Monday, May 30, 2005


Deja Vu


“It is not a crime to deceive the American public, as high officials in the Reagan Administration did for two years while conducting the Iran and Contra operations. But it is a crime to mislead, deceive and lie to Congress when in fulfilling its legitimate oversight role the Congress seeks to learn whether Administration officials are conducting the nation’s business in accordance with the law.”

---Third Interim Report to Congress by Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters. June 25, 1992

Ever since the bombing of Tehran in February, Ahmed had begun to notice more Americans hanging around the Beirut waterfront café where he’d worked as a waiter for the last thirty years. There’d always been Americans here, he thought to himself, at least since his earliest memories as a young teenager during the Six Day War when the Israeli Defense Forces took out Jordan, Syria, and Egypt’s air defenses in less time than he could collect two paychecks at Ali Baba’s. Now, at the age of fifty-three, Ahmed, who had seen three generations of professors, tourists, students, spooks and businessmen—the latter two distinguishable only by the volume of their arrogance—had grown accustomed to serving these masters of the universe, as they liked to view themselves, but his instincts told him to keep an eye out for characters obviously up to no good.

“Strange,” he thought, “how American intelligence people all seemed to resemble Ollie North, the mastermind of the Reagan White House who arranged to have the Israeli military ship high-tech armaments to Ayatollah Khomeini’s thugs in Tehran to get some American hostages released and raise money for Reagan’s illegal war in Nicaragua.” That was twenty some years ago, when Ahmed still hoped Beirut might return to some semblance of normalcy. Back then, before the Christian Phalange militia massacred 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in September 1982, and before the Iranian-backed Hezbollah blew up the U.S. and French compounds killing 241 American Marines in October 1983, his parents still spoke of Beirut as the Paris of the Mediterranean that would return to its former glamour and grandeur and cosmopolitan tolerance once Palestinians had a secure homeland. Now they quietly accepted Lebanon’s fate of historical and geographical accident as the immediate but impotent neighbor of Armageddon. Ahmed’s son Abdullah never knew such things as hope or joy, except maybe when he and his pals managed to smuggle some booze or cigarettes or hashish from or to the Beqaa Valley from their Jewish contacts in Haifa.

Now that the Israelis had completed their “Apartheid Wall” and the Palestinians were all locked down in concentration camps, even Ahmed had resigned himself to a sort of functioning chronic depression. True, the Syrians had lightened up on urban warfare here, but with Bush’s reelection and tactical nuclear strikes on Tehran five months ago, the rumors of intrigue, arms dealing and double-dealing had escalated significantly. Gossip picked up on the street by Abdullah and his friends mostly amounted to occasional sightings of mid-level US military and intelligence attaches by their cousins and girlfriends who worked in the swank, air-conditioned hotels. Spook-spotting, however, was a local pastime largely ignored by people of Ahmed’s generation; after a lifetime of turmoil and deprivation, they were content to have a connection for black market pharmaceuticals to relieve their arthritis and other pains from inadequate diet and medical care and the recurring traumas of invasion, civil war and pervasive corruption.

Ahmed, though, was not a typical waiter; he made as much on tips to his brother Faruk as he did on his tips from tourists and nogudniks. One of these tips, back in 1985, made him a hundred bucks in US currency and a case of Johnnie Walker. That was the time he came across a lead for Faruk that his paper Al Sirrah broke and was later picked up by the Wall Street Journal about the Portuguese ship loading American-made HAWK missiles transported by El Al to Lisbon from Tel Aviv for delivery to Iran. Ahmed, at the time, wondered if maybe some of the dockworkers on the Lisbon waterfront of the River Tagus--loading this illegal arms transfer for Iran to use during the peak of its war against Iraq—might be distant relatives by way of the ancient Phoenician voyagers. Much as the Americans waiting for their cokes and cappuccinos liked to think the world and planets revolved around the “Stars and Stripes,” Ahmed knew from experience that the Mediterranean was the true center of things; it wasn’t named “middle of the world” for nothing.


Faruk hadn’t broken a major story since, and after the moronic American voters reelected Reagan and then elected a former CIA Director (Bush’s father)--who on his final days in the White House pardoned the traitors involved in the Iran/Contra arms smuggling while he was Vice President--he figured no one outside an unbelievably gullible America would be shocked to learn that several of these convicted felons had been brought back on board by Bush’s son during his first term. Not just people like former assistant secretary of state Elliot Abrams, but genuine scum like John D. Negroponte, former ambassador to Honduras, referred to in press accounts as “the boss” of Contra operations, a euphemism for the Congressionally-banned mercenary death squads he ran there. Bush Junior shamelessly appointed Negroponte as his UN ambassador, a message that was not lost on the General Assembly. It was Ws way of saying “Fuck you” to the world immediately after bribing and threatening his way into the White House. Of course, none of this could have happened had the Democratically-controlled Congress under Senator Inouye and Representative Hamilton exercised its duty to impeach Reagan and Bush for proven high crimes, but bipartisan cover-up was the rule—Watergate was the exception.

The European correspondents and Arab businessmen who stopped off for evening drinks at Ali Baba’s always laughed at the naiveté of American liberals who professed it “more important to heal confidence in government” than to punish wrongdoers and opportunists making enemies for the US and destabilizing a world on the brink of nuclear and microbial holocaust. Faruk always said, “TV and Disneyland didn’t make Americans stupid; living in denial about stealing their country from Indians, and never having their women and children slaughtered by invaders did. It’s their delusions that make them so crazy, and dangerous.”

Ahmed didn’t disagree with Faruk’s assessment of things—he just didn’t care anymore. Helplessness creates hopelessness, and Lebanon hadn’t been entirely in control of its own affairs for centuries. The Turks, the Arabs, the French, the British, the Jews, the Americans, the Syrians, the Iranians, and the Palestinians: Christ, they ought to move UN headquarters there and save everybody the plane fare. At least then the casinos and restaurants and night clubs would be back in business. Brothels too, but then they never left—they just downsized for a more overtly brutal clientele.

