Monday, December 14, 2009

Cassandra's monologue from "Going Home"

When I first moved to New York, in the early eighties, I lived for a while in a renovated Old Law (dumbbell) tenement in Chelsea. My next-door neighbor was a late middle-aged woman who had been living, for years, in the un-renovated tub-in-kitchen version of my apartment. She was usually very nice, but was sometimes given to loud one-sided aggressive declaratory conversations with Jesus in the wee hours of the morning. I later learned that she suffered from schizophrenia, and was always one disability check away from being out on the street. At the time, rapacious New York landlords were emptying SRO buildings through any means that they could find, fair and foul, and were often "warehousing" the empty buildings until the market turned in their favor.

One day, I read in the News the sad story of a little girl on the Lower East Side who had been playing beneath the stoop of her building and was killed when the stoop collapsed on top of her. She was a very well-loved child and the neighborhood was very tight. It was one of those moments in a neighborhood, a much smaller version of the General Slocum disaster from eighty years before, when you could practically hear a collective keening arise from scores of kitchens where mothers were cooking dinner, empty lots where kids were playing stoop-ball and in Tompkins Square Park where she was memorialized by sad-eyed men.

This was the first thing that I ever wrote for an actor, and it was given wonderful voice by the late Rosanna Carter of the Negro Ensemble Company.

Scene: The doorway of a former SRO tenement building on the Lower East Side of New York. CASSANDRA, a black homeless woman of indeterminate age, stands at the foot of the stoop with two large paper bags at her side packed with all of her earthly possessions blocking the steps. She addresses PAUL [an actor who has taken a job as the super of an empty tenement building in the process of being renovated].

CASSANDRA

You think I don’t know you? You live here now, in this building, don’t you? You like it? You think it’s built solid, do you? I’m here to tell you. You best be saying your prayers ‘fore you go to sleep at night, ‘cause this building’s liable to fall down any moment.

[beat] You moving away. You think I’m out my mind, don’t you? You sure as hell don’t know me. But I know you.

You read in the paper, sometimes, see on the TV, about some old building fallin' down somewheres. Always seems to be in East New York, South Bronx, Lower East Side... one of them poorer neighborhoods, don't it? Why you spose that be?

What?

Just cause they old? No, chile. I'll tell you why. Old buildings be a lot like old people. They be storing up memories and souls since the day they be built. Souls of everyone who ever lived there. Every gal who give birth over some tub inna kitchen 'cause she be too poor to afford a doctor. Every old man who pass on in his sleep with a bottle in his hands 'cause he don't got no good reason to get up no more. And every little thing that happen in between.

After a while, see, the weight of all them souls starts to press down on the walls, press down on the floors, until something just give way.

No suh. Old buildings don't fall down for no reason at all. Not in these neighborhoods. They collapse from the weight of all the souls they got in 'em, all the life they've seen.

Oh, I know you well enough. You the one they hire to watch this old building they "warehousing" like you say. You the one holdin' the keys. It be getting cold for November. Now, will you let me in my home?

- from Going Home ©1989 Peter Basta Brightbill

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Runyon, Riskin and the Pleasures of Adaptation

Damon Runyon wrote his short story "Madame La Gimp" at the inception of his career as a writer.  It was published in October of 1929, in Hearst's Cosmopolitan, two weeks after the market crashed.  The story is short, running just more than 6,000 words, but it's seminal - it has inspired two film adaptations ("Lady for a Day," in 1933 and "Pocketful of Miracles," in 1960; both directed by Capra) and at least one radio play (of the same name as the short story, performed in 1948 as part of

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Runyon, Riskin and the Dangers of Adaptation...

Damon Runyon's short story "Madame La Gimp" runs only nine pages

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tony, Louie, "the Skirt" & Me: Life Imitates Art at the 1992 Gotti Trial

Sometimes, stories just fall into your lap. This is one of those stories. It happened to me in the winter of 1992, after I had left a secure government job as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn to pursue my muse as a writer.  I was living in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn at the time, then still heavily italian-american.  The neighborhood was "in transition," as the realtors like to say, with its italian-american population aging and dwindling, and being replaced by young urban professionals.  The neighborhood's connection to its much rougher waterfront past, however, hung over the streets like a fog blown in off the Buttermilk Channel on a winter day.  One day in the late summer of 1992, a flyer appeared taped to lamposts throughout the 'hood.  It recalled nothing so much as a much earlier flyer I had heard of which had appeared, years before on these same blocks, after a neighborhood hero by the name of Pietro Panto had vanished from the piers after having incurred Albert Anastasia's wrath.  (Those flyers bore the likeness of Panto, with the simple inquisitive "Dove Pietro Panto"?  His body was never found).  This flyer, however, was meant as a warning, not a lament.  It bore no text whatsoever, but showed the head of Sammy Gravano grafted onto the body of large rat.  Its meaning was clear.

It is impossible to write about the Italian mafia in the last decade of the 20th Century without writing about the myth of the mafia as portrayed in a dozen movies, chief among them Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, and the way in which life often imitates art, particularly in New York. If you happen into any Italian pizzeria, even today and certainly in the early 1990’s, you would almost certainly find on the walls the following photographic portraits: John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Of these, the only sure bet was Pacino's photo, as Michael from The Godfather.

Perhaps it has always been true that life has imitated the movies in the culture of the mafia. Perhaps Albert Anastasia, when he ordered that Abe "Kid Twist" Reles be whacked, had in mind a scene from Angels with Dirty Faces, though I sort of doubt it. Just the other day, Junior Gotti just got off on federal racketeering and murder charges, for a fourth time, after the judge declared a mistrial. Maybe life does imitate art, after all. As Faulkner once said, "the past is not dead - it isn't even past."

The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.

