The Guam Option

I remember my grandfather, Joe Murphy, while still editor-at-large of the Pacific Daily News, oft telling the story of his failed attempts to sell an article about the Kurds being airlifted to Guam during the Clinton administration, and my grandfather’s disgust because no major media outlet was interested in the story. Maybe George Packer read it?

Kurds in Guam

[Kurds being processed at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, 1996]

In the fall of 1996, the U.S. military evacuated more than six thousand Iraqis—Kurds and others who had worked with American agencies in the north, and whose lives were directly threatened by Saddam’s army—halfway across the world to Guam. There they were screened, processed for asylum, and assigned sponsors in an effort that involved more than a thousand American soldiers and civilians. Almost all of the evacuees ended up Stateside within seven months. Major General John Dallager, the Joint Task Force commander of Operation Pacific Haven, said, “Our success will undoubtedly be a role model for future humanitarian efforts.”

Undoubtedly. Major General Dallager didn’t count on the moral abdication of the Bush Administration in the face of a similar but much larger and more compelling humanitarian crisis. Recently, some conscience-stricken American officials have privately begun to ask why the model of Operation Pacific Haven can’t be emulated today. Flying Iraqis to Guam would solve every problem, real and invented, that the Administration claims is holding up resettlement: the inability of Homeland Security interviewers to meet with refugees in Syria; the near-impossibility of Iraqis getting into neighboring countries; the supposed security concerns that prevent the U.S. from screening Iraqis inside Iraq. With the Guam option, none of this would matter.

[From The Guam Option: Interesting Times: Online Only: The New Yorker]

Sinajana Guam 1945

[Sinajana, Guam in 1945 ]

Mr. Packer wants President-elect Obama to at least consider the Guam option for Iraqi refugees:

I know Iraqi refugees are somewhere around 87th on anyone’s agenda. I know I should be writing about Gaza or economic stimulus—another day. But today, let me call your attention away from those pressing matters to a new report, scheduled for release on Monday, by Natalie Ondiak and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress (soon to be the Obama Administration’s Heritage or A.E.I.). It’s called “Operation Safe Haven Iraq 2009,” and it’s a detailed proposal for an airlift of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked with Americans there and whose lives are in danger, in perpetuum, as a result.

The report establishes the rationale for such an operation, familiar to readers of this blog (where the “Guam option” was first proposed over a year ago). It also lays out, in the careful manner of Washington think-tank papers, the steps that the new President would need to take, to wit:

1. Appoint a White House coordinator
2. Review current efforts
3. Finish background checks of qualified Iraqis
4. Begin a four-to-eight-week airlift, probably to Guam
5. Make sure all government agencies—State, Homeland Security, the military—work together
6. Resettle eligible Iraqis here after they’ve been “processed” outside the country

[From Obama’s Guam Option: Interesting Times: Online Only: The New Yorker]

10 thoughts on “The Guam Option

  1. Shannon Murphy says:

    I was a volunteer at Andersen AFB when the Kurds arrived! I held their kids, waited in line with them and presented a smiling American face as they were processed on arrival at Guam! I took Grandma and Grandpa one evening to see it. These people had everything they owned in their pockets or on their backs.

  2. It almost looks like you in the top photo, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

  3. Ken Foster says:

    I was part of the 3rd Medical Group from Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage Alaska that took part in Operation Pacific Haven. Our group was actually the second wave of medics that arrived in Guam (December ’96-April ’97). I must say that it was a long trip and very tiring at times, but well worth it. I have so many pictures from that trip, especially from all around the island of Guam. I had a great time down there, everyone worked well together and I’m glad I took part in such an operation.

  4. CJ says:

    I was one of the refugees in Guam as an early teen. Just wanted to say thank you for all that helped, America has offered us tremendous opportunities. If any of you have pictures, I would absolutely love to see some of them.

  5. rs says:

    I was also one of the refugees in guam (although I was 9 yrs old) but I still do remember everything about it. Thank you to everyone who helped us back then. We will never forget the generosity and the support everyone gave us. Thank you again and may god bless everyone.

  6. Faiza Sultan says:

    I was one of the refugees too, I was 25 years old. No words can express my gratitude to all the military personal who helped us. I really thank everyone. I started a new life her and I am a proud mother of 4 kids and run my own business! Thank you all!

  7. scott skeesick says:

    I was one of the Air Force Security personnel who worked the operation from the first day to the last. I met alot of great people, I hope they have transitioned well to life in the states.

  8. Keri Ryan says:

    I was one of the flight attendants who worked the operation. I remember being sent to Cairo, not knowing the importance of the flight. It was a very emotional week for me. I never forgot the families, and how appreciative they were. It was the first time I realized how lucky I was…
    I still have a bead from one of the women’s dresses given to me as gratitude.

  9. I was one of the refugees too i like to say behave all refugees thank’s to every one help us to get there specially us government and if any one has pictures please share withe me.
    Best Regard
    Abdulla Sindi

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