My Prisoner. My Brother.
Vanity Fair has published a piece by Michael Tucker that
tells the story behind The Prisoner.
My Prisoner, My Brother
An American soldier formed an unlikely friendship in the crucible of Abu Ghraib--with an Iraqi detainee who was under his command. Their gripping story is the subject of a new documentary, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair.
I am looking for you....
Last week I [read about an Iraqi prisoner named] Yunis being captured [by U.S. troops] in [your movie] Gunner Palace. I ... rented it and saw that it was the Yunis I know.... I served at Abu Ghraib from February 2004 [to] February 2005 at Camp Ganci, the enclosure where Yunis was my detainee.... I've been typing his name into google since I [returned to America from] Iraq.... I was very close with Yunis [and his brothers], Khalid [and] Abbas.... Obviously you can never tell for certain in such a crazy environment what is really going on, but I felt that these people were my good friends and that we survived that hell together with support from one another. I truly love these people....
I'm not one to believe in fate, but there was something oddly synchronous about the timing of Benjamin Thompson's e-mail. Yes, I had made a film, released in 2005, in which an Iraqi man named Yunis is shown being captured by U.S. troops. In fact, I had just spent the better part of the year editing Yunis's life story for a second film, called The Prisoner, which I've completed for its theatrical premiere, in March.
But what Thompson could not have known was that as much as he was looking for me, I was looking for him. In extensive interviews for the movie, Yunis had spoken of a soldier named Thompson and his extraordinary compassion during his ordeal. And now, three years to the day after Yunis's arrest, in Baghdad, I find myself driving to Thompson's home, in Columbus, Ohio, a world away from Iraq, but not nearly as far as I had thought.
The first time I met Yunis Khatayer Abbas was through the viewfinder of my Canon video camera. I had served in the army reserve in the 1980s, had become a filmmaker, and, as the war in Iraq escalated, had been granted permission to document the lives of U.S. troops there. And it was in that capacity, while filming a midnight raid in 2003, that I encountered an angry Iraqi man, aged 36, being ordered to crouch on his knees in the garden of his parents' home. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and he looked on angrily as I videotaped a tactical team rounding up all the males on the premises.
The man in my lens could hear his mother weeping in the house, but he couldn't go to comfort her. He could see his father shivering in his underwear, but he couldn't fetch him a robe. His brothers, Yaas, Khalid, and Abbas, were in similar positions, each cuffed and kneeling, ordered to keep their eyes down and their mouths shut. Abbas became nervous, his leg shaking in rhythm with the chopper overhead, and he began to yell at his captors. I continued filming as Yunis tried to calm him down, but a soldier quickly ordered him to be quiet.
"We have done nothing," Yunis said in English. "I'm a journalist."
"I don't care," a soldier barked back. "We've got a journalist with us filming us right now."
Yunis locked his eyes on my camera as the soldier walked away, and said, "Yes, you see that in the camera. I am journalist.... You mistake this."
Behind me, another soldier snapped, "Hey, quiet!"
"Yeah, just shut your mouth in Iraq," Yunis mumbled, mocking the absurdity of being silenced in his own home by men with guns. "Just shut your mouth."
"Yeah, I know that 'Shut up,'" Yunis said, as if to suggest that he didn't need an English lesson. I was struck at once by his defiance, his apparent lack of fear, and the savvy with which he directed his comments toward my camera. I was worried that my presence might aggravate the situation, but clearly he was trying to tell me something. If he was a journalist, I wondered, whom did he work for?
With obvious impatience, the team leader gave an order: "Pick him up. He goes outside the wall.... The reporter guy likes to talk."
Two soldiers took Yunis by the arms and led him away. As I filmed, he looked back for one last glimpse of his home. At the time, naturally, I did not know his name.
As the raid continued and the soldiers searched the house, it was clear that they were not finding the evidence they had come for. A suspicious-looking lockbox, which they thought might be booby-trapped, turned out to contain a bottle of imported shampoo and some party decorations. "Shampoo?" one soldier said, with disappointment. They were expecting documents, videotapes, propaganda, and bomb-making materials. During the pre-mission briefing, they had been told that counter-intelligence reports had identified the brothers as bomb builders who were working with a terror cell. Their supposed target: Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, who visited the region the following January. The lack of evidence clearly unsettled them.
Later, when the soldiers filled out official capture tags for the suspects, they wrote under Circumstances of Capture: "Planning assassination of Tony Blair."
