Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War - James Loney (2011)
NOVEMBER 27 DAY 2
The call to prayer echoes across Baghdad like a promise. Slowly, imperceptibly, by degrees immeasurable, darkness gives way to light. I pull my hat down over my eyes. Birds chatter. A cat meows. We wait. Finally, the captors get up. We hear sounds of scrubbing and washing at a sink, someone getting dressed near us, the TV being turned on, Arabic conversation. I begin sending mental telegrams: please get us up please get us up please get us up. Rigor mortis, I am certain, is setting in.
Footsteps enter the room. “Good morning,” a voice says.
It’s a risk, but I decide to take it. “Hamam?” I ask, immediately sitting up.
“Yes hamam,” a bored voice says. My bladder is ready to explode. I am ushered through a door, turned left, taken six steps and stopped in front of another door.
I hesitate, wonder if I should close the door or not. I decide to chance it. The captor does not object. A good sign, I think. They respect us enough to let us use the bathroom in privacy. I see that I’ve been taken to a different hamam, though it is the same size as the one I stood in last week, two and a half feet wide and three feet deep. The yellow ceramic floor bowl is caked with shit. I break into a sweat as I wait for my urethra to let go. It won’t. I give up, fill the water jug, pour water into the basin—my contribution to good housekeeping—and fill it again so it will be ready for the next customer. I pull my hat down over my eyes and open the door.
The captor takes my arm and sits me down in a plastic lawn chair facing the wall. The others are brought to sit beside me, one by one. I notice right away a round, quarter-sized crater in the wall at the height of my knee. A bullet hole. What else can it be?
During my first visit to Iraq, in January 2003, I went to visit Baghdad’s Amiriya Shelter. It was my first encounter with the devastation of war. The back of my neck tingled as I stepped into the hellish black cavern. An oval gash of light poured through a curtain of twisted steel into a crater of exploded cement and broken girders. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I began to see mangled wires and ventilation ducts hanging from the ceiling, massive concrete pillars stripped to the rebars, black blotches on the floor where the bodies of sleeping women and children had been incinerated. It was one of thirty-four bomb shelters constructed during the Iran–Iraq War. On February 17, 1991, two American “smart bombs” hit the shelter at four in the morning. Four hundred and eight people—women, children and old men—were reduced to ash. An Associated Press reporter wrote, “Most of the recovered bodies were charred and mutilated beyond recognition.”
I remember that day very well. Four days before, Dan and I (along with three others) dumped big buckets of ash in front of the Conservative Party headquarters in Toronto. Canada was one of thirty-four countries led by the United States that declared war against Iraq after Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. Twenty-six Canadian CF-18s were flying bombing sorties over Iraq. It was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and we had a message for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney: the only thing that comes from war is ash. We were arrested and charged with mischief.
Talk about mischief. The U.S. dropped sixty thousand tons of bombs on Iraq during the First Gulf War. It deliberately targeted Iraq’s electrical grid, dams and power stations and destroyed seventy-five percent of its power-generating capacity. The country’s entire civilian infrastructure—hospitals, irrigation systems, sewage and water treatment facilities—was crippled.
Saddam withdrew from Kuwait and the fighting stopped on February 28. The economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in August 1990, however, continued. Medical supplies, chlorine for water purification, firefighting and milk-production equipment—even pencils—were banned. No one could buy from or sell anything to Iraq. The consequences were devastating. The economy collapsed, the middle class was wiped out, child mortality rates skyrocketed, and 90 percent of the country fell dependent on a monthly food ration.
The stated purpose of the UN sanctions was to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In fact, they were a systematic program of economic warfare. The Washington Post quoted a Pentagon war planner on June 23, 1991: “People say, ‘You didn’t recognize that it [bombing civilian infrastructure] was going to have an effect on water and sewage.’ Well, what were we trying to do with sanctions—help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions.” Once the sanctions had been imposed, they couldn’t be removed until all five permanent members of the Security Council agreed. The United States with its veto kept the sanctions in place until May 23, 2003.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and George W. Bush declared a global war against terrorism. He went after Afghanistan first for harbouring Osama bin Laden. Then he turned his sights on Iraq. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Bush said. Weapons inspectors scoured the country while 36 million people took part in three thousand protests around the world in an unprecedented cry for peace.
As war clouds gathered over Iraq, Peggy Gish and Cliff Kindy joined the Iraq Peace Team (a joint initiative of Voices in the Wilderness and CPT) in October 2002. A CPT delegation was leaving on December 26. I took a deep breath and gave Doug Pritchard a call. “I want to join the delegation,” I told him.
The fifteen-member team assembled in Amman, Jordan, and travelled overland to Baghdad in a hired bus. We stayed in a hotel in central Baghdad. The city was bracing itself for war. Cliff and Peggy, the delegation leaders, reviewed the different scenarios that were possible during the ten-day delegation. Things could continue as they had been, without war but with escalating pressure from the U.S. The U.S. could start bombing. The Iraqi government could decide to remove us from the country. There could be a coup. “This is probably the most dangerous scenario for us,” Cliff said. “We could be arrested, held hostage, the whole society thrown into the chaos of civil war.” I gulped. That was one scenario I hadn’t thought of.
The delegation was carefully managed by an Iraqi minder who approved our itinerary and attended our meetings. We were warned by Peggy and Cliff not to ask questions about the political situation—it could get us kicked out of the country or, worse, endanger anyone who talked with us. Nevertheless, we got a clear picture of a country that had been devastated by thirteen years of economic sanctions. Their effects were massive, and they were everywhere. Teachers were making five dollars a month. Ninety percent of the population was dependent on a UN food supplement. An army of children worked in the streets shining shoes and selling tissue paper instead of going to school. The best public infrastructure oil money could buy was a shambles. Half the country’s schools were unfit to receive students. Water treatment plants couldn’t be repaired. The average Iraqi child suffered fourteen episodes of diarrhea a year from drinking bad water, killing tens of thousands from dehydration. Hospitals couldn’t get medicines or parts for medical equipment. The UN estimated that 1.5 million people had died as a direct result of the sanctions.
Azhar was one of the 1.5 million. “She is a six-month-old baby,” the doctor told us at a hospital we visited, “brought in last night suffering from diarrhea. She died this morning from dehydration.” She was lying on her side, tiny fingers curled gently into a fist. Her eyes were open, her face colourless, cranial, emaciated, a white film about her lips.
