Christine

Visions Of Life
2003-04-01 18:15:00 (UTC)

Peace Activists

Published on Monday, March 31, 2003 by the Associated
Press

American Peace Activists Confirm Iraqi Hospital Bombed, by
Charles Hanley

AMMAN, Jordan - Bruised and bleeding, in need of medical
care, the Americans stranded in Iraq's western desert
approached the mud-brick town and found the hospital
destroyed by bombs.

"Why? Why?" a doctor demanded of them. "Why did you
Americans bomb our children's hospital?" Scores of Iraqi
townspeople crowded around.


Peggy Gish, right, talks to members of the media about her
experience in Iraq as her colleague Kara Speltz, left,
looks on, shortly after their arrival in the Jordanian
capital of Amman late Sunday, March 30, 2003. The group of
nine peace activists left Baghdad Saturday morning in
three vehicles. One of them, lagging well behind the
others, blew a tire past the far western small Iraqi town
of Rutbah, spun out and landed on its side in a ditch.
Iraqis took five injured men to Rutbah, where they found a
hospital that had been bombed by U.S-led coalition forces,
but Iraqi medical staff ``enthusiastically'' treated their
injuries and sent them on their way. (AP Photo/Lefteris
Pitarakis)

The American peace activists' account was the first
confirmation of a report last week that a hospital in
Rutbah was bombed Wednesday, with dead and injured. The
travelers said they saw no significant Iraqi military
presence near the hospital or elsewhere in Rutbah. The
doctor did not discuss casualties, the Americans said.

U.S. Central Command said Sunday it had no knowledge of a
hospital bombing in Rutbah. The U.S. military has said it
is doing its best to avoid civilian casualties in its
campaign to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

For the battered band of peace activists, recounting their
nerve-jarring exit from Iraq on Sunday, it was one of the
worst moments in 10 days of war.

That exit had begun at 9:15 a.m. Saturday, when a dozen
foreigners — eight Americans and one Irish member of the
Iraq Peace Team, and three unaffiliated Japanese and South
Korean activists — set out from Baghdad on the 300-mile
(480-kilometer) trek to the western border with Jordan,
through a nation at war.

Members of the antiwar group have shuttled in and out of
the Iraqi capital for months to take part in vigils, small
demonstrations and other activities to protest U.S. war
plans. Since March 20, they have borne witness and
compiled reports on the U.S. bombing of Baghdad.

Some who left Saturday had been ordered out by jittery
Iraqi bureaucrats for a minor infraction — taking
snapshots in Baghdad without an official escort. Others
said they left to get out the story of the Baghdad
bombing.

The journey was a straight shot through the gritty western
desert, the Badiyat ash-Sham, over a divided superhighway
eerily empty of traffic. American special forces and
warplanes have been staging raids and air attacks on
isolated targets across the west.

"I'd say we passed up to 20 bombed-out, burned-out
vehicles along the way," said Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove,
22, a student from Devon, Pennsylvania. Four were Iraqi
tanks and other military vehicles, he said, but the others
appeared to be civilian, including a bus and an ambulance.

"We had to detour around a bombed-out bridge, dodge
lightpoles down across the road," said Shane Claiborne,
27, a community organizer from Philadelphia.

Three times the group — in a big white GMC Suburban and
two yellow taxis — spotted bomb explosions nearby. The
last, in early afternoon, occurred near the far-western
town of Rutbah. Their Iraqi drivers' nerves were fraying
as they sped toward Jordan at 80 mph (130 kph).

"He kept going faster, faster," Betty Scholten, 69, of
Mount Rainier, Maryland, said of her driver.

Suddenly the lagging taxi, pushing to catch up, blew a
tire. It careened, spun out of control and plunged down a
ditch, landing on its side. "It was a heavy hit,"
Claiborne said. All five men inside were hurt. "We pulled
each other up through the side doors."

A passing car eventually braked to a halt. The Iraqis
inside got out, helped the injured into their vehicle and
drove back toward Rutbah and a hospital. Along the way,
Claiborne said, he spotted the contrails of a jet
streaking toward the car. The Iraqis frantically waved a
white sheet out a window, and the plane veered off, he
said.

In poor, remote Rutbah, a burned-out oil tanker truck sat
in the road, and the customs building and communications
center had been wrecked by bombing. When they reached the
hospital, they saw it, too, had been bombed, its roof
caved in.

Claiborne said an English-speaking Iraqi doctor took them
to a small nearby clinic, and 100 or so townspeople then
gathered around the building. The men were worried, but
the doctor told them, "We'll take care of you. Muslim,
Christian, whatever, we are all brothers and sisters,'"
Claiborne recalled.

The staff tended to them, stitching up a scalp laceration
for group leader Cliff Kindy, 53, of North Manchester,
Indiana, and doing their best for the worst hurt, Weldon
Nisly, 57, of Seattle, who suffered cracked ribs and
similar injuries.

The two other carloads, missing the third, eventually
doubled back and found the men in Rutbah. All then
ventured onward the final 80 miles (130 kilometers) to the
Jordan border, and then Amman, where Nisly was admitted to
a hospital early Sunday.

As they left Rutbah, said Wilson-Hartgrove's wife, Leah,
22, the villagers "said to us, `Please tell them about the
hospital.'"