“Faruk,” he asked, after the last of the foreigners departed for the night, “can you get Abdullah work at the paper? He knows his way around, and he’s pretty handy with his digital camera. The girls he takes shots of all think he’ll make them famous models someday. I’m worried that with all the Persian refugees and Iraqi guerillas sneaking in and out of here that somebody might mistake his cases of contraband for arms or explosives. He’s not as clever as he thinks he is.”

“Pretty girls in swimsuits we got,” Faruk replied. “Bring me a photo of Rumsfeld loading M-16s into Arafat’s trunk and I’ll buy him a house in Beverly Hills.”


With the post-invasion collapse of Iraqi and Iranian civil society, the Israelis had clamped down hard on border and port security. Now in the fourth year of US military occupation, lack of public health infrastructure and other basic needs had resulted in epidemics of virulent typhoid, tuberculosis and cholera all over. Tens of thousands of civilians, and a couple hundred US troops had succumbed to disease. Saudis, Syrians and Jordanians bordered on hysteria. The sabotage of ARAMCO oilfields in Saudi Arabia and the sinking of two American warships in Bahrain had the whole region on edge. The Israelis—even for Israelis—had gone nuts.

Consequently, Abdullah and his friends found themselves with fewer opportunities to make a living, and a lot more time on their hands. At first, they just spent more time at the beach showing off for the girls, but eventually even that got boring. While some of his pals indulged in petty crime hustling refugees, Abdullah started to take an interest in Lebanese history and culture, walking around photographing the city, his grandparents, and yes, pretty waitresses and schoolgirls he encountered.

Short of cash for developing quality prints, he saved his photos electronically and e-mailed some of them to girls willing to part with their e-mail addresses. He even traded cheesecake photos to the owner of the internet café in return for time at one of the online terminals. Abdullah wasn’t making any money, but he also wasn’t doing anything dangerous and this was fine with Ahmed. Faruk even managed to convince a calendar publisher to take a look at Abdullah’s Waitresses of Beirut portfolio. While not exactly erotic, it was novel, and the publisher offered a non-exclusive hundred bucks for it.

With no overhead, Abdullah took his first fee and went out on the town with his camera to brag on his new profession over Cokes with some of his starlets, asking tourists and waiters to take his now-famous photo at their soon-to-be famous establishments. Within a week, he was once again broke, but had made many new friends and acquaintances looking forward to receiving their calendars. Abdullah spent his last few bucks on some cigars for his Uncle Faruk, and decided to walk over to the Al Sirrah offices to catch him on his way home.


Traffic was light due to the gasoline rationing imposed as a result of the sabotage-induced oil shortages in the region, and Abdullah arrived at the entry to Al Sirrah earlier than he expected, so he decided to surprise his uncle upstairs in his office next to the photographers’ darkroom. The receptionist recognized him from the other day when he dropped by to meet Faruk’s calendar pal, and told him to go on up.

When he stepped out of the elevator, Faruk was in the hall talking to a staff photojournalist recognizable by his multi-pocketed vest and shoulder bag stuffed with cameras, film and batteries. Faruk waved at Abdullah and motioned for him to come down toward his office overlooking the street. When he came in and sat down across from his nephew, he noticed the small box of cigars on his desk and the thank you card and offered Abdullah a Coke from the machine in the hall.

After rubbing the cold wet can across his face and neck, he asked, “What are you up to now that you’re a famous photographer?”

“Nothing much,” his nephew replied. “Just taking some shots of me with the girls selected for the Club Med calendar.”

“Yah? Let me see.”

Abdullah popped the disc out of his camera and handed it to his uncle who slid it into the a-drive of his computer. “Not bad,” he said. “I really like this one of the redhead at D’jour’s.”

“Yah, me too. She’s real funny and speaks French and English. Comes in handy with all the diplomats from the embassies nearby. I think she wants to be an interpreter.”

“No kidding? Cute and smart. What’s she see in you?”

Abdullah laughed, just as the photojournalist, Mohammed, walked in and said,” I’m going home unless you need something else.”

“No, that’s it for today,” Faruk replied. “Hey, come and take a look at my nephew’s photos—he’s pretty good, with girls anyway.”

Mohammed walked around Faruk’s desk and leaned up against the bookcase while Faruk clicked his way through Abdullah’s slideshow of local beauties.

“Wait a minute. Go back one. I think I saw someone I recognize. There, that’s the one. The guy behind the redhead at the table, the one smoking a cigarette. I’ve seen him before somewhere.”

“Let me guess—mobster, pimp, one of your pals?”

“No, somebody important. Involved in something a long time ago. Something serious—I just can’t place it.”

“Well, if you think of it, let me know. Maybe we can find him in our archives.”

“Yah, OK, well, see you tomorrow. Nice work Abdullah. You might want to think about doing it for a living. That rules out newspapers, by the way.”


Faruk got home late, stopping on the way to share a cigar with his brother who was just closing up the café. After watching the sun set over the sparkling waves lazily rolling in from Cyprus, he stopped at the grocer to get some orange juice for his breakfast, and by the time he plopped down in his reading chair everything inside and out was dark, except for the flashing red light on his answering machine and the blue neon glow reflected on the apartment wall across his courtyard from the pharmacy in the alley.

Faruk was beat, and in no hurry to get up to see who’d called, at least not until after he washed up and got out of his shirt and trousers and poured a beer. Once he relaxed and had a piece of cold chicken with some olives and half a pita, Faruk leaned back in his chair and pressed the play button on his machine.

“Hi Faruk, it’s me Mohammed. I remembered who that guy is in your nephew’s photo. At least I remember what he is, I think. I can’t quite recall his name, but he’s American, and I’m pretty sure he’s CIA, or DEA or maybe Naval Intelligence. It’s been awhile. Anyway, I can check our photo files tomorrow when I get in and see if we got anything. Just thought I’d let you know. Good night.”

