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An Interrogator's Lament
February 9, 2007 10:25 AM   Subscribe

"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."
posted by empath (58 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
But Bush sleeps better than you might expect.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on February 9, 2007


Wow. They posted his email address at that bottom of the article. I cannot even imagine the hate mail that he's going to get from both extremes. I don't know if doing that was part of his penance or just plan masochism.
posted by psmealey at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hajis ain't real people so they don't count.

Our War To Resubjugate the Brown People must proceed without delay. Can't make an omelet without breaking a few heads eggs.

We're all proud of the moral Bushco leadership and how well our tax dollars are spent. This was done in the name of every US citizen ya' know.
posted by nofundy at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2007


But Bush sleeps better than you might expect.

Bush has special coffee. He needs no sleep.
posted by Anything at 10:43 AM on February 9, 2007


Someone please explain to me why Joe Sixpack cares more about the death of a clueless starlet than what is happening to countless souls in a far-away land?
Oh. Guess I answered my own question.
posted by Dizzy at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2007


The article says he worked as a "contract interrogator". That sounds very Spanish Inquisition - it could probably be spelled "g-o-o-n" if you needed to save space (like in a classifed ad in Modern Mercenary, for example).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


I am both glad that he has nightmares about it, this indicates that he is not sociopathic, and that he can recognize the harm he has done. To me, the real heroes are not those who blindly follow the established path and achieve their goals , or who never have done wrong things. To me, heroes are those who HAVE done bad things, but who take responsibility for their actions, and profoundly change for the better, and in doing so make amends for their actions.
posted by edgeways at 10:50 AM on February 9, 2007 [8 favorites]


Man has nightmares. Film at 11.
posted by phaedon at 10:53 AM on February 9, 2007


Bush has special coffee. He needs no sleep.

You know who else liked to make coffee in hotels?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:55 AM on February 9, 2007


You know who else liked to make coffee in hotels?

Osama bin Laden?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:00 AM on February 9, 2007


Surprisingly, Himmler.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Indeed. He wrote a quite controversial, but seminal volume on the topic title "Kaffee im Gasthausen".
posted by boo_radley at 11:06 AM on February 9, 2007 [6 favorites]


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.

QED. Mr Bush, Herr 220;berdoktor Cheney, please step down now.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:12 AM on February 9, 2007


Crap, why did the HTML character entity work in preview but not after posting?

"Herr Uberdocktor Cheney".
posted by oncogenesis at 11:14 AM on February 9, 2007


It's amazing that a guy who is brave enough to publish this piece still cannot bring himself to use the word "torture."
posted by RogerB at 11:16 AM on February 9, 2007


Man has nightmares. Film at 11.
posted by phaedon


You are too flippant, phaedon.
posted by wsg at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2007


The guy raises a really valid point though, and one that we have discussed here in the past; how many new threats to ourselves are we creating in these places?

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.

Won't we all have a good laugh when in 20 years from now, one of the former prisoners of Abu Ghraib is the leader of an opposition group that uses heretofore unheard of terrorist tactics against us.

Or if you want to scale it back a bit, think about how many people in the Muslim world have gone from indifference to the US to ready to take up arms against us because of our behavior in these prisons.

I'm glad that accounts like this are beginning to come out. The more we know about this, the more we can shine light on these dark little places.
posted by quin at 11:23 AM on February 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


That guy's breaking out of a tough mold to say the things he is. I'm impressed by his ability to elucidate just what is the matter. Chances are the military can just deny he was there; they're sure to keep covering their asses. Those contractors are mostly ex-military men. Admitting wrong, copping to nightmares, and voicing remorse are much harder than falling back on the "under orders" excuse.

I hope more contractors and soldiers with similar stories can find it in themselves to speak these truths, though I wish these things weren't true. It's all such a shame.
posted by breezeway at 11:24 AM on February 9, 2007


To me, heroes are those who HAVE done bad things, but who take responsibility for their actions, and profoundly change for the better, and in doing so make amends for their actions.

I also think that one should let the door to change always open , but let's remember a useful distinction between

1. people who really travel the pains of changing their behavior, recognize the irrationality of their toughts/actions, understand their errors

2.and those who just claim they are born-again-whatever.

It may seem callous to doubt a grieving person, but there are people out there that can put up a very plausible display of contrition and not really lose their plateally self-depreciated habits/toughts. How could one differentiate the two ? I believe many people out there are more then willing to give others a chance, as they naturally wish they will be offered if they need one.

