Captain Ian Fishback's Long Hard Slog Against Torture

Captain Ian Fishback's Long Hard Slog Against Torture


What happens when you know something is wrong, but everybody around ignores you? I would guess that most of us would simply shut up and fall back in line for fear of serious reprisal.

Not Army Captain Ian Fishback. He saw the “pretend it’s not there” policy on torture in Iraq and tried to stop it. Needless to say, his concerns fell on deaf ears.

From the LA Times:

WASHINGTON � When Army Capt. Ian Fishback told his company and battalion commanders that soldiers were abusing Iraqi prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention, he says, they told him those rules were easily skirted.

When he wrote a memo saying Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was wrong in telling Congress that the Army follows the Geneva dictates, his lieutenant colonel responded only: “I am aware of Fishback’s concerns.”

And when Fishback found himself in the same room as Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey at Ft. Benning, Ga., he again complained about prisoner abuse. He said Harvey told him that “corrective action was already taken.”

At every turn, it seemed, the decorated young West Point graduate, the son of a Vietnam War veteran from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, whose wife is serving with the Army in Iraq, felt that the military had shut him out.

And, of course, Fishback fought back and blew the whistle anyway.

This summer, after weighing the possible effects on his career, he stepped outside the Army’s chain of command and telephoned the Human Rights Watch advocacy group. He later met with aides on the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Friday, he authorized them to make public his allegations, along with those of two sergeants, of widespread prisoner abuse they had witnessed when they served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Now word from Andrew Sullivan that Fishback is paying the price.

My sources tell me that he has been subjected to a series of long, arduous interrogations by CID investigators. Predictably, the CID guys are out to find just one thing: they want to know the identities of his two or three NCO corroborators. The CID folks are apparently indifferent to the accounts of wrongdoing – telling him repeatedly not to waste their time with his stories. Fishback knows if he gives their identities up, these folks will also be destroyed – so he’s keeping his silence, so far. The investigators imply that he failed to report abuses, so he may be charged, or that he is peddling falsehoods and will be charged for that. They tell him his career in the Army is over. Meanwhile the peer pressure on him is enormous. I’m reliably told that he has been subjected to an unending stream of threats and acts of intimidation from fellow officers. He is accused of betraying the Army, and betraying his unit by bringing it into disrepute. His motives are challenged. He is accused of siding with the enemy and working for their cause. And it goes on and on.

And this bit that Sullivan reports about Rumsfeld is particularly frightening, albeit purely anecdotal.

Another source informs that the word is around that Rumsfeld has taken a strong interest in this. He is quoted as saying “Either break him or destroy him, and do it quickly.” And no doubt about it, that is just what they are doing. Expect some trumped up charges against Fishback soon, similar to what they did to Muslim Chaplain Captain James Yee, whom they accused of treason with no solid evidence and then, when those charges evaporated, went on to accuse him of adultery.

And The NY Times reports what Rumsfeld is aying in public about the situation:

“All I know is that the Army is taking it seriously,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference. “To the extent somebody’s done something that they shouldn’t have done, they’ll be punished for it.”

Hmm…sounds like Fishback is being set up for the “fall guy” role.

Sullivan sums it up best.

What more do you need to know? We have administration memos allowing for de facto torture of “enemy combatants” if “military necessity” demands it; we have new, Bush-approved legal definitions of torture that nevertheless allow all the kinds of horrors we have seen at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Bagram, Guantanamo, Basra, Camp Mercury and dozens of other sites in the war arena. We have decorated captains testifying at great risk to themselves what has been happening – and we have a clear record of the administration’s attempts to silence and initimidate them. I wonder what is required for this to become the national outrage it should be.


This ridiculous torture policy can’t keep going on and I’m shocked that more Americans who supported the war aren’t speaking out against it. In short, a policy that allows any torture to be used can only weaken our country’s image as a beacon of justice. Apparently, Captain Ian Fishback shares this belief.

You have my respect sir.


  • Jim

    “In short, a policy that allows any torture to be used can only weaken our country’s image as a beacon of justice. ”

    All that and more. Just as bad is the corrosive effect it has on good order and discipline when people start torturing and indulging their lower impulses.

