Thursday, July 05, 2007
Orphans - Abused - Special Needs
- CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan reflects on the 24 special-needs boys, severely malnourished and abused, who were rescued from a squalid ...www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/18/
Clinging To Life In A Baghdad Orphanage
Lara Logan Reflects On The Bagdad Orphanage Where Boys Were Malnourished And Abused
RELATED STORIES & LINKS
Iraqi Orphanage Nightmare
Exclusive: U.S. And Iraqi Troops Discover And Rescue Orphan Boys Left Starving, Chained To Beds
(Page 1 of 2)BAGHDAD, June 18, 2007
(CBS) By CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan
If you find it hard to look at the photograph of the young Iraqi boy covered in flies, lying half-starved and near death on the concrete floor of a "special needs orphanage" in central Baghdad, then think about this:
One of the American soldiers who came to rescue this boy told me that before they took that picture, they waved thousand of flies off his fragile, bleeding body.
"It was much worse before," the soldier said to me. "When we found him he was black with flies."
There were hundreds in his open mouth. They were crawling out of his nose and ears and anywhere they could feed on his flesh and bloody, open sores, in what appeared to be the last few hours of his life.
The medics did not think he could be saved.
But he was. Not only did the 82nd Airborne and civil affairs soldiers save his life, he was released from a hospital a few days later, well enough to continue his recovery in a different orphanage, where the care was remarkably better.
What's so strange about this story is that the caretaker in charge of the orphanage where 24 handicapped boys were abused beyond belief was also a psychologist and worked at another respected orphanage for a long time. The staff there confessed to being shocked and saddened when they saw these boys in their terrible state shortly after being rescued; but they also were shocked and surprised that the man responsible was someone they thought they knew so well.
Like many social workers I've encountered in other countries, they were reluctant to condemn their colleague outright without hearing from him what had led to this terrible cruelty. Perhaps it was simply too much for them to accept. Until a few months before, these boys had actually been housed in their orphanage. But "someone" — no one could tell me exactly who — had decided that boys and girls should be separated. That someone sent the boys off to the other home where there was no government oversight.
There were records of food supplied to the orphanage by the government, like chicken and other meat, but no sign of where this food had gone. None of it was fed to the children, who lay in puddles of their own urine and waste, their sharp little bones protruding from their tiny bodies.
One soldier described the scene as being like a Bosnian death camp. Others talked about the rage they felt when they found three adults cooking in the kitchen, preparing dinner for themselves, while the children lay dying from starvation in other rooms.
The smell was so bad, one soldier told me, that you could smell it from outside in the street. He said it even overpowered the smell of the food cooking in the kitchen.
That did not appear to bother the adults living there, including two women employed to work at the orphanage. They are both seen in two of the photographs, and this is perhaps one of the most curious things of all: they didn't mind having their picture taken with these starving boys in the background. Looking at their faces, one even smiling for the camera, I can only imagine they thought this was absolutely normal. Or that these special needs boys, who could not talk or communicate properly, were not human to them.
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?
It was difficult to imagine it all when I walked around the now-empty building, trying to envision what took place here, what it looked like the day U.S. and Iraqi soldiers made their grisly discovery.
But here and there were little signs. The urine stains on the floor. The stench. And the soldiers.
The men of the 82nd Airborne and the civil affairs team that came to the rescue of these boys were clearly moved by what they found here. Some even wept as they confronted the full horror before them. In the blistering Iraqi sun, reaching temperatures over 100 degrees every day, boys were tied to chairs and fences and deprived even of water for days at a time. They were dehydrated and weak to the point of death.
How could you take the most vulnerable children and subject them to such torture? That was on the mind of every soldier that saw what was done in this terrible place, where the caretaker's air-conditioned office stood neat and tidy, carpets lining the floor, a computer at his desk. The brand new cribs still had the plastic on their unused mattresses.
The local Iraqi council members who were called to the scene by the U.S. soldiers also wept at the sight. In fact, the head of the council continued to cry over and over as I interviewed him about what he'd seen. A woman on the council described how she had bought cake for the children and fed it to them at the hospital when they were being treated later that night.
"They ate like monsters," she said to me, showing me with her hands how they frantically shoved the sweet food into their mouths.
These Iraqi officials played a critical role in helping the children to the hospital that night and then to get back into the better orphanage. And Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office responded by ordering the arrest of all involved and telling the United States they would investigate.
But nothing has been made public about what happened and, in fact, efforts were made to keep the entire incident secret.
Our attempt to cover the story was initially shut down from up high, but we were ultimately able to expose what had happened because of support from within the U.S. military.
BAGHDAD, June 18, 2007
(CBS) What I discovered when I visited the unit involved was that the soldiers thought the media was ignoring the story because we're only interested in explosions and firefights and "bad news," an understanding I worked hard to change since I do not believe it is true and have four years of work in this country to support my case.
For these soldiers, being able to help Iraqi children and save them from certain death gave meaning to their presence here. It is an example of the good that U.S. soldiers are able to do, without a single shot being fired. It is something to be proud of.
Captain Ben Morales is the commander of Bravo Company who was alerted to the crisis by the U.S. military advisors that discovered the boys' bodies during a joint-patrol with the Iraqi Army on a Sunday afternoon. He reacted immediately, sending in a quick reaction force and a team from the civil affairs unit serving with his unit.
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 roles 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.
Here we were only a week later, many with sores not yet healed – and who knew what scars that weren't visible – and they were laughing and playing and doing so much better you could hardly match them with their emaciated photographs.
I don't know what trauma they suffered, what lingers. I don't know anything about special needs children.
I know that I witnessed something terrible and something remarkable and something that should not be forgotten, should not be hidden.
I imagine the Iraqi people will react with anger and shame. Many will blame the United States for bringing this on them, because they brought the war and these leaders and the destruction of the Iraqi society they knew. For many Americans, that will be hard to comprehend, especially since American soldiers carried these boys in their arms and saved their lives.
It is one more contradiction in the chaos of Iraq today, a society seeped in blood and betrayal as its people battle for survival and power. But even in the midst of so much human tragedy, the story of these boys stands apart — from the image of a dying boy covered in flies, to a small young man crouching in his crib with a newfound strength, sores healing and skin clean, his soft dark eyes watching the soldiers who saved him as they laugh and joke with the other boys.
A hand reaches out and softly, gently touches his crumpled legs. Almost without moving, he withdraws, just slightly. Not ready, it seems, not able to bear a human touch.
By Lara Logan
© MMVII, CBS Interactive Inc.
Labels: Baghdad Abused Orphans - Story