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Ed Colby: Friends make the difference

In 1996, when I wrote to Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu in Ashkelon prison, I made it clear I carried no clout.

He wrote back: “Don’t worry you are not Jimmy Carter, but you can be my friend and I need any one who can support me and do for my release …”

A year later, when ex-President Carter came to ski, Sue got assigned to him. You might know Sue. She got all the ski patrol VIP escort duties. Sue is … how should I put this? Sue is not a political animal. Sue is a deep-powder junkie and a live wire. She can’t help it.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a no-nuke pacifist, when it suits me. I can’t help that either.

So I said, “Sue, would you do me a favor?”

She said, “Anything, Ed.” (Anything? You gotta love her style!)

I said, “When you’re riding the chair with Jimmy, would you mind telling him I need to meet with him?”

She said, “Wow, Ed. I suppose. What’s up?”

I said, “I want to talk to Jimmy about Mordechai Vanunu, a guy in prison for exposing Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.”

“Never heard of him,” Sue said.

“He worked for nine years at the Dimona weapons plant in the Negev Desert, and he had this conscience problem,” I said. “He went public in the London Sunday Times in 1986, but the Israeli secret police lured him to Rome with a brunette. Then they kidnapped him, shipped him to Israel, and the state of Israel convicted him at secret trial. He’s in solitary. Has been for years. Sue, I need just 10 minutes with Jimmy Carter.”

Sue and I are friends of long standing, but we don’t exactly hang out. For sure we never talk politics. I wondered what she might say next.

She paused for a rare instant, then looked me in the eye. “Ed, I’ve got your back,” she said.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

Now Sue’s dark eyes flashed. “I’ll say whatever I please to Jimmy Carter,” she said. “This is America.”

Then she threw her skis over her shoulder and ran up the stairs.

When Sue reported back, she said, “Jimmy said, `Who’s Mordechai Vanunu?’ When I told him what you told me, he said, `It would be better if Ed wrote to me. I’m not avoiding this. It’s just better if he sends a letter.'”

When I wrote to Jimmy, I included Vanunu’s prison-censored letter with its razor-cutout words. One line read, “I needed some great man to hold him as my `campaigner’ and he was Jesus.”

I wrote: “Vanunu is fortunate to have Jesus as his `campaigner,’ but he needs an earthly great man to act for him, too.”

I never heard back from Carter, but at the end of May I received a letter from his human rights consultant, Helena Nygren Krug. She said her office was reviewing the Vanunu case but called it “difficult and complex particularly given the political circumstances.”

A few weeks later she called. She said Vanunu was now a Jimmy Carter “candidate for intervention.”

In April 1998 Carter sent a letter to his old friend, Israeli President Ezer Weizmann, asking him to pardon Mordechai Vanunu, then in his 12th year of imprisonment.

Vanunu remains in jail, though no longer confined to his cell. Despite earlier concern that as a “security prisoner,” he might be kept beyond his 18-year term, Vanunu is scheduled to be released in April 2004. Credit pressure from human rights groups worldwide – and influential statesmen like Jimmy Carter.

Everybody wants to make a difference. If I made one, it was all because of Sue. Because when I asked if she’d do me a favor, she smiled and said, “Anything, Ed.”

[Beekeeper and ski patroller Ed Colby thinks Jimmy and Sue are both so cool. Ed’s e-mail: esc@sopris.net]


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