It's Helltime, Man: Atrocity at Ground Level

Amy Goodman has a remarkable interview with Tony Lagouranis, a conscience-stricken former Army interrogator in Iraq. Lagouranis arrived after the worst of the Abu Ghraib atrocities, yet found fresh hell awaiting, especially out in the field, where U.S. forces were torturing Iraqis in their own homes. It's an important piece that should be read in full, but below are some excerpts. (Note: There seems to be a chunk of the transcript repeated in the middle on the Democracy Now site, but it will probably be fixed soon.)

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Fallujah?
AMY GOODMAN: What were you doing there?
TONY LAGOURANIS: My job in Fallujah was to go through the clothes and pockets of the dead bodies that we were picking up on the streets, and we would bring them back to a warehouse, and I would go through their pockets and try to identify them, and read whatever intel or anything that they had on them...

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about that? And who you understood the people who were dead to be?
TONY LAGOURANIS: Well, a lot of them were certainly insurgents. You know, a lot of them had weapons. They had hand grenades, they had ammo vests, but a lot of them weren't, either. We had women and children, old men, young boys. So, you know, it's hard to say. I think initially, the reason that we were doing this was they were trying to find foreign fighters. They were trying to prove that there were a lot of foreign fighters in Fallujah. So, mainly, that's what we were going for, but most of them really didn't have I.D.'s but maybe half of them had I.D.'s. Very few of them had foreign I.D.'s. There were people working with me who would -- in an effort to sort of cook the books, you know they would find a Koran on the guy and the Koran was printed in Algeria, and they would mark him down as an Algerian, or you know guys would come in with a black shirt and khaki pants and they would say, well, this is the Hezbollah uniform and they would mark him down as a Lebanese, which was ridiculous, but -- you know....
AMY GOODMAN: What about the women and kids?
TONY LAGOURANIS: I don't know. I mean, I don't know, I would get a kid burnt to a crisp. I don't know. I don't know what to say. We had women and children...

TONY LAGOURANIS: Yeah. North Babel was probably the place where I saw the worst evidence of abuse. This was from August to October of 2004, so, it was well after the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we were no longer using any harsh tactics within the prison, but I was working with a marine unit, and they would go out and do a raid and stay in the detainee's homes, and torture them there. They were far worse than anything that I ever saw in a prison. They were breaking bones. They were smashing people's feet with the back of an axe head. They burned people. Yeah, they were doing some pretty harsh stuff...Well, I was interrogating at the detention facility at Forward Operating Base, CALSU. I was getting prisoners that were arrested by Force Recon marines, and they -- every time Force Recon went on a raid, they would bring back prisoners who were bruised with broken bones, sometimes with burns. They were pretty brutal to these guys, and I would ask the prisoners what happened, you know, how they received these wounds, and they would tell me that it was after their capture, while they were subdued, while they were handcuffed and they were being questioned by the force recon marines.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did they say happened to them?
TONY LAGOURANIS: They were being punched, kicked, you know, hit with -- as I said the back of an axe head. One guy was forced to sit on an exhaust pipe of a humvee. I would check out that story with other people that they had been arrested with, and they were consistent...So I was supposed to interrogate these guys.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you go about doing that, as they're in front of you with broken bones, beaten, smashed, punched, burned?
TONY LAGOURANIS: Well, as you know, as I said, this was really late in the year, and I had really sort of given up using any harsh tactics, so, I was trying to get these guys to trust me, telling them I'm going to help them out, which I really couldn't help anybody out at that place, because everyone they arrested, innocent or guilty, no matter what I said, they would just send them to Abu Ghraib anyway... Basically everybody who came to the prison, they determined, they were a terrorist, they were guilty and they would send them to Abu Ghraib.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you determine?
TONY LAGOURANIS: That like 98% of these guys had not done anything. I mean, they were picking up people for the stupidest things like -- there's one guy they picked up, they stopped him at a checkpoint, just a routine stop, and he had a shovel in his trunk, and he had a cell phone in his pocket. They said, well, you can use the shovel to bury an IED, you can use the cell phone to detonate it. He didn't have any explosives in his car, he had no weapons, nothing. They had no reason to believe that he was setting IED's other than the shovel and cell phone. That was the kind of prisoner they were bringing us....

AMY GOODMAN: Vice president Dick Cheney is trying to get an exemption for CIA officers to be allowed to torture. What do you have to say to ice president Cheney?
TONY LAGOURANIS: I think that using torture is the worst possible thing we could do. You cannot win a war against terrorism with bombs and force. It doesn't work. You have to win hearts and minds and we're really failing. You know, using torture is absolutely the wrong way to go. And we're not getting any intel out of it, either. Like how many people did we get intel out of in Guantanamo? You know, a small handful, and in Abu Ghraib also. I didn't work there for that long, but many of my friends did they worked there all of 2004, and they told me, they got nothing. They got no intel out of that place.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say when you see the court-martial of a few low-level soldiers, would you say that will start to stop the abuse, or how high up do you feel it goes?
TONY LAGOURANIS: Well, it obviously goes right up to the Pentagon, because they were issuing the interrogation rules of engagement, and the interrogation rules of engagement are not in accordance with the army field manual and not in accordance with the Geneva conventions. So, it's all the way up. You know, obviously, Lindsey England and Grainer, these guys -- you know, they needed to be punished, but it's not just them. It's -- it should have gone all the way up the chain...