Eighteen years ago Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait, an action that set off a confrontation that led to the first Gulf War. A number of Americans were held hostage during that conflict, both POW’s and “Human Shields.” One of them is Reno resident George Charchalis.
Today, Charchalis and others are still seeking justice. A bill passed last week in the House of Representatives is their latest, best chance. Surprisingly, their biggest opposition is the US Government.
In 1990, the former Reno Community Development Director was working in Kuwait, director for a huge environmental project, when Saddam invaded. He was trapped, hiding until an Iraqi soldier broke down his door.
"He popped me in the head pretty good," says Charchalis, "and kicked me in the stomach." The kick tore open a repaired hernia.
He and nearly 200 other Americans were taken north into Iraq, held as human shields. "We were told if Americans start bombing they'd shoot all of us."
Five months later efforts by an Iranian friend and the King of Jordan placed Charchalis in a group of hostages freed and released to Muhammad Ali. He arrived back in Reno to a tearful reunion with friends and family, treatment for his injuries and post traumatic stress syndrome.
He and others eventually joined in a civil suit aimed at the billions of dollars of Iraqi assets frozen in US banks, but that door slammed shut in 2003 at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the administration has tried to keep it shut ever since. Arguing frozen Iraqi dollars in American banks are needed for reconstruction there, the president refused to sign a defense authorization bill last year unless Iraqi liability was waived. Word is the bill passed last week by the House allowing the lawsuits may face the same fate.
Even so, Charchalis says it's important to press the claim, if not for the compensation, then the principal
"If the president hadn't used a pocket veto, this would have been a done deal," says Charchalis. "He promised he would take care of these people, but reneged. I know Saddam's regime is gone, but I think Iraq is still legally and morally responsible. I'm optimistic. If you're born and raised in Ely, Nevada you come into the world thinking there's something better."