The Choice She Made

This post by Helen Gerhardt, intern for The American Friends Service Committee: Pittsburgh

The Choice She Made

Miriam had been beaten for hours. Her jaw was broken. Her face was so puffed up that no one would recognize her. She could not stand up. Her whole body hurt very badly. She stared at the men who had beaten her.

By their clothing and the ways they spoke to each other, and some of the things they said, and by the way they screamed at her for not wearing the hijab, and for wearing slacks to work, Miriam believed that this Shi’a group had originally been trained, funded and armed by the United States. But now they had switched sides.

In the Fall of 2003, Paul Bremer fired all members of the Baath Party, including many highly responsible and talented men and women who had administered the infrastructure of Iraq. Because Miriam had never joined the Baath Party, she had been invited to take on many crucial roles in her ministry after that decree. She had much valuable information and access to a lot of resources. She kept her mouth shut about almost everything. She let just a few things out of her mouth during the torture.

Finally, they said, “You must give us the names and addresses of your friends and colleagues in your Ministry. If you do not, we will go and get your children.” They told Miriam the address that her children lived at to show they knew exactly where to go. They said, “We will go and get them and we will torture them. We will torture them much worse than what we have done to you. You will have to watch us do that until they die. Then we will kill you.”

Miriam stared back at them

Miriam thought that these men would take any names and numbers that she gave them and they would go and bring many other men and women to this room and do the same to them as they were doing to her. She thought that they would also torture and kill many of their children to make them give up more names.

Miriam said:

No. You will do what you will do. I will obey Allah.”

She would not open her mouth again. She waited for the men to go and get her children. She held onto herself, huddled on the floor.

The leader went outside in the hall and talked to someone a long time. She could not hear what he said. He came back into the room. He said, “You are the strongest woman we have ever seen here. Most people do not ever leave this building alive. We are going to let you go.”

The men put a blindfold around her eyes and they drove her around and around the streets of Baghdad, and then they put her out on the sidewalk. She waited until the noise of the car had receded to nothing, and then a little bit longer. She made herself get up. She moved very slowly. She was crying. She waited for a taxi to come by and she did not have to raise her hand, the man stopped his taxi and carefully helped her into the back seat. He was very scared because he thought that the people who tortured her might still be watching and would follow him, but he drove around and around and then he asked her the way home.

She was crying. He said, “Please don’t cry, lady.” He looked so sad for her. She told him the way home, but she could not stop crying.

He took her to her family. None of them recognized her. They helped undress her and bathe her very, very gently. Not gently enough, but the best they could do. They all cried.


For all those who care for survivors of torture, war trauma, solitary confinement, we have listed links for training, information, and support in our Resources section on the sidebar.


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