"...It is all of eight-thirty of a gray Friday morning in February of 1992, and I am standing inside of the lobby of the federal courthouse in Brooklyn yawning and trying to blink the sleep out of my eyes. I am a night person by habit, and have grown used to writing until late at night and sometimes into the early hours of the morning. I am not used to being anywhere other than my shower at 8:30 in the morning. But that morning I jumped out of bed and into the shower not an hour before, dressed and ran out the door to catch the IRT into the Heights without even pausing for coffee. I did all of this because John Gotti père was on trial in Brooklyn and I had heard that you had to get there early if you hoped to have any chance of getting in to see what may be the last of the great Cosa Nostra trials of this century.

A few months earlier Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano , consigliere of the Gambino family and Gotti's number two button and trusted friend, faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up in a very small room, had done the unthinkable: he decided to save his own skin and rat on his friends. It's not that betrayal is unheard of in this world. But nobody rats on his friends. True, former friends have a way of becoming enemies and one can rat on an enemy with impunity. But Sammy Gravano's impending betrayal was of Shakespearean dimension: in cooperating with the feds he had not only betrayed John Gotti and his co-defendant, Frank Locascio (“Frankie Loc”); he had turned his back on the entire world in which he had grown up in and was giving the Feds information about the entire Gambino crime family and the other four families in New York. His own wife had denounced him in public, and, together with their their son and daughter, had refused to accompany him into the federal witness protection program.

In my old neighborhood of Sout' Brooklyn (now called "Carroll Gardens"), a scrappy place where the families of italian-american longshoremen were trying to hang on to their culture long after most of the dockyard jobs had moved across the river to the Jersey piers, a Xeroxed drawing of a rat with Gravano’s head superimposed upon it had appeared overnight taped to streetlights on the corners on Court Street soon after it was announced that Sammy was cooperating with the Feds. It is Gravano’s presence as a cooperating witness that has given the government its first real hope of bringing down "the Teflon Don" after failing to convict him in two prior trials. In the earlier cases the government had suspected that their witnesses or jurors had been reached and compromised, and in one case they were able to prove it.

In this case the Feds, apparently, were taking no chances. Stepping into the lobby I encounter a phalanx of federal Marshalls at the security station. Two Marshalls are running each of two step-through metal detectors and X-ray machines and are doing manual searches with portable detectors when the alarm on the step-through goes off. Three other Marshalls are outfitted like Secret Service agents with headsets, observe the comings and goings of people entering and leaving the building. Past the security station, near the entrance to the elevators, they have placed an information counter manned by yet another Marshall. Behind him, fifteen people are already on line. This doesn't seem like a big crowd to me, but then I remember that the courtrooms in the Brooklyn federal courthouse are quite a bit smaller than their state counterparts and have limited seating.

After making my way through security without incident, I approach the Marshall at the desk and ask him what my chances are of getting into the trial. My head has that floating balloon feeling that signals that I need a shot of coffee and my empty stomach is growling audibly and what I really want to ask him is if he will save my place while I run across the street to the diner. The Marshall, a taciturn man whose bad luck it apparently had been to have drawn public relations duty on this day, barely looks up from his morning Post to tell me that I shouldn’t have any problem getting in.

Behind me, at the security station near the entrance, an alarm goes off. The Marshall looks up sharply at the noise and I follow his gaze to a large, beefy guy dressed in an Armani sportcoat and sporting a Miami Beach tan who is standing next to the metal detector, surrounded by three very interested Feds. The guy has already emptied his pockets of a silver cigarette case and lighter, a set of keys and some loose change. He shrugs and pulls his pants pockets inside-out to show that they are empty. One of the feds asks him if he's carrying and the guy sort of snorts and says 'Yeah, right' but apparently he knows the drill, for he lifts his arms up a bit while another fed pats him down. The guy comes up clean. The first Marshall gives him the once over with the wand and it turns out that the offending piece of metal is simply the guy's belt. Those Gucci buckles do make quite an impression. They let the guy past and wave someone else through the machine. The alarm goes off again. Christ, I think, they must have that thing set to pick up paper clips.

The sounds emanating from my gut cause me to turn my attention back to the Marshall behind the desk. He is still taking in the mini-drama of the security station, with what seems to me to be a look of envy. I get the distinct impression that he regards his present assignment as somehow beneath his training as a federal law enforcement officer. I look up at the clock. Eight thirty-seven. My stomach rumbles again. I finally ask the Marshall whether he thinks I have time to run across the street for something to eat.

He tells me that I shouldn’t have any problem, answering in the same matter-of-fact, distracted tone as before, the subtext of which is clearly translates as “I could give a fuck.” I decide to chance it and go for the coffee and food. I'm no good in this condition anyway, with only five hours of sleep the night before. I leave the courthouse and head out across the park at Cadman Plaza.

Six months before I had quit my job as a prosecutor with the Brooklyn DA's office and had taken a part-time job with an attorney in Manhattan so that I could spend more time on my writing. The money that the civil attorney was paying me was decent enough but I worried that it might not be steady. A couple of my colleagues had told me that I could apply to get certified by the Bar to do assigned counsel work for indigent defendants. The money wasn't great but I didn't know how long the job with the civil attorney would last. Besides, I missed Brooklyn and the drama and grit of doing criminal law work. So I had scheduled an interview with the assigned counsel panel for later that afternoon on Remsen Street, was dressed respectably enough for the occasion and was carrying my briefcase. For all the world I looked like any other Brooklyn criminal defense lawyer. Now if I could just wake up, I might be able to start thinking like one as well.

