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Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division
September 23, 2005 8:53 PM   Subscribe

One officer and two non-commissioned officers (NCOs) of the 82nd Airborne who witnessed abuse, speaking on condition of anonymity, described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003-2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief. One soldier raised his concerns within the army chain of command for 17 months before the Army agreed to undertake an investigation, but only after he had contacted members of Congress and considered goingpublic with the story. According to their accounts, the torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis in detention was systematic and was known at varying levels of command. Military Intelligence personnel, they said, directed and encouraged army personnel to subject prisoners to forced, repetitive exercise, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness, sleep deprivation for days on end, and exposure to extremes of heat and cold as part of the interrogation process. At least one interrogator beat detainees in front of other soldiers. Soldiers also incorporated daily beatings of detainees in preparation for interrogations. Civilians believed to be from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted interrogations out of sight, but not earshot, of soldiers, who heard what they believed were abusive interrogations.

Human Rights Watch: Leadership Failure - Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. See also 3 in 82nd Airborne Say Abuse in Iraqi Prisons Was Routine
posted by y2karl (35 comments total)

 
Sergeant A: [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn't do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

Officer C: When I talked to [an official in the Inspector General’s office about the policy confusion on what was permitted] he says, “You obviously feel very upset about this, but—I don’t think you’re going to accomplish anything because things don’t stick to people inside the Beltway [Washington, D.C.].” He says, “I worked at the Pentagon and things don’t stick to people inside the Beltway.”
posted by caddis at 9:09 PM on September 23, 2005


Our Country, Tis of Thee...
Sweet Land of Liberty..
posted by Balisong at 9:19 PM on September 23, 2005


I'd be completely surprised if anyone other than whistle blowers or privates has a single charge filed against them.

God help American soldiers captured by enemies in the future.
posted by teece at 9:21 PM on September 23, 2005


boo fucking hoo
posted by wfrgms at 9:27 PM on September 23, 2005


Is it wrong or 'Evil' of me to want everyone who condones this shit to have to experience it themselves?
Or maybe their wives/kids/grandkids while they are made to watch?
posted by Balisong at 9:30 PM on September 23, 2005


I wrote off fair treatment of captured american troops quite some time ago. Right about the time that Gulf War I started and american fighter bombers started bombing civilian areas.
Is it any wonder that captured pilots are treated the way they are? How would you want to treat someone who had exacted similar treatment on you? I don't think you would want to ply them with milk and cookies and ask them what it's like the fly a plane.
A country that doesn't respect the Geneva Conventions has no right to go hiding behind them in it's time of need.
posted by mk1gti at 9:31 PM on September 23, 2005


The administration did say that these practices didn't violate the Geneva Convention. So given that we are fighting for these practices, we should try to do a better job of finding justifications for them.

So, let's see, stacking people up naked and sleep deprivation and a bit of rough housing doesn't do any long term physical damage. And these are the people that would destroy us and our country. We can't let them win. Uh, And if through these methods one detainee gives us information which prevents another large scale attack then it's all for the best.

Oh I feel like a used up whore.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:31 PM on September 23, 2005


Got any family or friends in the military, wfrgms? You enjoy the thought of them being tortured? The Geneva Convention was a hard-won step forward for human rights. I suspect you wouldn't be so dismissively glib if it was on your flesh that this safeguard were breaking down. Apathy is not a virtue. Shame on you.
posted by squirrel at 9:35 PM on September 23, 2005


Is it wrong or 'Evil' of me to want everyone who condones this shit to have to experience it themselves?
Or maybe their wives/kids/grandkids while they are made to watch?


Yes. Next question?

