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Torture in Iraq

In Afghanistan we were attached to Special Forces9 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. I was an Infantry Fire Team leader. The majority of the time I was out on mission. When not on mission I was riding the PUCs. We should have had MPs. We should have taken them to Abu Ghraib [which] was only fifteen fucking minutes drive. But there was no one to talk to in the chain—it just got killed. We would talk among ourselves, say, “This is bad.” But no one listened. We should never have been allowed to watch guys we had fought.

FOB Mercury was about as big as a football field. We had a battalion there with three or four companies and attachments. We lived in the buildings of an old Iraqi military compound that we built up with barriers, ACs [air conditioners], and stuff. We had civilian interpreters on post and contractors came every day to fix shit. The contractors were local Iraqis.

The PUCs lived in the PUC area about two hundred meters away. It had a triple-strength circle concertina barrier with tents in the middle with another triple-strength concertina perimeter. Inside each was a Hesco basket that is wire that normally has cloth in it. We filled them with dirt to make barriers and some we emptied and buried to use as access points for the Iraqis. This was all inside the confines of the FOB. There was a guard tower behind the PUC tent with two guards. One was always looking at the PUC tent. We never took direct fire but did take regular rocket and mortar attacks. We did not lose anyone but had shrapnel injuries.

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 lights10 open and beat the PUCs with it [sic]. 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.

Each company goes out on a mission and you kick the door down and catch them red-handed. We caught them with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. So we are going to give you special attention. We yank them off the truck and they hit the ground hard, maybe five to six feet down. We took everything and searched them. Then we toss him in the PUC tent with a sandbag on his head and he is zip tied. And he is like that all day and it is 100 degrees in that tent. Once paperwork was done we started to stress them. The five-gallon water can was full of water. We would have people hold out their arms on each side parallel to the ground. After a minute your arms get tired and shake. Then we would take some water out and douse them to get them cold. And the tent is full of dust and they get dirty and caked with it. Then we make them do pushups and jumping jacks. At the end of a guard shift they look like zombies.

We had these new high-speed trailer showers. One guy was the cleaner. He was an Iraqi contractor working on base. We were taking pretty accurate mortar fire and rockets and we were getting nervous. Well one day we found him with a GPS11 receiver and he is like calling in strikes on us! What the fuck!? We took him but we are pissed because he stabbed us in the back. So we gave him the treatment. We got on him with the jugs and doused him and smoked and fucked him.



The abuses alleged in this report can be traced to the Bush administration’s decision to disregard the Geneva Conventions in the armed conflict in Afghanistan.

On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush announced that the Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners did not apply at all to al-Qaeda members or to Taliban soldiers because they did not qualify as members of the armed forces. He insisted that detainees would nonetheless be treated “humanely.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told journalists that day: “The reality is the set of facts that exist today with the al-Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned.”

The accounts presented in this report are further evidence that this decision by the Bush administration was to have a profound influence on the treatment of detained persons in military operations in Iraq as well as in the “global war on terror.” In short, the refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan was to undermine long-standing adherence by the US armed forces to federal law and the laws of armed conflict concerning the proper treatment of prisoners.

* * *

According to the 2004 Schlesinger Commission report, coercive interrogation methods approved by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for use on prisoners at Guantánamo—including the use of guard dogs to induce fear in prisoners, stress techniques such as forced standing and shackling in painful positions, and removing their clothes for long periods—“migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were neither limited nor safeguarded,” and contributed to the widespread and systematic torture and abuse at US detention centers there.

Even after the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public, Secretary Rumsfeld continued to dismiss the applicability of the Geneva Conventions. On May 5, 2004, he told a journalist the Geneva Conventions “did not apply precisely” in Iraq but were “basic rules” for handling prisoners. Visiting Abu Ghraib on May 13, Rumsfeld remarked, “Geneva doesn’t say what you do when you get up in the morning.” In fact, the US armed forces have devoted considerable energy over the years to making the Geneva Conventions fully operational by military personnel in the field. Various US military operational handbooks and manuals, such as Field Manual 27-10 on the Law of Land Warfare and Field Manual 34-52 on Intelligence Interrogation, provide the means for implementing Geneva Conventions provisions, even where those provisions are vague.

* * *

Even if the Geneva Conventions were not applicable, various provisions of the US Uniform Code of Military Justice subject soldiers to court-martial or disciplinary measures for mistreating prisoners. Applicable UCMJ criminal provisions include article 93 (cruelty and maltreatment), article 128 (assault), and articles 118 and 119 (murder and manslaughter), as well as article 120 (rape and carnal knowledge), article 124 (maiming), and, for officers, article 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer). Superior officers who order the mistreatment of prisoners or who knew or should have known that such mistreatment was occurring and did not take appropriate measures can be prosecuted as a matter of command responsibility.

The treatment of prisoners alleged here also violates US obligations under international human rights law. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also bans torture and other mistreatment, ensures that the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment can never be suspended by a state, including during periods of public emergency.

These standards have largely been incorporated into US law that is applicable to members of the armed services. The War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC § 2441) makes it a criminal offense for US military personnel and US nationals to commit war crimes as specified in the Geneva Conventions. The federal anti-torture statute (18 USC § 2340A), enacted in 1994, provides for the prosecution of a US national or anyone present in the United States who, while outside the United States, commits or attempts to commit torture.

Human Rights Watch calls for investigations into all allegations of mistreatment of prisoners in US custody. Appropriate disciplinary or criminal action should be undertaken against all those implicated in torture and other abuse, whatever their rank. As we have reported elsewhere, there is increasing evidence that high-ranking US civilian and military leaders made decisions and issued policies that facilitated serious and widespread violations of the law. The circumstances strongly suggest that they either knew or should have known that such violations took place as a result of their actions. There is also mounting information that, when presented with evidence that abuse was in fact occurring, they failed to act to stop it.

Human Rights Watch reiterates its call for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate any US officials—no matter their rank or position—who participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture, or other prohibited ill-treatment against detainees in US custody.

  1. 9

    The 82nd Airborne Division provided support to Special Operations Forces during operations in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003.

  2. 10

    Chem lights refer to chemical light sticks. While we do not know the exact composition of the ones allegedly used in Iraq, these lights are typically made of a hydrogen peroxide solution mixed with a phenyl oxalate ester and dye for color. Information available at science.howstuffworks.com/light-stick2.htm.

  3. 11

    A GPS, or global positioning system receiver, provides the user with location data derived from satellites. This data may be used to target weapons, as the soldier alleges.

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