On March 20, 2003, the boot of war stomped down on Iraq. They called it Shock and Awe. “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” a Pentagon official said. “The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” The bombs and missiles fell day and night, fifty thousand strikes in thirty days.* On April 9, U.S. forces rolled into Baghdad and Saddam Hussein fled.
Chaos followed shock and awe. After securing the Ministry of Oil and the Ministry of Interior, the U.S. stood by and watched as libraries, hospitals, schools and every government building was looted and burned. I couldn’t help but wonder if the looting of Baghdad wasn’t some kind of sophisticated psy-ops operation. Let the criminals and arsonists finish off what the sanctions and the bombing started, while confirming the Western impression that Iraqis (and by extension all Muslims and Arabs) are a barbaric, lawless, uncivilized people.
On May 1, George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln behind a giant banner that read Mission Accomplished. The toll to that point: 9,200 Iraqi combatants, 7,299 civilians, 139 U.S. and 33 U.K. military personnel.† Just a small taste of the death to come. By the end of July 2010, 4,413 U.S. soldiers had been killed. As for civilians, nobody knows. Iraq Body Count, an estimate based on press reports, put the number between 97,143 and 105,994 in July 2010. The prestigious medical journal Lancet estimated 601,027 in June 2006. An Opinion Research Business Survey estimated over a million in August 2007.
Occupation followed chaos, and chaos followed occupation. Midnight house raids, the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands of Iraqi men, the theft and destruction of personal property, checkpoint shootings. The borders were left wide open. The Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded the Iraqi army and police. Unknown quantities of ordnance disappeared from unsecured armaments dumps. It was almost as if the United States wanted an insurgency.
The car and suicide bombs started in August 2003. The United States retreated behind blast walls and concertina wire. Crime swept through the streets like a tsunami. Kidnapping became commonplace, an average of thirty every day. Anybody with money became a target. Those with means turned their homes into fortresses protected by armed guards, or left the country altogether. The insurgency grew and the morgues filled—a hundred bodies a day in Baghdad alone. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
I returned to Iraq on January 3, 2004. As before, I flew to Amman and travelled overland by bus. I saw two American soldiers on duty at the border: one hardly visible, sitting in a booth, the other slouching in the doorway smoking a cigarette. An Iraqi border guard stepped onto the bus, exchanged some words with the driver, looked at a handful of passports and waved us on. Just about anyone or anything could have entered the country on that bus.
I couldn’t believe how much had changed in a year. The roads were choked with traffic. It took hours to get anywhere. The once-ubiquitous images of Saddam Hussein had been blasted, shot full of holes, erased. Giant coils of razor wire surrounded every public building. The streets were littered with garbage. Ragged hordes of teenaged boys laboured under bulging burlap sacks collecting aluminum cans, bottles, scrap metal, anything worth a few cents. Boys sold black market gasoline at the sides of the road and gas station lineups were over a kilometre long. Free speech was in the air like a spring breeze. Men hawked newspapers, and satellite dishes sprouted on buildings like mushrooms. The electricity went on and off at random. Generators belched black diesel fumes everywhere. The city was replete with bombed and looted buildings. There was no reconstruction going on that I could see. Whether or not life was better under Saddam Hussein was an open question.
It surprised me, when I first arrived, to hear Iraqis talk approvingly of George W. Bush. “Bush good, Saddam bad,” they’d say with their thumbs up, market vendors, taxi drivers, people in the streets. “Thank Bush, thank America.” The long, tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein was over and everyone, it seemed, had a story about an uncle or a brother or a cousin who’d been threatened, imprisoned or tortured. When Saddam’s regime fell, dozens of unions and human rights groups sprang up overnight. People gathered to demonstrate and march, speak their minds, open email accounts, surf the Internet. Few were those who mourned his defeat.
But even during my ten weeks in the country I could see this goodwill evaporating. It was like watching a storm roll in. More and more we heard people complain there was no security, no electricity, no gasoline, that things were better under Saddam. “If this is George Bush democracy, give us back Saddam.”
The CPT team decided in the summer of 2003 to focus on security detainees when scores of people came to the team with stories of family members who had been detained without charge by the U.S. Army. We accompanied families in search of their loved ones to military bases. A handful we were able to track down, but otherwise our inquiries were met with polite stonewalling or bureaucratic finger-pointing. Nobody seemed to know where the detainees were or when they would be released.
CPT published a report on December 23, 2003, summarizing information gathered from the families of seventy-one men and one woman who had been detained by the United States. A third had been detained after a house raid conducted in the middle of the night. In every case where someone had been arrested during a house raid, the families reported that coalition forces had confiscated their property; 40 percent reported that the person being detained was injured during the raid; 28 percent reported that a member of the family had been injured; two people were reported to have died as a direct result of their injuries. Of the twenty-four men who had been released after being detained for an average of fifty-seven days, none had ever been convicted of a criminal offence and not one of the seventy-two had seen a lawyer. Only a third faced formal charges.
Our impression at first was of an under-resourced system that was nevertheless doing its best to process the thousands of men who were being swept up in the military’s clumsy, heavy-handed effort to quell the insurgency. We managed to work our way up the chain of command to get a meeting with Ambassador Richard Jones, second-in-command to Paul Bremer, who was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Ambassador Jones admitted they had “no policy,” no process for determining guilt or innocence, that the system was “overwhelmed” and they just didn’t have the “resources” to deal with “the problem.” We reminded him of his responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions and called on him to implement due process for security detainees or else release them. The detainee crisis and the practice of house raids, we told him, were breeding insurgent rage. He asked his aides to schedule a follow-up meeting.
We began to work on an “Adopt a Detainee” letter-writing campaign. We prepared detailed profiles of some of our detainee cases and asked church and community groups to write letters on their behalf. One of them was Kahdhan Munther Ahmed Salih al-Obaydi, a 22-year-old municipal street cleaner who had been detained in October 2003. I met his father, Ismael, a blind man who sang the call to prayer at Baghdad’s Abu Hanifah mosque. He told me that Kahdhan and a friend were swimming in the Tigris River when they heard a big explosion. They weren’t concerned at first because explosions were commonplace in Baghdad. They became afraid when they heard gunfire, and the two men swam towards shore. U.S. soldiers opened fire on them. Kahdhan was shot in the foot and taken to Abu Ghraib. Ismael explained that Saddam Hussein had exempted his son from military duty in 1997 because of a head injury. This was significant because it meant his son knew nothing about guns or explosives. “I want them to release my son,” he told me. “I have no one to support me.” His son earned three dollars a day.
