Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gracia Burnham's Bullet Wound

When I first saw this image in a photo gallery titled "Rescue Operation" on the web site of The Martin & Gracia Burnham Foundation, I was shocked. My reaction wasn't simply a matter of taste---questioning Gracia Burnham's sense for having included a photograph of the bullet wound in her right leg she received during the rescue attempt by the Philippine military on June 7, 2002, in a botched affair that allegedly took the lives of her husband, and fellow hostage, Ediborah Yap, as well.

Something deeper was stirred up inside me by the sight. I couldn't locate another example in which someone who was in control of how they were being presented had opted for such a tack---or lack of tact. The nearest analogy I could come up with was President Lyndon Johnson lifting his shirt to show the press his appendectomy scar in the 1960's, which was considered hillbillyish back then, even for a Texan. Gracia Burnham had captioned this image with:
A picture is worth a thousand words...the bullet exited through my leg. I am told the surgeon said, "It was like the bullet was guided through my leg. Those bullets are meant to kill, not wound." Thank you, God, that I'm still here!
But does this imply she thinks the public somehow doubted the voluminous news reports, which always mentioned her being wounded in the crossfire between the Philippine Armed Forces and the Abu Sayyaf rebels who'd kept her hostage? Why was there a need to offer up to the public a gruesome icon of suffering, except to evoke pity and sorrow? Sometimes 1,000 words are plenty---even for a martyr ploy---add in a picture of viscera and the story may very well come back to haunt you for a couple thousand more.

In the first place, Burnham's simply being in possession of this image, as well as four others of the medical sequence surrounding it, seems like an abuse of power governing doctor-patient relationships---then throw in certain facts, like those found in her 2003 book, describing her transport to a newly constituted American military hospital in an out-of-the-way location, which she left after only a few hours to recuperate at the American embassy, and the potential for words to pile up grows.

It doesn't help matters that Gracia herself often gave out two or more versions of the same basic facts. The caption where Gracia quotes an anonymous doctor about a bullet's near miraculous trajectory through her leg can be dated to November 8, 2005 at, by which time the gelatin in her story had had several years to set. But in an interview in March 2011, her truth salad, once congealed, is melting fast:
"They air lifted me in a helicopter out to a sort of US army field unit that they had set up and they did the surgery right there out in the field. They were able to pull part of the bullet out but I have a lot of shrapnel in my leg, but they fixed me up well and they just cared for me so well and everyone has been so kind to me.
The detail about a M.A.S.H.-style surgery is so over the top, I think Gracia was tasked with planting it by design intent, perhaps to disqualify other facts she'd sourced as being induced by a morphine suppository, or some other unseen factor. The medical images weren't recorded by as being online at the Foundation web site until October 10, 2007, a fact which further diminishes their credibility.

But the 2003 book Gracia is credited as co-authoring with Dean Merrill, who was then vice president of publishing for the International Bible Society, and formerly the head of publishing at Focus on the Family, said she was cared for at "Camp Navarro General Hospital,"

A news video of Philippine President Arroya visiting 25 soldiers wounded in action; at Camp Navarro General Hospital; Zamboanga City Aug 15, 2009, shows a facility that certainly looks nothing like the limited views we see of its 2002 counterpart, what was described in contemporary Burnham news accounts as having only recently been constructed for use by American officials and military who were in Mindanao for war games occasioned by the need to rout Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

Camp Navarro General Hospital, Upper Calarian, WestMincom, Zamboanga City, Zamboang del Sur, Philippines, is located near the waterfront, at the lower left of the following map, in an area of significant military development, near housing and a golf course

Two other Philippine military hospitals are also nearby. The Edwin Andrews Air Base Hospital, Zamboanga City, Philippines, [Letter G, below] is located near the eastern terminus of the old airbase jet runway, now rechristened as the Zamboanga International Airport.

With the Edwin Andrews Airbase Hospital (with "Airbase," as one word, not two) further away on Sta. Maria, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines


A deliberateness would account for Gracia's answer to discrepancy being still more discrepancy, and it takes the heat off of other, unprobed questions, like whose bullets killed Martin and Ediborah. Her answer came in response to a direct question by her interviewer, Dan Wooding of the ASSIST News Agency, and head of ASSIST Ministries, (that stands for Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times)

Gracia Burnham talking with Dan Wooding
(Photo: Peter Wooding)

This was in a radio interview she gave in March of 2011, which was transcribed and published later in the year in the Christian press.

