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Abu Ghraib Interrogator Becomes Conscientious Objector
November 14, 2007 4:58 AM   Subscribe

A riveting ten-minute interview with playwright and former US Army interrogator Joshua Casteel. He discusses how a particular interrogation with an Iraqi prisoner--and an exchange of views on Islam and Christianity--motivated him to leave the armed forces and become a conscientious objector.
posted by dbarefoot (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This video has been removed by the content owner. Try some of these other other videos.

[OK]
posted by mistersquid at 5:14 AM on November 14, 2007


Riveting?
Really?
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:24 AM on November 14, 2007


Works for me.
posted by Elmore at 5:24 AM on November 14, 2007


Sorry about that--it works for me. I even cleared my cache and stuff. Maybe it's blocked in your country (I'm currently in Malta)?
posted by dbarefoot at 5:26 AM on November 14, 2007


Why does Joshua Casteel hate America so m....ugh. Even the irony is getting old.

Dear Santa

For Xmas I'd like you to bring Congress a backbone.

Love
Little Timmy
posted by DU at 5:27 AM on November 14, 2007


Works for me, too, here in the good ol' USA. I think it's just you, mistersquid.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:43 AM on November 14, 2007


Started off well, then went downhill with the come to Jesus moment. He had to go Iraq and interrogate people for 5 months to realize that American Christianity is hypocritical. Don't want to sound too harsh - I mean, he seems like a good kid but it's extremely disheartening to know that our military, our soldiers, and even our society are not more mature, intelligent, and naturally curious about other people.
posted by billysumday at 6:00 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


the video seems ok in Connecticut..and we voted against Bush. tiresome video. I have no quarrel with the guy turning against war etc but the exchange seems overly focused upon philosophy and relgion etc instead of what I had assumed should be asked: where did you train, who sent you, can you name others etc--hard information that might be useful. If all interrogations are to be like this, then no need for torture, right?
posted by Postroad at 6:04 AM on November 14, 2007


Billysumday wrote:

I mean, he seems like a good kid but it's extremely disheartening to know that our military, our soldiers, and even our society are not more mature, intelligent, and naturally curious about other people.

Really? You must hang around with some pretty extraordinary people. I have family members that still haven't come to these type of realizations.

For the record - in this war - kids like this are the ONLY people for whom I reserve the title "hero".
posted by any major dude at 6:36 AM on November 14, 2007


Imagine if all the soldiers in Iraq started thinking about what they are doing, for who and why.
posted by srboisvert at 6:54 AM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


You must hang around with some pretty extraordinary people.

No, far from it. But the substance of the video seemed to be the exchange between interrogator and prisoner, which essentially boiled down to the jihadist saying, "you know, how can you say you're a Christian when Jesus said to, like, you know, not kill people?" To which the soldier was all like, "oh snap dude you're right." This seems like something one should probably think about before one goes to war.
posted by billysumday at 6:58 AM on November 14, 2007 [5 favorites]


Through this encounter, this young man came to understand the simplest yet hardest truth about humanity, that there are no good people or bad people, only people. Once you even begin to wrap your mind around that concept, stop filtering everything through halo/horns effects, and see that boogeymen like Corporations, Governments, Armies and Religions are people, just like us, the world looks like a very different place, and the problems become much more complicated.

Good for him.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:15 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I disagree, although I couldn't see the video either...

Maybe some of you caught it, maybe it was a post, but there's a new book out about al cake-a. Apparently they have "what they say to the west" and "what they say to other muslims".

Yeah. What they say to muslims is that christians and jews should be allowed to live under muslim law (or be executed) and everyone else, even wiccans, gets the ax.

So, there are bad people. People bent, albeit unsuccessfully, on total global domination. That would be "bad". For lack of a competing definition, I'm going with domination = bad.

I like the whole "by the people, for the people, of the people" thing. I think that self determination = good. Sue me.
posted by ewkpates at 8:00 AM on November 14, 2007


"oh snap dude you're right." This seems like something one should probably think about before one goes to war.

