A former Iraq interrogator describes nightmares from his memories of abusing detainees:
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.
He describes this as anything but an isolated incident:
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.
This is a disturbing piece, which corroborates similar reports through the years. Read it all.
UPDATE: Jules Crittenden disagrees:
I feel bad that this guy is having nightmares, and I hope he is getting the PTSD counseling he needs. A lot of people can’t forget what they saw and did in Iraq. I could describe for you in detail the faces of the middle-aged Iraqi soldiers on whom I directed 50. cal fire, and exactly what they looked like when they died 30 feet away, as I directed the gunner’s fire from one to another until they were all dead. For a long time, I saw them every day. I examined their faces for clues about who they were, and to divine the exact moment and exact manner in which life exits the body. I also wept once, and asked forgiveness, because no matter what else they were, they were also human. I was a reporter. Some people didn’t think I was supposed to be doing what I did, and called me a murderer. Screw them. Those were people who didn’t even know the truth they thought they knew. Guess what: War is hell.
I think the difference is that, under the admittedly perverse rules of war, we’re supposed to be shooting the enemy. But once we’ve captured them, we’re not supposed to be physically abusing them. I imagine the trauma the participants later feel has less to do with whether they followed the “rules” (although I imagine that’s a factor) and more to do with what they actually did. But there is a difference there.
For me, the power of the piece comes not from Fair’s description of his internal distress. It comes from the corroboration he gives, as someone with no apparent axe to grind, to many other reports of similar wrongdoing over the years.