Saved In Iraq

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SAVED IN IRAQ
by
Enzo Silvestri

Daniel Mann sat wrapped in his thoughts, contemplating his life thus far. What had happened to his nice life back in St Pauls, North Carolina, how did he end up here? He was reasonably popular in High School, and his grades were fairly keen as well. He joined the 82nd at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, as soon as he was able to after school. The Army taught him many things that he would be using throughout life, and as a bonus he would qualify for college tuition assistance after he returned from Iraq. He remembered his last week at home before he deployed to the war zone. His mom fed him his favorite food every evening, and all the town of St Pauls wished him well and gave him going away gifts.
The Life Center in McLean St, the Church he’d grown up in gave him so much strength and hope. He remembered the Children’s Church each Sunday, and how he and his best friends would leave the service when Pastor Ray ushered them out to their respective classes. Those were great times he remembered, and then the Youth Group, and Mr. and Mrs. Ivey, yes they sure had some fun and holy times together, singing, and praying and performing skits. And then there was Tegan. She was wonderful, and a year younger than Daniel. He used to tease and poke fun at her in Children’s Church, and they were always arguing about something or other. But then overnight everything seemed to change and he could feel an attraction between them as they sat in the Youth meetings, pretending not to look at each other.
“American!” his Arab captor sneered, “get up!” Daniel stood and eyed the men who had just walked into his makeshift prison cell. Mohammed, his guard showed in another man also dressed in military fatigues.
“Stand to attention for the Sheik, you Infidel pig!” yelled Mohammed as he punctuated his order with a punch to Daniel’s kidney region. Daniel straightened up slightly but he couldn’t do much as he had already been severely beaten during torture sessions since his capture. The Sheik motioned for the guard to stand back out of the way and with a handful of papers he walked right in front of Daniel. He spoke with an educated American accent as he held up the papers.
“Sergeant Daniel Mann,” the sheik said calmly, “82nd Airborne, isn’t it?”
Daniel droned out for what seemed like the hundredth time, “Mann, Daniel, Sergeant, 53624739.”
“Ah, yes, your name, rank and serial number, just like in the movies. But you will see that today it will not work. Turnabout is fair so I am Sheik Ahmed bin Masawi, warrior of Allah.” He walked in front of Daniel and eyeballed him silently, then he started again philosophically.
“You know warfare today is as much conducted in the minds of people as on the battlefield, especially the gullible readers of the western newspapers. You accuse us of muzzling the press, but your press shapes your knowledge, more than you think. I know that you would rather be on your nice peaceful little farm in North Carolina, maybe drinking a beer, having a cookout?”
“I don’t drink.” Muttered Daniel.
“I see, well no matter, I just have this document that I want you to read, and then sign.” He handed it to Daniel who poured over it silently. When he had finished reading it he turned back to Sheik Masawi, “So, you want me to rat out all my buddies and the US Government?”
“Yes, I want you to admit the truth, I know you Americans are afraid of the truth! Islam is the truth and the way.”
“You’re just using Christian words.”
“I am a Muslim! I do not need your infidel words!”
“Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Daniel insisted barely audibly, “He said that 600 years before Islam even existed.”
“Ahh yes Jesus, was a prophet of Islam too, but the Bible is so distorted, incidentally, you know even your Jesus, promised that another, the Paraclete was coming, that he was not fit to tie the shoe straps of, Mohammed. Jesus prophesied the coming of Mohammed!” Masawi calmly stated as if the information would shock his Christian prisoner. Daniel steeled himself and faced the Sheik again.
“Actually, the only distortion here is your own, Jesus didn’t say that at all, in fact that was John the Baptizer talking about Jesus, and the Paraclete that Jesus talked about, he is the Holy Spirit, who came 50 days later on Pentecost so you…” His words were cut off by a sharp blow in the face by Ahmed Masawi.
“Shut your filthy mouth American dog!” and he picked up the papers from where Daniel had dropped them. “You will sign these papers, or you will experience some of your own Guantanamo methods until you beg for mercy, and there won’t be any bleeding hearts here to help you.”
The guard motioned to Mohammed and another man to bring Daniel into another room which was separated from the rest of the cell complex of the prison. As he was escorted and dragged by the two men past the cells of the other soldiers, Masawi who was walking ahead of them kept reassuring with his soft voice that the pain would cease as soon as Daniel signed the confessions. Daniel had a look around the room taking in all the elaborate equipment that adorned the walls and alcoves in the room.
