Volume 20, Number 2


Ken Dickerson

Lt. Colonel Richard Dawes, followed by a CACI translator and two MPs, marched down the dim corridor, past rows of overcrowded cells, the fluorescent lights overhead buzzing like power cables. As he approached the heart of Tier 1, Iraqi prisoners hissed at him in Arabic, angry faces pressed against rusted bars, appearing out of the walled darkness, eyes full of hate and shame, the psychic strain of imprisonment writ on their haggard, wan faces. These were men with nothing to lose, driven half-mad by incarceration, the slow time and locked days, each hour a battle to stay sane.

“What tha fuck you lookin’ at haji?”

“Think they looking at you sir.”

“I ain’t that pretty.”

“Don’t wanna fuck you, sir. Believe they want to kill you.”

“Ever tell you I worked a federal pen before becoming a lifer. Assholes in there would murder each other over a friggin’ menthol. Worst job I ever had.”

“Worse than this place?”

“Nothing is worse than this place.”

Tier 1 was hot. The kind of intense unrelenting heat that caused some tempers to flair and erupt, while others sank into defeated postures of dreary lassitude. The moist stink of unwashed bodies was powerful—stale and repugnant—urine and shit and dried sweat. The stench of defeated men. Richard’s body, reacting viscerally, shivered every time he smelled these animals. You just don’t get used to a place like this. Abu Ghraib made GTMO look like a luxury inn, even after the prison was given a 1.75-million-dollar facelift by the hapless CPA. The place was haunted. It was an abattoir and dungeon rolled into one, with murals of Saddam everywhere, striking different poses in various costumes and motifs. Saddam in sunglasses and panama hat, Saddam the Arab savior in kaffiyeh, Saddam the pious Muslim praying, his face scratched out by some recent vandal. It was all so eerie. Everyone knew the dictator’s minions used to torture people in these cells. The moldering green walls and dirty cement floors gave the inside a choked, subterranean feel, like an underground subway terminal, drab and institutional, a dungeon, bleak, sunless, full of hardcore insurgents. Richard didn’t understand Iraqis, especially the sanctions generation, made fierce by a decade of extreme hardship. And like most people, he hated and feared what he did not adequately understand.

“Lost another soldier to an I.E.D. on MSR Sword last night!” Richard shouted, voice ringing through the tier. In and out of uniform, he reminded people of a small-town football coach, strict and unforgiving, his booming voice and fierce eyes lending his austere personality an added measure of authority. He was born to serve. “Gottah get better intell from these bastards. The chain is busting my balls. Need you boys to step it up. Everyone on Tier 1 has a bad night!”

As far as he was concerned every Iraqi was guilty. He couldn’t afford to think otherwise. The psychology of a soldier cannot be complex. It must be spare, pared down to a black-and-white division between us and them, good and evil. No room for nuance. To allow the specimens before him to take on human characteristics was dangerous. Left him open to spells of empathy and kindness. And Richard was an interrogator, not some new age therapist trying to understand or cure these extremist assholes. There was little room for decency in an understaffed facility like this. He was tasked with getting prisoners to spill operational secrets as quickly as possible—a job that was proving more difficult than he first thought.

“Any report of weapons on the Tier? Shanks, knives, pipes, Private Engel’s stolen dildo?”

“No, sir. We toss cells daily.”

Richard swaggered down the cell-block, his gait full of purpose and verve, combat boots drumming on the cement floor in hurried cadence. His bearing was almost imperial, martial and fastidious, posture upright, his clean uniform impeccably pressed. He knew you had to show these Iraqis you were indifferent to their situation. Let them know right off that you were hard-assed, without any capacity for pity or sympathy. The detainees on Tier 1 were vampires. Each of them the end product of a war-ruined society, where death vied with life for the shape of the future. After Saddam’s long reign of terror, a quarter century of strangled silence and paranoia, the eight year bloodfest of the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War, a decade of ruthless sanctions, shock and awe, the inept occupation—it was little wonder these guys had gone feral—ready to torch themselves for the insurgency. Iraq was a death circus and Richard was trying to train seals.

