As National Guard Sgt. Dean Fox watched televised images of Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. military personnel, he was furious.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m glad I’m home, because this is just another nail in the coffin for the United States over there,” Fox said. “It’s just going to turn more of the Iraqi people against us.”
Fox, a member of the 211th Military Police, returned home to Clyde, in the western Mountains of North Carolina, in February after nearly a year in Iraq. Before that, he spent seven months guarding prisoners in Afghanistan.
Hints that some MPs were flouting rules
While Fox and other MPs who served in Iraq were outraged at the allegations of abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, there had been earlier indications that other soldiers were not doing things by the book.
“I heard other MPs talking,” Fox said. “They weren’t with us, but they were actually sort of bragging about it, that they shot a guy with a beanbag out of a 12-gauge shotgun. I said, ‘Why did you go and do that?’ And they said, ‘Just because.”’
There has been a chorus of criticism since CBS last week broadcast images of Iraqis stripped naked, hooded and apparently being tormented by their U.S. captors.
The abuse is “absolutely embarrassing to the U.S. military. For U.S. troops to have done this, it’s absolutely sickening,” Fox said. “I know they’re prisoners, but yet they are human beings. They are protected under the Geneva Convention.”
Sgt. Dave Brown, 29, of Milwaukee, who worked with prisoners and detainees of the Iraqi police, said he never heard any talk of abuse “other than the Iraqi police are very physical with their prisoners, but we taught them not to be.”
Most jails appeared in good order
Most jails he visited seemed in good order, said Brown, who served with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police before returning home last month.
On March 20, criminal charges were filed against six military police officers. As many as three of the six cases have been referred for military trial, and others are in various preliminary stages, officials said.
In addition to the criminal cases, seven others — all MPs — have been given noncriminal punishment. In six of the cases, they got letters of reprimand.
Staff Sgt. Joe Barsic, 38, of Beaver County, Pa., said the allegations could lead more Iraqis to distrust Americans. Barsic, who patrolled the streets of Baghdad as an Army reservist in the 220th Brigade, said he saw evidence of torture by Saddam Hussein’s regime at a Baghdad prison.
“There was still blood on hooks in the prison,” he said.
Brown and Fox said it was made clear to them that prisoners were to be treated humanely.
‘We are not allowed to get physical’
Brown said superiors told him to follow the rules regardless of what prisoners say or what they do. “We are not allowed to get physical with them unless for some odd reason they were trying to attack you,” he said.
Fox said he is bothered by what he sees as attempts to pass the blame for the alleged abuse at Abu Ghraib to military intelligence officers who might have been present.
“The CIA and the military intelligence stuff, they might have their way that they want to do things, but taking and torturing them — that ain’t part of the military aspect,” he said.
Even in Afghanistan, Fox said, U.S. forces were up against “guys that were responsible for 9/11. But we minded our manners.”