The images are shocking even by Iraqi standards: Two dozen skeletal children, some tied to beds, others writhing in their own waste and some appearing, at first glance, to be dead.Such was the nightmare that greeted US and Iraqi forces last week when they stumbled upon the Al-Hanan orphanage for children with special needs in northwest Baghdad, according to a CBS News report broadcast this week.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has vowed to investigate and punish those responsible, while the US military said its forces helped to evacuate the orphanage and provide medical care to the children.
“They saw multiple bodies laying on the floor of the facility,” Staff Sergeant Mitchell Gibson of the 82nd Airborne Division told CBS News. “They thought they were all dead.” “They threw a basketball [to] try and get some attention, and actually one of the kids lifted up their head, tilted it over and just looked and then went back down. And they said, ‘Oh, they’re alive’.”
Inside the government-run facility, the American troops found 24 boys aged between three and 15 years, many showing signs of severe neglect and starvation. Medics initially feared at least one of the boys was dead.
He had “thousands of flies covering his body, unable to move any part of his body, you know we had to actually hold his head up and tilt his head to make sure that he was okay”, Gibson said.
“The only thing basically that was moving was his eyeballs,” he added. “Flies in the mouth, in the eyes, in the nose, ears, eating all the open wounds from sleeping on the concrete.” The footage showed the thin boy with his mouth open and hands twisted lying still on the white concrete floor. He is later seen sitting on a small bed at a medical care centre after being rescued.
A statement issued by the US military on Wednesday said the boys were “found naked in a darkened room without any windows”. “Many of the children were tied to their beds and were too weak to stand once released.” The caretakers, by contrast, had well-stocked offices with kitchen shelves packed with food and cupboards full of clothes, according to CBS.
“I got extremely angry with the caretaker. I had to use every muscle in me to restrain myself,” said Captain Benjamin Morales from the rescue team in the report.
The military said the boys were previously in a mixed-sex orphanage, but were moved from there in May as it was “believed the boys and girls should not live together, according to accounts from workers at the orphanage”.
Maliki issued a statement following the June 10 raid ordering the orphanage workers detained and vowing to investigate and punish those responsible, according to a statement from his office.
After the Iraqi army discovered the facility US forces helped to evacuate the orphanage and provide medical care to the children, US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said.
“They took control of the children and removed them to a safer area, and US forces provided medicine to them,” he said, adding that the children have since been placed in foster care.
The last few seconds of the CBS footage show the kids in the new facility playing with toys on a large green bed, while some are being treated for various ailments.
One of the boys is seen kissing the hand of a US soldier again and again as if he was “starved” of human touch, the report says.
It said the caretaker of the facility was on the run and the government had only managed to arrest two security guards. Two women employees who posed for pictures during the raid have also fled.