Sunday, 11 February 2007

An Iraq Interrogator'

An Iraq Interrogator'

s Nightmare
By Eric Fair, The Washington Post (Op-Ed)
Feb. 9, 2007

A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for
help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and
it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.
That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my
return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular
nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at
a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators
assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne
Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected
associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar
province who had been captured two months earlier.

The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was
to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell
every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his
clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep
through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I
once harassed him.
Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the
interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I
failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the
standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated
a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never
forgive myself.
American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at
Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention
system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own
experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced
to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with
their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation
in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a
variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and
in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of
acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The
violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My
memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.
While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked
the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and
in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I'm ashamed of that failure,
but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to
infect my every thought, I'm becoming more ashamed of my silence.
Some may suggest there is no reason to revive the story of abuse in Iraq.
Rehashing such mistakes will only harm our country, they will say. But
history suggests we should examine such missteps carefully. Oppressive
prison environments have created some of the most determined opponents. The
British learned that lesson from Napoleon, the French from Ho Chi Minh,
Europe from Hitler. The world is learning that lesson again from Ayman
al-Zawahiri. What will be the legacy of abusive prisons in Iraq?
We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me
have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to
the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this
problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq. Regardless of how many
young Americans we send to war, or how many militia members we kill, or how
many Iraqis we train, or how much money we spend on reconstruction, we will
not escape the damage we have done to the people of Iraq in our prisons.
I am desperate to get on with my life and erase my memories of my
experiences in Iraq. But those memories and experiences do not belong to me.
They belong to history. If we're doomed to repeat the history we forget,
what will be the consequences of the history we never knew? The citizens and
the leadership of this country have an obligation to revisit what took place
in the interrogation booths of Iraq, unpleasant as it may be. The story of
Abu Ghraib isn't over. In many ways, we have yet to open the book.

The writer served in the Army from 1995 to 2000 as an Arabic linguist and
worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator in early 2004. His e-mail address

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