Monday, October 6, 2008

Iraqi detainees and the US's need for good will

I note this story in today's Washington Post. It brings to mind the fact that thousands of such men - the vast majority of them innocent of any wrongdoing (or, as the Bush administration might phrase it - if it's indeed speaking up about anything anymore - "evildoing") continue to languish at places like Camp Bucca, and that their families continue to suffer in their absence. These men traditionally are the protectors and breadwinners of their families, who have had to do without that protection and sustenance, usually for years given the snail's pace of American justice when's it come to detainees. They've also had to endure incarceration and countless humiliations at the hands of US troops. All in all, I think it's safe to say that the hearts and minds of them and their families have hardly been won over by their experience at the hands of the USA. And you can bet that Arabs across the Middle East and beyond have been taking note.

The Dow-Jones has fallen this morning by another 600 points, and the day's trading is not done. The US economy is at the precipice, and may well drag down most of the global economy with it. The US is massively in debt, people are losing their homes and their livelihoods, while global wealth (what's left of it) has been shifting eastward.

You have to wonder how much, in the years ahead, the USA will need to reach out its hand to the newly emerging economies - many of them in the oil-producing states of the Middle East. You also have to wonder how hard many across the world will want to smack that hand, now that the US's policies and actions over the past eight years (indeed, much longer than that; the blame extends deeply into our history) have squandered, not only our pretensions to leadership, but whatever moral and ethical capital the USA might once have possessed.

A Joyful Welcome Home for Detainees

By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, October 6, 2008; A10

Flipping back a canvas tarp, 12 men squint at the dusty sun and jump, one by one, off the bed of a U.S. military transport truck, dropping to their knees in prayer. They are free.

Before their arrival at the Iraqi police headquarters in Baghdad, they were transported, hands tied, from the U.S. detention facility Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq -- a full day's drive from here. Their ironed pants and stiff new shoes were donated for their homecoming, replacing the orange jumpsuits from Bucca.

Slowly, they pull each other up, their tears falling, uncontrollable after years of waiting.

And then they are forced to wait a little more. Temporarily in Iraqi police custody, the men wade through an hour of bureaucracy while their families mill about just outside the compound. For security reasons, they are then transported in Iraqi police vehicles to another neighborhood.

The trip becomes a parade. Horns blare. Kids cheer. Women pelt the police pickups with hard candy. The detainees stand and wave in the truck beds, crying as they pass old men drinking tea and selling vegetables on the streets. One family follows behind in a rusted car, yelling, driving haphazardly, eyes on their loved ones and barely on the road.

Haqi Ismaeel Awad was detained more than two years ago because, he says, the U.S. military suspected his brother of participating in the insurgency. Now he has been cleared of involvement.

Awad, eyes closed, faces into the wind, feeling its force on his face as the smells and sounds of Baghdad become a reality.

When the truck pulls into a neighborhood park, Awad's parents run alongside it with their arms open. The truck's rear gate is not opened fast enough. The men jump over it and down to the road, into the embraces of mothers, wives, brothers and fathers.

Weeping, Awad's wife grabs him, holding his face in her hands, kissing one cheek, then the other.

"You look old," she says, but she smiles.

He scans the crowd past her.

Their two children are waiting for them at home, she tells him, bringing his eyes down to hers. It is still too dangerous for them to be out on the streets.

Washington Post photographer Andrea Bruce is documenting the lives of people in Iraq in a feature, Unseen Iraq, appearing regularly in the World pages. For a photo gallery and previous columns, visit

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