VCS Book Review ~ The Tragic Impact of Bush’s Torture Order on Veterans and Survivors

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture Written by:  Joshua E. S. Phillips

March 3, 2011, Washington, DC (Veterans for Common Sense) – After suffering between 50 million and 70 million deaths, World War II also revealed the inhumane, cruel and gruesome nature of torture perpetrated by the Germans and Japanese against both civilians and prisoners of war.

Seeking to prevent torture in future wars, the Geneva Convention stipulated terms of agreement for treatment of prisoners of war.  The Geneva Convention defines torture as the:

Willful killing or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.  Taking any measure as to cause the physical suffering or extermination.  Murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment, any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.

Unfortunately, U.S. political leaders ordered torture days after 9/11.  On September 16, 2001, in a violent, illegal, and vicious manner, Vice President Richard Cheney told viewers of NBC’s Meet the Press, “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will.”  And the horrible legacy of torture initiated under the direct orders of President George W. Bush began.

Since October 2003, Veterans for Common Sense continues working closely with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to uncover documents about torture.  Using the Freedom of Information Act and the court system, a massive set of documents are now available that will shock and disturb you.

Now we have a sequel to one our nation’s darkest chapters: what happens to our soldiers who were ordered to commit torture and the survivors of such illegal brutality?  What happens when they come home?

In his grueling book, None of Us Were like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture, reporter Joshua E.S. Phillips investigates the causes, conduct, and consequences of the torture inflicted by Americans on enemy prisoners of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, starting on 9/11, the date when the gloves came off.  That’s when some of us became the monsters we hunted.

There is a good chance this book is not on your reading list when the words “American” and “Torture” are both in the title.  This seminal historical book, although difficult to read, should be part of our collective social awareness so we learn about the actions of our government during war. Absolutely, torture is very heavy material.

While Phillips delves deeply into the subject matter, he also examines the severe and long-lasting human toll – the physical and psychological devastation and scars for both prisoners and interrogators.

None of Us Were like this Before shares the intimate and rare interviews with a wide range of people directly involved.  Phillips speaks with government officials, Iraqi detainees and their families, as well as soldiers directly and indirectly involved in the interrogation and torture, and their families.

In an extremely detailed exploration, Phillips’ quest for information takes him on a journey across the world, conducting risky interviews, constantly putting his life and the lives of others in extreme danger.  This book is not for the faint of heart, as it exposes the cruel, brutal, and deadly underbelly of war seldom covered by the mainstream press.

As a result of this extraordinary access, Phillips explores the degree of interrogations in some of the American prisons in the Middle East.  He reaches the unabashed truth of torture and how it has gotten so out of control as a result of a failure from the chain of command.

Phillips conclusion: Already under severe stress, provided with little to no direction from superiors and higher ups, and under intense pressure to get immediate answers, our soldiers responded with any means necessary, resulting in acts of torture on enemy prisoners of war.

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.

This book gets a top rating because of the valuable facts about torture collected from invaluable sources. The material is urgent and profound.  This book should become an necessary read for all, as well as an essential tool for mental health professionals seeking to aid soldiers and veterans as well as survivors.

The moral lessons are of immense value to current and future military officers so they understand the legal, moral, and mental health impact of torture, and so they can prevent torture.  Torture doesn’t work, it undermines our credibility, and it creates additional animosity toward our country and our troops in the war zone.

Even though we highly recommend Phillips’ book, we urge you to proceed with caution. The stories and information put forth are extremely emotionally tolling and at times nauseating. It removes any and all humanity from war.  This outstanding book should provoke urgently needed and highly meaningful conversations about who we are as well as what we thought our military and our political leaders should be.

This book is an absolute an eye-opener for anyone who thinks war is “over there” or that the use of torture has no impact on our society.  The devastation brought home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars continues escalating, with 313,000 mental health patients already treated at VA hospitals after serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (out of 625,000 total patients from the combat zones).

One area VA must become sensitive to is the fact that some veterans who need treatment remain highly reluctant to seek mental healthcare from the very government that issued illegal orders to torture fellow humans.  In too many cases, VA remains woefully unprepared to listen to or provide services to our veterans who changed so dramatically, in body and spirit, due to President George W. Bush’s illegal order to torture enemy prisoners of war.

We here at VCS have spoken with a few of those veterans involved in torture.  Some were so devastated and distraught with anguish and grief they needed our immediate assistance to obtain emergency mental healthcare in order to avoid suicide.

After 20 years of endless war in Southwest Asia, the closing lesson for Americans is obvious: we have fallen very far from the days in April 1945 when American troops liberated Nazi death camps and rejected torture.  In contrast, in late 2001, we sank to a place where our leaders lacked a moral compass, started offensive wars, and ordered our troops to commit torture.

We are just now starting to see the light at the end of Vice President Cheney’s bitter journey to  the dark side. VCS agrees with retired Army Major General Antonio Taguma: We still need a commission to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for these illegal acts.

And while we do that, allow us to pause and recognize that the journey and recovery from war will always be the longest and most difficult for veterans and survivors.

Review by:  Kristina Brown and Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense

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