"He pointed up the street to the burnt-out remnant of a vehicle. The Marines had destroyed several vehicles with tank rounds during the push into the city, which they identified as potential suicide car bombs. It was pointless to wonder whose version of events was true. The son was dead, or at the very least his father was a good actor.
"'I'm sorry to hear of your loss, but sometimes there are accidents in war. You fought against Iran, did you not? You know things like this happen. There are bad people here, people who want to kill us. We have to protect ourselves. It is our job to make Iraq safer, and sometimes that means making hard decisions. Maybe sometimes the wrong people do get caught in the middle. We try to be careful, believe me. The terrorists will stop at nothing, even killing children, but we Americans do our best to avoid unnecessary violence. We follow the Geneva Conventions. We want to help you. That doesn't bring your son back, I know, but we are only trying to do our job.'- Advertisement -
"The man rebutted my statement, morosely shaking his head in disbelief that I could be so wrong.
"'Iraq was safe before you came. My town was quiet before you bombed it. Now I cannot even go outside. We don't have water.' He sighed. 'If you can just let me go to the water valve down the street, I can maybe turn the water back on.'
"'I can't make that decision. Our commander wants everyone to stay home. It's better if you stay inside, safer. We can bring you water later.'
"I turned to Sonny. 'Ask him if he has ever seen strangers here.'- Advertisement -
"I looked back in the old man's eyes. 'Has he seen foreign fighters here.'
"Sonny paused. 'He says, "Just you."'
"I squeezed my eyes shut at the old man's audacity and pinched the bridge of my nose. It was a true statement, from his perspective, that I was a foreign fighter, but not the answer I looked for.
"'There are dead Africans in the street up there. He never saw anyone like that?'
"The man shook his head.
"'He didn't know there was a torture dungeon just down the road, where they kept captured border guards? He never heard a scream? They didn't think it was safe here.'
"I carefully watched the man's reaction to the news there had been such crimes committed so close to his home. He showed no surprise.- Advertisement -
"'If you say so,' the old man replied. 'I don't know anything.'"