This is appalling, and even more appalling because it's so unsurprising. Good post.
posted by biscotti at 10:11 PM on September 23, 2005


But would it be wrong or "Evil" if by torturing a torturer in front of his family we could save a BUCKET OF PUPPIES!!! and if you didn't do it then Hitler would grind up a thousand live babies and rub their sweet goo all over himself while he masturbated furiously and read the script from Gigli aloud to nuns?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 PM on September 23, 2005


I'm sure there is an E-3 PFC somewhere that they can blame all of this on. How incredibly pathetic.
posted by buzzman at 10:17 PM on September 23, 2005


It's fishy - right? - that this story comes out on a Friday night/Saturday morning when the headline for the next few days is already sealed up (ie, Rita and aftermath)...

Way to bury a story.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:47 PM on September 23, 2005


Human RIghts Watch :Leadership Failure

I have a bone to pick with this title. The government decided to torture prisoners. They did so. They didn't fail, they succeeded. Now, you could perhaps argue that they failed in that they didn't get the information they were after or they failed to keep the media quiet about what was going on. But then, those aren't the sort of failures that a group like Human Rights Watch is supposed to be criticizing, is it?

The failure here is ours. We failed to prevent the administration from carrying out its objectives, even though it did everything but take out a full page ad to let us know about them ahead of time. I mean, having the AG announce that the pris- er, detainees didn't have the protections of the Geneva Convention... that's kind of a great big neon sign right there, don't you think?

So no, this isn't the result of a failure of leadership. It's the result of a failure of democracy.
posted by Clay201 at 11:50 PM on September 23, 2005


First things first. Any article that refers to prisoners in these facilities as "Iraqis" instantly gets a zap for not fact checking. The current insurgency is mostly Iraqi, and the percentage is growing, BUT most of the prisoners are foreigners from other muslim, mostly Arab, countries.

Second, anyone who does anything remotely like torture should be arrested and charged in military court. People often underestimate military justice because it is rarely publicized, but the fact is that Ft. Levenworth is a no fun place to be. It's one of the hardest prisons in the world. I mean, it's not crime riddled or mafioso on the inside like real prison, it's more like being in the hardest worked National Guard unit in the country, but not getting paid for it. They really make prisoners work for their time.

Third, and most importantly in my opinion, any officer who sanctions torture should be removed from post for one simple reason; it does not work. Have you noticed that the Marines don't have these problems? it's because, if you're a Marine, you aren't allowed anywhere near a prisoner if you haven't undergone extensive training. The Army, on the other hand, will happily put a signal team of communications specialists in charge of prisoners.

Who would have thought? You take a poor kid with no other options, train him to kill, and he goes out and does nasty things with little respect for life. Shocker.
posted by bryak at 11:52 PM on September 23, 2005


The current insurgency is mostly Iraqi, and the percentage is growing, BUT most of the prisoners are foreigners from other muslim, mostly Arab, countries.

You're going to need to back that up with hard data, as it seems to be quite unlikely to me. From what I've read, a very large number of detainees in Iraq are neither insurgents nor foreign fighters nor terrorists: they are just Iraqi males 12-40 who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, especially in the time frame in question here. It was common practice, at least from what I've read, to round up all fighting age men in a X-block-radius when something went bad in Iraq. I seem to remember estimates of 50% innocents that were simply released from custody, eventually. And this is about 2003-2004, not 2005. Even if I am totally misremembering the way Iraqi detainees were detained, just the time frame in question seems to eliminate the possibility of major numbers of foreign fighters.

With those facts in mind, I think the chances of even a significant number, let alone majority, of the prisoners being non-Iraqi is pretty small. But that really wouldn't change anything, now would it?
posted by teece at 12:02 AM on September 24, 2005


So I guess we should tell this guy that he really wasn't tortured, since he lived through it with all his fingers and toes. We should also tell him not to expect better in any similar situation, since we do worse to our detainees. Then we should tell him to stop whining about it and talking to the press, because talking about it hurts America.
posted by Balisong at 12:45 AM on September 24, 2005


Clay201: The failure here is ours. We failed to prevent the administration from carrying out its objectives ... So no, this isn't the result of a failure of leadership. It's the result of a failure of democracy.