Richard was exhausted. It was a few hours after dawn and he’d been up all night interrogating prisoners. A couple of suspected key insurgents, high-value guys. He was trying to get them to disclose their communication structure, the location of safehouses—the kind of actionable intell that would give his combatant commander enhanced situation awareness. But they weren’t talking. Richard had only recently introduced the KUBARK and SERE tactics used at GTMO into Tier 1. It would be a couple of weeks before the techniques began to pay out in the form of intell about the command structure of the insurgency. Richard had been working them over for two days and nothing much had come of it. And now he was frustrated about turning interrogations over to private contractors. Task Force 121 and MI, operating in the Wood and Steele Buildings, had all they could handle, playing serious hardball with anybody who came their way. Their methods were brusque, unorthodox, even brutal. Exactly what he was looking for. These interrogations were mission-critical functions and OGAs knew what they were doing. It was the private contractors who were rank amateurs. In the past, Army Intelligence never would have outsourced something as vital as in-theater interrogations. But that was before Rumsfeld and his heady ideas about transforming the way America waged war. These days it seemed everything was being outsourced, privatized. Corporate America had found its way into the E-Ring of the Pentagon.

Richard wasn’t sure he could trust the replacements. At least 50% of his interrogators were CACI. They weren’t his men. He couldn’t vouch for their character, training and skills. Even their allegiance was unclear. They were corporate employees, not men in uniform under a clear chain of command. It was the defined structure of command that gave the armed forces its streamlined efficiency, its capacity to respond quickly and effectively as a unified whole, all gears greased and turning in the same direction. The position of these guys within the overall order was ambiguous. It confused things, and if there was one thing Richard couldn’t tolerate, it was confusion in his ranks. He needed everything out front and on the table. Right now it was a goddamned free-for-all, the facility run like a summer camp, instead of a prison situated in the heart of the Sunni insurgency.

But he couldn’t worry about that. He was wanted in the Green Zone right away. The Rashid Hotel had just been hit by three 85-millimeter Katyushas and Sanchez was going ape-shit. All summer the insurgency had been growing, gaining operational strength and capability. On August 7 the Jordanian Embassy was hit, followed by the U.N. headquarters on August 19, a massive truck-bomb that killed dozens, including Sergio Vieira de Mello; and then the Turkish Embassy on October 14; and now the Rashid was hit while Wolfowitz was staying there. People from all ten prisons across Iraq were being called to the Green Zone for a little powwow. Something had to give.

Richard hurried down the corridor, past MPs systematically breaking down naked detainees with PT, getting them nice and ripe for interrogation, fear up, pride and ego down. With great proficiency, the MPs forced the naked detainees into a cheerleader pyramid—all hairy ass and pale thighs—women’s panties fitted over their heads. Off to the side, one prisoner was being forced to jack-off while an MP held a gun to his head. Another guard took photos of him that could later be used as psychological blackmail during interrogations. Death wails and sudden screams came from the showers, where a Tiger Team was interrogating a former General in Saddam’s army. The MPs saluted the Lt. Colonel diligently, their hands encased in turquoise latex gloves, precaution against catching anything these Iraqis carried. They were new blood, reservists from the 372nd in Maryland or West Virginia, poor kids from a zipcode where Wal-Mart was the only thing winning. Most were under-trained and overwhelmed, used to working in federal and state pens, or doing support combat operations, not handling hardcore detainees in a madhouse like Abu Ghraib. Richard caught a couple of them Robotripping two nights ago, tweaked on cough medicine, mind-swirling that redneck LSD. But there wasn’t anything he could do about it. Least they could shoot and salute. The Lt. Colonel had all he could handle right now. Each day the 4th Infantry Division—operating in the northern Sunni Triangle—sent him truckloads of new prisoners. He needed every MP he could get if some semblance of order was to be maintained. GTMO had a 1:1 guard to detainee ratio. Abu Ghraib was something like 75:1. In short order, this place needed to run as smoothly as Gitmo, make it clockwork, everybody on the same page. It was an impossible task given the meager resources.

Up ahead, just past another knot of guards, a naked man cowered on the floor, underwear around his ankles and something scrawled on his forehead in either brown marker or feces. An unmuzzled German Shepard lunged at him, snarling and barking, straining at the end of its leash, the man’s face contorted with terror. “Do the doggy dance mothafuckah!” The detainee whimpered and sniffled, crawled in circles like a dying animal, piss trickling down his hairy thigh. The guards taunted him, laughing raucously while he urinated on himself. “Bark like a dog you piece of shit!” Richard didn’t recognize the guy. There were too many new faces flowing into the hard-site for him to keep them all straight in his head.

