Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

My light reading: interrogation in Iraq

As I blimblam around the country, I’ve been spending my time on airplanes reading (in addition to the usual histories of World War II — I mean, just how big a jerk was Bernard Law Montgomery?), a new history/memoir about U.S. Army interrogation approaches in Iraq during that strange, disconcerting first year of the war. ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

As I blimblam around the country, I've been spending my time on airplanes reading (in addition to the usual histories of World War II -- I mean, just how big a jerk was Bernard Law Montgomery?), a new history/memoir about U.S. Army interrogation approaches in Iraq during that strange, disconcerting first year of the war. Pretty specialized I know, and pretty damn depressing. But this book, The Fight for the High Ground, written by Maj. Douglas Pryer and published by the CGSC Foundation Press, actually has a bright spot in it, because it looks at why some units didn't abuse or torture prisoners.

Pryer, who was there, concludes that the "root cause" of the abuses

...  was not over-crowded detention facilities, untrained guars, immature interrogators, or any of the plethora of other reasons ... investigators have cited as the causes of abuse for a particular case. The fundamental reason why interrogation abuse in Iraq occurred was a failure in leadership. The answer is that simple.

As I blimblam around the country, I’ve been spending my time on airplanes reading (in addition to the usual histories of World War II — I mean, just how big a jerk was Bernard Law Montgomery?), a new history/memoir about U.S. Army interrogation approaches in Iraq during that strange, disconcerting first year of the war. Pretty specialized I know, and pretty damn depressing. But this book, The Fight for the High Ground, written by Maj. Douglas Pryer and published by the CGSC Foundation Press, actually has a bright spot in it, because it looks at why some units didn’t abuse or torture prisoners.

Pryer, who was there, concludes that the "root cause" of the abuses

…  was not over-crowded detention facilities, untrained guars, immature interrogators, or any of the plethora of other reasons … investigators have cited as the causes of abuse for a particular case. The fundamental reason why interrogation abuse in Iraq occurred was a failure in leadership. The answer is that simple.

He respectfully but explicitly calls out Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, now retired, as the key figure in that failure. 

He also offers up this interesting quote from Chief Warrant Officer 2 John Groseclose, who he says won the Defense Department’s "Top HUMINT Collector of 2003 Award." Groseclose, he reports, had only contempt for interrogators who beat, froze, or otherwise scared detainees:

For an interrogators to resort to techniques like that is for that interrogator to admit that they don’t know how to interrogate. Personally, I’m offended by it."

Unless the Army does a better job in ethical teaching and training of soldiers, Pryer warns, it is likely to repeat the mistakes of Iraq. Anyone listening? 

PS: New Monty facts: After World War II, he proved even more incapable of getting along with colleagues than he did during the war. And then he skipped his mother’s funeral.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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