Adam Ash

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq: who will be the last man to die for Bush's lies?

1. Last to Die for Bush's and His Pals' @#&*%$#^ Lies -- by Meteor Blades/Daily Kos

I don’t know anything about the psychology of numbers. Specifically, the magnetism round numbers seem to have for us, specifically round numbers ending in zeroes. It’s an attraction that can’t be denied. Such a number is closing in on us right now. It could arrive before the New Year. A number that will receive – no matter how transient and meaningless it actually is – extensive blog and megamedia attention. 3000. The horrible tally of U.S. troops dead in Iraq.

Let me tell you about two young men. Their résumés are short. They died young.

Lance Corporal Darwin Judge

Darwin Judge was a recently deployed 19-year-old when he was killed. Born and raised in Marshalltown, Iowa, he was active in his church and Boy Scouts, pitched for his All-Star team in Little League games, got his first newspaper route at age 8. At 16, he went to work at a grocer’s. Summers he baled hay. He loved riding his motorcycle and woodworking, at which he excelled. He made a grandfather clock for his mother. He signed up for the Marines his senior year in high school, completed basic training after graduating and was shipped overseas. Two weeks after being assigned to his detachment he was killed.

Corporal Charles McMahon

Charles McMahon was not quite 22 when he was killed. He grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts. As a kid he earned pocket money mowing lawns and delivering papers. He and a good friend practically lived at the local Boys Club, shooting pool, playing ping pong, but most of all learning how to swim and dive. McMahon spent so much time swimming that when he was old enough, the club hired him to teach other kids. It’s said he was good with them. The club’s director, a former Marine, drew McMahon’s avid attention with his stories of the Corps. At 19, McMahon joined, assigned at first to the Military Police. After a year and a half, he signed up for a special course of intense security training. Two weeks after being assigned to his detachment, he was killed.

If you’re thinking of looking for Charles McMahon or Darwin Judge listed at the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site, forget it. You won’t find them counted on the site’s map either.

Neither were they among those whose names some compatriots and I read aloud on a corner near a Southern California shopping center nearly six months ago.

Because these brave men weren’t killed in Iraq. They were two of the last Americans killed in Vietnam 31 years ago.

The last two to die, not for a mistake, as Senator Kerry would have it, but for a pack of lies. Lies long since exposed, yet repeated even today by imperialist ideologues whose spilling of other people’s blood and spending of other people’s treasure is the highest form of patriotism. From their perspective, you’re either with them or you’re a naïf afloat in a tooth-and-claw world you’re too innocent and uninformed to comprehend.

This week, as I awaited and then read the "bipartisan" Baker-Hamilton Commission’s belated assessment and mostly obsolete-on-arrival recommendations for unfubaring what that man in the White House and his pals have done, I thought a lot about McMahon and Judge, men I never knew. I also thought about Manny Miller, my high school friend, killed in Vietnam in 1965, aged 19, months before American fatalities reached 3000 there.

Mostly, however, I thought about who will be the last Americans to die in this latest war built on a pack of lies, lies exposed yet still repeated by that man in the White House, his pals and their stinking coterie of embedded pundits.

One of the last Americans to die for these lies may have just turned 16. She could be sitting in front of her computer in eastern Oregon searching for more information about the Mexican-American War for the research paper her teacher assigned. Or working her after-school job at Mickey D’s in southern Indiana. She may speak Spanish at home. She could die before she’s legally old enough to drink. Another of the last may be 37 right now, with 15 years of Army service and a sleeve full of stripes. He may have arrived home this week on early leave for the Christmas holidays to see his wife and kids. After which he’ll go back for his third tour in Iraq.

The last could be anyone of any color, religion, political party, ethnicity, linguistic heritage or set of life skills. She could be a whiz on a skateboard. He could play fantastic blues on the piano. They could be only children, or have a ton of siblings. She could be gay. He could be straight.

We don’t know who these last will be or when they will die. We do know that a great many others will precede them. Perhaps thousands of others. All because that man in the White House and his pals and the pundits and some riff-raff known as public intellectuals mixed some truths, some half-truths, some quarter-truths and some outright fabrications into a propaganda barrage devoted to persuading enough people not to stand in the way of their morally squalid project. Their murderous project. Concocted in their years out of power and conveniently launched from atop the rage engendered by Nine-Eleven.

