Listen to Tony Lagouranis, author of Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey Through Iraq, describe what he witnessed and did in Iraq.
One of the most disturbing things abut Lagouranis’ book is that over and over again he expresses concern — and makes a convincing case — that many of the people picked up and exposed to our "enhanced interrogation techniques were merely petty criminals at best, or at worst completely innocent of any crime or violence.
It’s not surprising. Lagouranis writes of entire families who were clearly innocent of anything resembling terrorist activity, but were sent on to Abu Ghraib because the report filed when they were picked up stated that they were insurgents, had connections to insurgents, etc. We know, thanks to the Red Cross that as many as 70 percent of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were wrongly detained. Even the general who was in charge of the prison (and took part of the fall for the administrative officials who opened the door to the acts that took place there) said most of the prisoners shouldn’t have been there. We know from official documents that children as young as 11-years-old were held at Abu Ghraib. Colin Powell’s former chief of staff said that most of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were innocent men picked by U.S. troops who were unable to discern enemies from innocent civilians.
Many of those released from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib apparently went from "the worst of the worst" to having "no further intelligence value," because the military hasn’t got enough evidence to even pass muster with a military tribunal that has a much lower requirement for evidence than a U.S. court of law. This lines up with Lagouranis’ stories of Iraqis being shipped off to Abu Ghraib for extended stays, because of cultural incompetence on the part of U.S. troops and/or corruption on the part of Iraqi official and police,etc.
The images from Abu Ghraib, and the images we’ve yet to see serve to remind us that the acts depicted on these pictures and those we have yet to see are what inflamed anti-American sentiment. (Not the images themselves, though they add to the impact of reports, etc.) From what I’ve read from Lagouranis and others (including the red cross) a disturbingly large percentage of those detained in Afghanistan and Iraq were utterly innocent of anything remotely resembling terrorism, attacks against Americans, or insurgent activity.
Some were picked up because they happened to be nearby when an IED went off, because the road ran past their farms and they happened to be working. Some were picked up because they happened to live within sight of someone else who had a cache of weapons buried on their property. Some were picked up because they had a distant relative who was suspected of being part of the insurgency. Some were picked up because they had the same last name as a suspected insurgent, and the soldiers who picked them up didn’t know anything about Iraqi naming customs.
Some were picked up because we flew over an impoverished country that had been at war off and on for the last few decades, and dropped flyers offering a bounty on anyone who belonged to Al Qaeda. Most people were picked up by Afghani forces, not American, and our soldiers often had little more to go on than the word of those who brought a detainee in on charges that might have been cooked up by a covetous neighbor or corrupt official.
Once in, there was no justice system to determine guilt or innocence. There was only interrogation, with the goal of a confession. And, maybe, actionable intelligence — though that was in short supply.
The acts we are seeing and not seeing in these photos were done to a great many more people than we know, and a great many of them were very likely innocent of anything greater than petty crime, if they were guilty of anything at all.
Lagouranis writes of grandfathers, fathers, sons, teenage boys picked up in scenarios like the one Mark Danner described, from a Red Cross report.
I thought of Salih and his impatience as I paged through the reports of General Taguba and the Red Cross, for they treat not just of “abuses” or “atrocities” but the entire American “liberation” of Iraq and how it has gone wrong; they are dispatches from the scene of a political disaster. Salih came strongly to mind as I read one of the less lurid sections of the Red Cross report, entitled “Treatment During Arrest,” in which the anonymous authors tell how Iraqis they’d interviewed described “a fairly consistent pattern… of brutality by members of the [Coalition Forces] arresting them”:
Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexi-cuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people…pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles.
Lagouranis writes of one 70-year-old man arrested because he owned a small roadside restaurant where some nameless, faceless accuser — perhaps seeking a bounty, of the sort that failed to turn up any terrorists — said that insurgents ate there. And the old man said that if insurgents did eat there, and given the number of travelers who passed through some probably did, he didn’t know them from other customers. He just sold food at the roadside.
He could have been an asset to U.S. forces, Lagournis writes, but the word of an anonymous and perhaps payed-off informant was all the U.S. needed to hold him.
Akram was forthcoming and easygoing, and could have been a source if we’d gone about this the right way — that is, if we’d gone to him and asked him questions or asked him to watch out for particular people, instead of arresting him and interrogating him repeatedly. At least five times Wayne and I went through the same questions with Akram, and soon it dawned on this seventy-year-old man that we weren’t going to let him go. I finally confirmed, two weeks after his arrest that he was going to be sent to Abu Ghraib. For the first time, he looked like he was about to cry as he stated what was now obvious: "So, I’m going to die in an American prison."