At a diner across Cadman Plaza from the courthouse I order a coffee and an egg-and-ham-on-roll to go. The crowd at this hour is what you'd expect, mostly: lawyers and judges from the various courts nearby, post office workers from the old Brooklyn Central Post Office, a few neighborhood people. But at a table near the back of the diner are seated six men who are quite a different crowd from the coffee klatch of civil service regulars and Court Street lawyers. I realize that most of their faces are familiar to me from the surveillance photos and mug shots that hung on the wall of the DI Squad Room in the Rackets Bureau of my old office. Seated around this table are Jack D'Amico (“Jackie Nose”), John's brother Peter (Pete) Gotti, John Gotti fils (“Junior”), Dominick Burgese (“Fat Dom”), John Giordano (“Good Looking Jackie”) and a couple of other goombas whom I don't recognize.

These are the big guns of the Gambino organized crime family, Gotti's trusted adjutants, minus one. Up close and in person they look even more idiosyncratic than in their photos, like characters from a different time, a forties gangster movie maybe. While I wait for my order to be filled I observe the crew. The big men sit at their table quietly, hardly talking, munching their coffee and danish with melancholy looks on their faces. It occurs to me that these guys are like the dinosaurs at time the world's climate changed. Something equally fundamental in their world had changed and I wondered if they knew it. Gravano will ultimately end up burying Gotti and Locasio, will rend apart the intimate dysfunctional family whose members are breakfasting here, will, in fact, change forever their way of life. But that final act of betrayal, Gravano’s testimony before the federal jury across the street, was, on this morning, still only a threat the implications of which were far from clear.

I leave the diner and walk back across Cadman Plaza Park to the courthouse. By now a couple of TV news trucks have arrived and are setting up, their antennae extended and the on-air talent practicing their stand-ups, hoping for a good sound bite from Albert Kreiger or Tony Cardinale, the defense lawyers that Gotti and Locascio had retained after Bruce Cutler had been cut from the case, or from Cutler himself, who was expected to make an appearance on the public side of the bar to show his support for his erstwhile client.

Cutler, a well-respected former prosecutor at my old office could, like a lot of men who had grown up with the Godfather movies, recite entire paragraphs of dialogue from them by heart. After leaving the District Attorney’s Office he had gone to work for a small firm in lower Manhattan specializing in criminal law. It was there that he had first started to work for John Gotti. Client and attorney had taken to each other, and soon Gotti had dropped the law firm and retained only the young associate. Cutler’s defense of Gotti, both in court and in the media, was both zealous and effective. Perhaps too effective for his own good, for the feds had successfully charged that Cutler had “crossed the line” and become “house counsel” to the Gambino family, resulting in his being dismissed from representing Gotti in the case. At the time I wondered whether Cutler hadn’t fancied himself to be Gotti’s consigliere, rather like Robert Duvall’s character had been for Brando’s Don Corleone in The Godfather, except that Cutler was a Jewish outsider rather than an Irish one, and except that rather than a behind-the-scenes fixer for a fictional mob boss who preferred to work quietly, Cutler was an in-your-face bulldog for a real mob boss who craved publicity.

I arrive back to the courthouse to find that the line of people standing behind the Marshall's desk has completely disappeared. In its place now stands revealed a line of folding chairs along the wall, all of which are empty except for the first two. I walk up to the Marshall's desk, incredulous, and ask him what happened to the line. He tells me that they've let in as many people as they have room for during the morning session. He invites me to take a seat. I am annoyed at the Marshall for his insincere bureaucratic assurances but am even more annoyed at myself for believing him, rather than having asked someone to save my place while I went for coffee. I take the first empty seat, however, and pull out my coffee and my fast cooling egg-and-ham-on-roll.

Next to me are seated two guys in their mid-twenties. They've come well prepared for a wait, with copies of today's News and Post. The first guy has dark hair and is wearing a three-quarter-length black leather coat over a white shirt and silk pants. The second guy has light hair and wears a windbreaker over a T-shirt and light slacks. Both wear what look to be expensive italian shoes and both are clearly Brooklyn boys, from the sound of their accents. Far from being annoyed or impatient, these guys are cutting each other up telling stories and commenting on the news in the paper. More to the point, they're making everybody who walks in the door. A guy comes in the front door accompanied by two other guys, clearly cops of some sort, who each have one hand on each of the guy's arms. The guy in the middle is carrying his sportcoat folded over his hands, which are clasped together in front of him.

“Uh-oh, looks like that guy’s luck ran out,” says the dark-haired guy.
“City cops?” asks Blondie.
“Nah, feds. DEA, I think,” the dark-haired guy says. “Yeah, see that little pin in their coats?” Blondie cranes his neck to look. I do likewise.
“Yeah”, answers Blondie. I see it, too.
“That’s Drug Enforcement. Oh, yeah”, says the dark-haired guy, clearly the more street-wise of the two.
A few minutes later a short, balding man dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase walks up to them. The dark-haired guy gets up and greets him deferentially with a long handshake, and the two of them walk a few feet away and converse out of earshot.
"Who was that?" asks Blondie when the dark-haired guy sits back down again.
"That guy? He's a smart Jew lawyer that Jackie Nose set me up with. Got a robbery dismissed against me in State Court. Didn't even go to trial."
"Oh, yeah?" asks Blondie.
"Yeah. He's a friend of ours" replies the dark-haired guy.

Now I am entirely focused on these guys, wondering what's going to come next. Who are these guys? But they return to reading their papers, and after a few minutes of nothing happening, I decide that its time for me to break the conversational ice.

