The war for our soldiers’ humanity.
Several soldiers from Battalion 168 said they were numbed almost dulled by their monotonous war -time routines. Shifting to more mundane work, such as patrolling and detaining prisoners, could make a soldier “bored &ellip; so eventually you start to lose those feelings,” said Keller. “And the only thing that really does excite you is when you get to &ellip; torture somebody.”
Then Keller added, “Honestly, a lot of the things that were done to the detainees were &ellip; just someone’s idea of a good time.”
Some troops said they beat their prisoners. Daniel Keller described how he dragged detainees through concertina wire that was lying on the floor. At times he just used zip ties to force detainees into painful positions for hours – sometimes days. “I once left a person zip-tied to a cell door for two and a half days, suspended on his own weight,” Keller remembered.
During one unit meeting, mid-level officers discussed detainee operations. They weren’t intelligence officers, but they still traded war stories about detainee treatment during previous wars.
“One of the Non-Commissioned Officer’s (NCO) described &ellip; what they did to get information out of detainees in Vietnam,” recalls Keller. “And then they’ll give you a detailed description of torture techniques, and then you go and perform torture.”
According to Keller, one of the NCOs described a technique that involved the use of water to extract information from prisoners in Vietnam. “Then I went ahead and tried it,” he said. “The difference was that I didn’t want information, I just wanted to hurt [a prisoner].”
In this technique, a soldier would pin a detainee down on his back and brace his torso so that he couldn’t wiggle free. “They will now feel like their life is in danger,” said Keller, who methodically described how it worked. “Then you take a five-gallon jug of water, and you slowly start pouring it over their face in the mouth and nose area so that it’s not enough for them to really suck in and die, and they can still move their head to the side and catch a breath &ellip; It simulates drowning without permanently injuring [detainees].”
The water torture wasn’t combined with questioning.
“We were doing things because we could. That’s it.” said Keller. “And the objective just got less and less important.”
Troops didn’t have to rely on brute force to wear down detainees. Prisoners asked Keller if they could urinate. He would oblige, but first hooded them, cinched zip ties around their wrists, and took them out back. A gunner manned the front gate of the jail in a machine-gun nest, and had to test-fire his weapon periodically to ensure it worked properly. Keller would deposit the detainee just outside the jail after they had relieved themselves and signal to the machine gunner to fire a round each time he marched another detainee outside. He would leave the first detainee outside and return to the jail to see who else sought relief. Detainees hear their friends requesting the bathroom, saw them cuffed, blindfolded, and escorted out of the cell, then they would hear a shot, and their friends didn’t return. Keller repeated the same routine and slowly emptied the jail. And it consumed detainees with fear.
Eventually, Keller would force detainees outside and tell them, “You’ve got to go to the bathroom” – even if they didn’t have to.
“They would be crying whenever we came in to take someone to go to the bathroom because they thought they were about to be executed,” said Keller. “And we thought it was fun as hell.”
Joshua E.S. Phillips has reported extensively in the Middle East. This abstract is from his latest book, None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture, the culmination of more than three years of research in Iraq.
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