clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, May 12, 2003
In the probably-not-a-good-idea department: a NYT story claims that American Marines in Baghdad knocked down the walls of Baghdad's only mental hospital, set up a command post there, opened the building to looters and allowed 1,100 mentally ill patients to escape, some to be killed, some to threaten relatives with death, which is not unusual behavior for paranoid schizophrenics off their medication. The story itself is somewhat questionable--it uses primarily Iraqi sources and has a picture of a kitten, never a good sign--but a cautious interpretation still seems fairly damning. This was not, to be clear, a liberation of these patients: all seem clear that it was a civilian hospital that had been much improved in recent years (the Red Cross spent $1.5 million over the last three years bringing the facility up almost to Western standards, according to a Norwegian physician), and the prisoners were here for their own good. Released, they're thrown off their medication and into a war zone, and it's clear to me, at least, that they would have been far better off remaining inside.

The staff says "that the marines stood by as looters carried away every bed, basin, cooker, air-conditioner, piece of furniture or thing of value." Obviously it's impossible to verify this claim without some physical evidence, and one would hope for better from Marines, but if true, it also means that 6 women were raped as a result of their inaction, and it's further proof that there were reasons to criticize Rumsfeld's decision for a smaller ground force besides their military efficacy. Let's not get lost in the shameful overreporting of the looting of the Baghdad museum by assuming that military presence in the city was adequate after its fall: there are other uses for soldiers besides killing the enemy.

This story, though maudlin and, again, hard to verify, is nevertheless troubling:

Ahmed Shehab stood in front of them on Saturday to say that Samir Hamid, 40, had escaped from the maximum security ward and was threatening to kill his sister, who is Mr. Shehab's wife.

"He is a paranoid schizophrenic and is so dangerous, especially to his sister," Dr. Sultan said. "He thinks that she destroyed him and so he went home to kill her. He has a knife."

The doctors told Mr. Shehab they were powerless to act. There is no government, no law to commit dangerous mental patients, no police force to call for help, and no hospital in which to treat the mentally ill.

Dr. Sultan is worried. He thinks there are quite a few human time bombs out in the community. One is a 60-year-old man who more than 30 years ago killed two of his own small children. One son survived and today is in his 30's, living in Baghdad with his family. For 30 years, the father told his doctor that all he wanted was to escape so he could kill the remaining son.

Now the man is out there somewhere, the doctors say. They have notified the son. It was all they could do.

A preventable tragedy or a small price to pay for liberation? I don't know. The metaphor here is obvious--in the aftermath of war, the patients are loosed from the asylum--but I'm not quite sure what the political or ethical implications of that are. Maybe we should just go see House of Fools instead. You should probably see House of Fools regardless, as you should see any movie in which Bryan Adams plays himself in a mental patient's hallucination.