This interview took place in November, 2007. Audio recordings are courtesy of The Dave Ross Show on KIRO 97.3/FM.
Dave Ross: Tell us your story, Aidan. You were in the Reserves?
Aidan Delgado: I was. I was a young soldier, I enlisted in the Army on the morning of September 11, just as the planes were striking the World Trade Center.
Ross: This was out of patriotism?
Delgado: No, actually it preceded the 9/11 attacks by a few minutes, and it was really because I was —
Ross: So this was just coincidence?
Delgado: Yeah, I was in the recruitment station when the planes struck, and I watched it happen from inside the Tampa recruitment station.
Ross: Holy cow.
Delgado: So it happened as a kind of coincidence. But, as you said, I was swept up in this wave of patriotism following the attacks and I felt like this was the best place for a young man to be. The following year my unit was deployed to Iraq. I spent one year in Iraq, six months in the south and six months at Abu Ghraib prison. During that time my impression of war really changed, and I think that I had a very naïve view—
Ross: Well, you were one of those who disclosed what was going on at the prison, is that correct?
Delgado: That’s correct, yes.
Ross: Now, when you decided to — well, first of all, how did you find out what was going on?
Delgado: Well, some of it I witnessed with my own eyes, but more so the attitude of the command and some of the photographs that were circulating in Abu Ghraib indicated to me that there was something dramatically wrong and that the Army knew about it and was making an active effort to conceal it.
Ross: By the way, do you feel that the right people were punished for that?
Delgado: No, I don’t. I feel like a few low ranking people were hung out to dry. General Karpinski was largely scapegoated for something that goes much larger and much higher to the top. And I think that the administration feels that it’s settled and it’s a done deal, but part of my impetus in writing the book and promoting this movie is to reopen this case and say, look, we haven’t come to terms with it, and until we come to terms with this genesis of torture then we won’t be able to have any resolution on these questions that are still plaguing —
Ross: But we’re still arguing that right now in the confirmation hearings of Michael Mukasey, because he refuses to be pinned down on whether he thinks waterboarding is torture or not. And of course, if it is torture then that would make it illegal under a whole lot of international law.
But, of course, what seems to be — the argument that seems to be carrying the day is that, torture or not, these are bad people, and this discussion is simply a meaningless semantic discussion about words, and that frankly when you’re up against terrorists like this maybe you do have to torture them.
Delgado: Well, you know, this is something I’ve confronted ever since I was a soldier at Abu Ghraib and people would say, “We have to treat these prisoners this way. These are the worst people in Iraq.” But the truth be told, they actually weren’t. And I worked in the headquarters, I saw the rap sheets, what prisoners were in there for, and the overwhelming majority were petty criminals and people who had been arrested by mistake.
Ross: Okay, so let’s talk about the people then who are a big deal. Let’s talk about the actual terrorists. So you’ve had an experience then that you’ve been to Iraq, you’re familiar with the pressures that soldiers are under when they worry that they’re going to be blown up at any moment by a roadside bomb. Suppose they did actually catch one of the bad guys and he wasn’t talking. What should they be allowed to do?
Delgado: Well, again, I think that interrogation always has to fall under our own law. But more importantly, I would ask people who are going to support Mukasey, for example, like Senator John McCain, when he was tortured did he break? Did he give away us secrets? I don’t think he did, and I think that’s more evidence, along with scholarly evidence, that torture does not work, that in fact torture heightens people’s urge to resist, and that it doesn’t — and when it does yield information it yields false or useless information.
Ross: But then that would mean that the people who do it are just doing it because they are — they get their jollies from doing it.
Delgado: No, I don’t think so. I think they’re doing it out of a sense of desperation. And hunger for results, which is defined —
Ross: But you’re saying it doesn’t bring results.
Delgado: No, it doesn’t bring results. But they’re willing to do anything —
Ross: Wouldn’t they know that? I mean if what they were doing didn’t bring results why would they continue to do it?
Delgado: Well, there’s ample scholarly evidence that it doesn’t. But I think it’s part of the —
Ross: Well, scholarly evidence, but what about actual evidence on the ground of what works?
Delgado: Well, I’m not a torturer, but I would say that there is a sense that we have to demonstrate our absolute resolution, and I think this has almost become a public relations issue in that the administration wants to say, “No one is harder on terror than us. Look how we do this, we’ll waterboard someone, that’s how tough we are on terror.” And it’s almost an image thing of, like, “We’re willing to go this far.” And I don’t think that they could point to specific information and say that was tortured out of someone —
Ross: Let me ask you about that aspect of it. If it came out that the United States was in fact not doing waterboarding, because we’re going to follow the law and we’re not going to hurt any — I mean the law’s pretty strict. You can’t inflict any physical pain on somebody of any kind. All you can do is, you know, you can harangue them verbally, but you can’t actually hurt them.
If we took a public stand saying we’re never going to hurt anybody in one of these interrogations, would that not send a message to the bad guys, okay, let’s — we’re now free to do whatever we want because even if we get caught by the us it’s just going to be questions and answers?
Delgado: Well, I think you could take the opposite position and say if you know they’re going to be tortured then they’re going to prepare for that. And the point is you cannot torture useful information out of someone. When people are tortured they lie. And that reality doesn’t change, whether you do it or not. They’re still going to lie. So I don’t think it makes too much of a difference, and I think the useful information they’ve got has probably been more through local allies and through diplomatic efforts and not through torture. So I don’t see what allowing us — they’re always talking about the slippery slope on every other moral issue. And so if you’re going to say waterboarding is okay, well then why not thumb screws? You know, why not the torsion? Why not rack?
Ross: You know, there are Americans who would say if it works go ahead, do whatever you need to do.
Delgado: Unfortunately I think there’s ample evidence that it doesn’t work. And even if you don’t buy the moral argument that I’m coming from, where it’s like we don’t torture people because it’s inhumane, it doesn’t represent our values and we can’t fight fire with more fire, you can at least believe — and there’s ample evidence to support — that it does not work.
For more of Dave’s interview with Aidan and to hear filmmaker Gary Weimberg speaking about the production of Soldiers of Conscience, please listen to the full audio, courtesy of The Dave Ross Show on KIRO 97.3/FM