There are Many Reasons to See the Very Difficult Small Small Thing

During work on a documentary about foreign doctors at Liberia’s ramshackle John F. Kennedy Hospital, another story caught the attention of Small Small Thing writer-director Jessica Vale: a nine-year-old girl, emaciated and steeped in her own feces because of damage to her genitals and gastrointestinal system caused by a rape.

Vale is an efficient journalist, packing in facts and riveting interviews about the legacy of Liberia’s wars, the leftover brutality of its enlistment of child warriors, now grown to live their own fractured lives, and a portrait of Olivia and those who tried to care for her.

Olivia’s mother is trapped. In the bush, her family’s leader denies her daughter’s rape happened, yet she’s comfortable there. Life in Monrovia is daunting, despite the many people, including law enforcement and hospital workers, trying to help. Vale gives us the opportunity to meet the Liberian doctors, safehouse case workers, and others, mostly women, who manage to give Olivia reasons to eat, study, and smile, despite their almost total lack of resources.

There are many reasons to see this very difficult film, not least to face the grim realities in Liberia, and to wonder what more could be done to save lives and preserve the human spirit when it is so clearly yearning to burn bright given any small small chance.


Kaia: Please Boer Me

For nearly two decades, New York diners have been regaled with the fascinating and varied cuisines of West Africa, most notably Senegalese, Guinean, Nigerian, Ghanaian, and Liberian. We’ve nearly had our fill of East African, too—though, annoyingly, every Ethiopian menu is nearly the same. Food from the southern reaches of the continent has proved a harder coconut to crack, but we’ve gradually developed a small collection of restaurants with culinary origins in the Republic of South Africa, featuring a crazy combination of African, English, Dutch, Malaysian, Portuguese, and Indian influences.

First to arrive 13 years ago was Fort Greene’s Madiba, an eye-opening spot decorated like a Quonset hut, emphasizing the Voortrekker cuisine of the Dutch settlers known as Boers, who migrated northward in the 19th century, fleeing drought, the English, and militant African tribes. Then, around four years ago, a wine bar named Xai Xai appeared, and soon thereafter a barbecue, Braai, on the same block of West 51st Street. And now we have another South African establishment: Kaia, a wine bar on the Upper East Side with an ambitious menu. The single square room is kept dark and spare, furnished with both raised and normal-height tables occupied mainly by timorous couples who seem to be on first OkCupid dates and flocks of females (a wine-bar phenomenon not too hard to figure out).

The food at Kaia (“hut” in Zulu) flaunts remarkable flavors. Among charcuterie choices, find two types of South African preserved beef: biltong (dark curls of pungent, white-veined flesh dry as the desert); and droëwors (like Slim Jims, only good). Both are Boer staples, said to be vestiges of the above-mentioned Great Trek, in which no fresh food could be carried. Even today, dehydration serves as a convenient method of preservation in a continent short on refrigeration. Bargain-priced at $5, these dried meats sit atop a gravel of raisins and nuts on handsome wooden plates. The menu’s other preserved-meat selections feature domestic hams and salamis in French and Italian styles, though they clash with the African theme of the restaurant.

Classic South African bar snacks include miniature samosas hailing from Durban (three for $8) on a bed of something that tastes like sweet sauerkraut, and a trio of sliders composed of ground ostrich, elk, and chicken. Priced around $7 apiece, they’re interesting but too expensive. When Kaia shifts gears and starts doing entrées, it begins to seem more like a restaurant than a wine bar. Take bunny chow ($17), a specialty of the former Transvaal Province. Although sounding like kibble for a pet, the ingenious dish features chicken curry dumped into a hollowed-out loaf of white bread. The curry has to be pretty good to stand up to such an expanse of dough—and it does.

Similarly delightful is Boerewors rol ($8), a swollen gray sausage infinitely brightened both culinarily and linguistically by its topping of chakalaka, a coarse-textured tomato condiment associated with Johannesburg. I’d also recommend beesstert potjie ($16), an oxtail stew darkly pooled in a cast-iron pot like witches use—though the portion is small for the price. The real surprise is not the vessel, but the hominy inside, which suggests parallels between Boer cuisine and Mexican cooking. Some entrées flop, including a smallish square of meat loaf topped with béchamel called bobotie ($15). One evening, it tasted like it had undertaken its own Great Trek in the refrigerator.

As an antidote to all this meatiness, there’s a salad of blood oranges tossed with green olives in a vinaigrette that leaves the citrus still sweet. And there’s also a toasted-cheese sandwich served with parsnip soup that has no African antecedent I can find. The wine list is a pleasing mix of vintages from South Africa and other underappreciated producing countries—including Morocco, Argentina, and Chile. Unfortunately, the bottles are way too pricey (most $40 and over). If you’re brave enough to explore the frontiers of wine, you should get some sort of concession over the usual price level of Italian, California, and French products in other wine bars. Here, you don’t.

All pretense of African-ness falls away with the beer selection, which is exclusively devoted to micro American brews. Don’t they make beer in South Africa? Similarly, the extensive cheese selection (15 choices, $4 to $7) derives mainly from Vermont and New Hampshire. While this might cheer your locavoric soul, you might also get cultural whiplash switching from African entrées to American cheeses to South American wines and back again.

At least it helps to explain why the place seems more appealing to dating singles than actual South Africans.


Set Sail for Maima’s Pepper Coast

The West African Republic of Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves, who named their capital Monrovia, after the fifth U.S. president. Constituting an elite class, their descendants ruled the country until a coup in 1980 threw the country into chaos. After a period of repression and civil war, in which an estimated 200,000 were killed, relative calm ensued in 2003, led by a group called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.

Civil wars will be the furthest thing from your mind, though, as you journey down Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, a minor commercial thoroughfare in Jamaica that—with its non-franchise frame storefronts—retains the sort of small-town feel that reminds us that Queens was once a collection of autonomous villages. This pleasant neighborhood north of Baisley Pond has become home to a burgeoning African population, with a Nigerian, a Senegalese, and a Liberian restaurant recently appearing. Located near the intersection of 107th Avenue and Guy Brewer, Maima’s is the Liberian place, the only one in town. The sparsely decorated dining room is small and bright, and three steps in the rear lead up to the kitchen where Maima, the cook and matriarch of the establishment, presides.

During West Africa’s colonial era, Liberia was known as the Pepper Coast, referring to melegueta pepper, which was considered a poor man’s substitute for black pepper in 15th-century Europe. Also known by the poetic name “grains of paradise,” the dark seeds are unlike any spice you’ve ever tasted. They’re also a primary ingredient in pepper shrimp ($25), considered the national dish. Cradled in an oblong bowl at Maima’s, find a dozen magnificent prawns, shell-on, swimming in a gritty red sauce. It’s one of the hottest things I’ve tasted all year, and you should eat everything—head, shell, and all. That’s the way Liberians do it.