A project that has wedged us into what many believe is a can’t-stay, can’t-go situation.

Three thousand dead Americans from the Navy, the Army, the Marines, the Air Force and the National Guard will soon be in the count. Dead, in many cases, as we have seen, because of the incompetent know-it-allness of an Administration still swarming with chickenhawks. But dead, fundamentally, because of lies. Killed, like McMahon and Judge, heroically trying to save the lives of others . Or killed like my friend, Manny, just for being in the wrong place when the shrapnel came tumbling out of the night.

Whether shattered by an IED at some crossroads in al-Anbar province, Xed out by a sniper round to the throat deep inside Baghdad or crushed in a Humvee rollover in Mosul makes no difference. Heroic or not, no difference. They are dead for lies. Futilely dead. Dead because war criminals sent them abroad fraudulently in the name of liberation, security and prevention.

Dead because of people who waved the bloody shirt of Nine-Eleven in one hand, Old Glory in the other, and simultaneously managed to shred our Constitution and decades of international law. People whose closest brush with battle was reading the Cliff’s Notes version of Sun Tzu, which they promptly forgot. People who, if this were a just world, would soon be making journeys in shackles to The Hague.

As I said, I don’t understand the allure of round numbers. Especially in this case. Because they don’t come close to telling the real story. Already, as of today, 3174 coalition fighters have died in Iraq. Mostly Americans, to be sure, but also dead are Brits, Australians, Bulgarians, Danes, Italians, Salvadorans, Hungarians, Estonians, Dutch, Thais, Romanians, Slovakians, Urkrainians, Poles and a Kazakh and a Latvian. If you add in the contractors and the journalists , hundreds more are dead.

Not to mention the dead Iraqis. Who knows how many? Estimates diverge wildly. Let me just say I think any count below hundreds of thousands is off the mark. Hundreds of thousands dead, still larger numbers injured or maimed, more than a million in exile, several hundred thousand internally displaced. All for a pack of lies.

The best face that can be put on the Baker-Hamilton Commission is that it has told part of the truth about Iraq. The mission isn’t accomplished. Major combat operations have not ceased. Progress has not been made in quelling the violence, in stopping the insurgency and the sectarian massacres, or in slowing the slide toward full-blown civil war. Who can deny that it’s refreshing to finally hear an official body concede the gravity of the situation. So huzzah for that.

But what’s missing from that document they’ve been working on since the Ides of March is an assessment of the lies that took us to Iraq, not just the screw-ups that have taken place since the U.S. shocked and awed everyone. The recommendations making up such a large part of the commission’s report might have achieved their ends if implemented two or three years ago. But now? Missing from the assessment and from those recommendations is a broader truth: American troops cannot be the solution because they have become so much the problem. Also missing - understandably given the "bipartisan" but far from balanced nature of the commission - are recommendations for a complete makeover, a paradigm shift, if you will excuse the cliché, in U.S. foreign policy.

What the Baker-Hamilton Commission has delivered is a fragment of truth together with yet another version of the apocryphal pottery barn rule, the message we've received for two-plus years from various parts of the political spectrum: "you break it, you own it." In short, we're told once again, the U.S. dares not make a "precipitous" or "premature" withdrawal or redeployment of American forces because this would worsen the situation.

In other words, nothing new. Exactly what we’ve been told since at least December 2003 – the month that some NeoImps had predicted, before the invasion, would mark the start of bringing our men and women home. Since the time it was finally conceded that, yes, there were insurgents in Iraq and that there was an insurgency, we’ve been told that Iraq would turn the corner soon enough, if America stayed the course.

And so we have done these past 45 months.

As the bodies accumulate. As the rehab hospitals fill up. As the violence goes from bad to awful to yet still worse. Now Baker-Hamilton tells us again, give it another year. Or so. Another year to train the Iraqis to fend for themselves.

