A Portrait of the Artist, Toronto Canada 2004
by Douglas Ord ©2004
This page, "Not Just the 'Average Civilian Casualty Episode," is part of Lear's Shadow

An experiment in the reading of events and patterns whose title comes from this exchange in William Shakespeare's King Lear, spoken when the king is slipping into madness:

Lear: Who is it that can 
         tell me who I am?
The Fool:Lear's shadow.

The original texts, photographs, site design, collages, paintings and drawings are © 1999-2005
by Douglas Ord.

If you are using material from Lear's Shadow for school or academic purposes, please cite it as: Ord, Douglas "Not Just 'the Average Civilian Casualty Episode'," Lear's Shadow (http://home.eol.ca/~dord), 1999-2005.

The guestbook is currently not available.  Comments can be sent to dord@eol.ca. .

As of 30 June 2005, Lear's Shadow had received exactly 120,000 recorded visits.


by Douglas Ord
Lear's Shadow
© 2003

(Reformated July 2005)

A note to the reader:
The most recent addition to this visual essay was on May 29th 2003, after my receipt of five photographs from Dr. April Hurley, who was at Al-Kindi Hospital in Baghdad during the first phase of the Iraq War, and during the stay there of Ali Ismail Abbas.

Gefährlich das gebrannte Kind

                   --- Rammstein, "Feuer Frei"

The phrase "the average civilian casualty episode" was coined on April 8th 2003 by Jamie McIntyre, CNN's Senior Pentagon Correspondent.  For the occasion he wore, as almost always when on camera, a neatly tailored dark suit and tie. Just behind him was an American flag, and on the wall to his left was the same white symbol before which Donald Rumsfeld tosses crusty tidbits to the Pentagon press corps.

On the evening of April 8th, just before the official capture of Baghdad on the 9th, McIntyre was asked -- by Paula Zahn or Aaron Brown -- for his opinion about the killing of three non-Pentagon press corps journalists by American fire in Baghdad that day.

Not exactly as described at left.  The American flag has 
in this video capture been replaced by a map of Iraq
In one of these incidents, an American tank had fired a 120 mm cannon shell into the Reuters office in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel.

Two cameramen had been killed, and several of their colleagues wounded. 

An image from CBC Newsworld
In the other, the office of Al-Jazeera had been hit by an American air-launched missile and a reporter killed.
McIntyre's reply was that, because these two events involved reporters, they would likely draw more attention than "the average civilian casualty episode."
For all its callousness, this claim seemed to be con- firmed by the difficulty I initially had in getting information about the "civilian casualty episode" behind the photograph at right.  It had appeared on an inside page -- A6 to be exact -- of the Globe and Mail (Canada) on Monday April 7th.  Underneath it was the small-print caption: "Ali Ismail Abbas, 12, wounded during an airstrike, according to Iraqi medical sources, lies in a hospital bed in Baghdad.  Iraq says the war has claimed 1,250 civilian lives."
The accompanying story by Chris Tomlinson, who was described as being "with the 7th Infantry Regiment near Baghdad," oddly enough made no mention at all of Ali Ismail Abbas, and focused instead on skirmishes between American 7th Infantry soldiers and Iraqi irregulars "in the garb of suicide attackers."

It was the picture, however, that I found disturbing: the bandaged stumps where arms should be, the charred flesh salved in white, the traumatized expression on a twelve-year-old face, the rudimentary protective cage, the pathetic efforts of an adult hand to cool unspeakable pain with a wet gauze wipe.

Such was the power of this photograph that I did not even think to look for the photographer's name underneath it.  Instead, and in the absence of any further mention of Ali Ismail Abbas in the Globe and Mail, I did an internet search.
Eventually, after some looking, I found an April 7th article published in the Gulf News Online, out of the United Arab Emirates, and written by Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul.  Accompanying it was a colour version of the same mutely eloquent photograph, which -- on account of the contrasts -- rendered the boy's face and burns and bandaged stumps just that much more brutally immediate.
The brief article itself read as follows:

Hospitals snapshots of war's horror 
By Samia Nakhoul

7 April 2003 

Ali Ismail Abbas, 12, was fast asleep when war shattered his life. A missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned and blowing off both his arms.

