None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture

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by Joshua E. S. Phillips
     
 

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"This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word átorture'."---Richard Rodriguez, author of

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Overview

"This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word átorture'."---Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America" "Sergeant Adam Gray made it home from Iraq only to die in his barracks. For more than three years, reporter Joshua E.S. Phillips---with the support of Adam's mother and several of his Army buddies---investigated Adam's death. What Phillips uncovered was a story of American veterans psychologically scarred by the abuse they had meted out to Iraqi prisoners." "How did US forces turn to torture? Phillips's narrative recounts the journey of a tank battalion---trained for conventional combat---as its focus switches to guerrilla war and prisoner detention. It tells of how a group of ordinary soldiers, ill trained for the responsibilities foisted upon them, descended into the degradation of abuse. The location is far from CIA prisons and Guantanamo, but the story captures the widespread use and nature of torture in the US armed forces." Based on firsthand reporting from the Middle East, as well as interviews with soldiers, their families and friends, military officials, and the victims of torture, None of Us Were Like This Before reveals how soldiers, senior officials, and the US public came to believe that torture was both effective and necessary. The book illustrates that the damaging legacy of torture is not only borne by the detainees, but also by American soldiers and the country to which they've returned.

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Editorial Reviews

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba
“What goes in the minds of American soldiers when they are poorly led and untrained for a mission? They expect clear and unambiguous guidance from their leaders. Joshua Phillips’ incredible work in documenting the experience of soldiers who detained and interrogated detainees reflects the huge dilemma and consequences of their actions. His book is about accountability where senior leaders in the military and in the highest level of government failed to account for their actions, failed to protect soldiers who expected clear instructions, and failed the Nation in preventing torture and abuse of the enemy. This led to Abu Ghraib—an epic tragedy in American history.”
Lawrence Wilkerson
“A serious, comprehensive effort to examine how torture and abuse, once embarked upon, damage the torturer and abuser as well as the tortured and abused. It is actually a devastatingly dangerous two-way street—and another fundamental reason America must never travel down that street again.”
Military Times - J. Ford Huffman
“In the opening chapter, Sgt. Adam Gray, 24, dies an ‘accidental’ death (the Army’s term) three weeks after a suicide attempt. At the end of the book, former Spc. Jonathan Millantz, 27, dies from an overdose of painkillers. In between, the author—who spoke with medic Millantz a week before he died—shows that the pair personifies a puzzling predicament of war… The book tries to explain and explore rather than judge and condemn.”
Barry Lopez
“Joshua Phillips’ None of Us Were Like This Before is a model of conscientious reporting on a volatile subject—the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. His ethical and compassionate approach is an act of citizenship.”
Matthew Alexander
“Those who authorized torture and defend it don’t want to talk about this. They took honorable, patriotic young soldiers and convinced them to sacrifice the very principles that they had signed up to defend. That paradox is what Phillips investigates and brings to light. And he does it with the utmost respect for the soldiers… [W]hat makes None of Us Were Like This Before such an engaging read, and why there needs to be more attention on the issue of what happens to those who torture when they return, is that the stories are up close and personal… For those who thought that torture and abuse were isolated to Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq (not counting the CIA’s black sites or extraordinary rendition), think again. It’s coming home.”
Kristina Brown and Paul Sullivan
“Phillips’ book remains the first and best heartbreaking tale not only of the abuses taking place within our military prisons, but also the negative, long term and in many cases fatal psychological affects it is having on both interrogating soldiers and interrogated enemy prisoners of war. This book gets a top rating because of the valuable facts about torture collected from invaluable sources. The material is urgent and profound. This book should become an necessary read for all, as well as an essential tool for mental health professionals seeking to aid soldiers and veterans as well as survivors…This outstanding book should provoke urgently needed and highly meaningful conversations about who we are as well as what we thought our military and our political leaders should be. This book is an absolute an eye-opener for anyone who thinks war is ‘over there’ or that the use of torture has no impact on our society.”
Darius Rejali
“There are many things in this book that are fascinating and generally unknown. One is that these soldiers were afraid to report what they had seen and done … but without reporting it they couldn’t receive any medical help for their trauma … This book really shows how a situation can drive a unit that has no background at all in torture to start down a very dark road.”
London Review of Books - David Simpson
“The title of Joshua Phillips’s book is a quote, not an assertion. Those who find themselves acting as torturers really do think, when they speak about their actions, that they underwent some radical change of personality. It would have been possible to write a book entirely given over to telling stories of the torturers, not the ‘professionals’ but the rank and file military men and women who did terrible things in Iraq and Afghanistan and came home to relive them, to regret their behaviour and talk about it. Phillips wisely chooses not to do this … Above all, Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognised as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.”
Guernica - Chris Lombardi
“A masterwork of narrative nonfiction… Phillips introduces us to interrogators who worked to stem the horror of Guantanamo Bay and to lawyers representing detainees and their families. As our understanding builds of how American society became more comfortable with torture, often over the protests of military lawyers and experienced interrogators, we’re watching the system that developed on the ground. And of necessity, the book’s final chapters offer a granular look at post-traumatic stress disorder, and how those involved in these crimes are often denied the solace of even the limited treatment offered to troubled veterans.”
The Independent - Oliver Bullough
“This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims…Phillips’s message is that we most need the rules banning torture when we most want to break them.”
The National
“One of the long-standing arguments against the use of torture is that it dehumanises the torturers and in turn the country that allows the practice. In the Bush–Cheney era this was considered a naive or old-fashioned view. Joshua Phillips’ book shows that America’s leaders were wrong … [The book] considers why US forces turned to torture by recounting the experience of ordinary soldiers. The author says responsibility for their behaviour went right up the chain of command to the Pentagon. When these men returned home they realised it was not just their victims who were damaged psychologically. They were too.”
Belfast Telegraph - Eamonn McCann
“A tour de force of investigative journalism, based on interviews with men who had tortured detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo and with the victims of the same torture, a journey into darkness at noon in America…a vivid account.”
Engaging Peace - Charikleia Tsatsaroni
“Strongly reinforces the importance of greater attention to the trauma inflicted on soldiers by their involvement in torture and abuse; it is apparent that most of his interviewees deal daily with personal demons … I would recommend this very readable book for its eye-opening narrative and its ability to keep you involved until its painful ending, which highlights the fact that wars have victims on both sides.”
Craig Hawes
“A fascinating yet distressing account of how the use of torture and abusive techniques on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan affected the lives of American soldiers who found themselves caught up in it. Far from neglecting the suffering of the victims, Phillips, through meticulous research, also brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the citizens of the occupied nations.”
Counterfire - Dominic Alexander
“The causes and consequences of systematic abuse and torture are all explored by Joshua Phillips through a careful but searing narrative. Phillips sets the book out as an investigation of the self-inflicted death of one US soldier, and his experience of the war. Within that journalistic wrapping, well written as it is, there is a very serious examination of the use of torture in the two wars. The questions explored include how the systematic abuse began, the extent to which it was authorised and directed from above, or equally emerged from the logic of occupation itself. The impact upon both the soldiers and the victims themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan is well handled. The book might appear at a quick glance to be privileging the sufferings of the torturers over the victims, but Phillips in fact avoids this trap and brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the occupied populations.”
Faith Middleton
“This is an important book…[Phillips] documents that it’s not only CIA agents or prison guards in these sites like Abu Ghraib who participate in this abuse, but soldiers who never expected to find themselves in this situation have to engage in interrogation or torture. And they end up…paying a deep psychological price for this…

