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Jack Rice - Blog

Jack Rice is a criminal defense trial lawyer who provides legal advice to those charged with crimes in Federal and Minnesota State courtrooms.

 

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[The Jack Rice Show] March 9th, 2006: Weeping in Baghdad

There was a time before I had children and I would see poverty or want or sickness and feel bad about it, and that was about it. But then my wife Marlo and I had our own kids, and that changed everything.

I arrive early at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in the Green Zone. They want to show me some of the projects that they are working on. To show some of the good things they are doing for the Iraqi people. I am excited about this because I want to see all sides of the Iraqi story, the good and the bad. Of course, this means I must head out of the relative safety of the Green Zone and into the city.

The first step is a security briefing.

More than two hundred separate attacks have taken place in the last two days alone, many of them centered in Baghdad. Is a civil war coming? It is really being debated? After the briefing, the fun begins.

I first strap on my Kevlar vest and helmet. I am then introduced to my driver, an Englishman, and my personal protection officer, an Australian. They are both in their early thirties, very experienced, and very tough. And interestingly enough, these men are not soldiers. They are private security guards and very experienced in war. But trust me, after talking with them for about five seconds, it is obvious they mean business.

We move toward the vehicles. But these are not just ordinary vehicles. As I step toward the vehicles, I'm curious to see the extent of the protection. I jump into a black Humvee that has been up-armored with steel and bullet proof glass. Our vehicle is followed by another Humvee with additional personal. The lead vehicle has additional security. All are designed to get me and others around Baghdad alive.

A little comment about the vehicles themselves before we get to the destination of this story. The vehicles, according to a man I talked with, were purchased after Michael Jackson ordered them and then changed his mind. Anyway, back to the story.

So, I leave the Green Zone in convoy with my team of security with members of the military and the Army Corps of Engineers. I wonder what I will find.

One of those things is the Alwaiya Children's Hospital in the Karada District of Baghdad. The hospital takes care of more than 1 million people who have nothing. They have no money and this is the only place they can bring their children.

We leave the Green Zone and immediately are barraged by the city itself. People are everywhere. Traffic is everywhere. Poverty is everywhere. We race down streets and my security team, holding their weapons, search for potential threats.

Iraqi police in their blue shirts are everywhere. They help control traffic although at one intersection, when cars kept coming, the Iraqi fired his AK-47 in the air to get their attention. I'll tell you what, it certainly gets mine.

There are sirens everywhere. Police. Soldiers. Ambulances.

We drive for miles and wind through the city eventually ending up in a part of the city that looks particularly poor. The convoy drives down a side alley and security jumps out of the lead vehicle and started operations to protect us.

Our Humvee comes to a stop and I stepinto the street. Two story building surround us and eyes peer from windows. We must present quite a site. All of us in kevlar. I can hear the call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the local mosque. This only solidified where I am. Downtown Baghdad. The tough part!

In front of us is what would be best described as a two story, dilapidated hotel. The stucco is falling off of it and the structure seems ready to fall down.. But as we start walking inside, I see workers trying to fix walls and ceilings and floors. This is part of the work the Army want to show me. This is one of the projects the Army Corps of Engineers is working on.

After a few steps, I hear the cries of children. A few steps later and we walk out into a courtyard full of mostly women holding their children. All of the children look sick, malnourished or injured in some way.

More than a hundred people are waiting to see a doctor. I looked at a young woman in her early twenties holding two little girls as they all sit on a concrete floor. One of her daughters is less than a year old, the other no more than two. They both seem small, weak really. And they look so like my own children. Dark air, dark eyes. Small hands.

I continue, trying to get something out of my eyes, maybe it is sand.

I see more poverty, more hunger, more sickness. I also see few doctors or facilities or medicine. Apparently, these kids, many in their bare feet, wait for hours. I head to the second floor. The stairs are concrete that is cracked and breaks apart under my feet.

As I get to the top of the stairs, the cries increase. There is a crush of people, many holding their babies and young children. I talk with a doctor about his job. He tells me, through a translator, that the system is overwhelmed but that the Americans have been trying to help.

There are three rooms up here and their should be six, eight, ten times that many.

I walk into one room and realize that it is the premature baby ward. The floors are covered with dirt and concrete dust. The walls are peeling.

Along those walls are incubators were very tiny, little lives in them. Young men and women with red puffy eyes stare at their children. I see their faces and see their pain. I want to help but can’t.

I approach one man. He is about thirty, and little heavy set. He looks very tired, disheveled. He points at a baby in front of him, in the incubator. He is so small, The machine is helping him breath. I introduce myself.

Al an Wa’A’Salon. Ismee Jack Rice.

He tells me that this is his first child. A boy. And then, in English, he looks into my eyes and says, “Very Sick. Very Sick.”

I look around the room, I see the same looks on the other parents crowded in a place barely fit for a garage, not a hospital.

At this point, I’ll be honest, I barely keep it together. This could be me. These could be my kids. All of them. The pain in the eyes of their parents could easily be mine. But for luck and maybe geography . I close my eyes tight and keep them closed. Trying not to cry out.

A man leads me outside and across a courtyard shows me the new hospital including child emergency room that is being built. It is beautiful. It looks like something in the states. It reminds me, in a way, of where my children were born. Not luxurious and very good.

This facility costs 2.8 million dollars and it is being paid for by us. It is being financed by the Army Corps of Engineers and being built by local Iraqis. It is part of the reconstruction effort and it directly impacts the people of this country.

The policies that lead us into this war seem questionable to a lot of people. Blowing up things does sometimes as well. However, walking into this hospital and looking into the faces of people who need so much, so desperately, I can’t help but feel that the investment that is being made here will pay dividends. That this is a good thing. That we should be doing this.

There was a time before I had children and I would see poverty or want or sickness and feel bad about it, and that was about it. But then my wife Marlo and I had our own kids, and that changed everything.

Now, it is personal. Now, the pain is mine. The anguish, mine. And in some way, the responsibility is mine too, maybe all of ours.