"Man, I hope we get in," I venture, to both of them.
"We should", replies Blondie, who is sitting next to me. "The Marshall told us that they'd let us in as soon as somebody leaves the courtroom."
"Yeah, he told me that, too," I reply, and I find my vowels lengthening, my dialect sliding into deep Brooklyn. It's that thing that always happens to me when I want to blend in. There is something of the chameleon in me, the writer-actor who wants to see what it’s like to live in another person's shoes.
"I was here at 8:30, but then I went across the street to get some coffee, and when I got back..."
"Same thing happened to us", Blondie says, "We woulda been here earlier but we stopped for some breakfast along the way. What are you gonna do? You need the coffee, right?"
"You got that right," I say. "I just hope we get in soon. I don't want to be here all day."
"Yeah, me neither," Blondie says, and then leans over to and confides to me -
"We were supposed to get a pass, but I don't think the guy showed up."
A few moments later Blondie asks me if I’m “here for anybody.” I tell him that, no, I'm just here because I wanted to see this for myself.
"You?", I ask him.
"We're here for John," Blondie replies. I just nod.
"What do you think is going to happen? You think he's going to walk?" he asks.
"It all depends on what Gravano does. If he keeps cool on cross, I think he's gonna bury Gotti."
"Ah, Sammy's a rat. Who's gonna believe a rat? The jury ain't gonna believe him when they hear all he's done. What, you a lawyer?"
"Yeah," I answer.
"You a criminal lawyer?"
"Yeah," I answer, after a brief pause. "I used to be a prosecutor, but now I'm doing defense work." What the hell, I figure. It's true enough.
"Hey, Tony," Blondie says to the dark-haired guy, "this guy's a lawyer".
"Oh yeah?" The dark-haired guy answers. We all introduce ourselves and shake hands. The blond guy I've been talking to is named Louie, his dark-haired friend is Tony.

"So, what do you think is gonna happen?" Tony asks me.
"Like I was telling Louie", I say, "I think that it all depends on Gravano, and what Kreiger and Cardinale can do to him on cross, whether they can get him to lose his temper."
"Sammy's a hot-head", Tony says, "he ain't gonna be able to take it."
"I'd agree with you if Cutler was doing the cross. But these other two guys, I don't know. "
"Yeah. Cutler would have Bruce-ified Sammy", Tony says.
"You got a card?" Tony asks, and, with some trepidation, I pull one of my business cards out of its holder and hand it to him. Tony looks at it, pockets it, then turns to Louie and says "You gotta have a good lawyer."
"What time did you guys get here?" I ask.
"Eight forty-five", Tony answers. "Jackie Nose was supposed to get us a pass, but we must have missed him."
"Maybe he ain't even here", Louie says.
"I just saw him a half hour ago", I say, "across the street in the diner."
"What, you saw Jackie Nose? Tony asks.
"Jack D'Amico, yeah, Jackie Nose", I answer. "He was sitting with Pete Gotti, Jackie Giordano, Dom Burgese and some other guys having breakfast. Not forty minutes ago."
"See, I told you he was here," Tony says to Louie, who just shrugs. "I'm gonna go see if I can talk to him, Jackie Nose."
Tony gets up and approaches the Marshall at the desk, who, to my surprise, nods and lets him past.
Louie, who has caught my look, tells me "They'll let him upstairs. They just won't let him in the courtroom. They wanta keep the line down here."
"So how can he talk to Jackie Nose?" I ask.
"Oh, once you're in the courtroom they let you go in and out if you gotta use the can or stretch your legs or something. But you can't get into the courtroom until somebody leaves for good", he says. "We was here all afternoon yesterday and we couldn't get inside", he adds, "but we got here too late. I figure we'll get in today."

I look at the clock. It is now 9:45. It has been almost an hour since the first twenty people were let into the courtroom and no one has come down. Whatever is going on upstairs, it must be pretty interesting. My attention is diverted by the approach of an attractive woman who has walked up to the Marshall's desk. She's in her early twenties, has auburn hair and is well put together in a Fifth Avenue sort of way. The Marshall gestures at our line and she comes over and stands in front of the chair next to mine. She has clearly not anticipated having to wait, and she is trying to decide whether to stay or not. She turns to me and asks me if I've been here a long time. Moderating my dialect back into something approaching my normal manner of speaking, I tell her that I just missed the morning session by five minutes and two people, gesturing at Tony and Louie. Louie, overhearing us, repeats what the Marshall told us and hastens to assure her that, in his opinion, we will be all in the courtroom very soon.

She sits down. We introduce ourselves. Her name is Kimberly and she says she teaches classical piano at a private school in Manhattan. I ask her why she is here and she tells me that she is a friend with one of the witnesses at the trial. At first, this makes no sense to me at all since most of the people testifying at this trial are either wiseguys, or bystanders who saw somebody get whacked by a wiseguy, and since most of these whackings took place in neighborhoods in deep Brooklyn, neighborhoods where Kimberly would stand out like a slice of wonder bread in a loaf of semolina.

It all becomes clear, however, when Kimberly tells me that her friend, Jeffrey, is a writer who was working as a temp at an office near East 46th Street when, one night after he had just left work and was walking down the block in front of Spark's Steakhouse, he saw a car pull up and "some guys on the street" shoot "those guys in a car." "Those guys in the car" were Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino crime family at the time, and his driver Tony Bilotti, and those "guys on the street" were members of Gotti's crew. Kimberly's friend just happened to witness John Gotti's outrageous power play to seize control of the Gambino family. Evidently Jeffrey was on the stand today, even as we spoke, describing the circumstances of the Castellano killing. Small wonder no one had left the courtroom.

Kimberly also tells me that she knew Jeffrey from college out in Washington State, where she's from, but that she'd lost touch with him since graduating. She didn't know that he was in New York until she had read his name in the paper, and then she had tried to reach him through his parents and that's how she found out that he was in protective police custody. She was worried for him.