In the months that followed, I was nagged by questions as I examined the raid footage. Who was this man who'd kept insisting he was a journalist? Had I actually filmed an operation that might have prevented the assassination of Tony Blair? (Blair came to Basra that January.) And who were these brothers who had claimed to be a journalist, a student, a hospital technician, and a merchant? For all I knew, they could have been members of Muhammad's Army, a Sunni resistance group.
I contacted the capturing unit early in 2004, hoping for some answers, and was told that the brothers were listed "in the system" as having been sent to Abu Ghraib, a name of little importance at the time. For me, Abu Ghraib was a dusty town between Fallujah and Baghdad that happened to have served as the site of Saddam's most notorious prison.
All that changed a few months later when photos and news reports began to surface, revealing atrocities committed by U.S. troops against detainees. Suddenly, Abu Ghraib became synonymous with torture and abuse--and the images inflamed anti-American sentiment across the globe. Many of the men who had been shown in the pictures being humiliated and intimidated seemed no different than the brothers apprehended that night--or dozens of other men I had seen captured at traffic-control points and on search operations. Depending on whom you ask, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of Abu Ghraib's detainees during this period were, in fact, civilians who had been rounded up by the authorities. Only "one in ten security detainees were of any particular intelligence value," observed a high-ranking prison official who was removed in the wake of the abuse scandal.
Every time I saw the Abu Ghraib pictures, I saw the face of that man who had said, "I'm a journalist."
Late in April 2005, I received an e-mail with a subject line that caught my attention: "Gunner Palace has footage of my friend being arrested." An American journalist named David Enders had heard I had videotaped an Iraqi colleague of his. After I e-mailed Enders a few video stills, he quickly confirmed his hunch. He went on to explain that Yunis had been a freelance reporter, fixer, and cameraman for Britain's Channel 4. One day in 2003 he had simply disappeared, and word circulated among his friends that he and his brothers had been taken during a raid. In the beginning, Enders remembers, not even Yunis's parents had known their son's whereabouts. Then, eight months after the arrest, Yunis and his brothers were released, without explanation.
I had to find out the rest of the story. Working with Enders and one of his colleagues, a young Iraqi woman whom I'll call Hiba, we set up a tentative meeting in Baghdad. Yunis agreed to see me, but only on his terms, as he was afraid that I might be working for an intelligence service. He insisted that we meet on neutral ground with someone else present--a tall order at a time when security had deteriorated to the point where just getting into Baghdad from the airport took over 72 hours. After weeks of discussion and attempts to ease Yunis's fears, Hiba arranged to get him a pass to come into the weapons-free Convention Center in the Green Zone--a public place frequented by journalists and Iraqi politicians.
An hour after our arrival, Hiba received a phone call from Yunis, who said that the soldiers at the Green Zone gate wouldn't let him in. We arranged, instead, to come out and collect him. After walking through a maze of blast barriers, we found Yunis, surrounded by soldiers, physically diminished and looking much older than when I saw him last. After convincing the soldiers that he was with me, I was allowed to escort him into the compound, where we found a quiet place to sit. Yunis turned and said to me in English, "You see? This is my country."
After exchanging awkward pleasantries, we watched footage of the raid on my laptop. We watched as his brother Yaas was shoved against a wall, a soldier tightening his cuffs. When we saw his father stumbling through the garden in his nightclothes, Hiba started weeping. Yunis comforted her. He flinched as the soldiers on-screen ordered him to be quiet. I looked over at Yunis and could see that he wasn't with us; he was back there. I turned the video off.
I had watched that same footage so many times I could repeat the exchanges in my sleep. But I had never understood it from the subjects' perspective. Sitting in an empty lobby with Yunis and Hiba, I could see that to them the arrest, indeed the war itself, had been about families torn apart and neighborhoods thrown into chaos. To Yunis, men had come and taken him away from his parents' house--in front of his family and in his own country.
Shifting from Arabic back to English, Yunis then began to tell me the story of his detention, a tale we would explore further during subsequent meetings. Yunis said that immediately after he and his brothers were taken they were brought to the former palace where the army unit was based, and placed in a holding cell. They were next transferred to another base, at the Baghdad Police Academy, where he says a marathon series of interrogations began, sessions which often included a female soldier, who spit in his face repeatedly. "She was blonde and beautiful, but her heart was black," Yunis would recall.