"It was midnight when the missile fell on us. My father, my mother and my brother died. My mother was five months pregnant," the traumatised boy said at Baghdad's Kindi hospital.

"Our neighbours pulled me out and brought me here. I was unconscious," he said yesterday.

In addition to the tragedy of losing his parents, he faces the horror of living handicapped. Thinking about his uncertain future he timidly asked whether he could get artificial arms.

"Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" Abbas asked.

"If I don't get a pair of hands, I will commit suicide," he said with tears spilling down his cheeks.

His aunt, three cousins and three other relatives staying with them were also killed in this week's missile strikes on their house in Diala Bridge district east of Baghdad.

"We didn't want war. I was scared of this war," said Abbas. "Our house was just a poor shack, why did they want to bomb us?" said the boy, unaware that the area in which he lived was surrounded by military installations.

With a childhood lost and a future clouded by disaster and disability, Abbas poured his heart out as he lay in bed with an improvised wooden cage over his chest to stop his burnt flesh touching the bed covers.

"I wanted to become an army officer when I grow up, but not anymore. Now I want to become a doctor, but how can I? I don't have hands," he said.

His aunt, Jamila Abbas, 53, looked after him, feeding him, washing him, comforting him with prayers and repeatedly telling him his parents had gone to heaven.

Abbas' suffering offered one snapshot of the daily horrors afflicting Iraqi civilians in the devastating U.S.-led war to remove President Saddam Hussain.

At the Kindi hospital, staff were overwhelmed by the sharp rise in casualties since U.S. ground troops moved north to Baghdad on Thursday and intensified their aerial assault.

Ambulance after ambulance raced in with casualties from around the capital. Victim after victim was rushed in, many carried in bed sheets after the stretchers ran out. Doctors struggled to find them beds.

Staff had no time even to clean the blood from trolleys. Patients' screams and parents' cries echoed across the ward.

With many staff unable to reach the hospital due to the bombing, doctors worked round the clock performing surgery, taking blood, giving injections and ferrying the wounded.

Doctor Osama Saleh Al Duleimi, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant director at Kindi, said they were overloaded and suffering shortages of anaesthesia, pain killers and staff.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been touring hospitals to provide first aid and surgery kits.

"So far hospitals had equipment and medicine to cope but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties coming in at the same time. During fierce bombardment, hospitals received up to 100 casualties per hour," ICRC spokesman Roland Huguenin-Benjamin told Reuters yesterday.

He said hospitals were well-organised and were so far coping, but voiced concern in case the fighting dragged on.

Doctors who treated Iraqi victims of two previous wars say they are taken aback by the injuries they have seen. Most suffered massive trauma and fatal wounds, including head, abdominal and limb injuries from lethal weapons, they said.

"I've been a doctor for 25 years and this is the worst I've seen in terms of the number of casualties and fatal wounds," said Duleimi, 48, who witnessed the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.

"This is a disaster because they're attacking civilians. We are receiving a lot of civilian casualties," he added.

Washington says it has tried to minimise civilian casualties in its war to oust Saddam but doctors insist many of the victims are civilians caught in aerial and artillery bombardment. There is no independent figure for casualties but hospital sources put them at hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded.

"This war is more destructive than all the previous wars. In the previous battles, the weapons seemed merely disabling; now they're much more lethal," Doctor Sadek Al Mukhtar said.

"Before the war I did not regard America as my enemy. Now I do. There are the military and there are the civilians. War should be against the military. America is killing civilians."

I was not seeing images of this nightmare scenario, or hearing this sort of articulate  accusation, on CNN.