“Impressive, isn’t it Sergeant Mann, I am a student of Archaeology you know, these shall we say, fine instruments of persuasion were discovered by the Antiquities Department. Relics they are of the Crusader occupation in the eleventh century, and they are in remarkably good condition, don’t you think?” Daniel remained mute before his captor.
“You know,” Masawi continued, “they don’t care about you. Your precious Government sent you in here and now they are barely keeping their own jobs in the face of their own opposition in Washington. They’ll end up pulling you all out and America will lose another one. We will always be here.” Daniel looked at him as he paced up and down, “now, what was the document you destroyed when you were captured?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” Daniel feigned ignorance.
“Come on Sergeant, we saw you throwing something into the fire just before you were captured, what was it? What is your primary mission purpose in Mosul?” He shouted at Daniel who just looked back at him with silent eyes, then he spoke softly again.
“I am sure that you have spent enough time in my country, probably at Harvard or Yale or Stanford to know that I wouldn’t be telling you anything, if in fact there was anything to tell.” Ahmed ignored what Daniel had said and continued with his questioning.
“This radio,” he held the small device, was in your pack, who are you meeting, what was your objective, where is your partner?”
“I work alone, sort of like Dirty Harry, you know?” Ahmed’s hand slapped him hard across the face, then he turned to his subordinates, “Put him into the apparatus.” And he pointed to an upright torture machine. As they came towards him Daniel raised his arms and asked, “Please a moment,” and he fell to his knees praying silently. The guards were about to grab him anyway when Masawi stopped them and allowed Daniel to pray.
When he’d finished he stood and willingly offered himself to his captors. They took him to an upright pillar which was the support column in the corner of the chamber. Driven into the top of it were iron staples for supporting heavy weights. They put his wrists into iron gauntlets and made him step onto a box about two feet high. His arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings of the second gauntlet. This done they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the box from under his feet, they left him hanging by his hands and arms fastened above his head. Hanging like this Daniel began to pray aloud and Masawi slapped him again, and asked him whether he was willing to talk now.
Daniel answered through gritted teeth, he could hardly utter the words, such was the gripping pain which came over him.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of…” he was cut short again by a slap to the face from Mohammed. The pain was worst in his chest and belly, his hands and arms. All the blood in his body seemed to rush up into his arms and hands and he felt as if blood was oozing out from the ends of his fingers and the pores of his skin. But it was only a sensation caused by his flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so excruciating that he thought he could not possibly endure it. Yet he didn’t feel any inclination to give them the information they desired. His Lord saw his weakness in the eyes of His mercy and didn’t permit him to be tortured beyond his strength.
The pain seemed to numb his senses and he drifted back to his insertion point with his squad. He jumped first, and had come down into a thickly wooded field, where his canopy was snagged in a tree. He’d released his harness and dropped the thirty or so feet to the ground with no trouble and he knew to keep radio silence. He had headed for the rendezvous point but he was careless, and he stumbled into the path of the insurgent militia. He thought of just taking cover and getting into a firefight with them but then his buddies would join in and blow their objective, so with a half a dozen AKs pointed at him he’d silently just raised his arms to fight another day. He was brought back to the present by a bucket of water splashed in his face, and he was thankful for some moisture at least.
His captors continued questioning him and inflicting pain with the pillar device. The questions were the same as always, the same ones that Daniel had refused to answer but they just kept on and on at him, expecting to wear him down eventually. They took turns twisting Daniels body so that the irons on his hands and wrists would dig in and lacerate his arms, leaving great welts. Daniel was thankful for he did lose consciousness a few times and this brought some relief as he couldn’t feel the pain. However, as soon as Mohammed and his partner saw that Daniel was unconscious they would rouse him again only to redouble their efforts.
Daniel’s thoughts went back to The Life Center, to Pastor Ray giving a sermon. He could picture the Pastor lying on the floor during his sermon to illustrate a point and he smiled outwardly. He thought of Tegan and feelings of warmth came over him and he smiled again. The commander strode back into the torture cell as the prisoner was being woken from his faint once again. Ahmed was angered that the American would smile at being tortured.
“Sergeant do you think this is amusing, let me assure you I am deadly serious, I know you had partners and you will eventually reveal the target.” Daniel shook his head once again as Masawi could see the pain that was shooting up his body, it won’t be long he thought.
“Where is your Jesus now?” Masawi taunted Daniel.
