tearing apart their nation. How would we feel if an invader allowed criminal gangs to rule our cities, if the West Coast withdrew from our country, and Alaska and Hawaii declared independence?”
By Wednesday morning there was no longer any doubt that Sam had touched the hearts of millions of people around the world. Spontaneous demonstrations of support had begun to appear and a candlelight vigil stretching across America was being planned for the evening.
The day before, Bush had responded to reporters about his vacation. He said he had just been “hanging out,” had ridden 17 miles on his new bicycle, gone fishing, played a few hours of video games–”just “keeping a balanced life.” When asked about Sam, the president said his people were looking into it and were trying to get him some help through the Veterans Administration.
When I entered Sam’s hotel room, I found him in a near state of shock. With his right forefinger now gone, only the two thumbs were left. He couldn’t hold a glass of water and had to sip through a straw. He said his hands felt like they were being constantly crushed under a red hot weight. I again questioned Sam about why he was so insistent on refusing any pain killers, even aspirin.
He said the Iraqi hospitals had been targeted by American forces to deny medical care to wounded rebels, and doctors did not have enough medications to treat their patients, including injured children, who suffered pain without relief. Sam was also growing increasingly worried about his ability to concentrate and to focus on what he had to say.
“How will history view Bush’s war? What has it accomplished? It has only lined the pockets of the big defense contractors and added billions to the national debt. Instead of a democracy, Bush has created a theocracy in Iraq, one which will eliminate the rights of women and the freedom of religion.
“Bush has destroyed the national integrity of Iraq. He has caused a civil war that could rage for decades. The country is now run by Kurdish militia in the north and by Shiite militia in the south, both of which have infiltrated the local police and neither of which are controlled by the central government. The militias murder their opponents at will and without fear of prosecution. The system is every bit as repressive as that imposed by Saddam.”
“Bush’s idiocy has spawned thousands of terrorists, who will plague civilization for generations unless we do something, now, to convince the young people in the Middle East that we are not the modern crusaders.
“We must prove we really do stand for the rule of law and that the American people are not imperialists, despite the insane ranting of those who claim to speak on our behalf.
“The vast majority of humanity, almost 90 percent, believes that the United States is the greatest threat to world peace. Not Iraq, Iran, North Korea or any other country.
“The American government has become an instrument of evil in the world; it’s almost as if the Antichrist had seized the levers of the greatest power on earth. It matters not the extent of our president’s power or the limits on our ability as ordinary citizens to overcome it–”his sins will stain the souls of all those who remain silent while we still have the freedom to speak out.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans turned out for candlelight vigils that evening in every city in the country. Sam had touched the conscience of all who had one, and none could fault his sincerity. The truths spoken by Sam were becoming increasingly evident, and the frantic attempts by Rove and his network of deception to divert attention from Sam’s testimony had failed.
I had to drive through a mass of cameras and a mob of reporters when I arrived at the Times on Thursday morning. I had avoided granting any interviews or making any statements to the media. Not only was it Sam’s story to tell, but the primary interest of other reporters was to locate and interview Sam. The National Inquirer had offered $100,000 to anyone who would reveal his location.
By slipping in and out the back way and keeping a low profile, we had managed to keep the hotel management in the dark about what had been happening on the third floor, and Sam had never left his room. I no longer walked to my morning visits to avoid being followed. Because of the media mob, I had hidden in the trunk of another reporter’s car and was driven out of the Times garage.
Sam’s left hand was now useless. He had bitten off the thumb at the joint and there was only a stump left to be photographed. He was very weak and in a near coma. We discussed hospitalization, but Sam said he was too close to stop. There was only one more day.
Sam was fighting to remain coherent and avoid shock. He retained his amazing depth of understanding and profound wisdom, but he was having difficulty focusing. For the first time I had to help him along with a few questions. I asked him how long he thought the war would continue?
“Bush and his Gang believe the war they have started will go on indefinitely. They embrace a total war against a variety of enemies and avoid ‘clever diplomacy’ or the need for allies. They want to extend the war to Iran and Syria, or into any other country that gets in their way. Cheney says the war will continue at least as long as the Cold War… 50 years or more. Bush says he doesn’t mind if he alienates the rest of the world, even if we’re the only ones left…. That’s okay with him ‘because we are America.’
“The neocons in our government are constructing a string of forts along the Iranian border. They’re building permanent military bases to house at least 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for decades into the future. It’s a pipe dream to believe they will ever agree to willingly leave Iraq.
“Bush refuses to establish a time line for withdrawal or to commit himself to a complete evacuation, even if requested by the new Iraqi government. Most Democrats aren’t any better. Some say we should be sending even more troops to Iraq and others wring their hands about setting any deadlines to bring the soldiers home.
