“Woman soldier in Iraq committed suicide, upset over torture of prisoners” (Anonymous 6). Such a headline instantly strikes the reader’s mind by bringing them an idea of how harsh torture can be these days. During the war on terror in Iraq, several American troops used a variety of severe torture methods on prisoners of war. Those who were found guilty
received long term prison sentences. Also, in the United States, the CIA had developed special interrogation rules for the U.S military interrogators to use on captured prisoners. However, American interrogators went completely against the rules in Iraq. In the Journey into the Whirlwind, Ginzburg mentions information from her personal experience regarding the interrogation and torture methods used on prisoners during Stalin’s purges. By comparing those methods to the ones used by Americans in Iraq, a clear picture can be formed to show how sadistic and inhumane relationships to prisoners of war in today’s society are, despite the fact that Stalin’s purges are now seen as a terrible catastrophe—Americans did not learn the lesson.
Throughout her book, Ginzburg undergoes a series of interrogation procedures. Most of these procedures consist only of psychological approaches; however, there are some instances of applied physical force, consisting of beating or kicking the victim in different areas of the body. Interrogators practice making intimidating facial expressions before the initial meetings with their victims, in order to fill them with fear and break them down psychologically: “I learned that this grimace was part of the interrogators’ stock in trade and that they were made to practice it before a looking glass. But seeing it for the first time, I felt sure that it expressed Vevers’s own attitude to me personally” (Ginzburg 49). After striking victims with fear, interrogators then ask a variety of questions to make them confess and sign falsified documents: “It is known to the investigators that you belonged to a secret terrorist organization among the editorial staff of Red Tartary. Do you admit this?” (Ginzburg 50). Most victims can’t take all the false accusations or beatings and sign the documents. This enables them to get out of prison, however, there is no way for them to escape death because the secret police follow and eventually shoot them. Those who don’t give in, like Ginzburg, are put into cells and constantly undergo the same interrogation cycles. Probably the strongest method of interrogation which Ginzburg experiences is called the “conveyor belt”. This is an uninterrupted process of questioning by a changing team of interrogators, where the victim is put into a room, usually for a couple of days, and is questioned non-stop without any sleep or food. There is absolutely no physical force applied to the victim using this method. As Ginzburg said: “The object of the conveyor belt is to wear out the nerves, weaken the body, break resistance, and force the prisoner to sign whatever is required” (Ginzburg 83). Looking at the procedures above, Ginzburg didn’t experience any physical injuries nor was she drugged or sexually humiliated. This was different in comparison to what some prisoners in Iraq went through under U.S. supervision.
During the war on terror in Iraq, a lot of information about the actual events leaked out. For a number of years, the CIA had a fixed set of rules for American interrogators to use on captured prisoners. These consisted of physical methods such as beatings. However, these methods later proved to them that the information they retrieve from their victims is usually unreliable. Eventually, these were later replaced by more, what the CIA believes, efficient psychological methods. These new methods were used on prisoners in Iraq by the U.S military. According to U.S. officials and former prisoners, “detainees have been stripped naked, covered with hoods, deprived of sleep and light, and made to stand or sit in painful positions for extended periods. Some have been drugged. Sexual humiliation is not unheard of” (Ripley 1). Even though these methods didn’t inflict any physical injuries to the prisoners, they still lead to “prolonged psychological problems which are far more disabling than the physical pain, leading to suicide or coma” (Ripley 1). Due to the cruel nature of this, the Geneva Convention required that prisoners who underwent such mistreatments be paid “daily wages” (Ripley 1). The interrogation methods used by the U.S. military were far more dehumanizing and unlawful towards humanity in comparison to Ginzburg’s experiences.
Besides the interrogations, Ginzburg mentions about some of the torture means she experiences while in prison. At first, prisoners aren’t tortured by physical means, such as beatings. However, one day, after coming back to her cell, Ginzburg finds one of her cell mates, Zina, lying on the floor, badly bruised: “On the floor, beside the slop pail, lay Zina. Her white blouse, crumpled, torn, and blood-stained, now looked like a wounded bird. There was a huge bruise on her bare shoulder. We stared in horror. So it had begun! This was the first case (at any rate, the first we had seen) of a woman being beaten during interrogation” (Ginzburg 124). Apart from this, another time when Ginzburg experiences physical torture is when a warder, “Nabob”, punches her in the stomach and twists her arms, tying her hands with a towel. Luckily, for Ginzburg, she isn’t raped. Basically, the only physical methods of torture Ginzburg experiences are beatings. No other harsh methods are involved.