The detainee looked up at him, his face wet with tears. A fierce sorrow muted his eyes, made them dull and lifeless. He was trembling with fear. There were restraint marks on both his wrists. The spectacle of a man groveling like that made Richard feel contemptuous and angry. “What the hell happened to his eyebrows?”

“Shaved them off sir.”

“Looks kinda weird without em’, don’t he?”

“Sure does.”

“Mista please, please mista. I am innocent, no Saddam, me no Saddam. You must believe me, I do nothing.”

“Make that motherfucker shut up! I won’t have no crybabies wetting themselves in my prison!” Lt. Col. Dawes boomed, face tight with disgust.

“His heartbeat is a little rapid sir,” the MP said, monitoring his vitals.

“Keep treating him like a stray dog. Don’t let up. Want that bastard loose for his session in the cedar building tomorrow. He knows something. He just ain’t sayin’ it.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the MP, holding back the jumpy German Shepard.

“Ask him if he wants those pictures we got of him masturbating plastered all over his village,” Richard ordered, addressing the TITAN linguist, standing behind the MPs like a cigar-store Indian.

“What you want me say?” chirped the TITAN linguist like some parody of an immigrant in a comedy sketch. His name tag said he was Saadi Yacef from Texas.

“You from Texas? Thought most terps came from the Motor City. Detroit don’t make cars anymore, but that waste of a place sure can turn out some Moslims. Islam—the Cadillac of religions. Can you say Ford motherfucker?”

“Originally I from Bahrain. You know this country, Bahrain?” he replied, his diction a sputtered lilt, the accent heavy and spitted, phonetically awkward.

“These TITAN guys are worthless. This dipshit speaks English like a goddam retard. Get me somebody else. He sounds like some towel-head they kidnapped from a 7-11 in Newark. What time that chopper leave?”

“Five minutes sir.”

“Don’t have time for this crap,” spat Richard, glaring at the TITAN translator. “Keep working this piece of shit over. PT the hell out of him. Gonna interrogate him when I get back.”

“Yes sir.”

“And you, learn to speak like yer from Texas!” Richard shouted at the terp. “Next time I wannah hear you whistle Dixie like you drive a pickup with a gun rack and consider a night out at Chili's fine fucking dining. Understand?”

The man nodded, shamed, head sunk below his shoulders. Richard and his entourage turned and walked away at a brisk clip. What the fuck is going on here, Richard thought as he hurried down the hall. Far as he could tell the majority of the TITAN linguists hadn’t been properly vetted in any formal way. Many of them were unpredictable, erratic, and unprofessional, not worth their hefty paychecks. Every day he discovered some new and unacceptable operational deficiency.

Further down the hall, just past the highest priority cells, a hooded figure was shackled into a stress position, propped up against the stair-rail like a broken scarecrow. A bleating series of plaintive moans issued from under his black hood. With crooked elbows, he pawed at his hood like a dog with fleas in its ears, trying futilely to dislodge the fitted sandbag. Sometimes walking these grim halls was like making one’s way through a Halloween party gone awry, Jackass meets Stanley Milgrim in Iraq. The MPs had the power of life and death over any detainee held in these dank cells. They were average men endowed with the power of God. In America most could barely get a job that paid living wage. In Iraq they were judge and jury, men both feared and obeyed. The torture didn’t bother his conscience. Screw the treaties, laws, Geneva Conventions. That was just ink. And what mattered in war was blood, ground, power and fear.

