Firas Al-Qaisi is an Iraqi attorney who risked his life helping the American forces in Baghdad which led to weeks of torture and dentention by Shiite militias. Now he's suing the U.S. for $200 million for trying to murder him.
The case of Al-Qaisi v. The American Military Forces in Iraq is a terrible window into just a few of the millions of lives our stupid and cruel adventure has wrecked in that country. We came across the lawsuit, which Al-Qaisi filed in October in a federal court in Virginia, randomly while searching the electronic docket system for another case. It is a quixotic, conspiratorial, and hopeless narrative, filed without the aid of lawyers by a man whose mind appears to have been ruined by the violence unleashed by the Shiite thugs that we handed his country to after turning it into shit. But Al-Qaisi's Kafka-esque odyssey, told in a humane and engaging voice, also offers a memorable glimpse of the brutal nightmare we conjured in his homeland. We've outlined his tale below, but we strongly urge you to read the entire document for yourself.
Firas Al-Qaisi is 38 years old (that's a photocopy of an American-issued ID granting him access to a training facility for Iraqi forces). A lawyer by training, he was a proud collaborator with the Americans he thought were capable of returning the rule of law to his country. He ran the risk of retribution from religious fanatics in his Baghdad neighborhood for wearing a western suit to work each day. U.S. forces saved his life after he was abducted by a Shiite faction of Iraq's American-backed Interior Ministry in 2007, and he was evacuated to the U.S. along with his pregnant wife and brother on a flight ordered by none other than Gen. David Petraeus two years ago, because staying in Iraq meant certain death. He landed in Northern Virginia, homeless, unable to speak English, living on charity. A September 2007 U.S. News & World Report story on his successful effort to seek asylum confirms some of these details. Two years later, the passage of time seems to have embittered him. His ordeal, he now believes, was an American-hatched plan to have him killed.
When we called Al-Qaisi's home in Virginia, his wife answered the phone and expressed surprise that the complaint was publicly available. We wrote an e-mail to Al-Qaisi, who wrote back that he doesn't speak English well enough to communicate via e-mail and that he couldn't talk anyway: "I cannot give you answers for them since I submitted the case to the court and in the light of that, any answers in that concern should be given to the court only due to the fact that this matter is of a very sensitive nature. Till now I do not understand how you, as a reporter, could have access to this case which is still in its early stages."
'Sacrifices and favors'
Al-Qaisi was an Iraqi prosecutor before the war, and quickly aligned himself with the Americans after the invasion. In 2004, he served as an attorney representing Margaret Hassan, the Irish aide worker who was kidnapped and murdered by insurgents in 2004, and quickly became a sort of liaison between the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi legal system. He also provided valuable intelligence on the activities of Al-Qaeda in his neighborhood.
In his court filing, Al-Qaisi included two affidavits from Americans he worked with in Baghdad to confirm his assistance to the cause in Iraq. Initially drafted in support of his asylum application, they were written by Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Warren Eric Barrus and State Department staffer Jennifer Fox. In 2005, according to Barrus' affidavit, Al-Qaisi was instrumental in helping U.S. forces locate and shut down a torture chamber, called "the Bunker," run by the Shiite "Wolf Brigade" faction of the country's Interior Ministry. After that, the men worked closely together. Al-Qaisi was, according to Barrus, a committed idealist.
Fox concurred in her affidavit, writing that Al-Qaisi's actions "rival that of any patriot" and that he had aided in counterterrorism operations.
'All of you are responsible for killing that soldier'
In March 2007, Al-Qaisi learned from one of his contacts that Al-Qaeda had planted three roadside bombs in front of a salt factory near Camp Falcon outside Baghdad. He traveled to the Green Zone—a journey that was itself extremely dangerous owing to what he calls the roaming Shiite "Groups of Death"—to meet with a military intelligence officer he knew as "Captain Jim" to warn him.
The intelligence was ignored, Al-Qaisi says, and a week later an American convoy hit a bomb in front of the salt factory, killing one soldier.
Al-Qaisi was enraged: He had risked his own life to help the Americans, and they failed to act on his intelligence, resulting in one of their own being killed needlessly. He went to the Green Zone again to vent.
He continued to help American military intelligence, arranging for a fake kidnapping of a local sheik he knew who wanted to provide information to American forces but couldn't risk being seen voluntarily talking to them or going to the Green Zone.
'This is the person. Arrest him now.'
On April 5, 2007, two months after the IED debacle, two bombs hit Al-Qaisi's house, striking through the window of his bedroom on the second floor. Two others hit the street in front of the home. He wasn't there at the time, but his mother and pregnant wife were both injured by broken glass from the explosions. His neighbors told him that the bombs appeared to be American, but Al-Qaisi wrote that he "put aside that possibility from my mind because I was an old and honest friend of them, and because they always needed me."
A month later, in May, Al-Qaisi was at home when joint U.S.-Iraqi forces quarantined his neighborhood for three days, searching local houses. An American officer entered Al-Qaisi's home to interrogate him accompanied by a lieutenant colonel from the Iraqi National Police. In the presence of the Iraqi officer, Al-Qaisi told the Americans that he worked with the U.S. embassy, and provided them with ID cards issued by American forces. The Americans left, but two weeks later the Iraqi officer returned.
