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Soldiers get final training on handling POWs

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—Efraim Guillermo is surrounded by a small group of American troops. One advances, and kicks Guillermo's feet apart. Someone yells "Do it—dawg style." Guillermo is thrown to the ground, face first. A soldier trains his machine gun on Guillermo's skull as another pats him down.

"Don't have gun," Guillermo says in broken English.

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut! Up!" is the response.

Guillermo starts to move a leg and another soldier dives on him, landing a few punches to his back as the first soldier twists his right arm around his back. They tussle for a moment or two before Guillermo goes still. There is a boot on his neck. The gun is now inches from his head.

The soldiers roughly search Guillermo, including his groin. He moans a little, dust caked on his face.

"What he was doing right there may have got him shot," said 2nd Lt. Tim Faulkner, who ran the soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division through the drill of how to subdue potential prisoners of war.

The military is expecting that, as was the case in 1991, many Iraqis may surrender after being pounded into the ground by U.S. bombers. There will be cards, in Arabic and English, distributed to POWs explaining that they should put their guns down or be considered "enemy combatants," Army-talk for open season.

As always, there is documented procedure. Faulkner recited "The 5 S's":

_Search the prisoner.

_Silence. Tell them to be quiet.

_Segregate. Separate by rank.

_Speed. Get them to the Military Police or whoever is keeping custody of POWs.

_Safeguard. Do not harm or loot the prisoners.

The POWs will be handcuffed with plastic straps and taken either to a truck, or, more likely, to a nearby spot in the desert where they will sit inside a barbed wire perimeter.

"It's what we've got to do to stay safe," said Guillermo, a 25-year-old from New York City. He wiped the sand off his body, grinning.

If an Iraqi soldier is lying on the ground when troops come upon him, they are told to kick him in the testicles, hard, so that they can evaluate whether he's conscious, Faulkner explained.

"The first time you see it, it may seem a little over the top, but they're not getting hurt," said Faulkner, who commands an armored Humvee platoon in the 101st Division's second brigade.

There's a concern that potential Iraqi POWs may try, in a blaze of martyred glory, to take out as many U.S. troops as possible. "Particularly in an area where you've got a little bit of religious fanaticism, they might be more willing to do a suicide run," Faulkner said.

To help them have at least some idea of what's going on in the noise and motion of collecting POWs on the battlefield, the troops are given classes on basic Arabic commands.

Because Faulkner was an Arabic linguist in Army Intelligence for about 10 years, he is the man who goes around his section of Camp New York teaching a lot of the language sessions. Faulkner, who is two semesters away from finishing an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern studies, also tries to translate a little bit of Arabic culture for young privates from middle America.

It's not an easy task.

"Man, this is like the hub of the beginning that shaped thousands of years of history," said Faulkner, 35. His soldiers, he said, are often far from grasping that point. "All they've seen in the media for the most part, every day you see the bombings in Israel, you see the terrorist activities. But what you don't see is the society."

Sitting in a semi-circle, a platoon of soldiers recently scribbled down the phonetic spellings of a declarative vocabulary, as recited by Faulkner. Raise your hands. Drop your weapons. Keep walking. Sit down.

Faulkner refused pleas to teach the men Arabic obscenities or phrases such as "I want to take your daughter to America."

"You want to get your (butt) kicked? Ask them where their women are and you'll get your (butt) kicked," Faulkner retorted.

The soldiers processed that bit of wisdom and, a few moments having passed, one asked "How do you say `Bow down before me because I'm your new leader?'"

Faulkner, looking a little frustrated, told the troops that they should respect the Arabs because their culture is as devoted to education as America's, if not more so.

This time, there was no reply.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.