Fear Up Harsh

I just finished reading Fear Up Harsh, a fascinating book by an Army interrogator who worked in Iraq. I would highly recommend reading it, as it was certainly an eye-opening read for me. It’s a well crafted discussion of the slow slide into torture, and the author’s own personal emotional struggles with his work in Iraq. Fear Up Harsh also illustrated some major issues with the way in which the military in Iraq is organized.

Torture is a pretty big issue for me. I really do not think that it is acceptable in any way, shape, or form, and I was horrified when I learned that occupying forces in Iraq were using torture. The book’s author wasn’t present for some of the more heinous torture scandals in Iraq, but he certainly witnessed and participated in his fair share of questionable activity. It was interesting to read about the torture issue from the perspective of an interrogator.

One of the things about the book which greatly appealed to me was the author’s own admission of culpability. He discussed his use of stress positions, hypothermia, military dogs, and sensory bombardment in interrogations. He also talked about why these tactics didn’t work, and discussed his tormented feelings about them. Although parts of the book felt like a script for an angsty movie, I think the main point of the book was that good people can do bad things, and that it’s very easy to slip into a trap where you think that doing bad things was ok.

The author joined the military because he wanted to learn Arabic, and he ended up getting sent to Iraq to work as an interrogator. One of the things that he discussed was the fact that “enhanced interrogation” or “torture lite,” as they call it, is not in the Army interrogation manual. Despite what the Bush administration wants you to believe, the mandate for torture was handed down from the government, and it trickled down to soldiers. The author was actually pretty angry that enlisted got hung out to dry during investigations into torture allegations, with administration officials covering their tracks because they didn’t want to look bad.

One thing he also brought up was that he repeatedly tried to file claims about acts of torture, and these claims were ignored or lost. If what he says is true, it would seem that men on the ground were aware of acts of torture and that they were not ok with torture; so not ok that they filed reports which officials never utilized. The author also expressed frustration with the large numbers of innocent people imprisoned in Iraq, and the lack of a system to exonerate these people so that they could go free.

As an interrogator, his goal was to get information, not to hold a trial. Military control of prisons makes fact-finding difficult, as officials want information regardless of guilt. Even if someone has no information, the prisoner may be trapped in the system for weeks or months before officials agree and release the prisoner. This hardly promotes good American-Iraqi relations.

The author’s position against any form of torture is informed by his personal experiences in Iraq, and I would love to send copies of this book to some people who still think that torture is a good idea.

Fear Up Harsh was an interesting view into a sordid underworld, and into the disillusionment of some members of the American military. There’s an amazing volume of written material coming out of Iraq, and a lot of it is really good; I’m thinking of Generation Kill, Jarhead, No True Glory, Not A Good Day to Die, My War and The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. I think that civilians really ought to be reading these books, because I believe that widespread knowledge about the military experience in Iraq could be a very, very good thing.