Best Defense

Today’s book excerpt: ‘Enemies, Foreign and Domestic: A SEAL’s Story’

We made it back to base just as the sun was breaking over the horizon

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We made it back to base just as the sun was breaking over the horizon. Still wired from the op, we delivered Al-Isawi, AKA the Butcher of Fallujah, to a makeshift holding cell which consisted of a conex box with a locking gate. MA Westinson, the Navy cop assigned to the holding cell, took custody of Al-Isawi and Doc Paddy went in to give him a thorough physical examination. Doc Paddy was an Independent Duty Corpsman (IDC), so his medical expertise was advanced. The Navy considered him to be a healthcare provider, similar to a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant.

He gave Al-Isawi a complete physical exam, head to toe, and determined that there was absolutely nothing medically wrong with him at the time of his transfer to the holding cell. Al-Isawi remained laconic from the moment we’d nabbed him. He knew the game; his jig was up.

Gonzales and McCabe and I went in and out of the holding cell a few times to be on hand if Doc Paddy or Westinson needed help with the prisoner for any reason. But the prisoner was extremely well behaved, so we walked a hundred feet to the chow hall and ate breakfast (or was it dinner?) and then went to our rooms to crash

On this deployment, we each had our own quarters. I remember laying back, closing my eyes and drifting off for a while. But soon after I was awoken by the sound of someone banging on my door.

“What the fuck is it?”

I got up and opened the door.

“Jimmy wants everyone to muster at Danny’s, now,”

Gonzales said with a concerned expression.

Danny’s was a bar in San Diego — a popular West Coast SEAL hangout — after which the previous team had named the break room adjacent to the chow hall. It was where we hung out to kill time, but also where we had serious meetings, like this one was gearing up to be.

“What the fuck is going on, man? Did we get some follow-on intel or something?”

Unsure of the situation, I figured we were about to head back outside the wire for another op. It wouldn’t have been the first time we’d had to go right back out.

“Nah, man. I don’t know what’s going on. Just put some shorts on and head to Danny’s, I gotta go round up everyone else.”

I was Gonales’s best man at his wedding two years earlier. I knew he was a very even keeled dude. So, when I saw how wound up he was about the situation, it gave me cause for concern.

“Alright, man. I’ll see you over there.”

We were all at Danny’s trying to figure out what the fuck was going on when Jimmy stormed in, steaming mad, and shouted, “Anyone wanna fucking explain this?”

He held up a blood-stained rag.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It’s that fucking guy’s dash, man. The man-dress that he was wearing when we got him. It’s all bloody. He’s saying you guys beat him up, please tell me it’s not true!”

Jimmy’s voice was trembling. A mixture of fear and rage shaped his words. I spoke up first.

“Whoa, I don’t know what’s going on here, but nobody would do this to you. None of us would put you in this position.”

“Yeah, we didn’t do that shit,” Lenny said. Everyone nodded in agreement

“Yo, if one of us hit him, there’d be a lot more blood than that,” Keefe said, which made sense coming from a 6’3”, 250-pound SEAL.

“Yeah,” McCabe said. “No shit.”

Jimmy looked us each in the eye.

“I believe you. I’m gonna take care of this. But I have to report this shit. Wait here.” Jimmy dropped the bloody rag on the floor and walked out.

“Man, can you believe this bullshit?” McCabe said. “None, of you hit him, right?”

“Fuck no, Carl!” Gonzales said.

“Neither did I, but I had to ask once.”

“How did he get that thing all bloody?” Keefe asked, pointing to the dishdasha on the door.

“What, do you think he, like, smashed his face into the wall or bit his lip or some shit like that?”

We all stood there, thinking about it.

“I mean, how else could he have gotten blood on it? Where was Westinson, wasn’t he supposed to be watching him?” I asked.

In that moment, I made the decision to one day publish Battle on the Home Front, which had, up to that point, been little more than a personal log of events. I wanted to be able to tell my side of the story, because I knew at this point, things were about to go bad. We waited at Danny’s for a half hour or so before Jimmy came bursting back inside…

“We just fucking caught this guy,” Gonzales spoke up, “the guy we’ve been looking for for years and we’re just gonna turn him over and that’s that?”

What Gonzales was worried about, what we all were worried about, was that once we dropped Al-Isawi off at the IP station, that would be the last anybody ever saw of him.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Jimmy said dispassionately.

Excerpted from Enemies, Foreign and Domesticby Carl Higbie with Brandon Caro, with the permission of the publisher. 

Image credit: Amazon.com

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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