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Going Back to Kabul

Though U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan following Sept. 11, 2001, purportedly sought to assist the country on the road to development, the nation remains one of the world’s poorest. And while Afghanistan seems all but a fading blip on the ever-busier radar screen of U.S. overseas adventures, one local woman is planning a return trip to the war-torn country to make good on a promise made by her nation’s leaders.

Connie Frisbee Houde, an Albany resident, made her first trip to Kabul in February with Global Exchange, an international human-rights organization, to document with her camera the effect of U.S. bombing on the lives of Afghan people. Houde returned with a collection of photographs that captured the country’s barren landscapes, the wreckage of war and the faces of the people in the streets of Kabul.

“If you see the people that you are naming as enemy, and you get to know them, you won’t see them as enemy,” Houde said. “As a photographer I was able to bring that back to people.”

Houde has been showing her photos at a number of venues across the Capital Region—in high schools, galleries and senior centers—and she published a photo essay in Metroland [“In the Aftermath of War,” March 6].

The trip was funded mostly by donations, some of which Houde contributed to a fund to refurbish a middle school for girls that had been closed by the Taliban. The money was used to purchase 600 new desks for students and 17 desks for faculty, and to build four bathrooms, among other renovations.

Houde is hoping to make a return trip to Afghanistan in October with the National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation, which supports three major eye hospitals in Afghanistan. Houde said she wants to document the group’s outreach effort to provide assistance and self-care education to some of the country’s more rural areas.

“In many of these rural areas, the people don’t have vehicles or even the roads to travel to Kabul for the necessary care,” Houde said. “In some of these places, they’ll have to hike this stuff into where the people are.”

Houde said she especially likes NOOR’s tack for helping the Afghan people as they look to do more than just apply a band-aid.

“They’re not just going in and looking to work on people’s eyes and fix things,” Houde said. “They’re talking about prevention and care. They’re looking at the bigger picture.”

Houde is currently looking to raise funds for the trip and is looking to show the work from her previous trip to interested audiences for donations. Houde will be featured on WMHT’s InSight on July 24 at 7:30 PM. Her photographs will be on display at the Bethlehem Community Church in Delmar on July 29 at 7 PM, and representatives from NOOR will discuss the nature of October’s trip.

—Travis Durfee

Judging Dissent

Fifteen of the so-called “787 27” were in Police Court in Albany on July 17 to face charges stemming from their March arrests for blocking traffic with their bodies by laying across the 787 exit at Broadway in protest of U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

On March 20, the day after U.S. forces initiated conflict in Iraq, hundreds of Capital Region citizens gathered to protest in Albany. Later that day, 27 demonstrators formed a human chain by laying their bodies across the 787 exit ramp. When police arrived, some of the protestors “went limp” and had to be dragged to police vehicles for arrest. Traffic was hung up for roughly an hour.

Though most were ticketed for disorderly conduct, a mere violation, seven of the demonstrators were charged with obstructing governmental administration, a misdemeanor carrying a possible jail sentence. Judges overseeing the cases have since reduced the penalties for all 27 defendants and offered plea bargains, but a majority of the protesters are not accepting the deals. Attorneys for the defendants claim that the more severe charges were handed out randomly and that each defendant deserves equal punishment.

“None of the individuals did anything that caused any more obstruction of traffic than anyone else,” said Mark Mishler, an attorney for the defendants. “Everybody laid down in the street and they were given the same warning. Frankly I don’t know if there is anything that should make their cases any different.”

Further, Mishler said recent court decisions stemming form civil- disobedience arrests in Albany have set a precedent for how these cases should be handled. Of the 37 demonstrators arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in Albany from February to June 2000, all were given the reduced penalties, Mishler said.

But Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne has another take on the matter.

“So the judge dismisses the misdemeanor charges wrongly and now the argument is, ‘Well, we have the disorderly conduct charges now too. We should get ACODs,’” said Clyne. “Our position is: Sorry, that’s not so. It doesn’t change what you did. The fact that the judge dismissed the case, we believe wrongly, doesn’t change the fact that their conduct is still the same. If they want to go to trial, we’ll go to trial.”

Those facing the reduced charge of disorderly conduct face a possible fine and community service if they accept. Mishler said several legal steps could draw out the process for a few months, and the defendants wouldn’t see their day in court until September or October.

Albany’s Dominic Romani, 24, was one of the seven charged with a misdemeanor. He is not accepting the plea and looks forward to taking the matter to court. Romani expressed gratitude to those who decided to take a stand on the issue.

“I am absolutely thrilled that others are holding out,” Romani said. “Solidarity is vital to the movement—not [just] the peace movement, [but] the anti-fascist movement in all its forms—and this proves that our friends are strongly committed to each other. This type of thing only makes us stronger.”

—Travis Durfee


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