Friday, May 16, 2008

Kirk Johnson on CBS 60 Minutes

Kirk Johnson and The List Project are the focus of Principle Pictures' newest feature documentary. We have been filming with Kirk and the Iraqis on his list since August 2007.

When Kirk Johnson came home from Iraq after working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, he had a plan: get into the best law school he could. But that plan changed when Kirk heard about Ahmed*, an Iraqi colleague who was receiving death threats. Ahmed also worked for USAID, and although he had tried to hide what he did for a living, the militia werfe ollowing him. They branded Ahmed a traitor, left death threats on his door, and forced him to start a life on the run. "I asked my bosses at USAID to transfer me," he says. "I would go anywhere in the world - to any country. But they said, no, we're sorry. If you do not come back to work in Baghdad, you are terminated."

Ahmed would become the first person on Kirk's "List" which has become a huge database of Iraqis who believed in America's vision of building a democratic Iraq. Like so many of the other Iraqis who signed on as interpreters, drivers and reconstruction specialists, Ahmed had grown up watching Hollywood movies, practicing English, and hoping that one day Iraqis would be able to acheive their own version of the American Dream. In the Spring of 2003, it seemed that day had come.

But it didn't take long before the once coveted U.S. work badges became a symbol of "collaboration" with the enemy, and Ahmed and his friends began leading double lives. Ahmed told his family he had quit his job with the Americans, and pretended to go to work every day for an Iraqi company.

A year later the death threat came... punctuated by the severed head of a small dog. The message was - "You're next."

That day, Ahmed and his wife left their home and their country. Not long after, Ahmed and Johnson reconnected. They were two guys who had bonded in the frenzied excitement over Iraq's reconstruction. Together, they had set out to do their part in building a stable, democratic Iraq. And at the time, it hadn't seemed at all naive. Why should it have? At the time, everything seemed possible. But all that had changed. Johnson was back in Chicago after a devastating accident caused by his own post-traumatic stress issues. And Ahmed was running for his life.

Neither could have anticipated it at the time, but finding each other again meant an attempt to fulfill a new dream. Johnson started The List Project to help Ahmed and other Iraqis who have been branded "traitors" by the militias for aiding the U.S.-led war effort. Today, there are more than 1,000 names on Johnson's list. About 40 of them have been allowed into the United States... Ahmed is one of them.

*Ahmed's name has been changed to protect his safety and the safety of his family.

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