Monday, February 27, 2012

Phillips 8-9, This American Life, and Finnegan

Phillips chapter 8 and the Finnegan article were especially difficult for me to get through this week. I had a hard time getting through both of these because the stories were so intense, but most of all, I was frustrated. In chapter eight, Phillips tells the story of Torin Nelson, an experienced interrogator that worked in both Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Nelson went through extensive training in the United States, and was finally deployed to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He mentions having a very positive experience there under the command of Major General Michael Dunlavey. Dunlavey’s main concern during his time at Guantanamo was the integrity and safety of their mission. The interrogations that happened during Nelson’s time there led to quality information, yet many of the men were not happy with what they were getting. Nelson talks about how many of the interrogators began working towards the wrong goal: confessions. In class on Thursday we discussed the Luban article about when Liberals are and are not okay with torture. One of the five reasons opposing torture was because the goal was to extract confessions from the detainees. Interrogating a prisoner in hopes of obtaining a confession is a completely backwards way of trying to find information- one assumes the guilt of the person they are questioning, without proper evidence. Steven Kleinman, an interrogator that Phillips talked to, mentions that confessions that come from interrogation are rarely of any value (169). Confessions extracted through torture could potentially be counterproductive in finding out what is really going on. Going back to the Luban article, I want to bring up the question of when does it end? Nelson mentions that many of the interrogators that he came in contact with throughout his time in GTMO, Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan had the wrong goals when it came to interrogating prisoners. At the time he was leaving GTMO, many interrogators began to resort to inflicting pain to gain a confession. But to gain a confession from someone who did nothing wrong must take time and energy. How long does one keep a detainee, and torture them, in order to extract a confession? At what point do you stop and believe that they are telling the truth? How can you trust anything they say after weeks of torture? It’s frustrating to know that people like Nelson, experienced interrogators who were intent on maintaining the integrity of their mission, could end up not being able to find a job because they tried to do the right thing. How come, when the Abu Ghraib pictures and stories were released to the public, the demand for Nelson went down instead of up? It seems as though the amount of information received is more important to the military and US government than how the information was received.
The Finnegan article was also frustrating to me. Travis Twiggs was a well-loved man who acted as a mentor to the majority of the men that he worked with. He had a loving wife, children, parents, and siblings. Yet the war completely changed who he was. Although many people didn’t notice his PTSD at first, the more he returned to combat, the more severe it got. He was committed to Bethesda Naval Hospital twice for his PTSD, and was but on 12 (or 19) medications at a time to fight the symptoms. He wrote an article about the symptoms he was experiencing and his battle against PTSD. And yet the military never did anything to help him. He continued to volunteer his services to the war in Iraq. Despite all his signs and his hospital time he was continuously allowed to serve overseas. But at what point should someone say, “stop?” In the Finnegan article, Major Valerie Jackson states that there needs to be a point where someone says, “enough is enough. You’ve done your part.” When a soldier is so overcome by the guilt and trauma that they experienced, sending them back overseas into the line of fire can only worsen that pain and make it more difficult for them to ever lead a normal life. The military needs to know when to release soldiers from their duty. The source of the pain and guilt that the soldiers feel is the experiences that they have while serving our country. There is no doubt that we need these men and women to serve our country and protect us so that we can live our lives in safety and peace. But it is difficult for me to grasp the fact that the military pushes these men and women to fight for our country, yet once they exhibit any sort of PTSD or weakness they are made to feel incompetent and worthless. Not only do they feel guilt for their actions and what they saw during combat, but they feel that they are weak and unable to live up to the expectations that were set for them.  When soldiers begin to lash out against their loved ones, like John in the podcast and Tebeaux in the Finnegan article, the military must recognize that their experiences affected them. I know its not this simple, but I think at some point something needs to be done to prevent this from happening, or to provide treatment when it does. 


