The memory haunts him. It was a grainy pencil-sketch of two American men in a Baghdad courtroom, one slumped over as if in considerable pain. It flashed briefly the other day on his television screen. Could that be his son?
Raymond Daliberti does not know. He may not know for some time. He may never know. And for two weeks he has had to hold his temper, lest his anger incite the unpredictable Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
A former career Navy man who knows the might of the U.S. military, Daliberti wishes to himself that the Pentagon would scale the walls of the Abu Gharib prison in the Baghdad suburbs and free his captured son, David.
“If I were 20 years younger and Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he said, “I’d grab an AK-47 and parachute in there myself. But I’m 71 and I’m mad at the whole situation. And I’m mad that there is nothing I can do about it.”
So the Daliberti family sits in Jacksonsville, Fla., as official Washington slowly maneuvers along a course of “quiet diplomacy.”
Equally frustrated is the family of William Barloon, who along with David Daliberti was captured after crossing the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border on March 13 and sentenced to eight years in prison.
Barloon’s brother, Edward, is a Vietnam War combat veteran. He works now as a Veterans Affairs instructor in Minneapolis. But he too stops short of calling for a Marine invasion of Iraq.
Instead, he defers to diplomatic rhetoric and swallows the horror of his brother sitting in a notorious Iraqi prison.
“As each day goes on, it becomes more stressful,” he said. “More and more stressful as each day turns into another day.”
In Washington, the Clinton administration finds itself at yet another crisis point where a seemingly harmless incident has turned into one more international standoff. Much like the tensions of last year when a U.S. aviator crashed in North Korea, the capture in Iraq of the two American aircraft engineers has increased the pressure on already-strained relations between the United States and Iraq.
Baghdad has condemned Barloon and Daliberti as spies. Washington has labeled the charge “preposterous.”
Iraq suggests that maybe now there is room to ease the economic sanctions against their country. The United States counters that it will not relent as long as Iraq holds two Americans behind bars.
And, as the diplomatic world turns, for the families of two men, the frustrations mount.
“Please use e-mail, the telephone or good old U.S. mail to contact your Congress person and your senator, and the White House,” Kathy Daliberti said in a message posted Monday on the Internet. “Tell them that you will support them in their efforts to get Iraq to send my husband and Bill home.”
Raymond Daliberti last heard from his son the night before his disappearance.
On March 12, David called home to express sorrow over an aunt’s death and to chat about his trip. His father said his son was planning to visit some friends along the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq - a story that lines up with what the administration has said.
The next call to the Dalibertis in Florida was from the State Department.
State Department officials told the family that the men had gone less than a mile before realizing they were in Iraq. They turned the car around, but were stopped before they could get back through the Kuwaiti checkpoint.
They were seized, he said, in full view of the U.N. border guards.
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