This reminds me of one of the justifications I have heard used for terrorism against democratic countries. The thinking goes: if a democratic government is really by, of, and for the people, how responsible are the people for the warfare-worthy actions of their government? Either they are complicit, or they are not really democracy. If the military is a legitimate target, and the head of the military is said by all to be the representative of the popular will (and man, this country in question does not shut up about how awesomely democratic it is) are the people a legitimate target?

I'm not trying to "raise awareness" or attack your take on the torture issue, although I do happen to think that you're wrong ;) Just an interesting argument I've heard.
posted by fleacircus at 2:04 AM on September 24, 2005


that's one reason why we're not at all safer here but exactly the opposite, flea. We are completely complicit in everything our soldiers--the representatives of the US in warzones--do.

And we haven't been a democracy since the Supreme Court decision on Bush v. Gore, even before Iraq. We're Fascist now.
posted by amberglow at 8:10 AM on September 24, 2005


if a democratic government is really by, of, and for the people, how responsible are the people for the warfare-worthy actions of their government?

To whatever extent we have the ability to control our government's actions - and we probably have more control than the citizenry in most other countries - we are responsible for those actions.

If the military is a legitimate target, and the head of the military is said by all to be the representative of the popular will (and man, this country in question does not shut up about how awesomely democratic it is) are the people a legitimate target?

I don't really have an answer for that. In theory, I guess it is possible to make that argument. But you'd have to assume that simply because someone is responsible for a crime, that anyone then has the right to whack them. That isn't the way it works in civilized societies. We're supposed to have legal systems, trials, evidence, etc.

Besides, in order to count anyone as a legitimate target in any military/terrorist action, you have to be able to show that the evil of killing that person is likely to result in a greater amount of good (i.e. saving the lives of ten people). It's pretty rare that one can say such a thing about the targeting of civilians.

Also, if you target your enemy's civilians, it's pretty reasonable to suppose that he will then target yours. Can you justify placing your civilians in that position? In most cases, you probably can't.
posted by Clay201 at 8:48 AM on September 24, 2005


teece.

hard data is tough on this one because because it's all classified. you are right, most of the arrests are iraqi, but they tend to be released comparatively quickly; comparatively meaning within one or two months.

the reason these "abu g's" fill up like they do is because non-iraqis go in, but they generally don't come out. the iraqi turn around rate is a lot higher.

this is the problem with the internet, there's no accountability. i'm sure frontline says every last one of them is al qaeda's #3 man, whereas mama jones would lead us to believe that they are all iraqi school children who want to do nothing more than reach the legal age to vote.

i want to make a disclaimer that i do not have a history of popping up with right wing defenses, i just did in this case because (i hate saying this because 90% of internet arguments go there whether or not it's true) i... "work in the field". so, it's kind of like reading in the paper, only without the pesky "journalist"... or accountability.
posted by bryak at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2005


The government decided to torture prisoners. They did so. They didn't fail, they succeeded.

The failure was of democracy. If we still lived in a democracy, Bush would never have been appointed to office in 2000, nor would the transparently corrupt Diebold brothers have been allowed to rig 2004 with no-papertrail, easily hackable voting machines.

Corporate powers buy and subvert elections, corporate powers draw us into an illegal occupation, corporate powers control the media that doesn't investigate or report it. Amberglow is right: this is not a democracy, it's governance by corporations, which is fascism.
posted by squirrel at 9:31 AM on September 24, 2005


The 'myth' of Iraq's foreign fighters:
he US and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, and most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia, according to a new report [PDF] from the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). According to a piece in The Guardian, this means the US and Iraq "feed the myth" that foreign fighters are the backbone of the insurgency. While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they only comprise only about 4 to 10 percent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents.

The CSIS study also disputes media reports that Saudis comprise the largest group of foreign fighters.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2005


I don't know if the US is Fascist, yet. It's more of a post-democratic demago-plutocracy.
posted by signal at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2005


Bryant said: any officer who sanctions torture should be removed from post for one simple reason; it does not work.

Isn't being "removed from post" something of a lenient approach? It is, of course, exactly what happens. US Army torturers are like pedophile priests, shuffling from post to post with every new media exposure.