Yet they probably start thinking that there is no room for change, "evil" remains the same ; they seek for punishment of the _person_ because many fear double-faced, unpredictable evil and think punishment will scare them away. Evidence of double-faced , incoherent and hypocrite behavior reinforces such belief. Yet how do one tell which person is really changing and which is only playing one ? I think that the understanding of how one person "works", starting from self, is a way that could develop useful differentiating skills.

Let's also consider that some people reading the article is probably thinking he well deserves the same treatement he administered, as they don't see any reedming value in confessing , as that will not remove the pain and damage done.
posted by elpapacito at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2007


It is good that he is repentant. However, if he really wants to be a hero, turn himself in, name names, and pay for his crime, and help to ensure others pay for theirs.

Simply being Pilate is not enough.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:38 AM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I found this quite moving. Truthfully, I tend to think people who do this sort of thing as pure conscienceless evil. This piece helps me see that it's not so simple. And it gives me a small glimmer of hope that concepts like redemption still have at least some currency.
posted by treepour at 11:50 AM on February 9, 2007


Thanks for posting this. I agree with others that the bravery of self-accusation is perhaps even greater than the anti-authoritarian mentality of most whistle-blowers and conscientious objectors. What we're seeing here is a truly rare, hopeful, and difficult thing: a person changing.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:54 AM on February 9, 2007


We're bringing the war back home
posted by hortense at 11:59 AM on February 9, 2007


My grandfather, who is one of the most decent people I know, recently told me that he was involved in Project Phoenix in Vietnam. He was just writing checks, but he knew what he was funding (assassinations, etc) and didn't think it was right (or legal). But I can't imagine how difficult it must be to try and be the only sane person when everything around you is going crazy.
posted by empath at 12:03 PM on February 9, 2007


posted by empath

awesome.
posted by mkultra at 12:08 PM on February 9, 2007


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.

Did/does anyone actually believe that? Anyone at all?
posted by clevershark at 12:13 PM on February 9, 2007


Astro Zombie writes "But Bush sleeps better than you might expect."

To be affected by one's acts one a)needs a conscience, and b)needs to be conscious of what's happening around him. Thus the Vice-President and President both sleep soundly and peacefully at night while old Nick smacks his chops waiting for their eventual arrival.
posted by clevershark at 12:18 PM on February 9, 2007


And speaking of torture -- "The Politics of The Man Behind 24"
posted by Kloryne at 12:37 PM on February 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Did/does anyone actually believe that? Anyone at all?
posted by clevershark


According to current polls, probably a little over 25% of the US population.
posted by nofundy at 12:39 PM on February 9, 2007


Interestingly, Sergeant Joseph Darby, who brought the Prison Abu scandal had to live in protective custody for several years, why?

Because he has received numerous death threats from freedom-loving Americans who believe in democracy and peace.

Not only that. Americans threatened Darby's family.
posted by CameraObscura at 12:39 PM on February 9, 2007


24 isn't a tv show. 24 is carefully crafted pop propaganda designed to create a new popular mythology justifying (if not glorifying) torture and the war on terror.

I wonder if Donald and Kiefer even speak anymore...
posted by stenseng at 12:52 PM on February 9, 2007


He humiliated and abused people, then posted a maudlin little story about how he can't sleep at night because he feels bad about himself. Good! He should feel bad about himself- he's a terrible, terrible person! Even in his confession, he expresses more pity for himself and his own bad dreams than for the lives he destroyed.

He's "desperate to get on with his life." I hope he never does. I hope this haunts him until the day he dies. He deserves no less.

He gets no sympathy from me. I used it all up on the men he tortured.
posted by Jatayu das at 1:23 PM on February 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


You must have some sort of sympathy-deficiency syndrome, Jatayu das. I've got enough sympathy for this guy, his victims, and you!
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:42 PM on February 9, 2007


You're forgetting the well-known conservation of sympathy law.
posted by grobstein at 1:46 PM on February 9, 2007


"...As for individual guards or interrogators, whenever they are encouraged or ordered to use torture, two war crimes are committed: one against the torturer and the other against the prisoner. The torturer and the tortured are both victims, unless the torturer is a sadist or a loose cannon who needs to be court-martialed. This violation of conscience is sure to breed self-hatred, shame and mental torment for a lifetime to come..."

Kermit D. Johnson is a chaplain and major general in the U.S. Army (retired).