There are others, like the man whose entire family was severely beaten and arrested in an even that could serve as an illustration of the term "SNAFU" — when the military raided what top brass believed to be a terrorist training camp, but turned out to be the new location of the Iraq Ministry of Oil. Yet, despite most of the men arrested being on the Ministry payroll as guards, despite the tons of Oil Ministry paperwork that was collected as evidence, and despite an irate call from the Oil Ministry demanding to know where its guard detail was, this man was held.because of an elderly Egyptian houseguest and a scope one of his sons found and brought home as a curiosity.
Here was a man who said he was attacked in his village for working with Americans, who’d probably fought insurgents too, and who’d managed to raise intelligent, well-mannered sons despite his humble means. And, according to Lagouranis, because of one mistake that the U.S. military seemed unwilling to admit in the face of a mountain of evidence, we sent him to Abu Ghraib.
Some of them, many of them, will go home. Back to families that were already desperately poor, and that haven’t had a means of support since the only adult male — probably at the peak of his earning power — was taken away.
How many have we detained for an extended period who were the main family breadwinners?
In addition to the emotional strain, many families are suffering economic hardship, as the detainee may also be the main family breadwinner.
…According to his family, Rahmad Tulla’s brother was once a farmer and fought against the Soviet troops. He was detained by the Taliban just eight months before they fell from power. His family reports the U.S. authorities arrested him in Kunduz in October 2002 and held him in Bagram before transferring him to Guantanamo in February 2003. Rahmad explains: "When my brother was detained by the coalition forces, the family had no news from him or about where he was being kept. After three months I heard that he had been detained, thanks to a Red Cross Message he sent me."
When the detainee is the breadwinner, it is up to his relatives to support the family. Rahmad Tulla reports that "The situation of the family is getting worse, because we don’t have anyone to support us and find food, and I’m also responsible for my family. Najimullah is the breadwinner now, in place of his father. The eldest son is having to feed the family."
The detainee’s first wife, Mah-Bibi, has is responsible ten daughters and a son to look after. "I have only one son and he is very young. He cannot feed all the children by himself. I lost one of my daughters because she was sick. She died because I had no money to buy medicine."
We did this to innocent people. Even if we caught some terrorists in the wide net we cast, we caught a number of innocent people who had the misfortune to be within reach of an occupation and detention system that couldn’t differentiate between them and its real enemies before they were caught, and that was unwilling to let them go afterwards.
In the meantime, some of them were subjected to our "enhanced interrogation" techniques. That’s the problem with making torture permissible for "the worst of the worst." It will not be applied to them exclusively. Once you open the can, you don’t tell the worms where to go and where not to go. They spread out. They go everywhere, just like the Bush administration’s favorite interrogation techniques, including:
- Use of stress positions
- Isolating a prisoner for up to 30 days
- Sensory deprivation
- Forced nudity
- Forced grooming (i.e. head-shaving)
- Use of detainees phobias (i.e. dogs)
- Face slaps
- Forced exercise
- Sleep deprivation
- Environmental manipulation (i.e. exposure to temperature adjustment, unpleasant smells)
- Exposure to cold water/weather
- Threatened transfer to countries that practice torture
- Threats of imminent death to detainee or family members
We did much of this to innocent people.
Most of them have not been compensated, nor have most received so much as an apology for their wrongful detention.
To date, the U.S. government hasn’t given any former detainee financial compensation or apologized for wrongfully imprisoning him, shipping him around the world and holding him without legal recourse.
The 38 former Guantanamo detainees who’ve been found to be no longer enemy combatants by tribunal hearings — the closest the military has come to admitting that it detained some innocent men — were flown out of Cuba with nothing but the clothes on their backs and assorted items such as copies of the Quran and shampoo bottles that the U.S. military issued to them.
"It’s particularly deplorable that none of the 38 NLECs have been compensated, since the U.S. has officially recognized that they weren’t ’enemy combatants,’ even under the broad U.S. definition," said Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch.
Ian Seiderman, a senior legal adviser for Amnesty International, agreed.
"The fact that (compensation) hasn’t happened at all, even in a small number of cases, shows that this administration is more concerned with avoiding scrutiny and accountability than it is the rule of law," said Seiderman, who previously served as a legal adviser to the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists and the assistant to the special rapporteur on torture for the United Nations.
And most of them will get no justice.