Torture in Iraq

The following article is an excerpt, in somewhat modified form, from “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division,” a report issued by Human Rights Watch on September 25, 2005. The full report is available at hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905.

“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.1 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.”

—82nd Airborne sergeant,describing events at FOB Mercury, Iraq

“If I as an officer think we’re not even following the Geneva Conventions, there’s something wrong. If officers witness all these things happening, and don’t take action, there’s something wrong. If another West Pointer tells me he thinks, ‘Well, hitting somebody might be okay,’ there’s something wrong.”

—82nd Airborne officer, describing confusion in Iraq
concerning allowable interrogation techniques

1.

Summary

Residents of Fallujah called them “the Murderous Maniacs” because of how they treated Iraqis in detention. They were soldiers of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury) in Iraq. The soldiers considered this name a badge of honor.2

One officer and two noncommissioned officers (NCOs) of the 82nd Airborne who witnessed abuse, speaking on condition of anonymity, described in multiple interviews with Human Rights Watch how their battalion in 2003–2004 routinely used physical and mental torture as a means of intelligence gathering and for stress relief. One soldier raised his concerns within the Army chain of command for seventeen months before the Army agreed to undertake an investigation, but only after he had contacted members of Congress and considered going public with the story.

According to their accounts, the torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis in detention was systematic and was known at varying levels of command. Military Intelligence personnel, they said, directed and encouraged Army personnel to subject prisoners to forced, repetitive exercise, sometimes to the point of unconsciousness, sleep deprivation for days on end, and exposure to extremes of heat and cold as part of the interrogation process. At least one interrogator beat detainees in front of other soldiers. Soldiers also incorporated daily beatings of detainees in preparation for interrogations. Civilians believed to be from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conducted interrogations out of sight, but not earshot, of soldiers, who heard what they believed were abusive interrogations.

All three soldiers expressed confusion on the proper application of the Geneva Conventions on the laws of armed conflict in the treatment of prisoners. All had served in Afghanistan prior to Iraq and said that…


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