After a few days, his oldest brother, Yaas, was released, and Yunis, Khalid, and Abbas were moved to a facility near the airport, where they began to see just how desperate their situation was. There, Yunis says, he was subjected to frequent interrogation sessions where he was bombarded with absurd accusations and bizarre questions about his sexual habits and preferences. Late one night, Yunis claimed, he was pulled out of the holding area and a guard beat him. As he told me this, he broke down and admitted that he had never shared this account with anyone, not even his wife--whose name, along with the name of Yunis's home village, I have chosen not to disclose, in deference to the family's security concerns. (Yunis's claims are similar to cases reported in internal army documents.)
After some 10 days of such treatment, he said, a guard came to the temporary detainee holding area at Baghdad International Airport and told them that "the Happy Bus" was coming to take them away. "When I heard 'Happy Bus,' I was very happy," Yunis recalled. "I told my two brothers, 'Tomorrow, we are going ... home.' [I thought we were being] released," Yunis told me with a cautionary shake of his head. "We were put in a truck with a closed back, so we couldn't see where we were going, but another prisoner told me that he knew from the sound of the road that we were not on the road to Baghdad--we were driving away from Baghdad. I told him that he was a liar, to be quiet."
An hour later, they arrived at Abu Ghraib. "When I got off the truck," Yunis said, "I saw [prisoners] with long hair, just underwear and T-shirts. I told myself, Where am I? In Guantánamo? ... Guantánamo in Iraq?"
Camp Ganci, the enclosure of tents where Yunis and his brothers were interned, was erected as an interim holding facility for 3,000 detainees. By November 2003, about two months after Yunis arrived, the population had swelled to over 4,500 due to an ongoing coalition offensive against the growing and increasingly effective insurgency. Yunis and his brothers were placed in Ganci Compound 6, where most detainees were rated as having no intelligence value and officially classified as security detainees. On paper they were viewed as potential threats to the security of Iraq and they would stay interned until the authorities deemed them O.K. for release. In the words of one military-intelligence officer, however, there was simply a "fear that the wrong guy might be let loose," and the system, if you could call it that, soon became overwhelmed. At the time, the Security Detainee Release Board typically consisted of three regular members, who met three times a week to review scores of cases, according to an e-mail by one of them, General Janis Karpinski. Yunis explained, fighting back tears, "Nobody could tell us why we were there. We were like monkeys with hands on our eyes and ears. We knew nothing and they told us nothing. It wasn't right to keep us from our families."
As weeks turned into months, the detainees became impatient and the conditions in the camp deteriorated. Sometimes the food was rock hard. Often it was infested with vermin. Other times there was not enough to go around (because the road to the prison was frequently unsafe for convoys), and some detainees went unfed. Everyone suffered in the heat. Many of the older detainees, especially those with chronic medical conditions, fell ill, and some died from lack of medication. During Ramadan, a time when many detainees hoped to be released, the camp exploded in riots that left several dead. "They treated us like animals," Yunis said. "The world didn't know what was happening to us inside the prison."
He decided to do what all good journalists do: he wrote and reported. He scrawled intricate poems on the foil linings of cigarette packs. These were smuggled out in the mouths of detainees who were released from the prison to then be read in the mosque near his home. He also kept a secret list of the names and serial numbers of detainees who had died in the camps. But not having access to real paper, which was forbidden, and fearing detection and punishment, he inscribed the names and numbers, in his tidy scrawl, in a place where he knew the guards would never find it: on the inside lining of his white boxer shorts. (Detainees were patted down, according to a former guard, but not routinely stripped.) By maintaining this record, Yunis thought, he would make sure that the deaths of his countrymen would not go unnoticed.
Eight months after his capture, Yunis was finally brought before one of the ranking officials at the camp. He said he was simply told, "We're sorry." Prisoner No. 151186 and his brothers were free to go. As they walked out of the prison gate they were surprised to find scores of Iraqis holding up pictures of inmates, clamoring for information. Fortunately, an old man looking for his son lent Yunis cab fare, and the brothers made their way back to their town, where friends hardly recognized their gaunt, long-lost neighbors. (Despite my having submitted two Freedom of Information Act requests, the army has produced no documents about Yunis, claiming to have no record of Prisoner No. 151186, let alone any credible evidence connecting him to a plot to kill Blair. Indeed, a high-level military source confirmed that if intelligence officials had believed there to be serious suspicions about the brothers, they would have been held not at Ganci but at a facility for high-value detainees.) Yunis, like thousands of other captives, seems to have been simply lost in a system that did not have the resources to vet them in a timely manner.