Another detainee was Idrees Younis Nuri, a 20-year-old accounting student who also was detained in October 2003. His 30-year-old brother Wakas told me Idrees and five friends were on their way to the market during Ramadan when a sequence of explosions occurred, one of them near a passing U.S. convoy. U.S. soldiers swept up thirty-five people who happened to be in the vicinity of the attack, Idrees and his five friends among them. Wakas told me, “Our neighbour was one of the ones who was detained. He told me they were severely tortured by the soldiers. He heard screams through the night until morning. One of the thirty-five was sent to the hospital. Our neighbour was released after two days.” Like Kahdhan, Wakas explained that his brother had been exempted from military service. “He is sick. He has a disease in his colon. And he is still a student, so he has no experience in how to use weapons.” Unlike most detainees, Idrees faced an actual charge: “Attack on Coalition.”
I remember discussing with Sheila Provencher something she’d written for the Adopt a Detainee program. I had a concern about a phrase she was using, which went something like, “… soldiers returning home, having to face in the night the unspeakable things they had done …” I thought this should be changed to “unspeakable things they had seen.” Yes, things were bad, I argued, but American forces had not yet crossed the line into atrocity. They had not been there long enough to experience the profound dehumanization process that occurred during the Vietnam War. They seemed to have very little interaction with the civilian population, being confined to military bases when not on patrol. It appeared, based on our intermittent interactions with soldiers, that military discipline was intact.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The evidence, in fact, was right in front of me. I just didn’t see it—or didn’t want to.
There was, for example, the case of Mahadi Al Jamal, a frail 70-year-old man recovering from a hip replacement who was killed while in American custody on December 21, 2003. His son Abdulkahar told me how their home had been raided at nine-thirty in the evening. Soldiers broke down doors, smashed furniture, scattered their belongings everywhere. They handcuffed and hooded Abdulkahar, his father and his uncle. Mahadi complained of not being able to breathe. The men were brought one by one into the back of an armoured personnel carrier, Abdulkahar first and then his father. “My father was in very bad condition at that time. He couldn’t talk because of the hood. I could hear him gasping. I pleaded with the soldiers to help my father, but they only said bad words to me. They beat me on the chest with the end of their weapons to make me silent. After that my father stopped moving. One of the soldiers called on the radio, ‘The fucking old man, I think he’s dead, I think he’s dead!’ ”
Abdulkahar and his uncle were released that night. An officer came to their house and informed them that Mahadi had died of a heart attack. Two days later the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nate Sassaman, told them the decision to raid their house had been based on false information, and that the U.S. forces would find and punish the informant.
Abdulkahar showed me a formal apology written on CIA letterhead. “We will not rest until this investigation is complete,” the letter promised. It was signed, “Mr. Ken, Project Forces Manager.” “Mr. Ken” was never heard from again.
Abdulkahar concluded the interview by saying, “In Samarra, everyone expects to be arrested in the night, so now they wear suitable clothes and their ID to bed.” At the time, he was working on his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Baghdad. He was thirty years old.
Then there was Abu Hishma, a town of seven thousand people surrounded by five miles of concertina wire on the orders of Colonel Sassaman. It was an act of collective punishment for the death of Sergeant Dale Panchot, who was killed on November 17, 2003, when a rocket-propelled grenade fired from the town hit his Bradley armoured personnel carrier. Eight sheiks, the mayor, the police chief and most of the town council were arrested. All the men aged eighteen to sixty-five were assigned English-language identity cards. A sign posted at the checkpoint entrance read, “This fence is here for your protection. Do not approach or try to cross or you will be shot.” Sassaman said the wire enclosure would remain in place until the villagers turned over the men who were responsible for killing Panchot.
A month before Sergeant Panchot was killed, villagers told us Sassaman’s men shot Aziz Taha, a 25-year-old English student at the University of Baghdad. When his brother’s wife, Majida, ran to help Aziz, she was shot and died instantly. Two hours later Aziz bled to death when the soldiers wouldn’t let anyone help him. A week later U.S. forces were attacked in the area. Aziz’s brother Yasseen was detained on the notion that he would have the motive of avenging the deaths of his wife and brother. Yasseen and Majida had three children, the youngest of whom was fifteen days old on the day Majida was killed.
Then there was Abu Siffa, a farming village about a twenty-minute drive from Abu Hishma. According to villagers we interviewed, on December 16, 2003, at 2:00 a.m., Sassman’s men surrounded Abu Siffa and detained eighty men and three teenaged boys (aged fourteen, fifteen and sixteen) in the course of a fourteen-hour operation. Mohammed Jasim Hassan Altaai, one of only two men in the village who were not detained, told us, “The Coalition Forces were searching for one person, but they searched all our houses. It was a rainy night and they surrounded our whole village—about twenty-five houses—with tanks and Humvees. They surrounded the farmers’ fields with tanks and destroyed the fences. They destroyed the doors of our houses and kicked down our bedroom doors, or used their weapons to open them, while we were sleeping. They gathered the men together and beat them severely. A 70-year-old man suffocated and died when they put a black plastic hood on him.”*
The object of the raid was Kais Hattam, a prominent Baath Party official. According to Sassaman, Saddam was captured with documents linking him directly to Hattam. After detaining Hattam, U.S. forces fire-bombed his home and left his large extended family homeless. On December 31, U.S. forces destroyed the home of Abas Muhamed Abd Wahid, a 41-year-old primary school teacher with a family of sixteen. A third home was destroyed on January 2. “They have detained all the men,” Mohammed said. “Jamal and I are the only two men still living in the area. They took about fifteen teachers from the secondary school, so now there aren’t enough teachers to give lessons.”
I listened to and documented dozens of such stories. We were so busy, there was hardly time to think. Each story deserved further investigation and determined follow-through, but there were so many, and they just kept on coming. We didn’t have the resources to do any of them justice. I’d write them up, file them, send them on to the Chicago office, move on to the next thing. They became bits of language that I assembled and processed.
