October 04, 2005

Testimonials from Camp Mercury

"Sergeant A"

In retrospect what we did was wrong, but at the time we did what we had to do. Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads.

We got to the camp in August [2003] and set up. We started to go out on missions right away. We didn’t start taking PUCs until September. Shit started to go bad right away. On my very first guard shift for my first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, this is what we are allowed to do? This is what we are allowed to get away with? I think the officers knew about it but didn’t want to hear about it. They didn’t want to know it even existed. But they had to.

On a normal day I was on shift in a PUC tent. When we got these guys we had them sandbagged and zip tied, meaning we had a sandbag on their heads and zip ties [plastic cuffs] on their hands. We took their belongings and tossed them in the PUC tent. We were told why they were there. If I was told they were there sitting on IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices, homemade bombs] we would fuck them up, put them in stress positions or put them in a tent and withhold water.

The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever. Deprive them of food water, whatever.

To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day.

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

Guard shifts were four hours. We would stress them at least in excess of twelve hours. When I go off shift and the next guy comes we are already stressing the PUC and we let the new guy know what he did and to keep fucking him. We put five-gallon water cans and made them hold them out to where they got muscle fatigue then made them do pushups and jumping jacks until they passed out. We would withhold water for whole guard shifts. And the next guy would too. Then you gotta take them to the john if you give them water and that was a pain. And we withheld food, giving them the bare minimum like crackers from MREs [Meals Ready to Eat, the military’s prepackaged food]. And sleep deprivation was a really big thing.

Someone from [Military Intelligence] told us these guys don’t get no sleep. They were directed to get intel [intelligence] from them so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling. All that shit. We never stripped them down because this is an all-guy base and that is fucked up shit. We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them in dirt and sand. We did the jugs of water where they held them out to collapse all the time. The water and other shit… start[ed] [m]aybe late September, early October, 2003. This was all at Camp Mercury, close to the MEK base8 like 10 minutes from Fallujah. We would transport the PUCs from Mercury to Abu Ghraib.

None of this happened in Afghanistan. We had MPs [military police] attached to us in Afghanistan so we didn’t deal with prisoners. We had no MPs in Iraq. We had to secure prisoners. [Military intelligence] wants to interrogate them and they had to provide guards so we would be the guards. I did missions every day and always came back with 10-15 prisoners. We were told by intel that these guys were bad, but they could be wrong, sometimes they were wrong. I would be told, “These guys were IED trigger men last week.” So we would fuck them up. Fuck them up bad. If I was told the guy was caught with a 9mm [handgun] in his car we wouldn’t fuck them up too bad – just a little. If we were on patrol and catch a guy that killed my captain or my buddy last week – man, it is human nature. So we fucked them up bad. At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug.

What you allowed to happen happened. Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel. As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened. We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit. If a leg was broken you call the PA – the physician’s assistant – and told him the PUC got hurt when he was taken. He would get Motrin [a pain reliever] and maybe a sling, but no cast or medical treatment...

...On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all US soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs. The PA came and said to keep him off the leg. Three days later they transported the PUC to Abu Ghraib. The Louisville Slugger [incident] happened around November 2003, certainly before Christmas.

People would just volunteer just to get their frustrations out. We had guys from all over the base just come to guard PUCs so they could fuck them up. Broken bones didn’t happen too often, maybe every other week. The PA would overlook it. I am sure they knew.

The interrogator [a sergeant] worked in the [intelligence] office. He was former Special Forces. He would come into the PUC tent and request a guy by number. Everyone was tagged. He would say, “Give me #22.” And we would bring him out. He would smoke the guy and fuck him. He would always say to us, “You didn’t see anything, right?” And we would always say, “No, Sergeant.”

One day a soldier came to the PUC tent to get his aggravation out and filled his hands with dirt and hit a PUC in the face. He fucked him. That was the communications guy.