Like the guys in this story, they mean? 'About Five Minutes Into It, We Had to Take Over' :

The scene played out during Operation Lion Strike, the U.S. soldiers recalled. The goal was to capture insurgents in the Fadhil district of central Baghdad. It was the first time the Iraqi army's 9th Division was to be in complete control of an operation in the two years it has been training under the Americans . Teams of U.S. advisers remained close, but planned to leave the fighting to the Iraqis.

"It started out that way. But about five minutes into it, we had to take over," Staff Sgt. Michael Baxter, 35, said.

While the battle was in progress, U.S. military leaders had called it an "outstanding" example of Iraqi forces taking charge. They said the Iraqis captured 43 insurgents while suffering few casualties.

But interviews the following day with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at Camp al-Rashid in Rustimayah, where they are based, painted a more complex picture. ...

While some Iraqis froze in indecision, others fired wildly as they ran across streets. Hollywood heroics, one soldier called it.

"I'm just thinking to myself, oh God, get me out of this because these guys are going to get me killed if we stay here," Baxter said.

WHAT if another year of training on top of those two years doesn’t make a difference? What if half those soldiers being trained put their skills into the service of a death squad or militia – as some have clearly already done?

Anyone with a drop of sympathy for Iraqis cannot be immune to the conventional wisdom that says the slaughter will widen and deepen if the Americans leave before Iraq is stabilized and the Iraqi military is ready to hold its own in keeping the peace in a unified nation. True, not everyone is sympathetic. "Genocide Bill" O’Reilly suggests the U.S. just let the Shi'ites and Sunnis kill themselves "and then we can have a decent country in Iraq."

Most human beings, on the other hand, get queasy when we think of how the world’s governments ignored Rwanda a dozen years ago. And how most are, for all practical purposes, ignoring Darfur now. Who can read stories like Baghdad's Morgues Working Overtime or The Disappeared or As Trust Vanishes, Many Iraqis Look to Gunmen as Protectors without wondering how much worse things can get?

Some say: much worse. And the thought of an Iraqi Cambodia in the wake of an American departure cannot help but give pause. Until one remembers that, despite all the promises, Iraq has not gotten better with U.S. troops killing and dying there. Merely protecting themselves has become ever harder. If the current fatality rate holds, more Americans will die this month than any previous month since the war began.

If Russ Feingold’s August 2005 proposal for withdrawal had been adopted, the last American troops would be leaving Iraq in a couple of weeks. We might already know who the last one to die for the lies of that man in the White House and those of his pals. But Feingold’s, and the proposal by Brian Katulis and Larry Korb, and John Kerry’s, and Jack Murtha’s and Wes Clark’s have all been ignored. So, the skulls are stacked, American, Iraqi and others, the bloodbath goes on, and the dithering ceases not.

With no end in sight.

2. Wounded to get millions in compensation -- by Sean Rayment/Sunday Telegraph

Hundreds of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be awarded millions of pounds in compensation following a ruling by the Government that they are victims of crime not war.

British troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be paid compensation on a sliding scale of about £1,000 for a small facial scar, up to a maximum of £500,000 for the loss of a limb.

Forty injured servicemen are to receive payments of up to £500,000 each in a series of test cases. This is expected to lead to claims from hundreds more of the estimated 1,000 troops injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Payments will be made on a "sliding scale" of about £1,000, for a small facial scar, up to a maximum of £500,000, for the loss of a limb. The ruling was agreed, it is understood, after Government lawyers raised fears that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) could be subject to a legal challenge by troops claiming they were victims of crime because they were wounded in Iraq after the end of "at war" hostilities in May 2003.

All those injured fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who have decided to remain in the Army, could be entitled to lodge claims with the newly revised Armed Forces' Criminal Injury Compensation (overseas) scheme.

This is similar to that run by the Home Office, which makes payments to the victims of crimes such as muggings, rape, burglary and robbery. Troops will be informed officially of the new policy in the next few weeks and the first payments will be made in early spring.

Until now, the MOD has paid "criminal" compensation only for incidents where troops were injured in "civilian situations" such as a fight in a nightclub while off-duty.

