Part of the investigation of the Abu Ghraib Iraqi prisoner scandal now focuses on the role of military interrogators — what did they do and were they properly trained?
Fort Huachuca, Ariz., is normally a top-secret Army base where military interrogators learn the proper way to question prisoners. It’s a 16-week training program, where interrogators learn what they can and cannot do.
According to Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, “We are very, very precise. We make it as easy as we can on the soldier. So there’s no nuance that he or she has to deal with in terms of what’s right and wrong. We lay it out for them.”
There, 192 hours are spent studying the Geneva Convention — the law of land warfare.
Military interrogators learn it’s legal to psychologically instill fear in prisoners, but illegal to threaten them by, for example, hooking them up to electrical wires. It is legal to question prisoners at any time of the day or night, but illegal to use sleep deprivation. It is legal to attack a prisoner's “pride and ego," but illegal to humiliate them, for example, by taking pictures of them naked.
And the student soldiers at Fort Huachuca learn something else — that anywhere between 3 and 5 percent of those they’re interrogating will never give up any information.
At Abu Ghraib, it’s not yet clear what role military interrogators played in abuses. An investigation is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
When one unnamed soldier, who wouldn’t reveal his name for security reasons, saw the Abu Ghraib pictures, his reaction was: “I was shocked.”
He is a 30-year-old reservist who doesn’t want his name used, because when he finished training he’ll be deployed to the war zone. “You cannot follow an illegal order," he said. "It’s up to you to understand if it’s illegal. And if you carry it out, you’re guilty.”
This year, Fort Huachuca will turn out 539 military interrogators, with most expected to go to Iraq and Afghanistan.