Bill Moyers
February 15, 2008
Photojournalist Lori Grinker on Displaced Iraqis

BILL MOYERS: Earlier we talked about what is the highest military budget since World War II. But there is another cost to war that cannot be reckoned in dollars. I mean the shattered lives we don't know about — the scars we never see — what euphemistically we call "collateral damage."

This cost was brought home to me a few weeks ago at an exhibit here in New York of photographs of displaced Iraqis — refugees who have been uprooted by the invasion and occupation. There are over 4 million displaced Iraqis — almost 2.5 million trying to survive inside the country, another 2 million who have fled to other countries. Many have gone next door, to Amman, Jordan.

The photojournalist Lori Grinker traveled to Amman to record their stories, and when I saw her photographs at the exhibit, I asked her to talk about them here on the Journal. It's good to see you. I look at your photographs and I have a hard time imagining how I would cope with that sort of — with that disruption, with the devastation, with the uncertainty, with the fact that everything known to me has been ripped away and there's nothing left.

LORI GRINKER: Yes. And yet they manage to laugh, and the kids manage to be kids and play. They don't have many hopes of going back to Iraq. And, you know, and they've lived through terrible atrocities. There isn't anybody that doesn't have a traumatic story.

FATIN: After the system fell apart in Iraq, we were left with nothing and life became very difficult. The militias started to make the difference between the different peoples of Iraq. We were surrounded by terrorists and violence.

BILL MOYERS: As Lori Grinker photographed and interviewed the refugees in Amman, she videotaped the stories of what had happened to them in Iraq and collaborated on a film called Life Interrupted. Be forewarned: the stories and images are as unsettling as the war that caused them.

FATIN: One day a group of militia came into the house. They beat my father, they beat my husband, they beat my brothers. One of my sisters, they stabbed her in the back and they cut her legs, then they took her into a room and shut the door. They raped her. They raped her in our family house with the door shut with the rest of my family in the other room. Rape is normal now. The militias think that they can just come and take any girl. We don't have anyone to complain to.

LORI GRINKER: This is Fatin and three of her four children, and her husband. They all live in, you know, very cramped quarters. This is the kitchen. This is – it's pretty typical of how a lot of families eat. You know, on the floor, they spread out newspapers. Her husband Sameer did the cooking. So it was eggs mixed with tomatoes and bread and that was their main meal. You know, one thing is, they might not have any furniture &mdash some actually didn't have furniture in their homes and they always have a T.V. So that's their connection to the outside world. And T.V. really is a way to pass the time. Even the adults, some of them, stay up all night, watching the news or watching old movies and it's really a way for them to get through this. And some of these people have been there for two or three years.

BILL MOYERS: What happens when you live that long in limbo?

LORI GRINKER: Very quickly a few weeks turns into a few months and into a few years.

FURMAN: My life is in danger. My life is in danger because I work with U.S. forces.

BILL MOYERS: Furman worked for the Americans as a translator. Like a lot of Iraqis who cooperated with U.S. forces, he now has no means of support and no place to go.

LORI GRINKER: He's "Turkman." From what I understand, it's Iraqi Turkish. And that's why he was so helpful to the Americans because he speaks so many languages. That's in Amman, in his apartment. He had been living in — I mean he's a very long story. But —

BILL MOYERS: And he can never go back to his home.

LORI GRINKER: His family is afraid that if he's around they'll have trouble.

BILL MOYERS: A man without a country for now. Right?


FURMAN: There is a lot of Iraqi translators that work with me in that time, they get killed. They get killed, they ask, they ask to help, they ask to help. No one helped them. If they catch me, I swear of the God, I am not safe, even here.

LORI GRINKER: You know, some of these people, especially those who worked with the Americans, welcomed the Americans with opened arms. They came to their neighborhood, and they would come over for lunch. And, you know, give candy to the children. And then, suddenly, it was the children throwing rocks. And it — you know, it suddenly changed. And it's like one day, you know, they were supporting the Americans, and the next day everybody turned against them and the Americans.

BILL MOYERS: This is Fadi, one of three brothers who helped the Americans.