But as I read and re-read this article to which the photograph had brought me, I indeed began to marvel at the very strange calculus that seemed to be in play here, with the constant verbal deployment of the term "liberation" by the United States appearing to correspond almost precisely with America's physical deployment of truly horrifying weapons in Iraq.

Doctors who treated Iraqi victims of two previous wars say they are taken aback by the injuries they have seen. Most suffered massive trauma and fatal wounds, including head, abdominal and limb injuries from lethal weapons, they said...

"This war is more destructive than all the previous wars. In the previous battles, the weapons seemed merely disabling; now they're much more lethal," Doctor Sadek Al Mukhtar said.

The sense of paradox was only compounded when I came across, as I looked for further information about Ali Ismail Abbas, the following comment in another Third World newspaper online, this one Pakistani:
“Doctors said they are facing a formidable challenge with patients having peculiar wounds indicating that the allied forces are using the most dangerous and unknown types of bombs in Iraq.”
"The most dangerous and unknown types of bombs"?  It was a bit chilling to consider the question that seemed to follow from this phrase.  For was it possible that, especially in the lead-up to the ground attack on Baghdad, the United States was using Iraq to test the efficacy of "unknown types" of so-called "conventional" weapons?  And was doing so behind the excuse allegedly offered by alleged Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction"?
This suspicion was not exactly discouraged by the fact that on March 11th 2003, just ten days before invading Iraq, the United States had tested the largest conventional weapon in its arsenal, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb at a military base in Florida.
And some of the massive explosions over Baghdad certainly did look similar.
But whether Iraq was indeed serving as a test range or not, one thing was certainly clear:
Whatever had torn apart little Ali Ismail Abbas' arms and fried his body, even as it had killed his father, his pregnant mother, his younger brother, and much of his extended family, was pretty nasty.
So that after reading Ms. Nakhoul's story and seeing the above "snapshot," I arrived at a second, and if anything more troubling question:

An American missile exploding in Baghdad 
on March 30th 2003
How is it that the United States of America, which so prides itself on dedication to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," not only has, by a vast margin, the biggest military budget on the planet Earth, but has also, by some implicit collective agreement, turned science and technology toward developing some of the most horrendous weapons in human history?
Carrier-based bombs being armed for deployment in Iraq
A veritable department store of horrendous weapons, that are produced for profit. 

Carrier-based cluster bombs
But that, because they tear human bodies to shreds rather than gas them or make them ill, are deemed "conventional"...
And therefore somehow acceptable.
It was in the perplexity left by this unanswered question that I turned, early on the next day April 9th, to that morning's Toronto Star.  And at that point, the very terms of "brutally immediate" did a weird tumble.

The main front page story had to do with an  American missile attack on a Baghdad restaurant where a CIA informant had said Saddam Hussein was meeting with aides and with his two sons.  There was no word about Saddam, but the unsigned story noted that "The bodies of a boy, a young woman, and an elderly man were pulled from the bomb site."  The full colour front page picture, however, did not show this. 

Instead it came with the following caption:

"Reporters carry a wounded Reuters cameraman out of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel after it was hit by fire from an American tank.  Two journalists died in the attack on the hotel, where hundreds of foreign news media have been covering the war from balconies." 

This, then, was the incident that Jamie McIntyre had been talking about the night before on CNN, when he coined his memorable phrase:  that the killing of reporters would draw more attention "the average civilian casualty episode."  But just to the left of and below this picture was the following passage:
Two of the three journalists killed died when a round fired by a US tank struck the Palestine Hotel's 15th floor near downtown Baghdad yesterday, turning concrete and metal into projectiles that killed two reporters and wounded two others in room 1502.

From the room's balcony, they had been watching a firefight between US and Iraqi forces about two kilometres away.

Dead were Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian based in Warsaw, and Jose Couso, a cameraman for Madrid's Telecinco television.

The wounded were carried out of the hotel on bloody sheets, loaded into vehicles and rushed to the nearby hospital.

One of the wounded, Samia Nakhoul, the Lebanese-born Gulf bureau chief for Reuters, was in critical condition last night and undergoing emergency surgery.


