Mopping Up

The ordeal of the New Yorkers sent to clean up the mess at Abu Ghraib

"Our military leadership has been loathe to speak against our present policies, and all too often it is the 'Yes Men' who are promoted and rewarded," he wrote. "I'm afraid that this war in Iraq has become this generation's Vietnam."

For months after his return, Landis talked almost obsessively about the war. Last September, his wife, Kathy, tired of it, and asked him to see a VA counselor. Landis made the call, but the earliest appointment he could get was in February. That appointment was postponed. Landis finally got his hour with a counselor on May 22, nine months after that initial call.


Gerald Della Salla lived at home for three days until tension with his parents forced him to move out. He started to pursue his acting career again, until one day when he went to audition for a soap commercial.

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"I was around all these buzzing, chirping actors, and I kept saying to myself, these people have no idea that a month ago, I was on a fucking Iraqi highway," he says. "It was a sign to me how far the culture is removed from the war."

Della Salla instead took a security job. For a while, he grew queasy every time he drove underneath a highway overpass, because back in Iraq, insurgents sometimes launched ambushes from those spots.

"Certainly, it's dissipating, but those kinds of things linger with me," he says.

Suzanne Rubenstein returned to Long Island and her suburban life. She has taken a job at a local department store to help cover family expenses. She will retire from her long military career in October. She says she is proud of her service in Iraq, but remains unhappy about her clashes with Hussey. "I look back and believe I did an outstanding job," she says. "The part I regret is that I couldn't get along with everyone."

John Hussey returned to his job in the Rockland County courts and moved on to lead a Civil Affairs unit. He admits that he was irritable when he got back, and it took a while to get used to the give-and-take of his civilian job.

"Here, it's more finesse and politicking," he says. "Back in Iraq you expected your orders to be carried out."

For Josh Bingham, the kid from Kentucky, however, the war still hasn't quite ended. Bingham reached Dix in January 2006, and promptly suffered a nervous breakdown. He says he was watching television one night and he began to weep. He heard voices and thought people were talking about him. He blames the breakdown in part on the guilt of that roadside bombing the previous May.

Diagnosed with severe depression, Bingham spent the next five months in military and civilian hospitals, including Walter Reed. Last summer, about a month after he was discharged and returned home, he found that he couldn't handle the prison job. His wife left him.

Bingham moved in with his parents. He spends much of his time in the house unless he is with his closest friends. He takes powerful mood-stabilizing drugs. He sleeps well one night and poorly the next. Once a week or so, he sees his daughter, now three. "I don't feel like doing anything," he says. "I don't like to leave the house, and I won't go anywhere unless it's with someone I know."

In his bedroom, Bingham keeps a plaque that he received from the National Guard for his service. It reads: "This is presented to a true American hero in recognition of your service and sacrifice in the cause of freedom. Your service will never be forgotten."

But Bingham feels a bit forgotten. The men from his National Guard unit haven't stayed in touch, and dealing with the VA has been difficult. He was given an $11,000 severance package by the Army, but the VA wants him to use it for his medical care. "I'm getting to the point where I can be around people I don't know, but I would just like to have a normal life again," he says. "I haven't had a normal life since I went overseas."


The Pentagon finally returned Abu Ghraib to Iraqi hands in the spring of 2006. In the 18 months since the 306th MP Battalion returned from Iraq, the Pentagon has only expanded its detention program. In March 2005, the U.S. military was holding 8,900 detainees in Iraq. Today, that figure has climbed to more than 20,000the bulk at the ever expanding Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

And more than 10 percent of the troops slated to go to Iraq in President Bush's "troop surge" were military police, going overseas to guard prisoners.

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