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5/28/04 - A HELPING HAND FOR IRAQIS - 2004-05-28

The night before he was to have his right hand amputated, Nazaar Joudi wrote to his wife from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. “Hopefully, Allah will replace my hand with an even better one,” Mr. Joudi wrote.

It was 1995. Iraq's economy had been ruined by the corruption and waste of Saddam Hussein, and the regime needed scapegoats. Mr. Joudi and other Iraqi merchants accused of doing business in foreign currency were given a thirty-minute trial. Their severed hands were delivered to Saddam Hussein on his orders.

Today, seven of those men have had their hands restored thanks to concerned Americans. Doctors in Houston, Texas, fitted the maimed Iraqis with prosthetic hands that function much like natural hands. President George W. Bush welcomed the Iraqis to the White House:

“I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein with six other Iraqi citizens as well, who suffered the same fate. They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant.”

A plastic surgeon in Houston removed black crosses that had been tattooed on the foreheads of the maimed Iraqis by Saddam Hussein's prison guards. One of the victims, Basim Al Fadhly, said that many other Iraqi prisoners suffered much worse fates. “We were the lucky ones," said Mr. Al Fadhly. “Thirty thousand in Abu Ghraib went to the hangmen's noose.”

Iraqi secret police made a videotape of the amputations. A copy of the tape was obtained by Iraqi journalists and given to American journalist Don North. Mr. North made a documentary film of the suffering in Saddam Hussein's prisons. The film brought the plight of the maimed Iraqis to the attention of Houston television newsman Marvin Zindler. Mr. Zindler mobilized private donations of medical facilities, professional care, transportation, lodging, and other expenses needed to fit the seven men with artificial hands.

One of the artificial hand recipients, Salah Zinad, is thankful for more than a new hand. “We have freedom in Iraq. Now we say anything we want,” said Mr. Zinad. “Under Saddam we whispered.” Asked about the abuses by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Mr. Zinad said, “These Americans who did this will be punished. Under Saddam, such abuses were rewarded and praised.”