Monday, April 19, 2004

Saddam Victims in Houston for Artificial Hands

Hello, sorry to have been away so long, but, as Douglas wrote on April 7, I've been traveling through that hell-hole of misery (to quote Arlette), the United States of America, more specifically through Texas for research on a book about the Texas revolution, with the Alamo and all.

As it happens, I'm currently in Arizona (a Comfort Inn motel on Phoenix's Apache Drive), and I won't be back home to Paris before next Sunday, but after that, I'll be back in form (hopefully).

As usual, I am always amazed at the acts of generosity, even tiny, that perfect strangers are always willing to perform for one another in this country. Twice, while hiking, in Palo Verde canyon and in the Superstition Mountains, I was asked whether I needed water, and offered not just part of a bottle but the entire bottle itself. Not a single second of hesitation, and with an attitude entirely natural. On another occasion, I witnessed a drunk guy trying to pick up a Hawaiian girl, only to be offered a handful of cash so he could get a taxi home. She was insistent he take the money, and not offended one bit.

But let's get back to the raison d'etre of this particular post. In Houston, I picked up an issue of the Houston Chronicle, which published a story that proves my point of view wrong and the Chirac and Zapatero position as being the correct one: Due to their horrifying capitalist system, Americans are arrogant, money-loving, and self-centered, without an iota of fraternal humanity in them, and life in Iraq was much better before those capitalist pigs started their war for oil.
But let's let Eric Berger tell the rest of the story:
Memories of losing his right hand in an Iraqi prison, Qasim Kadim says, are sharpest on very cold nights. The remaining stump feels like a block of ice.

Kadim, a victim of Saddam Hussein's bloody regime, may never have to experience the painful, chilling feeling again. Now in Houston with six other amputees, Kadim will soon receive a $50,000 bionic arm courtesy of several journalists, doctors and hospitals.

After he learns to flex certain arm muscles, the 46-year-old Baghdad appliance importer will be able to curl his fingers, make a fist and perform many of the everyday tasks he now struggles to accomplish. The bionic arm is so advanced, it has "intelligent" sensors that know when to delicately hold a champagne glass or firmly grasp a tool.

As miraculous as this new limb will be, Kadim says, it's just one facet of the six-week odyssey to the United States that he and his fellow Iraqis are taking. The other half is perhaps even sweeter, the gregarious father of seven said with a smile. He relishes introductions to all that Texas has to offer, from chips and salsa to rodeo.

"It is a very beautiful feeling to be here," Kadim said through a translator. "There is nobody who doesn't want to come and see the States. It is a dream come true."
(Poor man: that he doesn't realize the intrinsic nature of Americans and their society. Tch, tch...)
The seven Iraqis' right hands were surgically removed, and a crosslike tattoo carved between their eyes, because Saddam blamed businessmen dealing with foreign interests for the country's failing economy. The regime's punishment was intended to intimidate other business owners looking to trade in international currencies.

Kadim, who traded in foreign currency, including dollars, was importing cigarettes in August 1994 when he and other merchants were rounded up by the Mukhabarat, Saddam's secret police.

For two months, he said, special police beat him and prodded his body with electric rods, seeking information about who his trading partners were.

"I expected to be killed," Kadim said. "Many others were."

After being held by the police for about eight months, Kadim found himself in a courtroom with eight other businessmen who, after a 30-minute "trial," were convicted of working in foreign currency. His defense lawyer, Kadim recalls, never spoke.

After their amputations in March 1995, Kadim says, the men were kept in a prison hospital for three days. Nurses would give them injections for the pain but to no effect.

"I believe it was water in the syringes," he said. "It was part of the psychological torture."

Then the men were released. Kadim says his family brought 10 vehicles to pick him up, threw a party and celebrated his emerging from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison alive.

The Western allure of the Lone Star State, in fact, seems to be most captivating. Among his requests, Kadim asked to meet a real cowboy or cowgirl.

On Thursday, he broadly smiled when introduced to Ashley Guest, a 15-year-old high school rodeo champion from Crosby. After shaking her hand, inquiring about the nature of barrel racing, Kadim offered an unexpected comment.

"That," he said, "sounds very dangerous."
Too bad Kadim, like the majority of the American population, isn't intelligent enough to understand the French viewpoint that in general, American-style capitalism is a devastating system of damning misery and, in particular, that they, the French, "knew that capturing Saddam would solve nothing". Tch, tch...