Gracia tells it:
"That last day it clouded up to rain and always before we were safe in the rain it was like an unwritten rule you never fought in the rain. But that day we stopped to wait out the rain and the military didn't stop. They came over the hill and, as usual, they just opened fire on us and all of us hostages were shot. I was shot in the leg and Martin was shot in the chest, while the nurse was shot in the neck.
"Martin just lay there during the gun battle and all of a sudden he got very heavy. Have you heard that term 'the weight of death?' Well, I think that's what I felt. Then as the Abu Sayyaf retreated down the river and the soldiers came over the hill I began to move my hands around so they would know that I was alive and they dragged me to the top of the hill and I looked back at Martin and he was white. That's when I knew he was dead. And, in that moment, God gave me a peace that I cannot explain because this is not how I would have written the end of our story. It's not what we were praying for, But God just gave me a peace that this was His plan and that the same God that had kept us going for over a year in the jungle did not lose control that day and I still hang onto that."
And what about her leg wound? How bad was it? she was asked.
"Well, not bad enough to kill me though I do have a huge scar. They air lifted me in a helicopter out to a sort of US army field unit that they had set up and they did the surgery right there out in the field. They were able to pull part of the bullet out but I have a lot of shrapnel in my leg, but they fixed me up well and they just cared for me so well and everyone has been so kind to me.
Gracia may have gotten carried away with her answer but she quickly devolved into a simpering recent past tense, then falling further into platitudes in the passive present. Funny grammar for an interview taking place nine years after the fact, and it is the lack of maturation on display, and absence of narrative development in the aftermath, which makes for a new story about how the first one story was sold. It is at odds with the central themes in the book, like reconciliation and forgiveness, which take time to achieve to be believable.

Looking at the other four images in the "Rescue Operation" set posted at the Burnham web site, it would appear neither version of Gracia Burnham's tale could be called correct, or pass as the truth, with the low ceiling, and cramped quarters crowded with personnel composed in a tightly framed shot seemingly a world apart from the high-ceilings, broad windows and open vistas of the poured concrete structure which President Arroya visited in 2009. We can derive limited information from the Burnham interiors, purporting to be of a medical facility, but we can be sure of two things---this is neither a temporary "field hospital" of any sort, nor is it new semi-permanent construction by the standards of the American military.

I've studied this sort of imagery, released by military information officers to accompany a written story, since the attack on the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, and rank them according to the degree of narrative they seemed designed to express, as well as the relative success or failure in the execution of what are essentially propaganda pictures. Here, as in the aftermath of 9/11 in Arlington, the entirety of what is being conveyed to the viewer's eye is unreal. Actors on the Broadway stage are more real, because we know them for who they are, and they're better at their jobs to begin with. So the hallmark is a staged quality, not necessarily apparent at first or second glance, which is all the time most people flooded with information daily have time for. A third factor is the insertion of coded signals designed as insider messages for a few chosen covert consumers. This is an especially fun game to play, as would seem true for their intended recipients too.

That coding is apparent in the image below, where the awkward focus of the man standing on the left reveals his single-minded objective, which is not to comfort Gracia by holding her hand at such an uncomfortable angle. He is directing, rather, his circular, yellow arm-patch insignia as squarely into the camera lens as he possibly can before a sense of farce takes over, even if that means the logic of a medical technician raising a patient's arm while it's hooked up to an IV-drip line is sacrificed.

But we buy it, or I certainly did at least, because subconsciously I'd placed the man in a category of similar images of military triage, where a stock figure is always shown--- that of someone "pitching in," by gallantly holding aloft a bag of saline solution for the arm drip into a patient below. But here, an order of need is reversed, and what we want is at least one piece of equipment that quickly said "hospital" to the viewer. So even in the absence of an actual rolling drug pole (the bag is suspended from a wire hook in the ceiling) the simple fact that no human being has to hold a bag aloft is enough to translate as, "whew...we made it out of field triage and now we're safely in a facility that has a hook in the ceiling." It's so successful a solution, I think the man on the right is even going in for another drip on her other arm.

The words at the bottom of the armband insignia say: "High on Survival," and it took a long time before I could make out the phrase at the top as "Critical Care Air Transport Team." Putting both in quotation marks into Google gives back only three returns---all to commercial, civilian air-medical transport,"repatriation" companies, but the man with the insignia also wears a red star on his shoulder, as do the two Americans standing facing him, with another photo showing the female's name stamped in permanent ink on her camos as "Medina," along with wings and a "U.S. Air F...,) so this star binds at least the 3 as U.S.A.F.

The symbolic image in the center is of a black leopard, with blood-stained red lips, crouching astride a white skull with outspread wings and standing cock-feathers. This is saying something highly specific, but I don't know what, except it can't be all that high on survival.

Adding a special layer of meaning to the signal sent by the round insignia patch, is its placement atop a larger square patch cut from the same uniform material as the airman's jumper, so as to be nearly invisible; it is neatly stitched around its edges, but not likely to pass as regulation issue. Do they still sew in the services?

This brings to mind a T.V. series from my childhood---Branded!---starring Chuck Connors as an Army Cavalry captain drummed out of the service following an unjust accusation of cowardice. Over the opening credits each week, as the drum beat sounded, someone would breaks his saber across their knee, then his epaulettes are ripped from his shoulders; even his buttons are ripped off his jacket and he's almost shirtless as they force him outside the gates of the fort! (Listen, this is as much as any eight-year-old got on TV back in 1965.) Although the airman's repair patch in 2002 is too low for epaulettes, still...something was there...and it's been ripped off..and if not for might have something to do with being a man!

Another quality binding the Americans together, is they patiently wait to take their turns attending to Burnham. Here, it's the man on the right in the image above, since he's the only one who could possess those tatty camouflage sleeve hems, who takes his turn checking Gracia's heartbeat, while Servicewoman Medina continues to wait her turn while holding a blue blood-pressure cuff.

We miss a shot of the formerly laconic Medina taking her portion of Gracia's vitals, but are treated to one of her vigorously applying pressure to staunch the wound's blood flow. But where in the sequence would this image fit in? Is she replacing a midget who was performing the same task in the first image, but who's now out on a cigarette break? No, the angle of the camera's point of view in that shot seems to say not.

Navy-man Carlson is presenting his gold wedding band front and center to the viewer, (again, by holding up Gracia's IV-drip arm!!!!) Also, if you look closely, Carlson wears a gold Christian cross on his right lapel, so he's a navy chaplain.

The 3 holy cities for Islam are Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. (Medina wears another insignia patch on her breast pocket, but it just looks like a chocolate chip cookie.

It took me a very long time to spot the sliver of Mr. "High on Survival" on the right. This is a cropping technique I've seen used before in other military-constructed vignettes, where a presence is so nearly off-camera they become almost invisible; eventually spotting such a figure in a photo you've starred long and hard at will startle you like the devil---literally, it made the hair on my arm stand up. So this may represent something akin to the "devil," or symbolically, here he could be standing in as the third "leg" of monotheism's Abrahamic religions---but I'm also getting a strong extraterrestrial-spaceship, and masochist-slave vibe off this guy, but I was not meant to be an intended viewer!

The walls tiled up to two different heights seem vestigial, and would indicate this was, at best, a moth-balled structure into which a "medical facility," had been retrofitted---perhaps, given the paucity of an art direction budget, for the staging of this single encounter, a place where Gracia's medical treatment for gunshot wound could be kept from the prying eyes in a real hospital, such as the established trauma centers in Zamboanga, where the helicopter landed, and where the several other wounded AFP soldiers who were said to have shared the helicopter ride over with Gracia must have been taken.

Someone is holding a portable 500-watt halogen lamp horizontally to light this scene, hence the pronounced shadows of a plastic drip line, with an over-exposed Gracia in the foreground, so maybe Medina got bumped out of the way and never got a proper blood pressure reading.

Not much by way of a "surgical operating room," is it? Just the tractable overhead operating lamp (and a florescent.) The dark T-shape on the back wall was a row of clerestory windows, with the mullins and glass simply painted over in black, a treatment which extends below it at center to encircle a through-the-wall air conditioner. (Along with a pair of orange industrial halogens mounted like eyeballs to its face. Useless for operations, but looking preplanted for photographs--then to be caught out in one like the AP's Will Morris!)

Each of the four nurses in the background are purposefully gazing in a different directions, at what we don't know, while three of them raise their hands in that self-conscious stance that speaks of "action without a thought in my head," as commonly seen in other faked news photos. (Another telltale kinetic pose, by the way, is captured with a subject leaning forward while talking on a cell phone---as if to say: "What?! Oh boy!")

There's pealing plaster from water damage above the window, with just the slightest odour of mildew, so this ain't no "new" facility and these ain't no "news" photographs, by any stretch, but staged scenes with orchestrated documentation to boot.

Gracia looks like she's getting her skin grafted back on, maybe only moments after she had it removed and the photo taken---and that's assuming it's her wounded leg to begin with.

Independent of the cavitation, there's an odd uniformity of depth across a triangular wound that most resembles the way a tear in fabric will rend,

So it was this particular image which was the demarcation line for me between the telling of a story and selling one. I've concluded Ms. Burnham occupies the same category as that occupied by LT. Brian Birdwell, a burn survivor from the September 11th attack on the Pentagon. I'd theorized several years ago that Mr. Birdwell had volunteered to undergo his ordeal in order to fill a projected slot in the public victim's narrative. The story of September 11th is just one point in a continuum that includes the preceding hostage-taking of the Burnhams', as well as other kidnappings and Muslim-on-Christian violence going back a decade, by an odd lot of strung together bandits who seemed interested in publicity for all the wrong reasons.

Another example I've tagged as along these same lines of a manipulated---nay, manufactured history whose aim was to slander Islam and demonize Muslims as a class, is the story of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, two young Christian missionaries in Afghanistan who were jailed by the Taliban in the summer of 2001 for proselytizing their Lord and savior. Although the pair only faced expulsion from the country for transgressing what they knew was a local crime, any prospective converts faced execution under Shariah law for the contact. In the hypocritical Western view this was seen as an example of the spreading of the love of Jesus Christ, and it made rock stars of the two for a time, as they hit the Christian college speaking circuit.

It also had the effect of establishing CNN as the sole U.S. news bureau in Kabul just a few weeks before 9/11, with America's retaliatory invasion to follow. However, for the first ten days of the crisis, which also imprisoned six European missionaries, CNN and others reported that the names of the two American woman were Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon, which can only mean that Mercer carried more than one U.S. passport.

Then there is the notice printed on the copyright page of the 2nd edition of Mercer and Curry's 2002 book, Prisoners of Hope, which states:
The authors wish to clarify that the agency with whom they worked in Afghanistan is Shelter Germany and not Shelter Now International, which is a separate organization.
That must have come as a legal mandate since the first edition of their book says on page 306 that
We are grateful to the people of Shelter Now International for allowing us to serve with them. May you receive double for all you have lost through this crisis, and may your coming years of service to the Afghan people be even more fruitful than previous years.
Who has lost what here? And fruitful to whom?

Untangling this web of lies could be an endless job if that were it, but we can go deeper still. For instance, I took at face value that Gracia Burnham had actually, if not legitimately, been shot in the leg, as a token of reality when making her transition from a year in the shade, (and do look at the rest of her leg, not just the wound. Nary a bug bite or scratch on it, although the nights were spent in forced marches, falling into ditches, where "even the ferns had thorns,") and into the limelight of her fast-track Christian motivational speaking tour (plus fundamentalist best seller.) And like Brian Birdwell, who told the world that under his surgical headband was grafted cadaver skin, with maggots to eat away the necrotic tissue, when subsequently revealed could be seen as virgin dermis unlicked by flame, these witting martyrdoms were only half-assed, half-measures.

For in the following formerly unreferenced Philippine Star article, National Security Adviser Roilo Golez is quoted as "clarifying" that "the wound in Gracia's leg was caused by a sharp object, not by a bullet, and that a big mass of flesh was taken out from her leg."
June 9, 2002, Philippine Star, $5-M US bounty for Sayyaf still up for grabs, by Katherine Adraneda,

With no more hostages who may be caught in the crossfire, the troops will launch an all-out search and destroy operations against the Abu Sayyaf bandits, with the $5-million bounty offered by Washington still up for grabs.

"Without the hostages, the rules of the game have changed drastically," said National Security Adviser Roilo Golez. "Before, there were restrictions because lives maybe endangered."

"We can go all out against them, but still subject to the rules of engagement, within the bounds of the law," he stressed.

He appealed to the people to be vigilant against possible attempts by the Abu Sayyaf bandits to seize new hostages to be used as human shields against military attacks.

He also called on the people to immediately report to the authorities any suspicious movements of strangers in their localities.

"I ask the civilians to stand by the soldiers," Golez said, adding the military operations were still going on.

He said the $5 million offered by the US government stands since top Abu Sayyaf leaders are still on the loose.

Golez revealed that among the bodies recovered from Friday's scene of encounter between the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and the troops was that of a mid-level Abu Sayyaf leader.

The bounty, made possible through the US' Rewards for Justice Program being administered by the defense department, was offered for information leading to the capture of the five highest Abu Sayyaf leaders — Abdurajak Janjalani, Aldam Tilao alias Abu Sabaya, Isnilon Hapilon, Hamsiraji Sali and Abu Sulaiman.

The five led last year's raid on the posh Dos Palmas resort in Palawan where they rounded up 20 guests and staff members, including American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kansas and fellow American Guillermo Sobero of Corona, California.

The Abu Sayyaf beheaded Sobero on June 12 as an Independence Day "gift" to President Arroyo.

The $5 million was apart from the P5-million bounty placed by the Philippine government on the heads of the top Abu Sayyaf leaders.

Golez also noted that the US government and the Burnham family did not blame Philippine authorities for the tragic rescue operation.

"There is no reason to believe that (Martin) Burnham was killed by friendly fire. Anyway, the US government said it does not matter whose bullet killed Martin because the full responsibility is with the ASG (Abu Sayyaf group)," Golez said.

He said Gracia Burnham, who has been confined in an undisclosed hospital in Metro Manila, has been declared out of danger, but still traumatized by her horrifying experience.

He clarified that the wound in Gracia's leg was caused by a sharp object, not by a bullet, and that a big mass of flesh was taken out from her leg.

Gracia will be subjected to a debriefing after she has fully recuperated, Golez said.

Golez also revealed that the troops retrieved from the scene of encounter a "farewell letter" written by Martin to his children.

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon expressed sympathies for the family of Martin Burnham and Deborah Yap who were slain during the rescue operation in Siraway, Zamboanga del Norte, as well as to the families of soldiers "who paid the supreme sacrifice" to secure the freedom of the hostages.