  1. The question that Caitlin poses in her post, “at what point should someone say ‘stop?’” when a soldier is suffering from PTSD is the very same thing that crossed my mind while reading Finnegan’s article, “The Last Tour.” I agree with Caitlin that it seems wholly irresponsible of the military to continually send soldiers who are suffering from PTSD back into action for multiple tours; however, certain parts of Tebeaux’s experiences with PTSD complicated the matter for me. Throughout the article Tebeaux’s wife describes Tebeaux’s devastating everyday symptoms when he was home, which undoubtedly led me to feel that the military should never have sent him back into action. However, Kellee also described that the moment Tebeaux learned of a new deployment, his symptoms went away. Tebeaux wrote that his symptoms went away because he was “going back to the fight, back to shared adversity, where the tempo is high and our adrenaline pulses through our veins like hot blood” (5). This reaction of Tebeaux’s made me realize that many soldiers in fact believe it is in their best interest to return to battle and that perhaps the feeling of relief soldiers get when they are re-deployed is a reason that the soldiers themselves do not resist their military orders.
    Despite their desires to return, it still seems undoubtedly wrong to send soldiers like Tebeaux back into action after they have suffered so greatly. This fact as well as the stigma attached to PTSD in our society are both issues that need to be addressed. In his article Finnegan cites a study which found that “only half those afflicted [with PTSD] have sought treatment” (6). The fact that only 50% of suffering soldiers have sought treatment is utterly irresponsible of the military. Instead of always prioritizing the numerical strength of US troops, and thus sending damaged soldiers back into battle, the military needs to do something in response to the growing number of soldiers in America who suffer from PTSD, which includes not sending them back into battle, despite their requests. Another necessary move of the military is that they need to figure out a way to decrease the stigma attached with PTSD, so that soldiers feel comfortable seeking help and do not simply view PTSD as “an acronym created for weak Marines” (8). How this can be effectively accomplished is a troubling issue, but despite the difficulty, the military must take action.

  2. I agree with Caitlin that one of the main questions to be asked is when is it the soldier’s responsibility to stand up against the policies and customs being practiced and admit that they aren’t right. I found the answer from Chapter 9 in Philips’ book the most intriguing. He explained that the soldier’s did not allow themselves to recognize what they were doing was wrong. When they were involved in the action, they validated the behavior in their own heads. Dzagulones, a Vietnam vet, states that he did not engage in torture. “It’s that fine line between coercion and torture. Maybe that’s just a rationalization so that I could live with what was going on” (page 180). Although Dzagulones was involved in the Vietnam War, he underwent similar experiences and repressions that the soldiers of today’s wars are experiencing. They validate their actions by blurring the lines between coercion and torture; the lines between right and wrong. While engaged in the war and in foreign countries, they allow themselves to act a certain way, a way which may go against what they believe in while safely at home. They allow their perceptions of their actions to be distorted in order to better enable them to perform those actions. By establishing a difference between coercion and torture, they provide themselves with the justification needed to forgive themselves for what they had done and what they today believe was so wrong.

    The problem arises when these soldiers return home and are confronted with a public who no longer allows them to blur that line. They are forced to see the nature of their actions from an outside perspective; a perspective that is not altered by the circumstances that these soldiers were surrounded by while in the war. “All of a sudden, it’s an offense against humanity. This is shit that you live with for a year and it becomes routine – it’s part of your life. You come back to the world, and it’s criminal (page 181). These soldiers are forced into a culture that no longer condones the behavior that they were engaging in. They are no longer surrounded by other people who tolerated and/or encouraged the behavior they were performing. These men and women are all of a sudden thrust into a world that does not blur the line, but instead establishes the line more stringently than ever before, and these soldiers are forced to resolve for themselves just how guilty of a party they actually were. “You have to determine to what degree you’re responsible for these things” (page 181).

  3. I can relate to Caitlin's feeling of frustration, especially in regards to Phillip's chapter 8. For the past few weeks I have been debating my personal stance on whether torture is ever justifiable. Caitlin then raises the question, "if it is ok, then when does it stop?" The readings for this week gave me a stronger hold on my belief that torture is never acceptable, partly because of Caitlin's question. If you justify it for certain situations, then what prevents the acceptable situations from broadening and encompassing more and more? Listening to the radio show and the stories of returned soldiers having dreams of murdering their own children, while actually having episodes of brutally attacking their girlfriends, horrifies me. Phillips, in chapter 9 (towards the end), describes yet another suicide that occurs because the memories of torture carried out tormented and destroyed the soldier's life. If you are going to justify the loss of some detainee's life for the gain of useful information, are you also accepting the loss of life of soldiers who cannot deal with the acts committed?
    Phillips discusses facts released about the war in Iraq stating more soldiers died after the war due to reckless acts, suicide, and overdoses then during the war. Like Caitlin asked, "where does it end?" To what extent are we willing to accept casualties, soldiers included, in hopes of receiving helpful information, something we can now agree is strongly debatable in the actual usefulness of that information. Finnegan's article describes the destruction of a pair of brother's lives because of what went on during war. To quote the title of Phillips book, "None of [them] were like this before". War changed the soldiers. In many cases, it destroyed them. So how can you justify torture? To make one final plug at why torture should be avoided, as Caitlin also discusses, strategies exist, which use tactics exactly opposing torture, which not only work, but also often work better. Yes, it may take more preparation, which at times soldiers do not have the luxury of, but if soldiers were at least educated in the potential techniques that collect more factual and useful information, then perhaps violent methods of coercion will not even become a potential tactic. Torture hurts people. It destroys lives: both the victim and the torturer. It should not be used.