Faruk put his bottle full of olive pits and chicken bones in the garbage and went into the bedroom and was fast asleep in less than a minute.


When Faruk arrived at the office the next morning, Mohammed was in the photo library—really an oversized closet sandwiched between the darkroom and Faruk’s office—and had several photos laid out on the magnification projector that was warming up.

“How’s it going,” Faruk asked? “Find your man?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll have to see it enlarged, but I think it might be this guy in the CIA file.”

Faruk unlocked his door and set his bag on the chair and came back to see the photographs. “Yah,” said Mohammed, “it’s him all right. See how he smiles only on one side. His hair has receded some, but his ears and nose are a perfect match. Let me cross reference the photo file number on the computer to get his name.”

While Mohammed punched in the data and waited for a response, Faruk pulled up the current photo he’d uploaded from Abdullah’s disc and made a black and white printout. When he came back Mohammed had a name on the screen:

Clarridge, Duane R. (“Dewey”)
Central Intelligence Agency
Operations Directorate
Chief, Latin American Division/European Division 1981-1988
Top CIA official responsible for covert war in Nicaragua. November 1985, assisted Oliver North in HAWK missile shipment to Iran. Indicted November 1991 on seven counts of perjury and false statements. Trial aborted by Presidential pardon December 24, 1992.

“Interesting. Think he’s here on pleasure or business?”

“Hard saying, unless we can make the guy across the table from him in your nephew’s shot. It’s a side view, but a pretty decent profile. Let me see that printout.”

“Hmm, this guy’s not American, maybe Persian—definitely overweight. The sunglasses aren’t really a problem, since we can id better from skull, nose and ears anyway. What do you say we look up old Dewey’s pals in the National Security Archive document reader on the Iran-Contra scandal?”

“Yah,” said Faruk, “I’ll go get it off my shelf.”

“OK, we got Rafsanjani’s nephew Bahramani; Ghorbanifar; Hakim; Khashoggi; and the rest are all too political.”

“Cool, they’re all in the Iran files from 1985, so that shouldn’t be too hard. Here they are. Huh, what do you think? I don’t see anyone with that nose, even if they are twenty years younger.”

“You’re right. It’s none of the Iranian arms dealers from the Reagan era. So maybe it has nothing to do with arms.”

“Yah, probably a good thing since Washington nuked Tehran last winter. Wouldn’t want them shooting up American occupation forces with US weapons.”

“Ha, ha. You’re a sick person Mohammed.”

“Not as sick as American foreign policy under Junior. That fucker’s nuts.”

“Uh huh, somebody ought to do the world a favor and bring back Lee Harvey Oswald, except that would leave the atomic bomb in the hands of Dick Cheney; I think I’d prefer Tony Soprano. Well, I got to get some work done. Let me know if you come up with anything on Mr. X.”

“OK. Hey, maybe the redhead might remember something.”

“I’ll see if Abdullah can ask her, but I don’t want him to know what we’re on to. He’ll want to brag to his buddies, and might screw up a potential story.”


Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Free Iraqi Forces, was assassinated this morning in Baghdad by a car bomb. No one has yet to claim responsibility, but US commander General Tommy Franks noted that Shiia guerrillas had recently stepped up sniping and fragging of his occupation forces in the Iraqi capitol. A twenty-four hour curfew has been imposed.

As Faruk listened to the BBC broadcast over his morning coffee, he recalled that when Chalabi was installed as leader by Cheney and Rumsfeld in spring 2003, several high level State Department and CIA officials registered strong, public protests. Chalabi--in exile since 1958--had managed to siphon millions in US aid for his Iraqi National Congress in London, but when Franks was ordered to fly Chalabi and his troops in for the photo-op “liberation of Baghdad” (that amounted to about two blocks of downtown), Chalabi could only muster seven hundred followers, and most of them were bribed Iranian-backed Shiites. “Jeez,” he thought to himself, “it was probably his own guys who did it. He was such a crook.”

Chalabi (a former CIA operative), in addition to being the darling of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was also a convicted felon, cited for multiple counts of embezzling from banks in Jordan. Figuring out who didn’t want him dead would probably be easier than figuring out who did.

When Abdullah walked into his uncle’s office, Mohammed called out from the next room, “Hey, lover boy, who’s your model today?”

Faruk looked up from the Chalabi file on his desk and greeted his nephew. “What are you up to today? Want to do some work for me?”

“Some photography?” he asked.

“Well, it’s about photography. One of those photos you took, the one of the redhead at D’ jour’s—I think you might have caught a French movie star at the table behind her. Would you mind taking the photo by and asking her if she remembers him and his companion?”

“Sure, anything else?”

“Yah, if she sees them again, maybe she could find out where they’re staying, ask them how they’re enjoying Beirut.”

“OK, I’ll go over there right now before she gets too busy.”

On the way to D’jour’s, Abdullah stopped by the internet café to check his e-mail and brag up his calendar deal to the patron. By the time he arrived at D’jour’s, the redhead was hustling espressos and croissants to edgy businessmen and trophy wives in tortoise shell Italian sunglasses. Abdullah didn’t want to disturb her, so he went to the stand-up counter where secretaries and students could get a juice or coffee without paying the sit-down surcharge and tip for service. He nodded his head at her when she walked by, and waited for the end of the mid-morning rush.

After sipping his orangeade for half an hour, the redhead stopped next to him and asked, “Are you on assignment today, or do you just like our juice?”

“Oh,” he replied, “I was wondering if you could look at the photo of you for the calendar again. You might have served a French movie star.”

“Really?” she asked. “Let me see.”

Abdullah laid the photo on the counter and pointed to the two men in sunglasses saying, “This one with the big ears, and his friend with the prizefighter’s nose.”

“Oh yah, I remember them,” she said. “They left a nice size tip. Big Ears came here two or three times this week, but not this morning. And they weren’t French—Big Ears was American, and Broken Nose was Israeli I think.”

“Huh, I guess I was mistaken.”

