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U.S. Troops & Torture

August 11, 2010

U.S. Troops and Torture 

Guest-blogging for the Washington Post (August 9, 2010), Steven E. Levingston highlights None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture,a new book by Joshua E.S. Phillips. “The torture took place away from hot spots like Abu Ghraib,” writes Levingston, “and was conducted not by CIA agents or prison guards but by U.S. soldiers who never expected their tour of duty would present them with these unimaginable conditions. The soldiers participated, witnessed or blew the whistle on the abuse – and however they responded they were badly scarred.” There follow some brief quotes from None of Us Were Like This Before. (If ordering books or DVDs discussed in this blog from Amazon, please consider doing so through our website, which will help to support the work of The Refuge Media Project.)

About two years ago I met former Army interrogator, Don Dzagulones, who explained how his involvement in detainee abuse had a more harrowing long-term impact on him than surviving deadly ambushes in Vietnam. “When you’re attacked, you have to respond,” he said. “But other circumstances, like prisoner abuse for example, you have a choice…[and so] you’re probably more affected by wanton acts of violence than responding to violence.”
            This kind of wartime trauma remains largely unrecognized and misunderstood by the public. But it isn’t unknown to clinicians.
             After four years of research, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found that abusive violence — which included “torturing, wounding, or killing hostages or prisoners of war” — had the strongest correlation with PTSD for the 3,000 veterans interviewed for the study.
Army combat medic Jonathan Millantz contacted me four years ago to tell me about detainee abuse in Iraq, beyond Abu Ghraib. “It’s very tough when you have a conscience that is filled with atrocities [and] you know what you did to people,” said Millantz. “I went to confession, I went to counseling. I still can’t forgive myself for what I did to those poor people.” 
Like Dzagulones, Millantz reconsidered his involvement in prisoner abuse and torture when he returned home, and it drove him to speak out at anti-war events. The distress over wartime experiences lingered for him and fellow unit members long after their return: some had violent outbursts, were plagued by depression and sleeplessness, and some engaged in substance abuse and other self-destructive behavior.

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