John Conroy, who for almost two decades has documented torture by the Chicago Police, has now turned his attention to Iraq and the horrors of the war of occupation. In a new picece in the Chicago Reader [Confessions of a Torturer: An Army Interrogator's Story] he tells the story of Tony Lagouranis, an Army interrogator who served in abu Ghraib, Mosul, and elsewhere. Lagouranis comes clean about the routine, extensive torture he and many many others engaged in during their time there:
The warrant officer secured a shipping container that became the unit’s interrogation booth. Stress positions became standard operating procedure. They included standing for long periods; kneeling on concrete, gravel, or plywood; and crawling across gravel. “Another one we’d use was where they would have their back against the wall and their knees bent at right angles. We used to do that as an exercise in basic training and it gets real painful after a few minutes, but we’d make the prisoners do that for a long time.
“We had three different strobe lights going at once, and the prisoner would be in a stress position, and it was cold, so he’d be freezing.” At times the detainees were exposed directly to the strobe lighting, but at other times they wore goggles that obscured vision but allowed the pulsating light to enter. The music in the shipping container was applied by means of a boom box turned up to maximum volume. “We were supposed to be in there the entire time with the prisoner, but we could walk out and shut the door if we wanted. I would go outside and just sit down, outside the shipping container. I wouldn’t hear it that much. We started out using this heavy metal music that we got from the MPs, but at two in the morning I’d put on James Taylor ’cause I just didn’t want to hear shit like that anymore.
“I didn’t handle the dogs. We had professional dog handlers. They were MPs who lived right next to the compound where we were doing this, so I would just go and wake them up. We had like a signal I would give him to cue the dog to lunge and bark at the prisoner. The prisoner would have blacked-out goggles on so he couldn’t see that the dog was restrained, he couldn’t see that the dog had a muzzle on, he just knew there was a dog in the room with him and that it was a big angry dog.
Many of the MPs involved, as Lagouranis tells it, were willing, even enthusiastic, participants. Further, much of the abuse was committed for the fun of it, rather than to attempt to obtain any information:
Lagouranis says the MPs were “willing and enthusiastic participants in all this stuff. A lot of the guys that we worked with were former prison guards or they were reservists who were prison guards in their civilian life. They loved it. They totally wanted to be involved in interrogations. It actually was a problem sometimes. I remember I would be standing guard at three in the morning outside of the shipping container with a prisoner inside and people would come by and they would know what was going on because they could hear the music and maybe see the lights. And they’d want to join in. So I’d have four sergeants standing around me, and I’m a specialist, and they want to go and fuck the guy up, and I would have to control these guys who outrank me and outnumber me and they have weapons and I don’t—because I’m guarding a prisoner I don’t have a weapon. It got really hairy sometimes and I couldn’t call for help because there was nobody around. I remember at one point the MPs came over from the facility and they were banging on the shipping container, one guy got on top and he was jumping up and down, they were throwing rocks at it, they were going inside and yelling at the guy. And I was like, ‘How do I control this situation?’”
Lagouranis says the MPs didn’t know anything about individual detainees, most of whom, in Lagouranis’s estimation, had nothing to do with the insurgency. “The MPs don’t read the paperwork, they don’t talk to the guy, they don’t know anything about it, other than they think this is a guy who’s been mortaring us and so they hate him. They’ll abuse him if they can. They can do that in many ways. They can refuse his request for medical attention, refuse his request to go to the bathroom—that was really common—refuse his request for a blanket.”
Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the torture continued. Only it was committed by Marines before the brought prioners in to a detention center:
After the scandal broke, they stopped torturing people in prisons and they would torture them before they got to the prison. They would either torture them in their homes or they would take them to a remote location . . . The marines had a location—they called it the ‘meat factory’—they would bring them there and they would torture them for 24 or 48 hours before they brought them to us, and they were using techniques like water boarding, mock execution, they were beating them up, breaking their bones, whatever. It was bad, in particular the First Recon—they’re sort of like marine special forces, an elite unit [attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, known as 24th MEU]. Every time they went on a raid it didn’t matter who they were bringing back, they would just fuck these guys up. Old men, 15-year-old kids, they all came with bruises and broken bones. One guy came with a blister on the back of his leg. It was big, it was horrible, a burn blister. They’d made him sit on the exhaust pipe of a running truck.
A number of times Lagouranis reported abuse be witnessed:
“I filed an abuse report on this guy. They had like a standard form, like a memo someone had made up internally at Abu Ghraib, and so I asked my superior for that form, and I went in and did a specific interrogation to ask this guy about that abuse. The guy was really reluctant to talk about it, he said to forget it, he just didn’t want any more trouble for himself. But I got it out of him. I wrote the abuse report and gave it to my superior. And that abuse report, as far as I know, has disappeared. It doesn’t exist anymore.”
“And I was writing abuse reports during that time about these guys and I was sending it up through the marine chain of command. . . . I was taking the prisoner’s statements, I was making my own statements, I was taking photographs, and those photographs were put in the medical files of the detainees.
“No one ever came to look at those medical files, no one ever came to talk to the prisoners, no one ever came to interview me about this stuff. But they were assuring me that these things were going to be investigated.”
In no case were these reports investigated and the reports have somehow “dissappeared”:
After his appearance on Frontline was aired in October 2005, however, an investigator from the army’s CID came to Lagouranis’s apartment and asked why he hadn’t reported any of the abuse before going to the media. “The guy said to me, ‘We ran your name through the computer. We don’t have any reports from you.”
All this torture was a waste as things were so chaotic that no useful intelligence was obtained from all the suffering:
The vast majority of the men and women in Lagouranis’s MI brigade remained at Abu Ghraib and a nearby base for their entire tour, and at the end of that year they published an intelligence report he says was full of empty claims. “It was like, ‘The top ten detainees and what we got out of them,’ ” Lagouranis says. “It was all bullshit. And that’s for an entire year of interrogating thousands of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. They got nothing out of that place. That’s not just my assessment—you can talk to anybody I worked with over there. The main reason for that is because 90 or 95 percent of the people we got had nothing to do with the insurgency. And if they did we didn’t have any good evidence on them. And the detainees knew that and they knew they didn’t have to talk to us.” A February 2004 Red Cross report based on the estimates of coalition intelligence officers said that 70 to 90 percent of the prisoners were innocent.
Lagouranis also provides insights into the varied lies told the the military about Fallujah and many other episodes.
To understand the true depravity of our occupation of Iraq, be sure to read the entire article.
March 3rd, 2007