Shame on us

In a Baghdad shop recently, a young man bent over to pick up an item and a badge identifying him as a civilian employed by the United States inadvertently fell from his pocket. It cost him his life.

The other night while watching television I listened and watched in horror to a an unheeded cry for help from dozens of Iraqi civilians, many now in hiding in neighboring Jordan, who desperately need U.S. help to escape terrorist retribution for the crime of having worked for America. The stories were heart wrenching not only from what might happen to them if forced to return to Iraq, but what it said about us these days.

When the Iraq war is over, if it ever is, one of the biggest tragedies will be what it has been done to this nation’s reputation for compassion and protection of civilians who stepped up at the risk of their own lives to give badly needed support to U.S. efforts.

Since the beginning of the invasion there have been more than 100,000 Iraqis who fit this description, working for the U.S. army and civilian government agencies a variety of important jobs from interpreters to clerks to janitors, mostly behind the anonymity required to protect their lives. When they have come to the attention of insurgents they have been forced to flee or be killed.

But the real disgrace lies in America’s refusal to speed up the process of awarding these Iraqi men and women the sanctuary and support needed to resume normal, productive lives. About the only word that comes to mind is abandonment. Only some 5,000 of these civilians have been admitted to the United States. In contrast more than 40,000 of those who performed the same work for Great Britain in its Iraqi operations have been granted asylum in England.

The answer to our reluctance in this and so many cases lies in the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists accomplished far more than just the deaths of thousands in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a Pennsylvania field. What they destroyed was a basic part of the nation’s DNA — that genetic fabric that always made us the place to go when seeking aid, shelter, comfort and hope for a better life, that rewards and protects those who help us.

Now it seems we treat everyone the same, as a potential enemy. We regard even those who have performed vital services for us at their own peril as though they actually harbor a secret agenda, to ultimately gain sanctuary here for the purpose of doing us harm. While it is necessary to be prudent, we have gone far beyond that in our paranoia — the same extreme reaction that led us into this unholy mistake, destroyed a country, and left us suspecting anyone and anything with a Muslim sounding name. Our reaction created this monster, not the 9/11 terrorists who must be looking down from their promised paradise with all those virgins and laughing their heads off.

Xenophobia has become a national disease that truly threatens to undo our standing with those throughout the world who still believe in us. To deny through endless vetting the Iraqi men and women who have helped us for fear that there may be a terrorist among them is to deny the chances we always have taken as the Earth’s leading democracy. It is unconscionable not to reward those who have proven their loyalty.

Of course we face the possibility that one of those is in reality an ally of Osama bin Laden. We would be naove to think otherwise and not to take some precautions.

But is that a reason for preventing everybody access or slowing the process to the point that the problem disappears along with the heads of those we have stalled? It seems to me we never have been in control of our own destiny in the Middle East and certainly not since the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein tugged our chain so long with false bravado and claims of annihilating force that it pulled everything down on his head including our own international standing.

Now we keep compounding the tragedy, making decisions that leave us morally bereft, like refusing to realize the obligation we have to those who viewed us as their saviors, offered us their services and now can only hide the fact or face brutal results. It’s time to make this right and to do so now.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)


  1. Sandra Price

    The Bush Administrations (both) have stripped the compassion from our American reputations down to the spine. We have seen this Bush agenda remove responsibility to our American allies making America an evil empire. Somehow the human element has been removed from our foreign policies and oil has replaced American values. The problem is our values and freedoms are now missing at home. Our Constitution is being treated like toilet paper. We should rename it as the U.S. Constipation.

    Right versus wrong is now the missing link in our American values.

    I fear the damage has been done to our citizens, neighbors and and allies; we will need to take a time out under new leadership to rebuild what the Bush Administrations have done to America. We are so weakened we may never rebound to fit in our Constitition again.

    Americans are more interested in hand outs instead of our liberties and many of us are laughed at for even suggesting a return to the Constitution under the only man who has stood up for it. We are too ignorant to see what Ron Paul stands for. America will sink and continue sinking under the weight of bad leadership and the religious right.

  2. rickh1954

    Blaming everything on the Bush Cabal is an easy out to avoid the shared responsibility for what the US has become. There was no doubt about the character or agenda of the men and women occupying the White House in 2004. Where was the overwhelming turnout to turf these people from office? Please don’t tell me they won re-election because of a few rigged voting machines scattered across the country.

    Where are the massive protests telling this administration they are wrong?

    Where are the letters to congress asking them to grow a spine?

    Why is politics treated like a sporting event? We stand on the sidelines and bleat and moan about “the other side”, then tolerate, excuse and celebrate the same or worse behavior from “our side”. What will change if we ask nothing of our leaders other than they mouth the party line, and then do whatever they choose once elected? Do we truly believe a change in parties at the helm, or the creation of some mythical pure and ethical 3rd party will change the course of a country so disconnected from reality?

    Why has America sunken so low? Stand in front of a mirror and ask that person.

  3. old_curmudgeon

    Dan, why does this surprise you? This is an administration that has, despite their claims of being Christian, espoused only hatred and discord.

    Why should the administration take care of those Iraqis who’ve helped them when they don’t even take care of the American troops sent over there to protect the interests of the MIC. The military look at the Iraqis as ungrateful for what the Americans have down for them. They have become the modern Knights Templar for the final Crusade of Armageddon. Only without the piety of the Templars. As any historian might tell you the primary purpose of the Templars was the protection of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

    So again Dan, why does this surprise you? The administration believes the Iraqis are subhuman and being Muslim unworthy of salvation or respect.

    You can hear it in how the administration talks about them. Bush hardly ever talks about the Iraqi people. He hardly ever acknowledges the hundreds of thousands who’ve had their lives destroyed by his playing in the middle east sand box.

    You can see it when you look into their eyes. Bush hardly ever returns a direct look to hard questions – not that he’s had to field many of those the past 7 years… but that’s another story for another time.