I've been following what happens to the soldiers who torture detainees after the soldiers' return from war. Some of you may remember that I wrote previously of Nancy Sherman's excellent book, The Untold War, about the effects on soldiers who do the right thing but still experience guilt. In light of former President Bush's admission that he ordered the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, and he'd do it again (which is an admission to authorizing a policy that cost us American lives by handing Al Qaeda its best recruiting tool), we should further examine the effects of this extremely ignorant and short-sighted decision. We're now beginning to see additional effects of this unlawful policy -- severe PTSD and suicides among those that were asked to torture and abuse detainees. Step in author Joshua Phillips and the men of Battalion 1-68.
Phillips investigated the case of one soldier, Adam Gray, who committed suicide because of the guilt he felt over torturing prisoners in Iraq. And what happens next you'll have to read None of Us Were Like This Before to believe because Gray's isn't the last suicide. Phillips continues to interact with Gray's former comrades to this day, and I can tell you from what he's related that the soldiers continue to battle with the mental scars of having tortured detainees. Those who authorized torture and defend it don't want to talk about this. They took honorable, patriotic young soldiers and convinced them to sacrifice the very principles that they had signed up to defend. That paradox is what Phillips investigates and brings to light. And he does it with the utmost respect for the soldiers.
Phillips is also, correctly, highly critical of two major failures of the military. The first is the failure of too many leaders to actively ensure that their soldiers treated detainees humanely. And, secondly, he points to the failure of military criminal investigators to pursue allegations of torture and abuse, which in effect was carte blanche approval for such unlawful activity. But mostly what makes None of Us Were Like This Before such an engaging read, and why there needs to be more attention on the issue of what happens to those who torture when they return, is that the stories are up close and personal. Phillips extensively interviews Gray's family members and other members of Gray's unit, and what emerges is a picture of the tremendous toll this policy has taken not just on the soldiers, but on our country. For those who thought that torture and abuse were isolated to Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq (not counting the CIA's black sites or extraordinary rendition), think again. It's coming home.
If the military is to make amends for this disastrous policy, one way to do so is to take care of the soldiers who are suffering from the effects of having implemented it. It's the least we owe them.