----------------------------------

Spain to hand judge documents on secret CIA flights
By Jane Barrett Fri Feb 9, 10:30 AM ET

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain agreed on Friday to hand a judge intelligence documents about secret
CIA flights that transported terrorism suspects to third countries where investigators say they may have faced torture or abuse.

The documents, which include details of flights that stopped off on the islands of Mallorca and Tenerife, will be handed to High Court Judge Ismael Moreno who is investigating whether suspects flown via Spain were held illegally or were tortured...
posted by taosbat at 2:01 PM on February 9, 2007


Interestingly, Sergeant Joseph Darby, who brought the Prison Abu scandal had to live in protective custody for several years, why?

Because he has received numerous death threats from freedom-loving Americans who believe in democracy and peace.


I sure hope that if the law could muster the resources for protective custody, they could also muster the resources to track down the people who made the death threats. That kind of stuff is completely intolerable, and if there wasn't a response from the law, it's enough to make me think maybe some counter-vigilanteism would be in order lest any member of that drooling sect of morally-challenged fake patriots be left with the idea they could act unchecked.
posted by namespan at 2:21 PM on February 9, 2007


Being haunted by something until the day you die can mean a lot of things, Jatayu das. Some might be frivolous, like being reminded that you once stole a candy bar every time you see a Snickers ad. Sometimes the haunt is proportional: a sniper sees every face he's ever targeted, a bomb developer sees every child his bomb ever burnt, a man who deprived other men of sleep in a torture routine deprives himself of sleep in turn. The relationship between torturer and tortured goes far beyond power vs. powerlessness; to a certain extent everyone who hurts is hurt himself. The mind has many ways of acclimating itself to hurting others.

Imagine hitting the smallest kid in school. Now imagine hitting him harder. Now imagine hitting him 'til he cries and it leaves a bruise. You start to feel bad. Most of us would stop. Now imagine your teacher tells you to go on hitting him. If you don't you'll get a failing grade. If you don't you'll be next. If you don't you'll end up back in elementary school. Eventually you find some reason to hate that little kid, and like your work, because beating him up is all you do in school. Eventually you're a full-fledged bully. But at the twenty-year reunion, no matter who the little kid's become, you feel like an asshole, and like you owe him an apology, and you wish he could have beat you up just once. You're haunted by what you've done.

Did you read Fast Food Nation? The part that struck me most was the section describing the big factory slaughterhouses, with all the unskilled workers making assembly line cuts in carcasses for ten hours at a time. And how the point man, the one up front with the bolt gun, pointing it at the cattle's heads, shooting: they're alive, BANG, they're dead, they're alive, BANG, they're dead. And those guys go home and have skyrocketing domestic violence rates, skyrocketing suicide rates. Those guys are haunted.

I used to think that was the worst job in America. Now I think being an Abu Ghraib torturer is. These guys aren't screened when they join up: oh, this cat's a sadist, let's put him in the prison pipeline. No, these men and women are made to punch that little schoolkid, over and over again, until they find some way to like it. And then when they don't do it for a living anymore, it haunts them.

It's terrible, what he did. Torture is awful, inexcusable, illegal, pointless, rotten. This guy knows it, and that's why it haunts him so. For the rest of his life, he'll remember it.

I hope he can sleep someday. Being haunted is terrible, and wishing it on someone is foolish, but I guess it's a sign of a clean conscience, and a sign of a happy life. Congratulations. Not everyone's so lucky, and not everyone's so free to make they choices you've made.

You're blessed. Don't curse others.
posted by breezeway at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2007 [17 favorites]


cannot bring himself to use the word "torture."

because torture involves electricity and genitalia, bamboo and fingernails, mahogany batons and bare feet, fire and skin. eric fair kept a guy naked, dirty, cold and awake. which would a prisoner have chosen?

i don't think we should have gone into iraq and i think bush is a feces-encrusted goat penis, but this self-serving mewling twat makes me want to barf.
posted by quonsar at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2007


This reminds me of an essay by Vladimir Bukovsky, a Russian disident who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities. One of the most chilling points he makes about torturers and the society that condones them is the torturers' mentality that insinuates itself in day to day civilian life:
"But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists"
Empath posted the link in this y2karl thread from a while back. It's worth rereading, and relates to some of the issues brought up in this one.
posted by maryh at 2:24 PM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well said, breezeway.
posted by maryh at 2:26 PM on February 9, 2007


Oops! Sorry, that was empath's thread, too.
posted by maryh at 2:30 PM on February 9, 2007


To me, heroes are those who HAVE done bad things, but who take responsibility for their actions, and profoundly change for the better, and in doing so make amends for their actions.

