Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Confessions of an American Torturer

Tony Lagouranis was a US military interrogator, who admits to participating in torture in Iraq. His account is well worth reading, although highly depressing. He arrived in Iraq after the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs had been made public. But the abuses did not stop. Far from it. The most common techniques he documents in Bush's torture chambers were exposure to extreme cold, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and bombardment with constant loud music and strobe lights. Despite being in Iraq, Lagouranis was told by his superiors that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and to be "creative". Terrifying blindfolded prisoners with dogs was also common, although the effect soon wore off as the person realized the dogs would not attack. In other words, the technique was completely pointless. Still, the interrogators were ordered to keep doing it. As Orwell said, the object of torture is torture.

If this were not bad enough, Lagouranis reports and even darker side, especially when be talks about what the army did before handing prisoners over to the professional interrogators. In his words:
"We were getting prisoners from the navy SEALs who were using a lot of the same techniques we were using, except they were a little more harsh. They would actually have the detainee stripped nude, laying on the floor, pouring ice water over his body. They were taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer. We had one guy who had been burned by the navy SEALs. He looked like he had a lighter held up to his legs. One guy’s feet were like huge and black and blue, his toes were obviously all broken, he couldn’t walk."

"After the scandal broke, they stopped torturing people in prisons and they would torture them before they got to the prison. They would either torture them in their homes or they would take them to a remote location . . . The marines had a location—they called it the ‘meat factory’—they would bring them there and they would torture them for 24 or 48 hours before they brought them to us, and they were using techniques like water boarding, mock execution, they were beating them up, breaking their bones, whatever. It was bad, in particular the First Recon—they’re sort of like marine special forces, an elite unit [attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, known as 24th MEU]. Every time they went on a raid it didn’t matter who they were bringing back, they would just fuck these guys up. Old men, 15-year-old kids, they all came with bruises and broken bones. One guy came with a blister on the back of his leg. It was big, it was horrible, a burn blister. They’d made him sit on the exhaust pipe of a running truck."

Lagouranis became furious when be heard Rumsfeld claim that the Geneva Conventions were being upheld in Iraq. At the same time, Gen. Sanchez claimed that prisoners under US control were being treated humanely. He specifically denied that dogs were used. And yet he himself approved of every single technique mentioned by Lagouranis-- stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, prolonged isolation, loud music, sleep deprivation. Oh yes, and dogs. And even something ominously and euphemistically called "light control". Every complaint Lagouranis filed, every report he wrote, was ignored. By his own admission, 90 to 95 percent of the prisoners under US interrogation had nothing to do with the insurgency. But the torture continued.

Another interrogator, Stephen Lewis, noted only two choices in these circumstances: "disobey direct orders or become monsters". An accurate moral reckoning. Ultimately, the responsibility for this great evil lies with the authors of the policy, the Sanchezs and Millers, the Yoos and Gonzalezs, the Rumsfelds and Cheneys, and of course, the Bushs. Lagouranis is all too aware of the effects of these "coercive interrogation techniques". They scar the victims for life, probably moreso than physical abuse. And, as is the way with evil, the perpetrators are also affected. When Lagouranis returned to the United States, he was a mess, and left the army. This is what happens when one succumbs to the temptation to do evil. Remember Gollum. How in the name of God could the US have arrived at this point?

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