Just that kind of elegantly simple, concise, witty comment that brought me to MetaFilter and been part of the great joy in staying here.

Imagine if all the soldiers in Iraq started thinking about what they are doing, for who and why.

Wasn't there a song on that topic?

Honestly, dbarefoot, I thought that was a riveting video. Thanks.

It was interesting to watch his face and imagine what it would be like for this 24 year old Iowan kid to be an interrogator and how he was disarmed from his philosophical fortress by another kid who out-fortressed him by being calm, confident in his, jihadist, belief system. I almost felt like the jihadist won on style points, rather than on belief system points and that bothered me because it seemed shallow, fickle.

Perhaps somebody well versed in the topic can educate me on this. Are the Torah, Koran and Old Testament related? They all discuss belief in one God. Based on the same book but different interpretations? If they are related, why would Joshua be surprised that he and the jihadist held similar values? Even though the messiahs in Islam -Mohammed- and Christianity - Jesus- are different, it seems to me that the foundation of all three religions is the same book, the Old Testament.

It seems to me the differences between these religions is less philosophical because of the faith in one God but more about cultural differences. That people practicing the Christian and Jewish traditions have included cultural modernity into the belief system and the Islamic tradition has not.

So, it seems natural, to me, if a 22 year old Muslim and a 24 year old Christian meet, both living similar lifestyles, that they wouldn't have many differences, or not the kind to kill each other over.

In any case, I'm glad Josh connected with his integrity with his eyes more open to the world around him and glad that he's doing, saying what he is. It is brave and good of him.

I wonder how that jihadist is doing now, if he's still alive? My hopes that he finds his way to a greater and more loving acceptance of the world as it is, while maintaining his sense of integrity.
posted by nickyskye at 8:32 AM on November 14, 2007


This seems like something one should probably think about before one goes to war.

People really don't think that hard, especially most 20 somethings and the military doesn't encourage it for obvious reasons.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on November 14, 2007


Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all go back to Abraham, ala the old testament. For this reason they are considered related religions by the faithful and by religious studies majors. They are the Children of Abraham.
posted by ewkpates at 9:02 AM on November 14, 2007


I thought it was going to be more like, "So I am tasering this guys sack, and he's slipping around in his own puke...", but I liked it anyway.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:16 AM on November 14, 2007


Had the US limited itself to the war in Afghanistan, I would not have been as sympathetic to the "we're all in this together, Americans and jihadis, and let's throw down our arms" point of view.

Invading Iraq destroyed our moral clarity. Perhaps this interrogator was responding not just to his religion and war itself but to having to defend the particular nature of the Iraq invasion.

I think "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek" are admirable positions, and I admire full-on pacifism, and if a soldier finds himself transformed into a pacifist--great for them.

A nation won't survive made entirely of pacifists, but it also won't survive launching dumb wars.
posted by Schmucko at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]


nickyskye: All three religions are very tightly wed, though many people don't realize it. I remember a conversation I had in a bar once with a Muslim gentleman about Theology. As I usually do, I started from the now and worked backwards, all the way to Abraham.

And he looks at me, flabbergasted, and says "You mean Jews believe in Abraham, too?!?"

I wish I made that up. Now, do you think "Western" Christians and Jews are any more up to speed on even the basics of the Islamic faith?
posted by absalom at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


ewkpates: Well, it begins with Abraham, sure, but that's a very superficial view of the connectivity of the religions. I mean, the Jesus narrative is incorporated into Islamic belief, so it's a lot more detailed than just saying "We're all children of Abraham."

(Although, as I indicated in my post above, if people would at least realize that, it would be a step in the right direction.)
posted by absalom at 9:39 AM on November 14, 2007


Maybe some of you caught it, maybe it was a post, but there's a new book out about al cake-a. Apparently they have "what they say to the west" and "what they say to other muslims".

Oh wow a book! They don't let just anyone write those.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:49 AM on November 14, 2007


why would Joshua be surprised that he and the jihadist held similar values?

