Thursday, May 27, 2004

WONDER LAND

WONDER LAND
By DANIEL HENNINGER

Want a Different
Abu Ghraib Story?
Try This One
May 14, 2004; Page A12

By now, some Americans may feel the need for respite from the images of
Abu Ghraib and the five hooded barbarians standing behind Nick Berg. This
week's column will try to provide some measure of respite.

It is the story of Americans, in and out of the U.S. government, who
moved mountains to help seven horribly maimed Iraqi men. It is not always
pleasant reading, but there are rewards to staying with it, especially
now.

Quite obviously it has been decided, as the handling of the Abu Ghraib
story makes plain, that when America stumbles, we are going to have our
faces rubbed in it. And rubbed in it and rubbed in it. As far as I can
make out, the purpose of this two weeks of media humiliation is that we
-- the president, all of us -- are being asked to morally prostrate
ourselves before the rest of the world. Some may choose to do so, but
this story should make a few Americans want to simply stand up straight
again.

As perfect justice, the story in fact begins in Abu Ghraib prison, in
1995. With Iraq's economy in a tailspin, Saddam arrested nine Iraqi
businessmen to scapegoat them as dollar traders. They got a 30-minute
"trial," and were sentenced, after a year's imprisonment, to have their
right hands surgically cut off at Abu Ghraib prison.

The amputations were performed, over two days, by a Baghdad
anesthesiologist, a surgeon and medical staff. We know this because
Saddam had a videotape made of each procedure. He had the hands brought
to him in formalin and then returned to Abu Ghraib. Oh, one more thing:
The surgeon carved an X of shame into the forehead of each man. And the
authorities charged the men $50.

Last year, after we liberated Iraq, a veteran TV news producer named Don
North -- who has worked for major U.S. broadcasters -- was in Baghdad
with the U.S. to restore TV service. Iraqi contacts there brought him a
tape of the men's amputations. Mr. North says dismemberment was common in
Saddam's Iraq and that if one walks down a crowded Baghdad street one may
see a half-dozen people missing an ear, eye, limb or tongue. He decided
to seek out the men whose stubbed arms represented the civilized world's
lowest act -- the perversion of medicine.

He found seven. Mr. North determined to make a documentary of their story
and get medical help for them. How he found that help, if one may still
use this phrase, is an all-American story.

An oil engineer from Houston, named Roger Brown, overheard Mr. North's
tale in a Baghdad café. He suggested Don North get in touch with a famed
Houston TV newsman named Marvin Zindler. Mr. Zindler put him in touch
with Dr. Joe Agris, a Houston reconstructive surgeon, who has worked in
postwar Vietnam and Nicaragua repairing children.

Mr. North sent Dr. Agris a copy of the videotape of the surgical
atrocities, and Dr. Agris said: Send me the men; I will fix them.

But flying seven Iraqi men out of Baghdad is easier said than done. In
this case, prodded by Don North and government friends, the famous U.S.
bureaucracy gave itself a day off. Paul Bremer wrote a memo authorizing
their departure. Paul Wolfowitz told the Air Force it could fly them to
Frankfurt. Homeland Security waived visa requirements.

Continental Airlines donated passage to Houston. There, Dr. Agris
enlisted a fellow surgeon, Fred Kestler, to assist. The Methodist
Hospital donated facilities, and the men arrived in Houston in early
April.

Dr. Agris saw that the Abu Ghraib "surgeries" were a botch. They'd cut
through the joining of the wrist's carpal bones, "like carving a Turkey
leg." Saddam's doctors did nothing to repair the nerve endings, which
left the men with constant real and "phantom" pain. Drs. Agris and
Kestler had two preliminary tasks: Repair the nerves, and, alas, take
another inch off the men's lower arms, to leave a smooth surface for
attaching their new prosthetic "hands." They worked for two days
operating on the seven men, who then took a week to recover before
receiving their new hands.

Those devices were donated by the German-American prosthetic company Otto
Bock, at a cost of $50,000 each. They are state-of-the-art electronic
hands, with fingers, which respond to trained muscular movements. The
rehabilitation and training is being donated by two other Houston
companies, TIRR and Dynamic Orthotics. The Iraqi men are in Houston now,
spending five hours a day learning to use their new right hands. And oh
yes, the brands on their heads were removed.

Don North completed his documentary on what happened to these men in
Iraq. I watched "Remembering Saddam" this week. Several of the men
insisted on seeing Saddam's home video of the atrocity, and so it's in
the film -- a bizarre, almost dainty image of forceps, scalpel, surgical
gloves and green operating-room garments. Nothing like it since Dr.
Mengele. Watching his hand come off, Baasim Al Fadhly says: "Look at this
doctor, who considers his career noble and swears to God to be a noble
person. Let everyone see this film."

This crime deserves condemnation from international medical societies,
such as the U.N.'s World Health Organization, or the Red Cross. And Don
North's film indeed should be seen -- but may not be. After two months of
trying, no U.S. broadcast or cable network will take it. This is
incredible. TV can run Abu Ghraib photos 24/7 but can't find 55 minutes
for Saddam's crimes against humanity?

On May 23, the American Foreign Policy Council will bring the restored
men to Washington. They will visit maimed GIs at Walter Reed Army
Hospital. It wouldn't be surprising if they said something positive about
the U.S. soldiers who have not been on television the past two weeks.

Then Don North and Joe Agris will fly with the men back to Iraq, to
survey the rest of Saddam's dismembered population. "The practice of
prosthetics is very archaic," Mr. North says, "for a country where this
is such an affliction." Dr. Agris hopes to survey the hospitals and bring
in some modern equipment and supplies. "If they let me, I'll do some of
the kids," he says. "Let's show the good side of what we can do."

Sure. Why not?


ABOUT DANIEL HENNINGER
Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial
page. Mr. Henninger joined Dow Jones in 1971 as a staff writer for the
National Observer. He became an editorial-page writer for the Journal in
1977, arts editor in 1978 and editorial features editor in 1980. He was
appointed assistant editor of the editorial page in 1983 and chief
editorial writer and senior assistant editor in October 1986, with daily
responsibility for the "Review & Outlook" columns. In November 1989 he
became deputy editor of the editorial page.


Mr. Henninger was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in
1987 and 1996, and shared in the Journal's Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the
paper's coverage of the attacks on September 11. He won the Gerald Loeb
Award for commentary in 1985. In 1998 he received the Scripps Howard
Foundation's Walker Stone Award for editorial writing, for editorials on
a range of issues, including the International Monetary Fund,
presidential politics and cloning. He won the 1995 American Society of
Newspaper Editors' Distinguished Writing Award for editorial writing, and
he was a finalist in that award in 1985, 1986 and 1993. A native of
Cleveland, Mr. Henninger graduated from Georgetown University with a
bachelor's degree from the School of Foreign Service