“So when’s the calendar coming out? You going to bring me one for my grandmother, too?”

“Yah, sure, I’ll bring you a dozen. You want to go to the beach sometime?”

“Maybe, but right now I got to get back to work.”

“OK, I’ll see you later. Ciao.”

After Abdullah rounded the corner onto the boulevard, Big Ears sat down at one of the sidewalk tables in the redhead’s section. She went over and said, “Good morning, what would you like?”

“Espresso, and baklava, and a fresh ash tray please.”

“Very good, it’ll just be a moment. By the way, my photographer friend thought you were a French movie star. I told him you were American, but you might think about going to France, huh?”

“Your friend, he was taking pictures here?”

“Yes, but only for a calendar of Beirut waitresses. You and your friend just happened to be in it behind me.”

“Do you have it with you?”

“No, he’s going to bring me a calendar when they’re printed, though. I’ll probably hang it up by the counter, so you can stop by and see it. I’ll give you one as a souvenir.”

“That’s OK, I can stop by your friend’s shop. Can you tell me where it’s located?”

“Sorry, all I know is his name’s Abdullah, and he goes to the internet café on the boulevard for his e-mail. Maybe they can help you.”

“Great,” he replied. “Thanks a lot.”


Ahmed was looking at the headlines of the front page of the Beirut Times when his son came around the corner of the whitewashed cement building that housed Ali Baba’s and the passport photo, candy and cigarette shop. “How’s the photography business today?” he inquired.

“Slow, I think I’ll go to the beach and see what’s going on there. Do you need me to pick up anything on the way home?”

“No, I don’t think so. Those were good cigars, though. Faruk and I really enjoyed them. I noticed there wasn’t an import tax stamp on the box. Special deal, huh?”

“Yah, customs must have screwed up. You know how bureaucrats are.”

They both laughed, and Ahmed patted his son on the back as he took off for the beach. He remembered when he was Abdullah’s age—all his pals were either going to be freedom fighters or big shot entrepreneurs or go to America and become exotic stars in Hollywood. Things hadn’t changed that much, he surmised. The dreams just got smaller. Now, thirty years later, the only famous Lebanese American was still Ralph Nader. “Too bad he wasn’t elected President;” he thought, “him and that American Indian woman Winona LaDuke. Maybe if they had, the Fertile Crescent wouldn’t be the nuclear free-fire zone it is today, with diseases and heavily-armed delinquents run amok from Tehran to Basra to Damascus. Allah must be on vacation.”

When Faruk returned to his office after lunch, Mohammed was busy packing his gear and said, “I’m off to Baghdad. Al Jazeera just reported Bremer and de Mello have been kidnapped and are being held hostage somewhere. I have to fly in with the Reuters crew in half an hour. Want me to bring you some dates?”

“No, just be careful. God, what a mess the Americans have made. It’s worse than 1979. Then it was just a handful of CIA spooks held hostage and some crazy clerics on a crusade. Now every religious fanatic, heroin smuggler and thug from Kosovo to Kandahar is terrorizing the locals and liquidating copper and aluminum. There isn’t a phone wire, isotope, or door handle that hasn’t been sold for scrap in Pakistan or Kuwait.”

“Yah, well it looks like we’ve come full circle since Carter’s yellow ribbons. Maybe Junior will fly in from Qatar and pull off a Rambo rescue all by himself.”

“In his dreams, he probably thinks he could. Maybe Showtime will make him another hero docudrama like they did in 2003. God, what a moron.”

“I’ll call you when I’ve arrived. Ciao.”


According to the Beirut Times, L. Paul Bremer, former civilian administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and current special envoy to the Iranian Provisional Authority, had been abducted by masked gunmen who managed to kill several guards at his Tehran embassy residence in the middle of the night. Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s representative for the reconstruction of Iraq had also been kidnapped last night in Baghdad without a shot fired. A communiqué from Kandahar said only that Bremer and de Mello would be held hostage until all US forces departed from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. For some reason, the message left out Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait. Ahmed went in the candy shop to listen to the excited CNN correspondent reporting from Kabul. The clerk and he just shook their heads, watching in silence.


Before Sabrina could tell Abdullah about talking with Big Ears that morning, the two of them were whisked off the beach promenade bench and into a large black Mercedes sedan that stopped just long enough for three men in suits to get out, stick pistol barrels in their guts, and lead them by their upper arms to the car.

When Abdullah failed to show up for dinner, Ahmed called his brother Faruk at home to ask if he’d seen him. “Not since this morning. He was going over to D’jour’s to see a redhead waitress and then to the beach.”

“Well,” replied Ahmed, “he’s probably still with her. I guess I shouldn’t worry about it. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.”

In the morning, Abdullah was still gone when Ahmed left for work. He called Faruk at the office to let him know. Faruk said he’d go ask around on the boulevard at places Abdullah hung out.

He left quickly without leaving a note on his door, and headed straight for D’jour’s. Faruk strode up to the head waiter and explained, “I’m looking for my nephew. I think he might have been out with a redhead waitress who works here. Is she around?”

“No,” the waiter answered, “Sabrina didn’t show up for her shift this morning. First time she’s ever done that. She didn’t answer her phone, so I didn’t know what to think.”

“Thank you, I’ll make sure she calls if I find them.”

Faruk was starting to worry as he rode up the elevator to his office. What would he tell his brother? That the CIA might have kidnapped his nephew while running an errand for him? He phoned the internet café, but they hadn’t seen him either. He could hardly call the police to report two young lovers missing over night—they’d just laugh. The only thing he could think of was to ask his street informants to look around. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills and stuck some of the wad into several envelopes and headed back out to the street and over to the black market bazaar behind the exotic dancers nightclub. After passing out envelopes with cash and Abdullah and Sabrina’s photos, he hustled back to see if there’d been any news at the office.