I would restate to say "...and profoundly change things for the better, and in doing so make amends for their actionsleave the world a better place."
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:28 PM on February 9, 2007


breezeway:

And then when they don't do it for a living anymore, it haunts them.

I concur with your point of view , but wish to add a couple points

1. if they were not screend for control tendencies, then they were probably ordered (not written of course) as they were not likely to take any initiative
2. if so the tension was probably relieved by the authority ordering them to do X, as the stick was maybe courtmartial or more likely peer pressure (not necessarily exercised by same rank peers)

Therefore when they eventually quit what they were doing, they may also attach deeply to the fact they were ordered to by authority. Clearly, that doesn't justify their acts not a bit, but still they may rationalize from here to mars and keep the "I was ordered" line as sound justification for their actions.

Now, if they are discovered, one could also make them notice the order were illegal, but some would still have problems with this.

The problems is, how many were ordered and were not found ? I may be wrong, but I think some of these individuals may have developed a belief they like what they were doing.
I think it's a good idea to know who they are and find them.
posted by elpapacito at 4:31 PM on February 9, 2007


Can't say I feel sorry for him.

Viva Ehrin Watada!
posted by rougy at 4:45 PM on February 9, 2007


Here is a link to Watada

From a brief glance at wiki , I appreciate the risks he is taking and the sacrifice and prison time he would face if found guilty. Definitely a very commendable officier, imho.

But to compare Eric Fair to Watada, it seems to me like comparing apples to oranges.

Apparently, Eric is
I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division.
which seems like an ordinary, if well read, guy lost in a sea of hard faced, no nonsense, often binary thinking do or die military. I wouldn't be suprised to see that some officier managed to push him into what he did : now that wouldn't _excuse_ his actions, but would put an interesting perspective on what is going on at the place...I don't think psyops is just secret agents and nation destroying.

Watada probably understand very well that there is no such thing as a single-man waged war against a system ; I would bet that he is also a lot more self-confident then Eric, but not suicidial. Indeed the sensation is that he looked for supports, planned accurately what to do before he actually did, which is what I would expect from an officier trained to command and take rational decision while facing difficult situations.

Now Eric probably was very much alone and is just a translator, while Watada is an officier with training, in a different context, trained to command and used to receiving orders and , evidently, analyze them and not just knee jerk react like some soldier do.

Watada is admirable, Eric deserves sympathy for seeing he did wrong and coming out.
posted by elpapacito at 5:32 PM on February 9, 2007


... Because it is a simple truth that when you treat human beings like animals, you become one yourself. And on some level, there is a part of every person that howls in protest against such debasement whether they are the perpetrator or the victim. ...
posted by amberglow at 5:40 PM on February 9, 2007


elpapacito, I think you read more into the word "civilian" then is perhaps warranted, although I like your point non-the-less. Although a civilian, he may very well also be a highly trained ex-military (or CIA for that matter) interrogator. Civilian simply tells us he is not currently a member of the military and says nothing of his former life.

He deserves sympathy, but taking responsibility would be going to the authorities and offering to testify (possibly standing in judgement himself).
posted by Bovine Love at 6:17 PM on February 9, 2007


Every Warrior of the Light
has felt afraid of going into battle.

Every Warrior of the Light
has, at some time in the past, lied or betrayed someone.

Every Warrior of the Light
has trodden a path that was not his.

Every Warrior of the Light
has suffered for the most trivial of reasons.

Every Warrior of the Light
has, at least once, believed he was not a Warrior of the Light.

Every Warrior of the Light
has failed in his spiritual duties.

Every Warrior of the Light
has said 'yes' when he wanted to say 'no.'

Every Warrior of the Light
has hurt someone he loved.

That is why he is a Warrior of the Light,
Because he has been through all this
and yet has never lost hope of being better than he is.

~ Paulo Coelho
posted by forforf at 6:31 PM on February 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bovine Love writes "However, if he really wants to be a hero, turn himself in..."

To whom?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:36 PM on February 9, 2007


Bovine Love writes "He deserves sympathy, but taking responsibility would be going to the authorities and offering to testify (possibly standing in judgement himself)."