  4. The aforementioned arguments are deeply engaging, and rather challenging to respond to. After reading the assignments for tomorrow's class, I found myself substantially more confused and even more unsure as to my own position on the matter. I do, in fact, agree with those above who say the military needs to knows when to discharge someone based on their mental health status, or potential signs of PTSD. Furthermore, I believe there needs to be more regulation when troops are sent overseas. Many claim that they were unaware as to the crimes and torture that was committed at various interrogation camps, and this is likely true. Therefore, there need to be more overseers whom are familiar with the proper and useful interrogation tactics according to the interrogation training. People like Scharff and Nelson are clear examples of those who can properly interrogate and should be models for others.

    However, the Finnegan article, as well as chapters 8 and 9 in Phillips book, provide examples of veterans who suffered major damage when reentering the real world. What is the solution here? Should we not have war? Should we not have an army and self-defense system? In a perfect world, of course, the answer would be easy. But it seems nearly impossible for that perfect and ideological world to exist. Therefore, what is the solution? Most veterans experience some kind of PTSD or physical/mental damage after working the "front lines" of war. Can this mental damage ever be stopped? Caitlin poses the question: "when is enough, enough?" And I don't think we'll ever know. Because as many have claimed, there is a very fine and unidentifiable line. So there needs to be another solution... but what is it?

    And another question that isn't raised -- WHY do people turn to terror? We see a dramatic transformation of Millantz in war, versus back in Detroit. During war, he claims "we tortured the shit out of some prisoners. It was funny as fuck" (Phillips, 195). However, when back at home he cannot live with himself and turns to drugs and ultimately death as a means of coping and healing. Why does one comply with torture? Why does one become another cog in the machine? As the book mentions, there isn't necessarily a top-down order that causes people to act this way. Is it because these soldiers are going crazy? Are these the first signs of PTSD? I wish we were able to read essays on the psychology behind this, because after reading for this class and searching for the Abu Ghraib photographs, the truths and realities of war scenarios becomes incomprehensible.

  5. Like many others I am confused on where I stand with torture. When the idea of torture was put on a more personal level (torture as a means of seeing ones family member again) the answer was always in favor of torture. What I think some of us have forgotten is that these people who are being tortured by American solders are someone’s father, brother, uncle, etc. When I view it this way I am almost always against torture. Like Caitlyn said in her post, how and when do we know when to stop torturing a victim? And can we even trust the information that we are receiving from these broken down captives? Torture seems ridiculous at this point when the information you are receiving isn’t even worth the pain and suffering caused to receive it. Shifting gears a little bit, Ally brings up a good point about reassigning soldiers who have PTSD and a history of being unstable. Why haven’t military officials stepped in and noticed a difference with their soldiers and sought them care. It just seems to me like these officials don’t care for their soldiers and see them only as a body not a human being.

    Listening to this America Life, we are introduced to a war veteran named John. On the surface John just seemed like a shy lonely man who enjoyed having someone to talk to. John did not seem capable of the things he did to himself, fiancé, and daughter. My question is how can someone feel fine, act normal, and carry on a normal life and the next minute be stabbing someone with a knife and have no recollection of it in the morning. The part that gets me the most is that when John wakes up the next morning in jail he isn’t really surprised. He believes that he should be tortured for what he has done and he doesn’t even remember for what. Being overseas torture has become apart of John’s life and so when he returns back home torture is still a main part in his life.

  6. I think Caitlin brings up a good point in addressing the responsibility of the military in becoming more involved in the recognition and treatment of PTSD. Because PTSD, like many psychological disorders, is heavily stigmatized, particularly in a military culture that so strongly emphasizes hegemonic notions of masculinity, soldiers are hesitant to come forward about it. Moreover, as this weeks readings addressed, the military was not receptive to those soldiers who were brave enough to seek help for their PTSD. Both the Finnegan article and the Phillip's chapters bring to light the hesitance of the military to recognize PTSD in soldiers and provide adequate treatment. It is shameful that we're preaching individual liberties and rights to Iraqis while completely denying American soldiers their right to treatment for psychological damage they acquired as a result of our government's irresponsible decision-making.