“In fact,” Daniel grimaced his words, “when I was praying just now he spoke to me and he sent me relief. He sees my agony and the struggle going on in my body and mind, he gave me this most merciful thought: ‘the utmost and worst they can do to you is to kill you, and you have often wanted to give your life for your Lord God. You are in God’s keeping’.”
“What do you know of God you infidel?” Ahmed spat out at him
“Why do you call me Infidel, this word means ‘one who has no faith’, I have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When those present saw that Daniel was not about to answer their questions they left the chamber and returned to their headquarters above ground and left Daniel hanging in the same position.
“We’ll see how resolute he feels after a few hours.” They laughed derisively as they walked up the stone stairs leading from the chamber. One man remained down in the cells to guard him although he hardly needed guarding as he was fully immobilized by the device. He stayed Daniel thought, out of kindness maybe, every few minutes he took a cloth and wiped the perspiration that ran in drops continuously down Daniel’s face and body. That helped a little, but he added to his sufferings when he started to talk. He went on and on begging and imploring me to pity myself and tell his master what he wanted to know. “What would it matter,” he said, “your Air Force will blow this whole complex up soon so no one will know.” Daniel understood now why the guard had stayed behind, saw through the ruse that Ahmed had left him to try and trick him.
Three hours passed after which Sheik Masawi returned to the chamber.
“Has the prisoner come to his senses yet?” he asked the guard loudly enough for Daniel to hear clearly. The sheik addressed Daniel directly, enough of this playing there are many other torture methods, thanks to your forebears, in this chamber, you will give me the information I require if it kills you.”
“Oh give me a break Ahmed, for heaven’s sake. Do you think I am going to throw my soul away to save my life? If you do, then you have learned nothing of Americans in your years at our Ivy League schools.” Ahmed looked at him with seething anger at first, then as he regarded Daniels battered form dangling from the device he resigned himself and with a grunt and stormed out of the cell once again.
Shortly thereafter he fell into unconsciousness at the pillar. For how long he didn’t know because when he was awoken by his guards it didn’t seem like that much time had passed. Two guards held his body up and another placed the box under his feet again and Daniel felt the blood start circulating and he came to again. As soon as he was aware he started praying aloud, and hearing this, the guards would pull the box out from under his feet. They did this to him eight or nine times a day every time he lost consciousness they would ease his pain and bring him back, then he would pray and they would let him down again.
After what seemed like days of this treatment Masawi returned. Coming to him and standing staring into his face he asked, “Are you ready now to submit to the will of Allah and his Servants?”
“You want me to do what is sinful. ” Daniel replied calmly, “I will not do it.”
“All you have to do is sign this document admitting your illegal mission, and you will be free to go.”
“I have nothing to say to you.” Daniel said resolutely, “other than what I have already told you, Mann, Daniel, Sergeant, 53624739.”
In a rage sheik Masawi turned his back and strode out of the cell animatedly shouting angrily in a loud voice, “Fine, then hang there until you rot off the pillar.” Daniel prayed silently that he would have the strength to endure what was going to be a long time hanging from the pillar. His arms had become numb by this stage and his fingers were feeling like they should fall off soon. Two guards came to the chamber after an hour and took him down from the pillar, and Daniel silently thanked the Lord for the relief. The guards took him back to his cell and he was thankful to be able to lie down and rest a while. He quickly drifted off into a sleep that filled his mind with images of home and family.
The dull throbbing ache where his hands had been secured to the pillar had subsided somewhat, but when the guards came and roused him after just six hours, the handcuffs were forced back on his lacerated wrists. This made them even more painful than normal because they had swollen. Once he was back in the torture chamber and secured to the pillar once again, the sheik motioned the other guards to leave. They had not removed the box from under Daniels feet so his weight was not supported by his arms and shoulders. Sheik Ahmed Masawi stood in front of the tied up Daniel and spoke calmly.
“Sergeant Mann, I am as you mentioned before an educated man, and you were correct, I was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s just up the road a bit from your place I imagine.”
“Yeah so,” Daniel replied slowly, wondering what new tactic he was employing.
Don’t be so suspicious Daniel, I am a Muslim yes, but I was invited to Christian services also when I lived in The Bible Belt.” Daniel perked up when Masawi said this, “And did you go along to the Churches?”
“Yes but I found it very uninspiring, the people just sat or stood and sang a few songs, and then the Imam, I mean Priest, or whatever, gave a sermon about Eternal Life and Salvation.”