Al-Qaisi had been abducted by the Wolf Brigade (he calls them "NPs," for members of the Iraqi National Police, in the complaint). In the country's tortured post-invasion ethnic and political maelstrom, they hated Al-Qaisi because he was a Sunni and because he collaborated with Americans in their efforts to kill Sunni insurgents. They also took Al-Qaisi's brother Hussein, who was a teenager at the time. The Iraqis loaded them into a truck with six other prisoners and took them to a base where other Wolf Brigade members were waiting.
'Tomorrow we will cut off your heads and throw your bodies in the street'
He passed out from the beating, and when he awoke, three American officers arrived at the station. Not to rescue him, but to process the prisoners. While Al-Qaisi was being fingerprinted and having his retina scanned by American officers, his Iraqi captors hissed death threats into his ear. He was too terrified to announce his status as a collaborator in front of the Iraqis, so the Americans took his information down, along with that of his fellow detainees, and left.
What followed was two weeks of torture and beatings, recalled in excruciating detail, at the hands of the Iraqis that our invasion empowered. He was beaten, burned, hung from the ceiling by his arms, dragged around the floor, subjected to extremes of heat and cold, denied food and water for days, and suffered from fever and chills. His shoulder and nose were broken. Aware that the Americans might try to seek Al-Qaisi's release once they realized who he was, his captors shuffled him from station to station in an effort to stay one step ahead of them.
Still, there were repeated run-ins with American troops who routinely visited Interior Ministry facilities where Al-Qaisi and others were being tortured. On more than one occasion, Al-Qaisi was literally in the same room with American officers empowered to help him, but they didn't know who he was and he didn't dare tell them in front of Iraqis. And all around them, men were being beaten and murdered.
Al-Qaisi's wife called the U.S. embassy on the day he was abducted and asked for help in seeking his release. It took the embassy four days to locate him, and when they did, they sent a military team to assess his condition. For reasons that aren't clear, they didn't rescue him immediately. They reported back that he had been "roughed up," according to the affidavit of State Department employee Jennifer Fox, who participated in the operation to rescue Al-Qaisi. Concerned that the visit from American soldiers had tipped off the Wolf Brigade that they wanted Al-Qaisi released, the embassy asked the Ministry of the Interior to see to it that he not be moved. They were told that the Interior Minister had called the detention facility to personally issue the order, but the next day, Al-Qaisi was shuffled to another facility, where he witnessed his captors beat a man to death.
On June 7, 2007—twelve days after his abduction—an embassy team finally tracked down Al-Qaisi and brought an Iraqi investigative judge to order his release. The Iraqis tried to delay and threatened to kill him even as Americans soldiers watched over him.
When he was finally released and brought to safety in the Green Zone, Al-Qaisi's American friends were waiting for him. Concerned about his foul smell and appearance after nearly two weeks of hell, he tried to keep them from hugging him, but they insisted. Everyone was immediately aware that Al-Qaisi could no longer safely live in his homeland, and when he was asked if he wanted to seek asylum, he answered, "Yes and now."
That night, Al-Qaisi couldn't sleep. He lists the reasons in his complaint.
Al-Qaisi, his wife, and his brother were moved to a safe house and kept under 24-hour-a-day armed guard until August 2007, when they were flown to the U.S. Because his wife was 8 months pregnant and unable to fly commercially, they were transported to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on a medical flight that was personally approved by Gen. David Petraeus. They lived initially in Alexandria, Va., with John Stinson, a retired Special Forces colonel whom Al-Qaisi knew, and now live in Falls Church.
A preposterous ending
Al-Qaisi's tale is heartbreaking enough without the sorry coda of his lawsuit. He has become convinced that the bombing of his home and his kidnapping were orchestrated in order to silence him about the failure of U.S. forces to heed his IED warning. Al-Qaisi claims that U.S. forces bombed his house in April 2007 in an attempt to kill him, and, when that failed, delivered him into the awaiting arms of the Wolf Brigade. The first visit to his home from the American officer, he says, was planned to out him as a collaborator to the Iraqi lieutenant colonel who later returned to abduct him. That claim is preposterous to our eyes: He provides some evidence that the bomb that hit his home was American, but none that it was deliberately targeted. And his assertion that the Americans handed him over to Shiite militias is undermined by the fact that it was Americans who rescued him from those same militias and brought him to the U.S. to protect him. But the details of his ordeal are compelling and horrifying nonetheless, especially when the accusations come from someone who suffered so awfully for the country that he's suing.
The complaint, which he wrote himself with the help of his wife, who taught English at an Iraqi university, doesn't remotely conform to American legal standards, and is more a confused howl of woe than a bona fide attempt to seek damages. It lacks evidence, is logically incoherent, and will not succeed. But it's a powerfully written document of just how sorry this pointless war really was, and is.
We asked the Department of Defense for a comment on Al-Qaisi's charges, and received no response. We also tried to contact Jennifer Fox, the State Department employee who supplied an affidavit for the Al-Qaisis' asylum petition, through the public affairs office of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, but got no response. We could not locate Warren Eric Barrus, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent who also filed an affidavit. In fact, we couldn't independently verify any of the claims in Al-Qaisi's complaint, though a source who spent two years working with the U.S. military in Baghdad told us the details ring true.
Anyway, this is how stupid wars end these days. With pathetic and desperate lawsuits from the good men whose lives we destroyed. On to Afghanistan.