Friday, February 09, 2007

The human cost to human rights abusers

It reads like the beginning of a classic horror story.
A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.
But it's not a story. It's not some tortured fantasy designed stimulate the dark recesses of a bored reader's jaded sensibility. It's an Op-Ed in today's Washington Post by Eric Fair, who worked as a contract interrogator in Iraq in 2004, after serving as an Arabic linguist in the U.S. Army from 1995 to 2000. He followed orders. He has committed no crime. He is pursued by no law enforcement authorities. Instead, he is pursued by his conscience and his nightmares, and he needs to talk.
The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.
For many Americans, Abu Ghraib and the human rights abuses of the Iraq war are behind us, a few bad apples have been punished, and it's time to move on. But we can't move on until we face what it was the representatives of the United States of America were actually asked to do in our name in the war against terror.
I am desperate to get on with my life and erase my memories of my experiences in Iraq. But those memories and experiences do not belong to me. They belong to history. If we're doomed to repeat the history we forget, what will be the consequences of the history we never knew? The citizens and the leadership of this country have an obligation to revisit what took place in the interrogation booths of Iraq, unpleasant as it may be. The story of Abu Ghraib isn't over. In many ways, we have yet to open the book.
It won't be over until we have held the people who authorized and ordered these transgressions accountable. If then.

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