Back at the candy shop next to Ali Baba’s, Ahmed was watching CNN’s coverage of the chaos in Baghdad, now under the exclusive control of the US military, that is, if you could call anywhere in the Persian Gulf under control anymore. General Tommy Franks, escorted by several visibly scared grunts with machine guns, was making a statement about “searching every damn house in the territory if we have to,” while security mercenaries, FBI and presumably CIA agents crawled all over the press conference room.

Faruk was watching the same broadcast in his office, but what he saw made him shiver: plain as day, Big Ears, Dewey Clarridge, was standing off to the side in a doorway behind Franks. Two days ago he was in Beirut. Now, right after Chalabi’s murder, he turns up in Baghdad. Then the reporter from Tehran mentioned someone named Downing, the interim CPA administrator in Bremer’s absence, who announced his people were expecting to make contact with the kidnappers soon.

“Downing, Downing, where have I heard that name?” Faruk said to himself. Then Bush was on from Washington announcing the reassignment of “General Wayne Downing from the Department of Homeland Security to the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq, I mean, the Iranian Provisional Authority--in Iran.” That was it, he was Tom Ridge’s deputy, one of the formulators of the Bush policy on the War on Terrorism. He and Clarridge were old pals from the Reagan White House. Life in the Middle East was worse than a broken record—it was a recurring nightmare where the British and Americans just kept fucking things up, as though they couldn’t do that on their own. Former CIA chief James Woolsey’s wetdream of “World War Four” seemed to be coming to pass. Faruk felt nauseous. Then the phone rang.

“Faruk, this is Ice. Abdullah and Sabrina got in a Mercedes with some businessmen at the beach yesterday afternoon. You want anything else?”

“No. Wait, tell your cousin you need his contact in the militia that knew someone in Mossad I need his help. I think it was a CIA abduction. I’ll give them whatever they want to let him and the girl go.”

“OK, but this is way out of our league. How much money you got?”

“I’ll get what it takes. Just find them.”

“All right, bye.”


No sooner had Mohammed and the Reuters news team taken off from Beirut International Airport, than Baghdad Airport was closed to all commercial flights by General Franks, forcing them to reroute to Kuwait where convoys to British-controlled Basra were still allowing reporters and NGOs struggling with the cholera epidemic access. Cut off now from both Tehran and Baghdad by air, whoever was in was in, and whoever was out was out. The Reuters team decided to go for their fallback assignment, which was to get an interview with Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who returned two years earlier after twenty-three years in exile in Iran. Mohammed decided to tag along.

Most of the embedded network news lackeys who had accompanied the American invasion forces in 2002 were now reluctant to enter the southern zone--where not only cholera and drive-by grenade launchings were randomly taking out locals and occupiers alike--so there were usually open seats on the supply train of trucks moving bottled water, medicine and foodstuffs into Iraq from the Kuwait supply depots. Mohammed rode up front in between two chain-smoking British Marines bemoaning the day they joined Tony Blair’s disaster in Iraq. Actually, what they called it was, “Cracked in Iraq.” “If you weren’t cracked before you got here,” as one put it, “you sure as bloody hell would be when you left.”

“One hundred thirty degrees Fahrenheit, sand in everything, piles of burning corpses along the roadside, and kids with Kalashnikovs spraying lead at military police when they stopped for Cokes at neighborhood cafes was enough to make everyone edgy,” thought Mohammed. “If you were wearing a flak vest and steel helmet and twenty pounds of gear,” he figured, “you might be like a walking cluster bomb ready to go off in several directions at any minute.”

“So what are you going to do when we get to Basra?” the one driving asked him.

“We’re supposed to cover a press conference by the Army of Mohammed. Maybe get an interview with Ayatollah al-Hakim. How about you guys?”

“Oh, we thought we’d check in at the Sheraton, take a swim in the pool, have some dinner and drinks, and maybe take in a movie. Ha-ha.”

“Yah,” said the other grunt, “there’s some real babes in burqas in Basra. Ha-ha.”

Mohammed smiled but didn’t reply.

Back in 2003, he recalled, al-Hakim was still an accommodationist, waiting to see how the political power battles shook out. Now, after three years under the occupation, the nuking of Tehran, and the repeated violations of women, children, elders and holy places under operation Desert Scorpion, jihad was tacitly if not overtly supported by all the mullahs in the region. Moderates were those willing to let the Europeans and Americans leave the lands of Islam without shooting them in the back as they left.


Abdullah had been missing for two days now, and Ahmed had gone to the police with a photo of his son. They said they’d keep an eye out, but with no leads, couldn’t really do much. Faruk hadn’t gotten anywhere either. They both sat quietly together outside Ali Baba’s sipping tea and smoking while listening to BBC World Service: The Army of Mohammed announced today that the US and UN hostages taken yesterday in Baghdad and Tehran are just the beginning. Additional hostages will be taken in the weeks ahead if there is no movement toward the departure of foreign troops. As proof of there intentions, the alleged finger of Paul Bremer was delivered today by Taleban emissaries to Northern Alliance figures in Kabul. The Army of Mohammed press release in Karachi, Pakistan announced one finger a day would be sent to various American-backed warlords and political puppets throughout the region until all occupying troops are gone.

Ahmed sighed and looked at Faruk as he said, “So this is the War on Terrorism? How long will America hold on to this fantasy?”

“Until power plants and refineries and maybe shopping malls start blowing up in Kansas City and Cleveland, I suppose. As long as they have electricity and DVDs and can drive around aimlessly and buy plastic junk at Wal Mart, they don’t give a shit about the rest of the world living in hell. Or maybe, just maybe, as the fingers of captured military governors and diplomats start to add up—like the days on the TV screen when CBS covered the Iran hostage crisis under President Carter—Americans won’t be able to stand the gruesomeness intruding into their Martha Stewart/Homer Simpson/Arnold Schwarznegger dream world. Then again, maybe Junior’ll flip out completely at a breakfast prayer meeting and launch nuclear holocaust on all of us.”

“I just wish I knew where to look for Abdullah. He’s all I have.”

