Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Jihadi Who Tried to Blow Up Christmas

Shouting the famed “God is great”, the nineteen year old American kicked at FBI agents as they apprehended him in Portland Oregon’s Union Station. He was pressing a cell-phone key, maybe you can hear it in your head, pick a number one through five. The teenager is the same age I was in the second Battle for Fallujah Iraq. Reporters question his neighbors, lurking for the tell tale signs of a terrorist and there were none. The neighbors claim him to have come from a good family and seemed shocked but not quick to condemn. This is Portland Oregon USA, a bastion liberal thought and liberal arts, it is difficult for people in this land to hate anyone, even one intending to detonate an explosive device as the Christmas tree is lit in front of thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children who, when questioned by undercover FBI agents, the nineteen year old now very screwed Mohammad claimed to care less about.
I have heard nineteen year old American servicemen, including myself; express the same nonchalance toward dead foreign civilians. The story is almost always the same, “Fuck ‘em they shouldn’t have been there.” When these words escape the mouth of a young man he is saying, “You before me,” a policy I still subscribe to. For the young Mohammad there is no coming back, I would not want his poisoned brain near me or mine. If cruel and unusual punishment was the law of our land we would throw the kid in a cell with any of my brothers from the Battle of Fallujah and the work would be quick. My heart breaks at the thought of this darkness that has become us, and warms when I hear his neighbors waiting for the verdict. We are trapped in a box when the answers are so black and white. My brain says a bullet in his brain and my heart asks if this could have turned out different?
A strange thing about the strange city of Portland is that we remain the only major city in America that is not a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI intercepted emails from the accused to Pakistan that Mohammad had sent expressing a yearning for Jihad. The FBI played a game with Mohammad, gave him the outlet he was searching for and watched him run with it. A mosque Mohammad had frequented was burned down after his story broke on the news, because someone is very scared of Muslims. Now many Muslims are very scared of Portland and this circle of fear must have been anticipated by FBI officials. I wonder if there could have been a different approach to dealing with a young man searching for the radical, if instead of playing games, what affect could have been produced by confronting him after intercepting the emails and trying to flip him back into the world of sense. Instead of talking to undercover pretend Jihadis, could he have seen the light by being set up with an influential Imam who might have brought him back to the path of virtue? Who knows?
Now everyone is scared and as far as Mohammad goes, the way that I know him now instead of how it could have been…”Fuck him, he shouldn’t have been there.” If we are going to keep playing these games of fear, where will this get us other than where we have already been? The key to the case of Mohammad for me is the first interview that the FBI claims was recorded but that the recording had been too damaged to replay. All of the other recordings will be available for review. The scary part about that is when the nineteen year old is approached by people he thought were legitimate Jihadis, we don’t know if they told him once he began this there would be no turning back. But fuck him he shouldn’t have been there, I hear us talking about dead civilians, people who had real lives ahead of them, just like the Christmas tree people. Maybe someday there will be another way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rambo and Me got PTSD

I was making fun of him, a fellow Marine I had fought with in Fallujah. I called him a “pussy”. I told the younger Marines to disregard him, my brother. When he left I became the only Marine in third platoon who had served in Fallujah with 3rd, “the dirty third”, or the “third herd”. I knew I could take it, if everyone was gone than I had become god, the only untouched. No Marine could tell me what to do regardless of rank because I had been there; Fallujah Iraq, biggest battle of the war, survived, and came back for seconds. My mind slipped in seconds after we landed in Afghanistan, I had made a MISTAKE, I should have declared myself for mental illness but the illness makes you want to die, to stand on the line, maybe kill the wrong person to show them what they had done. And if this reads like too much to handle, it is. The smart Marines raise their hands and tap out before more permanent damage is done. He was a good man, he was my brother and I cursed him when I should have hugged him.
I was ready for Afghanistan, ready to thrive in my old madness to give it another go and hope for the worst, corpses littering the street and the sun blacked out in the thick smoke we made like Vikings, when the bad guys know we mean business. I went and Rambo stayed and my paranoia ate at my brain…I had been too lucky to live through Fallujah, better men than me had died before me and I was not going to see my twenty first birthday. After I survived Afghanistan I went to war with my mind. My last year in the Marine Corps is a drunken haze of anger and confusion, and then I went home. There was no purpose at home even though I was productive. My discharge was honorable but I felt like a bad person and I waited to be recalled by the Marines. At some point I decided to join the National Guard, not because of patriotism or because I didn’t have a job, but because I was scared of getting recalled by the Marines and I had read that a local Guard unit was deploying back to Iraq. After I joined the National Guard in December 2007, the stress of the impending Iraq deployment sent me back to 19 when I had swore to myself that I would not go back to Iraq, that I had survived, that I would survive, my most recent memory of hope.
Somewhere back there was Rambo, early in the battle of Fallujah, casings falling from his automatic machine gun, he loaded another belt, he killed bad guys, helped me survive. He was never a pussy and I might have said such harsh words in his moments of glory and would have wished I didn’t like I do today. My brother a hug for you. Later on we caught a virus, it made us hate us and life. Happiness is a glass house when you have seen the world for what it is. I go up for a medical discharge on Monday and for the first time I get to tell a story that has been bothering me for too many years.