As an optometrist, I had the opportunity to travel around Iraq providing eye care to soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and detainees in prison. I was the only optometrist on our base, so I stayed very busy. One day a medical commander asked me if I would be willing to visit different prisons and examine detainees. He explained that the Red Cross had asked us to provide eye care in the prisons. I said I would go if my commander so directed. He responded, “I know, but are you willing to go?” I agreed to be of assistance to anyone who needed me.
Once I agreed, I was told that my patients were going to be HVDs (High Value Detainees)—prisoners of special importance. Some of the eyes I examined belong to those featured on the “Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards.” These cards were issued by the U.S. military to help troops identify the most-wanted members of President Saddam Hussein’s government.
To meet with these people and provide them with medical care was a very interesting experience. I had to ponder what I was about to do in my own mind prior to seeing them. At one time I thought, “Should I help these people?” I finally came to the conclusion that regardless of who they are and what atrocities they have done, they are still human beings. They are still children of our Father in Heaven. Without rationalizing their actions, I do not believe they should be treated like animals. The actions of others don’t determine how you must react to them. With that in mind, it was not hard for me to perform my duty.
When I first arrived, not many patients had signed up to see me. My first few patients went back and told the other prisoner-patients that I was a nice doctor who cared. The next day I had more patients, and my numbers tripled the third day. I put in some long hours. One of my final patients was Saddam Hussein. When I was examining him I did not want him to think he was getting any notoriety, and so I treated him with the same courtesy I did all my patients. He was respectful to me but seemed very old and depressed. Considering the background of those whom I examined, I was pleasantly surprised at the courtesy and politeness shown to me.
I will never forget what they all did after the examination. Before leaving the room, each prisoner placed his right hand over his heart and bowed. Each one, without fail, made this sincere expression of gratitude .They did not have to do this, but they did. That really had an impact on me. One prisoner expressed his gratitude in a very unique way. The prisoners were not allowed to have anything to write with. So he created watercolors form the MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat), placed them in a drop of water, and used the dye as watercolor paint. Using “Skittles paint” and a stick, he painted a picture for me as a way to say “thank you.”
I was there to provide medical attention, not to judge them. However, in the back of my mind I thought about how the Lamanites were at times a “blood-thirsty people” (Mosiah 10:12). Their traditions, culture, and teachings led many astray, and yet when they were taught the gospel many embraced it wholly. Maybe under different circumstances some of these people may have turned out differently.
Major Bruce G. Flint, Washington Army National Guard, Faith in the Service, p55–57.