“And,” rejoined Daniel, “How was it, did he teach you something about Christianity?”
“Hah yeh!” Ahmed spat out, “The Imams are right, Christian beliefs and the Bible are full of contradictions.
“Ok, can you name just one, or are you just repeating your Imam’s words?” Daniel asked, but ?Ahmed was stuck for words and couldn’t think of a specific instance. “Well, I can’t name one off hand, but there are many of them.”
“How do you know that, did your Imam tell you?” Daniel pushed him.
“Nevertheless Sergeant, what he says is true.” He asserted.
Daniel began again softly, “Ahmed you are an educated man, how can you believe a man who promises carnal rewards in the after-life? Surely an omniscient God can do better than ‘sex with virgins’ forever. How can you champion the causes of a Religion that teaches its children to look forward to blowing themselves up, to equating Jews to the spawn of monkeys? That is the kind of garbage they believed in the Dark Ages, how can you, a university educated man actually accept that some humans are born of monkeys, now that’s just dumb!”
Ahmed raised his hand to strike Daniel but he held off and lowered his hand again, as he remembered his cousin Fatima. She had made friends with a Jewish boy in Baghdad’s Jewish quarter, of Taht al-Takia. She was told in no uncertain terms to never see him again. She of course disobeyed her father’s instructions and when they were caught together the Jew was murdered on the spot. His uncle then called a meeting with all the family and explained what had happened and then he took his daughter and put her in the car with a suitcase and drove off with her. She was not seen again by any of them and her mother said she’d gone to live with relatives in Lebanon. Ahmed was old enough then to realize that they had no people in Lebanon.
“This was the way of Islam,” he’d said, “she brought disrespect on the family, she deserved her fate.” But he reasoned, if we ask God to forgive us, then why don’t we forgive each other.
“Christian,” he began again, rousing Daniel whose head had slumped, “tell me, why do you follow a prophet of God who was killed by the Jews?”
“Because that’s why he came, he offered himself as the eternal sacrifice in our place.” Daniel replied, inwardly praying that his words not return empty.
“Our prophet Mohammed was victorious, he conquered peoples and then he ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, how can a dead prophet compare?”
“Yes, it seems ridiculous,” agreed Daniel, “God has made Salvation simple, to confound the wise. We must understand it from God’s point of view.”
“You are not making sense now Christian.”
“Ok Ahmed, suppose someone sinned against you, what would you need to forgive them?”
“Ahh Christian, you are a debater I see, well, I suppose I would need for them to ask for my forgiveness and really mean it.”
“Ís that all?” Daniel probed.
“I can see where you are going with this Christian, but of course I would need restitution of the wrong doing.”
“Exactly, so when you sin against Allah, how do you get forgiveness?”
“So now you wish to have a theological discussion, I must remind you I am a Sheik after all. But to answer your question, in Islam when one sins against Allah, one needs to confess the sin and promise not to do it again, and endeavor to lead a sinless life, and Allah accepts him.”
“But then Sheik Masawi, what about Allah’s restitution, how is he going to get recompense?” Daniel countered.
“Oh Allah is not like men, Allah is merciful, he forgives whom he will.”
“But if you sinned against Allah, surely you have to die, because Allah cannot dwell with sin, can he?” Daniel felt that he was starting to make his point.
“Yes, but Allah is merciful, Allah can forgive the contrite heart.” Sheik Masawi’s voice seemed a bit unsure of the doctrine that had been hammered into him for years.
In the old days the Jewish Priests, the Kohanim had to sacrifice animals to obtain forgiveness of the sins of the nation. Now they had to do that daily, and then once a year the Priest went in to the Holy of Holies into the presence of God to deliver the sacrifice,”
“Yes yes, I know all this; we also study your Bible even though Christians and Jews have corrupted it.” Ahmed hurried him along.
“Not at all Ahmed, but how can an animal-sacrifice pay for a man’s sin, surely a man’s transgression requires a man to pay?”
“Hah Christian, by that logic then everyone would have to be killed, no one will survive.”
“Yes, the scripture in Roman’s says, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and again ‘for the wages of sin is death’.”
“But Jesus was teaching the people good things and they killed him.”
“Yes, but he was resurrected by his father, God, and he now sits at God’s right hand forever interceding for us. Now whenever the Satan, the great accuser tries to accuse us before God, Jesus is there and intercedes for us. When God sees the blood of Jesus he does not see the sin anymore, because with the blood there is forgiveness.”
