Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

Sheri Fink, writing for The New York Times:

In recent interviews, more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted at Guantánamo provided the most detailed account to date of mental health care there. Almost from the start, the shadow of interrogation and mutual suspicion tainted the mission of those treating prisoners. That limited their effectiveness for years to come.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and technicians received little training for the assignment and, they said, felt unprepared to tend to men they were told were “the worst of the worst.” Doctors felt pushed to cross ethical boundaries, and were warned that their actions, at an institution roiled by detainees’ organized resistance, could have political and national security implications.

Rotations lasted only three to nine months, making it difficult to establish rapport. In a field that requires intimacy, the psychiatrists and their teams long used pseudonyms like Major Psych, Dr. Crocodile, Superman and Big Momma, and referred to patients by serial numbers, not names. They frequently had to speak through fences or slits in cell doors, using interpreters who also worked with interrogators.

Wary patients often declined to talk to the mental health teams. (“Detainee refused to interact,” medical records note repeatedly.) At a place so shrouded in secrecy that for years any information learned from a detainee was to be treated as classified, what went on in interrogations “was completely restricted territory,” said Karen Thurman, a Navy commander, now retired, who served as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Guantánamo. “‘How did it go?’” Or “‘Did they hit you?’ We were not allowed to ask that,” she said.

Dr. Rosecrans said she held back on such questions when she was there in 2004, not suspecting abuse and feeling constrained by the prison environment. “From a surgical perspective, you never open up a wound you cannot close,” she said. “Unless you have months, years, to help this person and help them get out of this hole, why would you ever do this?”

Remember this piece when Donald Trump again calls for the return of torture, including waterboarding and “much worse.”

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The Assad Files

Ben Taub, writing for The New Yorker:

Mazen al-Hamada’s name soon appeared on an arrest list in Deir Ezzor. Two of his brothers were also wanted, as was one of his brothers-in-law. One day in March, 2012, a doctor asked Hamada if he would smuggle baby formula to a woman in Darayya, a rebellious suburb of Damascus. He and his nephews gathered fifty-five packages of formula, hid them under their clothes, and travelled to meet her at a café. As soon as Hamada handed over the bags, security agents handcuffed him and his nephews, pulled their shirts over their heads, and shoved them into an S.U.V. “I had no idea where we were going,” Hamada said. “The whole way, they were telling us, ‘We’re going to execute you.’

After they were stripped to their underwear, beaten, and thrown in a holding cell, about twelve feet square, with some forty other detainees, they learned that they were in the Air Force-intelligence branch at al-Mezzeh Military Airport, one of the most notorious detention facilities in the country.

Two weeks later, the prisoners were put in a small hangar, a little more than forty feet long and twenty feet wide. A hundred and seventy people were packed inside, their arms wrapped around their legs, chins on their knees. “You’re rotting,” Hamada told me. “There’s no air, there’s no sunlight. Your nails are really long, because you can’t cut them. So when you scratch yourself you tear your skin off.” The prisoners weren’t able to wash themselves or to change their underwear. The sores of scabies and other skin ailments covered their bodies. Throughout the country, detainees routinely drank water out of toilets and died from starvation, suffocation, and disease. “People went crazy,” Hamada said. “People would lose their memories, people would lose their minds.” Eventually, he was transferred to a solitary-confinement cell, which he shared with ten people.

It'll take you a little bit to read this piece, but it is extraordinary reporting about a harrowing, important story. This is why I always chuckle when politicians reduce conflicts to: oh, we just need to go in there and bomb the hell out of them! This is just one story in how many millions of the stories that can be told about the crisis in Syria, just one country.

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In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State Is in Retreat on Multiple Fronts

Liz Sly, writing for The Washington Post:

Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack.

Since everyone else seems content to write about which line from Snaps: The Original Yo' Mama Joke Book Trump and Cruz are using on each other's wives, I thought I'd put this out there for the adults to read.

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Turkey’s Refugee Shadow Economy

Ben Hubbard, writing for The New York Times:

Mr. Abdul-Hamid’s swift success is a small part of the multimillion-dollar shadow economy that has developed in Turkey to profit from the massive human tide rushing toward Europe. Much of this new economy is visible in the streets here, where smugglers solicit refugees, clothing stores display life vests and inner tubes, and tour buses and taxis shuttle passengers to remote launch sites along the coast.

Money is flowing through Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey, now a grim hub for migrants and a boom town for residents. Hidden from view is an extensive smuggling infrastructure, with makeshift “insurance offices” that hold migrants’ money, covert factories that churn out ineffective life vests and underground suppliers of cheap rubber rafts that sometimes pop or capsize during the voyage to Greece, stranding or drowning people at sea.

There’s nothing better than reading something in bed before your day even begins that immediately sets your entire life, and how good you have it, into sharper focus.

 

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‘Now, when I meet someone, I already know what they look like dead.’

Dave Philipps, writing for The New York Times:

Mr. Bojorquez, 27, served in one of the hardest hit military units in Afghanistan, the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. In 2008, the 2/7 deployed to a wild swath of Helmand Province. Well beyond reliable supply lines, the battalion regularly ran low on water and ammunition while coming under fire almost daily. During eight months of combat, the unit killed hundreds of enemy fighters and suffered more casualties than any other Marine battalion that year.

