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Intel Agent Strapped to Gurney and Flown Out of Iraq by U.S. Army After Reporting Torture of Detainees

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A veteran sergeant who told his commanding officers that he witnessed his colleagues torturing Iraqi detainees was strapped to a gurney and flown out of Iraq–even though there was nothing wrong with him. We speak with the reporter–former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent David DeBatto–who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

Over the past few weeks, the number of different account of torture and abuse by the United States has been staggering. Here is a quick run-down of some of the most recent:

- The Pentagon warned intelligence specialists as recently as June not to report the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

- FBI agents witnessed US soldiers abusing detainees at Guantanamo Bay as early 2002 but the Pentagon did little to investigate the complaints.

- New photographs emerge showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees as early as May 2003.

- The U.S. government argues it has the right to use evidence gained by torture in deciding whether to detain people at Guantanamo Bay.

- U.S. generals in Iraq were warned more than a month before the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged that detainees were being beaten and abused in Iraq.

- The Red Cross accuses the U.S. pf physical and psychological torture at Guantanamo.

- The US government is leasing a special Gulfstream Jet to transport detained suspects to other nations that routinely use torture in their prisons.

Those are just some of the latest accounts of torture and abuse in the press over the last weeks. Over the next four years, more are certain to emerge with the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. Gonzales helped pave the legal groundwork that led to the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib. In 2002 he claimed in a memo that the war on terrorism renders obsolete portions of the Geneva Conventions.

But perhaps the most extraordinary story of torture and abuse is the one we will hear about today.

On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank “Greg” Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the National Guard stationed in Samarra told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation.

Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney. He was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac”d to a military medical center outside the country–even though there was nothing wrong with him.

We are joined right now by the reporter who broke the story.

  • David DeBatto, author and former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent who served in Iraq. He is currently working on a a four-part fiction series “CI Team Red: An Army Counterintelligence Novel”, which is due out in May 2005.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined today by the reporter who broke that story.

AMY GOODMAN: David DeBatto is with us, author and former U.S. Army counter-intelligence agent. He served in Iraq as well. He’s currently working on a four-part fiction series called, CI Team Red: An Army Counter-Intelligence Novel. It’s due out next year. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

DAVID DEBATTO: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, your piece at salon.com, called “Whitewashing Torture” was quite something. Tell us what happened to Sergeant Frank, known as 'Greg,' Ford?

DAVID DEBATTO: Well, apparently, Ford, who as you said, was stationed in Samarra, Iraq, which is about a hundred kilometers north, or so, north of Baghdad in the spring of 2003, had witnessed what he calls repeated incidents of torture and abuse over approximately two to three week period of Iraqi detainees by his fellow intelligence operatives in Samarra. After confronting the team leader several times without success, he eventually did go to his commanding officer, as you mentioned, Captain Artiga in an attempt to file a formal complaint for an investigation of these incidents. Unfortunately, according to Ford, instead of an investigation being conducted, within about a day-and-a-half later, he was, in fact, strapped to a gurney, put on a C-130, and flown initially to Kuwait and eventually to Landstuhl, Germany, where he then underwent a series of psychological evaluations in Germany and also at two bases in the United States for approximately eight months.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, what was the upshot of that? I mean, I would assume if he was medevaced out there’d have to be some paperwork to explain why he was being medevaced out and what his problems were.

DAVID DEBATTO: Absolutely, and what happened in this case, and I reviewed literally dozens if not hundreds of — of documents on the case: There were no orders. There was no medevac order, which is required by the army, when you do send a soldier out of anywhere, really, when there’s a medical issue. There were no regular or standard sets of orders, which again are required by army regulations whenever a soldier leaves one area and is sent to another. Not only that, but reviewing all of the medical documents, including the original document or diagnosis from the psychiatrist in Iraq and following him all the way through the other evaluation, every army psychiatrist diagnosed Sergeant Ford as completely normal with absolutely no psychological or mental health issues whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: David DeBatto explain what happened when Sergeant Ford went and reported the abuse, right through to the first psychological analysis of him.