"They will be well remembered by a people who value freedom with their lives, in sharp contrast to the band of Godless brigands who showed neither mercy nor compassion," Gordon said in a statement.

He called on the people to rally behind President Arroyo and the troops involved in the operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

"We must not stop until justice triumphs, and the terrorists are expunged from the face of the earth," he said.
Apparently, Ms. Adraneda, a Star reporter whose normal beat didn't cover terrorism or the Abu Sayyaf, failed to pass on the memo about the nature of Gracia's wound to her Star colleagues who regularly did cover the subject. These reporters, like all the other journalists around the globe, continued to reference Gracia Burnham's leg injury as being a gunshot wound, with the only question ever asked, but one never answered, was did the bullet that caused her injury come from an Abu Sayyaf weapon, or from friendly fire.

Even Andy of Mayberry could have handled the terminal ballistics on this one, had there been the slightest desire by anyone, anywhere to know the truth.

Other photo albums found at the Burnham Foundation website contain interesting items, though, all-in-all, they're pretty heavy on shots of Gracia signing her book sales.

One revealing image was taken at a speaking engagement at the West Lake Baptist Church in Chandler, Texas, in February 2005. This was the home church of "Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie," apparently Gracia's in-laws, and Karen Farmer, Martin's cousin. Maybe family relationships were at fault, but Gracia, who says she was always "very dependent on my notes," forgot to bring them along with her to the gig, and standing at the podium in a pose of humorous intellectual humility---the reality is, Gracia seems actually stricken.

Her caption reads: "If I only had a brain! I really did get up there that night without some of my notes—and had to "wing it"! A hard thing for me...I'm very dependent on my notes. [Smiley face Emoticon]"

But I think the place her story was missing from was her heart and not her head. The truth behind the emotional trauma might have led her to a more disorganized telling of the story of her year in captivity, but it likely would have connected with an audience even more than her standard talking points. What is at stake here is her inability to go off-script and extemporize on the details of an imagined concoction which she had rehearsed but not lived. Anyone who has listened long to the varieties of personal narrative told by members of 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-anon, who meet most frequently downstairs in the basement's of churches such as this, have honed their B.S.-meters and would be able to divine the disconnect in what Gracia Burnham was preaching to the choir upstairs in the sanctuary.

A deeper question is how could Gracia give hundreds of interviews to the media without such notes? Generally, a feature writer will take some hours with a subject, noting or recording thousands of words for each hundred culled into print. Some interviewers are known to be "sympathetic," but that's generally meant to be indicated in the text, and not that the subject had simply handed over fact sheets to make both their work loads easier---although---as has been reported, that does happen, as well as fully edited texts too.

Below is the narrative of Gracia and Martin's shooting, pulled from pages 262-266 of In the Presence of My Enemies, (The original King James version, In The Presence of Mine Enemies, would have made a far better title.)
I've spoiled the narrative flow by interspersing gratuitous editorial comments in red ink, but I just couldn't help myself.
He said, "I really don't know why this has happened to us. I've been thinking a lot lately about Psalm 100---what it says about serving the Lord with gladness. This may not seem much like serving the Lord, but that's what we're doing, you know? We may not leave this jungle alive, but we can leave this world serving the Lord "with gladness"; we can 'come before His presence with singing' [Psalm 100.2]"

We prayed together then, something we did together often. There was nothing else to do; we were totally dependent on the Lord for bring us this far safely, and of course we begged Him to get us home and back to our kids. We told him we wanted to keep serving Him with gladness. Martin had a toenail that had become ingrown. He borrowed a knife from the guys nearby and worked on his nail for a while. It gave me the creeps to watch him. But he said it started to feel better.
This seems an unintentional, but cosmically ordered spoof on the "torturing of kidnap victim Fr. Roel Galardo by the Abu Sayyaf from the year prior, in which the Catholic priest has the nails on his big toes ripped out, by what mechanism I don't know, during a lull between forced marches. The last I'd heard of this sort of torture was during the Vietnam war, when bamboo slivers were slid under P.O.W.'s fingernails, and they were forced to type 80 words a minute, without mistakes!
We returned the knife to the guys and then decided to lie down for a nap. It was starting to rain. We had just closed our eyes when a fearsome barrage of gunfire cut loose from the crest of the hill. The AFP? Surely not! It was raining and they never fought in the rain.

"Oh God!," I said. I wasn't swearing; I was honestly praying. My instincts after sixteen previous battles, told me instantly what to do: drop immediately. I flipped my feet around to get out of the hammock---and before I even hit the ground, I felt the zing! of a bullet slamming through my right leg.