Louie has overheard this last bit, for he leans over and asks "Your friend Jeffrey saw that happen, the whacking?" Kimberly replies that he did.
Louie then nudges Tony and repeats this interesting development to him.
"Your friend didn't see that happen" Tony announces, in a tone more dismissive than threatening. But Kimberly is stubborn, if nothing else. "Yes, he did", she maintains.
"Your friend couldna seen that happen," Tony adds. There is a brief pause, and then he asks "Your friend saw that happen? What did he see?"
"I don't know. He saw the guy who shot him, I think."
"He musta seen Sammy do it," Louie says, "cause John wasn't there."
"Nah, John wasn't there," Tony repeats.
"I don't know who he saw. Whoever was there." Kimberly interjects.
"Wow, he saw it, huh?" Tony says, without a trace of belligerence, impressed. "What da ya know?"

The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a well-dressed couple in their early twenties who, despite having been directed by the Marshall to our seated line, instead take their place, standing, about six feet behind the desk which also happens to be a couple of feet in front of Tony. Tony reaches over and taps the guy's leg.

"Hey, pal," Tony says. The guy turns around and looks down his nose at Tony like he was a bug. "Ya gotta get on line," Tony adds.
"We are on line", the guy replies a voice dripping with condescension.
Tony, who is clearly much smaller than this jerk, doesn't even get up out of his chair. He does it all with his voice. "No. You see these chairs? This is the line. That," he says, pointing to the empty chairs behind Kimberly, "is the end of it."

The yuppie glares at Tony ineffectually. "Come on," the woman says, and pulls the guy over to the line of empty chairs, where they do not sit, but stand at some distance behind Kimberly.

"That guy", Tony says, shaking his head, a bit flustered.
"We been here for over an hour. Where does that guy get off trying to jump the line?" I say, genuinely pissed off.
"Yes, good for you. The nerve of some people," Kimberly pipes in.
"That was very rude" Louie adds.
"I wasn't gonna start anything, but..." Tony says, still shaking his head.
"No, you handled it like a gentleman," Kimberly assures him, and Tony straightens up and brightens as though he had just been paid the greatest complement in the world, which, in his world, he probably has. Then Tony and Louie introduce themselves to Kimberly, all four of us practically best of friends now, after which Tony stands up, shoots his cuffs, says with great dignity "I gotta go take care of my business" and saunters off in the direction of the payphones with coins jangling in his pocket.

Another half-hour goes by in relative quiet. Tony has returned from his errand and is reading Louie's paper. We are all getting restless. Finally, Kimberly gets up. "I don't think I can wait any longer", she says.

Tony, ever the gentleman, stands up and offers to take Kimberly up to the courtroom. "You could write your friend a note, maybe, give it to the Marshall" he suggests. Kimberly takes Tony up on his offer and the two of them leave.

After they are gone I turn to Louie and ask "Tony isn't made or anything, right?" Louie glances around him before replying.
"Nah," he says, making a face which indicates that, in his opinion, this isn't likely to happen, either. "He wants to be. He says they got their eye on him, but..."
His voice trails off, then Louie adds, without a trace of irony, "between you and me, I don't think that there's much of a future in it".

Ten minutes later Tony and Kimberly reappear, their mission having been evidently successfully completed. Kimberly tells me that she gave her note to the Marshall, who told her that he would give it to one of the prosecutors and that she should wait downstairs until the lunch break and maybe she could see Jeffrey then. Tony says that he thinks we'll get in just after lunch, because not everybody will come back. He suggests that maybe we can all four go out to lunch. Kimberly, apparently reassured that she's going to get to see Jeffrey soon, says "Fine". I, however, am not so sure it's such a good idea.

Louie gets up and announces that he's got to go call his boss and tell him that he's not going to be in for work today. This reminds Kimberly that she needs to check her phone machine and the two of them go off together to the payphones.

As soon as they've left, Tony leans over Louie's seat to me and says "Pete, I gotta ask you something."
"Sure. Fire away", I reply.
"Okay. Kimberly and I go upstairs and I bring her over to the Marshall so that she can give him the note, right? And while the Marshall goes to check with somebody Jackie Nose comes up to me and asks me 'Who's the skirt?'"
"Who's the skirt?" I repeat, trying to keep a straight face, beginning to wonder if I haven't fallen into a Cagney-Bogart movie after all.
"Yeah. 'Who's the skirt?" and I told him that she was a friend of Jeffrey's. And he said, 'What, the guy who's testifying today?' and I said 'Yeah, the guy who saw the hit' and he asked me what I knew about her. But before I could say anything more, a buncha Marshalls came over to where Kimberly was standing a few feet away and I couldn't talk to Jackie no more," he tells me.

"Okay", I say, now holding my breath.
"So, Pete, what I want to know is this. Just between you and me, attorney-client privilege, what could happen if I were to find out stuff about Kimberly for Jackie? Could I get in trouble or anything?"

I had started to smile at Tony's naïveté in believing that, simply by my handing him my business card and his muttering the words "attorney-client privilege" he was somehow protected from my disclosing his confidences without first having become my client. My smile, however, faded as I realized what was at stake here. I turned to Tony and told him that under no circumstances should he tell anything more to Jackie Nose, that he could get into very big trouble with the feds if he did so, that he could be charged with tampering with a trial and get sent to federal prison.

Tony looked thoughtful, but uneasy. I had no way of knowing whether he took what I said to heart. So when Kimberly returned a few minutes later I pulled her aside to talk to her.

"Do me a favor," I said, "don't talk to these guys anymore. It's not a good idea."
"Why not? They seem like nice-enough guys."
"Well, maybe they are nice guys, and maybe they aren't. But one thing for sure is they're friends with Gotti's friends, right? And you're friends with Jeffrey, right? And Jeffrey's testifying against Gotti, right? And Gotti and his friends would just as soon that Jeffrey kept his mouth shut, see? And maybe Gotti's friends think if Jeffrey knew that you were in danger then perhaps he would have second thoughts about opening his mouth?"
A slow dawn of understanding breaks over Kimberly's face.
"I thought this only happened in the movies" she says.

