By Eric Fair
Friday, February 9, 2007; A19
A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for
help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound,
and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams
That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since
my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this
particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his
interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two
civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility
(DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since
forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the
Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months
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.
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.
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.
Some may suggest there is no reason to revive the story of abuse in
Iraq. Rehashing such mistakes will only harm our country, they will say.
But history suggests we should examine such missteps carefully.
Oppressive prison environments have created some of the most determined
opponents. The British learned that lesson from Napoleon, the French
from Ho Chi Minh, Europe from Hitler. The world is learning that lesson
again from Ayman al-Zawahiri. What will be the legacy of abusive prisons
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.
Regardless of how many young Americans we send to war, or how many
militia members we kill, or how many Iraqis we train, or how much money
we spend on reconstruction, we will not escape the damage we have done
to the people of Iraq in our prisons.
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.
/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. His e-mail
address email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>./