“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
Two stark sentences wedged in the center of a military document curtly summarized the demise of a 24-year-old soldier: “SGT Gray was found dead in his barracks room at 1921 hrs on 29 August 2004. Subsequent investigation by CID (Exhibit 5) found that his death was accidental.” An autopsy report provided a few more details about the soldier: “He spoke at length of many positive experiences in Iraq, such as rebuilding schools and eating with Iraqis. However, he also made reference to events that bothered him and that he could not speak…about.” NONE OF US WERE LIKE THIS BEFORE (Verso Books, dist by W.W. Norton; Pub Date: June 10, 2010; $26.95 HC) is a brave investigation of what many returning US soldiers cannot speak about: the shattering legacy of torture on veterans who have seen or participated in detainee abuse.
Joshua Phillips, a seasoned journalist, began reporting for a book on interrogation but quickly changed focus after meeting Sergeant Gray’s family. Gray had been full of life, and looked forward to fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a soldier. But he was a different person when he returned from Iraq. Silent and self-destructive, he hinted at a series of events that he could not speak about. In August 2004 Gray was found dead in his room. In investigating his death Phillips was led to speak with members of Gray’s Army unit, and heard disturbing stories about returning soldiers who had struggled to live with what they had done. Perhaps most affecting was the testimony of Jonathan Millantz, a friend of Gray’s and someone who was tormented by memories of his time in the war. In April 2009, after months of telling friends and family that he was “soldiering on,” Millantz’s family found him in his room, dead of an overdose that was reminiscent of Gray’s.
Most former participants in abuse are unwilling to admit what they have done. But based on first-hand reporting from the Middle East and years of working with ordinary soldiers, Phillips has collected a shattering record of the impact of current enhanced interrogation techniques on American veterans. Perhaps most surprisingly, Gray’s story reveals that it is not only CIA agents or prison guards in now-infamous sites like Abu Ghraib who participate in abuse, but ordinary soldiers who never expected to engage in interrogation and torture, or to pay the psychological price for it.
Joshua Phillips is available for interview. For interviews & review copies send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org