What a story it is.”

Richard Rodriguez
“This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word ‘torture.’”
J. Ford Huffman - Military Times
“In the opening chapter, Sgt. Adam Gray, 24, dies an ‘accidental’ death (the Army’s term) three weeks after a suicide attempt. At the end of the book, former Spc. Jonathan Millantz, 27, dies from an overdose of painkillers. In between, the author—who spoke with medic Millantz a week before he died—shows that the pair personifies a puzzling predicament of war… The book tries to explain and explore rather than judge and condemn.”
David Simpson - London Review of Books
“The title of Joshua Phillips’s book is a quote, not an assertion. Those who find themselves acting as torturers really do think, when they speak about their actions, that they underwent some radical change of personality. It would have been possible to write a book entirely given over to telling stories of the torturers, not the ‘professionals’ but the rank and file military men and women who did terrible things in Iraq and Afghanistan and came home to relive them, to regret their behaviour and talk about it. Phillips wisely chooses not to do this … Above all, Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognised as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.”
Chris Lombardi - Guernica
“A masterwork of narrative nonfiction… Phillips introduces us to interrogators who worked to stem the horror of Guantanamo Bay and to lawyers representing detainees and their families. As our understanding builds of how American society became more comfortable with torture, often over the protests of military lawyers and experienced interrogators, we’re watching the system that developed on the ground. And of necessity, the book’s final chapters offer a granular look at post-traumatic stress disorder, and how those involved in these crimes are often denied the solace of even the limited treatment offered to troubled veterans.”
Oliver Bullough - The Independent
“This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims…Phillips’s message is that we most need the rules banning torture when we most want to break them.”
Eamonn McCann - Belfast Telegraph
“A tour de force of investigative journalism, based on interviews with men who had tortured detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo and with the victims of the same torture, a journey into darkness at noon in America…a vivid account.”
Charikleia Tsatsaroni - Engaging Peace
“Strongly reinforces the importance of greater attention to the trauma inflicted on soldiers by their involvement in torture and abuse; it is apparent that most of his interviewees deal daily with personal demons … I would recommend this very readable book for its eye-opening narrative and its ability to keep you involved until its painful ending, which highlights the fact that wars have victims on both sides.”
Dominic Alexander - Counterfire
“The causes and consequences of systematic abuse and torture are all explored by Joshua Phillips through a careful but searing narrative. Phillips sets the book out as an investigation of the self-inflicted death of one US soldier, and his experience of the war. Within that journalistic wrapping, well written as it is, there is a very serious examination of the use of torture in the two wars. The questions explored include how the systematic abuse began, the extent to which it was authorised and directed from above, or equally emerged from the logic of occupation itself. The impact upon both the soldiers and the victims themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan is well handled. The book might appear at a quick glance to be privileging the sufferings of the torturers over the victims, but Phillips in fact avoids this trap and brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the occupied populations.”
Guernica
A masterwork of narrative nonfiction.— Chris Lombardi
London Review of Books
Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognized as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.— David Simpson
Belfast Telegraph
A tour de force of investigative journalism.— Eamonn McCann
Huffington Post
What makes None of Us Were Like This Beforesuch an engaging read, and why there needs to be more attention on the issue of what happens to those who torture when they return, is that the stories are up close and personal ... For those who thought that torture and abuse were isolated to Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq (not counting the CIA’s black sites or extraordinary rendition), think again. It's coming home.— Matthew Alexander
NPR
An important and revealing book. While US officials closed cases on torture and abuse by American soldiers when the investigation reached a dead end, Joshua E.S. Philips didn't quit. His personal journey and journalistic investigation is a shocking read about a hidden chapter of the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.— Deborah Amos
Independent
This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims … Phillips’s message is that we most need the rules banning torture when we most want to break them.
From the Publisher
“The stories contained in this book reveal how brave American service members tried to stop torture and abuse—often at the expense of their careers and their lives. Their sacrifice and the losses that they incurred are absorbed by all of us as a nation.”—Daniel Ellsberg