FADI: My family helped the U.S. troops when the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. After one year from our work my middle brother he gets shot in his face so we went to the hospital and I find my brother's face like a big ball — red ball — and I didn't know him. The hospital in Baghdad is very very bad. My brother Jamal, he get killed — three cars come up with twelve people armed — come to him and try to kidnap him but when he resists, they just give him a shot. And his family they were in the same restaurant. So after that, you know, I know I will be the next.

LORI GRINKER: That was the afternoon prayer. See Iraq and Amman are an hour different from each other. So some of the Muslims follow the Call to Prayer from Iraqi T.V. Some of their lives have changed since I photographed this. Fadi, he's in Australia now he was turned down for the United States and he got accepted into Australia.

BILL MOYERS: Why was he turned down, do you know?

LORI GRINKER: He doesn't know. I mean, he was a translator, he should have been accepted.

BILL MOYERS: Why was his brother shot? He'd left the service of the United States. He was running a restaurant.

LORI GRINKER: I don't think that matters. And that's why a lot of them say they can never go back. It doesn't matter if you're no longer working with the U.S. You did and you're a traitor and you sided with the enemy.

BILL MOYERS: These women on the bus. That photograph was at the exhibit.

LORI GRINKER: It's very subtle. You don't notice right away that these are wounded people. This is actually — these are women in their forties who, one had just been married. And they were hit by snipers in their car.

BILL MOYERS: And here they're on their way —

LORI GRINKER: They arrived in the military airport in Amman, and then Doctors Without Borders has a van that brings them into downtown Amman.

BILL MOYERS: On the invitation to your exhibit was this photograph. Tell me about that.

LORI GRINKER: This is a 16-year-old who was walking down the street a few years ago in Baghdad, and a petrol truck was bombed. And so he was all burned up. His father's taken him to Cairo for surgeries. To — he was taken to Iran, but was unable to be treated there because he has a Sunni name. And then found their way to Doctors Without Borders in Amman, and is being treated there now. Some are there for a year having these reconstructive surgeries. And you know, I think there's a picture where he's filming me. He's just standing in the hallway where Doctors Without Borders have their patients in-between surgeries. So he's just following me around with this little video camera. Like just a typical teenager. He wants to email with me, although he doesn't speak English.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about Zena.

LORI GRINKER: She was the sole survivor of an internet cafe bombing. She was emailing with a relative overseas. And she had just signed off. And she said — and people were flying. So the place exploded.

BILL MOYERS: Where was this?


BILL MOYERS: She was the sole survivor?


ZENA: I go to the cafe, internet cafe, there was a bombing in the building. I have six operations, in my two hands, and face, and legs. And I am crying because I never see my friends. And I want to be home.

BILL MOYERS: Among the many who fled to Jordan to escape the violence in Iraq, Lori Grinker was especially drawn to a woman named Zahar.

LORI GRINKER: She was kidnapped. And her family had to find a ransom. And you know, some people come up with the ransoms and they still don't get their family members back. Just about everybody I've met has had somebody in their family kidnapped, or two members. And they ask for $10,000 normally or $5,000. It's very common.

ZAHAR: That day they killed our dog. When my mother jumped up and they hit her in the face. My brother, when he saw them beating my mother, couldn't bear it, and he jumped up too and leapt on them. They stabbed him. They stabbed him all over his body. They stabbed him in his arms, and in his chest, and in his back. When my mother saw them beating and stabbing her son, she couldn't bear it either and she jumped up again. They stabbed her in the heart.

BILL MOYERS: It's hard to understand what it is to be orphaned by history. You know, to just be rolled over.

LORI GRINKER: It's — you know, they're followed by the war now, and will be forever. And that's what I want to document. You know the war doesn't leave them. For them, they're living it. And they're living it all the time. And these people will be living it forever. These people's stories can tell us the story of the Iraq war. To see individuals, kids and teenagers and, you know, families without any idea of what's going to happen in the future, and that it's all related to this war, I hope that will teach the story of this war. It's a very long road for them.

BILL MOYERS: Lori Grinker is still following the people you saw in those photographs. And by the way, Fadi's brother Samir, who was shot in the face, is one of the few Iraqis who has been granted asylum in the U.S. His mother and nephew will arrive in March.

That's it for the Journal. Next week, a report from that other war — Afghanistan. I'm Bill Moyers.

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