I rolled down the hill maybe eight feet, dazed. I looked up and saw Martin on the ground, too, so I quickly crawled to his side. He was kind of twisted, with his legs underneath his body. His eyes were closed. He was wearing a white Suzuki shirt with blue sleeves. Then I saw it: the blood was beginning to soak through his shirt from his upper left chest. Oh no! I thought. He's been hit, too.
There is zero ambiguity in Gracia's telling here: that before she could fall out of a hammock, and well before the Abu Sayyaf began to return fire, indiscriminate shooting from the ridge wounded her and also shot Martin.
Shots continued to ring out. The Abu Sayyaf were just getting themselves positioned to start firing back. Martin's breathing was heavy, almost a soft snore. He lay quietly on his back and partly on his side; he was so still that I refrained from yelling about my wound, which is what I normally wound have done.

"Mart!" I heard Ediborah yell from where she was, just one time. Then nothing more. It was the last word she ever said.
And just Gracia's single, and last, word on the circumstances of Ediborah's murder apparently.
I thought to myself, If the Abu Sayyaf see that I'm wounded but still alive, they'll drag me down the hill, and I'll have to walk while wounded. So I deliberately tried to lie still and look dead. Martin had taught me to focus my mind in a firefight, to hang on tightly to my emotions, and I knew that now, more than ever, I needed to do just that.

Once in a while, he moaned softly. I didn't say anything to him but just focused on being still. The shooting continued. Grenades blew up. Each moment was going to be my last, I was sure. Lord, if this is it, just make it happen quickly for me, I prayed. The battle raged. The pain in my leg was not as severe as the terror in my heart. I forced myself to keep lying still.

Several minutes passed. Then without a warning I felt Martin's body become heavy and sort of sag against mine.

Is he dead? I wondered. I had no experience by which to judge. Maybe he just passed out.
What about the rasp of his sucking chest wound Gracia baby? Or how about the smell of hot shit as it's expelled out his ass during the death knell? That should make for a real warm embrace, as he goes "heavy" in your arms.
The shooting gradually became more sporadic and then finally stopped. At the top of the ridge I heard shouting in Tagalog, the language of the AFP. No sounds came from the bottom, however, which told me the Abu Sayyaf had fled down the streambed.

I didn't want to startle anyone who might be nearby, so I slowly moved my right hand to signal that I was still alive. Immediately an AFP soldier spotted me. He and his partner ran down and tried to pick me up, one by lifting my shoulders, the other my ankles. I cried out in pain. So they let me down again, and both took a shoulder to pull me back toward our hammock and tolda. In the wetness they couldn't get a good grip on me, and their feet were slipping as well.
How is it that the Abu Sayyaf were always able to drag away their dead and wounded, even under such slippery conditions?
I looked back at where Martin still lay. The red spot on his shirt was larger now. His complexion was pasty white. And then I knew---the man I loved more than anyone in the world was gone.

I wanted to stop the world in that moment, to reflect on my dreadful loss, to mourn the senseless death of my wonderful husband. Unfortunately, circumstances demanded otherwise. I had to think about getting myself off this mountain alive.
No honey, having been dragged away ten or twenty feet from the man you loved does not mean it's time to move on.
I gazed upward at our tolda. It had been riddled with bullet holes. As we had feared for so long, the AFP had come upon us with all barrels blazing.

Did you get Sabaya?" I asked.

"Yeah, we think so. The one with the long hair?"

"No---that's Lukman. Sabaya was under the green tolda over there. Check that one."

A search revealed that he had gotten away.
So, no bodies?
The soldiers yelled up the slope for more help in moving me. Somehow we reached the top of the hill. There I remembered the green backpack. It was still back by our hammock and it had all the notes we had written, the letters to the children, the stories. "Go get that green backpack," I said. "I've got to have that."

The soldiers looked at me like I was crazy.

"Go get that green bag!" I insisted. "It has letters from Martin to our children. It will be the only thing they have left from their dad. You have to get it!"

One of the soldiers said to me, "Oh Martin's okay...."    Huh?

I stared back at him. "Martin is dead. All the kids are going to have left is what's written to them in the green bag. Please go get it!"

At that, one of them disappeared over the ridge. In a minute, he came back with the precious bag. I reached out to touch it, but they wouldn't let me. "We have to go over it for intelligence," someone said, which I thought ridiculous.

There was some arguing about when I would get the papers inside. I locked eyes with one soldier whose English was pretty good. "Do you swear you'll get those letters to me?

"Yes, Ma'am, I will."

By this time, the medic was starting to cut off my wet pantos. I leaned back to close my eyes and drift off into sleep.

"Oh no, don't go to sleep," I heard someone say. "Stay awake."

The medic looked at me with a big smile and announced in heavily accented English, "I am the medic, and you are my first patient!" His hands were shaking. He proceeded to wrap some cloth around my wounds and then pronounced cheerfully, "Okay, you're all right! Do you need anything else?"

I stared blankly at him. "Do you have a Tylenol?" I asked him.