My guess is because both were, in different ways, soldiers. That's the distorting superstructure overlaid atop their initial interaction - army interrogator debriefs POW, liberator mines terrorist for information of use in the cause of freedom - and it, much more than the religious divide, is the thing Joshua seemingly all at once saw past. For the briefest of moments, he allowed the basic humanity of he and the man before him to re-emerge, and he couldn't get that genie back in the bottle. And now he writes plays about his strange time in Iraq instead of trying to help the US military kill guys like that jihadist.

This, in the end, is what drives me bonkers about the jingoistic "support the troops" argument that's dominated the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The best thing the civilian citizens of a free and democratic nation can do for their troops is to ask questions the troops aren't allowed to ask and explore options they aren't allowed to consider (indeed have been programmed to completely ignore).

Understand: I'm not arguing against the military, or against the essential decency of a great many of its members; I'm arguing for a much more holistic understanding of what it is and how it operates. I'm the son of a career Canadian Air Force pilot and the brother of an ex-Naval officer who now oversees projects for a defence contrator. Talking to both of them about Canada's mission in Afghanistan is like being trapped in a titanium echo chamber, in which everything we know about the history of Afghanistan and the nature of its current government and the Taliban opposition to it is never allowed to penetrate. Because it is outside the mission as defined by the military brass.

If the mission is to defeat the Taliban utterly and provide the peace and security necessary for the functioning of a liberal democracy, then that mission is persued with laser-scope focus. And there is no place inside that focus to even muse upon the notion that the mission's goal is an impossible fantasy in a country that isn't really a country and has no democratic tradition and is overseen by a former oil-pipeline exec with no credibility outside his heavily guarded office. And the idea that some rank-and-file Taliban fighter might share certain basic human needs and desires with his Canadian opponent on the battlefield? Anathema to the soldier's duty.

I say this, again, as the son of a career military officer who is proud of the work his father has done, prouder still of his unwavering commitment to the oath he took when he was sworn in as an officer. My father is essentially incapable of making the leap that Joshua did. And his mind is sufficiently compartmentalized, after forty years of service, that even if such a thought lodged itself in his brain, it would remain locked in a separate chamber from the part that thought about mission planning and strategy and the rest.

Long way of saying: amazing post.
posted by gompa at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2007


Even though the messiahs in Islam -Mohammed- and Christianity - Jesus- are different, it seems to me that the foundation of all three religions is the same book, the Old Testament.

I think the common ground is easy to overemphasize. Yeah, Abraham is common to all three, but Abraham was a mythic figure for the whole region, he is alluded to a bunch of traditions, some of which likely predate the Jewish version. But Abraham's significance to each religion is not primarily theological so much as it is a bid for legitimacy. Abraham was the original righteous man with a special relationship with God, so any later religion would do well to attach themselves to that tradition.

An analogy: If several competing political parties all claimed George Washington as their ideological father, it might mean that they share some ideological common ground. More likely, however, is that they're all bidding for the perception of legitimacy that such an association would confer.
posted by bluejayk at 9:51 AM on November 14, 2007


Thanks absalom. As an afterthought, I realized that the jihadist was quoting Jesus' Sermon On The Mount, which is the New Testament, not the Old. And I wondered if the jihadist had learned that strategically, to disarm an interrogator because, as a jihadist, his agenda was to kill righteously, in the name of his religion, whereas Chistians, if they are sincere in their belief in the Sermon On The Mount, are supposed to turn the other cheek and be non-violent. Or have I misinterpreted the New Testament? Is there permission in the Bible to kill others? I thought it was a Commandment not to kill. If it's a Commandment not to kill in the Old Testament, isn't it a Commandment not to kill in the Koran too?

Now curious how the Islamic faith came to be one with a focus on jihad and violence. Is that really part of the Islamic faith or more a cultural thing of certain Muslims, the way certain Christians have throughout history been violent out of ignorance, politics or culture. Any links anyone suggests reading on this?
posted by nickyskye at 9:57 AM on November 14, 2007


re the Abraham thing...ok, Abraham is a foundation character in all three but are the Koran, Old Testament and Torah all versions in some or greater part based on the Old Testament? Is it only Abraham that is the connection or more?
posted by nickyskye at 9:59 AM on November 14, 2007


nickyskye: A better question would be why the western perceptions of Islam begin and end with jyhad.