No, seriously, which authorities?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:37 PM on February 9, 2007


Military Police would be a start. There is no guarantee of anything happening, or even that they are the right authorities, but that isn't an excuse. Taking Responsibility is not just say "I was wrong", it is actually standing up and doing something about it. I do respect him for being public, and it is -- at the minimum -- exposing him to the danger of prosecution not to mention harassment. But, so far, I can't let off criminals just because they say they were wrong.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:43 PM on February 9, 2007


The guy raises a really valid point though, and one that we have discussed here in the past; how many new threats to ourselves are we creating in these places?

Not just "in these places," and not just terroristic threats.

A couple of my friends just got back from their first Mexico vacation. We Canucks flock by the millions to sunnier climes for a mid-winter break.

In their email to friends they said they loved Mexico, highly recommend getting some sun in the mid-winter, and that they'll be doing their damnedest to get a direct flight next time so as to avoid the endless, tiring, excruitiating security bullshit.

I know dozens of people who simply won't cross the border into the US now, because it's such a complete pain in the ass to be a tourist down there.

And, too, there was that softwood lumber fucking-over we took from the USA: that's made for a lot of bad blood.

Your country is sprinting toward pariah status. Tourists are avoiding you. Businesses are cautious in dealing with you. People are angry at you for dozens of reasons, the world over.

There are going to be harsh economic penalities, and it won't be an overt, news head-lining thing: it's going to happen because individuals are going to make choices that reflect their feelings about the USA.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:44 PM on February 9, 2007


No doubt there are strong images issues for U.S. these days, but hey what would one expect from the most powerful country in the world ? Some Arrogance , no doubt.

But sometime I realize what I really am talking about 2-3% of U.S. population, the ones with economic and political power, not the remaining 97% which isn't that poweful or rich at all. Yet they defend the system as if it was theirs.
posted by elpapacito at 7:08 PM on February 9, 2007


I wonder if Bush ever saw Sesame Street as a kid, and if he did I wonder if they ever did a segment on conscience.

Con-Shunce
Con-Shunce
Con-Shunce
Conshunce
Conscience

Conscience--the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one's conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.
posted by hadjiboy at 8:37 PM on February 9, 2007


Not just "in these places," and not just terroristic threats.

No argument fff, but if I had made a broader sweeping statement, I would have been called out as being hyperbolic. I most certainly believe that the path that America is on is a fast track to losing friends and alienating people nations. It's as if we are the bully in the sandbox, kicking over everyone else's sand-castles and assuming that all the other kids on the playground view our behavior as 'cool', because being tough is cool, right?

I didn't want to go broad with my statement because it's easy to say something like: Hey America, our actions today are going to hurt us tomorrow. Where someone will inevitably challenge your point and say, Prove it.

Well, I can't prove that our immigration policy is losing us friends, and I can't empirically state that the friction between us and Canada is causing us serious harm, but I can say with no compunction that the Muslim world is hostile to us because of what we are doing to our prisoners and the only evidence I need to provide is the big ass gap between 'greeted as liberators' and 'ongoing insurgent activities'.

People may say that letting the words of Eric Fair, and those like him, are actually causing the problem, in that they inform the world about the terrible things that we are doing. But those people are wrong. The people that are soon to be our enemies already know these things. They have family members dead or disappeared. Their imaginations have already provided the gory details and they are angry, and the fact is, that truth coming out may confirm their beliefs.

But it also gives us, the people who grant power to our government, the opportunity to redress what we may view as improper actions that are being acted out on our behalf. We need to let these whistle-blowers take center stage and speak their peace. So that for every wrong they committed on the orders of someone who's salary is paid by our taxes is brought to light. And then, in a perfect world, we bring all those culpable in anything illegal to justice on a world wide stage. To prove to the rest of the planet that the actions of a criminal few don't speak to the intentions of our nation.

But, of course, that is dreamland stuff. The media won't give two shits about this confession, A.N.S. dying is bigger news. And even if it did get play, the people in charge are never to blame. This is clearly an example of a deluded soul who went to far. PTSD and all that.
posted by quin at 10:27 PM on February 9, 2007



because torture involves electricity and genitalia, bamboo and fingernails, mahogany batons and bare feet, fire and skin. eric fair kept a guy naked, dirty, cold and awake. which would a prisoner have chosen?


I'm surprised, Quonsar. I thought you'd pay good money for any of the earlier items.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:07 AM on February 10, 2007


If at any point in time your defense consists primarily of "it could have been worse", you have no defense.

If history has taught us anything, it is that things can always be worse, but that is not a justification for bad behaviour.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:13 AM on February 10, 2007


I guess his brain chip stopped working
posted by tehloki at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2007


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