“All of these politicians, of both parties, are bought and paid for by the same corporations and special interest groups. They’re all lying to us when they say that we have a duty to stay until the Iraqis can defend themselves against terrorists. The only reason there are any terrorists in Iraq is because our troops are there. We create three terrorist for every one we kill. The only sensible solution is for us to leave…. Then they will stop coming.”
I asked Sam what we should do to end the war?
“We simply have to load up our soldiers and their equipment and bring them home. Immediately! Of course we’re responsible for Bush’s war… for the disintegration of Iraq. We could borrow a few of the billions we’re giving to Halliburton and use the money to pay for volunteer troops from Islamic nations to keep the peace… until the Iraqi people are able to govern themselves. That happy day will occur much quicker if we’re gone… than if we remain. The cost to America will be far less.”
He also had a few words for Congress and some advice for the soldiers fighting in Iraq.
“The congressional resolution Bush obtained by his Big Lie only authorized him to use our military to defend the United States against the fraudulent threat posed by Iraq and to enforce nonexistent UN resolutions. Once it was established that Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction and wasn’t affiliated with al Qaeda, any legal justification to continue the occupation of Iraq expired. Bush cannot… lawfully… on his own… change the mission in midstream.
“There is no longer any legal authority for our military to remain in Iraq. All soldiers of conscience should immediately refuse to obey any further orders of their Commander in Chief having anything to do with the illegal occupation of Iraq.
“Bush’s stupidity and greed have made war criminals out of all of us. Once we know the truth, can we remain silent? Just like the good German burghers who lived next to the concentration camps, how long can we go on smelling the odor of burning bodies before we become equally as guilty as those who stoke the fires?
I didn’t bother to go into the office on Friday morning. There was no way I could have gotten in through the media mob and back out to meet with Sam. I had made arrangements with Indymedia LA to accompany me to Sam’s room and record his final statement. Indymedia agreed to share its videotape with all other media outlets.
Before we could get to the hotel, I received an emergency call from the nurse. An artery in Sam’s right thumb wouldn’t stop bleeding and she couldn’t release the tourniquet. She said Sam had agreed to go to the hospital, but he wanted to complete his videotaped statement first.
We found him in bed close to collapse. Sam insisted the nurse unwrap both of his hands so they could be filmed. It was a gruesome sight. His hands were bloody and swollen, and the finger stumps were scabbed over. Sam’s voice was weak and hesitant, but his mind remained strong and he continued to believe he was making a difference.
“I’ve had my say…. More words would just be redundant…. I pray enough people will join me in speaking out to force our government to listen to us and to stop committing crimes in our name.
“We, the ordinary people in this great country, must take back our government from the wealthy… the corporations… and the special interests which have subverted it.
“We must demand to vote in a national policy referendum every four years when we elect our president. We have the right to make policy… about the most important issues facing our country for the next term… and to hold accountable those we elect to carry out our policies.
“The 2000 presidential election was stolen from the American people…. The 2004 election results were largely based on computerized voting machines… operated by the very same corporations that profit most from their secret manipulations.
“There is only one way for us to ensure our vote…. Each of us must take a moment to carefully write in the names of the persons we want to elect as our president and vice-president…. If we all did it… and if it took a week or so to count the ballots, we would show the world who really runs our country.
“All of humanity… all races… all creeds… could be proud of their contribution to the marvelous genetic pool known as Americans…. We could create a new form of government… one deserving of respect… one worthy of emulation.
“If we do these two simple things: Establish our own policy… and truly elect our own leaders… we can rest easy that we will never again commit crimes against humanity or threaten our neighbors. We can live at peace… with ourselves… and with the rest of the world. We just have to get rid of these idiotic zealots… who have stolen our government… and who use it to commit unspeakable crimes in our name.”
I asked Sam what he was going to do next?
“I would enjoy spending some time on college campuses visiting with students. The ‘me generation’ has had its chance… we have to look to the young… not just here in America… but in every country… and in every society… to think of others… rather than themselves… and to make the commitment to end war… forever.
“Maybe someday… I’ll consider running for president… as a write-in candidate…. Do you think anyone would vote for me?”
We called an ambulance and Sam was transported to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and to cleanse and trim the ragged edges of his wounds. He will require a series of operations to reconnect tendons and skin grafts to cover the stumps.
The future remains unsettled. With Sam’s notoriety and disability, he can no longer live on the street. A number of substantial offers have come in for him to sell his television, movie and book rights. He’s a survivor; I’m sure he will figure it out.
Sam is a true hero. He has forever changed all of us and how we look at war. I have never known a braver person, and I was honored to accompany him on his mission.
My conclusion: Sam’s not crazy; it’s war that’s insane.