The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector

The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector

The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector

The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector


The Sutras of Abu Ghraib is the story of a soldier who refused to succumb to violence. In chronicling the struggles of military life and the dehumanizing effects of war, Aidan Delgado examines the attitudes that make prisoner abuse possible and explores his own developing Buddhist beliefs against a brutal backdrop. It is a tale of physical bravery, moral courage, and the cost of holding on to your identity while everyone around you is losing theirs.

The son of a diplomat, Delgado grew up in various countries, including Thailand, where he was introduced to Buddhism, and Egypt, where he learned Arabic. In 2001, after his first year of college, he enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve, and in 2003 he was deployed as a specialist in Nasiriyah and at Abu Ghraib. When his colleagues learned that he spoke some Arabic and enjoyed meeting Iraqis, they made use of him but also began to mistrust him. As Delgado witnessed more and more American racism, arrogance, and abuse of unarmed Iraqis, his opposition mounted. Concluding that war ran counter to his Buddhist principles, he sought conscientious objector status and, after finishing his tour of duty, was honorably discharged. The following year, Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times, "The public at large and especially the many soldiers who have behaved honorably in Iraq deserve an honest answer... Mr. Delgado's complaints and the entire conduct of this wretched war should be thoroughly investigated."


How to begin? It’s 2005, I’ve been back in the States for over a year, and nothing about my time in Iraq seems clear anymore. Ten thousand people have already weighed in on my story, and I am sagging under the weight of their words. I have never been a “man of principle” before, nor have I ever been a “communist” or “barking moon-bat,” and never at the same time. Sometimes when I read about myself, I think, Was I even there? It fades in and out of focus. Did any of this really happen? Maybe I am a fraud, just as they say. the prison swells and recedes in my memory until it’s just a dark blot on the camera lens. Maybe I’m just remembering it wrong, filling in the gaps, making it up …

Then it comes back into focus.

It’s 2003: we’ve been at Abu Ghraib for only a couple of weeks. It’s evening, just about sunset. There’s no light or heat inside, so we gather to make a little fire. We’re sitting around a fire barrel, reclining into bright red canvas chairs, just a couple of guys lounging around outside the barracks building. There are no showers yet, so everyone’s dirty as hell and itching in the thermal underwear and field jackets we’ve just pulled out of our B-bags. It’s late November; my birthday was last week. It’s very cold. Shoe is trying to cook popcorn on a piece of sheet metal. Someone tosses another piece of crate on the fire and the popcorn begins to make noise. Sergeant McCul-

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