Since his arrest, three years ago, not a day goes by without Yunis wondering, Why me? Was he under surveillance because of investigative stories he helped report or produce? Was a phone conversation intercepted and misinterpreted? Did an informant sell false information to coalition contacts? Did an intelligence source or an unhappy or underhanded journalist identify him as having contacts with the insurgency?
During a follow-up session after that day in the Green Zone, Yunis produced a yellow plastic shopping bag and said, "This is my life," as he spread out a collection of pictures and videos. There were class photos from kindergarten, snapshots of long-dead friends, weathered prints of a teenage Yunis clowning around with friends. Also included was a series of shots from his time in the army during the Iran-Iraq War: in one shot, he holds an AK-47, striking a pose similar to those I had seen among many young Americans in Baghdad. Holding up a picture of a family gathering in the 80s, he remarked, "You see? Always smiling. We were happy then."
He then showed me the few videotapes that were not seized by U.S. troops during his arrest or in follow-up searches. One tape showed his engagement party from 2004. Another was a montage of his wedding day in which his bride-to-be wore a white hooded gown and Yunis appeared, nervously, in a suit and tie. After the wedding, guests piled into cars and drove slowly through his village, honking horns and banging on drums, his brothers hanging out of the windows, oblivious to--or perhaps defiant toward--the American vehicles that passed.
Yunis showed me home movies in which I could see his family on outings and attending parties. He also allowed me to videotape him at the beach. In one scene, a scrawny Yunis, in a swimsuit, plays muscleman on the shore as passersby loll in the water. When watching the footage, one can imagine his quotidian life before the war changed everything.
Since his release, Yunis has gone back to work, intermittently, as a cameraman and writer. He has continued to put his life at risk in a conflict that has proved to be the most deadly for journalists in recent history. (Since 2003, 130 media representatives have been killed in the war--108 of them Iraqis.) When I asked Yunis about the situation, he shrugged and said, "This job is very dangerous.... If the Americans don't kill you, maybe the resistance kills you. But people must know the truth about what happens in my country."
Entering Benjamin Thompson's duplex, the first thing I notice is a mantel where he has arranged a sort of shrine to his experience in Iraq. A Buddha sits next to a black beret. A shoulder brassard, bearing the Arabic characters for "Army Police," leans against a brass vase. A framed citation for valor rests above an array of ribbons and coins. One of the coins, given to each member of Thompson's unit for service at Abu Ghraib, is emblazoned with the motto that defined their mission: restoring america's honor.
When Thompson's reserve unit, the 391st Military Police Battalion, based in Columbus, Ohio, arrived at Abu Ghraib, in February 2004, they knew they had a heavy burden before them. For some unexplained reason, according to Thompson, they were given just 12 hours to take on the duties of the unit in place, the 320th M.P. Battalion--a transition that would normally take two weeks.
"We didn't know what the scandal had been," says Thompson, one of the rare soldiers of his rank to have spoken out publicly and candidly about his time at Abu Ghraib, "but we knew that there were problems. We knew that people had been relieved. We knew that people had been arrested.... We were supposed to be the soldiers that fixed the problem there.... We weren't supposed to learn too much from the people we were relieving. I think it was understood that there were probably a lot of bad habits that we could pick up."
In the following weeks, Thompson came to understand the scale of the problem. "When we first arrived there it was pretty grim," he says. "A lot of the prisoners were very thin--they weren't healthy. Their clothing was tattered and they didn't have adequate sanitation.... They weren't dying, but they weren't in good condition.... There were three separate prison areas [at Abu Ghraib]. I worked in ... Camp Ganci. [Camp] Vigilant and the Hard Site were understood to have been areas where detainees of higher intelligence value were held, people that needed to be separate from the regular population. Camp Ganci was eight camps in two rows of four surrounded by razor wire and guard towers. At maximum capacity ... each one of those eight camps would have up to 700 individuals in them." (Thompson's assessments have been verified by various U.S. sources.)
"Not necessarily everyone who gets picked up has done something," Thompson continues. "There were young boys there, there were old men there, there were Shias and Sunnis, there were educated people and there were farmers, there were rich people and there were poor people." And not all of them were enemy prisoners of war. Thompson explains, "Army documents have shown that a lot of people that were there were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. [But, as soldiers, we] just understood that once we put them in the gate we were supposed to keep them there."
