Sunday, April 22, 2007

“What I Don't See, I Don't Know, and I Can't Stop."

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Alissa J. Rubin in the New York Times:

In one of the new joint American-Iraqi security stations in the capital this month, in the volatile Ghazaliya neighborhood, Capt. Darren Fowler was heaping praise on his Iraqi counterparts for helping capture three insurgent suspects who had provided information he believed would save American lives.

“The detainee gave us names from the highest to the lowest,” Captain Fowler told the Iraqi soldiers. “He showed us their safe houses, where they store weapons and I.E.D.’s and where they keep kidnap victims, how they get weapons, where weapons come from, how they place I.E.D.’s, attack us and go away. Because you detained this guy this is the first intelligence linking everything together. Good job. Very good job.”

The Iraqi officers beamed. What the Americans did not know and what the Iraqis had not told them was that before handing over the detainees to the Americans, the Iraqi soldiers had beaten one of them in front of the other two, the Iraqis said. The stripes on the detainee’s back, which appeared to be the product of a whipping with electrical cables, were later shown briefly to a photographer, who was not allowed to take a picture.

To the Iraqi soldiers, the treatment was normal and necessary. They were proud of their technique and proud to have helped the Americans.

“I prepared him for the Americans and let them take his confession,” Capt. Bassim Hassan said through an interpreter. “We know how to make them talk. We know their back streets. We beat them. I don’t beat them that much, but enough so he feels the pain and it makes him desperate.”
The Iraqi soldiers have their own network of informants, and they picked up the detainee who was later beaten, Mustafa Subhi Jassam, after seeing him loitering around a main patrol route twice in the same day. The other two insurgent suspects were picked up separately.

After interrogating Mr. Jassam, a thin young man wearing a blue and red warm-up outfit, for much of the night, the Americans took him to point out one of the houses where the Qaeda militants made bombs. When the Americans arrived, a half-eaten lunch was on the table next to a couple of detonators and some blasting wire. The insurgents appeared to have been gnawing on chicken and flat bread while making fuses for I.E.D.’s, improvised explosive devices, the military’s term for the roadside bombs found here.

On the table and in bags on the floor were mountains of soap, which can be used in homemade explosives. Blasting wire lay in coils. Buried in the garden were two large antiaircraft guns known as Duskas, three propane tanks, and an oxygen tank that was partly cut in preparation for being turned into a huge bomb, probably similar to the one that killed the four soldiers. On the roof a large pile of homemade explosives was drying in the sun.

The Iraqi soldiers were ecstatic. They had delivered. They snapped photos of each other in front of the cache with the blasting cords in their mouths, grinning. The Americans were nervous. “One spark will blow this place up,” said First Lt. Michael Obal as an Iraqi soldier flicked a lighted cigarette butt within inches of one cache of explosives. “It’s highly unstable TNT.”

Later, the Americans plotted into their computers the location of each of the Qaeda safe houses that Mr. Jassam had pointed out. “He was singing like a songbird,” said First Lt. Sean Henley, 24.

After the prisoner was returned to the Iraqis, Captain Fowler was asked whether the Americans realized that the information was given only after the Iraqis had beaten Mr. Jassam. “They are not supposed to do that,” he said. “What I don’t see, I don’t know, and I can’t stop. The detainees are deathly afraid of being sent to the Iraqi justice system, because this is the kind of thing they do. But this is their culture.”

"This is their culture." And it's our culture to look the other way, I suppose. Or to hand detainees over to that "Iraqi justice system" so the Iraqi justice system can do its cultural thing, and all the Captain Fowlers in the U.S. military can pretend to have clean hands.

"This is their culture." Mark Kleiman calls it "anthropology for moral dummies":

Even some war supporters are a little queasy:

... All of this will make American soldiers safer in Iraq, but at what cost?
... If we allow, actively or passively, the beating and torture of prisoners in order to save the lives of American troops, have we not created a Saddam Light in Iraq with our blessings? We want to protect American troops in order to ensure the success of the mission in Iraq -- but if we have to allow torture to reach success, what has success meant?

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