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I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

Mark Shea again:

It was an orphanage.

Not a particularly nice orphanage. But not the dungeon where, we were instantly assured, children had been held for crimes against the regime for years. Not to worry though, the war brought definite changes for them: their orphanage has been looted. ...

Can you see why I'm having misgivings about all this? How many other "facts" were exaggeration done for the Greater Good? I'm just a stupid citizen. All I know is what Caesar tells me about such things and what the media serves up. My intelligence connections to Iraq are remarkably limited. If it turns out I've been fed a line of BS this time, why should I trust it next time?

What I find curious about this is that Mark makes direct reference to only knowing "what the media serves up" but believes the orphanage angle to the exclusion of the prison angle. Well, here's what the New York Times has to say about the "orphanage":

The orphanage had been home to 107 girls and boys whose parents were killed or imprisoned, or were unable to care for them. As the Americans advanced on Baghdad, they mistook the orphanage for a jail or prison and released all the children who were there. ...

... Today 23 boys and 11 girls live at the orphanage. But because conditions at Al Rahma were bad under Saddam Hussein's regime, according to employees, some children are reluctant to return, fearing that even under the new management they will be treated badly.

So to resort to description rather than one-word descriptors, we've got a building controlled by the government to which children were sent when their parents were "killed or imprisoned." When the marines arrived on the scene, they "released all the children," most of whom are "reluctant to return." Now, you tell me: what word applies to that scenario?

Going back to the original story, there is one specific detail that I'd like cleared up:

Around 150 children spilled out of the jail after the gates were opened as a US military Humvee vehicle approached, Lieutenant Colonel Fred Padilla told an AFP correspondent travelling with the Marines 5th Regiment.

"Hundreds of kids were swarming us and kissing us," Padilla said.

"There were parents running up, so happy to have their kids back."

Was that parents line a lie? Or could it be that those were parents who had been released from their own prisons and went to get their children? As the original story says, "It was not clear who had opened the doors of the prison." Could a parent have opened the door?

Beyond this detail, what external factors might lead one to call such a facility a "prison" rather than an "orphanage"? Well, here's an article by Accuracy in Media in reaction to the original prison story:

Ironically, these children may have been the lucky ones. Over the past decade, international organizations like Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly reported on the imprisonment, torture, and execution of children by the Saddam Hussein regime. Children have been among the nearly 300,000 persons who have "disappeared" in Iraq since the later 1970s. Children have been routinely and repeatedly arrested to force their parents to confess to crimes against the regime.

For example, a March Boston Globe story detailed the interrogation of a former Iraqi secret police thug who had specialized in torture. The thug admitted torturing children as young as five or six to "get their mothers talking." He claimed that Iraqi torturers never killed the children, just "beat them with steel cables." But he was contradicted by a BBC story in which another former regime torturer said it was common to kill children if their parents wouldn’t talk. ...

The existence of children’s prisons in Iraq was reported last September by Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector. Ritter said that his inspection team had first come across a children’s prison in Baghdad January 1998. The prison Ritter saw held toddlers to pre-adolescents and was for the children of parents who opposed the regime.

Ritter said it was a "horrific scene." But he refused to elaborate any further. He says he was afraid that the story was "so horrible that it can be used by those who want to promote war with Iraq." Ritter said he was "waging peace." We suspect that the liberal media has been following Ritter’s lead. That would explain the apparent blackout in the media on this story. In an Internet search, we could find only one additional reference to it in a Washington Post editorial. The rest of the media have ignored it.

Well, maybe this "orphanage" is a different place. The Times gives the name "al Rahma." Searching the name in Google, I came across this from UNICEF (emphasis added):

In 1998 the Government embarked on the physical rehabilitation of Al-Rahma Centre for street and working children, with the support of UNICEF and Enfants du Monde. This was designed to separate 6-14 year old children, previously placed with sentenced and convicted older children and juveniles in conflict with the law, in a caring environment, while at the same time promoting their reunification with their families. The institution opened in 1999, and is the only one of its kind in Iraq. It can accommodate up to 150 boys and girls.

The Agence France Press report of the opened prison said that it was in northeast Baghdad, while this Reuters story places al Rahma at the "southwestern edge" of Baghdad. So clearly, the claim of "children's prisons" has not been debunked. Of course, Reuters makes one wonder what the difference between the one-of-a-kind orphanage and a prison might have been:

Police brought Zena to the centre 18 months ago after her parents abandoned her. ...

The new head, Sheikh Bakr al-Saidi, said the children, many of them former street hawkers brought to the centre by police, simply ran away.

So, add to my descriptor-less description the fact that police often brought the children to the facility. As for the U.S. culpability for the looting, well, there's this:

Saidi alleged the looting was led by the centre's former director, Mohammed Habib, an official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, who came with a gang to empty the complex on Baghdad's southwestern edge and set light to store rooms holding records. ...

The children are given two meals a day of rice and soup, some sleep in metal-framed bunk beds, others on mattresses on the floor. Despite the privations the children have faced since the looting, they say it is a better place without Habib.

"He was an angry man, full of nerves and revenge," Khaidar said. "He used to beat me and he wouldn't let us play football. If Muhammad knows Habib is gone, maybe he will come back."

Sounds to me as if Muhammad might return if the prison that he left is made into an orphanage.

ADDENDUM (07/14/03 11:20 p.m.):
Welcome, Instapundit readers. Just a note on this post: When I wrote it on the eighth, I threw it together for use as part of an argument elsewhere on the Internet, so the layout of ideas is not the smoothest. Reading it now, though, I still can't shake the feeling that the patchwork quality of it is in part a result of the difficulty of knowing what to say about the Times article. From what I've dug up, it looks like the two stories in question are very possibly about different buildings, yet the argument that there wasn't much difference between this orphanage and a prison is still valid.

As Mark Shea put it, all I know is "what the media serves up." I'd certainly place this one within the range of the Times's spin, which means that I'm ready to disbelieve "the paper of record" and that others will refuse to do so no matter what.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 10:19 AM EST