The other wounded journalist was not named.  But I immediately went back and checked the April 7th article that I had found in the Gulf News Online: the one that had introduced me to the details of Ali Ismail Abbas' sad fate, and to the wider allegations being made about American weapons by Iraqi doctors.

It was signed Samia Nakhoul, Reuters, Baghdad, April 7th.

On an inside page of the Star was an article also filed from Baghdad by Robert Fisk, who had been there throughout the war for England's Independent.  Under the title "Were these deaths mishap, or murder?" Fisk, too, named Nakhoul among the wounded, and wrote "Samia Nakhoul has been a friend and colleague since the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war.  Yesterday, she lay covered in blood in a Baghdad hospital."

Fisk, whom I've been reading with respect since he reported from Beirut in the early 80s, challenged the American explanations for both of the previous day's incidents involving journalists: an air-launched missile attack on Al-Jazeera's Baghdad office, for which the state department had been given the coordinates months before, and the tank shell fired into the journalists' quarters in the Palestine Hotel, of whose role the American military had also been made aware.

About the latter attack, Fisk wrote:

The U.S. responded with what all the evidence proves to be a straightforward lie.  General Buford Blount of the 3rd Infantry Division -- whose tanks were on the bridge -- announced that his vehicles had come under rocket and rifle fire from snipers in the Palestine Hotel, that his tank had fired a single round at the hotel, and that the gunfire had ceased.

The general's statement, however, was untrue.

I was driving on a road between the tanks and the hotel at the moment the shell was fired and heard no shooting.  The French videotape of the attack runs for more than four minutes and records absolute silence before the tank fires.  And there were no snipers in the building.

Indeed, the dozens of journalists and crews living there have watched like hawks to make sure that no armed men use the hotel as an assault point.

This was a troubling report, not least because Ms. Nakhoul herself had just the previous day filed the single most emblematic story I had seen of the terrible damage being consistently done to the human body by US weapons.  And both the account on the front page of the Star and Fisk's comment  emphasized that the news agencies had also been careful to keep the Pentagon informed of the Palestine Hotel's role as the Baghdad base for between 150 and 200  international journalists.
Could it indeed have been just coincidence, then, that Ms. Nakhoul had been among those wounded in the Reuters office and -- I might add -- put out of commission?

But even as I began to ask this question, too, while watching triumphal images of US tanks entering Baghdad, and endlessly repeated footage of the toppling of a statue of Saddam Hussein, I soon noticed something else.

Evidently I was not alone in having been affected by the powerful image that had accompanied Ms. Nakhoul's story, and that had led me to it in the first place.  Instead -- and as a kind of counterpoint to the replayed footage of the Saddam statue being felled -- there seemed to be a mediated groundswell of compassion developing for little Ali, as other reporters got wind of both the picture and the story, and began to visit him in hospital.

So that by April 12th, for example, the Globe and Mail, too, in Canada, was running the full colour version of the photograph, in 6½ x 8½ inch enlargement, on the front page of its Saturday Focus section -- the day for big newspapers in Canada -- with the big print headline:
Just above this headline was the small print caption:
"Ali Ismaeel Abbas was asleep when a U.S. missile hit his family's house, killing his parents and injuring him and his siblings.  In the British press he has become the poster child of the Iraq war, with Fleet Street tabloids vying to raise money to buy him a set of prosthetic arms."
There was no mention of Samia Nakhoul or her story in the article underneath, and the picture was credited only to "Reuters".  But if the comment about Ali's having become "the poster child of the Iraq war" for the British tabloid press seemed to convey -- as Jamie McIntyre's comment had -- the easy cynicism of corporate news gathering, the article's author, Mark MacKinnon, was direct enough in his own way, as part of the obvious parade of journalists who were by this time visiting the hospital:
Ali Ismaeel Abbas lies back in his bed, powerless to cover his tiny charred body from the prying eyes of strangers.  There are just bandaged stumps where his arms used to be.

