Twelve years ago, during the first Gulf War, Marine pilot Clifford Acree was tortured by Saddam Hussein's henchmen for 47 days. He was subjected to mock executions and systematically starved until he began eating the scabs off his own body. Along with 16 other POWs, Acree filed suit to claim compensation from Iraq's $1.7 billion in frozen assets. But they may never see the money. On March 20, President Bush confiscated Iraq's assets "to assist the Iraqi people and for the reconstruction of Iraq." Bush's order made an exception for cases in which the courts had already attached Iraqi assets, which meant that 188 American civilians--including diplomats, engineers and businessmen held as hostages or human shields--and their relatives were able to collect more than $120 million two weeks ago. But Acree and his fellow POWs, along with an additional 200 former hostages and human shields whose cases are pending in U.S. District Court, may be out of luck.
Last month former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson and 20 other high-ranking former diplomats and military officers argued in a letter to Bush that "it would be simply unthinkable to ask the American POWs tortured by Iraq to bear the cost of the reconstruction of Iraq." Will Bush come to the rescue? Treasury Department general counsel David Aufhauser says, "The first priority is to apply the money to a free Iraq to make sure there are no more victims." But with the draft of a POW Protection Act already circulating on Capitol Hill, he adds, "the President is committed to working with Congress to seek alternative means of redress." --By Margot Roosevelt