The night is dark over Baghdad as I look out from the balcony of our hotel, hot summer winds blowing aggressively in spite of the late hour. Moments before I had heard the distant thunder of a massive bomb exploding in another part of the city, most likely an American bomb when the boom is that big, but that's not what's on my mind…
All I can think about, imagine, is what people must be feeling, hunkered down in their homes. Especially Sunni people tonight. Everyone here remembers what happened last time, when al Qaeda first bombed the holy Shiite shrine in Samarra. The death squads and executions, and revenge killings on both sides, and the piles and piles of unclaimed, un-named Sunni bodies filling up Baghdad's morgues. They still are.
No one knows for sure how it will play out this time. But there is one thing I do know for sure: tonight, somewhere in Baghdad, on one of those blackened streets, someone will pay for this act. Someone innocent, someone unarmed, someone who does not deserve to die this way. They will go into a house, wearing masks and carrying weapons, maybe even wearing police or army uniforms. They will take an innocent man from his bed, or from his family, and they will execute him.
If he's lucky, they will be quick. But if not, they may torture him. Maybe they won't have time. Or maybe they will have too many others to kill. But if they do have time, most likely they will use an electric drill.
Videos show that while al Qaeda prefers beheadings, Shiite militias favor electric drills.
The fascinating part is that they both film these activities and use it to recruit people to their causes. It seems unnatural that this should draw people to worship and serve, rather than drive them away in horror.
Clearly it is an aspect to this war that I personally will never understand.
What I can understand and imagine is the terror when a death squad enters your home in the middle of the night. The anger every time you reach for the light switch or go to open the fridge, and you are reminded there is no power … The pain of losing someone you love, and then another person, and another ... And beyond that, the huge losses people have endured here, so many I fail again to fully comprehend.
One of our CBS colleagues lost his father to a death squad. He was an old man who refused to move when the death notice – to move or be killed – came. So, when he took out the trash, they were waiting for him with guns, and he died in a pool of his own blood where he fell in the street outside his home.
His brother-in-law was also killed by a death squad – inside their home. This was too much for his mother who dropped dead from a heart attack in response. Then when the book market was bombed in Baghdad recently, his nephew went missing. They found only part of his body. Fifteen years old.
Now his nineteen-year-old nephew and his brother have been arrested by the Iraqi Army and disappeared into the black hole of Iraq's prisons where there is no access to anything even resembling justice for tens of thousands of people.
There are more than forty thousand prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi custody already, and the number is rising every day. One of the little-noticed points that America's top general made in his first press conference after arriving in Baghdad earlier this year was that they would be building more prisons during the surge. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, he said, actually had a comparatively small prison system compared to its neighbors in the region.
And it's filled to overflowing already.
No doubt in the wake of the latest bombing in Samarra, there will be more arrests. Many more.
Who knows how many of those will be innocent men? And who will care when they lock them behind bars and leave them there to rot? Not the U.S. They don't even have access to the Iraqi prison system- for the most part. It is Iraqi run – and this is a sovereign country.
The Iraqi people who do care have no power to get them released unless they know people in positions of influence. This is the measure many of them use to judge the progress of the surge: what is happening to their loved ones after Iraqi and American security forces take them away. Of course, they all say their loved ones are innocent, but the fact is that some of them really are.