The stories were astonishing, overwhelming, sometimes impossible to believe. Some I dismissed altogether as rumour and occupation tall tales—stories about Iraqis being pushed out of helicopters, for example, or thousands of detainees being held in ghost prison camps in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. An Iraqi cleric, his voice quivering with rage, told us in the Abu Ghraib parking lot that Iraqi women in Abu Ghraib were being paraded around nude, forced into lesbian sex, raped, impregnated. He said a female prisoner smuggled out a note begging for the prison to be bombed. “It is better for us to die,” she was said to have written. I heard the same story from a different man in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where we held public vigils for detainees.
I sifted and evaluated the things I was hearing. I listened cautiously, suspended judgment, reminded myself I was hearing only one side of the story, that I needed to get all the facts, avoid mental commitment. I detached, became a technician of careful listening who collected and analyzed human rights abuses. I wanted to believe in the good intentions of the beleaguered officials and soldiers we talked to, most of whom said they never wanted to be in Iraq in the first place. They were well-intentioned people who seemed to be doing the best they could to follow the rules, run a decent occupation and improve the lives of the Iraqi people. I wanted to believe that the world I belonged to and understood, the world of Western Judeo-Christian civilization and values, was beyond this kind of moral atrocity. It was, I can see now, a process of denial.
Judith Herman, in her book Trauma and Recovery, writes: “Those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between victim and perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing … The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” When Mahadi Al Jamal’s son told me about the murder of his father at the hands of U.S. soldiers, I told myself I didn’t have time to follow up and left his grief on a piece of paper when I returned to the safety of Canada. The truth is, I was protecting myself from the brutality of what I was hearing, distancing myself from the staggering human implications of a son sitting next to his father as he suffocated under a hood.
Things in Iraq were bad—far worse than I ever imagined. We have only to consider the systematic torture and degradation of detainees at Abu Ghraib. The use of white phosphorus, banned by a 1980 UN treaty, during the siege of Fallujah in November 2004. The murders of twenty-four Iraqi civilians (eleven of them women and children) by U.S. Marines on November 19, 2005, in the town of Haditha. The gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl named Aber Qasim Hamza in Al-Mahmudiyah on March 12, 2006. The subsequent murders of her mother, father and seven-year-old sister by U.S. soldiers to cover up the crime. The executions of five children, four women and two men on March 15, 2006, shot in the head by U.S. soldiers while handcuffed in a house owned by Faiz Harat Khalaf near Abu Sifa. The July 2007 report by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian published in The Nation based on interviews with fifty Iraq combat veterans. Their conclusion: “Dozens of those interviewed witnessed Iraqi civilians, including children, dying from American firepower. Some participated in such killings; others treated or investigated civilian casualties after the fact. Many also heard such stories, in detail, from members of their unit … they … described such acts as common and said they often go unreported—and almost always go unpunished.” The testimony of soldiers such as Cliff Hicks, quoted in the June 12, 2006, edition of Newsweek: “People were taking steroids, Valium, hooked on painkillers, drinking. They’d go on raids and patrols totally stoned. We’re killing the wrong people all the time, and mostly by accident. One guy in my squadron ran over a family with his tank. Guys would crap into MRE bags and throw them to old men begging for food.”
I wonder now who was more naive—me or Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Sassaman, the Warrior King who told New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”*
I met Colonel Sassaman on January 12, 2004, at Forward Operations Base Paliwoda, a commandeered school located on the outskirts of Balad, about sixty kilometres north of Baghdad.† The base had been named after Captain Eric Paliwoda, a 28-year-old officer who had been killed nine days earlier when the base was attacked by mortar fire. Colonel Sassaman himself had lifted the dying man into the medevac helicopter.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Colonel Sassaman was one of the most celebrated of the U.S. Army’s stable of warriors. He was the commander of eight hundred men (Fourth Infantry Division, Eighth Battalion), the son of a Methodist minister, a West Point graduate, the quarterback who piloted the army football team to victory in the 1984 Cherry Bowl (an army first). He ran a total of 1,002 yards that year while nursing three cracked ribs.
He greeted us just as the day’s mail was being unloaded from an armoured personnel carrier. “You’re the first Americans I’ve met since I’ve come here—besides CBC and CNN reporters,” he said, grinning at his suggestion that journalists weren’t full-fledged Americans. He shook hands with each member of the delegation. “Call me Nate,” he said. “Come in, come in, we’ll get you something to drink.” Sassaman was forty years old, his face tanned and open, with a lean, decisive jaw and quick, penetrating eyes, a man who exuded confidence, command, authority. He was vigorously fit and moved with a quarterback’s ease.
We were led down a hallway and into a classroom. I stopped at a bulletin board. There was a poster of the Twin Towers with the words “God Bless America and Our Troops,” a sign that read “In the absence of orders, attack,” and a trophy photo of an Iraqi man lying face down in the dirt, a soldier kneeling on his head, others bending down and smiling into the camera with their thumbs up, his white pickup truck in the background. When I mentioned the picture, the soldier escorting us said, his chest inflating with pride, “Yeah, it took a while, but we got ’em. One of the bad guys.”
We sat around a collection of plastic garden tables (the kind with a hole in the middle for an umbrella) on the plastic lawn chairs that are ubiquitous in Iraq: the eight members of the delegation I was leading; Sami, Mohanned and a third Iraqi lawyer from the Balad chapter of the Organization of Human Rights, which had suggested the meeting; and Colonel Sassaman, Captain Blake, Captain Williams and their official translator, Thanya. (Our own translator elected not to come, fearing he might be detained.) Breezes flowed into the room through broken windows. Cold soft drinks were brought on trays.
After formal introductions, Colonel Sassaman began to talk. “I don’t think anybody knew what we were getting into when we came in here. When I think of the Iraqi people, I feel incredible sadness and incredible rage at the same time. We can only do so much, and there’s far more for us to do here than we’re able to do. We’ve had no support from the State Department. I thought that would be their job, rebuilding the country. We’re not equipped or trained for this. We’ve had to go back to our high school textbooks—it’s Civics 101 here. You wouldn’t believe the mind-numbing civics lessons we’ve had to give.”