A starch is the focus of most meals in West African cuisines: In Nigeria, it’s white-yam fufu; in Burkina Faso, a mash made from millet called toh; in Senegal, polished rice that’s often tinted red with palm oil; and in the Ivory Coast, a coarse cassava meal that cooks up something like couscous. Liberia—which, after its founding, served as a destination for liberated slaves from all over Africa, Europe, and the Americas—benefits from a multi-starch approach. One evening, we had plantain fufu ($10), an off-white dome that arrived prettily decorated with eggplant and peanut relishes.

The fufu came sided with a mixed-meat “soup”—a catch-all term that designates the bowl of liquid used to dip fufu in. In West Africa, a single small soup with only a few ingredients would serve an entire family. On American soil, the floodgates of affordability have been flung open, and a soup designated “mixed meat” may contain beef, lamb, dried and fresh fish, chicken, goat, and any other proteins the cook has on hand, as a tribute to America’s culinary opulence. We were thrilled to find cow feet, oozing marrow bones, goat, and ox tripe in our soup one evening.

“Dry rice” ($12) is another important Liberian starch, though it isn’t dry in the least. The grain has been cooked with okra and bitter ball, a stunted green relative of eggplant that adds a subtle, harsh flavor. The okra lubricates the rice like ice on a luge run. While the American culinary mainstream eschews bitterness, it’s an important aspect of the West African flavor arsenal. The menu also offers plain polished rice, fufu made with plantains or white yams, attieke (the cassava stodge mentioned earlier), and a mash made from cocoyam that goes by the hilarious name of “dumboy.” Though the daily menu of three or four dishes often specifies soup-starch pairings, you can usually match any soup with any starch.

Some soups are so thick you might call them purées. One made from cassava leaf forms an agreeable dark-green sludge, dotted with chicken chunks. Another, designated “seafood soup,” omits vegetables entirely, but includes shrimp, squid, and hunks of fish in one of the most flavorful fumets imaginable. Whatever the language spoken, the cuisines of many West African countries show French influences.

For those who don’t feel like foraging too far into exotic flavors and textures, whole fish are available at bargain prices, each enough to feed two. You can have a generic “snapper” (who knows what actual species?) fried for $10, or poached with a thick relative of ratatouille for $15. In fact, if you order the fried fish with plain white rice, Maima’s might be any good soul-food spot in town—as if the Liberians had never left America.


Exterminating Angel

It was just after 1 p.m. on a hot July afternoon when Brigitte Harris walked out of her Rockaway home without locking the door. Cell phone in hand, she headed toward the nearest police station, but stopped a block short of the 100th Precinct.

Back at her cozy, third-floor apartment, where she regularly hosted informal parties, her father, Eric Goodridge, was dying. Goodridge was a native of Liberia who spent much of his adult life moving back and forth from Monrovia to Staten Island. On this stint in the U.S., he was attending to a host of medical problems. At 55, he could barely walk, plagued by infected keloids on his legs, as well as kidney stones and a failing liver. But these were not the ailments that would ultimately kill him. Harris dialed 911 as she walked away and asked that an ambulance be sent to her address. Someone was bleeding to death on the third floor, she told the operator. EMTs arrived at a chilling scene. Eric lay with a towel wrapped around his head and stuffed into his mouth, strangled to death. A table had been broken in a scuffle. Nearby was a scalpel that the 26-year-old Harris had bought on eBay just a few weeks before—a tool that friends believe was originally meant for her own suicide. But it was her father’s blood that was slowly, steadily pooling under him. He had been castrated, and the severed penis was missing.What did remain were notes that hinted at a history of sexual abuse. “He wrecked my life,” read one. “At first, I blamed myself. Now I know it’s not my fault,” another reportedly said.

Half an hour later, Harris was still on the line with a 911 operator, wanting to know what was going on at her home and if her father was still alive. When the operator asked what happened, Harris was reticent. “Forget it,” she replied.

She said only that she was not thinking straight. That she needed to talk to her sister.

Carleen Goodridge and Brigitte Harris, born three years apart, grew up in a sprawling and deeply divided family, traumatized by infidelity, abandonment, rape, war, and now murder. As the elder sibling, Carleen has been both an enemy and a champion for Brigitte. The two battled over whether or not to confront their father about his abuse of them. “My sister, she just always wanted to talk about it. She wanted help. She wanted people to know what he was doing,” Carleen says, but “I wouldn’t allow her to talk about it. That’s what divided us.”

In the aftermath of her father’s murder, Carleen has been talking a lot. She launched a public-relations campaign to “Save Brigitte.” Within 36 hours of the murder, she had hired star defense attorney Arthur Aidala and told the world that both she and Brigitte had been victims of a pedophile father who regularly and repeatedly raped them from a very young age. Within a week, Carleen had set up a website collecting donations for a defense fund and had held press conferences to round up support. The murder of their “monster” father was simply karma, she told Montel Williams and audiences at a candlelight vigil. If Brigitte snapped, she implied, it was their father who had pushed her.

Thanks to Carleen’s efforts, a small crowd of supporters have lined up behind Brigitte, including U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and New York State Senators Eric Adams and Diane Savino. In addition to shining a spotlight on the case—which may help Brigitte win a lenient sentence—one has also directly assisted Carleen professionally. She was hired as Savino’s executive assistant last month, which provided a much-needed income and direction for the struggling single mom.

Meanwhile, as the case heads toward trial—the plea agreement that the defense had hoped for has yet to materialize—Brigitte’s family has become increasingly polarized. Carleen and her maternal relatives have portrayed Brigitte as a victim who finally snapped, while Eric’s side of the family denies any sexual abuse and say the sisters planned their father’s murder for ulterior motives. The family split was apparent during a court date last month. Seven members of Eric’s family traveled from Rhode Island and Colorado to attend a brief hearing at Queens Criminal Court, where they exchanged information and hugs with the prosecutor. Carleen was notably absent; in her place was an advocate from a domestic-violence nonprofit that helps those in trouble for retaliating against their abusers. Lawyers have asked for more time to review evidence before returning to court on January 4.

Hanging in the balance are two sisters whose lives have drastically diverged. Sitting alone in a cell in Rikers psych ward, facing 25 years to life, Brigitte is drugged into a Stepford-like cheerfulness that friends say she never had in her earlier life. Meanwhile, Carleen has been launched into a spotlight she seems to thrive in, saying she has a newfound purpose as a spokesperson for victims of child abuse. One sister is locked up, and the other has been set free.


“I started speaking out to help my sister and now I just can’t stop,” Carleen says.

Carleen’s story of abuse starts with an automobile ride 25 years ago. “I remember being excited to go home with Daddy,” she says during one of several interviews with the Voice. But they took a detour. Her father pulled over and forced her to perform oral sex on him. She was just four years old. It was the beginning of years of abuse for both her and her sister, she says.