“I’m sure he’ll turn up,” Faruk offered consolingly.

“Soon, I hope. I haven’t been able to sleep a wink.”


When the interview with al-Hakim failed to materialize after the uneventful press conference calling on all Muslims to follow the will of Allah by low-level messengers of the now-banished clerics, Mohammed went for Cokes with Salim, the Al Jazeera photographer he’d met in spring 2003 after an American tank intentionally blew away the Palestine Hotel where a couple hundred journalists were holed up covering the entry of US forces into Baghdad. Reporters weren’t being targeted for assassination anymore, but it was still good to write PRESS with magic marker on your vest and cap, given how trigger-happy the Yanks had gotten.

As Mohammed and Salim wandered down the alleyway toward a neighborhood soda shop, two men walked out of a doorway, paused, and left in opposite directions. One of them was soon accompanied by three gunmen all of whom jumped into a car and drove past Salim and Mohammed slowly as they exited the alley onto an arterial. The man in the center of the back seat was Duane Clarridge. Mohammed stopped Salim, and said, “I need a photo of the guy walking down the alley ahead of us, but he can’t see me take it. Run up to him and get him to stop and turn. I only need a second.”

After setting his vest and camera in a doorway, Salim ran down the alley calling, “Abdul, Abdul, wait. Where have you been?” When he pulled up alongside the man and said, “Abdul, what’s your hurry?” the man stopped and turned just long enough to say, “I think you have me confused with someone else,” and proceeded to walk briskly away.
But it was long enough for Mohammed to get two or three shots from the doorway. When the man was gone, he grabbed Salim’s gear and the two of them went on to the café.

“So what was that all about?” asked Salim.

“The guy in the car that came out of the building with the guy you stopped is ex-CIA. He was in Beirut yesterday. I don’t know who Abdul is, but I’ll bet it might be worth finding out. I’m going to wire the photo back to Beirut and see if they can identify him. I’ll let you know what I find out. Meet you at the hotel for dinner.”

When the wire came in at Al Sirrah, Faruk went directly into the photo file room and pulled the Basra Occupation file and spread photos across the table under the hanging lamp in the middle of the room. Nothing there. “OK,” he thought, “not an occupation figure, maybe he’s intelligence.” He returned the occupation folder and pulled the Basra Intelligence folder and sorted through the hundred or so photos there. Still no match. “Hmm,” he pondered, “Could he be resistance? A secret parley with Baathists or Shiites by American spooks? Not unimaginable,” he thought.

He yanked the Basra Resistance folder without replacing the intelligence file and spread them out, shoving the spook photos aside. There in the middle of the mess was his man, only this photo was of a guy in uniform, not a business suit. On the back of the photo, the label read General Ali Hassan al-Majeed, Commander of Iraqi Forces in Southern Iraq—cousin of Saddam Hussein. “Oh my god,” he thought, “I can’t run this story with Mohammed in Basra. He’d be dead inside a half hour.” Faruk wired Mohammed to return to Beirut as soon as possible, just as the phone rang.

“Hello,” he answered.

“Faruk, Ice, Abdullah and the girl are alive and well, but whoever has them doesn’t want money—they want the disc, and, they want to never see the photo of Clarridge in Beirut published or referenced, or you and Abdullah and the girl will all be killed. If you agree, they’ll release him in a week.”

“Of course I agree, but why a week?”

“That’s all they said. I’ll let them know.”

Faruk held the receiver listening to the dial tone for a moment before putting it down. How would his brother hold up for another seven days? This was awful, and he felt responsible. At least by then Mohammed would be back and they could figure out what to do about the story they couldn’t run. Life was getting complicated, even for him. The news business was harried enough without family getting involved. Now, their lives were all in danger. If Al Jazeera or some paper picked up on what Mohammed and he had stumbled on, the hostage holders would assume they’d broken the deal—what a nightmare.


While Faruk waited for word that Mohammed had safely reached Kuwait, Ahmed aimlessly walked the boulevard, their neighborhood and the beach, taking his first “vacation” since Abdullah’s mother had died ten years earlier. The Army of Mohammed, however, was not on vacation, and the threatened diplomatic digits continued to arrive in Kabul right on schedule—one a day. US senators and congressmen went ballistic on CNN, Tom Delay threatening to, “obliterate every mosque between Israel and India if necessary.” President Bush was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I’ll fly the damn plane myself.”

According to the Beirut Times, Russian President Putin, French President Chirac, and Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu offered Bush their assistance. Britain’s acting Prime Minister, Right Honorable Geoffrey Hoon—who stepped in at Number Ten Downing after Tony Blair’s intelligence fabrication scandal and subsequent cover-up resulted in his removal by vote of no confidence in March—said British forces were, “already cooperating fully with the Americans.”

The next afternoon, when Mohammed phoned from Kuwait Airport, CNNs Christiane Amanpour was on Faruk’s office TV reporting of, “The capture of Baathist General and Saddam Hussein cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed by American forces in Damascus.” Mohammed said, “I’m watching it here on TV in the terminal. You sure you don’t want me to go to Damascus?”

“No,” Faruk replied, “and don’t talk with anyone before you see me. Abdullah’s life depends on it.”


While Mohammed was in the air heading for Beirut, Salim in Baghdad wired his boss in Qatar that Majeed had been seen the day before in Basra meeting with an unnamed ex-CIA agent. Al Jazeera ran the story that night. Having missed his dinner appointment, Mohammed had been unable to fill Salim in on Clarridge, or, the need to sit tight on it for a few days. Faruk, meanwhile, went out to one, find Ice to tell him to tell his contacts they had nothing to do with the Al Jazeera story, and two, to ask another underworld contact of his about making a quiet boat trip to Cyprus on short notice. All this was taking a toll on Faruk’s nerves, and his cash supply. He didn’t know what he would say to Ahmed or their parents if he and Mohammed had to go into hiding. He couldn’t bear to think of Abdullah being killed. Ahmed was already a wreck from sleep deprivation and worry; he’d never recover from losing his son.

