[…] Mhyar Abdullah is one of the tens of thousands of men living in Iraq who have been detained and released without charge over the last 4 years of the war in Iraq. http://aliveinbaghdad.org/2006/10/03/abu-ghraib-detainee-tells-his-story/ […]
Of the tens and thousands of men detained in Abu Ghraib, the Coalition Forces, in 2003, kept in custody a man with a most obscure background.
This morning, I watched Mhyar Abdullah also known as Merky, tell his story on Podcast. More than his account of what he experienced and seen, or his thoughts on the war, what I found truly peculiar and riveting was what got him there in the first place.
I understood it, the perilous consequences of falling into a crack: Merky is a young Palestinian who was born in Iraq and has spent his entire life there. Despite this, he does not have Iraqi nationality and, like other Palestinians, is treated as a second-class citizen in Iraq.
What I found most striking when he began to tell his story was his command of English. And this was where his quandary began: not with the knowledge of the language of his forefathers, nor the language spoken in the land where he was born, but a foreign language that supposedly warrants privilege and power in our time.
One day while eating in a restaurant, the owner, his friend, asked him to translate and get the orders of American soldiers. “The American soldiers,” Merky said, “were interested that I spoke kindda good English. So they asked me to work for them as a translator. And I thought that wouldn’t hurt.”
Merky first worked as a patrol interpreter and was later moved to a police station. His problems began the day he went to receive his salary. “They told me that I couldn’t work with the military anymore. And it’s because of my documents - which just seemed, like, weird.”
There was not enough supporting document that would attest to his identity or background.
“Whatever,” he said, “I’m used to all these. I’m a Palestinian refugee in Iraq. So I left.” After a few weeks, he was asked to report back to the police station and was interrogated with “silly questions like what is your name, what is your address?”
He was kept in custody and after a while, was transferred to the airport and moved to a camp. “And it’s just the same story again.” An interrogator came and asked the circumstances behind his capture. Finally, he was transferred to Abu Ghraib where he was asked to wait for his release. It was in Abu Ghraib where he witnessed a demonstration that went out of control resulting to the killing of eight detainees by snipers from the guard tower.
“This was something that I couldn’t understand until this moment.”
Later he was told that his case hinged on the decision of the Iraqi government. Merky’s eleven-month detainment and release poignantly demonstrates the plight and consequences of the outsider in times of war. He does not have Iraqi citizenship in the country where he was born and lives as a refugee. When the coalition forces came, he was initially treated as a “foreign fighter”. His identity unmoored, belonging neither here nor there, his case amounted to a Kafka-esque game of “pass the buck.”
But what intrigues me is his knowledge of English. How did he begin to learn it? Surely, he believed and kept faith that learning a foreign language would warrant his crossing from a transient identity to a more permanent and secure ground. Unfortunately, in times of war, when identity becomes critical in distinguishing between ally and enemy, exile and anonymity have adverse consequences. And yet, after witnessing the harrowing killings in Abu Ghraib, it was with this borrowed tongue - the same tounge that helped American soldiers order food in a foreign land, a tounge that enunciates English like smooth candy in the mouth - that cries to us online and raises this question: Who gave people the right to have power over other people, to kill a man?
James Hamilton Paterson wrote that “September 11, 2001 not only killed nearly 3,000 people… A stranger in a strange land is now a security threat and anathema to new authorities. For the first time in human history no one is allowed to roam the earth in blessed anonymity.” If this, as Hamilton writes, is the end of travel, then I suppose we are now witnessing the spreading of new, stranger territories: the places and situations traversed by outsiders, dictated by fate, driven by defiance.
Merky’s is a special voice that reaches us forcefully because it is authentic, coming from the depths of the crack where the outsider has darkly fallen. Away from home for a long time, I have been attuned to these unsure voices waiting for epiphany and deliverance, like those of my fellow Filipinos: Val whom I met in Bangkok while waiting for his visa to be processed in Jordan so he could work in Iraq; or Philip who feared crossing the border in Laos after losing his passport in Bangkok, both of them managing to find opportunities abroad because they could speak English. Theirs, like Merky’s, are the important stories that demand to be told today: trapped voices from the border or in foreign places between their points of departures and arrival – important because these are the stories that will raise questions and hopefully, blur and erase the lines that cultivate terror, war and hate.
Today, Mercky is stuck with hundreds of Palestinians on Syria’s border with Iraq. He and others fled repression and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad only to be trapped in the desert. Again, this is a unique place and a special time. One of the greatest novels I have read is Jim Crace’ Quarantine, an imagined account of Jesus Christ’ forty days in the desert. It was so powerful I remember losing my appetite while reading it and fasting for an entire week. Crace imagines Christ pondering the consolations of the desert: “Creation was unfinished here. This was where the world was not complete. What better place to find his God at work?” Merky’s plight is not altogether a tragic tale. His uncertain position holds mysterious powers. As he concludes, after leaving Abu Ghraib - in English of course and in his own words, “I don’t know what kind of miracle had happened… I have been released.”
