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…?