At the candy shop, CNN carried the response to the capture of Majeed: White House spokesman Eugene Scalia announced today the capture of General Majeed was the result of the close cooperation between American and Israeli intelligence in Operation Roundup, the new joint defense, intelligence and diplomatic venture between Israel and the United States launched in May. Vice President Cheney will present the administration’s five hundred billion dollar supplemental request for the venture to Congress tomorrow. According to Tommy Franks, General Majeed is being held in an undisclosed location outside Iraq where he is being questioned.

Ahmed put out his cigarette in the tray on the counter next to the passport photo machine and walked out of the candy shop to go help get Ali Baba’s tables ready for the after work crowd. He’d given up walking around the neighborhood looking for Abdullah, and he couldn’t stand sitting at home, so he’d returned to work where he went through the motions of thirty years’ habits without thinking.

Abdullah and Sabrina sat quietly in the back of the Mercedes between the musclemen as they passed the hippodrome and other Roman ruins of Tyre, twenty miles north of the Israeli border. As they approached the crossing at Rosh Hanikra, their guards pressed the barrels of their pistols into their ribs as a reminder to stay quiet. When they stopped in line at the border, they could see the throngs of Israeli tourists on the other side queued up at the cable car station that transported gawkers down to the sea caves and the old Beirut-to-Haifa train tunnel carved through the chalk cliffs and put out of commission during the 1948 war when Jewish guerrillas blew up the trestles. Oddly, Abdullah felt excited and wished he could stop and explore the grottoes with Sabrina, momentarily forgetting they were not on vacation. Sabrina squeezed his hand and smiled without parting her lips.

The Lebanese customs officer asked the driver for identification and passports from his window in the booth next to the car. The driver handed four passports to the official explaining, “My nephew and niece had theirs stolen at the beach when we were visiting Tripoli. I told them to leave them at the hotel desk, but you know how young people are.”

The official laughed and replied, “Yes, always with their minds in the clouds. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask them to step out of the car and answer a few questions and sign some forms. It will only take a moment—you can pull off to the side by the main building over there.”

“Oh,” the driver said, “I forgot to show you this,” and handed a small bundle of currency folded inside his insurance wallet he kept clipped to the visor. The official looked at the cash and paused a second or two and pressed a button under his window that buzzed the military guards between the Lebanese and Israeli checkpoints and said, “Please pull over to the curb and get out of the vehicle,” as he handed back the wallet, and two soldiers with machine guns walked toward them.

When they got out, the official escorted Abdullah and Sabrina inside the building and down the hall into separate rooms where secretaries waited to take their statements. Outside, the two guards watched over the three other passengers who casually smoked and joked while leaning on the Mercedes, offering cigarettes to the soldiers who politely declined. As the official returned to his booth, Abdullah and Sabrina stunned the secretaries, announcing, “We were kidnapped. The three men outside have guns.”

When four more soldiers left the checkpoint headed toward the car, the three men pulled their guns and started shooting, wounding the two guards severely, but were quickly killed by the other soldiers before they could get in the Mercedes. The area around the car was immediately cleared by soldiers and customs and police while a bomb squad rapidly tore apart the car looking for explosives. When the smoke cleared, three men lay dead on the pavement, and the customs official held three Israeli passports and two Lebanese young adults in custody. After verifying that they had no criminal records, and confirming with the Beirut police that the two had been reported missing, they were allowed to wait in the lounge for the customs minivan that would drive them back to Beirut. In the meantime, Abdullah phoned his uncle Faruk.

“We’re at Rosh Hanikra crossing. We were kidnapped, but we’re all right. I don’t know what’s going on, but Customs is giving us a ride home in a few minutes. I couldn’t reach dad. Could you tell him we’ll be back for dinner?”

“Of course,” Faruk replied, “We can all meet at Ali Baba’s. I’ll explain what I know about this then. I’m so glad you’re OK. I’ll phone D’jour’s as well.”


In a small village near Tabriz, in the mountains of northwestern Iran, one hundred miles from the Azerbaijan border, Paul Bremer and Sergio de Mello sat handcuffed and tied to two uncomfortable wooden chairs in a cold, dark room with no light or window. Bremer’s handcuffs, covered with dried blood from the rudimentary surgeries of the preceding week, had rubbed deep welts into his wrists when he struggled and thrashed before fainting from the pain of non-anesthetized amputation. De Mello’s face looked almost as haggard—unshaved, unwashed, uncombed, dark eye rings and deep furrows in his brow.

This was homeland security—Middle East style. Not so different from the American style now that POWs held in Guantanamo had been held, tortured, executed and driven to suicide since the Afghanistan invasion in 2002. Both the Americans and their enemies throughout the ten occupied countries of the Middle East had long dispensed with the Geneva conventions; murder, assassination—indeed terrorism—were now the norm in this two thousand miles square free-fire zone, an open battlefield round-the-clock where depleted uranium radiation-poisoned infantry fought heavily-armed bandits and smugglers and religious zealots seeking martyrdom and revenge. Back in the states, where the draft had been reinstated to bolster the million man force policing the region, riots and shootouts--involving draft resisters, urban gangs, Homeland Security paramilitaries, FBI and local SWAT teams—had erupted in all major cities and were claiming a thousand lives a month. Ever since Bush rode into a second term on the coattails of the public outcry for revenge of the August 2004 truck-bomb slaughter of five hundred forty Marines in Kuwait, the shit had definitely hit the fan.

Ahmed and Abdullah held each other closely in silence for several minutes before sitting down to hear what Faruk had to tell them. Sabrina was still in a daze and barely touched her baklava and espresso. Hesitatingly, solemnly, Faruk said, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea it would come to this. Abdullah’s photos at D’jour’s caught an ex-CIA spook meeting with an Israeli counterpart. When he asked Sabrina about them, somehow they must have found out. They threatened the paper and all of us if this came out. Al Jazeera has already reported the unnamed US spook spotted with General Majeed in Basra had been seen in Beirut the day before. Mohammed and all of us could be in danger. I’ve arranged for a boat to take us to Cyprus to lay low until we can sort this out. Now that your abductors are dead, there’s no telling what might happen.”