    While the importance of increased military support for PTSD sufferers should not be overlooked, I think it is also important to consider why PTSD is so prevalent among soldiers returning from Iraq. Lauren brought up the important question of what we do about this. War is obviously a part of the world we currently live in and PTSD is an unfortunate consequence of war. However, I think part of the reason PTSD, depression, and suicide are so common among soldiers returning from Iraq is the cause for which they're fighting. Many of the soldiers we read about wanted to join the army. It wasn't a situation they were forced into or a last resort; they actually consciously chose to go fight for their country and its values. Most of these soldiers had noble intentions. I believe the disconnect between the rhetoric being spread by the U.S. government in an attempt to gain support for the war and the soldiers actual experiences in Iraq accounts for exceptionally high rates of psychological disorders among soldiers returning from Iraq. Because American support for the war is so fleeting, soldiers return home and further question what cause they were actually fighting for. Soldiers had agency in choosing to go to war, engaged in violent acts as a result of the hostile, stressful environment they were in, and returned home lacking a powerful cause to assure them that these actions were justified.

    The Iraq war has been presented as a war of conflicting ideas between two cultures. The experiences American soldiers actually have interacting with Iraqis, however, only serves to humanize these people and help soldiers gain a better understanding of those they are fighting, thus undermining their entire justification for engaging in violence in the first place. This is exemplified when Adam Gray's mother explains that her son's most positive experiences in Iraq were interacting with Iraqi children. Such experiences make collateral damage and civilian death that much more challenging to cope with. While I don't believe torture is ever justified in war, I do understand that violence is a part of war and that war is a part of the world in which we live. To me, what is so unfortunate about the Iraq war is that we're engaging in extreme acts of torture and violence and lack any real purpose or overarching moral rationale for doing so. As a result, soldiers returning to America not only have to come to terms with the violence they've committed, but they begin to question for what greater cause they committed such acts. It is unfair and irresponsible of our government to continue to let soldiers suffer and feel this overwhelming individual guilt and responsibility.

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  8. I think Caitlin asks some crucial questions to think about in her post and I don’t think any of them have an obvious answer, which is frustrating. Most of the questions she asks hinge on what one believes to be the “right thing to do,” which, as we saw in Nelson’s experience at Abu Ghraib, is always a contested and complex judgment. We would obviously regard Nelson’s decision to report the detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib as “doing the right thing,” but as a result, he had trouble finding a job afterwards and received death threats from fellow US soldiers. In fact, I remember shortly after the Abu Ghraib photos were released to the public, people implied their approval of detainee abuse when they voiced their anger for the person who was “dumb enough to take the photos” and the one who was responsible for their release. It was almost as if people believed reporting the photos was an unpatriotic act. I have trouble even understanding this reaction because the pictures taken at Abu Ghraib are so disgusting and dehumanizing.
    Some of the crucial questions Caitlin asks and to which my classmates have responded are : “How long does one keep a detainee, and torture them, in order to extract a confession? At what point do you stop and believe that they are telling the truth? How can you trust anything they say after weeks of torture?” What’s so dangerous and faulty about torture is that there is rarely the certainty that you will get a confession from the prisoner or that he or she has a confession to give you, which makes it tough to legitimate. In class last Thursday Brit talked about a hypothetical situation that could justify the use of torture. She talked about whether we would approve the torture of suspected terrorists if we knew we could find out information that could save the life of a loved one. Some of us agreed that we would allow 49 innocent prisoners to be torture if there was the possibility that one outlier had information that could save our loved one’s life. In fact, I would have probably given my tacit approval, but this is rarely the context of interrogations; there is no ticking time bomb and no certainty that the information extracted will save lives. Problems occur when untrained soldiers believe they have to extract information from a prisoner in a mere 48 hours. I would more quickly support the philosophy on interrogating that Nelson holds, which depends on empathy. But can we really empathize with the prisoners? I suppose we can through proper education of their culture and a recognition that they have a family and people who care about them, but do we know and understand their situation? Can we really imagine how they feel and what they’re going through”
    Still, I’d like to explore further if torture can ever be justified and this is something that Phillips may or may not hint at. Phillips describes the suicide bomber who tried to kill Dick Cheney when he was visiting Bagram. Phillip remarks that the “bomb went off just where Nelson and I had been talking three days earlier” (163). The bomb also killed 23 people. Could the interrogation of a terrorist suspect have led to getting information about this attack? Maybe its impossible to say and I would be more likely to support Nelson’s interrogation tactics. But, these tactics conflict with the urgency and paranoia that was felt in this context. I guess I don’t really have an answer to Caitlin’s questions.