Louie, in the meantime, has returned from his errand and, as Kimberly and I turn around, I see that he and Tony are conferring. I'm wondering how much danger Kimberly is really in, who I should contact and how, and whether she'll keep her mouth shut long enough if I were to leave to go find someone who will listen to this strange story. I look over at Tony and he looks back at me, poker faced. As Kimberly and I take our seats again on the line I'm wondering whether my admonition to him has had any effect.

I don't have long to wait to find out. "So, Kimberly, where you from?" Tony starts in with. She looks up at me, worried now.
"The Northwest", she replies.
"What is that, like Nebraska or something?"
"Something like that."
"I thought this only happened in the movies," Kimberly says, more to herself than to anyone else, "I feel like I'm in a movie."
"Huh?" asks Louie.
"I feel like I'm in a movie", she repeats.
"This ain't no movie, Kimberly" Louie says and I feel like shouting at her “LISTEN TO HIM! HE KNOWS WHAT HE'S TALKING ABOUT!” but, of course, I don’t.
Tony picks up where he left off. "So, Kimberly, what do you say? We're having lunch, right? I know this place nearby, they got great pizza. You like pizza?"
"Uhm, I'm not hungry."
"Actually", I butt in, "we already made plans earlier. You guys know how it is."

Just then a cop and a Fed, both in plainclothes, walk up to the line, led by a Marshall. The Marshall points out Kimberly. The Fed and the cop come over, address Kimberly by her last name and ask her if she'll come with them. Kimberly, who by now is more than a little frightened and isn't sure of who to trust, asks them if I can come with her. They nod, assuming that I'm her boyfriend.

The four of us move only a few feet away and the Fed, who turns out to be an FBI agent, tells her that they intercepted her note to Jeffrey and that they would like to arrange to have her meet Jeffrey after the trial. Kimberly says nothing, just looks at me.

"It's OK", I tell her, "they're really cops."
"Who are you, her boyfriend?" asks the FBI agent.
"No. He's a lawyer", says Kimberly.
"He's your lawyer?" asks the City cop, misunderstanding, in a tone that conveys that now he's seen everything. The friends of cooperating witnesses now bring their lawyers to court, for krissakes, to act as go-betweens with the government!

"Uh, it's not like that", I tell them. "Can we go somewhere and talk?" As we are walking away towards the stairs to the offices upstairs, I tell them that I'm a former city prosecutor and throw out the names of a couple of federal prosecutors who I know from my old job, that I don’t have my shield with me right now, but… As with Tony and Louie before, the cops appear to take me on faith. It’s amazing how far the right mannerisms and knowing a few names will take you in this world. As they are leading us out of the lobby I glance over at Tony and Louie, who make a good show of not looking at us.

A few minutes later Kimberly is safely ensconced in a conference room on the second floor of the U.S. Attorney's Office and I am talking outside in the hall to the FBI agent and the detective. The FBI guy, named Greg, is in his thirties. He wears polished wingtips, a conservative gray suit and unstylishly short hair. But for the shoulder holster visible beneath his suit coat when he reaches into his pocket he could pass for a young associate at one of Manhattan’s premier white shoe law firms. The detective, on the other hand, is pure New York cop: in his early fifties, about twenty pounds overweight, in a dark suit that badly needs pressing and shoes which could use a shine. His name is Jimmy Turnbull and he works for the Manhattan South Task Force. I find out later that he caught the case the night of the Castellano-Bilotti hit at Spark's Steakhouse and is one of the few NYPD cops to have ridden the case all the way through to the end. I relate to the two of them the story of Tony and Louie and Jackie Nose's interest in the Skirt.

"Thanks", Turnbull says, smiling, "we'll take care of it." Before they leave they promise to get me into the trial at any time that afternoon, and Turnbull gives me his card and tells me to flash it if anybody at the courthouse gives me any problems. They tell Kimberly that they will bring Jeffrey down to visit her just as soon as he is finished with cross-examination, which they expect will be soon after the afternoon session resumes. This suits Kimberly just fine. She has had her fill of excitement for the day and she's more than happy to stay in the conference room.

I go out to get lunch some lunch for both of us. I have to cross the lobby to get out, and as I do so I see Louie at the head of the line. He waves to me and I walk over.

"Pete," he asks, "you want we should save your place?" I look him in the eyes, but can't detect any guile there.
"Nah", I tell him, looking away, "they're taking care of me".
Louie just nods. I ask him where Tony is and he tells me that he went to get the two of them some lunch.
"See you later", I tell Louie.
"Yeah. See ya upstairs."

By the time I get back from the deli it is past one p.m. and the line in the lobby behind the Marshall's desk has disappeared. I am waived through security as though I worked there and I pass each security checkpoint by flashing Turnbull's card. I go back to the conference room and deliver Kimberly's part of the order and we eat together, talking about music and art and life in Manhattan and how it is so different from the way she thought that it would be from the movies, but how Brooklyn is like something out of a movie after all. After I finish my sandwich I say goodbye to her, tell her that maybe we'll bump into each other in the City, knowing full well that we won't. It is well past 1:30 in the afternoon when I leave her, but I'm not in any hurry because, like Jackie Nose at breakfast this morning, I know that my seat upstairs has been reserved.

When I finally exit onto the fourth floor of the Courthouse I find a wide hallway outside the courtroom half-filled with some of the "friends" and "family" of the defendants, smoking and stretching their legs under the watchful eyes of a half dozen U.S. Marshalls. Much to my surprise, I see Tony and Louie standing next to a velvet rope just the other side of the elevator bank from the direction of the courtroom.