Muhammed is seen as being the last in a line of prophets that began with Abraham, ran through the prophets of the Old Testament, includes Jesus (as prophet, not savior), and ends with Muhammed. Much like many Christians view their faith as the logical "extention" (or even "perfection") of Judiasm, so too do Muslims see Muhammed and the Qu'ran as a continuation or perfection or clarification of already exisiting, if incompelete, Revealed Truth.

As far as the common understanding of "Jyhad," as in holy war or conversion by the sword, the Prophet himself made special dispensation for the People of the Book - Jews and Christians - because of their closeness to God.
posted by absalom at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2007


Great reply Absalom, thanks so much for your civil and educated response. Just knew a MeFite could clarify nicely. Looked at your profile. Ah, an educator. Makes sense. I just got educated :)

So, in case you're not totally irritated by my ignorance, do you have any thoughts about why the Islamic tradition seemed to all of a sudden in this century stop integrating the Muslim faith with modern lifestyle? I understand that Islamic fundamentalism spread in the last century but I don't understand why, when all around other religions seemed to be trying to come to terms with social changes, albeit uncomfortably.

Is the right way to spell it jyhad?
posted by nickyskye at 10:38 AM on November 14, 2007


I tend to play fast and loose with spellings of transliterated words. See also Koran/Qu'ran or Muhammed/Mohammed.
posted by absalom at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2007


There's a moment when Casteel is recounting his conversation in the interrogation room and he remembers realizing that he is in a system to which he has declared allegiance but that that allegiance conflicts with his religious and moral views. Casteel says "I had to choose my own path" rather than the path of the system which forces him to exploit (the information of) other human beings who are themselves defending a system to which they have declared allegiance.

The decision to reject the imperatives of one's own social group is an important one, and as someone who has made similar decisions, to see it provokes a profound feeling of identification and strength.

Thanks for posting, dbarefoot.

For users getting the "video has been removed" message. I switched from Safari to Firefox and all was better.
posted by mistersquid at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2007


A better question would be why the western perceptions of Islam begin and end with jyhad.

A guess would be 9/11, Ayatollah Khomeini, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Mujahideen, Taliban and death threats on Salman Rushdie?
posted by nickyskye at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2007


I hate to contribute to a derail, yesterday's MeTa not withstanding, but if I could fully answer your question I'd be a tenured professor, not a high school teacher, but . . .

There are some, like Fareed Zakaria, who suggest that the rise in fundamentalism is essentially an internal struggle to redefine Islam as much, if not more, than it is an external struggle against Western/Christian forces. I think he often uses the metaphor of an Islamic Reformation. To me, that comparison is not terribly satisfactory or compeling, but I think he has a point as far as he goes. But, as far as answering your question, I think his ideas have a lot of traction. Why view increasing modernity and fundamentalism as opposed forces. Instead, look at fundamentalism as a reaction against modernity. It's not like the Catholic church did not fight change hammer and tongs.

I mean, one also needs to consider the dramatic increase in nationalism among the Islamic world in the wake of WWI and the colapse of the Ottoman Sultanate.
posted by absalom at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2007


So, in case you're not totally irritated by my ignorance, do you have any thoughts about why the Islamic tradition seemed to all of a sudden in this century stop integrating the Muslim faith with modern lifestyle? I understand that Islamic fundamentalism spread in the last century but I don't understand why, when all around other religions seemed to be trying to come to terms with social changes, albeit uncomfortably.
nickyskye -- you might want to be a little more specific in your labelling. Islamic culture is not as monolithic as, say, Catholicism. There is no central authority that says, "right, we've had it with this modernism thing. It's the glory days of Umayyad Baghdad or nothing for us."

A more useful question would be, "do you have any thoughts about why there has been a growth in fundamentalist sects who do not wish to integrate Muslim faith with the modern lifestyle?"

