2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
If you were an adult prior to September 11, 2001, ask yourself: did you ever think we'd be having a "torture debate" in this country? Did you ever think there was anything debatable about torture? I believe most Americans, prior to September 11, would have said no, it's not debatable - we don't torture. Period.
But September 11 traumatized us collectively as a nation in ways that are only now beginning to be realized. One of the biggest impacts has been that in our fear and anger, we have all but jettisoned many of the principles which we formerly revered. Whether it's the need to find and defuse the mythical "ticking time bomb" or simply a desire to get "revenge", many Americans believe that "enhanced interrogation techniques", detainee abuse and even torture are acceptable - even desirable - options, at least under some circumstances.
Justine Sharrock has added an invaluable perspective to this "debate". Along with other recent books, Sharrock has shown that the price of torture is as high or even higher for the soldiers who do it than for the detainees on the receiving end. She has also shown that distinctions between "enhanced interrogation techniques" vs. abuse vs. torture are largely meaningless. Sleep deprivation, isolation, temperature extremes and other "psychological" techniques are just as devastating - if not more so - than physical measures, to both detainees and soldiers.
Sharrock presents her arguments through the stories of soldiers, their families, friends and communities. She focuses on four soldiers in particular, although she has interviewed many more. Brandon Neely was the epitome of the "good soldier" - ready and eager to do battle, defend his country and kick some "hajji" butt. Joe Darby - no saint himself - was nonetheless the hero who exposed the abuse at Abu Ghraib by releasing the now infamous pictures to the world. This section focuses on the difficulty and consequences of being a whistleblower for Joe, his fellow soldiers, and the community of Cumberland, Maryland.
Andrew Duffy entered the military out of patriotism, but sought medical training because he wanted to help and care for people more than he wanted to harm them. Nevertheless, he finds himself in a situation where he cannot always use his medical training to help, and even at times uses it to harm. Chris Arendt was and is the most liberal of the four. He was anti-war from the beginning, but yet he joined the National Guard in part to show his abusive stepfather that he was not a wimp and in part because he felt he had no other options. Chris realized early on at Guantanamo that the situation was BS and tried to avoid abuse and even tried to help the detainees, but even he got caught up in the situation and participated in some abuse.
Sharrock does a great job of showing the frustrations, resentment and anger that soldiers go through when confronted with a system that is designed to humiliate and abuse detainees. The abuse is standard operating procedure, not an anomaly perpetrated by "a few bad apples". It is ordered from the top down. If soldiers try to report abuse or refuse orders, they are, at best, ignored and, at worst, subject to retaliation from fellow soldiers and from the military hierarchy. They may face court-martial, psychiatric evaluation, dishonorable discharge and loss of benefits.
Yet at the same time, Sharrock lets the soldiers off too easily at times, overlooking their own culpability at some times while encouraging them to face it at other times. Brandon, for instance, is portrayed as a victim of the system who was forced to obey orders, but this overlooks Brandon's own attitudes and choices. After Brandon witnesses a medic abusing a detainee, Sharrock says, "This was the kind of thing Brandon hoped he would get to do at the prison." And while the general treatment of detainees may have been ordered, no one ordered Brandon to repeatedly bash the detainee's head against the floor each time he tried to raise it. In fact, as the first soldier to beat up a detainee, Brandon himself set a standard for detainee treatment.
Sharrock is eager to lay the blame for torture and abuse solely at the feet of the Bush administration and the military hierarchy. And certainly, both deserve much of the blame for condoning, encouraging and even codifying abusive treatment. But it's too easy and dismissive to lay all the blame on the Bush administration and the military. It makes it seem like this was just an isolated fluke in our country's history. It ignores the role that each of us as citizens play in allowing this abhorrence to stain - and continue to stain - our country.
The Bush administration could not have acted unilaterally; there had to be broad-based support or the abuse would never have gotten as far as it has. In the section on Joe Darby, however, Sharrock points out that military recruitment *increased* after the Abu Ghraib pictures were released. Many Americans, traumatized and angry at "the enemy" who attacked us on September 11 wanted a piece of that action.
Furthermore, there's little evidence too suggest that things are much better under Obama. GITMO is still open, as is a new facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Rendition is still being used, which can only mean that torture is still on the table. Obama continues to use indefinite detention and has actively fought against releasing detainees - even those found not to be enemy combatants. Obama has increased drone attacks in several Muslim countries and even ordered the assassination of at least one U.S. citizen accused of "terrorist" activity.
The response from the American people, especially the liberals who excoriated Bush for doing the same thing? Crickets. We are a country which, despite freedom of religion, opposes new mosques being built across the country. A church sponsors a "Burn a Koran Day". Sizable minorities of Americans believe Muslims shouldn't be allowed to be judges or serve in the military. If Arab and Muslim citizens aren't seen as fully "American", it's not a far leap that Muslims and Arabs "over there" are not seen as fully "human". Far from being collectively appalled at abuse and torture, we want to see "the enemy" get what they deserve.
Sharrock's work is important for revealing the trauma we continue to inflict on ourselves through the use of abusive methods of detainment and our insistence on conflating Arabs and Muslims with al Qaeda. This book should be required reading for everyone who wants to "support the troops"
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
Justine Sharrock offers a compelling, insightful, and well-written account of a topic many of us would like to pretend does not exist. She makes a compelling argument that our nation's attempts to discuss torture, such as they are, have been misplaced. Questions of whether specific tactics constitute torture or whether a "ticking-time bomb" scenario would justify torture hide the fact that the vast majority of torture is carried out by common soldiers as part of routine, systematic and prescribed "softening up" of prisoners through prolonged abuse. It is an abuse that is harmful not only to the victims, but to the perpetrators, and ultimately to our country as a whole.
Sharrock makes this case by letting the soldiers talk for themselves. She presents the information gathered through numerous interviews with men and women who served in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, and with their friends and family. Sharrock places this narrative in a broader context, looking to secondary literature and reports that have become public. For the most part, however, she is content to step aside and let the soldiers speak for themselves, eloquently re-telling the stories that were told to her. These narratives make this a compelling, important book that places a human face on an issue that too often seems abstract and disconnected. It is sometimes difficult to read, but even harder to put down. Highly recommended.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2010
Sharrock tells a brief, poignant set of tales about the lives of soldiers who may have been asked to cross the line in fulfilling their duties. It tells what I think is a respectful and evenhanded account of how those events shape the soldiers, most of whom believed strongly in their service to their country. Now they've got ghosts of those experiences, some really haunting, and those ghosts are the toughest, most rewarding part of the read for me. Another plus is you can tell this book was written by a journo as there are few wasted words.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2010
The author does a tremendous job getting inside the heads of the soldiers forced to perpetrate these intolerable acts of torture on others. It's an eye-opening new vantage point on the war -- we've heard from the administration and even some detainees, but not the foot soldiers carrying out orders -- and leaves you realizing that torture affects more than just the victim.
The writing style is direct but also colorful and presents beautiful imagery and metaphors, such as one soldier's origami creations out of prison reports, without interjecting too much over-the-top commentary.