Whistleblower reveals ‘systematic’ humiliation of detainees
Videos suggest detainees were routinely subjected to emotional assaults
A former US soldier in Iraq has come forward with video of his fellow soldiers subjecting Iraqi detainees to what he describes as “mental, emotional, degrading” abuse.
US Army Specialist Ethan McCord was a member of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, the same unit that was involved in a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad shown in a leaked video released last April by WikiLeaks.
“I started to ‘acquire’ these videos and some pictures once I realized that what we are doing in Iraq is wrong,” McCord wrote on Wednesday in a blog entry at MichaelMoore.com. “These videos are of detainee abuse. Not the type of abuse that’s physical, but the mental, emotional, degrading type.”
In the three brief clips, soldiers are shown harassing a handcuffed and blindfolded detainee in a variety of ways. In one, a soldier repeatedly orders a detainee to hold his hands up and then put them down again — a sequence which McCord says went on for 45 minutes.
Another shows a soldier asking a terrified detainee, “Are you militia” and telling him he is “going to go to prison for that,” until being ordered to “stop talking to the detainees.” In the third, a soldier sings loudly and mockingly into the ear of a man who was detained for having an AK-47 in his home.
The use of deliberate humiliation as a means of softening up detainees prior to questioning became particularly notorious in connection with the Abu Ghraib scandal and was examined in detail in Errol Morris’s critically-acclaimed 2008 documentary Standard Operating Procedure.
“The MPs speak frankly, if not always lucidly, about conditions at the prison and the vague orders from higher-ups that allowed them to believe what they were doing was somehow OK,” Slate’s Dana Stevens wrote of the film. “They saw themselves as ‘softening up’ detainees for the real questioning that would take place later behind closed doors.”
“My two cents worth of opinion,” Morris told an interviewer, “is that this is not just a war of humiliation but a war of sexual humiliation at its core, and the entire foreign policy. I wouldn’t even think it’s fair to say that America has a foreign policy in the years since 9/11, but if it has had a foreign policy, the foreign policy is, show them whose [sic] boss, humiliate them like they have humiliated us.”
Although the harassment shown in McCord’s clips does not rise to the same level of sexual abuse as was present at Abu Ghraib, it appears to be similarly designed to “show them who’s boss” and break down the detainees’ will to resist.
“I’ve held on to these for three years now, debating on how to release them responsibly,” McCord writes. “I want to point out, first hand, that these soldiers are doing EXACTLY as they have been trained. I’m not trying to excuse their behavior, but simply pointing out that this is a systematic problem. While your anger may initially be placed with the soldiers in the videos, I think your anger should be directed towards the system that trained them.”
This is not the first time that McCord has spoken out since the release last April of the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video. As summarized by Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post, that video shows “a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story.”
According to Wired, on the day of the attack, McCord’s platoon was battling insurgents when they “got orders to investigate a nearby street. When they arrived, they found a scene of fresh carnage — the scattered remains of a group of men, believed to be armed, who had just been gunned down by Apache attack helicopters. They also found 10-year-old Sajad Mutashar and his five-year-old sister Doaha covered in blood in a van. Their 43-year-old father, Saleh, had been driving them to a class when he spotted one of the wounded men moving in the street and drove over to help him, only to become a victim of the Apache guns. McCord was captured in a video shot from one helicopter as he ran frantically to a military vehicle with Sajad in his arms seeking medical care.”
“I was pretty distraught over the whole situation with the children,” McCord told Wired. “So I went to a sergeant and asked to see [the mental health person], because I was having a hard time dealing with it. I was called a pussy and that I needed to suck it up and a lot of other horrible things. I was also told that there would be repercussions if I was to go to mental health. … I was told that I needed to get the sand out of my vagina…. So I just sucked it up and tried to move on with everything.”
“I’ve lived with seeing the children that way since the incident happened,” McCord continued. “I’ve had nightmares. I was diagnosed with chronic, severe PTSD. [But] I was actually starting to get kind of better. … I wasn’t thinking about it as much. [Then I] took my children to school one day and I came home and sat down on the couch and turned on the TV with my coffee, and on the news I’m running across the screen with a child. The flood of emotions came back.”
Immediately after the release of the WikiLeaks video, McCord and another former soldier issued “An Open Letter of Reconciliation & Responsibility to the Iraqi People” which stated, “We write to you, your family, and your community with awareness that our words and actions can never restore your losses. … What we seek is to learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to tell others of our experiences and how the people of the United States need to realize we have done and are doing to you and the people of your country. We humbly ask you what we can do to begin to repair the damage we caused.”
Last July, McCord spoke about the video to attendees at a United Nations Peace Conference. “If this video disgusts you, it should,” he told the audience. “It happens daily in Iraq. … The rules of engagement in 2007 when this happened was, ‘If you feel threatened by anybody, you’re able to engage that person.’ Many soldiers felt threatened just by the fact that you were looking at them, so they fired their weapons at anybody who was looking at them, because ‘I felt threatened.'”
“We were told that if we were to fire our weapons at people and we were to be investigated, officers would take care of you,” McCord continued. “We were given orders for 360 degree rotational fire whenever we were hit with an IED. We were told by our battalion commander to kill every motherfucker on the street. … If you didn’t fire, the NCOs in your platoon would make your life hell.”
These videos were uploaded to YouTube Oct. 12, 2010.