DAVID DEBATTO: Well, according to Ford, he was given about thirty seconds to change his mind and retract his allegations by Captain Artiga. He refused to do so, and immediately he was allegedly stripped of his weapon and M-16, and his ammunition by the company first sergeant. He was also assigned a 24-hour escort, or what he considered to be a guard to literally shadow him until further notice, and that was a senior counter intelligence agent who also figures in the piece later as a witness to all of this. Shortly thereafter, he was ordered to report to an army psychiatrist on the base in Iraq to undergo what’s known as combat stress evaluation for people that are having some difficulty handing emotionally the — the stress of combat. What happened after that is the — one of the most interesting points of the story, I think. The army psychiatrist that saw Sergeant Ford apparently (and I’ve reviewed her report) deemed him to be completely normal, and sent that report back to Captain Artiga. When Captain Artiga saw the report from the psychiatrist he was, according to a witness, Sergeant Marciello, “livid.” He didn’t accept the report. He stormed back over to the army psychiatrist, and according to the witness I have, literally forced her, browbeat her and intimidated the psychiatrist to change her evaluation to read 'mentally unstable,' and ordered her to ship Sergeant Ford medically out of the country to receive a psychological evaluation in Germany.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, your report indicates that Sergeant Ford is not the only American soldier to undergo this kind of treatment. Could you talk about that?

DAVID DEBATTO: Sure. Well, according to the account, or the stories that I found, there were, according to a very senior army psychiatrist, there — he treated in Landstuhl, Germany at least three or four soldiers from Iraq that had been sent to him under very similar circumstance, namely, that they had made allegations of abuse or mistreatment in Iraq against their fellow soldiers and had been shipped to Landstuhl from Iraq in order to receive psychological evaluation. There was another report I came across at, I believe, Fort Campbell, Kentucky last year where a decorated officer from the first Persian Gulf War had made some allegations of — of wrongdoing against the army. He was also put into a locked mental ward on an army base here in the United States for a long period of time, and I believe is still trying to fight that issue right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You describe in the piece that you did in salon.com about Sergeant Ford called, “Whitewashing Torture” that when he first reported the allegation to his commanding officer, to Captain Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse, Artiga said to him: “You have thirty seconds to retract this charge and we’ll pretend this meeting never happened,” or — or not — or he would be in trouble, and he continued to make the allegations.

DAVID DEBATTO: Absolutely. And — and again, the Captain Artiga apparently followed through on his threat by seizing his weapons. I believe he also threatened to, or in fact did, suspend his security clearance which for an intelligence operative is the end of his career, and then did have him undergo the psychological evaluation. Artiga apparently coerced the psychiatrist to change the evaluation to read 'mentally unstable' and Ford was very unceremoniously, again literally strapped to a gurney and forced onto a C-130 by medical personnel and flown, without orders of any kind, to Germany where he underwent eight months of being in mental — locked mental wards on army bases, all of which deemed him to be completely normal.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what is his situation today?

DAVID DEBATTO: Well, eventually, in February of this year, 2004, he was given an honorable discharge from the army and actually retired with over thirty years of service. Currently, he is looking into filing any number of civil and criminal charges against the officers involved. He’s contacted the F.B.I., the department of the army’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the army’s C.I.D., or Criminal Investigations Division; and all three agencies to my knowledge and research have initiated criminal and administrative investigations into this matter.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does he work now?

DAVID DEBATTO: Sergeant Ford, or Frank Ford, is actually a corrections officer at Fulsom State Prison in California, where he is nearing retirement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us and ask you, finally: You’re an unusual writer. You, yourself, former U.S. Army counter intelligence agent who served time in Iraq. Does what Sergeant Ford describe to you resonate at all with your own experience? Why did you end up writing this piece?

DAVID DEBATTO: Actually, it didn’t. I personally never saw anything like that in my experience in Iraq, fortunately. But when I got back and, of course, Abu Ghraib hit the media, I was absolutely appalled because this flies in the face of any — any professional intelligence officer or worker that I’ve ever known; and if any of us are — are more disgusted with this, it’s the professional intelligence agents that know right from wrong or should in any event. I hooked up with Frank Ford after a year of not really speaking to him and decided that this story just needs to be told, and I — I am a writer by career now, and it was very, very difficult to get through the — the shield of the military, but I just felt it had to be told.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David DeBatto, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, he is himself a former U.S. Army counter-intelligence agency served time — agent, served time in Iraq, and has written this piece at salon.com about Sergeant Frank Greg Ford.

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