As he headed for the exit, the Lt. Colonel started thinking how good it would feel to collapse onto his cot, get a few hours sleep. He popped an ephedra to keep him going a couple more hours, even though this truckstop speed made him anxious and jittery, like his blood was half rocket-fuel. Ever since late summer, when Gen. Sanchez put pressure on him to get more actionable intell on the budding insurgency, he’d been working 20-hour days. All during the fall of 2003, the pressure on his guys had been ratcheted up. He was doing the best he could, despite severe personnel shortages and chain-of-command problems. The top brass was panicked because they had absolutely no clue who the insurgents were. Washington was leaning hard on Sanchez, and Sanchez was giving guys like Richard an earful. It was an election cycle, and the last thing the Bush Administration needed was an insurgency to break out in Iraq after the president had already pranced around that aircraft carrier off San Diego in his flight suit declaring “Mission Accomplished.” So as a countermeasure to increased insurgent activity, they were undertaking big cordon and capture sweeps, casting a wide net, kicking down doors in the night, hauling men out of their homes, hooded and flexi-cuffed, packed into the back of trucks, taken away without explanation. These sweeps were picking up all kinds of Iraqis and dumping them in prisons like Abu Ghraib, Um Qasr, and the detention center at the Baghdad Airport. Having studied counter-insurgency tactics (and seen them applied rather effectively in places like El Salvador) Richard knew this was bad strategy, plain and simple. They were alienating the populace with these indiscriminate sweeps and detentions, driving the people into the arms of the insurgents with each reckless overreaction. But Richard was just a lowly interrogator, not some hot-shot strategist fresh out of Fort Leavenworth’s School of Advanced Military Studies. No one was going to listen to him. He was too low on the totem pole. It was bad policy, but it came from the top, and any dissent would end his career’s already stalled ascent. Ambitious by nature, Richard wasn’t about to turn whistle-blower, put truth above self-interest. If he wanted to get into the Pentagon or the privatization gig, he needed to amend his contempt and suspicion of beltway policy wonks. Because, the fact of the matter was, they were the ones who ran the show. It was a bureaucrat’s world—the rest of us are just waiting in it. Truth and honor had their limits. It’s not just nice guys who finish last, it's honest ones too.

But each day more PUCs arrived. The prison yard was overflowing with detainees, sleeping in tents erected atop the dirt, shitting and pissing wherever they could. Riots broke out in the yard. Mortars landed inside the wire. Worse, the prison had become a recruiting ground and de facto boot camp for the insurgency, where former hardcore Baathists mixed with common criminals, sharing ideology and bomb-making techniques. The terrorists circulated amongst the wrongfully detained, convincing them to turn against the occupation, which was easy enough to do, considering most had been locked up without charge and languished for months before even being processed. And after months of heavy interrogations, he’d be willing to bet well over 70% or more of them were of no intelligence value whatsoever. Just yesterday three PUCs escaped. Scores of others were unaccounted for, lost in the disarray of the system. They even had some kids locked up here. Human rights groups and journalists were snooping around, asking questions no one wanted to answer. It was not good. Not good at all.

As Richard exited the hard site, coming into the blinding desert light and rippling heat of midday, he heard the familiar thump and whoosh of a 66-millimeter mortar round launched from the perimeter. A few seconds later the ground trembled. “We need a damn counter-ambush team!” The prison complex was under siege, mortared and shelled almost every day. The southern side of the complex was constantly taking small-arms fire. And still, after months, they were without the counterbattery radar system he’d requested to intercept incoming rounds. Also, force protection, which was being provided by a bunch of overpaid contractors, was wholly inadequate. CJTF-7 was deaf to their problems.

At least Richard was headed to the Green Zone, where he might get the ear of somebody that mattered. In all honesty, Richard was looking forward to a couple of cold beers at the sports bar in the al-Rasheed’s basement. The joint was run by Halliburton, and was probably the only one of their numerous operations they ran efficiently, though, true to form, they did overcharge for drinks. But he wasn’t complaining; this wasn’t exactly a wet country. Most Iraqis considered sugary tea strong drink. And unlike a lot of young soldiers, he wasn’t about to knock back any of the bootleg haji juice smuggled into FOBs. That rotgut shit was rank, worse than the white lighting brewed in the hills of his home state of North Carolina. Make you blind and impotent after a few swigs. A cold Heineken would do. And maybe, if he was lucky, he’d get to eye a little piece of ass while he drank, some CPA young thing, innocent ideologue come to Iraq for a little post-grad adventure.

There weren’t many things to look forward to in Iraq, but a trip to the Green Zone could definitely be counted as one of them. It was seven square miles of tranquil paradise amidst the ruinous hell of Iraq. A world unto itself, hushed and comfortable, the solipsistic country within a country. A lavish bunker protected by a thick ring of blast walls and checkpoints—populated by campaign hacks, think-tank underlings, blinkered ideologues—all full of Midwestern pep and evangelical zeal. But not a single one of them jaded and shrewd enough for the cracked reality of Iraq. Not a one. Not even Bremer, that Kissinger acolyte surrounded by his overpaid coterie of Blackwater mercenaries, not even he grasped how out of control the situation truly was. The Green Zone was the Beltway’s foreign twin, a bubble world of mirrors and self-reference. After his first trip there, Richard described the Green Zone as being like an annual convention for failed motivational speakers. The CPA spin no longer carried the power of messianic vision. Press briefings began to sound like the ramblings of madmen trapped at the center of a blazing inferno, a reprise of the Five O’Clock Follies. Richard doubted it would be any different this time. Change does not come quickly to Dante’s innermost circle of hell.

