Wednesday, January 7, 2015

excerpt, and the mindset against Others

He was thin and his flip flops were broken. His wife was a school teacher. He liked that she wore high heels. His brown eyes lit like bonfires when he talked about his three children. He wanted to write a book one day, but he doubted anyone would read it. He had black hair, and like most men in that place, it was beginning to show salt. He'd been a Colonel in the Iraqi Army, before the Fall. Then we came, and he helped us hunt the bad guys with a GPS and a radio. Now he was a detainee with a number for a name. The orange jumpsuit was dirty and it didn't fit him well. He never looked discomfited by it. He treated the guards as his honored escorts.

At the first meeting: The interrogator is a soft young woman in uniform, dark blond bun pulling her face tight. He's not sure he's speaking to the right person at first. Where is the interrogator he asked for? He has been asking for so long. What took them so long? Are there so many requests to speak with the Army? He is caught off guard when she says she doesn't know why he hasn't been seen earlier. Six months is a very long time, longer than she has been here, she tells him. I'm still trying to understand all this myself, she says. There are not so many requests such as yours, she guesses, and he knew this already. "Nobody knew what to do with it, probably - you know how armies are, I think? Maybe that's why they gave it to me. I'm the new guy." He's quiet for a moment, expecting to be interrupted, to be asked questions, but she waits for him. So he speaks.

At the third meeting: Her right hand is red; there's a cut between the last two knuckles. By the end of the meeting, a galaxy of a bruise envelopes three knuckles. There's a strain in her smile, but her manners are intact. "I am Sheik Imad al Juburi," he said, with his head held high. Then a twinkle appeared, and he added, "but you may call me Abu Thabit."

At the last meeting: "I hope to read your book someday, Abu Thabit." She shakes his hand. "Ah," he responds, "who knows what might happen? It is in the hands of God."


I'm considering writing a fictional memoir of a US Army Interrogator, based loosely on my own experiences. Mom's been after me for  - well, since I redeployed in 2008 - to write about what I experienced in Baghdad. I doubt I'll ever be ready to write about it the way she wants me to, full of my feelings and thoughts. Today, though, this idea popped into my head. At first I wasn't thinking about writing anything military/Iraq-related at all. A title showed up in my thoughts and scattered whatever else I'd been thinking about.

The title was this: A Memoir in Case Studies. Then I thought I could write the life of a counselor or psychologist, through the eyes of their clients/patients. The realization of just how much research that would take - since I'm neither of those two professions, despite my academic leanings - was enough to squash that idea. I decided to make a note about it, anyway.

Then I realized I have, in fact, done work that would fit into that structure: I was an interrogator. I functioned as a counselor whose goal is to find out all they can from the client, no more or less, and certainly no caring or counseling unless it was a farce to get the interogatee to say more. I wasn't very good at the not caring bit. I wasn't even good at not offering advice. But I had a caseload of people I interviewed, and their perspective is one I wish more people had heard.

...I've just realized what I'd been thinking about before the title came to mind. I'd read an article about a US soldier, a sniper, who had written a book and is apparently somewhat famous. He died quite recently, the article said, when he was accidentally shot at a gun range (I'm really working hard to avoid commenting on the irony, just out of respect for the dead and because it really is tragic, but damn really?). That wasn't the focus of the article, though. Oh fuck it, I went and found the damn article again. Here ya go. Chris Kyle was the guy's name. Maybe you've heard of him. It'd be easier to be respectful of the dead if this one weren't so damn ignorant and, well, anyway. I don't want to get all swear-y.

Here's what stuck with me after I read it: In “American Sniper,” Kyle describes killing as “fun” and something he “loved” to do. This pleasure was no doubt facilitated by his utter conviction that every person he shot was a “bad guy.” (That's a quote from the article, I'm just too tired and cranky to go reformat it so the quotations marks are right so I just italicized it).

There's our human tendency to categorize and rationalize.
I'm so very tired of hearing people rationalize the Iraq War this way. I mean, we have a variety of bad rationales for this war to chose from, but this - this idea that Iraqi people are less of a mix of good and bad than any other person on the planet, that Iraq is full of 'bad people,' that Iraqis are bad people, even - all that shit, is shit. And I'm so sick of it.

It's so easy to dehumanize people who are unfamiliar to us; we do it unconsciously (mostly) and immediately (often). But familiarity breeds comprehension, which breeds empathy and then compassion.

So I'm going to tell this story.
I'll do it my way, without a lot of me in the story.
It'll be fictionalized, because I don't want to argue with the government. Not like that, anyway.
I'm not promising this will happen soon. I have other projects to finish first, but this was in my head today. 

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