Haunting

This CBS story about American soldiers who rescued 24 severely malnourished and abused boys from a Baghdad orphanage, the director of which may have selling the facility’s supplies to local markets and is currently on the lam, is not only heartbreakingly difficult to read, but is also perfectly emblematic of so much of what it currently wrong with this war: One celebrates the soldiers having rescued the children, even as one considers the very real likelihood that it was our government’s decision to send troops in the first place that created the conditions in which those children were found.

On a daytime patrol in central Baghdad just over than a week ago, a U.S. military advisory team and Iraqi soldiers happened to look over a wall and found something horrific.

“They saw multiple bodies laying on the floor of the facility,” Staff Sgt. Mitchell Gibson of the 82nd Airborne Division told CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan. “They thought they were all dead, so they threw a basketball (to) try and get some attention, and actually one of the kids lifted up their head, tilted it over and just looked and then went back down. And they said, ‘oh, they’re alive’ and so they went into the building.”

Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, the soldiers found more emaciated little bodies tied to the cribs. They had been kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the 24 boys.

“I saw children that you could see literally every bone in their body that were so skinny, they had no energy to move whatsoever, no expression on their face,” Staff Sgt. Michael Beale said.

“The kids were tied up, naked, covered in their own waste — feces — and there were three people that were cooking themselves food, but nothing for the kids,” Lt. Stephen Duperre said.

…”My first thought when I walked in there was shock, and then I got a little angry that they were treating kids like that, then that’s when everybody just started getting upset,” Capt. Jim Cook said. “There were people crying. It was definitely a bad emotional scene.”

There was nothing more emotional than finding one boy who Army medics did not expect to survive. For Gibson, that was the hardest part:

Seeing a boy who was at the orphanage, where Logan reported from, “with thousands of flies covering his body, unable to move any part of his body, you know we had to actually hold his head up and tilt his head to make sure that he was OK, and the only thing basically that was moving was his eyeballs,” Gibson explained. “Flies in the mouth, in the eyes, in the nose, ears, eating all the open wounds from sleeping on the concrete.”

All that, and the boy was laying in the boiling sun — temperatures of 120 degrees or so, according to Gibson.

Looking at the boy today, as he sits up in his crib without help, it is hard to believe he is the same boy, one week later — now clean and being cared for along with all the other boys in a different orphanage located only a few minutes away from where they suffered their ordeal.

Lt. Jason Smith, who helped rescue the boys, is a special education teacher. When he called his wife, also a special education teacher, to tell her what had happened, she told him “that one day was worth [his] entire deployment… It makes the whole thing worthwhile.” And that’s the sort of sentiment that haunts me. It made Lt. Smith’s deployment worthwhile, without question. But if no soldiers had been deployed, if we hadn’t ever launched this fucking war, maybe those boys would have been cared for all along. Maybe they wouldn’t have been orphans in the first place, were it not for us. Or maybe they were dumped there before the war; I don’t know. The not-knowing gnaws at me, though. I can only image what it must be like for a soldier who has no choice but to be there, and looks for the thing that makes his or her deployment worthwhile wherever they can find it.

That seems the sort of haunting a person can never shake.

By the way, did you know that Walter Reed has no post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center…?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Haunting

  1. Did you also hear about all the undelivered mail found in the mailroom of Walter Reed, some of it a year old? There’s no end to this.

    We as a culture, and a nation, ought to be haunted by this war and its effects for a very long time. It’s what we deserve.

    But I know how these things go, and how good we are at forgetting. The troops and their families will end end carrying this burden for us, for a long while to come: for a lifetime.

  2. the experience of war, whether it explodes all around your head while you’re just trying to eke out a peasant’s life in some third world shithole, or the experience of a young soldier who gets thrown with the innocence of your youth into a mechanized meat grinder is one that will haunt. if it you go there and do not come out with a hefty measure of haunting then you are something less than fully human.

    for myself, i find that those few times when i behaved in a manner consistent with my own standards of decency despite the strong temptations to allow myself to indulge in cruelty or other such depravities are what keep the angrier ghosts at bay. for most of the horrors there was a balancing (but not compensating) little slice of nobility or simple human decency.

    sometimes i think that the real essence of heroism is the ability to act like a human being in a world gone suddenly and violently mad.

  3. This shit just breaks my heart. That our boys have to find things like this just to make them feel like being there is worth it. To think what this miserable failure of a presidency has done to the world.

  4. Exhibit #457,832,991 in demonstrating that when it came to the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, we were not ready.

    I feel sick.

  5. This is exactly what I was thinking when I heard it on the morning news radio show, Lissie. That the story wants to paint the soldiers as heroes, and yay the soldiers, but how can you cheer them without acknowledging that this is a direct result of us being there in the first place?

  6. Don’t know how it is over there, you lot are so sensative, but here they have been showing films of this horror. Devestating! Seeing those little boys kissing the hands of the men who saved them is heartbreaking in the extreme. The worst being that today they showed the storerooms that were packed with food which the people who apparently were running the place were selling while the kids starved. And those assholes in Washington who are the direct cause of this talk about progress and the Iraqi “Government”!

    And the cunts don’t understand why the Iraqi’s want the Americans to go back where they came from and leave them alone. And at lunch time on the mid day news here they showed the latest carnage. A bomb in front of a Mosque that has killed at least 75 in Baghdad.

