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None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture Hardcover – June 14, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Joshua Phillips brings much needed close reporting to the question of American torture. He reveals much about ... the psychological toll on those who torture, and is an important contribution to American reckoning with a dark moment in our history."  (Robert Jay Lifton, author of Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir )

“Basing his work on extensive interviews, [Phillips] details how ordinary American troops participated in the torture of enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A masterwork of narrative nonfiction.”—Chris Lombardi, Guernica

“Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognised as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.”—David Simpson, London Review of Books

“A tour de force of investigative journalism.”—Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph

“This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word ‘torture.’”—Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America

“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.”—Huffington Post

“Phillips’ book remains the first and best heartbreaking tale not only of the abuses taking place within our military prisons, but also the negative, long term and in many cases fatal psychological affects it is having on both interrogating soldiers and interrogated enemy prisoners of war ... [An] outstanding book [and] a necessary read for all.”—Kristina Brown and Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense

None of Us Were Like This Before is a model of conscientious reporting on a volatile subject—the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. His ethical and compassionate approach is an act of citizenship.”—Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams and Crossing Open Ground

“There are many things in this book that are fascinating and generally unknown. One is that these soldiers were afraid to report what they had seen and done ... but without reporting it they couldn’t receive any medical help for their trauma.”—Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy

None of Us Were Like This Before is a serious, comprehensive effort to examine how torture and abuse, once embarked upon, damage the torturer and abuser as well as the tortured and abused.”—Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

“This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims.”—Oliver Bullough, Independent

“The causes and consequences of systematic abuse and torture are all explored by Joshua Phillips through a careful but searing narrative.”—Dominic Alexander, Counterfire

“A fascinating yet distressing account of how the use of torture and abusive techniques on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan affected the lives of American soldiers who found themselves caught up in it. Far from neglecting the suffering of the victims, Phillips, through meticulous research, also brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the citizens of the occupied nations.”—Craig Hawes, Gulf News

“Joshua Phillips’ book shows that America’s leaders were wrong.”—National

About the Author

Joshua E. S. Phillips is based in New York City and has reported from Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Atlanta Journal–Constitution, among other publications. His radio features have been broadcast on NPR and the BBC. In 2009, Phillips received the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and the Newspaper Guild’s Heywood Broun Award of Substantial Distinction for his American Radio Works documentary What Killed Sergeant Gray.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; 1st edition (June 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844675998
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844675999
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,998,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about detainee abuse and interrogators. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo happened years ago and Iraq is winding down. Nearly a decade after 9/11, I thought it would have all been covered already in the press. I was wrong and this book provides a lot of insight by talking with soldiers who have been involved in detainee abuse and some of the victims of that abuse. Family members of both are also interviewed.

This book doesn't shy away from the brutality of American torture and the author's accounts from victims of torture is searing. It's impossible to not to be angry at the injustices suffered. But this book is not a "hit piece" on the military or soldiers and the author has a surprising amount of empathy for the sufferings of both the victim and victimizer. It alternately made me very sad and very mad for all the persons affected by it.

Understanding the situation that some of our soldiers found themselves in and what some of them did to detainees and what they went through after really forced me to give sympathy to persons I had previously thought of only as "bad apples" guilty of monstrous crimes. The truth is much more complicated.

Other parts of the book give overviews on the subject matter, the history or detainee abuse, the decision-making of the higher ups and so on. Much of the book is written in the first person which helps give a lighter touch to a very heavy subject matter.

I learned a lot from this book and highly recommend it. You'll think about it not only around the issue of torture but generally on any story about soldiers returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is engaging and affecting from the first to last page. The book is not dry policy discussion, overly graphic, or accusatory in tone. Phillips focuses instead on the personal stories of U.S. soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. His empathy for those he profiles shines through the pages. Phillips does not offer simple answers to why torture happens, but instead explores the many influences -- personal, governmental, and cultural -- that lead to it and to the tragedies it produces both for the tortured and the torturer. This is a revelatory book, well written and deserving of a wide audience. It is first-rate, first-hand reporting with a conscience.
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Format: Hardcover
I heard him interviewed on Leonard Lopate and was intrigued. Unlike other books on this subject that tend to deal with torture on a policy level only - or that are so "knee jerk" politically that (for the balanced reader at least) they lose all credibility - this book takes a very unique approach to a difficult subject.

First of all, the book tells highly personal stories and really shows how the policies and ineptitudes of modern American warfare affect the lives of regular people. It examines the beliefs and conditions that enabled detainee abuse and torture. These were beliefs that were widespread; and were shared by the lower ranking officers as well as senior political and military officials. It shows how these beliefs consisted of rumors, myth and folklore (including pseudoscience for which we have select mental health professionals to thank; professionals who, in my opinion, need to take a good look at themselves).

But most importantly, this is a book that is exceedingly respectful of the troops, the veterans and their families. Phillips sheds new light on the costs of detainee abuse and torture not just on detainees, but also on American counter terrorism training and, most surprisingly and poignantly, on the soldiers and their families. The focus on the effects of torture on the perpetrators is something I have not seen reported in the media. It is a subject that really deserves to be given more attention. Phillips negotiates the fine line between not being an apologist for these young troops, while also honestly trying to understand the circumstances that led them to engage in this behavior. He also shows that even when some brave troops tried to speak up about the abuse (such as in the case of J. Millantz) the military didn't bother to listen. This book succeeds in extending the discourse beyond the facile "a few bad apples" theory, which in itself is reason enough to read it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"They didn't leave me any killing, those bastards."
--Sergeant Adam Gray (quoted on p. 52)

I really wanted to love this book. It's gotten such good reviews and it's such an important topic. But unfortunately, it didn't live up to my hopes. Yet still, it should be required reading.

Joshua E.S. Phillips begins his work with the story of Sgt. Adam Gray, a young man who was deployed in Iraq as a tanker, returned home suffering from unknown but obvious mental afflictions and ends up dying an "accidental" death (arguably, a suicide) during further training at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Adam's mother, Cindy Chavez, asks Phillips to investigate "what happened to" her son while in Iraq. In the course of his investigation, Phillips interviews many soldiers, their families, military officials, human rights workers, and former detainees to get at some of the roots and branches of the broad issue of "enhanced interrogation"/detainee abuse/torture (for ease, and because I think it speaks to a greater truth, I will lump all of those categories into "torture").

First, the positive. Phillips is a consummate reporter. He goes where the story takes him. He seeks out many different relevant sources. He listens to what they have to say, and he allows them to speak for themselves in all their grim and gory detail. He doesn't shy away hard topics, nor does he feel the need to wrap everything up into a tidy box for us (although, admittedly, the tidy box part of myself found this frustrating). The people he interviewed were real people, often simultaneously sympathetic and detestable, much like ourselves.

I also like that Phillips tells us when and why he was unable to get a full story.
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