As Thompson speaks, it is hard for me to imagine him as a pumped-up prison guard. There is a disconnect between the M.P. he describes and the well-mannered 26-year-old college student he is today, having returned to the States. Thompson is a practicing Buddhist. He spends many Sunday nights mentoring teens in a non-denominational youth group. He seems exceptionally considerate and compassionate toward others, and I can imagine him sitting at his computer late at night--as he has described to me--typing "Yunis" into search engines in vain attempts to find out whatever became of the detainee he had come to know in Iraq.
I ask if his team, in fact, was able to improve the conditions at Abu Ghraib in any way. "It was chaotic in the camps," he explains. "It often seemed like we were not in control of the situation--and in many ways, nobody was in control. The camps could explode at any moment, and they did. We were all fresh from our civilian jobs. We were not prison guards, and it was obvious. They tested us. We had to learn to walk and talk different. We learned to be larger than life. We learned to be intimidating. That was the biggest change for me."
"What did you do before the war?" I ask.
"Real estate. I was [a realtor and] an appraiser. It was different."
Yunis also made a transition, from journalist to prisoner, a fate that he had settled into by the time Thompson first saw him. "We met Yunis pretty early in our time there," Thompson remembers, "because he speaks English and could function as a translator. I remember when we first met him he was very ragged. He had long hair and a beard. It looked like he had kind of given up on being content, being happy.... He didn't like to engage with us directly and kept to himself except to ask when the Happy Bus was coming, which became a joke in the camp because all I could say was 'Inshallah' [God willing]."
Yunis was thrust into a new role, however, when the Iraqi who had been designated as the camp go-between (acting as a liaison between the guards and detainees) unexpectedly received his release notification. The authorities, scrambling to find a replacement, turned to Yunis, who begrudgingly agreed to take on the task. "Immediately, once he started working," Thompson says, "I saw a change in him. He shaved, kept a neater appearance, and took his job very seriously.
"He'd come to us with [detainees'] concerns, and we would try to act on them. Sometimes, we couldn't do anything, and we put him in the hard position of having to explain that to the detainees, but somehow he made it work.... He was concerned that the guards did not have to shoot the prisoners. He wanted to make sure that the situation remained calm. [Ultimately,] we had the lowest firing rate of all the Gancis. We didn't have to use non-lethal shotgun rounds to subdue our detainees. Whether that was just blind luck or the result of Yunis's work, I don't know, but it seems to me that he worked very hard to keep peace in the camps."
Yunis, Khalid, and Abbas, according to Thompson, were well liked both by the prisoners and the guards. Abbas was the camp artist and busied himself painting signs around the compound, often incorporating cartoon characters into his work. Khalid spent his days standing by the razor wire, talking with the guards, teaching them new words in Arabic, and often welcoming new prisoners. "He'd go out with us to the trucks," Thompson says, "to tell the new detainees that they were lucky, because Ganci 6 was the best camp, with the best prisoners and the best guards. It's hard to imagine, but there was a sense of pride in our camp."
When Yunis and Khalid told me the same story a year before, during our interviews in Iraq, it seemed astounding. Khalid went as far as to say, "Some soldiers would tell me, 'You are not a prisoner. You are my brother.'"
Occasionally, mortar rounds launched by the insurgency would rain down on the prison grounds. When an especially heavy attack hit Ganci 6 in April 2004, the blasts did not discriminate. Hadji Satam, an old Iraqi man who was too weak to even leave his tent for roll call, was killed instantly. Thompson was off shift in his quarters. Hearing the concussions, he rushed to a window that looked out on the camps and saw white plumes of smoke rising from Compound 6. By the time he arrived on scene, a triage was already set up. "All of us--guards and prisoners--were concerned with those dying around us."
Khalid then told him that the old man was dead. "That was the first day that I'd ever seen a corpse," Thompson says. "Every day I would walk into his tent and look at him and say [hello] and he would just smile and wave back at me. And he was killed in his tent." With obvious resentment, Thompson recalls the lack of protection for detainees within the camps. "There was a bunker for all the soldiers. We wore body armor.... You don't need training to understand that you have to ensure the safety of somebody you're imprisoning."