While prepared to use force when necessary, his primary interest was in dialogue with the local people and helping Iraqis get back on their feet. While the soldiers sometimes conducted patrols at night, during the day they were rebuilding local infrastructure. He described with pride how they organized one of the first local elections in Balad. He claimed they had a turnout of between fifty and sixty thousand in a city of ninety thousand. Captain Blake had written a computer program to count the ballots. Balad was a model for the rest of Iraq.
The biggest challenge, he said, was tribal allegiances. “You will constantly fight family ties, tribal ties, in anything you try to do in this country. The only way we’re going to get this thing really fixed is for Iraqis to work with Iraqis.” They had set up a radio station and newspapers, reinforced the local police and established an Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps of about two hundred people to provide rural security. “I’m sort of like a county sheriff,” he said.
Colonel Sassaman held up a newspaper with his picture on the front page. He was bending down next to an Iraqi woman with a lump of raw dough in his hands. “They took this picture when I stopped to bake bread with an Iraqi family,” he said. Thanya, an Iraqi-American woman from Detroit who had fled to the United States to escape the brutality of the Saddam regime, told us Colonel Sassaman was so well liked by Iraqis that the base wasn’t shelled when he was there.
We asked him about house raids and the treatment of detainees. “I’m not in the detainee business,” he said. “We’re really into rebuilding Iraq. I feel really uncomfortable entering someone’s home. We don’t search many homes anymore.” They hadn’t conducted any house raids in several weeks, he said. “During the first few months we were here, we broke down doors and smashed things, and that was really a mistake. There’s been a learning curve, and we know now we can ask for the key. Coming here, we’ve been trained to do only one thing [to kill], so I have to be constantly retraining my soldiers.”
Colonel Sassaman was directly involved in the raids to ensure they were carried out according to the rules. U.S. forces typically took two weeks to “develop their next operation,” and every lead about a potential target was corroborated by two independent sources; they did pay informants, he said. When they had to go into a house, they did it in “forty-five seconds of absolute fury.” He explained, “You want to make the environment submissive.” They only detained “high-value targets,” those possessing unauthorized weapons or information about the insurgency. He said they didn’t usually handcuff detainees. “That way, if they run, we can use any level of force necessary to control them. Once we cuff ’em, we can’t touch ’em.”
Most of the Iraqis Sassaman detained were released. Those they decided to hold on to were “processed” and held for twenty-four hours, at most two or three days, before being sent on to Abu Ghraib. Only three people were allowed to talk to the detainees while they were in Colonel Sassaman’s custody: Sassaman himself, Captain Blake and Captain Williams.
I liked Nate Sassaman. He was a straight talker who had no time for soft-pedalling platitudes and vague generalities. His desire to improve the lives of the Iraqi people and his frustration with the lack of resources to help him accomplish that task seemed genuine. He appeared to be a man of principle who was doing his very best to carry out an impossible mission with the wrong tools.
We suggested that Colonel Sassaman open a regular channel of communication with the local association of human rights lawyers. The lawyers had a number of concerns about house raids, access to detainees and the misconduct of American soldiers. We asked if the three lawyers, who had been following Thanya’s whispered translation, could have a turn to speak.
As soon as Mohanned began to speak, Sassaman’s smiling, genial demeanour disappeared. He sat erect, hands gripping the arms of his chair, face hard and jaw a line of steel. He looked through the Iraqis, never at them, as if he were sitting in an interrogator’s chair.
Mohanned and Sami talked calmly while Thanya translated. Their concerns were general, about the difficulties of life under occupation. Sassaman clenched his jaw, said he couldn’t do anything about that, he was only interested in specific issues, things he could reasonably change. The lawyers referred to an incident in October 2003 in which U.S. soldiers opened fire on a vehicle containing six Iraqis. The car burst into flames and one of the passengers ran from the car. The soldiers forced him back inside. All six were killed.
Sassaman’s face went crimson. “That’s been dealt with. Why are you bringing that up? That wasn’t our unit. That was somebody else, but we had to go in and clean up the mess anyway.”
Sassaman turned to us. “You need to understand that these people are Muslim, and their values are not the same as Judeo-Christian values. They aren’t for doing things for other people like we are. They’re only out for themselves.” He seemed to be implying that the lawyers were only interested in financial compensation. Sassaman and Blake told us they’d met every lawyer in town and they didn’t recognize these men, nor had they ever heard of the Organization of Human Rights. “You’re being used,” Colonel Sassaman told us.
We explained that the Organization of Human Rights was a national organization based in Baghdad with which CPT had a long-standing relationship, that the Iraqi men present were legitimate representatives of that organization, and we stated again that our purpose in coming was to try to open a channel of communication between the lawyers and Colonel Sassaman. Sassaman answered, “There’ll be a meeting, all right, and the lawyers will be there. And it’ll be a humdinger of a meeting.” Despite Sassaman’s threatening tone, the lawyers agreed and a date was set for January 17.
As we were leaving, we saw dozens of Iraqi men being held inside a fenced-in area behind the school. A delegation member said, “Didn’t he say they haven’t conducted a house raid in the past few weeks?”
The next day, January 13, 2004, Sami came to visit the CPT apartment in Baghdad with some news. Sassaman had raided Mohanned’s house at four in the morning and had detained Mohanned and five of his brothers. They were released at nine that night. Sassaman said later he had nothing to do with it—another unit was working in his area without his knowledge and detained them in the course of looking for their target. “As soon as I saw him, I let him go.”
I met Sassaman twice more—both times at meetings with the Organization of Human Rights we helped facilitate at the Balad courthouse. He listened intently, spoke frankly, didn’t promise anything he couldn’t deliver.
Like Colonel Sassaman, Ba’har Kadhin Al Saady once served his country as a soldier. I first met him in the office of the National Association for the Defence of Human Rights (NADHR). It was a cold January day and the building we were in had no windows. He sat on a frayed chair behind a desk propped up by a brick. One hand held a cigarette, the other a pen that twirled in his fingers. You could see in the creases of his face, the set of his jaw, the spartan lines of his body that he’d had a difficult life.
Ba’har had been conscripted into the Republican Army at the age of eighteen. At nineteen he refused a direct military order to join a unit that was attacking Kurdish nationals in northern Iraq. “When they asked me why, I told them those people are Iraqi people, and they are Muslims. If I kill them, God will be angry with me. I do not want to kill anyone. Because of this, I was accused of being a traitor and sent to jail.