Those injured in Northern Ireland during the Troubles were also eligible for such compensation because it was deemed that the terrorists attacking them were criminals and not enemy combatants in a conventional war.

The new ruling and expansion of compensation to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts means insurgents or terrorists launching surprise attacks and sabotage missions are also regarded as criminals and not enemy troops. It is thought the only circumstances where troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be eligible for criminal compensation is when they were involved in pre-arranged, offensive operations directly targeting insurgents.

But most casualties in Iraq have received their wounds through car bombings, sniping and rocket attacks — circumstances not dissimilar to most attacks sustained in Ulster. Defence sources say the ruling reflects the changing nature of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although both theatres of conflict are described frequently as war zones, in strict legal terms British troops are not at war.

The revelation of the Government decision follows demands from MPs, military chiefs and the public, as well as a campaign by The Sunday Telegraph, for the Government to provide the Armed Forces with better pay, accommodation and medical care.

Defences sources have admitted that the awarding of compensation will be "complex and difficult", with evidence being presented to the panel by the serviceman's commanding officer.

Under the revised MoD compensation scheme, all wounded troops will be given legal advice from government lawyers as to whether their injury was as a result of a crime or of war. Those deemed to have been injured through "criminal acts" will be able to lodge compensation claims that will be assessed by a panel comprising a senior military officer, civil servants and a civilian.

The scheme will be open to troops who stay in the forces. Those who are medically discharge will receive war pensions, as is already the case.

It is understood that Major David Bradley, who was severely injured in August 2004 in an ambush in Basra, southern Iraq, is one of those about to receive compensation.

Major Bradley, who was the commander of B company, the 1st Bn the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, almost died as he took the full blast of a rocket-propelled grenade during an operation to rescue nine comrades.

An MoD spokesman said: "Ensuring that we obtain the best for our soldiers has meant that the criteria under which normal claims are submitted have had to be better defined. It is anticipated by early spring claims will be paid."

3. The Disappeared
Far from the headlines, dozens of Iraqis are kidnapped every day. TIME investigates this criminal underworld--and tells the story of one man who survived it

It can happen in seconds.

Waddah al-Anbari's ordeal began on an afternoon in Baghdad early this year while he was out buying a new cell phone. The neighborhood seemed safe; Waddah didn't bother to lock his car door. He was about to cross a narrow alley when a car screeched up, blocking his way. Two men got out, thrust AK-47s into his ribs and pushed him into the floor behind the front seat. Climbing in the backseat, the men pinned him down with their feet and beat him in the torso with the butts of their guns. When he tried to speak, he got a sharp jab in the ribs. His captors emptied his pockets and took his cheap wristwatch and his belt and shoes. As the car sped away, one man put a hood over Waddah's head and, using a plastic tie, bound his wrists behind his back. All that happened in a few moments, and Waddah says he could only think, "This is a mistake--they think I'm somebody else." But it wasn't a mistake. He was being kidnapped.

As if the atrocities committed by terrorists and sectarian death squads in Iraq weren't bad enough, kidnapping has become one of the country's most common forms of crime since the fall of Saddam Hussein. U.S. officials say that up to 40 people are kidnapped every day, a phenomenon highlighted last week when a U.S. soldier in Baghdad went missing, an apparent abduction victim. With ransoms ranging from a few thousand dollars to more than a million and with the police often unwilling or unable to even register such cases, officials say kidnapping has become an increasingly lucrative business. It helps the kidnappers that their criminal activity is often confused with the routine hostage taking by both sides in the Shi'ite-Sunni civil war. "Kidnapping for ransom is an industry," says Dan O'Shea, former coordinator of the U.S. embassy's Hostage Working Group. "It is governed by the profit motive, not religion or race or politics."

Waddah's story provides a rare insight into the inner workings of a kidnapping ring. He spoke with TIME on the condition that his identity be concealed; we have used a pseudonym and changed other details that might give him away. He refused to be photographed for this story for fear of being recognized. One of his concerns is that being known as somebody who was ransomed once might mark him as a target for other kidnappers. O'Shea and another U.S. official who works with Iraqi authorities on kidnapping-related issues say many details of Waddah's account are consistent with what they have gleaned from their investigations.

