I haven't used a cardboard fan since going to Antioch Methodist church in Forsyth, Ga. I was 12 and as the preacher talked about salvation, my grandmother and I pushed thick, southern air around. A few days ago, I found myself with another cardboard fan in my hand, but the circumstances were totally different.
The alarm went off at 5:30 in the morning. It was already hot. I took a shower, grabbed a sandwich and put on my flack jacket. The armored car pulled out on to the street. The checkpoints whizzed by and I read over my notes. ABC News decided to cover the release of 500 Iraqi detainees from Abu Ghraib prison and I was the producer.
To get anywhere safely (and believe me this is a relative term) in Iraq, you have to travel in armored cars with the military, or not at all. I had two out of three. We met the military across from the Al-Rasheed hotel and the convention center in the heart of the Green Zone. A Rhino was waiting for us.
The Rhino is as close to an indestructible bus as you can find. It looks like a huge eraser on wheels. The entire outside is encased in bulletproof (and hopefully bombproof) armor. The windows are several inches of special one way bullet-proof glass. Bullets bounce off the glass but there are special gun holes that can be broken from the inside and allow the military to shoot back at whomever is shooting at the bus.
The Rhinos are used to transport V.I.P.'s up and down airport road, people like Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein. It depends on who you believe, but Route Irish, as the military calls it, is either the safest or most dangerous road in Baghdad. I lean toward most dangerous.
The 45-minute drive brought us to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih made the same journey to announce the continuing release of 2,500 detainees -- these are Iraqis who have been caught up in sweeps and raids that the military decided were either suspicious or had committed a violent act against Coalition forces. It is estimated that there are more than 13,000 people who have been detained. A new review process culls the violent prisoners from those who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I arrived as 493 men were going home, the review found that they had not bombed, tortured, or murdered Iraqis or any member of the coalition of the willing.
What they have done is stay in prisons across Iraq for as little as six months and as long as 18. I spoke with seven of the detainees. No one I spoke with had talked with their family during their incarceration, and many said they were innocent. I find it odd how easily they seemed to take this derailment of their lives. In America there would be lawyers, press conferences and outrage. In Iraq, these men waited their turn to either shake Salih's hand or complain to him, then they got on a bus that returned them to their homes.