“This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims ... Phillips’s message is that we most need the rules banning torture when we most want to break them.”—Oliver Bullough, Independent

“A serious, comprehensive effort to examine how torture and abuse, once embarked upon, damage the torturer and abuser as well as the tortured and abused.”—Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

“A deeply personal story of a generation of American soldiers plunged into conflict after September 11. Joshua Phillips tells these brave Americans’ stories with compassion and vivid detail.”—Senator John F. Kerry

“Joshua Phillips brings much needed close reporting to the question of American torture. He reveals much about the interaction of ‘lower down’ and ‘higher up’ behavior, always including permission or encouragement from above. The book also suggests the psychological toll on those who torture, and is an important contribution to American reckoning with a dark moment in our history.”—Robert Jay Lifton, Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir

“Joshua Phillips’s incredible work in documenting the experience of soldiers who detained and interrogated detainees reflects the huge dilemma and consequences of their actions. His book is about accountability where senior leaders in the military and in the highest level of government failed to account for their actions, failed to protect soldiers who expected clear instructions, and failed the nation in preventing torture and abuse of the enemy. This led to Abu Ghraib—an epic tragedy in American history.”—Major General Antonio Taguba, author of the Taguba Report

“A shocking read about a hidden chapter of the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—Deborah Amos, NPR

“Basing his work on extensive interviews, [Phillips] details how ordinary American troops participated in the torture of enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A masterwork of narrative nonfiction.”—Chris Lombardi, Guernica

“Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognised as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.”—David Simpson, London Review of Books

“A tour de force of investigative journalism.”—Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph

“This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word ‘torture.’”—Richard Rodriguez, author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America

“Those who authorized torture and defend it don’t want to talk about this. They took honorable, patriotic young soldiers and convinced them to sacrifice the very principles that they had signed up to defend. That paradox is what Phillips investigates and brings to light. And he does it with the utmost respect for the soldiers.”—Huffington Post

“Phillips’ book remains the first and best heartbreaking tale not only of the abuses taking place within our military prisons, but also the negative, long term and in many cases fatal psychological affects it is having on both interrogating soldiers and interrogated enemy prisoners of war ... [An] outstanding book [and] a necessary read for all.”—Kristina Brown and Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense

None of Us Were Like This Before is a model of conscientious reporting on a volatile subject—the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. His ethical and compassionate approach is an act of citizenship.”—Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams and Crossing Open Ground

“There are many things in this book that are fascinating and generally unknown. One is that these soldiers were afraid to report what they had seen and done ... but without reporting it they couldn’t receive any medical help for their trauma.”—Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy

“The causes and consequences of systematic abuse and torture are all explored by Joshua Phillips through a careful but searing narrative.”—Dominic Alexander, Counterfire

“A fascinating yet distressing account of how the use of torture and abusive techniques on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan affected the lives of American soldiers who found themselves caught up in it. Far from neglecting the suffering of the victims, Phillips, through meticulous research, also brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the citizens of the occupied nations.”—Craig Hawes, Gulf News

“Joshua Phillips’ book shows that America’s leaders were wrong.”—National

None of Us Were Like This Before ... is an important [book].”—Foreign Policy

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781844675999
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
06/14/2010
Pages:
237
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.60(d)

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John F. Kerry
A deeply personal story of a generation of American soldiers plunged into conflict after September 11. Joshua Phillips tells these brave Americans’ stories with compassion and vivid detail.

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