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II. Account of Sergeant A, 82nd Airborne Division

Sergeant A served in Afghanistan from September 2002 to March 2003 and in Iraq from August 2003 to April 2004.  Human Rights Watch spoke with him on four separate occasions in July and August 2005.

In retrospect what we did was wrong, but at the time we did what we had to do.  Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads. 

We got to the camp in August [2003] and set up.  We started to go out on missions right away.  We didn’t start taking PUCs until September.  Shit started to go bad right away.  On my very first guard shift for my first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or heart attack.  At first I was surprised, like, this is what we are allowed to do?  This is what we are allowed to get away with?  I think the officers knew about it but didn’t want to hear about it.  They didn’t want to know it even existed.  But they had to.

On a normal day I was on shift in a PUC tent.  When we got these guys we had them sandbagged and zip tied, meaning we had a sandbag on their heads and zip ties [plastic cuffs] on their hands.  We took their belongings and tossed them in the PUC tent.  We were told why they were there.  If I was told they were there sitting on IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices, homemade bombs] we would fuck them up, put them in stress positions or put them in a tent and withhold water.

The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay.  They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine.  It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game.  You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you.  From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever.  Deprive them of food water, whatever.

To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up.  We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them.  This happened every day.

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out.  That happened every day.  Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid.  This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it.  We did that for amusement.

Guard shifts were four hours.  We would stress them at least in excess of twelve hours.  When I go off shift and the next guy comes we are already stressing the PUC and we let the new guy know what he did and to keep fucking him.  We put five-gallon water cans and made them hold them out to where they got muscle fatigue then made them do pushups and jumping jacks until they passed out.  We would withhold water for whole guard shifts.  And the next guy would too.  Then you gotta take them to the john if you give them water and that was a pain.  And we withheld food, giving them the bare minimum like crackers from MREs [Meals Ready to Eat, the military’s prepackaged food].  And sleep deprivation was a really big thing. 

Someone from [Military Intelligence] told us these guys don’t get no sleep.  They were directed to get intel [intelligence] from them so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling.  All that shit.  We never stripped them down because this is an all-guy base and that is fucked up shit.  We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them in dirt and sand.  We did the jugs of water where they held them out to collapse all the time.  The water and other shit…  start[ed] [m]aybe late September, early October, 2003.  This was all at Camp Mercury, close to the MEK base8 like 10 minutes from Fallujah.  We would transport the PUCs from Mercury to Abu Ghraib.

None of this happened in Afghanistan.  We had MPs [military police] attached to us in Afghanistan so we didn’t deal with prisoners.  We had no MPs in Iraq.  We had to secure prisoners.  [Military intelligence] wants to interrogate them and they had to provide guards so we would be the guards.  I did missions every day and always came back with 10-15 prisoners.  We were told by intel that these guys were bad, but they could be wrong, sometimes they were wrong.  I would be told, “These guys were IED trigger men last week.”  So we would fuck them up.  Fuck them up bad.  If I was told the guy was caught with a 9mm [handgun] in his car we wouldn’t fuck them up too bad – just a little.  If we were on patrol and catch a guy that killed my captain or my buddy last week – man, it is human nature.  So we fucked them up bad.  At the same time we should be held to a higher standard.  I know that now.  It was wrong.  There are a set of standards.  But you gotta understand, this was the norm.  Everyone would just sweep it under the rug.

What you allowed to happen happened.  Trends were accepted.  Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it.  They wanted intel.  As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened.  We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful.  We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit.  If a leg was broken you call the PA – the physician’s assistant – and told him the PUC got hurt when he was taken.  He would get Motrin [a pain reliever] and maybe a sling, but no cast or medical treatment.

In Afghanistan we were attached to Special Forces9 and saw OGA.  We never interacted with them but they would stress guys.  We learned how to do it.  We saw it when we would guard an interrogation.

I was an Infantry Fire Team Leader.  The majority of the time I was out on mission.  When not on mission I was riding the PUCs.  We should have had MPs.  We should have taken them to Abu Ghraib [which] was only 15 fucking minutes drive.  But there was no one to talk to in the chain – it just got killed.  We would talk among ourselves, say, “This is bad.”  But no one listened.  We should never have been allowed to watch guys we had fought.