Besides the limited physical tortures, the majority of other tortures Ginzburg experiences are psychological. To try and make her confess to the false accusations, the interrogators put Ginzburg through an extended period of hunger, where she “eats nothing for a week except a chunk of black bread washed down with hot water” (Ginzburg 67). Keeping prisoners from food for days is one of the psychological torture tactics interrogators use.
Also, in order to make every prisoner as uncomfortable and intolerant as possible, the interrogators put more prisoners into a cell than the minimum capacity allowed: “The cell, which was meant for three, already held five; I was the sixth” (Ginzburg 104). In addition to that, there were “three wooden bunks and a single large plank bed” (Ginzburg 104). The cells contain rodents and cockroaches. Prisoners have to take turns to sleep on the bed; those without beds sleep on the floor. There is also no light in the cells and prisoners experience eye pain after reading books borrowed from the library. Another form of psychological torture Ginburg experiences is “The Punishment Cell”, where she is put in half-naked, and left for a certain period of time to withstand the cold and dampness of the cell. These are some methods of psychological torture interrogators use continuously on prisoners. After undergoing such methods, most prisoners become insane and develop an intense desire to get out of prison, therefore confessing to the false accusations and signing documents. However, none of them undergo acts of extreme sadism or forced sex. Unfortunately, things weren’t the same for Iraqi prisoners who were mistreated by American troops.
During the reign of Saddam Hussein, the infamous Abu Ghraib prison kept numerous Iraqi prisoners. The conditions were horrible with endless tortures and executions. When the United States occupied Iraq, Abu Ghraib was completely renovated, with some additional facilities added. Most of the world thought that since the Americans had taken over, all the tortures that went on will slowly come to an end. However, after extremely sensitive information of the prison activities was uncovered, citizens of the world were shocked. According to the investigators of the Red Cross, “Military intelligence used physical and psychological methods of coercion such as Hooding. This prevented prisoners from seeing, disoriented them and prevented them from breathing freely. Hooding was also used in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come” (Danner 6). Another method used was “handcuffing with flexi-cuffs, sometimes made so tight and used for such extended periods that they caused long-term after affects on hands (nerve damage)” (Danner 6).
Prisoners were also “beat with hard objects such as pistols and rifles; attached to cell doors in humiliating (i.e. naked) or uncomfortable positions; exposed while hooded to loud music or to the sun for several hours during the hottest time of the day” (Danner 6). This wasn’t all. There was also information uncovered about some of the “unusual methods” used. Some of these consisted of “breaking of chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; sodomizing detainees with a chemical light or a broom stick; using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees” (Danner 8). Probably the most shocking pieces of evidence were the graphic photographs, taken at the time prisoners were abused. The article “Torture at Abu Ghraib” from The New Yorker, gives a description of the sadistic activities in the photographs: “In one, Private England, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is giving a jaunty thumbs-up sign and pointing at the genitals of a young Iraqi, who is naked except for a sandbag over his head, as he masturbates. Three other hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners are shown, hands reflexively crossed over their genitals. A fifth prisoner has his hands at his sides. In another, England stands arm in arm with Specialist Graner; both are grinning and giving the thumbs-up behind a cluster of perhaps seven naked Iraqis, knees bent, piled clumsily on top of each other in a pyramid. There is another photograph of a cluster of naked prisoners, again piled in a pyramid. Near them stands Graner, smiling, his arms crossed; a woman soldier stands in front of him, bending over, and she, too, is smiling. Then, there is another cluster of hooded bodies, with a female soldier standing in front, taking photographs. Yet another photograph shows a kneeling, naked, unhooded male prisoner, head momentarily turned away from the camera, posed to make it appear that he is performing oral sex on another male prisoner, who is naked and hooded” (Hersh 2). By forcing prisoners into such absurd activities, American soldiers went completely “against the laws of every culture, especially Islamic law, where it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men” (Hersh 2). In general, the methods of torture American troops used on Iraqi prisoners consisted of a large variety of extremely inhumane and sadistic acts. The levels of sadism and violence of the troops in Iraq went far beyond the descriptions of Ginzburg’s experiences.
In conclusion, after reading this paper, the audience will get an idea that people will never learn from the mistakes which happened in the past, such as torture of innocent people during Stalin’s purges. Instead of making sure that such things will never take occur again, people become even more violent and sadistic. An example of this was what some of the American troops did to the Iraqi prisoners. Such a pattern will continue forever, unless some drastic measures are taken. Perhaps if someone who has high authority reads this paper, they will understand that monitoring the appropriateness of troops’ activities during interrogations should be the highest priority. If more effort was put into that in Abu Ghraib, the horrible events which took place could have been avoided and America’s image wouldn’t have been ruined because of a particular group of sadistic troops.