“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.”
—Chris Lombardi, Guernica magazine
“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, author most recently of Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir
“An important and revealing book. While U.S. 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, Correspondent for National Public Radio and author of Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East
“We have always known that policies of torture have a second group of victims: the soldiers and policemen who are forced to act in ways that offend their sense of human dignity. Joshua Philips confirms this intuition with documented evidence of that soul-breaking effect. This book contributes enormously to the struggle to abolish torture in our time by showing how immoral and illegal policies taint institutions that, in every society and for every mission, need the trust and respect of the citizenry to be effective in fighting crime and terrorism.”
—Juan E. Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and author of Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights
“None of Us Were Like This Before details the wrenching journey that American soldiers and officers faced trying to report and halt abuse and torture during the ‘war on terror.’ 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, former Defense and State Department official who revealed the Pentagon Papers
“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.”
—Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams and Crossing Open Ground
“What goes in the minds of American soldiers when they are poorly led and untrained for a mission? They expect clear and unambiguous guidance fromtheir leaders. Joshua Phillips’ incredible work in documenting the experience of soldiers who detained and interrogated detainees reflects thehuge 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
“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.”
—Matthew Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist, reviewed the book on the 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. 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.”
—Kristina Brown and Paul Sullivan, Veterans for Common Sense
“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.”
—David Simpson, London Review of Books
“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.”
—Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, named None of Us Were Like This Before one of the top books on violence for Five Books
“None of Us Were Like This Before is 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. None of Us Were Like This Before reminds us why, on some bedrock issues of American values, there should never be any room for compromise.”
— Senator John F. Kerry
“[A] brave journalistic examination… Written and researched over a period of five years, None of Us Were Like This Before took Phillips to [the Middle East] and Afghanistan to undertake first-hand reporting. An important, shocking book that takes a fresh, in-depth look at how and why detainee abuse was carried out by American forces abroad.”
—Alice Johnson, Gulf News
“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”
—Eamonn McCann, Belfast Telegraph
“When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back….’ None of Us Were Like This Before is 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.”
—Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
“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, The Independent
“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.”
—Dominic Alexander, Counterfire
“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
“Torture is one of the most brutal human rights violations. It dehumanizes not only the victims, but also the perpetrators and causes post-traumatic stress disorders for both of them. None of Us Were Like This Before, by Joshua Phillips, covers one of the darkest chapters in the history of the United States. The American public and the world have a right to know the truth about the crimes committed under the command and responsibility of the Bush administration. Only on the basis of the truth can victims be awarded just and adequate reparation for the harm suffered and perpetrators brought to justice. But we will probably need many more books written by investigative journalists like Joshua Phillips until the truth will be fully recovered, and justice will eventually be done.”
—Manfred Nowak, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture (2004 to 2010)
“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.”
—Faith Middleton, The Faith Middleton’s Book Show
“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
“[This] book also 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.”
—Charikleia Tsatsaroni, Engaging Peace
“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.”
“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.”
—J. Ford Huffman, Military Times
- The Guardian included None of Us Were Like This Before as one one of their readers’ favorite books of 2012.
- In a post in the Foreign Policy blog, The Best Defense, named None of Us Were Like This Before as one of the “Top 10 books on U.S. interrogation.”
- None of Us Were Like This Before was selected as “Top Shelf – Recommended Reading” by the Bay Area’s Spectator Books.
LISTEN TO a long interview with Phillips about the book and vets issues on the Seattle / KUOW show, Weekday (broadcast November 17, 2011).
LISTEN TO a powerful radio interview about the book on Voices of Our World (broadcast September 22, 2011).
WATCH THE short video clip about the book on Voices of Our World (broadcast September 22, 2011).
LISTEN TO a radio interview about the book on a UAE-based radio show, Talking of Books (September 3, 2011).
LISTEN TO a great interview about the book with New America Now (broadcast on March 11, 2011).
WATCH THE interview with the author about the book on Bozeman, Montana’s KZBK (broadcast on March 9, 2011).
READ THE Q&A about the book published by Gulf News (published on January 15, 2011).
READ THE Q&A about the book for Guernica magazine (posted on December 15, 2010).
LISTEN TO an interview about the book on WNPR’s The Faith Middleton Show (broadcast on November 16, 2010).
LISTEN TO a strong interview about the book with BBC World New Update (broadcast on October 7, 2010).
LISTEN TO a rich interview about the book on American Radio Works (broadcast on October 1, 2010).
LISTEN TO Joshua E. S. Phillips’s interview about the book on KPFA’s “Letters to Washington” (broadcast on Friday, August 13, 2010) — download the interview here or listen to it on the KPFA website (the interview starts at the 37:57 mark).
READ THE Q&A about the book for the PBS TV and web- newsmagazine Need to Know (posted on Wednesday, June 16, 2010).
LISTEN TO Joshua E. S. Phillips’s interview about the book for The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC (broadcast on Tuesday, June 15, 2010).
Blog posts about the book have appeared in:
- Harper’s “No Comment”
- Five Books / The Browser
- Foreign Policy’s “The Best Defense”
- The Huffington Post
- Overseas Press Club of America
- Need to Know
- Refuge Media Project
- Rabbis for Human Rights
- Engaging Peace
- Syria Comment
- A Different Place
- Can It Happen Here?
- Let’s Talk Books And Politics
- Citizen Soldier
- The Left Coaster
- El Mostrador (Chilean newspaper)
- RadioUPF (the Radio Committee of the Association of Foreign Affairs)
- Bozeman Daily Chronicle
- Michigan Peaceworks