One night a guy came and broke chem lights open and beat the PUCs with it. That made them glow in the dark which was real funny but it burned their eyes and their skin was irritated real bad.

If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

After Abu Ghraib things toned down. We still did it but we were careful. It is still going on now the same way, I am sure. Maybe not as blatant but it is how we do things.

So what happens now? Fishback is forced to reveal the two Sergeant's identity--more witness testimonials and a half-assed 'investigation'--and then Rumsfeld announces the latest batch of 'bad apples' that will stand for trial a la Lynndie England? Or will we finally start opening our eyes and understanding that culpability lies above the level of some 23 year old semi-literate Kentuckyian?

It’s unjust to hold only lower-ranking soldiers accountable for something that is so clearly, at a minimum, an officer corps problem, and probably a combination with the executive branch of government.

It’s almost infuriating to me. It is infuriating to me that officers are not lined up to accept responsibility for what happened. It blows my mind that officers are not. It should’ve started with the chain of command at Abu Ghraib and anybody else that witnessed anything that violated the Geneva Conventions or anything that could be questionable should’ve been standing up saying, “This is what happened. This is why I allowed it to happen. This is my responsibility,” for the reasons I mentioned before. That’s basic officership, that’s what you learn at West Point, that’s what you should learn at any commissioning source.

That’s basic Army leadership. If you fail to enforce something, that’s the new standard. So I guess what I’m getting at is the Army officers have overarching responsibility for this. Not privates, not the Sergeant Jones, not Sergeant Smith. The Army officer corps has responsibility for this. And it boggles my mind that there aren’t officers standing up saying, “That’s my fault and here’s why.” That’s basic army leadership.

Look, the guys who did this aren’t dishonorable men. It’s not like they are a bunch of vagabonds. They shown more courage and done more things in the time that I’ve spent with them than I could cover in probably a week of talking to you. They are just amazing men, but they’re human. If you put them in a situation, which is the officer’s responsibility, where they are put in charge of somebody who tried to kill them or maybe killed their friend, bad things are going to happen. It’s the officer’s job to make sure bad things don’t happen.

[Another important] thing is making sure this doesn’t happen again…. [We need] to address the fact that it was an officer issue and by trying to claim that it was “rogue elements” we seriously hinder our ability to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And, that has not only moral consequences, but it has practical consequences in our ability to wage the War on Terror. We’re mounting a counter-insurgency campaign, and if we have widespread violations of the Geneva Conventions, that seriously undermines our ability to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

Please name me the officers have have been criminally charged (no not administrative discipline, letters of reprimand, demotions, fines). No, not even Karpinski and Pappas. There has certainly been a near awe-inspiring amount of investigations on the abuse/torture incidents that Rumsfeld's Pentagon has commissioned. But none of them have concluded the obvious. Legal enablers with their talk of 'military necessity' and enthusiastic 'defining torture down' memoranda gave Bush the wriggle-room he needed to ignore Geneva whenever it suited him. Rumsfeld got carried away with souped-up Gitmo interrogation tactics that--while unsuited even for such a controlled environment--were absymally inadequate in front-line environments like Afghanistan and Iraq. Gitmo is in the rosy tropics, after all, as Dick Cheney has reminded us. But near front lines where detention centers get shelled, where buddies are getting killed, when officers are letting people work off stress by beating prisoners, where riots occur, where the guard to detainee ratio is way too low, and so on--well, things got and still get pretty nasty. And while Rummy paid cheap service to Geneva applying in Iraq, there was obviously much confusion on this point, and likely still is to this day. The result? It is not implausible to wonder whether there has been an institutionalization of detainee mistreatment in Gitmo, Diego Garcia, various camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, undeclared so-called OGA (CIA) detention-holds, rendition modalities, the practice of holding surreptitiously so-called ghost detainees, possible failure of health professionals to report abuses, and more. Given this, what is needed now is a truly independent investigation armed with full subpoena power.

Look, just in Iraq I have read reliable reports of abuses, without limitation, at Camp Red in Baghdad, at Camp Mercury near Fallujah, at Umm Qasr and Camp Bucca, at Camp Cropper at Baghdad International Airport and, of course, Abu Ghraib. And the abuses may still be continuing to this day, as Rumsfeld's Pentagon continues to exude a certain air of permissiveness and confusion about appropriate standards of detainee treatment. For instance, new detainee policy guidelines in development post-Abu Ghraib (Joint Publication 3-63: Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations) continue to carve-out military necessity exceptions to humane treatment (itself a vague standard). Before we had crystal clear Army Field Manual standards for interrogation that were compliant with the Geneva Conventions. These have instead been replaced with vague, shifting standards of 'humane' treatment-- but often subject to 'military necessity.' To young men in the heat of battle, many things can appear born of 'military necessity'. This is why we have officers and chains of command and adult supervision. Officers are supposed to enforce clear guidelines and standards. Fishback's testimonials show how this is manifestly not the case. Mightn't one reason be that many in the officer corps haven't received clear enough guidance and/or don't believe the highest levels of the Pentagon and Executive branches are yet ready to return to broadly-applied Geneva compliant interrogation doctrine? So better not to rock the boat, but let under the radar abuses continue, no?

Prediction: if McCain and Warner step up to bat, more Fishback's will emerge, as abuses are continuing to this day in varied locals I'd wager. Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush are sweeping this issue under the rug and, like with Harriet, asking us to 'trust them'. I don't. Not for a second. I am left hoping that two distinguished Senators will pick up the slack. I pray my hopes are not in vain, but am worried that I will be let down. It has been happening a lot lately...

Posted by Gregory at October 4, 2005 05:14 AM | TrackBack (1)

Can anyone comment on McCain's general reputation in the Arab press? I mean, he is in many ways more hawkish and more of a "neo-con" (whatever them is or that are) than the current administration, and he has backed Bush strongly. But he has been consistently strong in his opposition to prisoner abuse. So I'm wondering to what extent a more prominent role for McCain in the military effort would clearly send a trustworthy mesage abroad that, this crap isn't going to be tolerated anymore. Is his reputation in the Arab press anything like his reputation in the Western press?

Posted by: Sanjay Krishnaswamy at October 4, 2005 08:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Can anyone comment on McCain's general reputation in the Arab press? I mean, he is in many ways more hawkish and more of a "neo-con" (whatever them is or that are) than the current administration, and he has backed Bush strongly. But he has been consistently strong in his opposition to prisoner abuse. So I'm wondering to what extent a more prominent role for McCain in the military effort would clearly send a trustworthy mesage abroad that, this crap isn't going to be tolerated anymore. Is his reputation in the Arab press anything like his reputation in the Western press?

Posted by: Sanjay Krishnaswamy at October 4, 2005 08:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you are rapidly becoming one of my favorite bloggers.

I guess it took repeated nauseating glimpses into the US military's treatment of prisoners to do it, but whatever, you're showing the courage and intellectual honesty to call things as they are and to suffer the consequences; which is - politically speaking - to be without a home.....like a rolling stone.

Having long ago been repulsed by the crass vileness of the Bush dynasty and yet being unable to swallow the panty-waisted liberal party line, I know how it feels to be a citizen without sympathetic representation.

But, Good on you! Keep up the good work.

BTW "smoked" or "getting smoked" is also a term used in the US military in a similar context. It basically means being forced to do some form of PT - usually punatively - until one collapses in utter exhaustion. I'm not talking worn out and winded. I mean total muscle fatigue and failure (at which point the steam rises off the over-heated body; like smoke).

So use of that term is not specific to Iraqi prisoner abuse.

Baseball bats, etc are not, of course, used on recruits.

Regardless, once there was even one incident known to command, then there should have been a general inquiry initiated into prisoner treatment at all locals. General orders should have been issued. JAG should have had an involvement, etc, etc, etc.

