By the time his plane landed in Salt Lake City late on the night of April 11, things weren't going very well for Diyar al-Bayati. His motorized wheelchair had been mangled on the flight from Jordan to New Jersey, and then his luggage was lost. Still, al-Bayati was optimistic about one thing: that he would be greeted in Salt Lake City by Americans who were happy to see him.
After all, hadn't he lost both his legs while working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Baghdad?
But there were no grateful soldiers at the airport that night. Instead there was one Somali refugee, sent by Catholic Community Services. The man insisted on speaking Arabic, in an accent al-Bayati couldn't understand, and he wanted to take al-Bayati to the home of another Somali refugee.
"I said, 'no, dude,'" remembers al-Bayati, who had perfected his American slang during his 200 combat missions with the 4th Infantry Division in 2005 and 2006. When Catholic Community Services then wanted to put him in a cheap hotel "with the drugs dealers," says al-Bayati he said "no" again.
At 22, al-Bayati is an Iraqi with definite opinions and a belief that he deserves a measure of respect for risking his life.
Like other Iraqis who have contracted as translators for the U.S. military, he says he cannot go back to Baghdad, for fear of reprisals. And his life since Baghdad first in a hospital in Jordan and now as a refugee in America has been full of disappointments.
The interpreters are hired by contractors at the time al-Bayati was hired it was L-3 Communications/Titan so the Army doesn't consider the interpreters its responsibility. His medical treatment in a Jordanian hospital, covered by insurance through L-3/Titan, wasn't very good, al-Bayati says, and the prosthetic legs he was given there are so painful and heavy they're not usable. "I can wear them three, four minutes, and then I fall down," he says.
Instead of getting special consideration because of his work with the military, he's considered just "a normal refugee," he says. So far the letters of recommendation from U.S. Army officers haven't helped him get a green card.
Al-Bayati is a talkative, sociable man. "Would you like coffee? Tea? Coke?" he asks his guest as soon as she steps inside his apartment. He wheels himself over to the sink and begins filling a teapot, using only his left hand. He can't bend his right arm at the elbow, and several fingers are injured.
Since arriving in the United States, after his motorized wheelchair was destroyed on the Lufthansa flight from Jordan, he's had to use a hand-operated wheelchair, despite the fact that he only has one usable hand. Lufthansa has so far not agreed to replace the motorized chair.
Al-Bayati got a piece of good news on Wednesday, though: Medicaid has agreed to give him a motorized chair. As a refugee he's covered for several months by Medicaid. He's now hoping to get a better pair of prosthetic legs, but that request is still caught in red tape.
As an interpreter, al-Bayati's job was to help U.S. soldiers as they patrolled and interrogated civilians in dangerous Baghdad neighborhoods. Al-Bayati was injured by a "super IED" as he was riding in a Humvee before dawn on what was to be his very last mission before being transferred to Kuwait.Now al-Bayati lives with two roommates in a little apartment near the freeway in Poplar Grove. On a rainy morning he hoists his torso onto the couch, carefully placing a pillow in front of his stumps, then reaches into his briefcase to pull out a folder. Among the letters from Army officers is a piece of paper: a citation called "L-3 Titan Heart," recognizing his work in Iraq. His name is misspelled.
How to help
With the assistance of the Utah Health and Human Rights Project, a fund has been set up for Diyar al-Bayati at Bank of the West, under the name High Road for Human Rights Advocacy Project Benefit Diyar.