    So tell us again assholes how the “Surge” is working!!!!!!!

  7. Kelly

    I’ve been against this war from the beginning. And yes, haunting is exactly how I would describe it as well. But, I’m not so sure that our presence in Iraq is directly related to these children ending up in the state they were found. Though this particular situation is extreme, these kinds of atrocities happen all over the world, whether there is a war going on or not.

  8. shaun

    I am agin’ the war. I am for immediate withdrawal. But your claim than the invasion/occupation is the underlying cause of this atrocity is unsubstantiated. Why is there “a very real likelihood” that is indeed the cause?

  9. Having actually been to war a couple of times I can gaurantee that the war is the present cause of this atrocity. How can you expect a government agency, in this case the orphanage, to function properly when there is no government? How can you expect any society to function properly when all controls are gone and survival is based on an “every man for himself” existance that has been forced upon them by our invasion? When just going to the market to buy the food you need is enough to get you killed or maimed for life then a supply of food like the one in this orphanage becomes a gold mine for the people who posess it. And to expect the Iraqi’s to be somehow less greedy than the people in Washington who ordered the destruction of their country so that they could stel their resources and at the same time plunder the United states treasury is to live in utopia. To have a Sec. of State of the United States calmly state that the starvation of 500,000 Iraqi children was “Worth it”, added to what this horrendous war has done might just possibly give you some idea of the conditioning that the US has forced upon the Iraqi people. And this is just one of the results.

  10. Kelly

    I can agree that the war we wage in Iraq has had and will continue to have everlasting horrific effects on the people of Iraq… there is no argument there.

    However, if one reads the article- which states that these children are now being cared for at another orphanage just a few minutes away… I’m still going to go with putting the blame on the adults in charge, as the direct cause of this atrocity, and our presence in Iraq as the indirect cause.

  11. cl

    I am with Kelly on this. It is really easy to blame an aggressive war on all the problems in Iraq. Really easy if you do not understand the culture or read the history. There is no doubt in my mind that as the 3rd ID rolled into Baghdad that American forces were causing damage to Iraq and its people. There was infrastructure destroyed as well as lives torn apart. Every time a family is killed at a TCP (Traffic Control Point) because the driver ignored warning signs and continued to drive through…there is damage.

    But you can not honestly lay blame for corruption at the feet of the American Soldier or Marine in this war. Billions of dollars have been stolen by the Iraq interim government(s). Tens of thousands of lives have been lost at the hands of the Iraqi’s themselves. They have been killing and stealing for centuries. It is the way of their culture.

    It is just naive to try and lay the blame of this situation at the foot of the Bush Administration or the American military man/woman. This is human nature. This is greed. This is corruption. This is the middle east. And face it folks…this is every where. We have instances like this every day in the United States…and no one invaded us. We have foster homes packing in 20 kids and not using the money they are paid to correctly care for them. We have nursing homes packing in thousands of elderly and mistreating them. And we even have mortuaries that get paid to bury people while they are throwing the bodies out back.

    I served in the 82nd ABN. I am proud that paratroopers from my Division and the Iraqi Army unit that they were advising could have the opportunity to save the lives of these children. They should be praised…but not made out to be heroes. They are human. And they are caring warriors who protect those that can’t do for themselves. But to then cancel out that praise by saying if they weren’t there this would never have happened in the first place is to just show the biased against this war. That is what is talking here. The bias. There is no room for that. These children were in a bad way. And American Soldiers, paratroopers were there. End of story. You want to find blame? Blame the people responsible. War or not. It is unforgivable to do the things that the adults in charge of this orphanage were doing. The adults at the one down the street weren’t. War or not there is the right thing and the wrong thing.

    Incidentally I was opposed to invading Iraq. Not because I am against the Bush administration. But because I thought it was a diversion away from the real target…and that it would do more harm in our fight against fanatical Islam than good.

    But ladies and gentleman…we are in a fight now. Now you have to fight. The enemy took advantage of this poor strategy and decided to make battle in Iraq…we must face him where he has decided to come out and fight.

    cl

  12. concerning Water Reed… I just wanted to write that it may benefit active duty veteran family’s / friends of veterans to read a recently released book titled, “Still the Monkey: What Happens to Warriors After War?” “Author Alivia C. Tagliaferri became inspired to write Still the Monkey: What Happens to Warriors After War after she visited the Walter Reed Medical Center in the summer of 2003, and saw first hand the casualties of the War on Terror. Her later interview with a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder helped cement her determination to express the devastating toll of war. Still the Monkey is a historical fiction novel about a Vietnam veteran plagued with pain and sickness, and his fateful meeting with an Iraq veteran who lost both his legs. For ten days inside the walls of Walter Reed’s Monologue House, the two of them begin a painful yet ultimately cathartic progression toward healing and learning to live again, one day at a time. A poignant and powerful novel, written out of the deepest respect and admiration for the men and women who put their lives on the line for the sake of their nation.” – Midwest Book Review. At http://www.ironcuttermedia.com/ you can learn more about this book, which is reality-based work of historical fiction that depicts the problems caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among returning veterans. I hope this post helps educate people out there that need assistance. Take care and God bless.

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