US Army torturer tells his story
1. Torturer's Toll
A former army interrogator explains what torture is really like -- and what happens to those who inflict it.
By Tara McKelvey/American Prospect
Tony Lagouranis is a 37-year-old bouncer at a bar in Chicago's Humboldt Park. He is also a former torturer. That was how he was described in an email promoting a panel discussion, " 24 : Torture Televised," hosted by the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security in New York on March 21. And he doesn't shy away from the description.
As a specialist in a military intelligence battalion, Lagouranis interrogated prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Al Asad Airfield, and other places in Iraq from January through December 2004. Coercive techniques, including the use of military dogs, waterboarding, and prolonged stress positions, were employed on the detainees, he says. Prisoners held at Al Asad Airfield, which is located approximately 110 miles northwest of Baghdad, were shackled and hung from an upright bed frame "welded to the wall" in a room in an airplane hanger, he told me in a phone interview after the NYU event. When he was having problems getting information from a detainee, he recalls, the other interrogators said, "Chain him up on the bed frame and then he'll talk to you." (Lagouranis says he didn't participate directly in hangings from the frames.)
The results of the hangings, shacklings, and prolonged stress positions -- sometimes for hours -- were devastating. "You take a healthy guy and you turn him into a cripple -- at least for a period of time," Lagouranis tells me. "I don't care what Alberto Gonzales says. That's torture."
Lagouranis was on the NYU panel -- along with Jane Mayer, a New Yorker staff writer; Stephen Holmes, an NYU School of Law professor and author of an upcoming book, The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror ; Jill Savitt, director of public programs for Human Rights First; and Wesleyan University professor Richard Slotkin -- to talk about torture and its role in the Emmy-Award-winning 24 .
The show's hero, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), is famously ruthless in his attempts to extract information about terrorist plots from suspects in "ticking timebomb" situations. The prevailing sentiment of the show, as Mayer wrote in her February 19 New Yorker article about 24 , is, "Whatever it takes." Lagouranis met with the show's creative team in California in November, she wrote. He told them that the grisly plotlines of television shows like 24 had given soldiers ideas on how to torment prisoners (for example, forcing a prisoner to listen to the sounds of men being tortured in a nearby cell -- a method that was proposed, he said, but not carried out during his time in Iraq).
The violence on 24 is horrific and almost cartoon-like in its depiction. Yet the show does have a moral conscience. One of the themes, as lead writer Howard Gordon told Mayer, is that Jack Bauer suffers over the violence he is forced to inflict on men and women in the name of national security. "Jack is basically damned," Gordon told Mayer.
Jack Bauer is, of course, a fictional character. Lagouranis, meanwhile, has seen the suffering of people who have been interrogated in Iraq. Their pain is muted in comparison to the ordeal that 24 suspects have endured. The Iraqi prisoners were not electrocuted or attacked with knives, as Mayer wrote about the terrorism suspects in 24 . And Lagouranis may not be, in Hollywood discourse, "damned." But he is in a state of mind that could be described as -- at the very least -- uneasy.
Lagouranis is one of the few individuals to have spoken publicly about his experiences as an interrogator who used or saw harsh techniques inflicted on prisoners in the war. His book, Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey through Iraq , co-authored by Allen Mikaelian, will be published in June. But he is hardly the only one familiar with the stories. It is hard to know how many men and women have witnessed acts of detainee abuse or participated in the use of coercive interrogation methods that appear to violate international law during the Iraq war. At least nine individuals, including Lynndie R. England and her former boyfriend Charles A. Graner Jr., have been sentenced to prison for detainee-related offenses at Abu Ghraib. Others may someday face prosecution for alleged crimes and detainee abuse in the Iraq war.
Lagouranis reported the detainee abuses that he witnessed in Iraq and is not a suspect in detainee-related abuses. As he says, he followed military guidelines during interrogations. "The things I participated in were technically legal," he explains. Yet there have been repercussions. He suffered from panic attacks after his return to the United States and was placed under army psychiatric care. He received an honorable discharge from the army in July 2005.
Lagouranis studied ancient Greek at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. As he explained in his book and in conversations with me, he is familiar with classical and modern texts about warfare and the Middle East as well as with international law that protects the rights of prisoners of war.
He and other soldiers discussed the Geneva Conventions during military training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, in 2003, before being deployed to Iraq. But it became clear they were not always expected to abide by them, he says. Some of the soldiers and officers had been influenced by Mark Bowden's October 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, " The Dark Art of Interrogation ," which describes techniques that, in the author's words, are "excruciating for the victim" yet "leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm."
"It seems to me Bowden was advocating what he calls 'torture lite,'" Lagouranis tells me. "That made an impression on a lot of people. The feeling was that what we had been taught about the Geneva Conventions was not going to be followed anymore. We would be following a new set of rules -- and that was what Bowden was talking about."
