Friday, February 09, 2007

Tortured Detainees Are Not the Only Ones Traumatized

A very disturbing column in the Washington Post today from a former interrogator who has nightmares about his complicity in brutal treatment of detainees should give us pause and make us consider the human cost, not only to detainees, but to those we place in charge of them.

Eric Fair was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. He has nightmares featuring a man whose name he no longer recalls, but whose torment he remembers well. Mr. Fair says he was ordered to enter this man's cell every hour, to strip him of his clothes and deprive him of sleep in order to force admissions from him.

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.
It is impossible to dehumanize the helpless prisoner without dehumanizing ourselves. Mr. Fair's account is heartbreaking, and should remind us that we are all capable of bad acts and inhumanity under the right circumstances. When people of conscience allow themselves to be lured into inhumane acts they pay a terrible price, one that includes regret and recrimination. How many people return from war full of self-loathing for the things they were made to do, the compromises they made with their own values? Some bury their consciences, and others, who lack conscience, become further inured to others' pain and are likely to continue inflicting pain on others throughout their lives. It is a predictable result of a brutal process, and when our leadership promotes such inhumanity it is becomes all the more prevalent.

Mr. Fair should be congratulated for having the courage to step forward and write this searing self-indictment. I hope he achieves some redemption in the effort.

1 comment:

Miles said...

Hope you can join us for our little Arlington blogger summit next month!

I see you have those blogger ads on the side of the page, do those bring you a good profit? I wondered about activating the ads for my blog, but don't know if they're worth it. And I thought it said once they're on, you can't turn them off.