(Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the book Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations, by Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz. For more about the Winter Soldier hearings, read this FPIF commentary by Glantz, an FPIF contributor. You can also watch Rosas’ testimony.)
We occupied a local train station in an area called al-Qaim near the Syrian border. We called it Tiger Base. I was put in charge of the detainee site, which consisted of a shipping container and a single building surrounded by barbed wire. I had two soldiers to back me up when I was handling the detainees. I was briefed by the sergeant I relieved that the men in the shipping container were captured combatants, and I was to deprive them of sleep. So I had them stand inside the shipping container, face to the walls, no talking. I let them have blankets because it was cold, but they were not allowed to sit or lie down. When they started falling or dozing off, they put their heads on the wall.
I was outside the shipping container and just smacked it with a pickax handle to keep them awake. The men in the building were noncombatant detainees being held for questioning. There were 93 men, altogether. Using one of them to translate, I told them that they had a clean slate with me. If they didn’t give me any trouble, then the next 24 hours would pass calmly. If they did, I told them it would be a long 24 hours. I just prayed that they didn’t give me any trouble because I didn’t know what I would have had to do. They even told me I was a good man while I was in charge of them.
One day a body bag was dropped off to me. When the soldiers came to retrieve it the next morning, they threw it on top of some junk in the back of a truck, but rigor mortis had already set in and it wouldn’t fit inside the truck. So the solder started stomping on it, I mean, really stomping it. I couldn’t imagine I was like, "How can you do that?"
I also had a former Iraqi general, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who was taken from my custody. I was told to keep him separated from the other noncombatants and give him everything he needed: "If he asks for anything, hook him up, take care of him, and don’t harass him." I was like, "Well, I don’t need somebody to tell me to not harass somebody."
A soldier told me later, "Hey, he died during questioning, during his interrogation."
I thought to myself, "How tough does a question have to be to kill?" I don’t know exactly what went on during his interrogation, but he was fine when I had him.
Days after he was taken from my custody, I had his 14-year-old son, who was a very bright child and spoke four languages. He was supposed to be taken to his father. I was told that would get him to talk a little more. Instead, the boy was being taken to identify his father’s body. Now, I’m not sure, but if that child was pro-American or one of our friends and allies, I’m pretty sure he is not an ally of ours anymore.
Sometime later the detainee site was taken over and rebuilt by men called OGAs, which stood for Other Governmental Agency. That’s a pretty vague term. They built high walls around the detainee center. I figured, "Well, yeah, they’re terrorists. You don’t want them seeing out. You want to contain them, deny them any information that they could use to escape."
Later on I realized it was also so we couldn’t see in. One night I was told to bring a message down to the detainee site. I knocked on the door, and when they opened it, I witnessed one detainee being kicked around on the ground in the mud, rolled over again and again. The agent was just kicking him with his foot, rolling him over in the mud, pouring water on his face, the whole waterboarding thing. Another detainee was standing there with a bag over his head and was forced to carry a huge rock until he just physically couldn’t do it anymore and just collapsed. That image seared itself into my mind’s eye, and I can’t forget it.
I won’t forget it. (Rosas cried after he said this.)
As I wrap this up, I just want to say two things. The longer we live as a human race, we’re supposed to be getting smarter and wiser and better. To the vets that we’re trying to bring home alive, decades from now, when you’ve got your grandchild sitting on your knee, bouncing in front of you, just try to remember what we did here today, under the flag, IVAW.
Domingo Rosas, a former U.S. Army sergeant, served as a member of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq’s Anbar province from April 2003 until April 2004. A member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), he testified about his deployment during the Winter Soldier hearings outside Washington, DC in March 2008.
Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus.