Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Can Men Do This?

My platoon was getting ready to move north.  We had done, something, I'm not sure what exactly, at our first COP, by the power station, and now we were going to move north of Fedelayah, into Kamalayah, where no US troops had been pretty much since the beginning of the war.  Bravo would be the furthest company out, and the trek to our COP would be treacherous at best.  Deadly at worst.  Orders were orders so we scouted a few locations that no one was really using that we might move a company of US Infantry into, I'm not sure how we settled on it, but someone decided to use "The Spaghetti Factory".  It was centrally located, near Broadway (also called Shit trench road) the "woods" and "Home plate".  All elements on an overhead black and white satellite photo. 

My first tour through the facility was actually the third of fourth time the company had been through there.  They already knew about "Bob" but no one had told me yet.  I remember the WaPo author hadcome out this time around, and so did the XO.  They wanted to take a look at the factory.  I was watching when Bob was explained.  The Major looked really uncomfortable with the idea, and I couldn't figure out what the big deal was.  So when no one was around I looked where he had been looking down.

If what was floating in the sewage hole had once been a man, it was rapidly becoming less and less so.  already the toxic stew of sewage was starting to turn him into a mush, his hands were starting to simply melt away.  This had once been a man, in the traditional Arab robe.  Who he was, what he had done to deserve such a fate, no one will ever know because his head was also missing.  Bob, whatever his real name had been, had been a poor unfortunate soul that had run afoul of the Militias.  You couldn't even really be sure which one had done it to him, though as we were in Sadr's back yard it was probably Jaysh al-Mahdi.

By the simple expedient of cutting off this man's head they had robbed him of name, of proper burial, or even the decency to let his wife or family know what had become of him.  Bob would have no finger prints, and it would be doubtful just how much DNA we could retrieve, not that in a country like Iraq that would do a damn bit of good.  Some half assed plans had been hatched to retrieve Bob before we moved in, but that never happened, JAM blew the roof of the Spaghetti factory.  As if to snub them, we moved in next door.  Poor Bob was never retrieved.  His life never unraveled.  Good man or ill, he simply dissolved away in a morass of filth. 

Bob wasn't alone.  When we founded the Ranger JSS there were headless corpses being brought in all the time.  They would smell because of decomposition.  The hands would be bound.  Sometimes in front.  Sometimes in back.  No worldly possessions.  A whole life erased in the most horrendous of ways.  What cold ruthlessness could drive men to this?  One poor soul had been tortured.  His fingernails had been ripped out, small drill holes on his knees and elbows, I don't even want to think about the way his body felt as I helped move him.  He had had a lot of broken bones before he died.

I could talk about the torture houses.  Even attempting to describe some of the horrific ways some of these poor souls were tortured fills me with nausea.  Drills to knees.  Teeth pulled.  Electric shock.  One would think that this was something straight out of a Gestapo/SS/KGB/NKVD nightmare.  Men would literally have their testicles crushed, and other unspeakable things.  If there was some sick and twisted art form to causing human beings pain the Mahdi militia were experts at it.  I read some reports and sat in for some interrogations that left me sickened to be a part of the same species as such men.  For all the things that I've heard Americans do, it pales in comparison to what has been done by the various militias. 

The one thing that truly stuck with me and fills me with sadness were the children.  Two in particular stick out.  One was paid some money to pick up some stray bit of ordinance.  Some of the villagers said it was American, some said it was Iraqi.  Whose ever ordinance it was, it was very much live.  Willie Pete, or white phosphorus burns at the slightest provocation.  I don't think it was ours because we stopped using it, but that doesn't matter, the description of what happened was enough to know it was an incendiary round of some kind.  The poor girl was wasting, unable to do much because of the pain.  2nd and 3rd degree burns all over her arms, chest, I could still smell her burnt hair, even days later.  The most heartbreaking part. . . I could do little more than dress her wounds.  Someone paid a kid, knowing this stuff was unstable, knowing the kid couldn't possibly be experienced enough to diffuse anything they found.  This little girl was expendable.

The second was a boy.  His father had angered a militia somehow.  I was busy treating him so I wasn't getting the full story from the interpreter, but what I did get is that this boy, a year or so before had been dragged out, doused by gasoline and set on fire, all with his mother watching.  This is where the story became incoherent, because she was wailing so much.  I get the impression that once her son was engulfed in flames the men simply walked away, leaving the mother to do what she could.  The boy was missing the outer digits on all his fingers.  Even though the injuries happened perhaps a year or so before I ever saw him, he was still suffering horrible scabs, blisters and injuries from that horrendous burn.  Again, all I could do was patch his wounds.  He needed a hospital, and all he got was one lowly medic's aid bag.  He, and so many children deserved better.

I know America has made many missteps.  We haven't always been right, and we haven't always been at our best.  Even the worst scandals that occurred in Iraq always struck me as mild in comparison to the the almost routine acts of barbarism that I saw the insurgents commit.  I joined the Army to save lives.  It is debatable how many lives I actually saved.  I wish I could say my desire to save lives remained intact.  I still do want to save lives, I still feel that call.  But there is also a cold anger I feel towards men who would do such horrific things.  I believe there are some people that you just can't make peace with, some have gone so far that the only solution is to simply place yourself between them and anyone they can harm.  I find after seeing innocent men and women, but most importantly children, treated like that, I have far less qualms about killing some people.


Spockgirl said...

"... all he got was one lowly medic's aid bag."

"lowly medic" ... NO such thing.

NEVER question your abilities nor the things that you have done to save people's lives. You did what you could and that is a hell of a lot more than what most men would have done or been able to do.

Anonymous said...

It really saddens me what humans are willing to do to each other, but it doesn't surprise me anymore. I hope I never lose the tinge these stories give me though, true humanity is an awful thing to lose.