Clearly this goes straight to the top; to the Commander in Chief. Either Bush is for prisoner abuse or he is not in command. Either scenario is disturbing in its own right.

Posted by: avedis at October 4, 2005 12:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I repeat my call from your last post on this issue: it is obvious that Bush is not going to address this issue adequately in the next 3 and a half years, so I believe our energy should be directed to make sure every officer in the chain of command knows this will not be forgotten later in their careers. Some day, some way a panel/commission will be convened and we will not let bygones be bygones, your actions today will be addressed without a statute of limitations. I still object to gratuitous release of inflammatory pictures that have no contribution to rational debate, but that makes it more necessary, not less, that we make an iron clad commitment to rooting out these crimes at some date in the future.

On a more crass, political level, this issue seems taylor made to an ambitious young Senator or Congressman (Lindsey Graham?) -- as one of Napoleon's generals once commented "It's worse than a crime, it's a blunder." The undisputed cost of these outrages far outweighs any conceivable benefit.

Posted by: wayne at October 4, 2005 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This Army Field manual?

Use of following approaches is subject to the application of the general safeguards provided in enclosure (2). Specific implementation guidance with respect to approaches A-Q is provided in U.S. Army Field Manual 34-52. Brigade Commanders may provide additional implementation guidelines.

From the Sanchez memo October 12, 2003.

From the September 14, 2003 memo:

Enclosed is the CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, modeled on the one implemented for interrogations conducted at Guantanmo Bay but modified for applicability to a theater of war in which the Geneva Conventions apply. Unless otherwise directed, my intent is to implement this policy immediately.

Sanchez ordered them to follow the Geneva Conventions, and use Army Field manual 34-52 to guide them in approaches of prisoners.

So the question becomes: who did not carry out these orders? Who did not further these orders?

Nobody gave all these soldiers implicit permission to do what they were doing, they just did it because nobody stopped them.

Also something odd about the HRW report:

Captain Fishback:

In Afghanistan we were attached to Special Forces and saw OGA. We never interacted with them but they would stress guys. We learned how to do it. We saw it when we would guard an interrogation.

Sergeant A:

In Afghanistan we were attached to Special Forces and saw OGA. We never interacted with them but they would stress guys. We learned how to do it. We saw it when we would guard an interrogation.

See anything similar with these? I sure hope HRW isn't just making stuff up as they go along.....

Posted by: Seixon at October 5, 2005 04:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There IS confusion if you make a 17 month "approach for clarification" up the chain of command and no one - not JAG, not superiors, not the Sec. of the Army - can give you concrete, objectives guidelines for what is legal and allowable. There was "implicit permission", I think even encouragement, for soldiers to cross the line when softening up detainees for interogation. Fishback's entire letter to Senator McCain has just been entered in the record, by Senator Kennedy in his support of the amendment to the appropriations bill this morning. Fishback met with Senators yesterday. Sen McCain has made his judgement of the Captain's character and integrity. I don't think he's making it up.

Posted by: truenorthfolk at October 5, 2005 07:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fishback's 17 month journey didn't start until after he was out of Iraq, as far as I understood it. Why didn't he do all of this while he was there?

Posted by: Seixon at October 5, 2005 07:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It was after he got home and heard Rumsfeld testifying(lying) to congress about troops adherring to the Geneva Conventions that he realized there was a big problem (read all of the letter/HRWreport) The vote tonight was awesome! 90 to 9 - pretty much a slam dunk - on to working out the kinks w/ the house. Even Powell weighed in w/ a last minute letter. This stand for founding American morals has uplifted and united the nation. The vote in the senate earlier in the evening (germainess? of amending the appropriations bill w/ the authorization bill...) was 50/49 - but not along party lines - it was all over the place. this is getting interesting. C-SPAN was the best drama on TV today

Posted by: truenorthfolk at October 6, 2005 05:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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