Ahmed and Abdullah were speechless; Sabrina began to sip her coffee, and then spoke softly, “I saw the American again, after Abdullah asked me about him. I told him Abdullah thought he was a French movie star, but that I told him he was American—not French. I didn’t think anything of it until now. I can’t go back to work now; I can’t even go home. What will I do?”

“You must stay with us,” said Abdullah. “We’ll be all right.”

“I’m going to call the paper and tell them I’m taking a few days off. Then we have to meet Mohammed at the airport and go directly from there to the boat that’ll take us to Cyprus. There’s no time to wait, and no one we can tell. I’ll meet you outside by the taxi stand in two minutes.”

When Faruk walked into the airport lounge closest to the gate where Mohammed’s flight would arrive, he glanced up at the TV screen tuned to Al Jazeera, whose anchorwoman announced, Israeli special forces today rescued the US and UN hostages taken in Baghdad and Tehran last week. The dramatic raid involving commandoes from the same brigade that rescued Israeli civilians held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, was carried out with only minor injuries to the soldiers. All the captors are reported dead.

Faruk saw Mohammed coming up the ramp and walked over to help him with his bags and lead him out to the waiting cab. “What is going on?” he asked. “Why the sudden change of plans? This is the biggest story I’ve been on.”

“They found out we have the photo from D’jour’s, and threatened to kill us all if it’s published. Now Al Jazeera is on their trail, and they probably think we provided the lead. We’re going to Cyprus by boat right now. I’ll fill you in after we’re under way.”

They all sat in silence, except for normal pleasantries, which were anything but normal under the circumstances. The driver might have thought it was some sort of family reunion by their behavior. Still, they had him drop them all at a beach hotel, where they all stood outside the lobby fiddling with luggage until he drove away--just in case. Then they all walked in two groups headed in different directions that later converged at the visitor float by the trailer ramp mid way along the promenade, where a three-seat wooden runabout with a twelve cylinder gas engine sat with two fellows in sporty, striped long-sleeve jerseys, yachting caps and khakis. The five of them wasted no time getting aboard and only began to relax a little once they were up on a plane doing thirty knots toward Cyprus. None of them had any idea what the next day might bring. They all silently hoped their lives could return to the way they were a week ago; they all suspected they never would.


The palm-lined promenade in front of their Larnaka waterfront hotel reminded them of home. Even the strong coffee and sweet nut rolls served in the open air cafes could have been Lebanese. Greek, however, bore little resemblance to Arabic, so they conversed in French when out in public. Not that it mattered much; with all the tourists flocking into Larnaka International Airport, a few more foreigners hardly stood out in this southeastern Cypriot port. They had enough money for a week, and then who knew what. They dare not use credit cards or make phone calls or send e-mail, so they walked and sat and talked and disentangled their story they could never tell and might not survive.

As they sat on the steps near the bathing area, Mohammed--the least burdened with guilt or trauma—suggested, “Perhaps the story of a CIA and Mossad meeting in Beirut days before a joint US/Israeli rescue of hostages in Iran means nothing anymore. Maybe the thugs who threatened us would even be pleased.”

“Maybe,” said Faruk, “but the question is was the American spook there to prevent a kidnapping or to plan one? Or was he just arranging a dramatic capture? Or trading information for sanctuary? Or all of the above?”

“What does it matter?” Sabrina asked. “You have no photo of Majeed with Big Ears—only with some Jew. So Al Jazeera mistook somebody for Majeed in Basra, or Majeed went to Damascus to escape into Lebanon and the Americans caught him.”

“And Big Ears wasn’t seen in Basra unless Mohammed says so,” Abdullah piped in. “Al Jazeera has no photo of him, and any old photos they might have are probably decades old,” he added. “We might not be in any trouble at all.”

It was left to Ahmed to dampen their soaring spirits, pointing out, “the key is to find out who the Israeli in Beirut was. That might be the reason they threatened you, not the American.”

Faruk looked at his brother acknowledging that this was the missing piece they had to uncover—whether they ever told the story or not.

As they walked back to the hotel for a shower before dinner, Faruk stopped into a newsstand for a Times and cigarettes. When he stopped to glance at the headlines after lighting a smoke, he saw a minor heading below the fold, US Congress approves massive new funding for military aid to Israel to combat Palestinian and Syrian terrorism. Mid East Peace Plan on hold—Plan Promised Land to wed US and Israeli forces in governing Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Iran. Bush praises Netanyahu’s cooperation in recent rescues. “That’s what this was about,” he thought. “The whole mess was choreographed—or at least taken advantage of—to get the Peace Plan killed and double Bush’s warmongering budget.”

“You’re probably right,” remarked Mohammed, when he told him his theory, “but we could never prove it, even if we could write it and live to tell about it. All we could dredge up is that unaccountable US spooks are doing more of what they’ve been doing since Truman was in office. Nobody cares—especially not Congress or the American people. All they want is the oil; a few thousand or million more dead Arabs is fine with them.”

“I know,” said Faruk, “fantasy and reality hardly seem to matter. It’s like under Reagan—only worse, a lot worse.”


“Unless different standards for the release of information to the courts are adopted by the intelligence agencies, we face the likelihood that former high officials cannot be tried for crimes related to their conduct in public office…There is a very serious danger that a ritualistic application of classification procedures will insulate most if not all officers responsible for national security from prosecution…”
--Letter to President Bush from Lawrence Walsh, Office of the Independent Counsel. October 19, 1989

“President Bush’s pardon of …Iran-contra defendants undermines the principle that no man is above the law…The Iran-contra cover-up…has now been completed…”
--Statement of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh. December 24, 1992

[see Return Engagement for the abbreviated screenplay version: ]

--Jay Taber


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