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September 21, 2006


I am really happy that you and FDL have highlighted this issue that the scientific community is trying to get others to listen to. I have emailed and phoned both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. AI emailed me back and are currently looking into what there people are doing..., no word from Human Rights Watch. I guess I am wondering what else we all can do. As a nurse myself, I am very interested in seeing justice be served and these professionals be released. It is abhorrant that this is happening and I just wish there were more I could do. Thank you for this and all of your posts.

jmba, I appreciate that and need to make sure to recognize DemFromCT who posted on it here and elsewhere this morning and brought the story to my attention over email -- I am really just following his lead here.

The only "what can I do" information I've seen is a diplomatic letter-writing campaign sponsored by Nursing Advocacy here. Frankly I think that is great but we may need to move beyond that. "Lawyers Without Borders" has been active in this cause but I can't even find mention of it on their website.

The email from an editor at Nature that was circulated among bloggers asking us to draw attention to this story said, "I didn't suggest routes for the blogosphere to act, as, in its spirit, I thought I'd see what it invented..." so it is very much up to us, individually, to think of ways of taking action and putting them into effect.

Right now this story has penetrated deeply in the science blogosphere and at a superficial level in the political blogosphere. As of today the trial has been postponed until Oct. 31 so it may be difficult to keep people's attention on it without continued news items developing.

The other major obstacle to building a critical mass of interest for this cause is the shrug factor -- it's Libya, what do you expect, shrug. (Sometimes this is voiced as, "there are hundreds/thousands/10,000s of people dying in palestine/israel/iraq/new orleans, why should I worry about these 6?".) We need clear responses to both of these excuses for inaction.

I see the story right now in phase 1 -- developing a narrative. Between the collective writing on all the science blogs, hopefully a theme and useful key set of points will emerge and be seized on by one of us. I think we are still not quite sure how to tell this story -- is it about Libya-US relations, or about HIV, or global health care, or human rights and torture and cardboard trials? Once we are clear on what is important we can, I hope, move to phase 2 which is pushing the story out beyond the science and political blogs into the general consciousness. I'm afraid if "phase 1" takes too long, say more than a few days to a week, though, we will lose all momentum.

I'm interested in hearing yours and others' thoughts and where to go next -- ideas? What is the real story here, what part of it really gets you?

to me, this is about health care workers volunteering to help, and instead being threatened with death.

Thanks emptypockets,
As a nurse, This "story" effected me on a personal level because I am concerned about all healthcare workers rights and their just treatment. As a healthcare worker I can say that we do the job because we care about other human beings and want to decrease their pain and suffering as much as we can. It is outrageous that these workers would be wrongfully accused, tortured, and incarcerated to cover up shody hospital sanitation procedures. As a human being, I am outraged by the injustice. As a progressive I am also interested in how closely it parrellels our current administrations treatment of "detainees". I often feel overwhelmed by the suffering and injustince that seems to be everywhere on this planet...Sudan, Iraq, Thailand...on and on and on. Maybe because it is only 6 people it feels like something can be done, maybe because the number is something you can wrap your brain around (instead of the overwhelming millions in Africa) that I feel like our lowly voices could reach those who can effect a change. I am certainly here and willing to letter write, call people, tell my friends...anything. One suggestion may be to call on nursing unions to make a campaign out of this. I have been on haitus from nursing the past 2 years raising my twin boys who just turned two, hence I am not currently in the know about who I could contact locally, but certainly I know some people who do. Like I said earlier I have contacted Amnesty Int'l and did receive a response that my formal email request was forwarded to someone who would look into the situation..., but it seems like we need the state dept or some other branch of govt to be involved. Although we certainly lack the credibilty to back it up. So, there is my brainstorming, I am still here ready to fight the good fight. sorry for any misspellings and grammatical errors, they boys are up and I gotta go :)

and thank you DemfromCT

Thank you for that link for the Nursing Advocate. I sent a personal letter and after sending that they posted a phone number to also call:
"Thank you very much for sending a letter to Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi and other Libyan officials!