Shielding his eyes against the white burn of the sun, Richard scuttled north of Tier 1A toward the Logistical Support Area building, where MI was headquartered. The hum and throb of diesel generators filled the air, making it sound like Abu Ghraib was alive and groaning. In the hazy distance, beyond the five buildings that made up BCCF, the eight guard towers looked like miniature oil derricks rising above the fifteen-foot perimeter walls. Captain Morris, a guy he’d been through jump school with back at Ft. Bragg, was sitting on a pyramid of MREs at the edge of the hardscrabble soccer field that served as the prison’s LZ, clipboard in his hand, the white sheets of paper fluttering like the injured wing of a flightless bird. A brick of chew was packed into his lower lip. Beside him, set atop a ledge of MREs, a portable radio was tuned to Freedom Radio 107.7 FM Baghdad, the only English-language station on the Iraqi airwaves.

Morris was a stocky, good-natured guy from upstate New York, a pharmacist’s son. Back at Bragg the slackass had more Article 15s than anyone on base. He was a legendary screw-up. Spent most of his days in work detail catching hell from the DI. Nevertheless, he seemed to have found his niche in the military. Everybody liked him. His cherubic face was genial and expressive, his demeanor always playful, ironic, still every bit the class clown. Morris rose from his MRE perch when he saw the Lt. Colonel strutting across the yard like a king rooster, chewed cigar still stuck in his mouth.

“If you were looking to get out on a chopper, left 45 minutes ago with a noun much more important than you.”

“MD-530 with Ratner aboard.”

“Yep, left over a half-hour ago. Went to deliver some wounded to Baghdad airport. Get em’ shipped out to Germany after they’re stabilized. You were about to fly in style.”

“You’re not shitting me.”

“Like they say in the Army—hurry up and wait. Wish I had that kind of sense of humor, Dawes, but God gave me smarts instead. That’s why I’m in the Army, making the big bucks,” he smirked, twin versions of Richard’s strained face dancing in the black lenses of his sunglasses. “Next one won’t be until later tonight. Look on the bright side, safer to travel at night anyways. Hajis can’t hit you with RPGs. Most of them are busy planting I.E.D.s after midnight anyways.”

“I hate this fucking place,” snarled Richard. “Only thing works here is the walls.”

“Certainly ain’t Club Med.”

Richard chuckled, trying to conceal his irritation.

“Hey I almost forgot,” Morris chirped. “Good news, Lieutenant; my wife just had a baby.”

“Congratulations. Who’s the father?”

“Looking at him.”

“Boy or girl?”

“Unfortunately it’s a hermaphrodite, but we’ll take what we can get. I was raised next to a nuclear power plant. Think my sperm is retarded,” joked Morris.

“Hopefully it looks like her.”

“Actually the little guy takes after me. I’ll show you pictures later.”

“Sure thing, love to see your snaps” replied Richard smiling and patting Morris on the back. “Shit, can’t believe you’re a father!”

“I know, me neither.”

“What’s the world coming to?”

“Don’t know, but I can’t wait to get home and see my little boy. Only nine more months of this shit.”

“That all?”

“Nine months here is like half a lifetime back home.”

The lyric call to prayer began ringing over the village, across the prisonyard, the muezzin's quaking voice almost beautiful as it echoed through crackling speakers, like the sound of a new God dying in real time. Five times a day this siren song floated over the canvas tents of Camp Vigilante, calling the faithful to prayer. And each time Richard felt it was somehow a rebuke to his own God, a Christian God, our Savior Jesus Christ. There just wasn’t room in the world for two Gods. Some prayers must be empty.

“Guess it's mortar o’clock. Look at them groveling like that. It’s embarrassing. No wonder they’re piss-poor, spend half the day on their knees like a bunch of cheap whores,” scoffed Richard, watching hundreds of prisoners kneel in the dirt, rising and falling in waves. A mournful murmur, chanted and sung, buzzed in the yard. Any indolence was erased by the sound of the muezzin’s voice, the ranks of prisoners instantly solidified into bowing rows. It scared Richard to see such unified devotion. Three weeks ago a riot broke out in the yard, the inmates seething with rage, a thousand plus bodies rippling with bad energy, kinetic with violence. Inside, Tier 1 exploded with the thunder of kept men, wave after wave of shouts and screams, bunkbeds overturned, doors rattled, the walls shaking in an earthquake of atavistic release. There were thousands of detainees and only a hundred or so guards. These odds made any riot all the more menacing. “Any convoys headed that way?” asked Richard curtly.

