by Ilan Herman
My name is Ahmed Gibreel. I am a 27 year old Sunni Muslim. I was born and raised in Iraq. Moments ago, my American interrogator, Mozy, walked out of my jail cell and was smiling widely. Then a blonde woman soldier with brown eyes and a bright smile walked into my cell and handed me a bowl with chocolate ice cream.
“You did good,” she said, watching me clumsily manage my handcuffs to clutch the bowl and gobble the sweetness.
Being spoken to nicely by the beautiful blonde made me blush. I hadn’t had a woman speak to me in many months. I smiled through my blood-stained lips and said, “I am not sure what you mean.”
My English is good, though I struggle with words like ain’t.
“I ain’t your fool,” said Mozy, soon after I was captured in Tora Bora.
“What is ain’t,” I asked, thinking back to Clint Eastwood movies I’d seen growing up.
Mozy was well over six feet, blonde and blue-eyed, a dominant presence and not all bad. He was 23, a soldier following orders given to him by a belligerent cabal.
“Ain’t means ‘I am not,’” he said. “I am not your fool.”
I blinked in confusion. “Why would I want you to be my fool?”
Mozy waved a muscular and heavily tattooed arm. “I’ll deal with you later,” he said and walked out, but returned many more times in search of my confession.
The blonde woman soldier with the bright smile said, “You did good cause you confessed.”
The ice-cream tasted sweet. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“That you met Abdul Karim in Iraq last year.”
I shrugged. “Many in Iraq know who Abdul Karim is.” Her sunny beauty and the ice cream pleasing to me, I dared to ask, “Who are you?”
“I’m Brittney, from San Diego,” the soldier said.
I chewed a chocolate chip. “Why are you here, in Afghanistan?”
“Because my president sent me to protect the American people.”
I was about to snicker at her gullible nature when I realized that my president and family friend, Saddam Hussein, had demanded the same from me—to protect the Iraqi nation from the American imperialists who were invading Afghanistan. I obeyed him and, on a moonless night, crossed the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan and joined the al Qaeda resistance that was soon crushed by American bombs and the Northern Alliance. The carnage I had seen was so…I cannot dare to describe.
“Was San Diego invaded by us?” I asked, determined to understand her point of view.
“Are you kidding? No way.”
“So why are you here?”
“Because of 9/11”
I shrugged. “The 9/11 men came from Saudi Arabia. How did you end up two thousand miles off target?”
Brittany smiled. “Al Qaeda trains here. You know that.”
I slurped the last of the ice cream. “They are history. You know that.”
“They were history,” she said, “until you confessed.”
I did not understand what she meant. Her ample breasts, though hidden behind olive-green army fatigues, pulsated with life. I dearly wanted to bury my face in her glorious mounds. I also knew that my desire for her was emulated a thousand fold, that she spent much time navigating lusting eyes, like a gazelle weaving through the savannah and its large population of carnivorous cats. As a Muslim man raised in Iraq, I was lusted after only once, when I was thirteen. Fatima, my next door neighbor said I should join the swim team.
“Why?” I asked.
“You would look good in a bathing suit,” Fatimah said, a sparkle in her dark eyes.
I felt a pleasant stir in my groin when she said that, a stir soon commonplace—my teenage gazes wandering to bosoms and behinds expertly hidden within gowns and dresses. I enjoyed walking to the village well and seeing a feminine ankle, or the heaving breasts when a woman tugged on the rope and raised the bucket. All I would see was a ripple across a heavy gown, but I remembered that ripple at night as I tossed and turned in bed, my imagination filled with the quest for a naked woman.
My innards singing with sugary delight, I asked the female soldier, “Do you like me?”
She frowned. “No.”
“Why? Because I am Muslim?”
“No, well, maybe that’s part of it,” the blonde said, “but I don’t like guys with hairy backs. I mean, even if you were Christian I wouldn’t date you.”
Her casual sincerity offended me. I never considered the hair on my back as a cause for rejection. Many of my friends and relatives had more hair on their backs than I did, yet had wives who loved them and children to prove their virility.
I stared at the filthy concrete floor and said nothing while Brittany collected the empty bowl and walked out, gyrating her tight buttocks, knowing I longed to squeeze them. I was enchanted with her blonde curls and golden skin. Few Iraqi women possess hair and skin like that. But I wasn’t even a sliver of a man in her eyes. She was American—superficial and consumed with her false sense of superiority. There was no way to reason with her trivial manner. She probably slept with Mozy, athletic and desirable to her because of his smooth back. Deep jealousy rattled my bones.
I sat alone for a few moments, then Mozy walked into my cell carrying a plate with fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I hadn’t eaten a hot meal in many weeks.