From his upper chest to below his waist, the 12-year-old's skin is a myriad of colours, bright red to coal black, shades that speak of a pain that must be excruciating.  But the burns, which doctors say cover 50 per cent of his body, are far from the first thing Ali is worried about.

Ali is scared that without his arms, he will never be able to play with his friends again.  And he's not sure how he'll live without his mother, father, and younger  brother, all of whom were killed when their house was struck last week by an errant American bomb.  His six sisters were also injured in the blast.

"Can you give me hands?" Ali asks a pair of foreign reporters who visited his bedside this week.  He has become this war's poster child for Britain's crusading tabloid press, so he will probably get the the prosthetic arms he so desperately wants.  In fact, a newspaper fight has broken out on Fleet Street over which paper will raise the money to "save" Ali.

When he hears about this, Ali becomes excited about the prospect of again being able to do some of the simple things in life.  "Can I eat with them?  Can I play with them?" he asks.  Told yes, he breaks into a wide smile.  When someone tells him that he'll also be able to hit his friends with them, he laughs for the first time all day.

Ali's aunt watches protectively over him from the side of the bed through the stream of media visits, but she won't give her name.  Her nephew may get new arms, but she says it won't be so easy to undo the rest of what was done by the American attack on the family's home in Baghdad's Zafaranih district.

"They burned the house, the whole house," she says, starting to cry.  "He lost his mother and his father.  His mother was six months pregnant.  Of course we're angry."

At the mention of his parents, Ali loses his brave disposition and also begins to sob.  There's a lot of hate for America in the room.

The very fact that Ali's aunt would not give these Canadian reporters her name, yet was -- assuming it was the same aunt -- described by the Arabic-speaking Samia Nakhoul as "Jamila Abbas, 53" again emphasized the role that her April 7th story had played in what MacKinnon called "the stream of media visits" to Ali's bedside.

But having provided his own version of a context for the picture -- a version largely shorn also of Nakhoul's implicit indictment of U.S. bombing patterns -- McKinnon clearly also recognized the iconic significance that the photograph of Ali was taking on:

It seems that every conflict since the dawn of the television age has had its Ali -- an innocent face that asks a question about the combatants...

Ali's face -- the only part of him left unscarred -- is a counterbalance to the ecstatic images of Saddam Hussein's statue being hauled down in the city centre.  His pleading eyes ask whether the invaders can overcome the anger they generated here through three weeks of ceaseless bombing, and whether Iraqi civilians and the American army can ever learn to trust each other.

This accelerating and largely image-based attention to Ali-as-icon pushed into the background, even for me, the troubling detail that the Reuters journalist who had first "discovered" him and written the initial story had been wounded by an American tank shell fired into the Reuters office in Baghdad.

A tank shell that had killed two of her colleagues, and wounded at least two others.

And of course the war itself was still going on, producing a different scale of human interest story -- and one more friendly to the "coalition" cause -- with the discovery by Marines, on April 13th, of seven American prisoners of war, alive and well in Samarra north of Baghdad.

Even as, behind the scenes, events were making for a different scale of perplexity, with the news that Halliburton -- the company that Dick Cheney had run for five years before becoming vice president -- was being given a 489 million dollar contract by the U.S. government to rebuild Iraq's oil wells. 

But then the "Ali story" took another twist.

Because on the weekend of April 12th to 14th, with U.S troops in Baghdad and amid widespread looting of public buildings, the Iraq Museum, and even hospitals, he entered the public eye yet again.

First he had to be moved to another hospital -- the newly named Chewader, formerly Saddam General -- because Al-Kindi was being ransacked.  Then on the 12th, Dr Hussein Al-Atabi, his new paediatrician, warned that Ali might easily die from his infected burns in the under-supplied and hugely overworked hospital: the only one in the city that was by then still functioning. 

"To be honest," he told a reporter from Britain's Telegraph, "it is probably better if he dies. I don't want it, but that's the awful truth. He has no arms and terrible burns. His physical suffering is enormous and the psychological damage will be immense."

