"My Son Is a Murderer" -- The Gut-Wrenching Realities Facing Military Moms
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RA: Talk about how you went about finding your son. Soldiers are not allowed to tell their mothers, their children even, where they're located.
SG: Right. I was staying in a hotel where there were a lot of unembedded journalists, including Mike Ferner and Dahr Jamail. Ferner had been doing a lot of research in the area and said, "This is how you get in touch with the public affairs officer," and he gave me her e-mail.
I e-mailed her and said, "I'm coming. This is when I expect to be there. Let me know if there's a problem. Otherwise, I'll see you then." She never responded. I hired Jamail's translator, who was a Shiite, and he drove me into a Sunni area.
You don't really think about all of this stuff when you're on your own mission. He told me that he was recently married and his wife was pregnant. I said, "It makes no sense for you to be taking me. Why are you doing this?" And he said, "Because you're a mother."
RA: When you got to the base, how did the military treat you?
SG: I was wearing a hijab, so they didn't recognize me as an American, of course. I walked up to one guy, and he said, "Ma'am, get back in your car." He had this huge M-16 or M-4 or something over his shoulder. I said, "I'm expected here. I have business here." He said, "Get back in your car!" I took the hijab off and I waved my passport. And then they were like, "Oh, what are you doing here? You're American." It was a totally different situation suddenly.
RA: You spent 80 minutes with your son. You don't spend much time writing about the interaction.
SG: I wanted to keep that personal. We talked about my concerns, and then we just hung out. He showed me where the missiles come into the base at night. This is not a story about my son's time in the military: This is about the mothers who are in the war zones.
RA: What was it about that experience that led you on this journey of interviewing mothers in Israel, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan?
SG: The first person I met the very next day was Anwar. She lost three of her children and her husband in a shooting that our troops had perpetrated. It's called a "random shooting accident," so there's never really any follow-up. Anwar had lost her whole family. She didn't have a future.
When I interviewed her, she said, "I want the whole world to know what's happening here." I realized at that point that we weren't getting the whole picture. I really felt like I needed to help Americans understand what was going on.
Subsequently, we've lost track of Anwar. I don't know if she's still in Baghdad. I don't know if she's in Syria. We don't know where she is.
RA: She could be one of the almost 3 million internally displaced Iraqis or one of the 2 million who've been forced to flee the country.
SG: That's right.
RA: In some ways, you were like an unembedded journalist yourself, talking to people we rarely hear from in this country. You were traveling around with a translator talking to mothers about their experiences.
SG: And trying to get the story that's not out there. Why don't we ask ordinary people, "What's going on with you?" They are the "collateral damage," and we're not interested. That's the problem.