The story Waddah tells is a window into the worst nightmare of many Iraqis, who in the absence of law and order must live with the fear that they could be taken and held captive at any time or in any place. Waddah's grin reveals two missing front teeth, the result of severe beating with the butt of an AK-47, and his face is drawn and gaunt from long captivity. If his physique--once strong and upright, now stooped and limp--recovers from the ordeal, Waddah's psyche will carry some scars forever: the terror of imprisonment, the dread of not knowing whether he would live another day, the degradation of torture and the mortification of having to grovel and plead for his life. "For five weeks, I was less than a human being," he says. "Nobody should have to go through that." The disturbing truth, however, is that many of his countrymen do.

A trained motor mechanic with calloused hands and a penchant for automotive analogies, Waddah can be forgiven for thinking that trouble has been following him around for more than three years. In the spring of 2003, when it became clear that the U.S.-led coalition would invade Iraq, he and his family--his mother Haseeba, three brothers, their wives and six children--sold his late father's house near Basra and moved to his mother's ancestral home in a quiet, dusty town west of Baghdad: Fallujah. "We were sure that there would be no fighting there. The Americans would not attack it, and the Iraqi army would not bother to defend it," he recalls, "because there's nothing important in Fallujah. It was like an old car that nobody wanted." As Sunni Muslims, the family thought they would fit right into the Sunni-majority town.

But a year later, with Fallujah turning into a stronghold of the insurgency and gun battles breaking out on their street almost every day, the family moved again--this time to Ramadi, the capital of the restive Anbar province. Ramadi soon went the way of Fallujah, its streets controlled by jihadist gangs fighting pitched battles with U.S. Marines. One day an extremist cleric visited Waddah's home and urged the four brothers to join the holy war against the Americans. When the brothers refused, the cleric threatened to let loose his fighters on the family. The only way out was to move again.

Last February the family relocated to Baghdad, moving into an unoccupied house owned by a cousin in one of the city's most upscale neighborhoods. A week after they had moved, Waddah's brothers gave him $200 to buy a cell phone and some phone cards. The family had never owned a cell phone, and he was excited about buying one. Waddah got into his cousin's brand-new midnight blue Chevrolet Lumina. It was a short drive to the neighborhood's main drag, and he parked in front of a large cell-phone store. When he couldn't find a phone to his liking, he decided to try another store just across an alley. That's when he was grabbed.

It's unclear why the kidnappers targeted Waddah. The U.S. official familiar with kidnapping gangs in Iraq speculates that the arrival of a new family in a wealthy neighborhood may have alerted local criminals. "Typically the kidnappers would do some homework, tracking the movements of the family, deciding on whom to grab and when," he says. Waddah believes it was an opportunity snatch: the kidnappers happened to be cruising the street and, when they saw him get out of a brand-new car, assumed he was rich. Later, during interrogations by his captors, the Chevrolet Lumina would come up again and again. "Whenever I said my family were too poor to pay ransom, they would hit me and say, 'Don't lie to us. We know what kind of car you drive.'"

Hooded and lying on the floor of the car, Waddah had no idea where he was being taken. He thinks his captors drove for at least an hour before stopping. He was yanked out of the car and, still hooded and bound, taken into a house and dumped on the floor. He could dimly hear a conversation in another room but could not hear what was being said. After a few minutes, he was pulled up and practically dragged outside. This time he was pushed into what he thinks was the back of a van, which smelled of engine oil and urine. The second drive was shorter than the first, no more than 30 minutes. Again he was pulled out and taken into a house. The wait was longer--perhaps two hours--before he was dumped back into the van for another half-hour drive.

Why all the stops? The U.S. official says the first switch was probably a handoff to a second group, which would hold him and claim the ransom. "It's not unusual for more than one group to be involved," says the official. "As in any organized business, there's specialization. Some gangs do the snatching and then pass on their captive, for a fee, to another gang." The money changing hands at this stage may be no more than a few hundred dollars; the muffled conversation Waddah heard at the first house may have been a quick round of bargaining.