“They sent me to the prison of the Fifteenth Division to investigate me. They tortured me too much. They handcuffed me and beat me with sticks.” He pointed to a three-inch scar on his right jawbone. “This is where they beat me with the butt of a pistol.” He pulled up his shirt to show me dozens of long white scars on his back. “They gave us lashes with a cable until they cut the meat.” Ba’har held out his hands. “They poured water on me and then put electricity on my fingers. They hoisted me into the air on a hook for one or two hours with my hands tied behind my back. They call it ‘the scorpion.’ This treatment lasted for three months. On August 13, 1994, they sent me back to my military unit. This mistreatment was staying in my mind so that I couldn’t bear to continue my military service. They asked me to go on patrol again. I had no choice except to be a deserter in order not to make God angry at me.”
Ba’har escaped to a village near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. He stayed there ten days before returning to Baghdad. Ba’har was captured on October 4. After a series of lashings, he was told he was going to have his ear cut off for desertion.
On October 10, he was taken to a hospital wearing handcuffs and a blindfold. “They gave me an injection in my hand and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in pain. I said to myself, this isn’t real, it’s a nightmare. But when I felt my bandaged ear I knew it wasn’t a dream.”
Ba’har turned his head to show me his right ear. The top of it had been cut flat on a downward angle, as though sliced off by pruning shears. The same punishment was inflicted on over 3,600 war resisters and deserters. Some had their whole ear removed. Others lost the end of their nose, a piece of their tongue, or had a minus sign tattooed on their forehead. “It was just whatever they decided to do,” Ba’har said.
Ba’har spent the next two years in prison, where he was subjected to continuing physical and mental abuse. “There were nineteen soldiers who were exposed to the same treatment. Some of them had little bits of their ear cut, some had big pieces cut.” He was finally released in December 1996.
“At that time, I thought it was the end of my tragedy, but in fact it was just the beginning. Some people, when they gazed at me in the streets, saw me as a bad one. When I was with my friends, they would greet me and say ‘Hello traitor’ as a joke, but in fact that cut me.”
When no one would hire him, Ba’har burned his identification papers and forged new ones that did not record his punishment. Still, marked by his ear, it was impossible to find work. “It became something shameful for me. It affected all my social relationships.
“One day, I asked for the hand of a woman I wanted to marry.” Ba’har’s voice became strained. He fought back tears. “Her family refused. They said yes, you are good, but you are punished by Saddam Hussein. That is not something honourable for us.” Estranged from his family and jobless, Ba’har was living in a looted Ministry of Trade building when he saw posters announcing that the NADHR had a group to assist men in his situation.
“I came to this association at first looking for compensation. I found the people in this society to be very responsible. They helped me. Meeting the other victims made me eager to volunteer in this organization to work for peace and to work for those who refused wars. So now I like working in this organization and I like my work.” Ba’har became the president of the Committee for the People Who Refused Wars. He spent his days organizing on behalf of the 3,600 men who had been branded by the Saddam regime. He helped them apply for compensation, fill out forms, get assistance from the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, and he listened to their stories. The Ministry of Health had recently agreed to offer surgery. Fourteen auricular reconstructions had been done.
“Before the war, I was humiliated, scorned,” Ba’har said. “So now in fact it is not a disgrace, it is not shameful for me.” He pointed to his ear. “Now I consider this cut a medal of honour for resisting the strongest dictator ever known.”
I asked him to tell me more about how—and why—he made his extraordinary decision to refuse war. He paused, struggled to find the words. “It is … a … primitive feeling in me.” He did not have language for what he wanted to say. “I am the peaceful man … I don’t like to shed the blood of others. I wish to live in peace, and to realize peace all over the world.”
I asked him if he wanted to have his own ear reconstructed. He nodded. “Yes, I want to do that. But only after everyone else gets it done.” And then he said, “In spite of my poverty, I want to help others who are in need. Until now I am living in a garden.”
I thank God for you, Ba’har. You, and those like you, are the shock absorbers of history. You have set your face like flint against the war machine. Your no is the only sharp-edged sword, the only polished arrow that can deliver us from the blind, mad spiral of violence. By your shame we have the possibility of wholeness, by your affliction the possibility of healing. The punishment you accept brings us peace. You are one of the suffering servants of the Lord, all that is holding the world together.
As the day of my departure neared, I found myself becoming increasingly skittish. It was early March 2004, just a few weeks before the kidnapping of internationals began. We were right in the middle of our Adopt-a-Detainee Campaign and its daily public vigils in Tahrir Square. I was finding it harder and harder to leave the apartment. The normal everyday code-yellow readiness that’s so essential for negotiating the perils of life in Iraq—a strange car parked in front of your building, gunshots up the street, a car full of glaring men pulling up next to you—was building into a paralyzing anxiety. When I mentioned this to Cliff, a veteran of fourteen years of working on CPT projects, he reassured me that this was completely normal. “I always get more cautious as the time gets closer for me to go home. Okay, I think to myself, I’m almost there, I’m going to make it back alive this time. Soldiers talk about feeling that too. It’s the horse smelling the barn syndrome.”
On March 12, 2004, I said goodbye to the team and one of our translators took me to the bus station. I sat down in my seat and let go a sigh of relief. I had made it. Except, somewhere between Ramadi and Fallujah, on the highway leading west to Jordan, the bus suddenly stopped in the middle of the desert. People sat up and looked out of windows. There were five cars in front of us and, two hundred metres ahead of them, five Humvees straddling the divided highway in a semicircle. Three more Humvees were parked on the left shoulder.
A handful of people got off the bus. I decided to get out too. I could see more clearly what was happening. There were soldiers lying on the ground in firing positions behind the wheels of the Humvees, hyper-charged, afraid, their bodies coiled and ready to kill. A lone soldier stood on the road in front of the Humvees, one hand signalling us to stay back, the other ready on the trigger of his machine gun.
The windows of the middle Humvee on the other side of the road were blown out. Some soldiers ran between vehicles, while others clustered in a tight knot and bent low around what appeared to be someone lying on the ground. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I could see a second body lying unattended in front of the damaged Humvee.