By the end of the day, according to Thompson, six prisoners were dead and 20 more were seriously wounded. When word of the death toll spread through the camps, rioting followed. "I remember after the attack ... standing at the gate talking with Khalid," Thompson says. "And he was crying, and I was crying. And it was just very strange to have that gate. You know, he was on the other side of the gate. He was inside the camp, and I was outside the camp. To have this metal object just separating you and implying something.... There's something much more important going on here. People are living here, people are at risk here, and you're there with them."
Later that month, Ganci was struck again by insurgent mortars. This time, Ganci 6 was spared, but at least three other compounds were hit, including an enclosure housing the sick and infirm. Twenty-two detainees were killed and some 100 of the injured were medevac'd. In the aftermath, detainees in a neighboring compound began to riot, and the guards feared that the violence would spill into the other camps. Yunis and an Imam went to the wire between the camps with a loudspeaker and managed to calm down the rioting prisoners.
To say the least, neither attack made front-page news. "Our internal definition of what is decent has changed," says Thompson. "People are desensitized, and they don't react appropriately to the violence. They don't experience the conflict for what it really is--a violent mess. Once the scandal broke and the public saw photos of the abuse at the Hard Site, everything else paled in comparison. When I tell people I was at Abu Ghraib, what they know about the place are the photos.
"In many ways, the scandal created a smoke screen for the larger detention operations. It made it easy to say, 'Well, as long as that doesn't happen again.' While the public and media were fixated on the pornographic abuse ... there were almost 6,000 detainees living--and dying--in Ganci in the worst conditions imaginable."
A few weeks after the attacks, Yunis, Abbas, and Khalid were transferred to the Hard Site. On May 28, 2004, they were released. Yunis walked out of the prison wearing the same clothes he was arrested in--including his boxer shorts, which, by then, were covered with a list of the dead.
'I have fond memories of Yunis and his brothers," Thompson says. "It's been two years now. It's a fading memory, but it falls back into focus. We lived that experience together. It was impossible in that situation for your heart not to open.
"I believe that there is always an opportunity to connect with other people, to look another person in the eye and to see them for who they really are. I think we should never allow a situation, no matter how complicated it is, to mask our ability to sympathize or to prevent us from feeling the suffering of other people. It's very difficult for me to know that I am here safe with my life--going to school--and to know that there is still a conflict, to know that Yunis is still there. It's still happening. What we went through really happened. It wasn't a dream."
The last time I was with Yunis, two years ago, we sat for a week in a safe location, away from the fighting in Baghdad, and he told me the complete story of his life and recent detention. It was an absurd black comedy, worthy of Kafka or Camus, about a man who grows up in a repressive system, is "liberated," and then finds himself the prisoner of another system that is both cruel and indifferent. The telling was painful for Yunis, and he often fell into silence when the scenes he described became too dark.
Toward the end of our final session, when we reached a point where I wondered if there was anything left for him to say, he thought for a moment and then told me that, when he arrived at Abu Ghraib, the guards were harsh, demeaning. But in February, Yunis recalled, when Thompson's unit took over, the soldiers' attitudes were different.
He paused, his tone changing. "When the American soldiers changed, after three months...those new soldiers, they were good soldiers," he said, then recited a roll call of names: "Hadji Butler, Mr. Gankowsky, White, Zeller, Osbeck." He smiled with recognition.
"And my best friend, Thompson--I'll not forget this guy," says Yunis. "He was a very honest soldier, because he told me, always, 'You and all those guys inside the camp, I know you are not guilty....' And he [would] always help me out, help the prisoners, [bring us] food or blankets or T-shirts or socks. He always wanted to help, because he loved Iraqi people. He told me, 'We need peace. Me and you, we are brothers.'"
When Yunis was transferred to the Hard Site, just before his release, he remembers that Thompson's compassion was most deeply felt. Yunis recalls, misty-eyed, "Thompson's crying and Mr. Butler's crying, and they told me, 'You are a good guy, you are a good friend, you are a good journalist. Maybe in the future we'll meet together. Maybe in America, maybe in Iraq, but without this uniform.'"
Thompson watches a recording of this on my laptop, hunched in front of the screen, straining to hear the names, his eyes wet with acknowledgment, as his friend Yunis said all of the things that he, himself, could not say.
Before leaving Columbus, I give Thompson a few pictures of Yunis. Now on the mantel next to his Buddha and the mementos of his war rests a picture of Yunis and Khalid on the day of their release, standing in the same garden they were pulled from the year before.