The girls were vulnerable from the start, born into a chaotic family with an unfortunate set of parents. After their father immigrated to the U.S. as a young man, he became entangled with Lucy-Anna Harris, a fellow Liberian who was four years his junior. By the time Lucy became pregnant with Carleen, Eric was already cheating on her and bringing other girlfriends over. “He was a womanizer, he liked lots of women, especially small girls,” Lucy writes in a series of e-mail exchanges from Liberia. When she protested, he kicked her in the stomach and back. Despite the abuse and philandering, the couple had two more children together. Brigitte was born in a car outside a Staten Island hospital in 1981. (Both Lucy and Eric would go on to have many more children by multiple partners. Lucy has had 16 children, only 10 of whom are still living. Eric fathered an unknown number of kids—relatives estimate that it is also in the teens. Neither has a history of taking particularly good care of their offspring.)

At some point, Eric became serious with one of his other girlfriends, a teenager named Joanne.

“I never stopped loving Eric, I only let him go the day he got married to Joanne,” Lucy says. With their relationship finally severed, Lucy packed up and went back to Liberia, leaving all the kids with a baby-sitter. She says now that she went home to attend a funeral and simply did not have the money to return to New York.

The children were eventually taken into state custody, where Eric quickly claimed Carleen, whom he and his new bride had always considered their own. They later went back to pick up Brigitte and two other boys that Lucy had left behind.

After he took in the children, including one boy whom he may not have fathered, Eric’s reputation as a nice guy was bolstered within New York’s Liberian diaspora. The community knew him as a devoted dad and successful entrepreneur who ran a record store, an import-export business, and a taxi and limo service, all based in the Park Hill neighborhood of Staten Island.

Carleen Goodridge with the father her
sister would later kill, Eric Goodridge
photo: Courtesy Alicia Hill

Behind closed doors, however, Carleen says he was raping her and forcing her to engage in oral sex. She knew her father was also molesting Brigitte the day she saw her little sister touching herself. She said he regularly raped them both in his bedroom with the door closed, or in the basement as the rest of the family slept upstairs. “It would happen two or three times a month, then maybe a month break, or twice a week.”

At 10 or 11 years old, Carleen told her stepmother, Joanne, about the abuse. “She told me to get ready to talk to the police, but then my father talked to her and said, ‘I was showing her how to clean herself.’ And they blew it off. My father was very manipulative. . . . There were times where our father would say stuff like, ‘A dad is supposed to try a daughter out before her husband.’ He would say things like, ‘It’s OK for a father and daughter to sleep together.’ People probably heard it, but you’re just paralyzed to comment on something like that. I’m sure more people knew, but, like me, people didn’t want to say anything.”

Carleen and Brigitte’s lives diverged in 1994 after Eric and Joanne divorced and the children were split up. Eric had returned to Liberia a couple years earlier, and now sent for Brigitte and her two brothers to join him in Monrovia. Carleen, now 15, stayed behind with her stepmother and other siblings. For Carleen, the abuse was already becoming a distant memory that she preferred to forget. But for Brigitte, it was about to start all over again.


While Carleen lived with her stepmother, whom she describes as “wonderful, funny, a cornball,” Brigitte was in Monrovia in the middle of a civil war.

At 12, Brigitte ran away to stay with her mother, Lucy, whom she had not seen since she was a baby. Lucy took her in, but living in a cramped five-story apartment building with several other siblings, the family had little to eat and struggled to survive.

“We had to help sustain her sometimes,” says Wolo Della, a Pentecostal pastor in Monrovia who lived in Lucy’s building. “I asked her why she was going through all she was going though . . . why wasn’t [Brigitte] living with her father, or why the father was not supporting them.” Lucy told him that Brigitte was being molested by her father and appealed to him for help. But “[Eric] was always one place and very busy, and I was a very busy pastor . . . so we never talked.” Della says he believed the story of abuse, but did nothing about it. “Whenever a war takes place, a lot of things happen. A lot of people become so evil and negatively inspired,” Della says. “There have been a lot of rape cases around.”

Meanwhile, Eric—by now an official in Liberia’s transportation ministry—began threatening to have Lucy arrested for kidnapping. Brigitte tried a final attempt at fleeing; she went to the U.S. Embassy to plead that they send her back to the States, away from her father, but got nowhere. Rebuffed at every attempt to get away, Brigitte was eventually returned to her dad.

Afterward, Eric kept her passport hidden to ensure that she didn’t try to leave the country again. Brigitte, meanwhile, counted the days until her 18th birthday. As soon as she was officially an adult, she went to the embassy and, this time, they helped her return to the U.S.

For a time, Brigitte lived with the Goodridges in Providence, Rhode Island, where her relatives noticed something strange about her. “She was reading a lot of Harry Potter and had a lot of piercings,” says Debra Clinton, a cousin. “She just seemed different—you know, like dark.”

After the story of the murder broke, the media found in Brigitte Harris an irresistible figure: a goth girl obsessed with revenge. She called herself “Dark Angel” on her MySpace page, a nod to the television show of the same name. Newspaper stories noted her attraction to revenge films and her adoration for bands like Otep, a heavy-metal band fond of lyrics about hate and vengeance.

Outside of her work as a security guard at Kennedy Airport, Brigitte dwelled in a world of goth music, frequent drinking, piercing, movies, and art. She shunned romantic relationships, instead surrounding herself with women who were similarly drawn to conversations about suicide and family dysfunction. Together, they frequented parties hosted by Hidden Shadows, a group of vampire enthusiasts that meets in Harlem. Studded chokers, brightly colored hair extensions, and a uniform of black, often shapeless clothes are the aesthetics of her circle. They are the kind of group that would get stares from passersby gawking at their baggy pants and black lipstick made all the more unusual because they adorned young African-American women.

Carleen set out to counter the image of her sister as a deranged, cold-blooded goth killer. She is the picture of middle-class preppiness, her makeup flawless, her oversized designer bag matching her stiletto-heeled boots. Photos of her three beaming kids are displayed on her computer next to images of her time at Army Reserve basic training, where she says she was regularly picked for leadership positions. She has a mantra of optimism and upward mobility—”I still have these aspirations and passions and things that I want to do. . . . I still believe there is a beautiful, beautiful world out there.”

Carleen snagged an equally polished lawyer for her sister. Aidala is a guy with a clean-shaven head, a perfectly pressed suit, and a reputation for getting sympathy for killers. His claim to fame is his use of the “battered wife” defense for his client John Pickett, a gay man who suffered months of abuse before stabbing his partner to death in 1997. Once Aidala was hired, he immediately began reframing Brigitte as a victim whose goth look was a “cry for help”—a statement her goth friends did not appreciate.

Carleen Goodridge has led a public campaign to support her sister, and says she privately struggles with memories of also being sexually abused: “I’m really, really tired of remembering.”
photo: Courtesy Alicia Hill

The duo took the show on the road. Like any public-relations campaign, the one to “Save Brigitte” was painted in broad strokes. Carleen repeated her sound bites at press conferences: Her father was a monster; Brigitte was a victim. When people wondered about the rest of the family—where was the mother? Were other siblings abused? Didn’t anyone know?—the details were skimmed over, the family too sprawling and their history too complicated for TV.