But I find it surprising that you think that's what should happen. You say you don't usually provide right-wing defences. Are you offering this one to play devil's advocate, or do you really believe what you say?
posted by cleardawn at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2005


Are you offering this one to play devil's advocate, or do you really believe what you say?

allow me to clarify. they should be removed from post because they are ineffective leaders (hence, it doesn't work); they should spend the rest of their lives in ft. levenworth making big rocks into little rocks for their crimes. personally, i'm all for hanging them on the deck of a battleship, but i'm a wicked, nasty person.

also, don't be so quick to polarize. if i am as right-wing as you so jumped on me for, why am i keeping up with mefi?

also, in case the myth of iraq's foreign fighters was directed at my comment, i'd like point out that i already said that most of the insurgency is iraqi, i'm just referring to "detainees", or whatever the heck we're calling them this week.
posted by bryak at 2:16 PM on September 24, 2005


The new allegations center around systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees by men of the 82nd Airborne at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base located near Fallujah, the scene of a major uprising against the U.S. occupation in April 2004, according to sources familiar with the report and accounts given by the Captain, who is in his mid-20s, to Senate staff. Much of the abuse allegedly occurred in 2003 and 2004, before and during the period the Army was conducting an internal investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, but prior to when the abuses at Abu Ghraib became public. Other alleged abuses described in the Human Rights report occurred at Camp Tiger, near Iraq's border with Syria, and previously in Afghanistan. In addition, the report details what the Captain says was his unsuccessful effort over 17 months to get the attention of military superiors. Ultimately he approached the Republican senators...

The Captain is quoted in the report describing how military intelligence personnel at Camp Mercury directed enlisted men to conduct daily beatings of prisoners prior to questioning; to subject detainees to strenuous forced exercises to the point of unconsciousness; and to expose them to extremes of heat and cold—all methods designed to produce greater cooperation with interrogators...

Specific instances of abuse described in the Human Rights Watch report include severe beatings, including one incident when a soldier allegedly broke a detainee's leg with a metal bat. Others include prisoners being stacked in human pyramids (unlike the human pyramids at Abu Ghraib, the prisoners at Camp Mercury were clothed); soldiers administering blows to the face, chest and extremities of prisoners; and detainees having their faces and eyes exposed to burning chemicals, being forced into stress positions for long periods leading to unconsciousness and having their water and food withheld.

Prisoners were designated as PUCs (pronounced "pucks")—or "persons under control." A regular pastime at Camp Mercury, the report says, involved off-duty soldiers gathering at PUC tents, where prisoners were held, and working off their frustrations in activities known as "F____a PUC" (beating the prisoner) and "Smoke a PUC" (forced physical exertion, sometimes to the point of collapse). Broken limbs and similar painful injuries would be treated with analgesics, the soldiers claim, as medical staff would fill out paperwork stating the injuries occurred during capture. Support for some of the allegations of abuse come from a sergeant of the 82nd Airborne who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch quotes him as saying that, "To 'F____ a PUC' means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.


Pattern of Abuse
posted by y2karl at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2005


First things first. Any article that refers to prisoners in these facilities as "Iraqis" instantly gets a zap for not fact checking. The current insurgency is mostly Iraqi, and the percentage is growing, BUT most of the prisoners are foreigners from other muslim, mostly Arab, countries.

And you have this 'knowledge' of 'facts' exactly how?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:41 PM on September 24, 2005


Thanks for the re-rail, y2karl.

What we're talking about here is systematic abuse. Everyone doing it. The whole fucking 82nd Airborne doing it, even the guys on rest days.

So if we try to lock up the torturers, we'll be locking up the entire army, or at least the entire 82nd.

bryak: You said your defence was right wing, not me! There are a lot of right wing folks on MeFi, and some of them are friends of mine. I'm not interested in polarizing debate, and I didn't jump on you at all: I simply asked whether you believed what you were saying, or were playing devil's advocate.