We also urge you to double the power of your concern by calling the Libyan mission to the UN at 1-212-752-5775 to register your objection and ask them to release the Bulgarian nurses from jail immediately. "

jmba, see the story and responses here. The "What can I do?" links are here and within the comments, which note both ICN and ANA involvement.

to me, this is about health care workers volunteering to help, and instead being threatened with death.

It is outrageous that these workers would be wrongfully accused, tortured, and incarcerated to cover up shoddy hospital sanitation procedures.

These statements lend very good clarity. But they also expose a conflict we have to face. On the one hand, we're saying this story is about the health care workers, but the writing I've seen so far today usually doesn't even mention their names -- at this point, reading posts about it on and off all afternoon, I don't know if they have families, what brought them to Libya, anything about who they are and what their motivations were -- surely there are plenty of poor and sick in Bulgaria and Palestine, why did they go to Libya? Did they live there permanently or were they there on some kind of exchange program? (I'm asking for real but also rhetorically, to show that none of this has been written about much.) Nature has a picture of 5 of the 6, but I don't even know which are which. Their editorial talks about Libya bombing an airliner 18 years ago and what's going on now with EU-Libyan diplomacy, but tells us nothing about the health workers themselves.

The blog coverage I've seen, including my piece above, hasn't been any better in this regard. One theme I've seen sounded frequently, and which is disturbing to me, is "can the blogosphere help the Tripoli Six?" type pieces, that place the emphasis on whether blogs have the power to make any push in these kinds of stories (a number of these I feel place undue emphasis on Declan Butler, the Nature editor who deserves terrific praise for getting this story out, but who ought not become the lede). I don't think asking bloggers to prove their muscle just to show they can do it is a compelling argument.

So in light of DemFromCT's and jmba's comments, I am thinking that there are two things we need to ask while we're still in phase 1, and working as a think-tank to flesh out a concise argument. First, who are the medics and why were they in Libya?

Second, how does their story apply more broadly? jmba's point about their small number being something manageable, where you feel you can understand it and have an impact, is trenchant, but to avoid the "shrug" response I need to understand how they are emblematic of a larger problem, not just 6 people who got trapped in a freak piece of bad luck. I took a stab at it in my last couple paragraphs of the post here, relating it to the need for health care workers to have special protection if we are going to be safe at home from global spread of diseases -- an argument where I'm also following DemFromCT's lead:

have you any idea how dependent... ...our modern culture is on those who get off their duffs and do stuff like this overseas?

Flu trackers and disease investigators for WHO, for example. Yes, it's dangerous business. Try tracking flu in iraq. Some workers were (luckily, just) run out of town in Indonesia as well.

But if it's not done, we all suffer, and sometiomes enormously. This isn't in the same category as business and tourism, and functions under different rules of engagement. There are times you just need to leave, but sometimes, alas, that's not an option.

I think this is the right argument but I wanted to put it out there explicitly for comment -- is this what grabs you for the broader importance of these six, or something else?

oh, and jmba, I think working through the nurse's unions is a fantastic idea. You've got me wondering how many readers here, at dailykos, and other sites work at hospitals or health care institutions, and how many we could mobilize to collect signatures on campus to send to their Senators and Representatives demanding that Congress insist that Libya free these workers.

I saw that Declan Butler posted over at FDL and he seems pretty open to communicating, so I wonder if he has any background info on the 6 and would be willing to share it? Maybe he could give us insight into who they are, what brought them to Libya. I did read in a blog somewhere today that in Bulgaria the working wages are ridiculous and I believe many workers travel outside the country to make a living. I think I even saw some program on PBS awhile back about the sex-trade industry getting women from various eastern European countries to come to another country for legitimate work only to be sold into sex slavery. I only digress to this point because this may be why they were in another country to work.... Pure economics.