I walk over to them and ask them how come they're not in the courtroom.
"It's full", Tony tells me.
"We gotta wait until someone leaves for good", Louie adds.
"But you guys were first on line," I say. "What happened?"
"Pete, it was like this," Louie says. "Just after Tony got back with the pizza, they told us that they were letting people up two at a time. So Tony and me get into the elevator and we press 'four', only the elevator goes down when it shoulda gone up and we got stuck in the basement for a couple of minutes."
"Yeah," Tony adds, "and by the time we got up here everybody else had already got in and the courtroom was full. So we gotta wait."
"What?" I ask, thinking that this all sounds very unlikely, but that, then again, these guys aren't rocket scientists and maybe they pushed the wrong button. "Ah, man, that's a shame," I say.
"Whataya gonna do?" Louie says, "fuckin' elevator problem."

I enter the double doors of the courtroom, a Marshall at either side, and take a seat among some journalists and spectators. A nervous young man in his mid-twenties is on the stand, undergoing cross-examination by Cardinale. The defense lawyer is trying to challenge Jeffrey's powers of observation and recall, but the kid is sticking to his story, although his voice is a little shakey and it sometimes disappears altogether. Kreiger, meanwhile, is at the defense table with Gotti and Locascio. Every once in a while Gotti leans over to whisper something in Kreiger's ear, then sits back in his chair with a smirk on his face. I look at him closely, nattily attired in an expensive suit, and think that he does dress like a mob boss from a forties gangster movie and wonder whether he didn't get his fashion sense from watching them. Locasio, by contrast, is dressed in a dull blue suit and looks like the middle manager of some automobile factory.

I look around the rest of the courtroom. The front two rows are filled with beefy cops, meant to reassure the reluctant Jeffrey and screen him from the "friends of John" wiseguy visitors. In the front two rows, behind the defense table, I recognize Jack D'Amico, Dom Burgese, Jack Giordano, Pete Gotti, the two other guys from the diner and the guy with the Armani suit and the Miami Beach tan from this morning. There are also a bunch of other guys whom I've never seen before but wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. I also take note of the number of empty spaces in the benches.

After about forty minutes I get up to leave to make my interview with the assigned counsel panel. Outside of the courtroom, I see Tony and Louie still standing by the velvet rope near the elevators, watched over by a few Marshalls. Jimmy Turnbull stands a discreet distance off. I walk over to Tony and Louie.

"What, you guys still aren't in?" I ask. Tony just shakes his head sadly. "Fuckin' elevator problem", Louie says.
Jimmy Turnbull motions to me to come over and I do. He says he wants to thank me and shakes my hand. I ask him what's the deal with Tony and Louie. Turnbull shrugs his shoulders and says "Whataya gonna do? Fuckin' elevator problem," but gives me a quick wink and a sly smile as he does so and I realize then that Tony and Louie won't be getting into that courtroom at all that day.

As I leave the courthouse I find that I have mixed emotions about my role in what had just happened, and I find that I cannot fully share in the cop's joke. I had come to the courthouse that morning to see for myself the final act in the Gotti drama and had become, in a small way, a bit player in it.

I tell myself that I did the right thing: that I protected someone who may have been in danger and prevented what may have been an attempt to reach a witness. But all the same, I genuinely liked Tony and Louie, they had trusted me and I had betrayed them. And it occurs to me, then, that I have seen far more of their world than I had bargained for when I first made their acquaintance that morning and that this, too, is part of life in Brooklyn at the end of the Gotti era of the Cosa Nostra."

Copyright, 1992 & 2009, by Peter Basta Brightbill

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Primer on the "Border Area"

Much of President Obama's speech this evening, like his earlier speech in late March of this year, dealt with the Pakistani "border areas" which have become "safe havens" from which Al Queada has mounted raids on both Pakistan non-tribal areas and into Afghanistan. Just what is this "border area?"


President Obama's December 1, 2009 speech on Afghanistan:

Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our armed services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan - the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my Administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion. It is an honor for me to do so here - at West Point - where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country.

To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda - a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban - a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.

Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them - an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to 0. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 - the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda's terrorist network, and to protect our common security.

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy - and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden - we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the UN, a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention - and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.

Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance , we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.

But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe-haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient Security Forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

Throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort.

Since then, we have made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we have stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda world-wide. In Pakistan, that nation's Army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and - although it was marred by fraud - that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and Constitution.

Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population. Our new Commander in Afghanistan - General McChrystal - has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.

As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Many will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. That is why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war. Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people - and our troops - no less.

This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you - a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I have visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I have traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.

So no - I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world.

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

Second, we will work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas - such as agriculture - that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They have been confronted with occupation - by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand - America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect - to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

I recognize that there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the prominent arguments that I have heard, and which I take very seriously.

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now - and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance - would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Second, there are those who acknowledge that we cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan Security Forces and give them the space to take over.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort - one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I do not have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I am mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who - in discussing our national security - said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance, and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our friends and neighbors are out of work and struggle to pay the bills, and too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly 30 billion dollars for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended - because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict. We will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold - whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere - they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we cannot count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we cannot capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. That is why I have made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to pursue the goal of a world without them. Because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever-more destructive weapons - true security will come for those who reject them.

We will have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone. I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World - one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values - for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values by living them at home - which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America's authority.

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions - from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank - that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades - a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for - and what we continue to fight for - is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

As a country, we are not as young - and perhaps not as innocent - as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. Now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.

In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people - from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.

This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue - nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united - bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we - as Americans - can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment - they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.

America - we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. Thank you, God Bless you, God Bless our troops, and may God Bless the United States of America.


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President Obama's March 27, 2009 speech on Afghanistan:

Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I'd like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people.

The situation is increasingly perilous. It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan . Attacks against our troops, our NATO allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. Most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.