    Ian Fishback is acting in the manner we were all taught to emulate and he is a hero. It is disgusting that anyone in the Army command structure is cooperating with that filthy coprorate civilian Donald Rumsfeld against an officer acting like an officer. This the danger when we bring a civilian in from the corporate world; he will bring along his whorish, amoral value system with him.

    It is idle to condemn Rumsfeld for acting according to his nature, but the Army needs to be cleansed of those “officers” who became his tools in this witch hunt.

    I don’t mean this sound, as it may appear, that I somehow don’t believe in civilian control of the military. I mean that every subrodinate has a duty to his boss to point out to him when there is something he really doesn’t want to do, and also he has a duty to his institution to build it up rather than to degrade it. Fishback is the patriot here.

  • Mike Koenecke

    If he is telling the truth, yes he is. I actually hope he is not: humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib is one thing (for which the perpetrators are being justly punished), but what he describes is worse by several orders of magnitude. I think we should wait to see how this develops before condemning the people involved. I am not saying he is a liar; I am saying his testimony is as yet uncorroborated and largely based upon hearsay.

  • Callimachus

    Note, too, that the allegations involve both Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, some of the most serious problems apparently were in Afghanistan.

    So even if Bush had never gone into Iraq, we’d still be having this problem. And those anti-Iraq-War Americans who like to proclaim how much they supported overthrowing the Taliban are implicated in this, too.

    It is the historical problem faced by large armies in guerrilla wars: How to keep up discipline, decency, and a warrior code of honor in the face of an enemy who has none of that. There’s no easy answer, but men like Fishback, and pressure from the home front — by which I do not mean a mass effort to demoralize the men and women in the fight — are essential.

    Modern armies sweep into their ranks hundreds of thousands of people. Not all are fit to be soldiers. Those who are not, when discovered, should be weeded out and sent home, and if they have committed crimes in the meanwhile they should be punished for them.

    But this is not a matter of good soldiers and bad apples. Certain kinds of combat, or duty, wear down the military codes of honor. The warrior’s code frays, then the seams fall apart. Then horrible things begin to happen.

    Warrior codes, whether in Sparta or in West Point, distinguish soldiers from murderers. Warriors have rules that govern when and how they kill. Learning them is part of the purpose of military training. We give soldiers the power to take lives, but only certain lives, in certain ways, at certain times, and for certain reasons.

    The purpose of a code “is to restrain warriors, for their own good as much as for the good of others,” writes Shannon E. French, an assistant professor of philosophy and author of “The Code of the Warrior: Exploring Warrior Values Past and Present.” “The essential element of a warrior’s code is that it must set definite limits on what warriors can and cannot do if they want to continue to be regarded as warriors, not murderers or cowards. For the warrior who has such a code, certain actions remain unthinkable, even in the most dire or extreme circumstances.”

    Yet the danger of crossing that thin, sharp line that separates warriors from murderers is greatest in exactly the kind of conflict Americans face in Iraq: war not among great powers, evenly matched, but of well-equipped armies pitted against weak but merciless foes who hit and run and hide among civilians. It is the kind of place people blow up public buildings to make a political point. There is no warrior code in that; a terrorist is a terrorist, however he justifies himself.

    But this is where the risk lies for the Americans. Pay attention to Vietnam. It was the last time the U.S. got into a situation like this, and in parts of the military, the warrior code broke down, the door between soldiers and killers came unhinged, and a few good boys from America gunned down helpless peasant villagers.

  • Justin Gardner

    And those anti-Iraq-War Americans who like to proclaim how much they supported overthrowing the Taliban are implicated in this, too.

    I’m not blaming the people who should say we needed to go into Iraq, nor those who agreed with Afghanistan. Far from it actually. I think it’s reasonable to assume that we could prosecute a war without these horrific tactics, and I’d hope that most who supported both those wars agree with that notion.