When its members returned, most left the military and melted back into the civilian landscape. They had families and played softball, taught high school and attended Ivy League universities. But many also struggled, unable to find solace. And for some, the agonies of war never ended.

Almost seven years after the deployment, suicide is spreading through the old unit like a virus. Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.

Heartbreaking reporting. At times, it feels almost impossible that this situation could have even been allowed to get to this point, where so many of us are learning about it in this way. It’s not an easy problem to fix, but why should that be stopping us? Where is the outrage?

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2 Graduating Rangers, Aware of Their Burden

Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Helene Cooper, writing for The New York Times:

“All three of these soldiers scored very high“ on peer assessments filed by other students, “and for us that spoke volumes,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Arnold, the top enlisted man in the training brigade that oversees Ranger School.

“You got fellow students writing in on peers: ‘Hey, they deserve another shot,’ ” he said. Some of the other students were even more emphatic, saying they began the course very skeptical the women could make it but quickly realized how wrong they had been.

Read this one all the way to the end.

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John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’

Joshua Rothman, writing for The New Yorker:

Thursday is the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. To mark it, we’ve made all of “Hiroshima,” John Hersey’s landmark 1946 report on the bombing and its aftermath, available online.

Hersey began working on “Hiroshima” in 1945, when William Shawn, who was then the managing editor of The New Yorker, pointed out that, although the bombing had been widely written about, the victims’ stories still remained untold. After going to Japan and interviewing survivors, Hersey decided to show the bombing through six pairs of eyes. Originally, “Hiroshima” was planned as a four-part series. In the end, however, it was all published in a single issue, in August of 1946. There was nothing unusual about the cover, which showed ordinary people enjoying summertime. Inside, however, there was only “Hiroshima”—no Talk of the Town, no cartoons, no reviews. The piece’s impact was immediate. Parts of it were excerpted in newspapers around the world, and it was read, in its entirety, on the radio.

Today, “Hiroshima” is undiminished in its intensity. 

A novella-length article (I’ve seen people writing that it’s around 30K words) that reads much, much quicker, as all good journalism does. It’s an incredible document, obviously an astounding story, and, in my opinion, a must-read for any student of politics or history.

My tip—write down the six individuals' names and occupations (which Hersey explains in the first paragraph) so that you can go back and reference them the first couple of times he switches perspectives. And as is the norm with this piece, here’s the first paragraph:

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.
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How We Learned to Kill

Timothy Kudo, in a New York Times Opinion piece:

When I originally became an infantry officer, increasing my Marines’ ability to kill was my mission, and it was my primary focus as I led them to Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, as a young lieutenant, I had faith in my Marines; I trusted them and looked up to them. But in the back of my mind, I always wondered whether they would follow my orders in the moment of truth. As the echoes of gunfire reverberated and faded, I received my answer. Yes, they would follow me. I also received affirmation to a more sinister question: Yes, I could kill.

A must-read for anyone who has an opinion on war, politics, or the military (read as: everyone).

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Send in The Weathermen

Tony Dokoupil, NBC News:

On a moonless night in October 2001, an American helicopter lifted off from an airbase in Uzbekistan, banking south on a covert mission into Afghanistan. Inside was one of America’s most elite and unknown special operators, hand-selected for a job so important that the wider war on terror hinged on its success.

In New York and Washington, D.C., the funerals continued. Families gave up hope of a miracle rescue in the rubble of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But if this soldier succeeded he would never shoot his gun and no one outside the military would know his work.

He was a weatherman.

More precisely, he was a special operations weather technician, known as a SOWT (pronounced sow-tee). As the Department of Defense’s only commando forecasters, SOWTs gather mission-impossible environmental data from some of the most hostile places on Earth.

They embed with Navy SEALs, Delta Force and Army Rangers. Ahead of major operations they also head in first for a go/no-go forecast. America’s parachutes don’t pop until a SOWT gives the all-clear.

That was Brady Armistead’s job as his helicopter rumbled toward a strip of desert 80 miles south of Kandahar, the capital of the Taliban government. He had a satellite forecast calling for clear skies. But satellite forecasts depend on ground data, too, and there was nothing from Afghanistan.

Maybe you’ll want to think twice the next time you badmouth a weatherperson.

Also—this is one hell of a nicely-designed page of writing and multimedia work. All of the typography is a variant of Roboto, so you know I’m not getting paid to say that.

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Letter From an Army Ranger

Rory Fanning, Mother Jones:

Dear Aspiring Ranger,

You've probably just graduated from high school and you've undoubtedly already signed an Option 40 contract guaranteeing you a shot at the Ranger indoctrination program (R.I.P.).  If you make it through R.I.P. you'll surely be sent off to fight in the Global War on Terror. You'll be part of what I often heard called "the tip of the spear."

The war you're heading into has been going on for a remarkably long time. Imagine this: you were five years old when I was first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. Now I'm graying a bit, losing a little up top, and I have a family.  Believe me, it goes faster than you expect.

Once you get to a certain age, you can't help thinking about the decisions you made (or that, in a sense, were made for you) when you were younger. I do that and someday you will, too. Reflecting on my own years in the 75th Ranger regiment, at a moment when the war you'll find yourself immersed in was just beginning, I've tried to jot down a few of the things they don't tell you at the recruiting office or in the pro-military Hollywood movies that may have influenced your decision to join. Maybe my experience will give you a perspective you haven't considered.

The more you know.

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