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The Tortured Lives of Interrogators

Tony Lagouranis has a CD with photos of some of the prisoners he interrogated in Iraq. He was honorably discharged after a diagnosis of
Tony Lagouranis has a CD with photos of some of the prisoners he interrogated in Iraq. He was honorably discharged after a diagnosis of "adjustment disorder." (By Laura Blumenfeld -- The Washington Post)

At Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, the site of the 2003-04 abuse scandal, Lagouranis used to relax in the old execution chamber. He and a friend would sit near the trapdoor and read the Arabic scratched into the wall. They found a dirty brown rope. It was the hangman's noose. "If there is an evil spot in the world, that was one of them," Lagouranis said.

At Abu Ghraib and sometimes at the facilities in Mosul, north Babil province and other places where Lagouranis worked, the Americans were shot at and attacked with mortar fire. "Then I get a prisoner who may have done it," he said. "What are you going to do? You just want to get back at somebody, so you bring this dog in. 'Finally, I got you.' "

Lagouranis's tools included stress positions, a staged execution and hypothermia so extreme the detainees' lips turned purple. He has written an account of his experiences in a book, "Fear Up Harsh," which has been read by the Pentagon and will be published this week. Stephen Lewis, an interrogator who was deployed with Lagouranis, confirmed the account, and Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell, who was Lagouranis's team leader and direct supervisor, said Lagouranis's assertions were "as true as true can get. It's all verifiable." John Sifton, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the group investigated many of Lagouranis's claims about abuses and independently corroborated them.

"At every point, there was part of me resisting, part of me enjoying," Lagouranis said. "Using dogs on someone, there was a tingling throughout my body. If you saw the reaction in the prisoner, it's thrilling."

In Mosul, he took detainees outside the prison gate to a metal shipping container they called "the disco," with blaring music and lights. Before and after questioning, military police officers stripped them and checked for injuries, noting cuts and bumps "like a car inspection at a parking garage." Once a week, an Iraqi councilman and an American colonel visited. "We had to hide the tortured guys," Lagouranis said.

Then a soldier's aunt sent over several copies of Viktor E. Frankel's Holocaust memoir, "Man's Search for Meaning." Lagouranis found himself trying to pick up tips from the Nazis. He realized he had gone too far.

At that point, Lagouranis said, he moderated his techniques and submitted sworn statements to supervisors concerning prisoner abuse.

"I couldn't make sense of the moral system" in Iraq, he said. "I couldn't figure out what was right and wrong. There were no rules. They literally said, 'Be creative.' "

Lagouranis blames the Bush administration: "They say this is a different kind of war. Different rules for terrorists. Total crap."

Tel Aviv

"You have to play by different rules," the Israeli interrogator told an American visitor. "The terrorists want to use your own system to destroy you. What your president is doing is right."

The Israeli, who spoke on condition that he be identified by his code name, Sheriff, recently retired as chief of interrogations for Shin Bet, Israel's security service, which is responsible for questioning Palestinian terrorism suspects. The former head of the service, Avi Dichter, and the former chief terrorism prosecutor, Dvorah Chen, called Sheriff "the best."

"To persuade someone to confess feels better than beating him up," Sheriff said. "It's a mental orgasm."


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