Today I’ll deviate from what I’ve been blogging about lately on human trafficking, I’ll take my readers to Iraq. I have two American friends who are working in Baghdad right now. They are friends of mine since we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m not sure they have connected with each other yet but we have mutual friends, it’s a small world after all. I’m glad we are Facebook friends because when I see their status updates, I know they are okay. When I don’t, I worry that something may have gone very wrong with security. Baghdad has had several explosions lately.
All that above as an introduction to our speaker we heard today at our Rotary meeting. A retired army officer talked for a half hour about his military experiences in Iraq from 2005-2008, almost three years. Col. Martin Breaker was in charge of detainee operations after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. He showed the four photos that went viral on the Internet and had more to do with putting Americans in harms way. He in fact, during his tenure as commanding officer, lost 17 soldiers under him. Always very sad.
I did not know, and maybe it was because I lived in Ukraine and never got the straight scoop, that it was American soldiers who had taken pictures of themselves in jail cells looking as if they were being tortured by Americans soldiers. The Abu Ghraib abuse scandal the media took to the extreme and didn’t give out the true facts. Two photos were made to look like Iraqi “victims” with their arms extended as if hanging on a cross (black mask over the head and in a black gown) The other two photos had threatening black dogs snarling fiercely at frightened supposed “detainees.”
How did these photos appear to the insurgency in Iraq who were being propagandized to hate Americans? Those two photos with extended arms were perceived as detainees being held at Abu Ghraib and tortured to become Christian. Anathema for those in this Muslim land of Iraq. Did these American “jokers” also know how lethal the symbolic meaning of having black dogs as attack dogs? We have our own superstitions about black cats but this was 100 times worse for any Iraqi civilian to see these photos. Because Mohammed’s son was killed by a black wolf, the Iraqis are terrified of black dogs. It goes far beyond superstition but a real phobia.
In any case, the usual suspects (Americans who posted these photos on the Internet) were rounded up and sent off to serve their own time in prison back in the U.S. I’m not sure that the media is ever penalized for aiding and abetting in not getting the accurate story out. What I found out from personal testimony of Martin Breaker was these errant soldiers did not have good leadership at this detention camp. Also they had been trained to be M.P.s and not simply guards for detainees. (the guards have non-lethal weapons with rubber bullets) Martin had to go in and clean up the mess and help befriend the Iraqi people who were scooped up for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If there had been a bombing or a blast, all in the area were considered suspects.
Who were these detainees at Abu Ghraib? Often the insurgents would find those who are extremely poor and offer them $300 to do the dirty work for them. Anything from digging ditches to setting off bombs. In some cases, they had no choice. Marty gave one example where the terrorists came to a home packed with Iraqi people. When they refused to comply, they took the youngest girl outside and shot her dead. Then the terrorists came back into the house to get the expected cooperation they had been initially looking for. Another case where there was a farmer living close to the 12 foot cement barriers surrounding the camp, he had a 16 year old daughter. The soldiers who were patrolling the camp would often throw over the wall some bottled water to give to the family. Turns out the insurgents killed the daughter because she had talked to Americans. Such is the hate of the terrorists for their own Iraqi people, think how much more they must hate the American soliders?
Martin’s job was to not only clean up the mess created by the Abu Ghraib photos that were used against Americans but to also get information from the Iraqis once they were befriended. He wanted to marginalize their effectiveness as terrorists by showing that they cared about them. The average time spent at the camp was 18 months and at one point there were 60,000 people, mostly young men between the ages of 18-29. To adhere to Geneva Convention protocol, millions of dollars were spent to make sure they had three meals a day and clean water and also shoes on their feet. Many Iraqis had never owned a pair of shoes before. Their tents were air conditioned which was especially helpful when the temps in the summer would shoot up to 127 F degrees. Each person was provided a prayer mat and also a Koran if they could read it. Some of them realized that they had been lied to about the good will of Americans.
Many of these poor people who had been abused by their own Iraqi government before and then were being terrorized by the insurgents, when they were processed into the detention camps some had very severe health issues. Saddam Hussein had not helped his people and those considered wealthy were people who could afford medicine. One problem when administering remedies for the high frequency of diabetes and T.B. was that people would hoard their medication and not take it. Those in charge with the diagnosis had to make sure they would make themselves better and not try to sell the medication once released. Those with T.B. were isolated for about six weeks from the rest of the camp.
What was their favorite thing to watch on t.v. or watching movies? Mickey Mouse cartoons. Were there women? Yes there were some. Also families were allowed to visit which boosted the morale of those detained. Martin talked of one man who was being interrogated for information that might lead to better intelligence (no waterboarding was used). There was one old man for six months who would not talk, they dubbed him Mr. Mute. Once they got a woman officer who was 30 years younger to come in to ask him questions, all of a sudden he started talking and giving valuable info. He continually asked her to marry him. She, of course, had no interest but hey, whatever works.
I had asked if there were some who did NOT want to leave the detention centers. Afterall, for some of the Iraqis, they had never been treated better or fed so well. Martin had an answer where an older gentleman didn’t want to go back home because he had four wives that would be nagging him.
Martin also talked about the trial for Saddam Hussien which could take a whole ‘nother blog but suffice it to say that being in this madman’s presence was enough to know he was a psychopath. Martin said it would be easy to imagine Saddam talking to two people, shoot the one person dead and continue to talk to the fortunate living person as if nothing had happened. He complained of many things and once the verdict was found he was guilty, Saddam was released by Martin and the U.S. military into the hands of the Iraqi people. You know the rest of the story…
Martin ended his slide show with “Freedom is Never Free.” That can be true for any country, any time period. Our American freedom was bought with a price, maintaining our freedom from two world wars meant great sacrifice. I fear that we trivialize our freedoms and the Arab world is preying upon what we have. The use of terror was something that Stalin was adept at. Btw, Saddam had his library full of books about Stalin, so he was taking his marching orders from a fellow madman. I hope that my American friends stay safe in an environment that is very volatile. I’m glad that Martin shared from his perspective what it was like to be in a place where he was shot at and threatened with mortars on a daily basis.
We have SOOO much to be thankful for and I believe we need to personally thank our servicemen and women who give up their family life and comfortable homes to do the dirty work for us, making our lives free and secure.