I'll write him and ask that question, jmba.

PZ Myers at pharyngula writes the story by leading off with the six names and keeping the focus squarely on them, including the detail that two of the nurses were raped while in jail.

Part of me doesn't want to get all "meta" about how we write about it, but at the same time it is interesting to see everyone cover the same story on the same day working from the same 1 or 2 pieces of source material. And I also think an essential function of blogs is working through how to tell a story, among like-minded people, before putting it before a larger audience.

Hm... There is a faint suggestion in all of this that this trial may be payback for the trial of the Libyans for the Pan Am 103 bombing, a trial many have argued was seriously flawed.

Is Bulgaria a member of the EU yet? The EU is in a much better position to lean on Libya than the US.

I don't want to reinvent the wheel here (no pun intended) but I have been doing a bit of googling and "meta-searching". I know you don't want to get too "meta" about it, but thought maybe I could find something out about the background of the people involved. n Othing about their personal history, unfortunatley, but some other aspects. I assume you already know all of this, but just in case you don't, here it goes. From some 2001 articles in foreign press accounts it sounds like Qadaffi was trying to imply that a "foreign conspiracy" was being inacted to spread HIV into Libya. Also he apparently accused them of having confessed to being CIA agents and Israeli Mossad secret service. Also it is unclear if they are accused of injecting children with HIV or one account states the nurses were encouraging infected mothers to breastfeed their children. It is pretty sad that there are no U.S. news reports to speak of. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been involved with this case as far back as 2000, and I am still awaiting a reply as to their current findings. Anyway, it isn't much and probably not too helpful, but there you have it.

The wikipedia has a short piece... we might be able to use it to flesh out what's the story:


I'm into wikis:


I did get in contact with Declan, who read the comments here... more to come...

More "what can we do"s at effect measure linked from Questionable Authority

(but link is off so I'm linking right to effect measure here)

Thank you for all of the great links. I have called the Libyan embassy and they stated they have received many calls and the "translater" stated he would pass along the concern. It isn't like I want to help the GOP, but what about appealing to their need for saving political face on their stance on tribunals and torture? Here is a way for them to show they are committed to the rule of law and human rights by condemning the Libyans for this abuse. That is how I framed it to Bill Frist's staffer. I know it is hypocritical, but that certainly hasn't stopped them before. Just a thought. Thank you again for your time and energy devoted to this matter. In Solid, jmba

better wikipedia:


jmba, honestly at this point I've got to say I think the story has connected with you on a much more personal level than I've been able to feel it (and I've been trying to), and you've certainly done more activism than I have so far. I'm going to try to keep writing about this every few days over the next week or so, at least, but I wonder if you'd like to contribute a post at dkos (or here) about why this story is important to you and especially about the great leads you've taken getting in contact with the various advocacy groups and political figures. I think it would serve as a very nice "why and how-to" for people to follow in your footsteps. (Other lurkers reading this, please get in touch with me too and I would love to compile all of your experiences in trying to push this issue, and your feelings on what works well & what works less well.)

I have never posted before, but would certainly be interested in putting some thought together. I have to admit to a few inadequacies..., I basically use my computer for blogging and emailing and have put very little time into learning how to really work the thing. I don't know how to make links (besides cutting and pasting) and I don't even have Word on my computer..., but all those things aside I am sure I could try to string a few words together. My husband has now taken this issue up and has done some searching online and forwarded me some articles. He also wrote letters and did some investigating as to who is on the various senate and house committees who may be able to help. He has an english minor and is an engineer with much more proficient computer skill, so I am sure he would be very willing to help. He also suggested getting in touch with my Alma mater and seeing if the nursing professors would like to encourage the students to also get organized in letter writing campaigns. So, basically, yes. All excuses and caveats aside I would love to try and do this. I just may need a tiny bit of help :) In Solid, jmba

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