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We got it wrong, says former torturer

By Tim Shipman

06/10/07 "
SMH" --- - Washington -- A FORMER US Army torturer has described the traumatic effects of American interrogation techniques in Iraq - on their victims and on the perpetrators themselves.

Tony Lagouranis said he conducted mock executions, forced men and boys into agonising stress positions, kept suspects awake for weeks on end, used dogs to terrify prisoners and subjected others to hypothermia.

But he said he was deeply scarred by the realisation that what he did had contributed to the plight of US forces in Iraq.

Mr Lagouranis, 37, said he suffered nightmares and anxiety attacks after returning to Chicago, where he works as a pub doorman.

Between January 2004 and January 2005, first at Abu Ghraib prison and then in Mosul, in northern Babil province, he tortured suspects, most of whom he said were innocent. He realised he had entered a moral dungeon when he found himself reading a Holocaust memoir, hoping to pick up torture tips from the Nazis.

Mr Lagouranis told The Sunday Telegraph: "When I first got back I had a lot of anxiety. I had a personal crisis because I felt I had done immoral things and I didn't see a way to cope with that."

Disturbingly for the British military, which has distanced itself from the worst excesses of Abu Ghraib, Mr Lagouranis says the Americans learnt much of their uncompromising approach from British interrogators.

"We heard about interrogators in Northern Ireland who were successful. Some of our interrogators went on the British interrogation course, which was tough. People wanted to emulate that, but we went too far."

Mr Lagouranis said he never beat a prisoner. "[But] these coercive techniques - isolation, dogs, sleep deprivation, stress positions, hypothermia - crossed a legal line because they violated the Geneva Conventions," he said.

His story raises disturbing questions about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques. British intelligence has used information supplied under torture in Uzbekistan, and the Government has been accused of turning a blind eye to suspects being abducted and sent to secret prisons where they could be tortured.

Mr Lagouranis, who has written a recently published book about his experiences, said these techniques were developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War because they are successful in breaking a person's will and spirit. "That doesn't mean they work in terms of extracting intelligence," he said. "I didn't get actionable intelligence using the harsher methods; I got it using manipulation and lying and by promising them things I didn't deliver on."

Mr Lagouranis is scathing about a system in which inexperienced young interrogators copied what they saw in Hollywood and on television programs such as 24, whose lead character Jack Bauer regularly uses torture on terrorists.

In the book, Fear Up Harsh - a term for intimidating a prisoner by shouting at him - he says torture has cost the US its moral authority in Iraq by detaining innocent people and treating them badly.

"I could blame [President George] Bush and [former defence secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, but I would always have to also blame myself," he wrote.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch and two of Mr Lagouranis's fellow interrogators confirmed details of his account.

Telegraph, London

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