"Sure, okay." He didn't even have medicine with him, so he began asking around.. Somebody came up with some mefenamic acid, an anti-inflammatory drug, which I took.
Wouldn't real-world combat medics always carry morphine packed in syringes? Like, maybe, for instance, when their comrades are mortally wounded and in the agonies of death? Weren't these the Philippine Scout Rangers, that country's most elite unit, in their most high-profile encounter in a decade? Gracia makes them out to be buffoons---but so too the Abu Sayyaf were fools, to have taken the least defensible position possible down in a ravine for a midday nap, with no one standing guard on the high ground. But doesn't Gracia get the sassy last words in! You go girl! Two snaps up in a circle, Miss Thing!
Somebody else brought dry clothes for me. Soon I was told, "A helicopter is coming for you."

I looked up at the rain still coming down. "A helicopter can't come right now," I said. "The ridges aren't clear, and it's raining."

They looked at me as if to say, What do you know, Lady? They didn't realize I was a pilot's wife who had tracked the weather for hundreds of flight's in my life. I knew it wasn't safe for a helicopter to operate under those conditions.

"No, no, for you the helicopter will come," someone answered.

"No,! Please don't call one," I pleaded. "The pilot can't see what he's doing, and I don't want anyone else to lose their life today. Let's just wait." Nevertheless, the helicopter was already on its way.

The soldiers were clearly upset, realizing that in their rescue attempt, they had shot all three hostages. Several of them were smoking to calm their nerves. I can't go to sleep, and I can't fall apart here, I told myself. I've made it this far. I tried to remember Martin's words from so many times before: "You can do this, Gracia. You've got to go home whole."

Eventually, the lieutenant in charge came over to talk with me.

"Mrs. Burnham, I know that you're probably very angry with us," he said. "But we were just doing our jobs."

"I know," I replied. "We never forgot who the bad guys were and who the good guys were. I don't think of you as the bad guys."

In a moment, I continued. "How did you find us?"

We've been following you all day. We saw your tracks where you crossed the logging road last night."

I knew it! We hadn't been careful enough.


I don't know what she means by that closing line---whose side was she on anyway? This story will change radically by 2007, in any event, and Gracia will join in with the explanation, and it then will all be about a CIA homing device sewn into the lining of a backpack given to Abu Sabaya as a gift from a friend on a visit.

I think we may have a possible explanation for the visual evidence of Gracia's wound here. The 227 word article following packs more major discrepancies per word than any other I can think of. All are shortcomings compared to the major failing of the report on Gracia's recovery--that military authorities could turn in an 8-page report on a case with the level of publicity and public scrutiny the Burnham's case carried and not even attempt a plausible scenario as to what caused the deaths of two out of the three hostages. This says to me that something highly irregular was going on behind the scenes and for the military' cooperation they also received official absolution.

As part of their "extreme caution" in attempting the rescue, soldiers "refrained from using grenades in hopes of sparing the hostages." Gracia's book says however "The shooting continued. Grenades blew up."

Quoting the AP, the article says "Martin Burnham was shot in the back, but no one knows who shot him," which if they'd interviewed the sole surviving hostage might have been cleared up. Gracia sticks with her that Martin was shot in the chest but I guess that could be a semantic distinction since a bullet could have made entrance and exit wounds on both his chest and back.

This report says three rebels were killed and I'll have to say if anything else corroborates that because I don't think it does.

The AFP says they only used single fire shots while Gracia says the opening salvo was " a fearsome barrage of gunfire cut loose from the crest of the hill.

Muddying the Yap waters greatly, not told in the report, but mentioned anecdotally to reporters, rescuers said "the rescue team believed she was hacked by a bladed weapon judging from the gaping wound she sustained." Soldiers had said earlier Yap was apparently shot in the back. Gracia says that she was shot in the neck.

But given Yap's hack wound, what do you think about a scenario in which Gracia's wound was meant to serve as a hack wound first, only they got cold feet and turned it into a gunshot wound? I've said it before---it is very difficult to stage a "survival of mock beheading" scene. Harder than a surprise birthday party where they're really surprised. People just aren't willing to take a plausible enough hack job to make it work.  How Golez got backed into a corner and was forced to admit a major alteration to the story is interesting, but it mattered for not since only a single papered carried, buried in tertiary article since it mattered for absolutely zilch (till now that is,) makes the information's suppressibility an interesting topic.
June 19, 2002, Religion Today, Filipinos Report on Burnham Hostage Mission,
The Philippine military released a report June 17 indicating that soldiers used "extreme caution" on a mission to rescue Martin and Gracia Burnham and Deborah Yap, who had been held hostage by Muslim extremists for the past year. But, according to AP, the report did not clarify how two of the captives were killed. It was during a June 7 ambush of the Abu Sayyaf group by Philippine troops that missionary Burnham and nurse Yap were killed. Burnham's wife, Gracia, was shot in the right thigh but rescued.  
The report, signed by the head of military forces in the southern Philippines, said soldiers "used single-shot fire and refrained from using grenades in hopes of sparing the hostages. The Abu Sayyaf rebels were firing in all directions on full automatic," said the officer. "Enemy bullets continued to rain ... near the American hostages." Three rebels were killed and seven soldiers were wounded in the fighting. The Philippine military held a news conference Tuesday to further explain the eight-page report.

