The panic over the remote threat of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States has invited comparisons with the hysteria, quarantines and stigmatization of patients and health care workers brought on by the H.I.V./AIDS crisis. The veteran AIDS activist Gregg Gonsalves wrote in an article for The New England Journal of Medicine online on Nov. 5, “History is repeating itself, as the irrational, punitive measures deployed in the AIDS epidemic 30 years ago are revived.” And he insists that while health and government officials have plenty to learn from the missteps of the 1980s, AIDS is not yet history.
Today H.I.V. remains the world’s leading infectious killer. Last year, 1.5 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, died of AIDS-related causes, according to the World Health Organization. While the availability of antiretroviral therapy has expanded greatly in recent years, allowing those with H.I.V. to live longer, healthier lives, almost 22 million people still lack access to this therapy. The singer Elton John recently noted in a New York Times op-ed that in the United States, awareness of H.I.V. among groups with high rates of infection is distressingly low. Roughly 12 percent of gay and bisexual men are H.I.V. positive, but a Kaiser Family Foundation study found only a third of that population knew infections were on the rise and a majority were “not concerned” about becoming infected.
Of course H.I.V./AIDS is not a problem only for the LGBT community, any more than Ebola is a concern only for West Africans. Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, comes as a reminder that in our ever-more-connected society, threats to human health cannot be contained by borders—and neither should our compassion and generosity for those in need.
Killing Bin Laden—Again
The death of Osama bin Laden in an early morning raid by a Navy SEAL team on May 2, 2011, provoked a variety of reactions: a sense of satisfaction for revenge for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; regret that bin Laden had not been brought to trial; and a reminder that every person’s death is a tragedy. Those emotions have returned thanks to unseemly, competing accounts of exactly what happened in that Pakistani compound.
In No Easy Day, Matt Bissonette, using the pen name Mark Owen, describes how the assault team’s point man first shot bin Laden in the head; then he and another man found him “twitching and convulsing” and finished him off. Today he faces a court judgment to forfeit $4.5 million in royalties for failing to put the book through the proper security review at the Pentagon. And now the former Navy SEAL Robert O’Neill claims he is the one who confronted bin Laden in his room holding one of his wives and shot him twice in the head, then shot him again. Mr. O’Neill’s accounts have included colorful details: God put him on earth to do this mission; he shot him the third time “for good luck”; and bin Laden’s “brains were spilling out on his face.” His former commander says Mr. O’Neill did not play “a singular role” in the mission.
To kill a prisoner when arrest is possible (as some suspect was the case here) violates the natural law, even if military practice condones it. To brag about it publicly degrades the braggart, his comrades and the presumably just cause for which a war is fought. Perhaps the closest Mr. O’Neill has come to the truth was during an interview with Esquire when he stated: “Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst?”
Crossroads in Mexico
After an investigation that has dragged on for months, the Mexican government on Nov. 7 offered a grim finding on the fate of 43 missing students that it apparently hopes will put an end to a national uproar. Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam reports that the students, who disappeared in southern Mexico in September, were abducted by police on the orders of a local mayor, then turned over to a local drug gang, which executed them, burned their bodies and tossed the charred remains into a river. Mr. Murillo attempted to cut off further questions about this sordid tale with a dismissive, “Enough, I’m tired.”
The remark infuriated ordinary Mexicans, who are indeed far more tired than Mr. Murillo, tired of government corruption and of the violence that has been a plague across the land. After years enduring a war on drugs that after eight years generated more than 106,000 deaths—98 percent of which have gone unpunished—Mexicans could be forgiven if they had become inured to the nation’s violence. But this latest outrage has broken something wide open in Mexican society. Increasingly passionate demonstrations suggest that average citizens are no longer going to tolerate the rot within Mexico’s police, military and government.
President Enrique Peña Nieto met with the parents of the missing young people in October and pledged to continue the investigation “wherever [it] leads.” But now he has troubles of his own and is struggling to explain why his $8 million home is registered to a company associated with a Chinese-led consortium that was awarded a no-bid $3.7 billion contract in November to build a high speed rail link. Mexican protesters have their work cut out for them.