Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The least of these

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=2946323n video
2 dozen Iraqi boys with special needs were rescued from an orphanage that had left them tied to their beds, unfed, unwashed, untouched. The story is breathtaking in its beauty, even in the horror of it there is so much hope. Jim woke me up this morning telling me about it, his voice was choked with emotion. I searched online until I found it. And then I knew why he couldnt tell the story without crying.

On a daytime patrol in central Baghdad just over than a week ago, a U.S. military advisory team and Iraqi soldiers happened to look over a wall and found something horrific.

"They saw multiple bodies laying on the floor of the facility," Staff Sgt. Mitchell Gibson of the 82nd Airborne Division told CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan. "They thought they were all dead, so they threw a basketball (to) try and get some attention, and actually one of the kids lifted up their head, tilted it over and just looked and then went back down. And they said, 'oh, they're alive' and so they went into the building."

Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, the soldiers found more emaciated little bodies tied to the cribs. They had been kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the 24 boys.

"I saw children that you could see literally every bone in their body that were so skinny, they had no energy to move whatsoever, no expression on their face," Staff Sgt. Michael Beale said.

"The kids were tied up, naked, covered in their own waste — feces — and there were three people that were cooking themselves food, but nothing for the kids," Lt. Stephen Duperre said.

Logan asked: So there were three people cooking their own food?

"They were in the kitchen, yes ma'am," Duperre said.

With all these kids starving around them?

"Yes ma'am," Duperre said.

It didn't stop there. The soldiers found kitchen shelves packed with food and in the stockroom, rows of brand-new clothing still in their plastic wrapping.

Instead of giving it to the boys, the soldiers believe it was being sold to local markets.

The man in charge, the orphanage caretaker, had a well-kept office — a stark contrast to the terrible conditions just outside that room.

"I got extremely angry with the caretaker when I got there," Capt. Benjamin Morales said. "It took every muscle in my body to restrain myself from not going after that guy."

Before the soldiers left the base, he said he had to prepare them for what they were about to see. And most important of all, he had to remind them of their training and discipline, so they did not bring the name of their unit into disrepute by taking out their anger at those responsible for hurting these boys so badly.

Captain Morales knew the rage they were feeling because he felt it himself. But they did the right thing, he assured me, and handed this over to the Iraqi authorities to deal with as they saw fit.

He also told me about one soldier in particular that had been especially good with the children.

"Lieutenant Smith was amazing," he said, as we poured over photographs that showed Jason Smith brushing some of the children's teeth. He really was very good with the children.

When I interviewed Lt. Smith, I found out why: he is trained as a special education teacher. His wife is a special education teacher and her brother is a special needs boy.

So when faced with this terrible situation, Lt. Smith was happy to do the things for these boys that he already does at home for his brother-in-law. This quietly strong and gentle young man knew exactly what these boys needed – a human touch.

And that is what struck me as I watched the soldiers interacting with the boys at the orphanage. They were desperate for that human touch, just a moment of love and attention.

As I was standing there in the crowded room, soldiers and boys and Iraqi social workers all around us, one of the boys came up to me and reached out with both his arms. I leaned over and met his embrace and before I knew it he had lifted his legs off the ground and wrapped them around my waist. As suddenly as he had presented himself before me, he was wrapped in my arms, and I just surrendered. I let him snuggle into my neck, and breathe in the smell of my perfume which he really seemed to like.

As I stood there holding him, watching these boys with various levels of disability, some of their wrists scarred by the marks of the ropes that held them, I was overcome by how forgiving they were. I had the feeling that anyone could have beaten them with one hand, embraced them with the other, and they would have welcomed the embrace.


They must have seen them as non-human to treat them this way: to see them growing weaker and sicker every day and do nothing to help them; to stand by while their lives slipped away into the filth and heat and misery of neglect. They had to be non-human in their eyes, for who would treat a human that badly?

I am just stunned, reading and seeing all of this. As Ciarrasmom, my heart aches. As an American, I am proud of our young men and women over there who put down their guns and came to the aid of the most fragile. As a special needs parent, I am angry, shocked, hurt, and determined. I want to help. HOW can we help? These boys have been moved to another orphanage with better care, for now. But they cannot stay there long. Then what? Who will hold them then? Your suggestions are welcome.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Wow - I am stunned and horrified. It is hard to believe anyone could be so cruel.

Leticia said that we could use any post from your site(s) for the Down Syndrome Carnival. I think I will include this post for the Sept 16 carnival post. I hope that's okay.