“We got a supply convoy headed toward Baghdad in little over an hour. Maybe drop you off at the FOB. From there won’t take long before you get an upamored over to the Green Zone.”

“Got room for one more?”

“Room for hundreds more. Least three empty trucks and a Humvee on either end.”

“Empty trucks? What the fuck is that about?”

“They unloaded here. Somebody has to drive em’ back. And somebody has to accompany the convoy. Means soldiers gotta go out on patrol, convoy security. It’s in the contract. KBR needs its trucks for the next taxpayer-funded run down the Highway of Death.”

“Bet the driver’s getting six figures. And I’m sweatin’ balls dodging bullets for glorified fast-food wages,” sniped Richard, hands on hips, squinty eyes scanning rows of detainees kneeling in the dusty prisonyard.

“Least our uniforms are cooler than the ones at Burger King. Chicks dig a military uniform, but never heard of any guy scoring pussy cause’ he was wearing a Micky D’s get-up. Oh, that reminds me, check this out,” he said, unbuttoning his uniform to reveal an undershirt that read: WHO’S YOUR BAGHDADDY?

“That’s redneck as fuck.”

What man, you don’t like it?”

“You actually paid for that, didn’t you? I mean real money.”

“Hell yeah. It’s an authentic OIF souvenir. Oh come on, man; it's classy!”

“Can’t argue with that,” replied Richard, face breaking into a reluctant smile. “What’s area security like between here and central Baghdad? Shit, don’t even answer that.”

“What they need you in the Green Zone for anyway?”

“Meeting with some major brass. Maybe a senator or two parachuting in for a photo-op. I don’t know.”

“Campaign season or something?”

“Always campaign season for those corrupt motherfuckers. That’s all they do is run around campaigning. Don’t think they actually work. They just go from photo-op to photo-op and in between shake a lot of hands, kiss a couple babies, and take money from lobbyists.”

“Shit, Dawes, desert made you cynical?”

“Hell no. I love the desert. That’s why we’re here, right, because we love this prime piece of real estate?”

“We love what’s under it,” suggested Morris. “Just think man, tonight you’ll be in the Green Zone. Hot food. Shower. TV. Maybe some pussy if you’re lucky.”

“Only pussies in the Zone are the ten-year-old Republican operatives CPA hired straight out of Yale because daddy made a campaign contribution. Bet most of em’ don’t even own a razor yet. Buncha baby-faced ideologues think occupying a country is like going off to summer camp,” the Lt. Colonel ranted, clearly exasperated. “Last time I was there, they were all in a tizzy about setting up a stock market. You believe that shit? A fucking stock market! Some asshole was quoting Milton Friedman while mortars were raining down on him. Friedman—he’s got the wrong fucking Milton man. Try Paradise Lost, not Free to Chose,” snapped Richard, the allusion completely lost on Morris, who didn’t read any books without pictures or sorcerers. “Besides, Morris, I’m married. Only pussy I ever get worth bragging about is in my dreams.”

“Oh, I understand. We’ve got a don’t ask don’t tell situation here, that it? Listen, Liberace, whatever you’re about to say, might want to say it to the company chaplain. He’s got confidentiality. Tell me you’re queer and that’s it. Gotta report you to the gay patrol. Means your promising career is over. This is the desert, sailor. You’re a long way from San Francisco harbor.”

“Still a smart ass.”


“Let that convoy know they gottah extra passenger.”

“Absolutely, sailor,” he chirped with a false lisp, winking at Richard. “And don’t worry my little boy-toy, your secret’s safe with me.”

“Just tell them I’m riding along, Morris,” Richard deadpanned, slouching back toward the MI signal trailer. He needed to get out of the sun. He wasn’t made for the desert. As he walked away the sound of an incoming mortar tore across the sky.


Six hours later Lt. Col. Richard Dawes died in an I.E.D. attack ten miles outside Baghdad. The Iraqi who planted the roadside bomb was seeking revenge for his brother, rumored to be imprisoned in Abu Ghraib without charge.