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Disillusioned Human Shields

At the Army’s daily briefing in Qatar on March 26, a reporter asked Gen. Vincent Brooks what he had to say to the human shields who have gone to Iraq to risk their lives to stop the war. The general missed a great opportunity to tell what two of these “human shields” had recently said about what they learned in Baghdad that caused them to abandon their plans to risk their lives trying to protect innocent Iraqi civilians.

In a dispatch from Amman, Jordan distributed by UPI and published in the Washington Times on March 23, veteran foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave reported that a group of Americans who had joined a delegation of Japanese “human shields” in Iraq had changed their minds and fled the country with 14 hours of videotaped interviews with Iraqis who hoped the Coalition forces would be their liberators. The spokesman for the group, the Rev. Kenneth Joseph, a pastor of the Assyrian Church of the East, an ancient Christian church which has a substantial membership in the United States, told de Borchgrave that his trip to Iraq “had shocked me back to reality.”

He said that his talks with Iraqis convinced him that Saddam is “a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler. He and his sons are sick sadists. Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill, such as people put in a huge shredder for plastic products, feet first so (the torture masters) could hear their screams as bodies got chewed up from foot to head.” He told de Borchgrave that some of the Iraqis he had interviewed on camera told him they would commit suicide if the American bombing didn’t start and that they were willing to see their homes destroyed if it would free them from Saddam’s bloody tyranny.

The Rev. Joseph and his group were not the only would-be human shields who changed their minds after hearing what Iraqi civilians had to say about Saddam. Daniel Pepper, a 23-year-old Jewish-American living in London who had traveled in the Middle East as a student and a photographer for Newsweek, went to Iraq on January 25 with a group that intended to serve as human shields to call attention to the anti-war movement. He wrote about his experience in the London Telegraph on March 23.

He said, “The human shields appealed to my anti-war stance, but by the time I had left Baghdad five weeks later my views had changed drastically. I wouldn’t say that I was exactly pro-war. No, I am ambivalent, but I have a strong desire to see Saddam removed. I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad?a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, ‘Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good.’ He looked at me with an expression of incredulity.

“He slowed down and started to speak in broken English about the evils of Saddam’s regime. Until then I had only heard the president spoken of with respect, but now this guy was telling me how all of Iraq’s oil money went into Saddam’s pocket and that if you opposed him politically he would kill your whole family. It scared the hell out of me….I had read reports that Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein, but this was the real thing. Someone had explained it to me face to face….I became increasingly concerned about the way the Iraqi regime was restricting the movement of the shields, so a few days later I left Baghdad for Jordan by taxi with five others.”

Safely over the border, they asked the driver “what he felt about the regime and the threat of an aerial bombardment.” He surprised them, saying, “The Americans don’t want to bomb civilians. They want to bomb the government and Saddam’s palaces. We want America to bomb Saddam. All Iraqi people want this war.” He was convinced that Saddam had paid them to come to Iraq. Pepper concluded his article saying, “Anyone with half a brain must see that Saddam has to be taken out. It is extraordinarily ironic that the anti-war protesters are marching to defend a government which stops people from exercising that freedom.” Extraordinary indeed.