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U.S. soldier chronicles abuse, hard times in Iraq

By Reuters

08/17/05
-- -- LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops was widespread and not limited to the high-profile cases at Abu Ghraib prison, according to a former soldier who participated in an interrogation that she said "crossed a line."

Kayla Williams, 28, a former sergeant with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and the author of a new book, said soldiers interrogating a naked Iraqi asked her to humiliate him. She also saw fellow soldiers throwing lit cigarettes at him and hitting him in the face.

"It's one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That's one thing. But flicking lit cigarettes at somebody -- like burning him -- that's illegal," Williams writes in "Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army," which hits U.S. bookstores September 5.

While stationed at the 2nd Brigade's Brigade Support Area in Mosul in late 2003, Arabic linguist Williams was asked to mock an Iraqi man's sexual prowess and ridicule the size of his genitals.

Williams said she was "not clear" on whether the superiors of the soldiers in charge of the interrogation had ordered the abuse. "If they didn't know what was going on, they should have," she said in an interview.

Williams wrote that she chose not to participate in subsequent interrogations but that other soldiers later told her that "the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war."

Months later, photographs surfaced of U.S. soldiers humiliating naked and blindfolded Iraqis at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison.

"I was not at all surprised to find it was widespread. I was surprised that they were stupid enough to take pictures," she said.

Williams never reported the abuse, but wrote that the detention center in Mosul where it occurred was later investigated.

Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a U.S. Army spokesman on detainee issues, declined to comment on the specific allegations made in Williams book, but said "all credible allegations of abuse are aggressively investigated, and individuals are held appropriately accountable." 

'SOLDIERS ARE NOT ONE-DIMENSIONAL'

Several low-level American soldiers have been convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Lynndie England became the face of the scandal by posing for a photograph while holding a leash attached to the neck of naked Iraqi.

The images of England rapidly joined those of another woman, rescued Pvt. Jessica Lynch as the most public examples of soldiers serving in Iraq.

Lynch, who was captured early in the war, was held for nine days before U.S. troops rescued her. She was later painted a hero.

"It frustrated a lot of specifically female soldiers, but soldiers in general," Williams said. "Her situation was really played up because she was a cute little blonde girl."

Williams said she hoped her book will offer a more realistic view of soldiers than the vividly contrasting images of England and Lynch.

"It's a more complex situation over there, and soldiers are not one-dimensional people," Williams said.

Williams, who has no regrets about her time in the Army, left the military in June and is about to be married to a soldier she met in Iraq. She cites her fiance's poor treatment since he took shrapnel in the head during an attack on his convoy as one reason she decided to change careers.

"He's not being treated very well," she said. "It's very disillusioning."

Reuters 2005.

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