According to AP, Martin Burnham was shot in the back, but no one knows who shot him. The military report also did not conclude how Yap was killed, but said "the rescue team believed she was hacked by a bladed weapon judging from the gaping wound she sustained." Soldiers had said earlier Yap was apparently shot in the back.


Another of the photo albums at the Burnham Foundation web site is given a vague title of Interesting people

God has brought my way!, but this was where Gracia placed images taken of her with celebrities---most notably, pictures taken during her visit with President Bush in the White House shortly after her return to the U.S. (This may be a good place to mention that whoever wrote the captions found in the photo albums---and I'm pretty sure it was Gracia---is of a different persona, whose comparatively substandard written voice belies the honed, dry sass Gracia tosses around in the kidnap memoir She may have been interviewed for some of the content of In the Presence of My Enemies (or maybe not even much---more on that in a moment,) but every aspect of this tightly edited book's production appears left to the hands of professionals adept at delivering a specific religious message to a predictable audience.

Visiting that web album today I found four images---of Gracia with Christian humorist Mark Lowry; gospel singers Lynda Randle and Lillie Knauls, (website:,) and a formal portrait of Gracia Burnham with President George W. Bush, and Kansans, Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Todd Tiahrt,

But if my memory serves me, and I'm confident it does, when I visited the page earlier in the past year, it had a more extensive collection of pictures. There were several of the White House visit; one of her children in the Oval Office, another of Gracia's mother-in-law in an embrace with the President, who has rested his head on her shoulder in a look of melancholy, and others. At the time I downloaded the whole batch to my personal computer, because experience had proven, to draw worthy attention to an image or news article, caused it to disappear. Not that I claim singularly credit, but the entire Philippine Star news archive has recently been taken down offline, leaving hundreds of broken links to litter the tops of Google's search return pages. As to those downloaded Burnham files, despite a cash purchase, my PC is actually a rental from something at Microsoft with superior administrator rights, that goes by the Orwellian moniker of "Trusted Installer," and whatever T.I. wants, it eventually gets, and those files have long since disappeared.

A likely explanation would have been that I'd found the extra images at, in one of the page's six captures, between November 8, 2005 and February 3, 2011, which would have allowed us to approximate the date when they were taken down, but all six archived pages are identical.

So any apparent purging by the Burnham Foundation in the face of changing sensibilities must remain purely my imagination for the time being. But I'd stored on an unpublished blog at least one very memorable errata, whose original caption I recalled for its excited, gushy tone, in which Gracia, seen posed with her parents, and "Mr. Continuity of Government" himself, retired Col. Oliver North, says this was an after-dinner moment taken in "her house." And if anything should rise to a level worthy of a conspiracy to suppress evidence, this would be it.


The term ballistic trauma or gunshot wound (GSW) refers to a form of physical trauma sustained from the discharge of arms or munitions.[1] The most common forms of ballistic trauma stem from firearms used in armed conflicts, civilian sporting and recreational pursuits, and criminal activity.[2] Ballistic trauma is sometimes fatal for the recipient, or causes long term negative consequences.

The degree of tissue disruption caused by a projectile is related to the size of the temporary versus permanent cavity it creates as it passes through tissue.[3] The extent of cavitation, in turn, is related to the following characteristics of the projectile:
The immediate damaging effect of the bullet is typically severe bleeding, and with it the potential for hypovolemic shock, a condition characterized by inadequate delivery of oxygen to vital organs. In the case of traumatic hypovolemic shock, this failure of adequate oxygen delivery is due to blood loss, as blood is the means of delivering oxygen to the body's constituent parts. Immediate effects can result when a bullet strikes a critical organ such as the heart or damages a component of the central nervous system such as the spine or brain. Common causes of death following gunshot injury include exsanguination, hypoxia caused by pneumothorax, catastrophic injury to the heart and larger blood vessels, and damage to the brain or central nervous system. Additionally, gunshot wounds typically involve a large degree of nearby tissue disruption and destruction due to the physical effects of the projectile. Non-fatal gunshot wounds can result in serious disability.

Gunshot injuries can vary widely from case to case since the location of the injury can be in any part of the body, with wide variations in entry point. Also, the path and possible fragmentation of the bullet within the body is unpredictable. The study of the dynamics of bullets in gunshot injuries is called terminal ballistics.

Non-fatal gunshot wounds frequently have severe and long-lasting effects, even after the victim has made a successful recovery.[4] Typically, the consequences involve some form of major disfigurement and/or permanent disability. As a rule, all gunshot wounds are considered medical emergencies that require immediate hospital treatment. Hospitals are generally required to report all gunshot wounds to police.[5]


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