They went to news stations to give interviews, held a press conference at City Hall, and shed tears with Montel on a show he titled “Betrayed by My Father.” They even got a local women’s group to raise money to clothe Brigitte in Rikers (brown and gray only, please). Scores of rape and incest victims also pronounced their support, with some even praising Brigitte for “taking that evil fuck out of this world.”

Carleen is more philosophical: “The reality is that she will have to serve some type of time, but she needs help. We’re sending a few messages here. Number one, child abuse is wrong, and no one should have to deal with it. Number two, you can’t take the law into your own hands.”

All the campaigning seemed to have had an effect on its real target, the Queens District Attorney’s Office, which waited nearly three weeks before charging Brigitte with a crime: not first-degree murder—which would carry a potential life sentence—but second-degree murder and manslaughter. Aidala says he took this as a sign that the D.A. had an “open mind” and might be willing to negotiate a minimal sentence or confinement to a psychiatric institute.

The morning of Brigitte’s arraignment, Aidala paced outside the courtroom, his ear glued to a cell phone. Her arrival from Rikers had been delayed by several hours without explanation. When two newspaper photographers approached Aidala and began snapping shots of him, he shoved his phone into a pocket.

“What are you doing?” he demanded, retreating from the flashes. If he was going to have his photo taken, he said, he wanted to look presentable. He put his pinstriped jacket on and the photo shoot continued, with Aidala attempting a serious-but-friendly pose that was meant to look candid.

Aidala’s attempts to sweet-talk the assistant district attorney—”I’m saying good things about you over here!” he called out to an A.D.A. as she left the courthouse later that day—may be hindered by the Goodridge family’s increasingly vocal challenges to Carleen and Brigitte’s story. In recent weeks, rumors, speculation, and old family hostilities have surfaced, complicating the streamlined story that Carleen has told.

“The uncle I know would never do those things,” says Debra Clinton, the most insistent defender of the dead man. “Carleen was very, very close to her dad. It just doesn’t make sense.”

When Eric returned to the U.S. just two months before his death , it was Carleen who opened her door to him. Despite the history of abuse she has since exposed, she allowed him to stay in her home with her, her daughter, and her two sons. It was Carleen who drove him to and from doctor appointments. Relatives have even suggested that she was the one to take Eric to Brigitte’s apartment the day of his murder. (Carleen has declined to comment on any details of the actual day of his death.) So now, some are confounded that Carleen has demonized the father that she loved.

“Carleen is making all these things up—in my opinion, she’s worse than Brigitte,” Clinton says, acting as a spokesperson for the Goodridge relatives. “I truly believe Brigitte has mental problems and believes that she was molested.” But with Carleen, “I don’t think there’s a mental problem there; there’s a greed problem. There’s a she-wants-to-be-in-the-news problem.” Clinton has said, repeatedly, that Carleen is not the sweet person she appears to be in television interviews.

Carleen does know that her media image has been manufactured, in part. At 29, she has three children by three different men—kids she once considered abandoning at her lowest point, and whom she still fears she is screwing up. She has just earned her GED, but has made her way in jobs in real estate and administrative work by doing her best to erase a past as a runaway, dropout, and struggling mom who schlepped her family through shelters and welfare lines. “Sometimes I think I’m the best bullshit artist,” she recently admitted to the Voice during a wide-ranging interview near her home in Staten Island.

Both she and Brigitte have violent tempers, which have flared mostly at one another. The two occasionally regarded one another as aliens—Brigitte could not understand how Carleen managed to maintain a seemingly normal relationship with their father; Carleen could not understand Brigitte’s disinterest in men and desire to dwell on the dark side of life. The two maintained a tense relationship that occasionally erupted into outright battles. Twice Brigitte called police to make criminal complaints against her older sister. The first time, she accused Carleen of grand larceny during a dispute over payment for a computer. Later, when the two briefly lived together in 2004, she called police to report that Carleen had assaulted her. The argument erupted when Brigitte spanked Carleen’s daughter. “She hit my baby, and I just kind of snapped and attacked her,” Carleen says. “It was like, ‘Don’t hit my kid. This is what it feels like to get hit.’ ” Carleen ended up spending a night in jail and subsequently kicking her sister out of the house. “I was a little more physically expressive back then.”


It wasn’t the only time Brigitte picked on someone weaker. She also got in trouble as a teenager for hurting a child she baby-sat, though the details of that remain sketchy and disputed.

As for the murder, the Goodridge relatives have told the district attorney’s office that they believe money was the motive. Debra has only said cryptically that Eric was “getting some money in from Africa”—money she believes Carleen was after. She could not provide any details about where the money was coming from, when he was supposed to have received it, or how much it was. She vaguely suggested it was money for health care.

“What money?” Carleen responded when told of this accusation by a reporter. (She has not seen Clinton since she was a girl and rarely speaks to her.) “It has to be made up.” She said she believed her father was broke, and that the only health-care funds he was expecting were from Medicaid—that, in fact, he owed money. New York Department of State records show that Eric had four warrants for his arrest for $40,600 in unpaid child support.

Whatever the truth may be, Carleen’s public accusations against her father have furthered an already-existing rift in the family. When the Goodridges planned Eric’s funeral, they didn’t tell Carleen when or where it was being held. She only found out afterward that the service had taken place on an early morning somewhere in Rhode Island, and hasn’t spoken to those relatives since.

“This is Brigitte Harris. She has a fucked-up family,” Alicia Hill can be heard saying as she points her camcorder at her friend. Alicia has a habit of bringing her video camera everywhere, and on this night, several months before Brigitte would be accused of murder, Alicia was cataloging an evening out with Brigitte and another friend, Bethany Jefferson. The trio were leaving a screening of the ice-skating spoof, Blades of Glory, and stood out on a sidewalk, smoking cigarettes. Alicia was decked out in a studded leather collar, her lip ring gleaming as she talked to the camera. Bethany, who, like Brigitte, has ever-changing hair colors, wore bright red extensions, a studded hat, black lipstick, and fingerless gloves. Brigitte seemed far away, her expression stony since her family was mentioned. She retreated into silence as the other two debated the evening’s plans. When her silence became uncomfortable, they prodded her into speaking again. “You’re gonna laugh later on and say, ‘Damn, I was a grouch that night,’ ” Alicia joked.

Bethany Jefferson (left) became friends with Brigitte while both were living in a women’s shelter several years ago. Alicia Hill (right) has been collecting cards and photographs to send to Brigitte at Rikers.
photo: Alana Cundy

Friends say that Brigitte was known for her sullenness, which only dissipated when she drank. In other videos, Brigitte looks calm and content, tipsily meandering through the grocery store trying to decide what to buy for dinner, walking to the beach with friends, or hanging out at her apartment with half a dozen friends and a table of empty bottles of Bacardi and beer.