FOB Mercury was about as big as a football field.  We had a battalion there with three or four companies and attachments.  We lived in the buildings of an old Iraqi military compound that we built up with barriers, ACs [air conditioners], and stuff.  We had civilian interpreters on post and contractors came every day to fix shit.  The contractors were local Iraqis.

The PUCs lived in the PUC area about 200 meters away.  It had a triple-strength circle concertina barrier with tents in the middle with another triple-strength concertina perimeter.  Inside each was a Hesco basket that is wire that normally has cloth in it.  We filled them with dirt to make barriers and some we emptied and buried to use as access points for the Iraqis.  This was all inside the confines of the FOB.  There was a guard tower behind the PUC tent with two guards.  One was always looking at the PUC tent.  We never took direct fire but did take regular rocket and mortar attacks.  We did not lose anyone but had shrapnel injuries.

On their day off people would show up all the time.  Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent.  In a way it was sport.  The cooks were all US soldiers.  One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole.  He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat.  He was the fucking cook.  He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs.  The PA came and said to keep him off the leg.  Three days later they transported the PUC to Abu Ghraib.  The Louisville Slugger [incident] happened around November 2003, certainly before Christmas. 

People would just volunteer just to get their frustrations out.  We had guys from all over the base just come to guard PUCs so they could fuck them up.  Broken bones didn’t happen too often, maybe every other week.  The PA would overlook it.  I am sure they knew.

The interrogator [a sergeant] worked in the [intelligence] office.  He was former Special Forces.  He would come into the PUC tent and request a guy by number.  Everyone was tagged.  He would say, “Give me #22.”  And we would bring him out.  He would smoke the guy and fuck him.  He would always say to us, “You didn’t see anything, right?”  And we would always say, “No, Sergeant.”

One day a soldier came to the PUC tent to get his aggravation out and filled his hands with dirt and hit a PUC in the face.  He fucked him.  That was the communications guy.

One night a guy came and broke chem lights10 open and beat the PUCs with it.  That made them glow in the dark which was real funny but it burned their eyes and their skin was irritated real bad.

If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food.  If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers.   And he tells us to smoke him.  [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do.  No sleep, water, and just crackers.  That’s it.  The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation.  [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate.  But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing.  We sent them back to Fallujah.  But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

After Abu Ghraib things toned down.  We still did it but we were careful.  It is still going on now the same way, I am sure.  Maybe not as blatant but it is how we do things.

Each company goes out on a mission and you kick the door down and catch them red handed.  We caught them with RPGs [rocket propelled grenades].  So we are going to give you special attention.  We yank them off the truck and they hit the ground hard, maybe 5-6 feet down.  We took everything and searched them.  Then we toss him in the PUC tent with a sandbag on his head and he is zip tied.  And he is like that all day and it is 100 degrees in that tent.  Once paperwork was done we started to stress them. The five-gallon water can was full of water.  We would have people hold out their arms on each side parallel to the ground.  After a minute your arms get tired and shake.  Then we would take some water out and douse them to get them cold.  And the tent is full of dust and they get dirty and caked with it.  Then we make them do pushups and jumping jacks.  At the end of a guard shift they look like zombies.

We had these new high-speed trailer showers.  One guy was the cleaner.  He was an Iraqi contractor working on base.  We were taking pretty accurate mortar fire and rockets and we were getting nervous.  Well one day we found him with a GPS11 receiver and he is like calling in strikes on us!  What the fuck!?  We took him but we are pissed because he stabbed us in the back.  So we gave him the treatment.  We got on him with the jugs and doused him and smoked and fucked him.

[8]  Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which has a base in Iraq.

[9] The 82nd Airborne Division provided support to Special Operations Forces during operations in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003.

[10] Chem lights refer to chemical light sticks.  While we do not know the exact composition of the ones allegedly used in Iraq, these lights are typically made of a hydrogen peroxide solution mixed with a phenyl oxalate ester and dye for color.  Information available at

[11] A GPS, or Global Positioning System receiver, provides the user with location data derived from satellites.  This data may be used to target weapons, as the soldier alleges.

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