February 12, 2007
Interrogator Confesses Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners on WaPo

(I posted this item as a diary on the Daily Kos late last week while my own site was temporarily down, and it turned out to be my first trip to the Recommended List. It got as far up as #2 on the list, quite an honor for dKos contributions. I'd say that was partly in recognition of my own commentary on the story, which I think was fairly well written, but, to be honest, mostly because I was the first one to write about the Washington Post editorial, which tells a very disturbing and important story.)

It was bound to start sooner or later. In today's Washington Post, a former Army contractor named Eric Fair has admitted to the abuses that he committed as an interrogator of Iraqi prisoners.

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.

Most of our knowledge about the abuses conducted with the approval of the Bush regime has been anonymous allegations. But before long, the people involved, both victims and perpetrators, will begin to tell their stories in detail. What Eric Fair did is, by his own admission, immoral and unforgivable, but he's done the right thing by coming forward. The time is now for more people like him to shine a light on the atrocities conducted in our name.

While I was appalled by the conduct of my friends and colleagues, I lacked the courage to challenge the status quo. That was a failure of character and in many ways made me complicit in what went on. I'm ashamed of that failure, but as time passes, and as the memories of what I saw in Iraq continue to infect my every thought, I'm becoming more ashamed of my silence.

Eric Fair tells of the specific instructions given to him by the lead interrogator of the division interrogation facility of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah: he was to deprive a prisoner of sleep by entering his cell, stripping him naked and forcing to stand in a corner, once every hour of his twelve-hour shift. Ironically, nightmares of this man pleading and screaming now keep Fair awake at night.

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.

Fair anticipates the criticism that speaking out about abuses in Iraq may damage America's own interests, but argues that silence will make it even worse. He reminds us of examples from history when oppressed and abused prisoners later went on to become the most virulent enemies of their former oppressors, and wonders what the legacy of our abusive prisons in Iraq will be one day.

I think that there are even more urgent reasons for exposing the atrocities committed under American authority, as fully and as quickly as possible. There is every reason to believe that the abuses are still going on, and that the people responsible for them are still in leadership positions, conducting their business of torture and kidnapping as usual. Violations of the Geneva conventions against the abuse of prisoners were legally validated by last year's Congress with the Military Commissions Act, and the Bush/Cheney regime has not shown any signs of insight or remorse about their conduct, or even about the usefulness of information obtained by torture. To this day, our political leaders are making excuses and rationalizations for what may be the most excessive violations of human rights by the American government in many decades, possibly in all of our history.

An ongoing moral catastrophe such as this cannot remain a dirty little secret for long. Surely the victims of torture will come forward, probably sooner than later, to reveal to the world what was done to them in America's name. And people like Eric Fair, who cannot reconcile their actions with their values, will start telling the stories that plague their conscience. Mr. Fair properly acknowledges that he is complicit, for failing to act against what he knew was wrong. But he has done the right thing by speaking forthrightly about what he did, and I commend him for that. The true criminals are the leaders and "deciders", up to the highest levels of government, who directed, condoned and rationalized these atrocities, and who are still trying to keep them secret.

It ought to be one of the highest priorities of the new Democratic majority in Congress to exercise its powers of oversight and expose the full story of prisoner abuses to public scrutiny. We have to find out just what was done and who did it. And above all, we must put a stop to this assault on human decency and what ought to be the most basic of American values, right now.

I am desperate to get on with my life and erase my memories of my experiences in Iraq. But those memories and experiences do not belong to me. They belong to history. If we're doomed to repeat the history we forget, what will be the consequences of the history we never knew? The citizens and the leadership of this country have an obligation to revisit what took place in the interrogation booths of Iraq, unpleasant as it may be. The story of Abu Ghraib isn't over. In many ways, we have yet to open the book. -- Eric Fair in the Washington Post, February 9, 2007

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