Thursday, June 09, 2005

Abu Ghraib

They were clearly terrified. Blindfolded, with their hands bound in front of them, they stumbled from the holding facility into the heat. The military police, looking impossibly young behind their red, sweat slicked faces guided them firmly up the removable steps and into the waiting armored pickup truck. The detainees gratefully sank down and kneeled, when the MPs pressed firmly down on the back of their neck. Some, I noticed, began to pray.

They were generally fighting age men. However, there were exceptions. One was barely old enough to call the peach fuzz on his face a beard, and another was graying and bald. A few wore an assortment of western style clothes, but most wore the traditional robe and all wore open toe sandals.

All, without exception, were filthy. Their clothing was stained and rank. All of them stank, giving off a vile, putrid odor, as of something rotting. All had refused the showers and clean clothing offered to them.

Watching them weep into their blindfolds, and mumble thru their prayers almost made me feel sorry for them. “Sergeant,” I said to the supervising NCO, “can I see their files?” He handed me a stack of papers, several inches thick. The old man, with the gray thinning hair, was not simply just a truck driver and part time cab driver. The digital photos showed parts of radios and garage door openers and cellular phones taken apart and stacked in heaps on a worktable in his house. A bomb maker. The skinny young fellow with the brown skin and rough beard was not just a chicken farmer with his father and brother. Mixed in with a weapons cache, explosives, and $17,000 found in feed sacks in his barn, were 15 IDs identifying him variously as a member of the department of industry, a former member of the Baath Party, a member of Saddam's secret police, and an ID card that had his photo and “Iraqi Intelligence Service.” One of Saddam's cronies. Probably a murderer. Certainly a financier and arms supplier. What the politicians call “a former regime loyalist.” I stopped feeling sorry for them.

We convoyed from the holding facility to Abu Ghraib. At first sight, my breath was taken away. Abu Ghraib was huge. Its concrete walls and guard towers stretched out before me into the distance. The whole, a mass of dust, heat, barbed wire, and concrete barriers. Torn and shattered concrete. Rusting and bent sheet metal. The walls scorched and stained by insurgent attacks. As we pull into the gate, we find out that just this morning, Abu Ghraib had been attacked with mortars, small arms fire, and rockets. With the detainees housed in tents, the insurgents don’t even care if they kill their own. Here, the soldiers wear their body armor and helmets even when they are inside the buildings.

I take the detainees personal effects in to the clerk who bags them and logs them. When the detainees are released, they will get their personal items back. I hand him a plastic bag with $17,000 cash in it. He signs over the chain of custody documents. Even for the bag holding nothing but a lighter and pack of “Miami” cigarettes. I noticed the Iraqis smoke a lot of Miamis. They also smoke Gallouises.

They bring the detainees in, six at a time, and place a jumpsuit and towel at their feet. The military police light sticks of incense and stick them into the walls next to each detainee to mask the overpowering stench. They are given new sandals if they have none. One man sees the jumpsuit at his feet, leans his head against the wall, and begins to urinate all over himself. A puddle forms at his feet, and the military policeman jumps back swearing. Another, to the right, begins to swoon. He moans, leans over, and vomits. The sergeant in charge calls the medics, who give him water. He instantly recovers.

One I notice, has three tattooed dots on his left hand. He has something tattooed in Arabic on his right hand. On his skinny brown arm, is a tattoo of an "F", surrounded by a heart with wings. “What, is that?” I nudge the MP. He looks up from his paperwork and focuses on the tattoo. “One of Saddams, Fedayeen… that is their mark” I look at the dark face with bushy eyebrows and narrow eyes. Those sworn to die for Saddam. One of his legions of suicide bombers and brutal thugs and executioners. Then I notice his hands… he is missing the last third of each of his middle fingers. The scars closing the wounds are red and puckered and have not healed well. The MP sees it also. “Saddam would have done that to him. As a Fedayeen, he must have fucked up… its how they were punished.” He walks up to the Fedayeen and points to his arm. “Fedayeen?” “No”, the man replies, shaking his head emphatically, “No.” The sergeant turns to me and grimaces, “Bullshit, those are Fedayeen tattoos, on his arm and his hand… and losing his fingers is a Fedayeen punishment…. But he will never admit it.” He then looks back at the Fedayeen and shrugs, “No, you'll never own up to what you are and what you have done… will you?” The Fedayeen looks up for a second at the sergeant with his dull brown eyes and then drops his gaze to his sandaled feet before being marched further into the recesses of Abu Ghraib.


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