Saturday, September 11, 2004

"You couldn't design a better counter-insurgent"

From the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal, there's this article profiling Sgt. John McCary, a Vassar graduate working in Iraq for the Army as a specialist in "human intelligence." I'm not sure I've seen any reporting like this before, the kind that gives one a good sense of the kind of in-the-field interrogations which the war in Iraq apparently requires. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are a few key excerpts:
Learning to Lie

In the field, Sgt. McCary learned other critical skills. One was the ability to lie. "If you are not a Muslim brother in this culture you are nothing, so I had to construct an entirely new working persona," he says. Though he has no Arab heritage, he tells Iraqis his mother is Lebanese. He sprinkles every conversation with asides such as "Praise be to God." When a local says he is afraid to talk because the mujahedeen will kill him, Sgt. McCary recites a phrase commonly used in Iraq: "A good Muslim fears only one person." Then the sergeant points to the sky. As part of the ritual, the other person says, "Allah."

Sgt. McCary spotted a boy of about 11, standing lookout in front of what he thought might be the minister's house. He wanted to get a picture of the boy for his records. But the boy was adamant he didn't want his photograph taken by the Americans.

"Don't be such a girl," Sgt. McCary teased the boy, telling him they were just in town taking a survey of the local power and water facilities. Another counterintelligence soldier crouched down next to the boy, pretending he was posing for a souvenir snapshot to send back home.

"Wow, we are definitely going to hell," Sgt. McCary said in English, as he snapped the picture.
The battalion's unwritten policy is to interrogate the oldest male on the scene. In this case it was the sobbing boy. Sgt. McCary grabbed the child by the wrist and led him into the dark house off the courtyard. When his mother tried to follow, Sgt. McCary yelled at her to stay away.

Outside the mother began crying, in English, "Mister. Baby. Mister. Baby."

Rapid-Fire Questions

Inside the house, Sgt. McCary fired questions at the terrified boy. Once the boy realized Sgt. McCary wasn't going to hurt him, he told different stories; that he didn't know any of the men they were looking for, or that the men had all moved away. So Sgt. McCary took off his helmet, leaned in close and began to yell in an effort to unsettle him.

Using a photo that he pulled off the wall, Sgt. McCary got the boy to identify the men he was looking for. He scribbled a name over each face.

Then the sergeant took the picture next door, hoping to get the names confirmed with a second source. The place had no roof or furniture. The floor was covered with dirt and the morning's breakfast. Sgt. McCary led the oldest male present, a boy of about 6 years old, aside and showed him the picture.

A few minutes later, the soldiers heard a loud thud. It was the first of four roadside bombs that would explode in Khalidiya that day. Soldiers crouched behind walls for protection. The second boy and his mother confirmed the names Sgt. McCary got at the first house.

Sgt. McCary and the rest of the platoon piled back into the Humvees. The mission was a success of sorts. Sgt. McCary now knew what the suspected insurgents looked like. But it was exhausting. "The fact that I have to terrify a kid ... to get the truth is b—s---," he said. "Morally it is questionable. But you've got to go with what you've got."

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