Nearly three years after gunman affiliated with al-Qaeda left him for dead on a Baghdad street, Iraqi state television cameraman Jehad Ali arrived in the United States for medical treatment to help rebuild his bullet-shattered right leg.
He looked a bit dazed as he walked into my office. Was it the journey? After all, this was the first time Jehad had been in the West. Was it apprehension about the medical examinations and possible complicated surgery that lay ahead? No. It was the lights of Manhattan. Since he first stepped off the plane from Jordan and drove at night into New York City, Jehad had been out on the town playing tourist. He said he felt like a kid. Days after his arrival he was still awestruck by the JumboTrons in Times Square and the gadget-filled windows of the electronic stores. In our conversations during the week he spent in New York before flying off to a clinic in Los Angeles, Jehad never lost that boyish look of wonder. No matter that he doesn’t speak a word or English. His smile said it all–“I’ve made it.”
Jehad could have flown straight to California to see the doctors who had offered him pro bono services. But the 27-year-old Al-Iraqiya employee wanted to stop over to personally thank all of the CPJ staff who had worked on his behalf. Jehad’s plight had touched CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who met him in Iraq. She was the one who found the doctor in California and started raising money to bring him to the United States. When she soon discovered that she would need help with the logistics of such an enterprise, she turned to CPJ.
The road ahead for Jehad will not be easy. He wants to be able to run around again with a heavy professional video camera. But one of the 11 bullets that struck him back in December 2005 took out a 1.2-inch (3 cm) piece of his femur. The wound has healed and he can walk, albeit with a limp. He will not regain his former mobility without complex surgery.
But future problems were not on his mind the day he sat down for lunch with CPJ and Lara Logan and her staff. He spoke of his past triumph and present gratitude. He had conquered the odds merely by surviving and getting out of Iraq. And now he could not stop thanking people. He asked Lara Logan how he could ever thank her for her generosity. “By learning English,” she replied. Jehad acknowledged with a grin that was a debt that would take some time to repay.
And so, after a week in New York, Jehad came to say goodbye before flying off to see whether after three years, surgery could still help him. How was he feeling?
“I’m not a bit afraid. This after all, is what I have always wanted to do, see a doctor.”
And what did he want to do after that?
“I want to meet an American girl and get married.”