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Into Iraq's Black Hole

May 04, 2003

Traffic seemed lighter, though sufficient to ignite assorted tempers. Scattered rains fouled a few picnic plans and fresh carwash jobs. The SARS thing is bizarre but blessedly distant. Oh, and thousands of Iraqis disappeared.

Reporter Michael Slackman's moving piece in The Times the other day jolted us back from spoiled little lives of assumed safety to a foreign reality in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Pick a beloved relative of yours. One day he or she doesn't come home. No explanation. No recourse. To inquire risks the same fate. And years pass. So many thousands of Iraqis disappeared this way that the killers misplaced their identities, fates and crimes, if there were any. No answers. No one knows where they went. What happened. Why they died. Or if there was a why.

Think about that. The United States, among others, has massive hunts for one little missing girl. Iraq under Hussein had thousands disappear, humans tossed away like junk mail. Husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, wives, daughters, mothers. Beaten. Tortured. Hanged. Shot. Poof. They're gone, just like the ant you trampled on the sidewalk the other day and never noticed. And the living could utter not a peep.

Americans think they get the news because they watch TV. But sometimes digesting the news requires plain old private pondering, not mere watching. At least 8,591 Iraqis evaporated, according to relatives. It's such a task, you can imagine, keeping track of so many dead people, which secret agency arrested, tortured and killed them, where the bodies got intentionally lost.

As bystanders to such global events, Americans take for granted the openness, respect and accountability of a democratic society. Americans have witnessed similar atrocities elsewhere -- the slaughter in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Central Europe, Afghanistan's Taliban and the Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia. Some killers come to justice. Not all. Not enough. But some. History moves on. Mother's Day nears. And graduations. Weddings, births, vacations.

We forget so quickly. Not maliciously. But the demands of life, for those still lucky enough to have one, do go on. Maybe this time pausing for the nameless lives and faceless loves, the strangled dreams and deadly dramas, the pathos and potential of so many individuals erased from existence. They were faceless to us and nameless to their murderers, but not to their families, who live on, sentenced to remember the hollow absence far, far longer than we recall the weather forecasts and traffic reports that punctuate our luxurious lives.

Think you might bother to vote next time?

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