In the same article, Philip Sherwell reported that Ali's sister Salima -- by then looking after the boy -- had turned on him personally as a representative of the Western media, whom she accused collectively of lying.   "You said this war was about freedom," he quoted her as saying, "but instead you gave us death and suffering. Where is the freedom for Ali?"

With colossal, if unintended irony, Ali then seemed to answer this question himself, when on the 14th, he stopped appealing to the Western media to get his arms back, and called their bluff. In response to the tide of reporters who were visiting his bedside, he was quoted by the Telegraph as saying "The journalists always promise to evacuate me - why don't they do it now?  Please take me out of Iraq to be safe and cured."

Then he added:  "You are coming to make fun of me because I have lost my arms? Doctor, doctor, no more journalists please."

Ali was justly described in this April 15th Telegraph article by David Blair as  "highly intelligent" and "articulate." 

But Ali-with-a-voice was proving no more friendly to American efforts to market the war as  "liberation" than Ali as a widely circulated, mutely accusing iconic image had been.

Then something happened to alter the entire nature of "the Ali phenomenon," at least in North America.

Around the 15th of April, he was "discovered" once more, but this time by American television.  And perhaps understandably, the very dirty laundry went into spin cycle.

Samia Nakhoul's contextualized account of how Ali -- along with many other Iraqi civilians -- had received his injuries had never played big in the US media.  But soon any sense of context was being obliterated for American audiences by "accounts" such as this one, from CBS:

Ali was home in Baghdad with his family one night when a bomb blew apart his life, killing his pregnant mother, his father, brother and aunt. Ten family members in all, were killed. Ali lost both his arms and his torso was badly burned. He is now in the hands of strangers who will try to give him his life back. 
There was no mention at all of whose "bomb blew apart his life."  Instead, the implication seemed to be that this had been some kind of force of nature, perhaps most identifiable for an undemanding American audience with the tornadoes that so often sweep destructively through their own mid-west, and that would do so again beginning in early May, with almost unprecedented fury.

As for visuals:

The precisely framed, statically iconic photograph of a suffering Ali  -- already widely  "liberated," as it had been in the Globe and Mail, from Samia Nakhoul's account of widespread civilian casualties through U.S. bombing -- gave way to video footage secured after April 7th by various international agencies: al Jazeera, the BBC, and ITV.
Perhaps most prominently, CNN did a mini-special on media coverage of "Ali's Plight" on April 15th, with lots of pictures of what was called his "angelic face."

There was, of course, no mention at all of Ms. Nakhoul's article, or of its allegations.  Nor did this report dwell on the fact that Ali and the rest of his immediate family had been the victim of a US air strike.  Indeed, this fact was barely mentioned, if at all.

Instead, by focusing for the most part on an "angelic face" that was also the only part of Ali's body not burned or mutilated, the report downplayed also, and even obscured, the starkest aspects of the initial photograph:
The fact that both of Ali's arms had been blown off, and his entire torso fast fried by a US bomb.
Call it "iconic cleansing."

A cleansing that reached its culminating moment on the 16th when -- as CBS did make a point of saying -- Ali  "was flown to Kuwait by U.S. military aircraft early Wednesday."  So that suddenly, in real-time video terms, Ali appeared actually to be getting rescued by US Marines.

The "strangers who will try to give him his life back" were thus implicitly identified, for US audiences, with US troops.

But on the afternoon of April 16th, the sanitization campaign  went seriously off the deep end in a way that deserves to be remembered, here if nowhere else.

One of CNN's endless panoply of cute, wide-eyed bimbo "journalists" -- in this case Kyra Phillips -- "interviewed" Ali's new specialist doctor, Imad Al-Najada, by videophone in Kuwait City.  The very introduction to this "interview" was outrageous, in that -- if the transcript is accurate -- Phillips and reporter Jason Bellini in Kuwait City managed 1) to get Ali's last name wrong; 2) to call his late father his "stepfather"; and 3) to describe the attack in which Ali got burned and lost his arms as "a coalition bombing." (Are you listening Britain, Spain and Poland?)

