Nabil helped protect me and my country in a time of war. He risked his life doing it. He should have been protected by the United States for his deeds, but he was not. I am ashamed that my country treated him like that. He deserved better.
I first met Nabil shortly after I arrived in Iraq in October of 2006 to work as a construction manager for an American building contracting company. I was assigned to help manage a project rehabilitating Iraqi Police stations, and he was assigned to that same project.
Some nights while hunkered down in his home praying that no killer would break through his door, Nabil could hear the signature "pop" of rockets being launched from a field behind his house. He knew that within seconds after that noise a rocket with 40lbs of explosives in its tip would scream into the Green Zone and detonate, killing or maiming anyone near it when it did. Once, Nabil himself had once come within a whisker of being killed by a rocket when it had punched through the roof of a Green Zone office trailer he and several of his coworkers had just vacated. Soon after that happened, Nabil risked death by walking out into that field behind his house in broad daylight and with a GPS unit marked the exact locations of the rocket launch sites. He gave those locations to American forces, who according to him, never showed up to check them out. He says rocket attacks continued originating from behind his house -- when he finally fled Doura, they were still going on. As far as he knows, he had risked his life for nothing.
It's important to note that Nabil's life was in jeopardy even before he stepped out into the field that day -- he worked for American companies for almost three years. Like all Iraqis who do that, he was automatically marked for death by the terrorists simply because of that association. In spite of that sword hanging over his head, Nabil had further risked death, and almost certainly torture, by taking the chance of getting caught by terrorists as he was mapping out their rocket launch positions.
Stunned by his bravery, and shaken by what I viewed as his recklessness, I asked him why he had taken such a terrible chance with his life. His answer was simple and direct: "I hate the people destroying my country, trying to kill me, my family and my American friends," he said.
This was not all Nabil did to help save Iraqis and Americans. He did much more than just locate and report rocket launch positions near his house. He infiltrated a major Iraqi terrorist group and reported much of what he knew to the FBI and to the US State Department and yet, my country did nothing to protect his life or to reward him for his bravery.
I believed that the best course of action, both to guarantee Nabil's safety and to make sure his information was put to good use, was to suggest to him that in trade for the information he had, he should seek safety, asylum, in the United States. Simply giving that information, no strings attached, directly to the authorities would not have been in his best interest or in the best interest of his wife, pregnant with their first child.
A few weeks later, I again drove Nabil to the meeting place where he was picked up by workers from the State Department. Nabil told me that during that meeting, they had been impressed by the depth of the information he had -- he had told them a lot, including the location of the terrorist group leader's safe house, but had stopped when they had pressed him to reveal everything he knew. At that point, he reminded them that he needed a guarantee of protection before he would talk further. Once he said that, his State Department interrogator began to balk. It wasn't in her power to grant him asylum, she said, but if he gave up all the information he had, she said she would see what she could do.
At that point, Nabil ended the interview. When he returned to my office he told me, "You were right, they didn't care about me and my family, and they only wanted the information I had. I gave them too much already. I can give them no more, it is too dangerous for me to do."
Since phone communication where I was working was terrible I sent Senator Reed an email detailing Nabil's plight and underscoring the importance of the information he held. I asked the senator to intervene on Nabil's behalf. A few days later I got an email response from his office; a standard form letter outlining his antiwar positions on Iraq, and nothing else.
When I told Nabil what had happened when I'd queried Senator Reed, he looked at me sadly and then thanked me for the help I'd given him. He said, "Now I must leave before I am killed."
Weeks later, he was gone.
It has been approximately four months since Nabil fled Iraq. We have stayed in touch with each other and in October I visited him in a country bordering Iraq where he was hiding out illegally. He is at the end of his rope and he is living in fear. The terrorist group he spoke to the FBI and State Department about has agents in every Middle Eastern country. Nabil knows this, and he is always looking behind his back -- he worries for himself, his wife and his new baby girl.
During a conversation we had a few weeks ago he asked me a question that hit me like a punch to the stomach: "I helped your country, I risked my life to help your country and my country, why won't your country help me?"
That is a good question, indeed. Why won't my country help Nabil? Why has my country, the United States, admitted few Iraqi immigrants since deposing Saddam Hussein? Why has it helped so few of the thousands of Iraqis who have risked their lives helping Americans? This question transcends ideology, it is not related to Conservatism, Liberalism or any other political doctrine. It is simply a question of what is right to do when an Iraqi risks his life in the service of his country and in the service of the United States of America.
Winning hearts and minds means much more than giving lip service. It means doing what you say you will do. It means not making promises you cannot, or will not keep. It means doing right to those who have done right to you. It means helping heroes like my brother Nabil.
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