Those friends never guessed what was behind her usual silence, since Brigitte had long ago stopped revealing her history of sexual abuse; she told them she was a virgin. She never spoke about her father, but would often complain about Carleen and the rest of her family. Alicia said they knew something was amiss but didn’t press her.

Now, Bethany and Alicia are Brigitte’s main connection to the outside world. They have visited her in the psychiatric ward of Elmhurst Hospital, where she was briefly sent by authorities, and they have sent cards and collected memorabilia of better times for her. They are fiercely protective of their friend, angrily defending her against naysayers who have posted nasty messages on her MySpace page. They bristle when Carleen arrives late or not at all for Brigitte’s court dates. They were the ones who spent a couple of weeks cleaning out Brigitte’s apartment, which was ransacked by police ostenibly in the search for the severed penis. Most afternoons, Brigitte calls Alicia and Bethany on the limited phone time allotted at Rikers. On one such phone call, Brigitte agreed to speak briefly with the Voice.


“I’m drugged up, so it’s actually pretty easy,” Brigitte says about doing time. She mentioned that Rikers is better than the women’s shelter she stayed in after Carleen kicked her out several years ago, and better than Elmhurst
Hospital, where she was never allowed outdoors. Sounding calm and unperturbed, she named several medications she had been given to regulate her mood, sleeping, and suicidal thoughts. She has been in and out of suicide watch since checking herself into the psych ward of Staten Island’s Bayley Seton Hospital the day of the murder. At one point, Brigitte was trying to cut her wrists with a toothbrush. That was before the psychiatric drugs took effect. “She’s now the most chipper I’ve ever heard her,” Alicia said.

Dr. Nicoletta Pallotta, chair of a nonprofit in Brooklyn called Women Against Violence, says that Brigitte likely suffers from a dissociative disorder, in which a person becomes disconnected from their emotions or thoughts. Pallotta has been informally counseling Brigitte by phone for several months, and says Brigitte’s reaction is common among sexual-abuse survivors whose memories of rape become overwhelming. “She was talking about it as though she wasn’t connected to it—about the fact that she killed him,” Pallotta says. “She tried to get something from him and didn’t get it. She wanted him to apologize.”

Carleen, meanwhile, plans to continue investigating her father’s actions. She believes her dad may have abused several other children in his care, including a 15-year-old half-sister in Liberia and the daughter of a family friend. “Once this is settled with my sister, I intend to prove full-blast that, look, he was a bastard!” When asked whom she wants to prove it to, Carleen squinted her eyes and growled back, “The Goodridges.”


War and Fleece: Niccol-Plated Gun Runner Satire Shoots Blanks

Let no one say that Lord of War lacks for auteurist aspiration. In the opening-title sequence, set to the strains of Buffalo Springfield’s hippie anthem “For What It’s Worth,” the camera takes the perspective of a bullet as it journeys from assembly line to rifle chamber to small boy’s forehead, this last impact dramatically discharging the final credit on the screen: “Written and directed by Andrew Niccol.” Screenwriter of The Truman Show, Niccol previously helmed Gattaca, which imagined a future apartheid between test-tube supermen and naturally conceived shmoes, and S1m0ne, a similarly flat-footed media satire about a frustrated director who whips up a starlet from CGI scratch. With his confused, distended latest, Niccol relocates from the desert of the real to the global killing fields, but as slick, flashy public-service announcements go, Lord of War is no Constant Gardener.

Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is the man with the gun over there, be it Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, or most other war zones of the given moment. As the striver child of Russian immigrants in mob-ruled Little Odessa, Yuri concludes from available evidence that weaponry is an insatiable market; he flexes connections at a local synagogue to make his first sale to an Israeli agent and taps his soused old uncle back in the just-collapsed Soviet Union to help him raid mother Russia’s stockpile—thus one-upping his sole apparent rival, a Cold War dinosaur played by Ian Holm. Now reckoning himself the world’s preeminent arms dealer, this rhapsodist of the Kalashnikov acquires his teenage wet dream (Bridget Moynahan) and eludes the relentless Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) at every turn, tramping from bedlam to bedlam with just a couple of suitcases and no apparent security detail, excepting the occasional assist from his cokehead little bro, Vitaly (Jared Leto).

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. Yuri will happily arrange an armored personnel carrier for psychotic self-proclaimed Liberian president Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker); its possible uses are none of the salesman’s business. In his conviction that humans are hard-wired to kill each other—and thus to buy his products—Orlov is the purest vessel of the Darwinian free market imaginable. (He politely overlooks the fact that most of the people firing and being fired upon by his guns are poor and black, lest it upset his notion of natural laws.) Niccol’s fatal error is in making the protagonist at once amoral and insipid, an admixture thickened by Cage’s loquacious yet stoned voice-over and Moynahan’s moist-eyed tremblings as the trophy wife. As our host drones on and on over cartoon-panel carnage, Lord of War resembles less ripped-from-the-headlines agitprop than an overgrown adolescent’s hermetic fantasia, and we never get out of his head.


Gullah Gullah Island

Pinkie-size shrimp caught in South Carolina waters—where tides wash around dozens of barrier islands that are mainly marsh, palmetto, and scrub oak—enliven the stunning Gullah dish “swimpen graby.” I first encountered it at Belle’s, a small sunny café in Beaufort that, like most island cafés, serves only breakfast and lunch. Its shrimp and gravy looks like a giant fried egg with the colors reversed: a corona of coarse yellow grits spreads across the plate, while shrimp cooked with bacon and onions holds down the white center. Though the rest of the menu is principally Deep South and low-country cooking, there are other faithful Gullah recipes on the menu, including okra soup and Frogmore stew.

Gullah is the name used by escaped and freed black slaves who remained in the barrier islands of South Carolina after the Civil War. Many had worked on rice plantations, and they retained their love of rice and knowledge of how to cultivate it, by draining swampland, planting seeds, and reflooding the land in a controlled manner, using tools and methods developed in Africa. Their presence in the Carolinas was the result of “slave shopping” along the windward coast of West Africa, whereby slave owners sought slaves who had the technical knowledge of how to grow rice. Indeed, Gullah probably refers to the Gola, a tribe that continues to inhabit coastal areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia today.

Across the bridge from Beaufort lies St. Helena, another barrier island that sits flat on the horizon. Though encroaching development has grabbed the most attractive seaside plots, the center of the island remains a maze of dirt roads, broken-down trailers, and wooden shacks, many in small communities called settlements that resemble West African villages in layout. In the center of the island, the sole town is known as Four Corners to the Gullah, Frogmore to outsiders. At Johnson Creek Restaurant and Tavern, next to a marina on the eastern edge of the island, I had my first taste of Frogmore stew. It featured shrimp cooked with bell peppers, onions, potatoes, and smoked pork sausage in the manner of a New England boiled dinner. The flavor, though, was entirely Gullah.