I guess from your response that there's a bit of both: you kind of believe, or you want to believe, but at the same time, you sort of kind of know that what you're saying doesn't make much sense.

You know - it's OK to change your mind. we all do that sometimes, and the ones who do it most tend to wind up with the most accurate picture.

Have you considered quitting your job beating up Iraqis and going back home to your family instead? Because it is a free world, and you can do that if you want to, you know. Many people would respect you more for making that decision, including me.
posted by cleardawn at 6:14 PM on September 24, 2005


It's fishy - right? - that this story comes out on a Friday night/Saturday morning when the headline for the next few days is already sealed up (ie, Rita and aftermath)...

My understanding is that HRW was planning to release the report later, but moved it up when Time picked up the story.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:11 PM on September 24, 2005


You know, the one thing I liked about that Ben Kingsley film, Death and the Maiden--okay, one of a few things--is the scene where the villian thinks he's going to die, and he finally confesses to torturing Sigourney Weaver's character, including rape, in a serial manner with untolled numbers of other "disappeared". He admits outright that he loved it, that it scratched an itch he had always felt, and that he was sorry when it ended. Leave it to Polanski (whose pregnant wife was mutilated by the Charles Manson family, for you trivia buffs out there) to show us the true face of depraved cruelty.

Western societies tend to be so full of inacurate myths about the average person's capacities that we forget--perhaps conveniently--what ordinary people like ourselves are capable of in extraordinary circumstances. US culture in particular feasts its empathy on the good, the heroes, and pretends that the bad, the "evildoers" are opaque and incomprehensible. Those who are beyond our mental grasp should just be snuffed out. Evildoers are anomilous, freak accidents, srapable. Yet, in reality, such monsters live among us, pinned-in by circumstances, time bombs that may or may never go off. US society creates monsters at a rate higher than any other culture that I know.
posted by squirrel at 7:20 PM on September 24, 2005


101st Airborne: Screaming Eagles
82nd Airborne: A Few Bad Apples
posted by kirkaracha at 11:01 PM on September 24, 2005


i don't beat up internees (that's the new 'hip' word), i talk to them.

you might notice the dates on all of these events stopped well over a year ago. that's because, since the abu g embarassment, they are very sensitive about the whole human rights abuse against detained personnel... thing. they actually have people who know how to run a facility running them now. don't get me wrong, it's no puppy dogs, fireworks, and candy store in there, but it is organized and (fairly) well run.

if i quit my job and went home, i would probably be replaced by a person who really does hate these people and want to beat them up, so no, i'm not going home any time soon.

nothing personal cleardawn, but i'm not too worried about some guy out in the interweb respecting me. i have plenty of friends and family back in california who do that already. then again, that could just be fear, i've never really been good at telling the difference.

this teaches me to get involved in an et2,karl? discussion thread. on that note, i think i am going to have to bow out of this one because i have to go to work; you win. i'll be sure to let the guys know that they're iraqi.
posted by bryak at 11:13 PM on September 24, 2005


Yes, bryak, there is a difference between fear and respect. It's similar to the difference between 'might' and 'right'.

Apparently, some people get it, and some people don't - I'm always fascinated by that.
posted by cleardawn at 10:49 AM on September 25, 2005


Bringing Jihad Home to Europe
posted by homunculus at 11:54 AM on September 25, 2005


From Juan Cole:
Al-Hayat for 9/28 reports figures given by Iraqi officials on the foreigners detained in Iraq: according to the officials quoted, US forces in Iraq hold in detention over 10,000 persons, of whom only 210 are foreigners. Of those, the largest group by far is made up of Saudis (35%). Syrians, Tunisians and Libyans together amount to 15%, Palestinians and Jordanians are 10%, and Egyptians and Sudanese 5%.

So just in case any readers didn't notice, everything Bryak said in this thread was complete politically-motivated, made-up horsemanure. Shame, really. But at least we can point it out next time he tries to post similar drivel.
posted by cleardawn at 4:31 PM on September 28, 2005


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