    However, I am blaming the chain of command that allowed this to happen by finding ways for torture to fit within the Geneva Convention. Those people seemed to not understand enough to protect the warriors from themselves. And perhaps that is the ultimate tragedy of situations like the ones that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • PostonBelle

    Okay, let me get this right. Our guys are sent to Aghanistan & Iraq to fight for our country supposably because of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th. Ok so I can understand the Afghanistan causes. Upon arrival in Iraq they drive right into extremely dangerous territtory with hummvies that are not armored, or are armored with sandbags (THIS IS AMERICA, AND AMERICANS FIGHTING, SANDBAGS ARE THE BEST YOU CAN GIVE THEM FOR THE PRICE OF THIER LIVES THEY ARE WILL ING TO RISK TO GIVE AMERICA FREEDOM?) Soldiers who do not have all or none of the protective body armor, and are told to shoot only when shot at (what the Hell?). Then at times they are starving to death because supply lines are just not able to make it to certain areas or supplies just ran out including mre’s (OUR OWN AMERICAN SOLDIERS)have gone days if not weeks at a time without food. Then when they take food or kill animals to keep from starving, the USA has to pay the Iraqi people back. You know, since Iraq is such a pleasant place to be when people including children are shooting at you with all intentions of killing you, and your deployement gets extended I could not imagine why detainie abuse would even be an issue. Last but not least, but most important one of all, OUR SOLIDERS have seen Iraqi’s kill other americans, most always on a 1st hand basis. They catch the exact people or person who contributed to the death of our OWN AMERICAN SOLIDERS, and you expect the soldiers who witnessed the action not to want to retaliate on the Iraqi who killed their friend, neighbor, brother, sister, or maybe even your relative, etc… I will not sit here and tell you that it is right to abuse detainies (in America), but this is war and war is not a pretty thing and our guys are not in America, they are in HELL. War is history, and has made America what it is today. So Cpt. Fishback, my final opinion is love it or leave it, and stop trying to be a simipithizer with people who’s main objective is to take you away from your family and most of all your wife with the element of death. Just as a note and final conclusion to this whole thing, think about these people for a minute and there family.

    Spc. Trevor Blumberg (IED blew him up)

    Cpt. Ernie (Big Earn) Blanco (IED blew half of his face off, was still alive for about 1 hour after blast)

    Pfc. Tingley (Blown from truck by IED) Lived

    Pfc. Perez (Blew one of his legs off, now walks with prosthetic for the rest of his life)

    Sgt. Pacheco (Afghanistan, Killed by enemy bullet)

    These are just a few brave hero’s of the 2,000 and counting soldiers who are making the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe in. Now if you still wish to agree with the punishment of americans due to abuse thats fine. If it hurts your feelings that much then pack up yourself and your family and move to Iraq or Afghanistan and live happly everafter. And as for you Sir, you know who you are if you read this. You can move to Iraq yourself and continue speaking Arabic with you friends and then you will see how loyal they will be to you. Just a thought, I would like to thank everyone in the military for your selfless service and my sincere condolenses to the families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty for protecting my freedom as our forefathers did before us. I feel like the detainie that got hit with the baseball bat did not get what he deserved because he deserved to be killed like the American Soldier he killed. Get a grip people these are our soldiers over there being killed and shot at every day by these suicidal Iraqi’s and Cpt. Fishback and others want to whine about the treatment the Iraqi’s are receiving. What about the treatment that our guys are receiving when they are hurt or sick and have been told to deal with it and to be a man. Maybe everyone should be asking why our soldiers are being treated the way they are instead of feeling sorry for the treatment that these low life Iraqi’s are getting. Every Iraqi that kills an American soldier should die!

  • PostonBelle

    Oh, lets not forget one more thing. I thought we were in America you know Liberty & Justice for all. There has been no justice for those soldiers who’s murderer was not found and killed. Cpt. Fishback is disgracing every soldier who has died in the line of combat, he mine as well be spitting on thier graves.

  • PostonBelle

    And for the parents and families of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. How do you know that these detainees that were so called humiliated and abused (they deserved worse than what they got) was not the Iraqi who killed your son or daughter? And the ones that were caught how do you know if they got punishment for commiting your loved ones murder or if they were just let go to kill another American soldier? How does the goverment find justice for our hero’s? Giving the family a flag, a cheap headstone, and a military service just to turn around and disgrace the fallen by punishing American soldiers who were left to fight for the fallen.

  • Socks Clinton

    Captain Fishback’s “long, hard slog” is nothing compared to my long, hard slog.

  • Anthony Grey

    For the record, what are the countries holding the same torture policy! Oh man!