The national debate about torture and the treatment of detainees has too often overlooked one crucial aspect of this policy, namely the devastating psychological toll that it takes on the soldiers tasked with perpetrating abuses. Indeed, recent remarks by the former President regarding the water-boarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed indicate a persistent willful blindness to this element of detainee policy.
None of Us Were Like This Before, a new book by Joshua E.S. Phillips, provides a necessary corrective to this state of affairs. By focusing in-depth on the tragic story of a single soldier, Sergeant Adam Gray, Phillips is able to to draw out both the confusion regarding the rules related to detainee treatment which allowed torturous behavior to flourish, and the guilt that was the necessary product of doing the actual dirty work of torture. This interview brings out the veil of silence that Phillips met in his research from official army investigators.
The work is an object lesson in the continuing failure to reckon honestly and transparently with the history of U.S. treatment of detainees. One is finally left with the following question: if those placed highly in the civilian branches put in place policies that allowed torture to flourish do not owe an explanation to U.S. citizens, or to those who suffered as a result of torture, don’t they at least owe an explanation to those soldiers now suffering as a result of their unlawful orders?