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war stories: john peters

listen to john peters's story
Well ... you're taken into ... this room, and this time you're got a bag on your head, and ... they sit you on this stool ... and you've got these bright lights, you can feel these bright lights, you're sitting there, and you can feel people. They're very quiet, you can feel people, and they suddenly you get a voice in English, and that's the first time anybody's spoken to you,

"Name?"

And then you're kind of thinking, am I right, this is the interrogation process? And to a degree you know what's going to happen with the interrogation process. And you go, right, and that's when you start ... trying to be evasive and you're... thinking, then, you're going,

"Peters."

"Rank?"

"Flight Lieutenant."

And you get, "Speak up! Speak up!" because you're always making sure you're very quiet so they can't hear you...

"Number?"

So you give them the number. And then they say, "Are you pilot or navigator?"

And ... we say ... "...I cannot answer that question, sir!"

Because you're meant to give name, rank, number and date of birth. And I remember thinking, "Ah, well, this is the interrogation process!" So I thought, "Right, here it goes, I cannot answer that question, sir" so I said... "I ca..." I didn't even get, "I cannot ..." I got, "I ca..." And smash! And I remember just my head going, I was knocked off the chair!

And... suddenly I was back on the chair! And it was, "Name?"

"Peters."

"Rank?"

"Flight lieutenant."

"Are you pilot?"

"I can..." Pchew...!

And it just went like that ... and I remember the sort of noise you hear, you do hear the r... and, they just kept on doing that.

It's ... during the beatings ... they're trying to speed you up and make you... answer their questions... [T]he moment they stop the beatings, and they're starting putting you back on the chair, although it's a short period, seconds, you're then going,

"Whoh, whoh, whoh! Back on the chair!"

And they ask you a question, and you always delay and delay and delay until you virtually can feel someone swing his arm... then to sort of go, "I cannot ..." then you anticipate the hit.

So, you're starting to slow down that, but then ... when they take... every so often they sort of take a break, and they leave you there, or they take you back to the corridor or another room and they put you there, and that's when ... I really started to... in my own mind, think about, "Don't let... them get in your head. Don't, just ... Whatever they do to you, ... if they get in your head they've won, so you've got to try and ..."

It is a mental fight. It's not the physical... After a while I was quite surprised... it's them trying to break you down. And even though eventually, ... I answered the question,

"Are you pilot or navigator?"

And I said, "Pilot."

And you know, ... in your own mind, that's when I suppose all the prisoners of war say, "They broke!" as in "You succumb to the violence" because it's never going to stop, and... they started sort of karate chopping my knee and just ...

Q. Let me ask you about that ... you were saying how they homed in on points of weakness, and you really smashed your knee up, I'm told ... John Nichols, you... could scarcely walk, and they ... can you just describe, what... were they saying, what did they do, what were you feeling?

Having ... having walked, worked their way round the body, they, they made me stand up and they were... they were ... throw my face against... against the wall and then ... one guy just kicked my leg, and for all the hits, I'd, I'd damaged my leg, quite, well it felt quite badly, it was, it wasn't eventually I don't think but it felt quite bad and I had quite difficulty working, I was limping, and the guy kicked my leg.

I just got this searing pain that went right down to my foot, right up the side of my body, from my knee. I, I yelped ... And that was my mistake ... the fact I yelped. Up to then you're grunting, but I let out a yelp. It's just a different sound, it was just a different sound of grunt and they recognised it, and I was on the floor.

They, they just yanked me up and just karate chopped, from a kind of, felt like the heal of the, the boot, just into me knee. And I collapsed again and they just pulled me up, smack! Pulled me up, smack! Pulled me up, smack! Pulled me up, smack! And eventually, and somewhere in there whilst they were doing that they said,

"Are you pilot or navigator? Are you pilot or n...?"

And eventually I ... "Pilot..." and it just came out. I couldn't, I couldn't stop it.

And that's when you realise you've broken to the violence.

Q. When did you ... tell me the story of how you came to be on television. What happened? How did you ...?

Well, we'd been there about three or four days ... we're in the cor... we're in the corridor, I was a... asleep and suddenly they came up and kicked us awake and I remember ....they were sort of crouching down and he said,

"You're going to go on television. You are a war criminal."

And I said, "No!"

And he said, "You go on television!"

I said, "No!"

And he said, "You go on television or, or we kill you!"

And I said, "No!"

And this just carried on. Then they started sort of hitting me about with a pistol, a bit, and slapping, it was ... it wasn't the pis... it was the slapping that was the worst, even though it was naff, I mean it was ... and then they said,

"You will never see your wife and children again!"

And they s... they started to pick me up and they put a gun against, my temple and just pulled, ah, cocked the weapon. And they said,

"We're, we're gonna kill you! You are gonna go on television now or else ..." and their final words were, "You're going to on television now or you'll never see your wife and children again!"

And,... I said, I didn't say, "Yes," I think they knew that I was going to ... do it.

And so they took me into a room, it was all very bright, sat me on a chair, and they went through a practice, made us do a practice, because they, a guy, read out, (chuckles) read out some of the answers, ...

And I, I knew I looked bad, you know, people always, I knew I looked bad, so I deliberately put my head down and I deliberately made sure that my bad eye was towards the film, I mean, I was very much, I didn't, you know, I didn't want to be there, and although you see, this image of someone who, who's sort of broken, it was, in my head, I...I just thought,

"Well, this is it, so you... I've got to make sure everyone knows as best I can, everyone knows I didn't ... want to be here, that I didn't give in easily."

And that was really... and ... I went through the TV bit, and it's ... and then they ... that was the worst moment because then you've... you done everything.

And they took us, immediately out of that, they didn't stop, they then took us and they took us outside, and that's when I thought, "Oh, this is it! We're just gonna get killed."

And they took us outside and,... put me into, a lorry, and I remember this guy next to me, I could feel his knee, and eventually the, the Iraqis seem to go around ... and that was the one contact with, there was ... the Italian, Morissimo, who was also put on TV.

And, I touched knees with him, and that may sound really naff but that's very, important, it's very, you know, you suddenly there is, there is someone else there. And that's all you can do anyway, ...

And they drove us for about 20 minutes. I didn't know where John Nichol was by this stage. They drove for about 20 minutes, half an hour, and ... then we arrived at this sort of place that, it looked like a South American prison, there was sort of cement covered on the walls that had fallen off, and it just stank, it stank putrid smell of stale water and shit and ... and I did just think, "That's, this is where I'm going to die ..." really.

I thought we were just going to be put against, you know, we'd been taken out somewhere where there was no one around, and that we were going to be shot.


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