I recently spent six days driving the back roads and barrier islands between Hilton Head and Georgetown, South Carolina. Leisure residential development, resulting in nightmares like Hilton Head, is rapidly diminishing the Gullah presence in these islands, and I went to take a last look at a culture in danger of extinction. My best culinary glimpse came on Edisto Island, away from the sprawling summer homes of city folk. There, at Main’s Market, a ramshackle country store, tourist shop, and garden center, I encountered an amazing buffet. The simple food was vegetable intensive, and mainly grown locally. Little was fried. I enjoyed a dish called tomato pie, involving sliced tomatoes stuffed with local herbs and topped with bread crumbs, and a marvelous gumbo—not the seafood and sausage stew we associate with New Orleans but a fundamental soup of okra, tomatoes, and corn that preserves the okra pods intact.

Not surprisingly, the gumbo reminded me of something I’d eaten in a Ghanaian restaurant just the week before.


Trying Times in Little Liberia

Staten Island’s more than 6,000 Liberians stand as New York City’s most vivid living testimonial to the destruction caused by Charles Taylor. Starting from the day in 1989 when the American-educated Taylor, a protégé of Muammar Qaddafi, fought his way out of the bush and into power, a generation of Liberians has fled, many of them to the U.S. The luckiest of the survivors found a new home in the neighboring communities of Stapleton and Clifton, on the hillside overlooking the Verrazano Narrows.

This recent migration to the United States eerily mirrors a migration from here to Africa beginning in the 1820s by a similar number of former American slaves, a movement that led to the founding of Liberia in 1847. Liberia took on the laws and traditions of the U.S., from the strict class divisions adopted from a society of slaves and masters to the stars and stripes of its flag.

Divided though they may be, Staten Island’s Liberian émigrés watched Taylor’s regime with the same question burning inside. It’s like Morris Sesay, a 63-year-old refugee living on Park Hill Avenue, said: “All this time I’ve been here, I have never been happy. I’ve been confused. I’ve been worried. How will God get rid of this man?”

Sesay’s question was answered when Taylor finally left Liberia for exile in Nigeria. But that didn’t make Sesay’s life whole. “I would very much love to go back to Liberia for a visit,” he says. “But I have no home. This has destroyed me. My only brother was killed. He was slaughtered like a sheep or goat. My mother was shot in her back—cowardly shot in her back when she was going to rescue her son.”

Like Sesay, most Staten Island Liberians have fractured families—some members are dead, others live in fear among armed militias, and some have fled to refugee camps in Guinea and Ghana, where they find themselves in immigration limbo.

Etta Roberts, 70, who has been in the U.S. for four years, battles high blood pressure and raises two grandsons while she tries to reach out to her children in increments of $5. That’s the cost of a phone card to dial Ghana, where Jonathan, George, and Estella remain in a refugee camp awaiting approval to enter the U.S. “Ghana camp is a bad place,” said Roberts. “A refugee camp is a place where you just have to be strong. People are dying there all the time. There’s sickness. When the $5 card finishes, I can’t talk with them again and I start crying.”

Roberts and other Liberians entered the U.S. in record numbers in the 1990s, when they were guaranteed temporary status as refugees both by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a presidential directive. But after 9-11, those numbers plummeted. “Instead of having a charter flight of 300, we’re seeing groups of 35 coming on commercial flights,” says Susan Baukhages of the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service, which helps connect Liberian refugees with relatives in the U.S. “What we hear from the State Department is that it is not safe to have circuit riders there.” She’s referring to U.S. personnel who conduct final immigration processing on the ground in foreign countries. That role has since been transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. “There’s a team that has been doing the circuit [of refugee centers] between Guinea and Ghana,” says Bill Strassberger, a Homeland Security spokesman. “Immediately after 9-11, we had to pull the circuit riders for security concerns.” Strassberger says fraudulent claims of relationships plague many applications, because sanctuary usually depends on Liberians’ having a relative already in the U.S. Often these claims are based, he says, on a conception of relationships that doesn’t stand up to American conventions and Homeland Security requirements.

Whatever the reasons, African refugee admissions increased 70 percent between 1997 and 2001 but dropped in 2002, and the proportion of refugees admitted from Africa fell precipitously. Most local Liberians live in Park Hill, a neighborhood that shares its name with the dozen or so buildings of a public-housing project on Park Hill Avenue that draws intensive patrols under the NYPD’s Operation Impact. The neighborhood can be tough, but it’s not as rough as back home. Relatives tell New York’s Liberians the familiar stories of rebels—this time anti-Taylor ones—advancing on villages, where they rape and loot and force children to join them as soldiers.

As the U.S. invasion of Iraq unfolded earlier this year, many local Liberians appealed for an intervention on their behalf. But when the U.S. poised a force of Marines off Monrovia, there was little consensus on exactly how such an intervention should happen. Few agree now that this pressure was the root cause of Taylor’s departure. But many concur on one thing, as Emmanuel Fallah, 31, the choir director at Christ Assembly Lutheran Church, puts it: “The way the United States has dragged her feet, a lot of people have died.”

Many Liberian refugees still feel that they’re in a no-man’s-land. “Our African American brothers, every time when they see us walking down the street, they try to bother us,” says Hassan Fofana, a 20-year-old student at Staten Island Community College who works at a Home Depot. “I mean it’s all over the place. Some say we are animals, we don’t belong here, and we should go back to our country, because we are here taking their money. So I don’t really feel fine.”

It’s all the more troubling to Fofana because, like many other Liberians, he knows he has a strong link to the U.S. “History tells me most African Americans have connections,” he says. “I believe that my great-grandparents came from this country as slaves, and I still have the belief that I have some connection to this country.”

That connection is a central feature of Liberian identity. Liberians who descended from the former slaves consider themselves Americo-Liberians, a minority that has long received special status and privileges in Liberia. The distinction remains relevant to Liberian politics, both at home and in Staten Island.

A recent election in the Staten Island Liberian Association split along these lines, notes Fallah. “You found most native Liberians supporting the native Liberian candidate and you found the Americo-Liberians supporting the Americo-Liberian candidate.” Other Liberian émigrés, however, dispute the impact of that class division. Fallah, whose father was Americo-Liberian and mother wasn’t, says, “I don’t belong to either group,” but he acknowledges that there’s a problem and says it “will never go away.”

For some refugees, like Musu Foryoh, 40, one’s homeland identity can be difficult baggage to carry into the U.S. Coming of age in Liberia was idyllic for Foryoh, whose father was a high official who served under three presidents, William Tubman, William Tolbert Jr., and Samuel K. Doe. “I lived all my life in Monrovia,” she says. “I lived in the mansion—like the White House. It was so sweet. During those days Liberia didn’t even look like Africa.”

Her father survived a coup in which Tolbert was executed, but he didn’t survive the 1990 coup during which Doe was tortured and executed. Foryoh’s mother and sister also died during that fighting.

