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Continued: Reservist's memoir tells of service at Abu Ghraib

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 3, 2007 - 9:33 PM

Mohammed was the beginning of the strange deal that medical personnel had with prisoner/patients.

"We did the best we could with what we had," said Germain. "That caring is part of being a nurse."

At Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Germain had saved both victims and perpetrators in shootings in the same night. This was different, being asked to save enemy combatants.

"It was a challenge at first," she said. "I didn't want to know anything about them, or what they did."

Eventually, she got to know about their wives and children, perhaps where they were from. But they never talked about their fight against Americans.

Because she was older, at first prisoners were wary. But many came to trust her and even care about her.

"One man took days to muster up the courage to speak to me," Germain said. "Finally, he said, 'Why are you doing this? Go home to your husband.'"

Facing abuse allegations

Germain was only supposed to serve a short stint, but like many others involved in the war, her service was extended. In total, she spent 18 months in Kuwait and Iraq.

Some of the worst of that time was spent contemplating how war affects people.

The accusations of prisoner abuse "were really hard and demoralizing," said Germain. "There was a lot of anger that a few people could do that" and taint the selfless work of others. "I was angry at those who did it. I won't defend them -- in fact, just the opposite."

Yet, she said, "It didn't surprise me. War is so ugly when you get thrown into it. [New recruits] would come here and say, 'You people are living like animals.' You do what you have to survive."

It's not surprising, she said, that some start to behave like animals.

And there were moments when common humanity raised them above the war. Sometimes they laughed and sang together. They had wheelchair races and watched the move "Jackass."

Some of the patients were not detainees, but brought to the prison for convenience or for petty crimes. Two of those who got close to Germain wrote a letter when they left her care. It said in part:

"My greetings are purer than rose perfume to all the people who shared with me the days of sadness and lessened the panic of the prison. Remember me when the bird warbles and when the morning sun rises. ... We may not meet again but we may meet in memory. The most beautiful memories I have in prison hospital of Abu-Ghraib."

Jon Tevlin • 612-673-1702

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