The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 9, 2013

Helping immigrant victims of torture heal

SEATTLE — At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq a decade ago, Wasfi Rabaa was a high-ranking police official in Baghdad, enjoying a comfortable life with his family on the outskirts of that city.

The Rabaas are Mandeans, a religious minority and followers of John the Baptist whose members have been the targets of widespread sectarian violence during the war and have sought refuge in countries around the world.

Three years ago, they were admitted to the U.S. as refugees and resettled in the Seattle area, where they receive counseling to help cope with the torture they endured during the months and years after the invasion.

Through a joint effort, Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the International Counseling & Community Services, a program of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, are seeing to the physical, psychological and immigration needs of torture victims like them throughout the Puget Sound region.

As a way of coming to terms, Rabaa has repeatedly told his story.

In the living room of the modest home the family rents in Covington, his wife, Azhar Khissaf at his side, the 54-year-old father of four describes through an interpreter what happened to him after being kidnapped by religious extremists in 2004.

For 16 days, he said, he was held captive — hanged, subjected to electric shock and for periods at a time kept in a 3-foot-by-3-foot box.

“There was a point where I felt it would have been better if they killed me,” he said.

A serious man with a rare smile, Rabaa explains that an important part of the help he receives as part of the Northwest Health and Human Rights Project isn’t tangible. “It’s brought me stability and peace of mind and the ability to sort through things in my life,” he said through an interpreter.

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