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III. Account of Sergeant B, 82nd Airborne Division

Sergeant B 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 two separate occasions in August 2005.

I was an infantry squad leader doing mounted patrols and conducting raids in Iraq.  I would catch the bad guys.  You heard a lot of stuff as a squad leader in charge of guys watching PUCs about guys mistreating PUCs.

We got to Mercury on the 6th of September.  We came from working in al-Qaim.  In late September we started to take on PUCs as part of our mission.  Since we were capturing them we would detain them for no more than three days, three days max, to interrogate them for intel.  We had a mechanized company attached to us which took us up to about battalion strength, maybe 750 people when you include the HHC [headquarters].

PUCs were placed in a GP [general purpose] medium or small tent, about 20x15, and that is being generous.  We had 2-3 tents with no more than 10-15 PUCs per tent with a couple guards to a tent.  You added guards if you had more PUCs.  We would immediately put these guys in stress positions.  PUCs would be holding hands behind their backs and be cuff tied and we would lean their forehead against a wall to support them.

As far as abuse goes I saw hard hitting.  I heard a lot of stories, but if it ain’t me I wouldn’t care.  I was busy leading my men.  I did hear about [a sergeant] breaking PUC bones.  Stories came out on mission.  Guys were always talking about what they did to the PUCs.  Guys mentioned stuff but I couldn’t care less what happened at the PUC tent a week ago.  Putting guys with frustration in charge of prisoners was the worst thing to do.

I also saw smoking.  They would get the PUCs to physically exert themselves to the limit.  Feeding was a huge issue and it was brought up.  The PUCs wouldn’t eat what we were feeding them as they were against Americans and MREs, so all I saw them eat were crackers. [Sergeant A told Human Rights Watch that PUCs were often only fed crackers.  It is unclear why Sergeant B believes the detainees had a choice.]

Rest was also an issue.  We were told they could be interrogated 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off for sleep and whatever, but I was not regularly in the PUC tents.  I brought the PUCs in for interrogation.  That is when I saw whatever I saw.  Intel had some bad guys and we all know sleep deprivation is a powerful tool. 

In Iraq, from the beginning, we messed up on the treatment soldiers had to endure while guarding prisoners.  There are five “S’s” [Search, Silence, Segregate, Speed (to the rear), Safeguard] and we blew Speed and Security.  Speed was the biggest problem.  Speed means you get them to the rear to process them.  You need to get them away from the troops they are trying to kill. 

The Geneva Conventions is questionable and we didn’t know we were supposed to be following it.  In Afghanistan you were taught to keep your head down and shoot….  You never thought about the Geneva Conventions.  There was an ROE [Rules of Engagement] and it was followed, same in Iraq.  But we were never briefed on the Geneva Conventions.  These guys are not soldiers.  If we were to follow the Geneva Conventions we couldn’t shoot at anyone because they all look like civilians.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>September 2005