Because, you can go to majority Muslim countries like the Emirates or Qatar or Indonesia or Turkey and find that people there are perfectly happy to have their satellite television and hip hop music videos and Coca Cola. You can go to mosques in Michigan or Toronto and listen to imams discuss the peculiarities of getting a home loan while staying compliant with the usury restrictions in sharia.

What you do find, hand-in-hand, however, is this idea that many of these same nations and communities feel that they are being changed by the constant tide of modernity. The tide is more than just cultural, but also political and economic. People lose jobs, property and/or their children/family. Many of them are quick to blame the West, who is the dominant civilization in the world and therefore seems to be the one who has the most influence and is the most likely sort of change. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes, the misfortune is the cause of societal corruption that deflects blame to the West as an easy defense.

if anything, there is nothing in the religion itself that explicitly forbids an adaptation to modern times, but there are elements in it, like there are in Christianity and Judaism, that justify aggression for the sake of defending what is yours.
posted by bl1nk at 11:47 AM on November 14, 2007


whereas Christians, if they are sincere in their belief in the Sermon On The Mount

Sadly, a lot of the vociferous ones know all about the Ten Commandments -- at least, the magnetic appliqués on their pickup truck bumpers suggest so -- but surprisingly are comparatively vague on the Beatitudes.
posted by pax digita at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2007


Thanks for your responses absalom and bl1nk.

absalom: but if I could fully answer your question I'd be a tenured professor, not a high school teacher

I've known fully tenured dumbkopfs who couldn't answer any question as succinctly and in such a civil way as you did. Can only imagine your students are fortunate.

look at fundamentalism as a reaction against modernity

Exactly what I meant. Yes, Christianity has also experienced fundamentalism, is still experiencing that in some places. I was wondering why it became so recently widespread in the Islamic tradition, when Muslims seemed to be heading comfortably, with Christians and Hindus, into the modern world at the beginning of the last century, all the way up to the 1940's. And then something happened in the Islamic world to halt enjoying modernity dovetailed with the Muslim belief system.

The only fairly easy to get to the point info I've found is here:
Qutb, an Egyptian government official who was offended by the racism and the openness between sexes he witnessed during a visit to the United States in the late 1940s

Didn't mean to derail, just got stimulated watching that video. Cross cultural thoughts, comparative religion questions surfaced. I thought my questions might be pertinent to the FPP because the video depicts a Christian talking about his change of heart talking with a jihadist.

bl1nk: Thanks so much for helping me word the question so I can ask it respectfully. Yes, "do you have any thoughts about why there has been a growth in fundamentalist sects who do not wish to integrate Muslim faith with the modern lifestyle?"

And how has that become so widespread in almost all the Muslim countries, when it wasn't like that at all just a short few decades ago?

Traveling across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, hitch hiking across as a 21 year old young woman in 1975, it was so clear all those countries were finding their way to be themselves in the modern world, incorporating the West in their own way, their own style, while still being Muslim. It's been such a shock to see the mega-reversals with all the war and death attached to the new Muslim fundamentalism. In India Western traditions were incorporated, while Indian cultural integrity of the Hindus, Muslims, Parsis etc remained and still remains largely in tact.

Will look for the MeTa thread.
posted by nickyskye at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2007


Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all go back to Abraham, ala the old testament. For this reason they are considered related religions by the faithful and by religious studies majors. They are the Children of Abraham

He has a lot to answer for that Abraham - if he ever exhisted.

It's all fairy stories.
posted by surfdad at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2007


Hey, at least he didn't go through with murdering his son!
posted by absalom at 1:39 PM on November 14, 2007


“The best thing the civilian citizens of a free and democratic nation can do for their troops is to ask questions the troops aren't allowed to ask and explore options they aren't allowed to consider (indeed have been programmed to completely ignore).”

Absolutely. But they are programmed to do that by design. Last thing you want is your military getting ideas that they know better how things should go down. Even if they’re right. Perhaps especially if, because civilians would roll over more easily.