“So you’re saying that one just needs to accept that some Jew who died 2,000 years ago did it for me, and that makes me a Christian?”
“In a nutshell yes, that’s right.” Daniel asserted, thanking god as he opened the heart of his Arab captor. Ahmed considered Daniel’s words for what seemed like hours as time seemed to stand still.
“Bah, you are crazy Christian,” he blurted out, “it is impossible that Salvation could be so cheap and easy.”
“I didn’t say anything about cheap and easy, I said it’s free, but it’s not cheap, it could well cost you your life.” Ahmed’s eyes perked up when Daniel mentioned this.
“Are you afraid of Death Sergeant Mann?”
“No, Jesus has removed death’s sting, no one needs to be afraid anymore.” Daniel paraphrased a Scripture as he continued in the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
“But how can you be so sure that your good deeds will outweigh your bad? Islam teaches us that at the judgment our good and bad deeds will be weighed and if we have more good than bad…” Ahmed explained, using the measure that Islam used for entry to Paradise.
“Ahmed it is also written that all men’s righteousness is as filthy rags before God, so nothing we can do will work in our favor. It is by His Righteousness and Jesus’ Blood that we are accepted into Paradise, not good deeds.” As Daniel spoke Ahmed could sense something tugging at his heart. He had never heard Christianity explained like this before, it was as if God was calling to him specifically. He shook himself out of his reasoning, how; he reasoned could he turn his back on a lifetime of Islamic study? All his family was Muslims, and he himself had killed dozens of Christians in the name of Allah, for the causes of Islam. Indeed, he thought, becoming a Christian might be free, but the American was right in saying it was not cheap.
He was snapped out of his thoughts by the sounds of explosions and automatic weapon fire. Mohammed came running into the cell and threw an AK-47 at Ahmed and then went charging out again.
“Kill the infidel Ahmed!” shouted Mohammed as he ran up the stairs firing as he went. Sheik Masawi turned to his prisoner and leveled the AK at his head.
“So Daniel, you are not afraid to die, would you like me to send you to meet your Jesus?” he said as Daniel stood wordlessly before him. He raised the AK slightly and depressed the trigger and the tell tale sputter of the weapon firing as Daniel fell to the floor. “No,” he said again, “I have to live in this world, so you should have to as well.” He said as he ran up the stone stairs to join his comrades.
The old Prison complex was stormed by US Army troops of the 82nd Airborne. It was Daniel’s squad that had tracked the beacon in his radio and were attempting a rescue now that their objective was secured. Grenades exploded simultaneously at the entrance to the building, and in the ensuing mayhem the Americans stormed the building making short work of the defenders.
“Danny, Danny, are you down here?” yelled Mike, his old schoolmate from St Pauls High. Three men went rushing down the stone stairs with Mike and they saw his crumpled form at the foot of the pillar. Thinking the worst they cursed loudly, unable to bear the loss of their buddy.
“Hey what would Mrs Ivey say if she heard y’all cussing like that?”
“They spun around to look at Daniel who had raised himself up slightly.” They rushed to him and lifted him to his feet and helped him out of the room.
“Hey men we thought you was dead there for a while.” Said Mike in his Robeson County drawl. Daniel smiled and looked at him, “Yeah, so did I at one point, but Ahmed just shot the chains that held me to the pillar.
“Well how about that?” mused Randy, one of their squad. They helped Daniel up the stairs and outside. On his way out he saw the prone body of Ahmed where he’d fallen just inside the entrance of the main building. He regarded him silently, saying a small prayer, asking God to have mercy on his soul.
His buddies huddled around Daniel tending to his wounds and giving him some food and water, when a terrorist who had hidden in one of the nearby buildings ran out brandishing a sputtering AK-47 and screaming “Allah Akhbar!” The squad immediately spun around and hit the ground, ready to return fire but a single pistol shot silenced the AK before they could get a shot off. Daniel turned and saw Ahmed holding a pistol as he smiled at Daniel and fell face down in the dirt. Daniel went to him and helped him to sit up and gave him some water.
“I guess I owe you one now eh Sheik Masawi.” Daniel tried to make light of the situation, but Ahmed shook his head.
“No brother, I am going to meet Jesus, in fact I can see him now waiting for me, and I have you to thank, may God Bless you Daniel!
“The Lord Bless you Ahmed, and keep you.” Daniel replied as Ahmed’s eyes closed peacefully.

THE END

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