Friday, February 13, 2004


At work, we had a meeting at which the guest speaker was Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief—the Iraqi man who tipped off U.S. marines about Jessica Lynch's whereabouts. His family has been given asylum in America, and he has been doing the rounds in Washington and elsewhere, telling his story.

We've all heard the story enough times, that the basic outline is familiar. I didn't know that Mohammed lost his left eye in the process—on his way back to feed the marines more information he was caught in a bridge bombing. It was interesting to hear his story, I suppose, but I was put off by his "handler," a colleague of some congressman who accompanies and introduces al Rehaief at these talks.

"Here's a man," the introduction began, "who knew that the Americans were there to liberate his people. And this man...loved much, that he was willing to sacrifice his life for an American soldier."

Yes, I bloody well doubted it too. We all sat and nodded at this fairy tale, pretending that America is so lovable that any given anonymous foreigner under seige would throw himself under the treads of oncoming tanks to spare the shed blood of a single GI.

It's an unnecessary justification for the man's actions. I think there's a much more interesting explanation, one that rings more true. After the meeting, they were raffling off a few of al Rehaief's books, and his "handler" said:

"Let me tell you a little something about this great story so that you won't think this is just some little book to place on your shelf and never read. It has amazing stories about the hardships that Mohammed endured..."

He then related this story. Mohammed's daughter had a terrible lingering cough. Eventually he and his wife brought her into the hospital. The doctors examined his daughter and told him that they had to remove her lung. Mohammed was distraught, devastated. They told him that she had tuberculosis, and this was the only way to save her life. Like any parent faced with such choices, he was devastated, but told them to go ahead if it would save his daughter's life.

A few days after the operation, he joined one of the doctors for a few drinks. After the doctor loosened up a little, he told Mohammed, "You're a good man. You should know the truth." Mohammed asked him what he meant. Your daughter, the doctor told him, did not need to have her lung removed. But there was a daughter of a Baath party official down the hall who needed a lung transplant, so they took your daughter's healthy lung.

When the handler finished this story there was an audible gasp from all of us listening. Mohammed just dropped his head and, shaking it, quietly said, "They lied to me."

So when he later comes upon a young helpless girl in the hospital at the mercy of those same doctors, what do you think triggered his reaction? His undying love for a country he doesn't know, or a desire to save his daughter by proxy? A chance to take a young girl out of reach of the Baathists he despises? Isn't that a much more compelling story, anyway?


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