August 7th, 2009
05:21 PM ET

Will these scars heal?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/08/07/iraq.kidnapped.boy/art.iraq.boy.cnn.jpg caption="Khidir, now 8, was kidnapped and held hostage for two years by operatives with al Qaeda in Iraq."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/08/07/iraq.kidnapped.boy/art.boy.dad.cnn.jpg caption="Khidir and his father, Abdul Qader, recently talked to CNN about his ordeal."]

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Middle East Affairs

He looks like any 8-year old at first glance. He likes to play with his toy car and he dreams of one day becoming a police officer just like his dad. But, if you look closely into these innocent-looking eyes, would you be able to guess that this little boy was kidnapped, tortured and forced into hard labor before being rescued by Iraqi forces? Physical scars from nails being hammered into his legs and cigarettes put out on the bare skin of his shoulders, are visible on his tiny body. But can you see the psychological scars much deeper underneath? Can anyone?

I grew up during Lebanon’s civil war and I’ve seen and heard many horror stories of some people who survived torture and others who weren’t as fortunate. There is still something terribly touching about every story I hear, especially when it involves children and innocent bystanders who have nothing to do with the war or its games. They don’t carry guns, they don’t shoot at anyone, they are in no one’s way, they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Khidir was in the wrong place at the wrong time when al Qaeda operatives in Iraq gave his father an ultimatum. They wanted the Iraqi forces to release some prisoners and because Khidir’s father is a police officer they kidnapped his six-year-old son to pressure him to release the prisoners. But Khidir’s father said he would have preferred his son to die a martyr than to release the terrorists. He didn’t realize his son would remain in captivity for almost two years. Khidir endured physical abuse and was made to work in the fields for his captors. Last December, he was rescued by Iraqi forces.

Eight-year-old Khidir now describes, in a matter-of-fact kind of way, how his nails were pulled out of his fingers and his bones were broken from the beating of a shovel. His teeth were pulled with pliers for no specific reason. He was laughed at when he suffered the most. He tells CNN all these horrible tales almost with no emotion. He points out the healed scars on his legs, back, shoulders and hands. He tells CNN what kept him going during his ordeal was just the thought of his mom and dad. He then hugs his father and laughs just like any ordinary 8-year-old. He smiles and enjoys the warmth of a parent and the thought of unconditional protection and love.

His father, Abdul Qader, tears up as he speaks with the CNN crew. "When he tells me about how they would torture him, I can't tolerate it. I start crying," he says.

Many people would feel the urge to cry when they hear the story of Khidir and how much he had to endure at such a young age. What we might never know is how Khidir really feels about his ordeal, and what kind of an Iraqi adult man he will become. How long and how deep will his scars serve as reminders of a date and place where people went to war and committed atrocities – in this case against an innocent child – who, on the surface, seems to have moved on.

People ask me often how I survived the war and its atrocities. Mine is a simple answer - which might apply for Khidir too – “I didn’t have a choice.”

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Jen

    I hope Khidir has access to the help he needs to deal with his experience. I don't see how anyone can stomach doing these kinds of things to a child and then claim they are Allah's followers and in the right. The word "terrorist" I think has evolved into something of power and respect (for the aggressor) – much like "warrior"=brave,strong. This is too good for these people. They are pathetic criminals, parasites on the world and the goodness that can be found in it, and a disgrace to their religion, their nation, their god, and humanity overall. They are not fit to lick the dirt from the bottom of a pig farmer's shoes.

    August 7, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  2. Eden Senait M.

    I found it ironic that the father was so adament in keeping the prisoners locked up. At first thought most fathers would do anything for their sons. I think everyone here has got to realize, it must have taken him alot to say what he said to the CNN correspondents. If you look at the original article on CNN, the father mentions how he was hysterical when Khidir was kidnapped. Qader is a loving father, like any other. But as a police officer he realized he just couldn't let them win.

    Think of it, if Qader released those prisoners, do you honestly think Khidir would have been released? Not a chance. Just like any smart kidnapper, those terrorists would have asked for more and more releases. Which would mean that more criminals would be released to terrorize the very home Qader lives in.

    Now don't get me wrong: Khidir didn't just loose his innocence when he was kidnapped. He lost his childhood. But do you honestly think it would have been regained if the terrorists were released? Do you honestly think the traumatized memories of being taken would disappear? The memory of those men storming into his house; knocking out his grand-mother unconscious, and snatching him?
    I think not.

    Yes, the the torture may have not been so bad, if Khidir's father had relented. But it's torture none the less. No matter the degree of torture, Khidir would have still suffered the same nightmares and trauma.

    These terrorists feed off of the fear and vulnerability of middleeastern authority like Qader. If more people showed less fear like Khidir's father, more victimizers would still be in prison.

    August 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  3. GF, Los Angeles

    I think what the father did was right. There's no guarantee his son would've ever been released if prisoners were released. He could've been killed or kept by these terrorists to torture some more – afterall – he is the son of a policeman. We can't logically deal with the illogical. The whole nation is scarred over there with all these wars and unrest and unfortunately I don't think there is an end in sight.

    August 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm |
  4. dogsmycopilot

    I'm sorry but I disagree with the father and I hope he is forced to hear what his boy went through. No "terrorist" (and let's be honest, the definition of that word changes depending on our goals. We are after all the ones who armed Bin Laden.) would be worth my child's life- EVER. I am more worried for the future of these people, that the father let go so easy than I am due to the terrorists. The lack of emotion in the boy as he tells this should worry all. My heart goes out to him, he was in no position to do different, but the dad was. I fear we have lost an entire generation to our ideological wars.

    August 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm |
  5. RLWellman

    What religion is doing this to these boys? Is it the same as the two new persons who were appointed to our national security?

    August 7, 2009 at 5:29 pm |