More people spilled out of their cars. They lounged on the guardrail, puffed on cigarettes, talked in small groups. An F-16 circled overhead. I looked around me at the tight jam of cars, the vast expanse of desert rolling out flat around us, the brown-skinned people milling around, sitting in cars, waiting with glum faces, some in long flowing clothes, all speaking to each other in incomprehensible guttural sounds. I tried to imagine what the soldiers must be seeing as they kept watch behind their guns in Kevlar helmets and flak jackets. It seemed to me there was only one thing they could see—that they were surrounded by a sea of enemies—whereas I, a lone, unarmed Westerner who was just riding a bus, saw travellers, any one of whom I could approach to ask for help if needed.
After about half an hour, one of the Humvees ventured cautiously into the desert behind five foot soldiers. The men ran in short bursts, dropped to their knees, reconnoitred with their guns ready, advanced again in the same way, gradually securing a perimeter of 150 metres. Fifteen minutes later, a helicopter emblazoned with a red cross landed inside the perimeter. Three teams carrying three stretchers hurried towards the helicopter. The first two stretchers were accompanied by medics. Ominously, the last stretcher was not. The helicopters lifted off in a whirlwind of dust.
Fifteen minutes after that, a convoy of five white Suburbans drove up the shoulder and stopped at the front of the long traffic column. Doors opened and men with cameras and big fuzzy microphones got out. They wore sunglasses and navy blue flak jackets that said CBS. They began to walk towards the Humvees. The soldier who was standing in the road stepped towards them. “Stop! Back!” he commanded.
“We’re reporters,” the men shouted.
“No! Stop now!”
The men stopped. I asked one of them if he knew what was going on. No, he said. They were on their way to Fallujah to do a story when they got stuck in the traffic jam along with everyone else. I told him what I knew. He said thank you and I went back to sitting on the guardrail amongst the Iraqis.
A few minutes later, the man came over to me, formally introduced himself as being with the CBS Evening News and asked me if I’d be willing to talk with them about what I’d seen. He returned with a cameraman, someone holding a microphone, and a tall, craggy, good-natured man, the only one not wearing a flak jacket. “Hi,” he said, extending his hand, “I’m Dan Rather with the CBS Evening News.”
“Hi,” I said, shaking his hand. I immediately thought of my father, who watches the CBS Evening News religiously. I wasn’t sure what to say. “I’d heard that you were here covering the story in Iraq,” I said.
“Yes, we’re here for a week. There’s nothing like being on the ground,” he said.
“No, there isn’t.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where’re you from, James? You don’t look like you’re from Iraq.”
“What’s a guy from Canada doing out here?” he asked.
“I’m travelling on that bus over there. I’m on my way home after working in Baghdad for ten weeks with a peace organization. We’re documenting American human rights abuses.” His eyes seemed to glaze over when he heard the words “peace” and “human rights.”
“So, what did you see?” he asked, pointing up the road.
The cameraman focused in on me as I explained what I’d seen.
“Thanks very much,” he said, shaking my hand warmly when the interview was over. “You travel safely now.”
“Thanks. You too,” I said.
“You’ll be on the news this afternoon,” the man who set up the interview said, as if announcing that I’d just won the lottery. “Well, actually, it’ll be first thing in the morning back home.”
“Thanks. Maybe my father will see it,” I said, enjoying the thought of his surprise upon watching the news. And then it struck me, looking at all the Iraqi men and women and children standing around in the road, all of them waiting just like me, all of them having seen the same set of events: any one of them could have told the story of what had happened, and yet it was I alone whose witness held credibility and interest. The Iraqis were just an indistinguishable mass. I alone counted because I had the skin colour, spoke the language and carried a passport that mattered. And then, even at that, they had no interest in why I had come to Iraq or what I had seen.
I got on the bus, the Humvees parted and we were on our way again. I thought for a long time about the people on those stretchers. I wondered who they were and what had happened to them. I wondered about their families, what their lives had been like in the past, and what their lives would be like in the future, if they survived. I finally had to accept that I was never going to know. I was leaving Iraq and there were so many things I didn’t know. Everything seemed to be a mystery, a half-truth or a lie. The only thing I knew for sure was that war was an outrage, and that nothing good could ever come of it.
When I got home, I found out that Colonel Sassaman had been in the news. On January 3, the day his best friend, Captain Paliwoda, was killed, soldiers under Sassaman’s command ordered two Iraqi cousins to jump into the Tigris River. Marwan and Zaydoon Fadhil, twenty-four and nineteen years old, were returning from Baghdad with a truckful of toilet fixtures and plumbing supplies. They were either a few minutes before or a few minutes after the 11:00 p.m. curfew when they were stopped by Sassaman’s men just a few hundred metres from their home. The soldiers handcuffed the cousins and transported them by armoured personnel carrier to the Tharthar Dam, where they forced them at gunpoint to jump into the river fifty feet upstream from the dam. Then they crushed the men’s truck. Marwan made it out, but Zaydoon was dragged by the current through a water-control gate in the dam. His body was found thirteen days later, a mile downstream.*
Sassaman learned about the incident four days later. Rumours were circulating that one of the men had drowned. The platoon officer, Lieutenant Jack Saville, assured Sassaman that he had seen two men walking away soaking wet. Two days later Sassaman met with his commanding officer, Colonel Frederick Rudeshiem. Rudeshiem told Sassaman his men would be court-martialled if he found out they had forced the Iraqis into the water. Sassaman thought this was going too far. When the investigators came, he ordered his men to lie. “I told my guys to tell them about everything,” he explained to New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins. “Everything except the water.”* What they had done was wrong, but it was no more serious than a high school prank.† He intended to discipline the men himself by making them teach classes on integrity to their comrades.‡ “I wasn’t going to let the lives of my men be destroyed. Not because they pushed a couple of insurgents into a pond.”§
Three soldiers and one officer faced criminal charges. At the trial, the defence argued Zaydoon was an insurgent who had staged his own death. In his memoir entitled Warrior King, published in 2008, Sassaman writes, “It was, in fact, common practice for top blacklisted Iraqi insurgents to fake their deaths in an attempt to divert interest from a particular terrorist cell … I believe it’s likely this is what happened in the case of Zaydoon Fadhil.”¶ The defence introduced a classified U.S. intelligence report that said confidential Iraqi sources had seen Zaydoon alive and well in Samarra. Army prosecutors argued that the report, drawn up by a member of Sassaman’s battalion, was false.
