Day #44: The Man in the White Shirt

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you.”

The soldier is crying. His body is wracked with pain. He’d put up a powerful fight. They’d beat him, burned him, stabbed him and electrocuted him. Finally, they’d unleashed hungry rats on his bleeding foot. It is with that, the pain and vision of his flesh being torn away in their tiny mouths, that he caves. He almost cries with relief.

“Okay,” asks the interrogator, “Who was the man in the white shirt?”

********

It had all started two hours earlier.

The convoy of five HMMVWs had been driving through a less than totally secure part of Kandahar. A roadside bomb went off. It didn’t kill anybody. But it blew a massive hole in the road. The lead HMMVW, the one Cpl. John Georgeson was driving,  tried to stop. But it was too late. It ran straight into the hole, and was stuck there. The corporal’s pistol somehow went off, lodging a bullet deep in his leg.

Moments later, a firefight broke out. The HMMVWs called for helicopter support and they manned their own guns, identifying and shooting back at their attackers. Every one of them knew their job. They had a VIP – the man in the white shirt. Not just any VIP, but a man who had to be rescued even if it meant leaving another man behind.

They couldn’t get to the Corporal, so they left him behind.

He knew the orders. He couldn’t get out, and he knew what would happen next.

And so, as the other soldiers fled under a hail of covering fire, Corporal Georgeson remained behind. And the enemy captured him.

For their part, the enemy couldn’t believe their luck. It wasn’t often they captured an American soldier. They certainly tried, but they rarely succeeded.

But something didn’t add up. There was a reason they tended to fail. Americans didn’t easily leave a fellow behind.

They’d seen the man in the white shirt leave and they knew he was the key.

And so they tortured Corporal Georgeson.

Now, crying in pain and fear, he is ready to answer their questions.

“Who was the man in the white shirt?” asks the interrogator. There are two others in the room, an hulking man who serves as the torturer’s assistant and a quiet and small man who simply observes the proceedings from the back of the room. All three men have closely trimmed beards and short uncovered hair – putting anonymity above their religious preferences.

“I’m not supposed to know this,” says the soldier, “But he was an advance man.”

“Advance man?” asks the interrogator.

“You know,” says Cpl. Georgeson, “A man who goes ahead, to assess security.”

“Whose advance man?” asks the interrogator.

“I don’t know,” says the Cpl. Georgeson. They both know it is a lie, and an act. The soldier must feel he is putting up some resistance, even if it is ersatz.

“Abdullah.” states the interrogator.

The man with the rats steps forward. Georgeson’s eyes open in fear. His pupils dilate.

The interrogator can see him wrestling with himself, trying to will himself to withstand at some more torture. But he can’t. The interrogator knows that Cpl. Georgeson knows it is hopeless.

And, as easy as that, Cpl. Georgeson continues talking. “For the President.” he says, quietly.

Everybody in the room starts listening even more carefully.

“What?” asks the interrogator.

“For the President,” says Georgeon, “The President of the United States of America.”

“When?” asks the interrogator.

“Today,” answers Georgeson.

The interrogator wanted to ask “What else do you know?” but that would have given the soldier a way out. And so he asks, “When, exactly?”

“I’m not supposed to know,” insists the soldier.

“But?” asks the interrogator.

“In three hours,” says the soldier, shame clouding his eyes.

“Will he leave the airbase?” asks the interrogator.

The interrogator sees that the soldier wants to lie. “We’ll let the rats eat you until you die of blood loss if you lie.” he suggests.

Georgeson inhales. “Yes, he says. he’ll be taking Charlie root to the FOB. Your guys almost never touch it.”

“Why leave the base?” asks the interrogator.

“I don’t know,” says Georgeson, “I’m just a grunt. But I imagine it will help morale to see the Commander-in-Chief in the field. It’ll give us soldiers a change to see how committed our commander is.”

The interrogator nods.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Do we kill him?” asks Abdullah, in Pashto.

“No,” answers the interrogator, “We’ll do it slowly, later, if he’s lying.”

With that, the interrogator and the small man who had been watching the proceedings leave the room.

There is a private corner in the back of the house. In hushed tones, they discuss their options.

“Do we launch an operation?” asks the interrogator.

“No,” says the quiet man, “We need to consult. It is a major attack.”

“He’ll say ‘yes’,” insists the interrogator.

“Probably,” says the quiet man, “But perhaps not.”

“So what do we do?” asks the interrogator.

“Plan an attack,” says the little man, “Assemble everybody. And I will consult.”

The interrogator leaves the room.

The little man pulls a small radio from his bag. It is rarely used, the enemy prefers runners. But time constraints have forced his hand. He broadcasts a coded message.

In a village 75 miles away, the signal is received. From that village, another signal is broadcast. It reaches a second village high in the mountains. From that second village, a runner is dispatched. 30 minutes later, he returns. A new coded message is broadcast from that village. The first village receives the message and forwards it along. In 45 minutes, the small man has his answer: “Go.”

The small walks back into the room, eager to give the interrogator the good news.

Instead, he is greeted by drawn guns. US soldiers have appeared – a huge number of them.

*********

When the roadside bomb went off there was celebration in the command post. Cpl. Georgeson was not Cpl. Georgeson, he was a highly trained Special Forces soldier with a critical mission. Get captured and spill the beans, convincingly.

There was no Presidential visit planned. the man in the white shirt was simply another soldier.

The rest of the convoy knew nothing.

From the moment Georgeson was captured he had been carefully followed. A slew of subcutaneous monitoring devices, including a radioactive isotope, had been inserted in his body. From their command post, the torture was carefully monitored. And then Georgeson was given the signal to ‘break.’

Aircraft, satellites and men were ready for what happened next. They noted the coded radio broadcast out of the enemy’s hiding place.

Of course, you can’t find where a radio broadcast is being received. But they noted it was rebroadcast from a village 75 miles away.

They were recording everything that occurred. And then they saw that first village broadcast a response. And then they reviewed their recent radio broadcast data and pinpointed a second village – from which that response had first been transmitted. Reviewing satellite footage, they saw the runner. They tracked where he went.

And immediately, two attacks were launched. The first was to rescue Georgeson and wrap up the local enemy cell. The second was to capture whomever the quiet man had consulted with.

Just as they had hoped, it was a very big fish.

As the enemy cell was rounded up, the quiet man realized he’d been taken.

He had only one question.

He asked Georgeson, “How’d you know we’d capture you today?”

Georgeson, badly wounded from both his self-inflicted gunshot wound and his torture, answered. “We didn’t.”

“So how’d you know to plant a man in a white shirt in your truck?”

Georgeson smiled and answered, “I’ve been driving around with a man in a white shirt for months.”

With that, the men were separated.

Georgeson for treatment and the quiet man for additional interrogation.