“"oh snap dude you're right." This seems like something one should probably think about before one goes to war.”

Yeah, it doesn’t seem like his conviction was predicated on a solid principle, but on some sort of fuzzy ideal. Worse because it’s based apparently on religion. I can’t imagine being convinced that it’s right to kill someone for any reason other than you have no other choice. The only reason I would ever lethally engage anyone is either because they’re going to kill me otherwise, or they’re a direct immediate threat to innocent lives. I myself went to war because events like the Air India flight convinced me of the necessity to prevent things like that and oppose people who would do such things however they label themselves.
I’d rather this guy see the mission in Iraq clearly and oppose it for what it is. But if he needs to see it through a religious lens to understand it, so be it.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2007


Much like many Christians view their faith as the logical "extention" (or even "perfection") of Judiasm, so too do Muslims see Muhammed and the Qu'ran as a continuation or perfection or clarification of already exisiting, if incompelete, Revealed Truth.

Exactly -- IANAtheologist (just a modern jackass), but I don't think it's at all overstating to focus on the common ground when Judaism, Christianity and Islam are essentially variant versions -- successive editions? -- of one monotheistic system. Not that the differences are insubstantial, but they're far less important than the shared centrality of a single, immanent anthropomorphic deity with whom humans (or a specific tribal group) have a special personal relationship.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:24 PM on November 14, 2007


Hey, at least [Abraham] didn't go through with murdering his son!

That's because it was just the dress rehearsal.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:26 PM on November 14, 2007


nicky -- to continue the derailment, I believe that a few things explain the rise of fundamentalism since the 70s. (it is, of course, worthwhile to point out that Islamic fundamentalism has been rising long before then, but there has been a bit of an acceleration as of late)

1) multiple collapsed states in the Muslim World. These include the non-state of Palestine, the Lebanese Civil War, Afghanistan, Somalia and (for a brief period) Bosnia. That the state failures were the result of outside invasion or domestic implosion is relatively immaterial. What is important is that they left a vacuum. People needed health services. They needed someone to teach their kids while they went out to earn a wage. Who fills that need? The civil services wing of Hamas and Hezbollah, amongst others.

2) the mujahideen victory in Afghanistan. Keep in mind that, in a recent history rife with military defeat, political embarassment and outright shame -- a story about how a ragtag bunch of religious warriors defeat a superpower is one that holds a lot of currency for idealistic youth. Nevermind that the muj were armed by the Americans. That's just God providing miracles to the righteous.

Afghanistan is also important in that, by attracting fanatics from across the Middle East, it internationalized what was, heretofore, terrorist movements that were largely regional and country-specific. Now, you've got all of these veterans and trained killers going back to their homelands with each other's pager numbers.

3) Bosnia - again, ignore the fact that the Bosnian Muslims were more generally paying only lip service to the Qu'ran. Also ignore the fact that NATO eventually intervened to protect Muslims against Orthodox Christian Serbs. The siege of Sarajevo and massacre of Srebrenica was a sign to many that the West didn't care and only Muslims could or would protect their fellow Muslims.

So all of that feeds into the basic recruiting story of fundamentalists. Reject the modern world. They do not have your interests at heart. All that modernity has wrought has been the enriching of a corrupt few and the misery of many. The only people who can help you are your brethren, who have held on to the beliefs that fed our culture in an age when it was strong and the envy of the world.
posted by bl1nk at 6:39 PM on November 14, 2007


Read "The Battle for God". Be prepared to have your profound ignorance revealed. You'll also find that after 100 pages, its clear that Bush & Co. know nothing about the middle-East.
posted by 4midori at 6:46 PM on November 14, 2007


Interesting derail. Just like to get my two cents in:

People (and not just Muslims, I'd imagine) would probably turn to extremism if they weren't integrated into the Modern World, to the extent that they wished. Or, having been integrated into the Modern World, and not finding anything of value in it, they seek redemption somewhere else. Religion.
posted by hadjiboy at 8:25 AM on November 15, 2007


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