About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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They grieve but they have no bodies

  Last week I met Larry Adkinson at his office at the Quantico Marine Base. I was there to talk with him about the stroke he suffered last year, and the treatment he received from Dr. Maha Alattar, below, and the staff at Mary Washington Hospital.

At one point, Adkinson asked if I had ever read Dr. Alattar’s congressional testimony. I hadn’t. If fact, I didn’tAlattar know that she had appeared before Congress. Adkinson sent me a copy of her testimony before the House Committee in International Relations. It was Nov. 20, 2003, in Washington. The title of the hearing was “Human rights violations under Saddam Hussein: Victims speak out.”

Alattar was an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at the time. In 2007, she moved to Mary Washington, where she is a neurologist, head of the new stroke center and a specialist in sleep disorders. She’s also a native of Iraq.

Alattar told the committee about her father, an ophthalmologist in Iraq. Her father did corneal transplants for about 20 years, replacing diseased corneas with donated ones. Usually the corneas were donated at death by older people. But beginning in 1980, he noticed that the corneas were healthy, from young people, and in great quantities. Later he learned they were from prisoners, executed at the now famous Abu Ghuraib prison.

Alattar said that when her father questioned this, the chairman of the hospital told him to continue his work and not say anything or he would be killed. “I remember the days when my father was extremely troubled by this and anxious,” Alattar testified.

Alattar said she was too young to fully realize what was going on, but she talked to relatives later who said her father felt like he was using the eyes of innocents. He fled Iraq with his family in 1982. Alattar was 13 at the time.

Alattar also read the names of 11 relatives, including five cousins she played with while growing up. They were young men of high school and college age when they disappeared and were presumably killed by the regime. “We grieve for them, but we don’t have any bodies,” she said.

Alattar’s family moved first to Germany, then Austria, California and finally the Washington area. She’s been active in political groups, such as the Iraq Foundation for Democracy and Women for a Free Iraq, that seek to bring freedom to Iraq.

“It was horrible,” she said this week, in describing Saddam’s reign. “There’s a lot of suffering in my family.”