Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

A few days ago, an Associated Press article came out about detainee abuse and torture at the Detention Facility of Parwan, or as it is called for short, the DFIP. Reading the article, which both the BBC and Fox News featured, was a fascinating experience. Being at the DFIP each day and working with US personnel whose jobs are to guard, care for, and in some cases, interrogate, detainees, these articles seemed wildly off base. So much so that it is almost not worth addressing the accusations. It is almost as if they had been written about another place altogether. But, of course, this news is worth addressing. How else will the public know another aspect of this story if we dismiss the articles as false, not even bothering to talk about them.

I will be the first to admit that I came into this post with some healthy skepticism. I wasn’t sure what I would find in an Army battalion whose sole purpose is interrogating detainees under US custody during a time of war. After all, my undergrad thesis research focused on Abu Ghraib. I knew some of the worst of what could happen when poor leadership and ethical meltdown collided at a detention facility during one of the the hottest seasons of the war in Iraq. We have all seen the pictures and balked at how such human degradation could ever transpire under the US flag. Certainly never on any of our watches. But it did, and since we all know that history repeats itself, it still could.

Word on the street is that every so often, the “torture” story gets rolled back through the news cycle. It’s just par for the course in detainee operation, at least that is what I have heard in these days. But since this is all still pretty new to me, I find that dismissive stance not good enough. Getting to know many of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who give months and even years of their lives to this mission, it seems rather disrespectful of their hard work to not point out the level of concern and care that is infused into work here every day.

Between the medical professionals that I have gotten to know, who provide the whole gamut of care from dentistry to physical therapy, to my own interrogators who spend hours and days, working with detainees, establishing trust and even relationship in some cases, the idea that US personnel are mistreating detainees is almost a joke. The oversight alone makes it next to impossible for even one misstep to take place within our walls. From the medical checks to the visits from the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations, I don’t know where abuse could even happen. We are under a world microscope and as far as I can see, bending over backward to not only comply but be generous in our operations. Food, clothing, shelter, and medical care are basic rights in this place, and even those who have not behaved are never denied these basics.

Disagree with the war, that’s fine by me. Protest the way that we capture and detainee individuals, if that is your opinion on the subject. But, to recycle a bad news story that is almost antithetical to the truth of what is happening is a huge disservice to the American public. They deserve better, and so do the people who are working here at the DFIP.

Scrutiny is absolutely needed in this kind of operation. The more the better, as far as I am concerned. Yet, the only way that we might move forward with any hope for a better future, is to do so with open eyes. Transparency is our saving grace. The positive progress that has been made in these years since one of our worse moments in detention history should be highlighted when appropriate. This isn’t about becoming complacent over some kind of deluded perfection that we think we have achieved. If we are honest, we know that getting it all right all the time isn’t possible. This mission is human and prone to slips and even falls. But, let’s keep our focus on what matters. By infusing dignity where we can and building up those who have been brought down low for whatever reason, we may make a difference that counts in the long run. And, only time will tell.


  1. Mel,

    Thanks for this post. Since I started hearing these reports a few days ago I have often thought of you and those with whom you serve.

    In your blog posts you have made it clear that the people serving there at the DFIP operate with integrity and care for all involved as they do their duty in that very difficult assignment.

    May God's peace be with you all.


  2. This was in our paper Sunday, a story put out by Associated Press. Jean Norman actually told me about it at church Sunday and thought that was where you were. I knew it was bunk. They were not complaining of torture, but it sounded like better conditions. I was thinking of the conditions you guys may have as well. You are in my prayers of course!