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Posted in: World Events

Published on Feb 07, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

American Captured In Iraq. Who's To Blame?


Western civilians–a journalist (Daniel Pearl), a businessman (Nicholas Berg), a civil engineer (Kenneth Bigley), and an aid worker (Margaret Hassan)–have been captured, beheaded, and shot in Pakistan and Iraq. Western troops have also been captured, tortured, and barbarically slaughtered.

The mindset that American troops face is very different from our own. For example, if a Muslim jihadist wants to kill someone, he might stage an elaborate ruse and kill someone else entirely—all in order to have people say that his primary target was killed by accident. Or, he might kidnap a high value civilian as a bargaining chip in order to free other, imprisoned jihadists.

With this in mind—let's try to understand what is now going on in Iraq in the matter of the captured American.

First, you can't necessarily trust the mainstream media to get the facts exactly right.

For example, according to an AP dispatch in the Wall Street Journal, an "American contractor, Issa T. Salomi, went missing Jan 23 in Baghdad." The New York Times also identifies him as a "contractor."

However, Salomi is not a "contractor." He "transitioned" out of that category as soon as he was sworn in to the Department of Defense as a civilian attached to the Army. Salomi is an Iraqi-American Human Terrain Team (HTT) member. And, he is now definitely in captivity.

A video released on the internet this very weekend has identified his captors as the "League of the Righteous." They are demanding the "release of militants and the prosecution of Blackwater security contractors accused of killing 17 Iraqis in 2007 in Baghdad."

Issa Salomi spoke on video in Arabic-accented English. He spoke gravely, in a deep and monotonic voice. He seemed to be wearing an American Army uniform and he spoke from a prepared script. Salomi spoke for the "Islamic Resistance of Iraq" and, in their name, called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and the punishment of those soldiers who killed 19 Iraqis in 2007. He also said:

"I would like to express to all the members of my family, especially my wife, my children and my friends and to assure everybody that I'm being treated kindly and I'm in good health." According to the Washington Post, Salomi's wife, Muna, 52, confirmed "that the man pictured in the video was her husband and she was distraught at the news. 'I'm very sick. I cannot talk,' she said."

Who is Issa T. Salomi?

According to a source who cannot be identified, "it was known that (a man named Issa) put human terrain team members at risk outside the wire in Iraq." In addition, according to another source, (a man named Issa) also continually disappeared, always alone, often for many days at a time, ostensibly to visit relatives. This is not the preferred practice. This last time, while visiting relatives, (this man named Issa) was kidnapped.

Are we talking about the same Issa? Can there be two 60 year-old Iraqi-American men named Issa active in Iraq? No, it is one and the same man. Issa T. Salomi lives in southern California. And, either Salomi was very sure of himself, very foolish, or very poorly trained. According to John Stanton,

"Steve Fondacaro and Montgomery Clough, senior program management of the US Army's Human Terrain System (HTS), were warned as early as 2007 that Human Terrain Team members in Iraq and Afghanistan would become prey for insurgent groups. They were advised repeatedly that training must emphasize the dangerous environment HTS employees would be operating in. That training needed to focus on practices and procedures for handling life threatening situations to include kidnapping.

Issa Salomi, a 60-year-old HTT member operating in a combat zone, was taken in January 2010 by an Iraqi insurgent group, and a video of him was released on the Net in February 2010 by the same group. This tragic event drives home, once again, the core failings of the Human Terrain Team System: the inability to find qualified personnel, to train them properly and to, quite simply, take care of them. Some allege that many team leaders and HTS management itself have no clue where many of their teams are. "Some HTT members disappear for days and then return." "Some have had no military or field experience and, what's more, hardly understand the US military culture they are embedded in."

That's Salomi and Salomi's team that Stanton is talking about. (Parenthetically, yesterday, the Department of Defense finally listed Salomi as having an "excused absence" and noted that his "whereabouts are now unknown.")

Now let's meet the Iraqi Islamic Resistance.

Who are the League of the Righteous? They are the group responsible for capturing British computer expert Peter Moore and releasing him unharmed this past December after 31 months in captivity. However, don't shake their hands just yet. The League also captured and killed his four British bodyguards. And they did so cunningly, for a purpose. The League's leader, Laith al-Khazaali, was, coincidentally, freed from an American prison last June—"around the same time the bodies of two of Moore's bodyguards were handed over to Britain. Around 200 other detainees were freed in September, when a third bodyguard's body was transferred. Negotiations over the British hostages were handled by Khazaali's brother, Sheikh Qais al-Khazaali, who was released on January 5, 2010."

Obviously, this League has learned from the Palestinians, for this is how they negotiate with the Israelis. Hamas or Fatah or the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade would kidnap one Israeli and demand that hundreds, even thousands, of Palestinian prisoners "with blood on their hands" be released. They usually return dead Israeli bodies. Hopefully, this is not what is now going on in the matter of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

I support our troops. I admire their heroism and willingness to serve in dangerous wars so that I can remain safely behind enemy lines. I also support the bold and creative decision to embed social scientists and native language speakers in their ranks. But, such personnel have to be carefully chosen and carefully trained. That may not be the case. Neither a lax nor a politically correct military-corporate culture can best serve the American people.


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