At the third house, Waddah was taken indoors, then down a flight of stairs and through a doorway and pushed roughly to the floor. He felt several kicks to his chest and thighs, followed by rapid- fire questions: What was his name? Where did he live? Where did he work? What was his family's phone number? "They said, 'The sooner you give us a phone number to call, the sooner we contact your family, negotiate a ransom and let you go,'" Waddah says. A common persuasion technique employed by kidnappers is to call the family of the victim and let them hear him screaming during torture. That usually gets the family's attention and makes them more likely to pay a ransom quickly. It upset the captors' plans, says the U.S. official, that Waddah's family didn't own a phone. "Kidnappers tend to be simpleminded people," the official says. "They have a fixed plan, and when something unexpected happens, they don't know how to deal with it."

Waddah's interrogation lasted hours, with long breaks during which his captors would leave the room. There were at least two of them at all times, but Waddah remembers several different voices. Toward the end of the interrogation, his hood was taken off, and he was able to see his captors for the first time. They were two bearded men, one of them armed. When he saw they were not masked, Waddah's heart sank. "If they were willing to show me their faces, it meant that they weren't afraid I would identify them. In other words, they meant to kill me eventually."

The interrogators ordered him to strip to his underpants and gave him a brown dishdasha, the traditional Arabic robe, which he wore for the rest of his captivity. He was then taken down two more flights of stairs to a basement holding area that was partitioned with plywood into many small cells--at least 10, possibly more. His home for the next five weeks would be a dirty cell, 5 ft. by 4 ft., with a rough concrete floor. The plywood walls were unpainted and still bore the manufacturer's stamp in a foreign script he speculates was Korean. The walls didn't go all the way up to the ceiling, and that allowed for some air circulation. He was given a large, smelly quilt that had to serve as a mattress as well as protection from the cold. From time to time, he heard other captives being taken out of their cells and up the stairs to the interrogation room. They remained there for hours, and Waddah heard screaming and sobbing. A few times, he heard the sound of gunfire--single shots, followed by silence.

His turn in the interrogation room came every other day. The questions never varied. "They kept coming back to the phone number--why I didn't have any," he says. "They just wouldn't believe me." Every session would end with threats of more beatings and torture. He was told of other captives who had died grisly deaths and was shown stains on the floor where they had bled. The strong smell of chemicals began to make sense. They had been used to cover up the smell of vomit and dried blood. But, says the U.S. official, the threat of death was probably no more than just that. "They were already invested in this guy, having paid the people who snatched him," he says. "They would not kill him if there was even a remote chance of making some money off of him."

The captives were fed twice a day: chopped raw vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, wrapped in flat, unleavened bread. Sometimes, a spoonful of hummus was added to the vegetables. A 2-liter plastic jug was in his cell on the first day; when it ran out, Waddah would knock on his door and ask the guard for a refill. Once a day, the captives were taken to the toilet in groups of five. Their hands bound behind them, they would queue up at a tap just outside the toilet. One by one, the captives were untied, and they filled a red plastic bucket with water and went in. The others would wait, still fettered, while a guard armed with an old AK-47 watched them carefully.

One day, Waddah overheard the guards talking about the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest sites for Shi'ites. They also spoke of the wave of sectarian violence that followed, with Shi'ite mobs wreaking vengeance on Sunnis. "It sounded like Sunnis were being slaughtered in the streets of Baghdad," Waddah says. "I was worried about my family. They were new to the city and had no influential relatives who could protect them." While waiting to use the toilet over the next few days, the captives whispered rumors of how their Sunni kidnappers were taking revenge by killing some of the Shi'ite captives. Waddah says at least two captives he knew to be Shi'ite disappeared abruptly. At his next session in the interrogation room, Waddah's captors told him he was lucky that he was a Sunni. Any Shi'ite whose family was unable to pay ransom within a week was being killed, they said. To reassure them of his Sunni loyalties, Waddah claimed friendship with the fanatical cleric in Ramadi who had tried to force him and his brothers to become jihadist fighters. He also spoke disparagingly about Shi'ites. "I am not proud of what I said, but it saved me from more torture," he says. His captors seemed to take him for a kindred spirit, and the beating stopped.

