Being Held Under Armed Guard by the U.S. Military
SCOTT SIMON, host:
NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz just returned from a three-week embed with some military units in Iraq. It was his ninth trip to Iraq. Though he's been briefly detained by foreign militaries in other countries, Guy never expected to be held by Americans.
GUY RAZ: I've gone to Iraq this time to chronicle the speed with which injured Americans troops are evacuated from the battlefield. In Vietnam, if you were wounded, your chances of surviving were about 60 percent, but in Iraq, it's 98 percent - the highest survival rate in the history of warfare.
I spent a few days with the Medevac unit that lands in some of the nastiest battle zones to pick up the wounded and fly them to the central trauma center at Balad Airbase.
(Soundbite of helicopter)
RAZ: One night in pitch-black darkness, the chopper circled around and around the battlefield, looking for a safe place to land. From the sky, it looked like a fireworks display below, with tracer fire and RPG blasts lighting up the night sky.
The chopper landed for just a moment to pick up a wounded Iraqi soldier, and then very quickly it swooped up as far away from the danger zone as possible. Within about 10 minutes, the helicopter landed at the Balad Air Base hospital.
I followed the Army medic out of the chopper to record the sound of the wheeled gurney coming in to the emergency room.
(Soundbite of people speaking)
Unidentified Woman #1: Hold on. Hold on. Stand away.
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #3: I want you to keep it down.
RAZ: Within seconds, an Air Force officer ran up to me and hysterically demanded I shut off my recorder. I complied and I showed her my military-issued ID card. I told her I had permission to be there, that I've been working to get access to the hospital for months.
But she was hearing none of it. And she ordered two armed contractors to detain me until she could confirm my identity. I told her she could go online and check out the NPR Web site if she needed further evidence to prove to her that I was indeed a reporter, not a terrorist. Perhaps, she could check whether she may have missed the paperwork that allowed me to be there, I suggested. But nothing was working.
She ordered the contractors to conduct a body search. Soon, she demanded I hand over my audio. That I wouldn't do. But then, about three hours later, she did locate the paperwork and sent me on my way. It reminded me of another difference between Iraq and Vietnam. In Vietnam, reporters could go anywhere, anytime. In Iraq, we are at the mercy of the rules - or the whims - of the military.
SIMON: NPR's Guy Raz.