“Enjoy,” he said with a smile and placed the plate on the floor. Then he took off my handcuffs. I ignored the fork and knife and scooped up the potatoes with my dirty fingers. The fried chicken was the best food I’d ever tasted. I emptied the Coca Cola bottle in seconds, the bubbly sweet beverage soothing my stomach.
“Why are you so nice to me?” I asked, while chewing on a chicken thigh.
“Because you confessed,” Mozy said.
“Confessed what? That I know Abdul Karim?” I asked, recalling what Brittany had said.
“You’re the missing link,” said the handsome American soldier who’d interrogated me for a month, sometimes nicely, other times with great brutality, especially when he placed a wet towel over my mouth and nose, simulating drowning.
“Why are you torturing me?” I had asked, my heart pounding with mortal fear. “I told you everything I know.”
“What I’m doing to you isn’t torture,” he had said. “It’s called EIT, or enhanced interrogation techniques, a nifty title wouldn’t you say?”
“I’m the missing link?” I asked, utterly confused.
Mozy offered me another Coca Cola and said, “You told us that Abdul Karim, the Saudi al Qaeda commander, was in Iraq last year, and that he’s friends with Uday, Saddam Hussein’s son.”
I shrugged. “So what?” I too was friendly with Uday, though he had a propensity for violence against women, which I soundly condemned.
Mozy laughed like a man greatly relieved. “You don’t get it. Abdul Karim trained with Osama bin Laden and fought against the Russians and then, as you confessed, he traveled to Iraq. He’s the connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Now we can invade Iraq. We have the link to 9/11. Signed, sealed, and delivered in your confession.”
I almost swallowed the chicken bone I was chewing on. “You are going to invade Iraq?”
“Payback time,” Mozy said, blue eyes sparkling with morbid insanity.
“But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11,” I cried.
“You know that, and I know that, but Dick and Jane Jones don’t know shit, and they’re payin’ the bills.”
Suddenly my stomach was sour and I was not hungry anymore. I still did not understand what Mozy was talking about, but I knew him well enough to believe what he said: America was going to attack Iraq, my homeland, where my parents and three sisters lived, where our family has lived for a thousand years, and that somehow, the American invasion soon to come was my fault. Tears rolled down my face. Throughout the month-long interrogation, I had never shed tears, no matter how woefully I was treated. That pain was mine alone to bear. Now my family and country would suffer because of me. My honor had been crushed.
“Why’re you cryin’?” Mozy said. “It’s all good. We’ll get rid of Saddam and build a democracy in Iraq. We’ll be greeted like liberators.”
I shook my head. “You have no idea what you are getting into. The Iraqi people will rise as one to fight you, the infidel.”
Mozy narrowed his eyes. “Bring’em on.”
We stared one another down for a moment, and then he said, “Let’s get you cleaned up. You have a plane to catch.”
My stomach in knots, I asked, “Where are you taking me?”
“Cuba, Guantanamo Bay. It’s a military prison. We need you healthy for the trial.”
“What trial?” I suddenly realized I would never see my family again.
Mozy shook his head. “Too complicated to get into right now. You’ll know soon enough. Now let’s go.”
Two hours later, after I had shaved and showered, and was dressed in a clean orange body suit, I boarded a cargo airplane. My body was happy to be clean and filled with food, but my spirit was darker than anytime during my interrogation, when I was filthy and bleeding, famished and parched. Then, I had honor. Now I was disgraced. I had betrayed my family and homeland. I could not live with the veil of disgrace shrouding my soul. I, Ahmed Gibreel, am better off dead. I refuse to be paraded in a mock trial in front of the world.
I still failed to understand how what I had said about Abdul Karim, which to me seemed inconsequential, could have been the reason to swing open the gates of hell. Man is a flawed creature, cruel and greedy, abandoned by Allah to rot in his ignorant stew. The arrogant Americans will attack Iraq and drown in a great quagmire, but they will also butcher my people. There will be carnage all around.
The plane had taken off and was flying into the setting sun when I fell asleep and dreamed I was a teenager standing by the village well, watching Fatima raising the bucket, her strong arms and wide hips a sign from God that she was ready to be my wife and the mother of our children.
Ilan Herman’s novel The Gravedigger is coming out this spring on Casperian Books:
“Adam, the melancholy caretaker of Pine Grove cemetery, is comfortable with the silence of graves, perfect reminders of the unbreachable barrier separating life and death. One August afternoon, that silence awakens.”
“The Gravedigger, an 58,000-word novel, follows Adam’s tumultuous interactions with the ghost of Tirak, who insists on sharing his life story with the gravedigger. Hiding the secret of his nightly visits with the ghost strains Adam’s friendship with Noah, the cemetery’s old and ailing proprietor. Adam also becomes entangled with Eva, a sultry widow who stirs passions long buried in the his heart.”
The Gravedigger will be reviewed in a few weeks at Crow Reviews.