While Waddah languished in captivity, his family embarked on an agonizing quest to try to find him. His mother Haseeba, 65, took charge of the situation, as befits a traditional Arab matriarch. Realizing that the search for Waddah would require manpower, she dispatched two of her sons to Fallujah and Ramadi to summon as many cousins and uncles as they could muster. Her oldest son Mohammed's job was to canvass the neighborhood to identify the "sheiks"--older men, heads of important families that had lived there a long time and could be tapped for local knowledge and advice. Their first piece of advice: Stay away from the local police. The police in the neighborhood were known to be members of the Mahdi Army, the Shi'ite militia often blamed for the kidnapping and murder of Sunnis in Baghdad. "One of the sheiks--and he was a Shi'ite--said the police may themselves have been involved in taking Waddah," Haseeba says. "And even if they weren't, they would not help a Sunni family. They would only harass us for the ransom money."

Instead Haseeba recruited a distant cousin in Fallujah who was reputed to have contacts with the Sunni insurgency. His job was to inquire whether Waddah was being held by one of them. She was horrified when the cousin asked for a fee for that service: $1,000. He explained that the money was not for him but for his contacts. "I think he put most of it into his own pocket," she says. "But at that time, I could not afford to refuse." The days of waiting turned into weeks, and still there was no ransom demand. Some in the family wondered whether Waddah has been murdered rather than kidnapped. As violence in and around Baghdad escalated, even Haseeba began to lose hope, convinced that her son had become another nameless victim of Iraq's sectarian war. Sunnis were being killed all over the city. Surely there was no hope for Waddah.

Many kidnapping victims are held captive in remote farmhouses in the countryside. But after a few days in the basement prison, Waddah came to believe he was in an urban environment. Although there were no windows, he could hear city traffic and, when the power went out, the sound of several generators starting up. The bread served was often warm and fresh, indicating there was a baker nearby. If his captors had neighbors, they were probably complicit in the kidnappings; they obviously didn't report the sound of gunshots within the house to the police. During one interrogation, Waddah was told not to contemplate an escape. "They said, 'Even if you manage to get out of the house, the people in the street will bring you back to us,'" he recalls.

Waddah soon found himself the longest-held captive in the basement, and the guards grew friendly. They helped him get a sense of the scale of the kidnapping operation. By his reckoning, at least 30 captives passed through the cells during his five-week stay. The guards hinted that at least two captives had been government employees. Instead of being ransomed, they were sold to a jihadist group. And the jihadis took a cut from the ransom collections in exchange for protection. The U.S. official says that is common practice among kidnappers: "We know that the kidnapping industry helps finance the terrorists."

Waddah also learned a little bit about the "emir," or leader of the criminal gang. The guards described him as a bold and brazen criminal who masterminded the kidnapping of many high-value targets: rich businessmen, government officials, even a tribal sheik. The gang leader had been a senior official in Saddam's dreaded intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. The emir was also an expert in torture, able to extract information from the most stubborn captives. But he rarely took part in the interrogations anymore; in fact, he only occasionally visited the house. While he concentrated on other, unspecified business interests, the kidnapping organization was run day to day by his trusted lieutenants, a pair of brothers from his tribe.

In Waddah's fourth week of captivity, one of the interrogators went down to his cell to inform him they had made some progress in contacting his family. Waddah had given them names of family members in Fallujah and Ramadi, along with directions to their homes. One of the addresses in Ramadi had checked out, and the person who lived there--an old friend who Waddah believed had been a fighter in an insurgent group--had agreed to find a phone number for his family. The interrogator said "our people in Baghdad" were also looking for Waddah's home. A few days later, the kidnappers said they had made contact with Waddah's family. But Haseeba and her other sons, believing him to be dead, had already held a wake for him. Now they refused to believe that he was alive, rejecting the kidnappers' ransom demand as either a terrible prank or an opportunist's attempt to capitalize on their loss. "They are not going to pay," the interrogator told Waddah. "We're not sure what to do with you." Later that day, Waddah was taken to the interrogation room--his first visit in nearly a week. He was hooded again because, the guards told him, the emir was going to be present and they didn't want Waddah to see him.