In the end, Sergeant Tracy Perkins and Lieutenant Jack Saville were both convicted of assault. Perkins was sentenced to six months, Saville to forty-five days. Sassaman and two junior officers (Captain Matthew Cunningham and Major Robert Gwinner) were officially reprimanded for impeding the army’s investigation. Sassaman’s conduct was called “wrongful” and “criminal.” He himself had no regrets. “I did what I thought was right in protecting those men.”*
His career in shreds, Nate Sassaman retired from the army on June 30, 2005. He went on to become the athletic director at a private school in Colorado Springs. When asked to reflect on his new role, Nate told a reporter, “My passion has always been helping to teach people how to be responsible for their actions and how to be able to lead courageously in times of chaos and adversity and how to enact justice. You have to have a degree of empathy to help those who are less skilled or less talented than you. I did that in the Army. Now I just don’t have to do that in combat.”†
In Warrior King, Colonel Sassaman tells us about the day he went to the family of Mahadi Al Jamal with a compensation offer of six thousand dollars. He didn’t want to do it. It had been only two days since Captain Paliwoda had been killed and Sassaman was angry. “I was frustrated beyond words that I had to pay off a family because their grandfather had died of a heart attack while my soldiers were merely doing their job; however, general army policy dictated these types of reparation payments—that’s just how it worked over there.”
These payments “typically came [with] much hand-wringing and crying, and occasionally a harsh exchange of words,” Sassaman writes. He lost his composure when one of the younger members of the family got in Sassaman’s face and started screaming. “There was a fleeting moment in which I thought about putting a bullet in his head. Instead, I got in his face and, with an interpreter by my side, explained … ‘I know you’re upset about your grandfather. I’m upset about my friend, but I’m paying you $6,000; what are you doing for me?’
“Now, I understand how that sounds. It is callous and contemptible; but it reflects precisely what I felt in my soul at that moment. I was still the good Christian man who had come to Iraq seven months earlier, but my spirit was broken. This encounter, and my handling of it, represented a significant departure from the way I was raised and taught to be. In a very real sense, I had crossed over to the dark side. In retrospect, of course, I understand the anger and pain this family experienced … The truth is, that’s not going a long way toward bringing democracy to anybody.”*
With regard to the use of military force, however, Sassaman is unrepentant. “We acted with force because force was the only thing that seemed to work … the only thing the Iraqis seemed to understand.”† If he regrets anything, it’s that they weren’t given the tools necessary to do their job. “We had a chance to win the war in the first year, and we didn’t.” Now he says it’s time to bring the soldiers home. “We’re sending over tired troops on old, worn-down equipment, with an American public that is not as fired up about this as it was in 2003, and I just don’t see Iraqis shouldering the load as much as they should. Let them fall into civil war and fight through this on their own.”‡
The first foreigner to be kidnapped was a British laundry contractor named Gary Teeley. It happened on April 5, 2004, two weeks after I returned home. By the end of the month, forty-three internationals had been kidnapped. NGOs left the country en masse. Tom Fox arrived in Baghdad on September 24, when the kidnapping of internationals was at its height. He and Matt Chandler from Oregon hunkered down in the CPT apartment while they consulted with the team’s Iraqi partners about whether or not CPT should stay. They didn’t leave the apartment for a month. Neighbours brought them food.
Margaret Hassan, the Irish-Iraqi director of CARE in Iraq, was kidnapped on October 19. Nine days later it was Borcz Khalifa, a community development worker from Poland. Both women had worked with the team and had visited the CPT apartment. The kidnappers were practically knocking on the door.
I told Doug Pritchard, CPT’s director of program and the project support coordinator for Iraq, that I thought the team should come home. I called Matt in Iraq and told him the same thing. “I know, I know,” he said. “I keep wondering if we’re like a couple of frogs sitting in a soup pot. We can’t tell the water is getting hotter and hotter and we don’t know enough to jump out until it’s too late.”
Our Iraqi partners felt it was still possible for us to continue working, and no one else was doing the work we were doing. The decision was made to stay, and two more CPTers joined the team in November.
Nine months later, in August 2005, Greg Rollins visited me in Toronto on his way home to Surrey, B.C. I asked him what the situation was like now. “It’s bad and it’s not, if you know what I mean. There’s always the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Baghdad’s a huge city, and the chances on any given day that you’re going to be in the vicinity of a bomb are really small. As for the kidnapping situation, for Iraqis it’s as bad as ever, if not worse. We ourselves are taking a lot of precautions. We have our own driver now, and we never go out alone outside of our immediate neighbourhood where people know us, and never after dark. The women all wear an abiya so they don’t stick out as much. We vary our travel routes all the time, and there are some places we just don’t go. It’s more restrictive, but there’s still a lot of work that we’re able to do. So far we’ve been okay. I guess it’s kind of an intuitive thing. It just seems like the risk, balanced against the precautions we’re taking and the work we’re doing, evens out. And the kidnapping of internationals has died down. There haven’t been any new cases lately.”
I asked Claire Evans, the delegation coordinator, if she was looking for someone to lead the November delegation and she said she was. I took a deep breath and said I’d be willing to go. “Oh, good,” she said.
* “Operation Iraqi Freedom: By the Numbers,” USCENTAF Report, April 30, 2003.
† “Iraq Coalition Casualty Count,” March 19, 2003, through May 1, 2003, iCasualties.org.
* CPT was unable to make any further determination about this incident, but it bears an uncanny similarity to the suffocation death of Mahadi Al Jamal.
* Dexter Filkins, The Forever War: Dispatches from the War on Terror (London: The Bodley Head, 2008), 160.
† This meeting was reconstructed with the assistance of delegation member David Hilfiker’s report, “Winning Hearts and Minds,” posted on Tom Dispatch on January 29, 2004.
* The full story of Sassaman’s role in covering up the circumstances related to Zaydoon Fadhil’s death can be found in the New York Times article “The Fall of the Warrior King,” written by Dexter Filkins and published on October 23, 2005.
* The Forever War, 164.
† Col. (Ret.) Nathan Sassaman with Joe Layden, Warrior King: The Triumph and Betrayal of an American Commander in Iraq (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 246.
‡ Brian Gomez, “Fallen Warrior Rises to Lead Local Teens,” Gazette (Colorado Springs), January 14, 2007.
§ The Forever War, 164.
¶ Warrior King, 252.
* Gomez, “Fallen Warrior.”
* Warrior King, 235–36.
‡ Ibid, 303.