“None of them have a grave,” she says. “Those are things when I sit down and I think about today I cry a lot.”


Diamonds in the Rough

In 1821 a group of freed American slaves retraced the steps of their forebears to West Africa to start a new country. At first the Africans didn’t want to turn over a huge hunk of land to the American blacks, but when a U.S. naval officer accompanying the group ordered the Africans at gunpoint to knock it off, they agreed to give it up for baubles and biscuits worth $300. The country of Liberia was founded.

The emigrating blacks proceeded to organize a society around the only social structure they had experienced, that of the antebellum South. So just like the Southern whites, they set up plantations, adopted the formal dress of Southern gentry, joined the Masons, sipped bourbon on the verandas, and sent their kids abroad to school. Liberia’s main city, Monrovia, is named after President Monroe. As for the Africans who worked the plantations, the transplanted former American slaves called them “aborigines.”

This is an admittedly thumbnail sketch of what President Bush last week referred to as Liberia’s “unique history,” which he said had created “a certain sense of expectations” about the U.S. getting involved in trying to stabilize it. During the 2000 election Bush came out against so-called nation building, but last week his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the president thinks the stability of West Africa is “important” to our interests. Last week Rice told reporters Bush felt it necessary to “bring about reconciliation” between Africa and America due to their odd ties, i.e., slavery, which she has termed America’s “birth defect.”

For more than a century, the bizarre experiment of Liberia, described in animated detail by David Lamb in his book The Africans, was held up as a model of stability—a republic where elected officials could actually live out their lives peacefully and die natural deaths. Through the cloned American class structure, Liberia’s natural resources, such as timber and diamonds, were thoroughly exploited, and it became home to the largest rubber plantation in the world, owned by Firestone. During the Cold War, Liberia became a sort of Fire Base Charlie for the U.S. in Africa, an HQ for communications and home to squads of CIA agents. President William Tubman lived out his life and died peacefully in July 1971. He was succeeded by William Tolbert, who ran a more or less OK government. But all good things sooner or later come to an end, and one night in April 1980, as Tolbert slept in his presidential bed, one of the “aborigines,” a young army sergeant called Samuel Doe, crept onto the presidential grounds, climbed the wall, and entering the president’s bedroom, gouged out one of his eyes, and hacked him to death. Soon Doe’s followers were rounding up the aristocratic heirs of Liberia’s founders, subjecting them to humiliating show trials, and finally carting them down to the beach, where, in a festive atmosphere, they were all shot. Doe was subsequently murdered in 1990 by his opponents. The army that stormed Doe’s palace wore shower caps, to protect them from the rain, and recently looted wedding dresses, while a rival faction wore hairpieces taken from women’s wig stores. What was going on here is unclear.

During the ’70s, a Liberian named Charles Taylor attended Bentley College in Massachusetts, and became active in a Liberian-American association. After college, he returned home and took a job in Doe’s government. In that capacity he reportedly exposed wrongdoings by Doe but also discovered that Doe was out to get him and returned to the U.S. Here, Taylor was arrested on the basis of Doe’s claim that he had embezzled funds. At the time, Taylor’s attorney was New York activist Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general. Clark told the Voice Monday that to the best of his recollection, Doe’s embezzlement charges didn’t amount to anything. Clark’s defense focused not on the merits of the charges but on fighting extradition, arguing that Taylor would be killed if he were turned over to Doe. Amid all this, Taylor escaped from the Plymouth County House of Corrections in Massachusetts. “It’s not clear what happened,” Clark said. “It seemed like it wasn’t something Taylor organized. Some people were going to try to get out, and he went with them.”

Taylor disappeared into Western Europe and then turned up in Africa, becoming a powerful warlord in Liberia, helping to overthrow Doe and ultimately capturing most of the country before winning the presidency in 1997. Under his rule, Liberia has been even more anarchic and violent.

An exhaustive UN probe, which in 2000 produced UN Panel of Experts Report on Diamonds and Arms in Sierra Leone, spells out how Taylor became a player in the violent civil war in Liberia’s neighbor. He arranged financing and military training for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel movement in Sierra Leone, thereby making himself a key cog in the world diamond business.

Packets of Sierra Leone diamonds passed directly to Taylor, according to the UN report, and Liberia became the brokerage where millions of dollars’ worth of what became known as “blood diamonds” were traded for military hardware, mostly light weapons, to supply the RUF.

At press time, Taylor had agreed, under pressure from the U.S. and others, to leave Liberia, but the U.S.’s policy objectives require a more stable government in Liberia anyway. In the first place, with the war on terror replacing the Cold War, Liberia could serve as a listening post and operations center for combating Al Qaeda and other militant groups in Africa.

This is important because West Africa might well emerge as a major supplier to the U.S. of oil—and especially natural gas. An increased supply of natural gas is a cardinal part of Bush’s energy program. That in turn would mean carrying frozen natural gas across the ocean on special liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and building ports and processing stations. This is a highly controversial venture because an LNG explosion, either accidental or deliberate, would be devastating.

Any sort of regular LNG tanker operations across the Atlantic from West Africa to the East Coast inevitably would be accompanied by vastly increased military operations in the sea and air to protect the fuel from terrorists’ attacks.

Finally, Bush’s foray into Africa carries meaning for his re-election campaign. The religious right is taking credit for getting the president into Africa. Moreover, for 20 years the GOP right wing has drooled over the idea of breaking the Democratic Party’s grip on the black vote. Despite all his talk, Clinton did little for Africa, and indeed had to apologize for not acting in the Rwanda disaster. Should Bush actually get seriously involved in combating AIDS and poverty, and if he succeeds in stabilizing West Africa, he may at long last begin the process of pulling black votes from the Democrats.

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine


The Stranger

Racial profiling has gone from municipal scourge to Justice Department imperative in the last couple months, and the events behind Otomo are a reminder of its lethal risks. On the morning of August 9, 1989, in Stuttgart, Germany, a Liberian refugee named Frederic Otomo scuffled with a ticket taker on a public train and ran from the scene; three hours later, stopped for questioning on the Gaisburger Bridge by several policemen, he brandished a bayonet knife, murdering two officers and injuring three others before he was shot to death by one of the felled men.

Director Frieder Schlaich has crafted a speculative semi-fiction around the incident?parallel stories that collide and combust. The film begins in the daybreak hours, when Otomo (Isaach de Bankolé) leaves his Spartan apartment to gather with an otherwise all-white motley crew of drunks and vagrants hoping to be chosen for day labor, only to leave empty-handed for lack of proper ID. Otomo then proceeds inexorably to the streetcar struggle, the deadly encounter on the bridge, and the three hours in between, during which two young officers (played by Barnaby Metschurat and Hanno Friedrich) search for their conspicuously black suspect. Otomo’s actual whereabouts and activities during that time remain a mystery; Schlaich and co-screenwriter Klaus Pohl fill in the blanks with real-time swaths of Otomo’s impotent wandering, the cops’ close pursuit, and a wholly invented episode in which Otomo forges a brief, uneasy bond with a white woman, Gisela (frequent Fassbinder star Eva Mattes), who abets his flight.