(I have posted this comment on my blog at http://personalwilli.blogspot.com)
The United States went to Iraq under the pretense of helping the Iraqis. Is this treatment helping the Iraqis? The US policy must be based on truely helping Iraq and not just to secure a stronghold for the US to have a proxy goevernment.
The US went to Iraq under false pretenses. Bush was trying to find a reason. Sure, Saddam is a bad guy, but the fact is that he never really did anything to the united states. Look at the insanity the the course of events; Bin Laden crashes 3 planes and kills thousands of people….so it makes logical sense to go after Saddam?!?!? What the F**k?????!!!!! What kind of idiot logic is that!? We, the US, should not be the worlds policemen. Yes, the got Saddam. “Finally, after months of searching….we finally got the guy who had NOTHING to do with 9-11″
“There was not enough supporting document that would attest to his identity or background.”
This is illegal and the cause of his detention, yes? So this is what happens to foreigners in Iraq who are there illegally. This seems normal.
Give the vast number of people to check it’s unfortunate but seems also normal that would be a delay in checking the backgound of such a person.
The afterward states he “fled” the country and now trying to get into Syria but evidently can’t so stuck in the desert. It seems he is not legal there either so can’t get in, can’t return to interior Iraq because he’s still illegal. Possibly pre-war moving around might have been accepted by officials with a person having minimal or even illegal documentation. Isn’t it a good thing that there is an attempt to sort out who is who and to rid the place of illegal people given what is currently happening there especially with foreign fighters. He may or may not be a foreign fighter but is illegal.
David, you sound like a man trying to convince himself.
I worked as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison for 6 months before getting injured and going back to the US. During my time there I found out that there was rampant abuse of power. The biggest problem was arresting people without cause. So many people go to iraq without knowing anything about the people there or what they have gone through in the past. This ignorance lead to distrust. We were not trained as occupying forces but as soldiers meant to kill an ememy. I used what little influence i had to get as many innocent people out of there as I could. I went in every day talking to people that had no knowledge of any terrorist activities and hadn’t had any interest in doing such. It was a frequent occurence to meet someone that was at the wrong place at the wrong time and got arrested. Then they were sent to a prison were the guards didnt get proper care and facilitices so they were violent to the prisoners. It is the falt of the military officials that did not pay any attention to what we were doing there. In the case of this man in the story, he was probably a good ascet for a while until someone thought that they could look good to there boss if they detained a “palestinian militant”. Even if he didn’t have anything to do with any attack. In regards to the snipers being in towers and killing people in the prison, he is not lying at all. I was there when in one day US forces killed over 100 people outside the wall who were demonstrating and then they started rioting. All any officer cared about was numbers. How many reports they got and how many people they captured. That just leads to more of these terrorists, as they like to call them. When you take people that have lost everything and then arrest them for no just cause they will become terrorists. I am proud to have served my country and I am espicaly proud to have made a difference in the work I did at Abu Ghraib. But I am not proud of being part the atrocities that had taken place there and the same goes for Guantonimo and other secret cia prisons that are there. I am ashamed of what we have done to Iraq. We could have saved them if we had any kind of plan.
It’s nice to get some real honest info. from a person who has been there like Russell. There are many more soldiers and politicians out there who were against all of this from the start but just kept their mouths shut because they were afraid of losing their careers or being stoned to death by their own people for being unpatriotic. As Bush and countless other presidents, dictators, tyrannts, etc. have always preached “If you are not with us then you are against us” This slogan has kept people in line time and time again through fear. The only difference to Hitler’s use of the slogan and Bush’s is that with Hitler you were liquidated immediately if you tried to question his authority. With Bush you just lose your job, friends, etc. Even the media is scared to report objectively. The rich media Moguls are all friends with Bush and his gang anyway. It’s all about money and power and nothing else.
One of so many of sad happenings. I feel really sorry for the suppressed people and their fate.
Hopefully, the McBush Era will end the sooner, the better. To end the axis of aggression.
The puppet government being installed in Iraq right now seems not being interested in serving the Iraqi people.
Mankind staying calm globally does not mean, the worlds opinion supports the US invasion and all the mischief still happening…
[…] Now here we see the true power of citizen journalism or whatever you want to call it. As Brian Conley writes: “We endeavor to cut through the red tape and politics of corporate news and deliver the real stories, from real people, everyday.” How is it to be a CAR BOMB SURVIVOR, or to be a DETAINED ABU GHRAIB PRISONER? Some of you will be annoyed by the complete absence of critical questions to a terrorist (freedom fighter some will say) like YUSEF RABABA. At least your humble editor was. But the reports are genuine and worthwhile watching indeed. […]
[…] Alive in Baghdad has repeatedly discussed the use of torture in Iraq, including publishing photos of the injuries of alleged torture victims and a video interview with another man who claims to have been tortured by Iraqi security forces in Ramadi. This week’s video is our attempt to continue the discussion of torture in Iraq, shedding light on an important, and often overlooked, element of the Iraq war. […]
[…] the real stories, from real people, everyday." How is it to be a CAR BOMB SURVIVOR, or to be a DETAINED ABU GHRAIB PRISONER? Some of you will be annoyed by the complete absence of critical questions to a terrorist (freedom […]