I wrote the abuse report and gave it to my superior. And that abuse report, as far as I know, has disappeared. It doesn’t exist anymore.
“For instance, one technique that was approved was called environmental manipulation. It’s really unclear what that means exactly. He took it to mean that we could leave them outside in the cold rain, or we could blast rock music and bombard them with strobe lights for days at a time, or use those things in combination. The document didn’t really give us guidance, although that is what it was meant for...
“We were in this murky area. . . . They always tell you, if you’re given an illegal order it’s your duty to refuse to follow it, but we were in a place that we didn’t know what the legal limit was, so we didn’t know what to do.”
We were getting prisoners who had gotten seriously fucked up. 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.
Lagouranis says the MPs were “willing and enthusiastic participants in all this stuff. A lot of the guys that we worked with were former prison guards or they were reservists who were prison guards in their civilian life. They loved it. They totally wanted to be involved in interrogations. It actually was a problem sometimes. I remember I would be standing guard at three in the morning outside of the shipping container with a prisoner inside and people would come by and they would know what was going on because they could hear the music and maybe see the lights. And they’d want to join in. So I’d have four sergeants standing around me, and I’m a specialist, and they want to go and fuck the guy up, and I would have to control these guys who outrank me and outnumber me and they have weapons and I don’t—because I’m guarding a prisoner I don’t have a weapon. It got really hairy sometimes and I couldn’t call for help because there was nobody around. I remember at one point the MPs came over from the facility and they were banging on the shipping container, one guy got on top and he was jumping up and down, they were throwing rocks at it, they were going inside and yelling at the guy. And I was like, ‘How do I control this situation?’”
But there were two brothers in particular that we were going on pretty hard. . . . We had some significant evidence on these guys which was so rare—we almost never had evidence on anybody. . . . We went on them hard for almost a month, I think, and these guys were just completely broken down, physically, mentally, by the end of it. One guy walked like a 90-year-old man when he was done. He was an ex-army guy, he was a real healthy young man when he came in, and by the end he was a mess. Psychologically they couldn’t focus on things. Their emotions would change all the time. They were obviously showing signs of deterioration.”
If a man can’t focus, can he answer questions? “It made interrogation harder, but we weren’t getting information from these guys anyway. The person who was ordering all this stuff, the chief warrant officer, he never saw these prisoners, so there was no way for him to understand what was going on.” The warrant officer’s response to a lack of information, Lagouranis says, was simply to add another layer of abuse.
After the [Abu Ghraib] 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 says he once interrogated four brothers who’d been arrested during a general search because soldiers had found a pole in their house that they’d argued could be used for sighting targets for mortars. The brothers, interrogated separately by Lagouranis, contended they used it to measure the depth of water in a canal, and there was nothing incriminating in the house. Though he was convinced they were telling the truth, his superiors would not release the men. A man arrested because he had a cell phone and a shovel met a similar fate. The army contended the shovel could be used to plant an IED and the cell phone could be used to help set it off, and though Lagouranis bought his explanation, nothing he said shook that belief. The army wanted to be able to boast about the number of terrorists apprehended, and the four brothers with the striped stick, the two who ran the aid station at the potato factory, and the man with the shovel were close enough.
The vast majority of the men and women in Lagouranis’s MI brigade remained at Abu Ghraib and a nearby base for their entire tour, and at the end of that year they published an intelligence report he says was full of empty claims. “It was like, ‘The top ten detainees and what we got out of them,’ ” Lagouranis says. “It was all bullshit. And that’s for an entire year of interrogating thousands of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. They got nothing out of that place. That’s not just my assessment—you can talk to anybody I worked with over there. The main reason for that is because 90 or 95 percent of the people we got had nothing to do with the insurgency. And if they did we didn’t have any good evidence on them. And the detainees knew that and they knew they didn’t have to talk to us.” A February 2004 Red Cross report based on the estimates of coalition intelligence officers said that 70 to 90 percent of the prisoners were innocent.
“I got nothing in Iraq,” says Lagouranis. “Zero.”
Lewis says he was required to submit a detainee abuse report whenever a prisoner complained of mistreatment, no matter where it had taken place. He recalls patterns of torture emerging, with specific methods peculiar to specific locations—there was a Ramadi pattern, for instance, and another for Fallujah. He recalls that prisoners complained of having been sodomized by a broom or squeegee handle in one location, and although he’d report it he’d hear the same allegation several months later from another prisoner detained at the same location. “Not once did I hear of any arrests” as a result of an abuse report, he says, though it was clear to him that the detainees were not repeating a rehearsed story.
“It was obvious that certain abuse was happening all over the country,” he says. “Every day I saw things that to so many of us interrogators seemed so normal and part of a routine that nobody said anything. It takes a unique clarity to stand up and say what everyone thinks is so normal is actually abhorrent. I think I did well under the circumstances, but no one reported what they should have when they should have—including me.
“I saw barbaric traits begin to seep out of me and other good and respectable people—good Americans who never should have been put in that position to begin with. They have two choices—disobey direct orders or become monsters. It’s a lonely road when everyone else is taking the other one.”
Via Andrew Sullivan, via Stephen.