The screen was then cleansed even further, in that the burned and armless Ali no longer looked either burned or armless, but as though, once rescued, he already was being cured.

Said Dr. Najada about the apparently rapidly maturing Ali, who by chance bears the name of the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law, the founder of Shi'a Islam:

"He said, first of all, thank you for the attention they're giving to him, but he hopes nobody from the children in the war they will suffer like what he suffer."

To which Ms. Phillips replied, apparently in all seriousness:

"Doctor, does he understand why this war took place? Has he talked about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the meaning? Does he understand it?"


Did I hear anything in the course of the entire war that so clearly illustrated the pathological insularity of the US media?

"Has he talked about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the meaning?"

"Does he understand it?"

Sure thing, Kyra.

Amazingly, the doctor kept a straight face, and said:

"Actually, we don't discuss this issue with him because he is -- the burn cases, and the type of injury, he's in very bad psychological trauma. We would like to pass this stage and then we can discuss this issue. But we discussed this issue with his uncle, and the message we get from his family, they said they are living far away from the American troops -- from the military of Saddam of Fedayeen by five kilometers, and they don't know how they hit them by the missiles."
Uh oh.

And how did CNN's Ms. Phillips handle this potentially awkward and implicating turn to the conversation?

She shamelessly changed the subject.

The transcript reads:

PHILLIPS: Dr. Al-Najada...


PHILLIPS: ... what about his future? You mentioned his uncle has been very vocal. Is that where Ali will go? Will he eventually move and live with his uncle?

AL-NAJADA: Most likely, yes, he will go and move with his uncle.

Better keep an eye on that uncle.

But thus did newly sanitized Ali basically disappear, at last,  from TV screens, joining the multitudes of more "average civilian casualty episodes" that, during the war, had never escaped obscurity, and never would.

And thus did this narrative end when I first put it up on Lear's Shadow early in the third week of April 2003.

There remained, however, another crucial surprise: one that cast the entire Ali phenomenon in a much more sinister light.

Looking over the essay while restoring Lear's Shadow after the war, I realized that I still did not know who had produced that initial iconic image of Ali, which, once published, had like a viral conscience colonized newspapers around the world.

This seemed unfair: the image hadn't just happened after all, but had been carefully framed by a skilled and sensitive photographer, who had been with Samia Nakhoul on her visit of "discovery."

The full colour image in the Globe and Mail on April 12th was simply credited "Reuters."

And that's when I began to feel uneasy.

Going back to the initial inside-page, black and white image on the 7th, I found the credit: FALEH KHEIBER / REUTERS.

Then I checked.

The names of the other journalists wounded on April 8th had not been given in the Toronto Star article of the 9th that I had on hand.  So I did another web search.

It turned out that AP and Reuters had on April 9th filed a joint statement about the tank attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

Following is an excerpt:

Journalists said they heard no gunfire coming from the hotel or its immediate environs. They had been watching two US tanks shooting across the al-Jumhuriya bridge, more than a kilometre away, when one of the tanks rotated its turret toward the hotel and fired.

The round pierced the 14th and 15th floors of the 17-storey hotel, spraying glass and shrapnel across a corner suite serving as Reuters' Baghdad bureau.

Killed were Taras Protsyuk of Ukraine, a television cameraman for the Reuters news agency, and Jose Couso, a cameraman for Spain's Telecinco television. Spain asked its journalists to leave Baghdad following Couso's death...

The wounded, all Reuters employees, were identified by the company as TV technician Paul Pasquale of Britain, Gulf Bureau Chief Samia Nakhoul of Lebanon and photographer Faleh Kheiber of Iraq.

Do I need to repeat that last paragraph?

Maybe I'd better.  In context.