There was very little beating, and the emir barely even spoke with him, but Waddah says it was the scariest episode of his captivity. As he sat on the floor, the emir and two assistants had a discussion about how to convince his family that he was still alive. One of them suggested that, as proof of life, they cut off a body part and send it to the family. There was a long debate about which part to cut: a finger, an ear, his nose or his penis. Finally, during a lull in the discussion, Waddah pointed out that his family members were unlikely to recognize any of his body parts. "They will just think you're sending them some dead guy's finger to scare them," he said. To his relief, the kidnappers saw the sense in this. The emir decided to wait until the man in Fallujah came up with the phone number.

A week later he was taken up to the interrogation room for what would be his last visit. There was still no phone number, so the interrogators said they would videotape Waddah and send the tape to his family. His hood was removed, and he was ordered to sit still and say nothing--to simply look at the camera. Expecting to be beaten, he was surprised that the filming ended in a few minutes and that nobody laid a hand on him. "They said, 'This is your last hope. If this doesn't convince your family, there is nothing else we can do,'" he says.

Within days, a package was tossed into the front yard of his family's home in Baghdad. It was the videotape: grainy images of a silent Waddah, staring at the camera, followed by a short speech by a masked man asking for $100,000. Haseeba was overjoyed. The ransom demand was obviously far beyond the family's means. But while they waited for the kidnappers to make contact to negotiate the sum, Haseeba began to collect the money. Once again, the family went to the cousins and uncles in Fallujah and Ramadi, this time to ask for money. Again they dug into their savings, collectively raising $25,000. Haseeba and her daughters-in-law sold all their jewelry, and Mohammed flogged a pair of old British-made hunting rifles he had inherited from his father. With the permission of the cousin who owned it, they even sold the midnight blue Chevrolet Lumina for a knocked-down price. Even so, they were able to get the collection up to only $40,000.

The next time they heard from the kidnappers, it was on Mohammed's cell phone--the contact in Fallujah had finally delivered the number. Haseeba took the call, beseeching the kidnappers to lower their price. "I said, 'I am like your mother. Have pity on me,'" she says. The caller asked to speak with Mohammed and told him, "We don't like to negotiate with old women. Don't let your mother answer the phone again." But Haseeba's pleas had worked. The next morning the kidnappers called again to say the family should have the $40,000 ready for collection. That evening a white Toyota Camry stopped at the family's front gate, and an old man entered, introducing himself as a tribal sheik from Anbar province. He said he had been asked to collect some money, adding, "I don't know what it is for, and I don't want you to tell me."

Waddah was still weak from a fever and barely able to stand when a guard relayed the good news: he was going home. He was hooded, bundled into the trunk of a car and driven around for an hour. This time there were no stops and no changing of vehicles. The hood was removed, the plastic bounds cut. "This is it," said one of the men, thrusting something into the breast pocket of his dishdasha and pulling him out of the trunk. "Thank God for your freedom." The car sped away before Waddah could get to his feet. He found himself just outside a well-known mosque, with 5,000 Iraqi dinars ($3.30) in his pocket. He was able to get a lift home from a passing commuter. The long ordeal was over. He was free.

With liberation come new uncertainties. In recent months Waddah and his brothers have struggled to find work in Baghdad and have returned to jihadi-infested Ramadi. But Waddah says his kidnapping has made him stronger and less fearful. Like so many other Iraqis, the family members cope with the violence surrounding them by clinging to one another. When Haseeba heard the car stop at the gate on the fateful day, she says her instinct told her it had to be Waddah. "A mother knows," she says. "So I told Mohammed: Go to the door--your brother has come home." Then Waddah walked in, and mother and son grabbed each other in a tight embrace that neither wanted to end. After several minutes, Haseeba's other sons asked her to let Waddah go so that they too could embrace him. "Never," she said. "I will never let him go."


At 12/11/2006 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, you are such a loser! You actually think that freedom is free? Well, it is not. Freedom is paid for by those willing to give their all for people like you who sit back and bitch about it. What a thankless little twit you are.


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