Many people in the United States - and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much - have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? They deserve a straightforward answer.

So let me be clear: al Qaeda and its allies - the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks - are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban - or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged - that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. This almost certainly includes al Qaeda's leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe-haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.

But this is not simply an American problem - far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al Qaeda and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it - too - is likely to have ties to al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake.

For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralyzed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people - especially women and girls. The return in force of al Qaeda terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.

As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists.

So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.

To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy. To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. To enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have to marshal international support. And to defeat an enemy that heeds no borders or laws of war, we must recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan - which is why I've appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to serve as Special Representative for both countries, and to work closely with General David Petraeus to integrate our civilian and military efforts.

Let me start by addressing the way forward in Pakistan .

The United States has great respect for the Pakistani people. They have a rich history, and have struggled against long odds to sustain their democracy. The people of Pakistan want the same things that we want: an end to terror, access to basic services, the opportunity to live their dreams, and the security that can only come with the rule of law. The single greatest threat to that future comes from al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and that is why we must stand together.

The terrorists within Pakistan's borders are not simply enemies of America or Afghanistan - they are a grave and urgent danger to the people of Pakistan. Al Qaeda and other violent extremists have killed several thousand Pakistanis since 9/11. They have killed many Pakistani soldiers and police. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto. They have blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. Make no mistake: al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within.

It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, rugged, and often ungoverned. That is why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results, we will not provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken - one way or another - when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.

The government's ability to destroy these safe-havens is tied to its own strength and security. To help Pakistan weather the economic crisis, we must continue to work with the IMF, the World Bank and other international partners. To lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed nations that too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation, we must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan. To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people. And to demonstrate through deeds as well as words a commitment that is enduring, we must stand for lasting opportunity.

A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years - resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan 's democracy. I'm also calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence. And we will ask our friends and allies to do their part - including at the donors conference in Tokyo next month.

I do not ask for this support lightly. These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future - because the security of our two countries is shared. Pakistan's government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe-havens, and we must isolate al Qaeda from the Pakistani people.

These steps in Pakistan are also indispensable to our effort in Afghanistan, which will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border.

Security demands a new sense of shared responsibility. That is why we will launch a standing, trilateral dialogue among the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our nations will meet regularly, with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates leading our effort. Together, we must enhance intelligence sharing and military cooperation along the border, while addressing issues of common concern like trade, energy, and economic development.

This is just one part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the al Qaeda safe-haven that it was before 9/11. To succeed, we and our friends and allies must reverse the Taliban's gains, and promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government.

Our troops have fought bravely against a ruthless enemy. Our civilians have made great sacrifices. Our allies have borne a heavy burden. Afghans have suffered and sacrificed for their future. But for six years, Afghanistan has been denied the resources that it demands because of the war in Iraq. Now, we must make a commitment that can accomplish our goals.

I have already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan Security Forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential election in August.

At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan Security Forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home.

For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. Those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. Later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan Security Forces. For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan Army and Police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 - and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.

This push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, have seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.

To advance security, opportunity, and justice - not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces - we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. That is how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. That is why I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. And that is why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations - an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in the Hague .

At a time of economic crisis, it is tempting to believe that we can short-change this civilian effort. But make no mistake: our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future. That is why my budget includes indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs. These investments relieve the burden on our troops. They contribute directly to security. They make the American people safer. And they save us an enormous amount of money in the long run - because it is far cheaper to train a policeman to secure their village or to help a farmer seed a crop, than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility.

As we provide these resources, the days of unaccountable spending, no-bid contracts, and wasteful reconstruction must end. So my budget will increase funding for a strong Inspector General at both the State Department and USAID, and include robust funding for the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

And I want to be clear: we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people.

In a country with extreme poverty that has been at war for decades, there will also be no peace without reconciliation among former enemies. I have no illusions that this will be easy. In Iraq, we had success in reaching out to former adversaries to isolate and target al Qaeda. We must pursue a similar process in Afghanistan, while understanding that it is a very different country.

There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. That is why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans - including women and girls.

Going forward, we will not blindly stay the course. Instead, we will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable. We'll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan Security Forces, and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan's economy, and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals.

None of the steps that I have outlined will be easy, and none should be taken by America alone. The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaeda operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act - not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it. And what's at stake now is not just our own security - it is the very idea that free nations can come together on behalf of our common security. That was the founding cause of NATO six decades ago. That must be our common purpose today.

My Administration is committed to strengthening international organizations and collective action, and that will be my message next week in Europe. As America does more, we will ask others to join us in doing their part. From our partners and NATO allies, we seek not simply troops, but rather clearly defined capabilities: supporting the Afghan elections, training Afghan Security Forces, and a greater civilian commitment to the Afghan people. For the United Nations, we seek greater progress for its mandate to coordinate international action and assistance, and to strengthen Afghan institutions.

And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region - our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. None of these nations benefit from a base for al Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development.

That is true, above all, for the coalition that has fought together in Afghanistan, side by side with Afghans. The sacrifices have been enormous. Nearly 700 Americans have lost their lives. Troops from over twenty other countries have also paid the ultimate price. All Americans honor the service and cherish the friendship of those who have fought, and worked, and bled by our side. And all Americans are awed by the service of our own men and women in uniform, who have borne a burden as great as any other generation's. They and their families embody the example of selfless sacrifice.

The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Al Qaeda and its allies have since killed thousands of people in many countries. Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al Qaeda has killed and maimed in far greater numbers than any other people. That is the future that al Qaeda is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan - a future without opportunity or hope; a future without justice or peace.

The road ahead will be long. There will be difficult days. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that serve the promise of a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future. Because the United States of America stands for peace and security, justice and opportunity. That is who we are, and that is what history calls on us to do once more.

Thank you, God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America.