From horrors of Iraq, a tale of compassion
Seven men maimed under Hussein's regime find hope and help in Texas.
It began like any other day, that Aug. 21, 1994. Qasim Kadim had just opened his Baghdad cigarette shop when secret police appeared in the doorway with handcuffs. So began a seven-month ordeal so haunting that even after his release, he stayed home with the doors locked every year on that date.Skip to next paragraph
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"You spend your whole life doing and saying the right things," he says from a doctor's office in Houston. "Then someone comes and cuts your hand off for no reason at all. It's a torture that never ends."
In many ways, Mr. Kadim's story is one more in a file of torture, rape, and mass-murder stories that have trickled out of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. But it's also a story of redemption and compassion. One that will end, the participants hope, in lives restored.
Nine years ago, Mr. Hussein had the right hands of Kadim and eight other merchants removed, part of an effort to blame small businessmen for Iraq's collapsing economy. Black Xs were tattooed on their foreheads as a signal to others that they were criminals.
Now the traces of this torture are fading with the help of journalists, doctors, and businesses. Ironically, it all began with a video of the amputations made for Hussein's amusement. After seeing the tape while in Baghdad last summer, filmmaker Don North was moved to produce his own documentary, "Remembering Saddam," finished earlier this month.
Mr. North first heard of the incident from an Iraqi employee who knew of a secret copy of the tape. North, who is also a war reporter, was shocked by what he saw. "I'd never seen anything like it in my entire life," he says. "I had to find the men and get their story."
And as he talked about that story over lunch with a friend at a Baghdad cafeteria, a stranger was listening.
The eavesdropper was Roger Brown, a Houston oil executive working for a contractor in Iraq. He put North in touch with several people in Houston, including Marvin Zindler, the KTRK-TV reporter famous for his 1973 exposé of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Today, he is the ABC station's consumer advocate.
Mr. Zindler asked Houston plastic surgeon Joseph Agris for help and together they lined up Houston companies to donate their services, including Continental Airlines, Methodist Hospital, and Dynamic Orthotics and Prosthetics.
"A lot of people had to get in on the act to get them here," says North, perched on a sofa in Dr. Agris's waiting room.
By the mid-1990s, as Iraq began to fall into economic shambles under the UN embargo, Hussein was looking for someone to blame. So he ordered the roundup of nine small-time merchants from various districts around Baghdad. These jewelers, textile dealers, and cigarette sellers were charged with dealing in foreign currency - illegal at the time.
The evidence against them was flimsy. Laith Aqar, for instance, was a jeweler who called London and New York daily to check gold prices. He says he wasn't dealing in British or US currency, and was simply gathering information for his business. But his phone was tapped and that evidence was used to arrest him.