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

It would be so easy to condemn one person from the monstrous done; to say some are evil and defect, not to understand the circumstances they have been put through. Also, to forget the systematic torture happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay and other off-sites, and hold individuals in fault as has happened. This all has been done in the name of information gathering. Unfortunately, the book both shows that to be a false conclusion (that often enough torture was done out of boredom and frustration) and as an ineffective way to get accurate information and information at all. (Not even to mention that Red Cross estimated that from all the arrest done in Iraq, 94% were wrongly picked up and jailed. Of those innocent men and women, some have even ended up dead and others scarred for life, and for what?) All this leaves with one question, why? Why, if it has been shown time and again that torture isn’t a way to get information? Have 24 Hours TV show and its like blinded the citizens along with the politicians and military personnel to think that end justifies the means and make people forget that there quite probably won’t be any justification at the end for stress positions, waterboarding, beatings, sleep deprivation, dog attacks, molestation, shock…? Or is this all about hatred and revenge? Or most likely due to failed government procedures and politics? The pressure to get things done and show results even when it can’t be done?

Joshua E.S. Phillips looks at the USA’s use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and off-site prisons through the eyes of one tank battalion. And the thing is, you end up feeling mortified both for the victims and the soldiers who ended up using torture to those they were meant to guard (you can always also question the decision to make soldiers be prison guards in the first place. World War I and II showed that soldiers make lousy prison guards. Stress, function, boredom, and frustration. Sound familiar?) ‘”When he came home he was a different boy,” Roy said. “He was aggressive. His mood swings were horrible.”‘ And a boy in his prime ended up killing himself. Other battalion members followed by killing them slowly with drugs and alcohol. No counseling, no suicide watch, and a soldier die in the barracks, and nothing follows. This seems so wrong on so many levels; we have not mentioned even the Iraqi who suffocated while hanging from their hands from the ceiling hooded, alone, stripped from humanity, facing a foreign power and in no sight of justice.

But let’s put that besides and try to see the bigger picture. What this all does to the relationship between the USA and other countries. What kind of ramifications follows from this? You can read the dissatisfaction, loss of trust, faith, and goodwill towards the USA on the book’s pages, from the personal accounts of those who were broken. To remind, they weren’t the only ones who were robbed of their humanity. Their families were as broken by torture as them, along with their nations. What will follow from this distrust say fifteen years from now? How about twenty or a hundred? History has shown that children of the children will remember. The scars will stay both at home and abroad.

This book is depressing to read. There is no happy ending where the evil pays for their dues. There are only misery and death and never-ending hate and for nothing. The USA’s military system has highly trained intelligence gatherers, who are equipped efficiently gathering information, which doesn’t include torture. Yet torture happened. Why?  Their own system has taught that being friendly, chatting with the prisoner or enemy takes farther than electric shocks. It didn’t help at Vietnam, it didn’t help at Afghanistan, it surely didn’t help at Iraq. Something has gone wrong with the thought processes, and as a reader, you are left with the question of what to do? I can’t just move on when all this has happened and those who are responsible for all this walk free. That nothing really has changed. I say, remember Dilawar, remember Adam, and read this book and spread it around. When the public understands that torture is ineffective, harmful both to us and “them,” then there is a chance for change. The worst we can do is blind our eyes and pretend nothing has happened. Information is power, so make people aware of what has happened and what hasn’t. The facts have been checked.

Thank you for reading!

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