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November 01, 2006

American soldier refused to torture, committed suicide

An Army investigation has determined that Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson committed suicide after refusing to participate in torture:

10/31/06 (2006-10-31) Army specialist Alyssa Peterson was an Arabic speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at the Tal-afar airbase in far northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border. According to the Army's investigation into her death, obtained by a KNAU reporter through the Freedom of Information Act, Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

Instead she was assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was sent to suicide prevention training. But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle. [KNAU]

HT:Erin in Flagstaff.


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Like many, I have been haunted and disturbed by news of Alyssa Peterson’s suicide. While there may have been specific abuses that pushed Alyssa Peterson over the edge after she witnessed them or was ordered to participate in them, US torture of deta... [Read More]


Very sad for me to hear that. I served in the Army but would never go back in because of the change in attitudes that I had been told were wrong to have.

Peterson will also be demonized by the military and Bush administration as well, they have no morals nor honor.

hmm. I wonder how many times she stopped to reload her rifle while committing suicinde? Oh, does that sound like I doubt the official story?

Why do you doubt the official story? I have nothing to go on except this news item. Is there any evidence of foul play that I haven't heard about?

This may be the most disheartening thing I've read all day.

More evidence of the other reason it's wrong to torture - it deeply harms the torturers too. The emotional scars of fighting a war are bad enough, and it's disgusting to think that people who claim to 'support the troops' would ask them inflict even more damage on themselves.

Sorry this is the most coherent post, but the whole issues just makes me so disgusted, mad, sad, etc. that I can't think.

>More evidence of the other reason it's wrong to torture - it deeply harms the torturers too. The emotional scars of fighting a war are bad enough, and it's disgusting to think that people who claim to 'support the troops' would ask them inflict even more damage on themselves.

During World War II, the SS who carried out the executions of non-combatants frequently had nervous breakdowns because of it, and, famously, even Himmler himself became nauseous at visiting one of his own concentration camps.

>Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

Except in the memory. I hope the woman can rest in peace.

(Usual Disclaimer: No, I'm not comparing our soldiers to Nazis. Only in that they're being ordered to do things that any normal human being finds repulsive.)

This essay, Torture's Long Shadow, is one of the most insightful and compassionate examinations of the effects of torture on human beings. The author, Vladimir Bukovsky, was tortured as a dissident in the former Soviet Union.

Here's one powerful passage from the essay, regarding the impact of torture on the torturers:

Today, when the White House lawyers seem preoccupied with contriving a way to stem the flow of possible lawsuits from former detainees, I strongly recommend that they think about another flood of suits, from the men and women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be engaged in CID practices. Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.

The author's account of the psychological toll of his own bloody intranasal force-feeding on the people who inflicted it truly devastating. In the end, he "won" because his punishment was destroying his captors much faster than it was destroying him.

Thank you Lindsay. He says:

Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

This Nikolai Yezhov, according to a July 2004 article by James Morris in the Europe-Asia Studies journal, oversaw purges of supposed Polish and German "spies" during the late 1930s, in preparation for an anticipated war with Poland and/or Germany as a fascist bloc. At the end of the often farcical proceedings, which seemed really a pretext to relocate the Polish and German populations away from sensitive border areas, this chapter of the Great Purge ended farcically: according to Morris, Yezhov (or Ezhov) was himself arrested as a Polish spy in the end.

However, I wouldn't characterize this as Stalin losing control of his administration, because I think that the Great Purge was rather undertaken by Stalin largely (though not only) as a cynical attempt to make himself the only indispensable member of government, and to render every other person in his government fungible. At the very beginning of the Great Purge, Stalin specifically stated that one of his aims was to make local party committees more strictly subordinate to his own direction.

That does not detract, though, from the essayist's larger point: that torture 1) is indistinguishable from sleep deprivation and the other "tough interrogation techniques" that the administration has alternately been trying to define and to escape from defining, 2) does just as much damage, if not more, to the torturers as to the tortured, and 3) represents a victory from the Dims of the world, the stupid, quick-fix and little-thinking sadists, over the more rare and worthwhile thoughtful and critical analysis. We don't need more intelligence collection through torture; we need more and better analysis of what we're already getting.

"She was sent to suicide prevention training. But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle"

If the Army was worried about her committing suicide, why did they allow her to carry a rifle? Couldn't they have assigned her to some other duty?

Another article on Alyssa Peterson mentions a suicide note saying "that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide."

Take away her rifle? No. She was in a combat zone. What should have been done was to send her to Walter Reed (or at least Landstuhl) for medical care. The talk I had with the shrink, after I got out of Walter Reed (OB NCOIC, Mar-May 2003, and OMT NCO until July, when I was med-evacced out, for a non-psych reason) was amusing, mostly because I, as an interrogator, pretty much led him where I wanted things to go, and he said I was, fundamentally sane; all things considered.

He was right, but I was a whole lot less healthy than he gave me credit for, and in some ways am not quite right yet; and may never be.

About her death itself, there's nothing I can say. I am not as surprised as I ought to be. She wasn't the first suicide in Iraq. There was an MP in our camp who killed himself (I've no idea how it was reported) and all he did was get ambushed once.

War is a shitty thing.

God, how sad.

If a relatively infrequent commenter like myself might be permitted to call upon the hivemind, does anyone have some good links to articles on suicide rates for US servicemen and women in Iraq (compared to other US wars and to peacetime service) and on mental health incidents in Iraq vs other wars and vs peacetime?

Suicide, eh?

I doubt the "official story" just BECAUSE it is the official story.

She so honored life by not participating in torture, that she killed herself?

Yeah. Sure.

Could have been a fragging made to look like a suicide. I would suspect of this because women commiting suicide by firearms isn't common, though it is the most common form of suicide. I could see her slitting her wrists, or poisoning herself, but blowing her brains out isn't something most women will it's suspicious. It's definetly worth an investigation.

Gender Differences

Suicide was the eighth leading cause of death for males and the 19th leading cause of death for females in 2000.1 More than four times as many men as women die by suicide,1 although women report attempting suicide during their lifetime about three times as often as men.5 Suicide by firearm is the most common method for both men and women, accounting for 57 percent of all suicides in 2000. White men accounted for 73 percent of all suicides and 80 percent of all firearm suicides.

Second reason I kind of doubt it is she was Mormon. Depending on how devout she was, if she commited suicide, she would be sent to the lowest kingdom of heaven. Mormons have three. Mormons are usually the least suicidal of people, though it's not impossible.

Most Mormans aspire to get to the highest kingdom so that they can become gods of their own universe. Not sure if she believed this, but if did, why would she commit suicide? Another reason I find the circumstances suspicious.

"The lowest heaven is populated by adulterers, murderers, thieves, liars and other evil-doers. These share in a glory and delight impossible to imagine. Their sins have been forgiven, and they now enjoy the eternal presence of the Holy Ghost."

When you are being tortured, you pray for death. If you are highly empathic, then watching someone being tortured is close to being tortured yourself.

does anyone know if copies of Alyssa's suicide note have turned up? Or of stories of soldiers who might have served with her?
Please email a link if so, i would greatly appreciate


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