As with Native Son, Otomo‘s free-fall trajectory implicitly grapples with the competing forces of environmental determinism and free will, presenting a central figure tyrannized by fear. The film allots far too much time to the cultural exchange program between the fugitive and his aide, in which Otomo can recap his sorrowful biography to a sympathetic audience surrogate. But the early scenes?aided by Volker Tittel’s dusky, blue-tinged cinematography?tersely establish Otomo’s everyday life as a chilly labyrinth of gaping stares, snide condescension, and no-exit desperation. Otomo documents the institutionalized racism and xenophobia that painted one man into a corner, while never excusing the terrible means by which he took his final escape.


The Liberian Avenger

Harper’s. Vanity Fair. The New Yorker. It’s no surprise these mags are all finalists in the Reporting category of the National Magazine Awards. But this year, the glossies are facing a dark horse. Human Rights Quarterly (HRQ), an academic journal with 2000 subscribers worldwide, has muscled in with a 19,000-word analysis of the human rights situation in Liberia.

“I’ve been in seventh heaven” since hearing the news, says HRQ editor Bert Lockwood. “It’s a surprise and an honor to be included.”

So what made the piece, by a 34-year-old lawyer named Kenneth Cain, worthy of contending with The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta and Seymour Hersh, whose coverage of Microsoft and the intelligence community was nominated in the same category? The other finalists are Paul Roberts, who covered the sugar industry for Harper’s, and Sebastian Junger and Janine Di Giovanni, who filed dispatches from Kosovo for Vanity Fair.

“The Rape of Dinah” chronicles a decade of unfettered execution, torture, rape, and cannibalism in Liberia. At the heart of the scandal are an estimated 50,000 rapes that went unprosecuted and uninvestigated, even as Bosnian atrocities reaped attention worldwide. “I thought I was inured to human rights tragedies, but I was driven to tears reading this,” says Lockwood, who has edited HRQ for 18 years. The story is not only “beautifully and compellingly written,” but also “one of the best pieces of reporting I have ever read.”

The American Society of Magazine Editors keeps its selection process hush-hush. ASME’s spokesperson would only say that 21 screeners chose the Reporting finalists from 130 entries, and the choices had to be ratified by four judges. If the judges were not satisfied with the finalists, they could add a new one from the pool. Reporting awards go to articles that “give a definitive account of . . . an event, a situation or a problem of contemporary interest or importance.”

Cain, author of “The Rape of Dinah,” calls himself a “total outsider” with “no connections to anyone” in the selection process. His sole qualification: He’s an angry young man. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, Cain signed on as a human rights monitor for the United Nations, which sent him to Haiti, Cambodia, Somalia, and Rwanda, where his job was to “go to mass grave sites and count the skulls.” The more deaths he saw, the more appalled he became at the UN’s cowardice and incompetence to respond. He recalls thinking, “Civilians are dying by the thousands, and no one’s doing anything.”

By the time he arrived in Liberia in 1995, he says, the institutional negligence was “out of control.” Cain’s mandate was to investigate reports of human rights abuses in Liberia, but the reality, he soon found, was that “hundreds of thousands of people were being killed and tens of thousands raped, and nobody knew and nobody cared!” Upon learning that his independence would be limited and his report “highly edited and sanitized,” Cain quit.

The scene: a hot night in Monrovia. “I would stare at the ceiling fan, sweating from malaria, and know that civilians were dying and being raped just a few kilometers away,” Cain recalls. His options, he felt, were to become an alcoholic, an investment banker, or a crusader. He took the high road, thanks to a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, whose current president is ex-New York Timesman Leslie Gelb. After a year of quiet research in New York, Cain produced his manifesto and sent it to HRQ. Lockwood accepted it on the spot.

“The Rape of Dinah” is understated, with only the occasional snapshot of teens fighting under the influence of “narcotics, cane juice, and voodoo” or of a bandit who “cut off a woman’s breast, roasting and eating it” while his victim bled to death. The piece is not only a chronicle of war crimes but a critique of the failure of the UN and the international community to respond in any constructive way. Cain contends that war crimes get more attention if the victims are white or if oil, U.S. security interests, or European or American soldiers are at stake.

“In a case like Liberia,” he says, “what you get is either deafening silence or a series of rote recitations.” Even when the human rights community offers concrete remedies, most are “totally unrealistic, righteous rhetoric, unconnected to actual human beings. I would rather see them funding a clinic for raped women in Monrovia than spending their resources saying the same thing all over again.” (Nota bene: HRQ pays authors and editors nothing.)

Cain’s competition includes “Hard Core,” Ken Auletta’s 16,000-word report on the Microsoft trial. New Yorker editor David Remnick calls it “an extraordinarily tough and fair-minded piece,” noting that “Ken had access to all the principals and that’s hard to get.” Remnick is proud to give reporters like Auletta or Seymour Hersh the time and space they deserve.

Hersh was nominated this year for three pieces, including analyses of the decline of the National Security Agency and the subversion of UNSCOM by the CIA. “What Sy does is enormously labor-intensive,” Remnick notes, “because you have to drill a lot of dry wells.” But the New Yorker editor would rather shell out for quality than be constrained by the banality of the bottom line. “The most cost-effective approach would be to do things that are merely quick and easy,” he says, but “you can’t sell yourself out in the short run and the long run.”

Vanity Fair‘s entries in the Reporting category are “Madness Visible,” by Janine Di Giovanni, a foreign correspondent for the Times of London, and “The Forensics of War,” by Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm. VF editor Graydon Carter says he was surprised, reading Junger’s piece, to find out how war crimes investigators in Kosovo do their job: “Your first inclination would be to think they go for mass graves and try to solve those cases, but instead, they go for things they think they can prove.”

Carter calls Di Giovanni “a brave woman” who “goes places few people would go.” In his eyes, she deserves credit simply for returning to the Balkans time and again. “Just the nerve of her going back—just the air flight to Kosovo. . . . ”

Harper’s contributing editor Paul Roberts spent about a year researching his 10,000-word piece “The Sweet Hereafter.” His editor, Clara Jeffery, calls Roberts a “great reporter and graceful writer” who “did an amazing job at integrating current events regarding the Everglades’ supposed cleanup and the history of the sugar industry.” She compares it to another Roberts piece about the timber industry, in that both show “how the government and the lobbyists affected legislation to the detriment of the environment.”

Dark horse Cain remains humble. “I’m gratified and surprised that the men and women who made this selection recognized the importance of the universality of the value of life,” he says, “even in forgotten corners of the world like Liberia.” <!— This document created using BeyondPress(TM) 4.0.1 For Macintosh —>