Things seemed different in Iraq. "I started realizing that most of the prisoners were innocent," Lagouranis says. "We were torturing people for no reason. I started getting really angry and really remorseful and by the time I got back I completely broke down."
Maybe that was a normal reaction, I tell him.
"That's what my shrink told me," he says. "I can just say that people don't fully realize that for a person to do that to another human being -- it definitely takes a toll."
Back during the NYU event, Lagouranis had sat behind a long table on a stage with his sleeves rolled up and his arms folded across his chest. Toward the end of the discussion, he leaned forward and told the audience that, ultimately, the abuse of prisoners could not be blamed on shows like 24 . "I'm from New York City. I'm college-educated," he said. "But you put me in Iraq and told me to torture, and I did it and I regretted it later."
It is clear that he and others like him will be dealing with the fallout from the war, especially those aspects that have been hidden from public view, for a long time. "I didn't know I would discover and indulge in my own evil," he writes in his forthcoming book. "And now that it has surfaced, I fear that it will be my constant companion for the rest of my life."
(Tara McKelvey is a Prospect senior editor.)
2. The Strange Fruit of Torture
The Confession Backfired
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS/Counterpunch
The first confession released by the Bush regime's Military Tribunals--that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--has discredited the entire process. Writing in Jurist , Northwestern University law professor Anthony D'Amato likens Mohammed's confession to those that emerged in Stalin's show trials of Bolshevik leaders in the 1930s.
That was my own immediate thought. I remember speaking years ago with Soviet dissident Valdimir Bukovsky about the behavior of Soviet dissidents under torture. He replied that people pressed for names under torture would try to remember the names of war dead and people who had passed away. Those who retained enough of their wits under torture would confess to an unbelievable array of crimes in an effort to alert the public to the falsity of the entire process.
That is what Mohammed did. We know he was tortured, because his response to the obligatory question about his treatment during his years of detention is redacted. We also know that he was tortured, because otherwise there is no point for the US Justice (sic) Dept. memos giving the green light to torture or for the Military Commissions Act, which permits torture and death sentence based on confession extracted by torture.
Mohammed's confession of crimes and plots is so vast that Katherine Shrader of the Associated Press reports that the Americans who extracted Mohammed's confession do not believe it either. It is exaggerated, say Mohammed's tormentors, and must be taken with a grain of salt.
In other words, the US torture crew, reveling in their success, played into Mohammed's hands. Pride goes before a fall, as the saying goes.
Mohammed's confession admits to 31 planned and actual attacks all over the world, including blowing up the Panama Canal and assassinating presidents Carter and Clinton and the Pope. Having taken responsibility for the whole ball of wax along with everything else that he could imagine, he was the entire show. No other terrorists needed.
Reading responses of BBC listeners to Mohammed's confession reveals that the rest of the world is either laughing at the US government for being so stupid as to think that anyone anywhere would believe the confession or damning the Bush regime for being like the Gestapo and KGB.
Humorists are having a field day with the confession: "'I'm a very dangerous mastermind,' said Mohammed, who confessed to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the Brink's robbery, St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and the Lincoln and McKinley assassinations. Mohammed also accepted responsibility for spreading hay fever and cold sores around the world and for rained out picnics."
If there was anything remaining of the Bush regime not already discredited, Mohammed's confession removed any reputation left.
The most important part of the Mohammed story is yet to make the headlines. Despite having held and tortured hundreds of detainees for years in Gitmo, and we don't know how many more in secret prisons around the world, the US government has come up with only 14 "high value detainees."
In other words, the government has nothing on 99 percent of the detainees who allegedly are so dangerous and wicked that they must be kept in detention without charges, access to attorneys and contact with families.
And little wonder. The vast majority of detainees, alleged "enemy combatants," are not terrorists captured by the CIA and brave US troops. They are hapless persons who happened to be outside their tribal or home territories and were kidnapped by criminal gangs or war lords who profited greatly at the expense of the naive Americans who offered bounties for "terrorists."
The US government does not care that innocent people have been ensnared, because the US government desperately needs both to prove that there are vast numbers of terrorists and to demonstrate its proficiency in protecting Americans by capturing terrorists. Moreover, the US government needs "dangerous suspects" that it can use to keep Americans in a state of supine fearfulness and as a front behind which to undermine constitutional protections and the Bill of Rights.
The Bush-Cheney Regime succeeded in its evil plot, only to throw it all away by releasing the ridiculous confession by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Will Bush's totalitarian Military Tribunal now execute Mohammed on the basis of his confession extracted by torture, or would this be seen everywhere on earth as nothing but an act of murder?
If Bush can't have Mohammed murdered, the US government will have to shut Mohammed away where he cannot talk and tell his tale. The US government will have to replicate Orwell's memory hole by destroying Mohammed's mind with mind-altering drugs and abuse.
It is to such depths that George Bush and Dick Cheney have lowered America.
(Paul Craig Roberts held the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University and was Senior Research Fellow in the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He served as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com)