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  10. I completely agree with Caitlin in that there needs to be a point in time when the military says, “enough is enough.” It should be a part of the package when you enter the military, to know that they will take care of you just like you are taking care of them and their country. If a military officer hits her or his limit of mental or physical stability, it should be the responsibility of the leaders of the organization to not only recognize it but take care of it immediately. Give them the appropriate care. While I was reading this article I couldn’t help but think of the show called Homeland. I don’t know if anyone has seen that show before but it just recently came out and it’s about a United States soldier who was a prisoner of war in Iraq for eight years. While he was held captive he was tortured, humiliated, and we find out later converted to Muslim. There are still more series to take place so we are in the midst of finding out if he is terrorist working for Iraq but in the meantime he comes home and tried to adjust to his old life. This case is a little more severe than most but he still encounters the hardships that come with trying to adjust back to “normality”. He starts off by having serious night terrors where he hurts his wife in the middle of the night because he thinks she is one of his kidnappers. He will run and hide in the middle of the day because he has illusions people are coming after him. Throughout the series he has bursts of “craziness” and nobody in his family knows how to take care of him. Although this is a little different situation from Twigg and the article we read for today, it still provides us with an example of how serious the war is and how serious it messes with the minds of these men and it should be the duty of the government to makes sure they receive the proper care after they are done. Twigg clearly needed help. He was on a lot of medication and had been having questionable moments since he had been back. I understand that these men fought for our country and they are extremely strong willed but even the strong need help sometimes. I guess I don’t get why we don’t have some kind of institution set up for these men to help them get over the entire trauma that happened to them overseas. I was frustrated watching the show just like I was frustrated reading the article that they do not receive the help they deserve. They also kept sending Twigg overseas to fight which I found absolutely crazy. He had done his time, now it was the government and military’s responsibility to take care of him. Also in the show, Brody, who is the United States soldier, the moment he returned home after being in Iraq for eight years was an immediate political figure for the public. He was pulled out to talk about his experiences and share all the different things about Iraq and the trauma he went through. These people don’t need to give anything else back to their country, they have done enough, they need help and if we don’t learn this soon, we are going to keep making people suffer. We talk about torture a lot in class, what kind of torture would this fall under?

  11. I think Kate’s mention of the photographs is a great tie-in between the first and second section of the semester. This connection was explicit on page 195 when Blake said that the photos his friend had sent him were “almost like pornography”, something that wasn’t supposed to be seen, a dirty secret. In the last chapter of the book I thought not only of this connection but also of the idea of mourning, the way in which some photos were more significant to Millantz’s mother than others. She discarded the torture photos without a thought yet cherished others of Millantz in better days (as a recruit, in childhood). The way in which we remember is political, which was evident again in the funeral. There was controversy around the military funeral because the soldier had not only ended up opposed to the war, but also potentially committed suicide due to P.T.S.D. The way in which the sister and mother differed in their perception and memory of Millantz was telling.
    Between Phillips’ last chapters, the This American Life section and the Finnegan article there was a connection between deifying the soldiers, mourning their loss and suffering, and excusing their actions during dissociations. On one hand, we feel sympathy for these men who suffered so much for our safety, our country, but are we forgetting or excusing their actions of torture? Are we forgetting the reason they are mentally tortured when they return? And does that mental torture excuse their criminal actions? I really began thinking about this when I read the letter that the soldier had sent to his friend at home with the pictures. Realizing that I hadn’t really thought of these soldiers P.T.S.D as a direct result of horrific actions they took part in was startling because I had let my emotions for these men as Americans, as veterans, as humans, get in the way of critically thinking about the situation.
    I do not know if I can excuse what they did, especially when there were people like Nelson, who had the courage and decency to report the atrocities taking place in those facilities. I agree with the other students that without being in the situation we have no way of knowing what actions we would have taken, but I do not think that this justifies the actions that were taken. As we have mentioned time and time again in class, breaking international jurisdiction allows others to do the same against us. With these crimes “staining” the flag, as Brody wrote, the safety of Americans in warzones abroad is in jeopardy, and it is our fault.