Archive for November 23rd, 2012

Prison-keepers and conscience: ‘None of Us Were Like This Before’ examines American torture and the toll it took

November 23, 2012

Freelance journalist Joshua E.S. Phillips begins his 2010 book with an innocuous report on the 2004 death of Sgt. Adam Gray, a 24-year-old native of central California. The military deemed it accidental, but his family and some of his fellow soldiers suspected otherwise.

Gray had served a year in the Middle East with a tank unit, beginning in March 2003, but his training for armored warfare was never called into play. Instead, he and his unit spent much of their time in Iraq conducting patrols and guarding prisoners. He came back a changed man, a darker person. He rarely talked about his war experiences, but when he did, he discussed torturing detainees.

Gray was stationed in Alaska when, a few weeks before his death, he tried to hang himself. On Aug. 29, 2004, he succeeded. He was found in bed with a plastic bag twisted over his head.

In None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture, Phillips argues persuasively that Gray was but one of many victims — including Afghanis, Iraqis and Americans — of torture. He also explores the many reasons why Americans tortured detainees, some of the myths surrounding torture and some of the corrosive effects that torture has had on practitioners and whistle-blowers as well as those who were its subjects.

Bush administration officials deliberately loosened some of the protections for individuals captured in what they called the global war on terror. Yet the administration also portrayed soldiers who were found to have participated in torture, such as guard as the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a few bad apples.

It now seems clear there there were far more than a few bad apples, although there remains some dispute over how much torture of detainees was official policy and how much of it was taken by low-level soldiers working on their own initiative. Phillips argues that whether officers explicitly embraced torture or not, many likely turned blind eyes to evidence of it.

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