Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Eyes wide shut

It’s hard to get on a military helicopter without your mind turning, however irrationally, to the idea that some times they fall out of the sky. Especially in a war zone. I could only wonder what the three Iraqis on board the Black Hawk with me were thinking.

Each was bound at the wrists with zip ties and had blindfolds made of thick gauze. They were marched to the chopper by an MP, the second sightless captive holding on to the back of the first, the third holding on to the second.

The rest of us were required to wear helmets, body armor and ear plugs. They had none of these.

I sat across from two of the guys and my view of the third was blocked by an MP sitting between us. The guy across from me on the right looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s, dressed in a track suit and flip flops. He stayed cool. He took the occasional deep breath, smacked his lips a bit, and sat tough-guy still.

The guy on the left was middle aged, dressed in a dirty dishdasha and rail thin. As luck would have it, seemingly all of the wash from the chopper blades and the early evening wind ran through the open window and at the face of the older guy. It also somehow worked it up its way under his blindfold to batter his eyes. He couldn’t stop shaking.

He kept reaching his bound hands up to tug the blindfold down to protect his eyes. And for the first 10 minutes of the flight, one of his MP guards would pull his hands away – thinking the Iraqi was trying to peek, to get a look at the landscape as dusk dwindled to dark.

Finally, the guard concluded that the old guy was just trying to protect his eyes and left him alone.

I couldn’t help wondering what had these guys done, what their fate was, and how frightening it had to be to take this military amusement park ride in a blindfold.

A while after landing in Hawija, I learned that my three traveling companions had been arrested about a week earlier, and were actually being brought home for release.

As they were led away from the helicopter, I saw a half dozen more bound and blindfolded Iraqis being loaded on to the chopper we’d just stepped off.

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