"The wounded, all Reuters employees, were identified by the company as TV technician Paul Pasquale of Britain, Gulf Bureau Chief Samia Nakhoul of Lebanon and photographer Faleh Kheiber of Iraq."

Which is to say: two of the three wounded were the two people responsible for the photograph at right, and for the initial story that accompanied it.

A story, and an iconic photograph whose very existence -- silent, eloquent, horrifying -- were deeply embarrassing for the United States.
The tank got both the people, then, whose interpersonal dynamics had gone into into the making of this photograph, as an enduring icon of the war in Iraq.

Please note that I do not say "the taking of this photograph," but rather "the making of this photograph."

Can I really any longer believe, though, that "when one of the tanks rotated its turret toward the hotel and fired," it was pure coincidence that both these people were present in the Reuters office and were hit?

Don't think so.

Instead, the message may be to truth-telling journalists and even artists everywhere, who might produce imagery that is iconic in form, and that stays in the mind as implicitly critical:
But this implicit warning being recognized and acknowledged:

On May 24th 2003, I was sent five further photographs of Ali Ismail Abbas by Dr. April Hurley, who was in Baghdad for much of the war.  The first four of these, according to Dr. Hurley, were done by Al-Kindi hospital staff, while the fifth and most recent one came from the internet and may, she thinks, have appeared in a British newspaper.

Three of them are of Ali just after he was wounded on the night of March 30th 2003, and -- with his entire family dead or seriously injured, and with the house that his father had built in ruins -- was brought to Al-Kindi, where doctors worked to save his life.

In fairness to readers, I add an advisory, as these photographs are not for the weak of stomach.

But because they both document Ali's experience of that "errant American bomb" even before he was found by Samia Nakhoul and Faleh Kheiber, and are in such profound contrast to the last of the photographs sent by Dr. Hurley, I reproduce them here as prompts, perhaps, to a necessary meditation on the calculus of suffering in our time.

For what do the terrible wounds, the loss of his home and his entire family, and the inner trauma of this boy count for, I wonder, in relation to all the other suffering in the world --both intended and unintended, calculated and "collateral" -- on that particular night of March 30th 2003?
What do they count for, as compared to the suffering inflicted on thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shi'a by order of Saddam Hussein: 

A suffering that, for the most part, was never filmed, but that left a record of mass graves and destroyed villages.

And a suffering that -- at least in the form which prevailed during the 1980s and 1990s -- indeed became a thing of the past with the successful takeover of Iraq by American and British troops?

And what do these injuries, these losses, this violation count for also, as against the inner suffering of all those people who lost relatives in the United States on September 11th 2001, at the pre-eminent gateway into a changed world?

Will those who craved vengeance be placated?

There are, of course, no easy or simple answers to any of these questions.

But Shi'a Islam -- Ali's Islam -- has for centuries replied to questions like them through recourse to the redemptive power of emblematic suffering: a suffering hitherto identified most prominently with the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali and with Ali's son Hussein in the seventh century CE.

Yet in this recourse, Shi'a also hearkens back implicitly to an earlier model:

The figure of the wounded healer -- the chosen one who suffers and who understands suffering -- that did not enter the history of human spirituality with Jesus Christ, but that has instead been integral to it since the earliest forms of shamanism.

These are lineages to keep in mind, perhaps, when considering this last photograph made in Kuwait in May 2003.

According to Dr. Al-Najada:

"His recovery, both physical and psychological is remarkable.  His spirit is returning back to normal... We have not given him the drugs that the psychiatrist recommended.  He's doing fine without them."

Oh my queen, your city weeps before you as its mother; 
Ur, like the child of a street that has been destroyed, searches for you,
The house, like a man who has lost everything, stretches out the hand to you,
Your brickwork of the righteous house, like a human being, cries your "Where, pray?" 
-- from the "Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur," addressed to the goddess Ningal, wife of the moon god Nanna, the patron god of Ur in Sumer, southern Iraq, circa 2000 BCE (translated by Samuel Noah Kramer)
Lear's Shadow main page