Posted by: Lister | February 10, 2007

Eric Fair and the efficacy of torture

Some things work and some things don’t. Obvious. But how to tell the difference?

Unfortunately, experience is the only way. But how much longer before people realise that talking to an individual in a civil manner is the best way to get infomation out of them. Sure — it’s not perfect. But the alternative gives you lies and creates resentment where there may have been none.

Eric Fair — An Iraq Interrogator’s Nightmare

I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division.

[…] The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him. [In a dream, of course]

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. 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.

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. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. 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.

[…] We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories, and our leaders have refused to own up to the myriad mistakes that have been made. But if we fail to address this problem, there can be no hope of success in Iraq.

[The writer served in the Army from 1995 to 2000 as an Arabic linguist and worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator in early 2004.]

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Responses

  1. We’ve long known that torture is bad policy, ethically and tactically. People will say anything to get you to stop hurting them. That’s why Army interrogators have it drilled into our heads not to do that. Yet it still occurs, because people are too lazy (they don’t want to put out the effort to interrogate properly), incompetent (they couldn’t run a good approach if they had to), and susceptible to groupthink (just following orders, everyone else is doing it) to just follow the training.


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