Cracking An Insurgent Cell
Finding--and breaking--the ruthless killers of Iraq is not a pretty business. An exclusive inside look at how it's done
At first, Nashwan gave up only the location of the cache and claimed not to know where to find Abu Mahmoud or the other cell members. "He thought that would be enough," Majeed says. "But I started to tell him that if we let him go and Mahmoud is still on the outside, [he] will get killed."
Nashwan had been roughly treated by the police and was expecting more tough treatment by the Army, Majeed said. The good-cop routine caught him off guard. "The good talker," Majeed says, "will get the snake out of the hole."
Majeed began questioning Abu Mahmoud as soon as they arrived back at the battalion headquarters, at 4 a.m. For the next 2 1/2 hours, Abu Mahmoud spoke only about the attacks he had made on the Americans. He refused to admit that he had attacked any Iraqis. At 6:30 a.m., Majeed sent Abu Mahmoud to the cell where the other detainees were being held and watched him. Though the other detainees sat down or tried to sleep on the floor, Abu Mahmoud just paced back and forth. Majeed let him pace for three hours. Then he brought him in and sat him down. His hands, Majeed says, were handcuffed very tightly to a chair. His head was covered with a bag.
"Guys like him are tough; they are not easy to question," Majeed says. "So we started being a bit rough. We forced him to admit his crimes. We didn't punch him, but we made sure the handcuffs were tight on his hands," Majeed says. "We put a cover on his head to keep him disorientated." Majeed says they did slap Abu Mahmoud a few times."The Americans help terrorists get away," Majeed says. "The reason why is Iraqis get used to their techniques. They don't talk until you force them. Until you get tough."
Closed doors. Majeed says he would never break a bone or inflict intense pain. "I don't use physical torture. Last year, I was slapping guys, and we hit them," he says. "Right now, we are using different techniques." Is Majeed telling the truth? He is a sophisticated man, and he knows Americans disapprove of torture. He is savvy enough not to admit using torture, even if he does. When asked about whether the Abu Ghraib scandal tied the hands of the Americans, his answer is telling: "There is no way if I was going to torture someone or be tough I would take pictures. If I wanted to do something like that, I would close the door and do my thing."
Majeed says he understands why Americans have their rules. But he says they often frustrate him, especially when a detainee is taken away just as he is starting to talk. Majeed says he was disappointed that he had Abu Mahmoud less than 12 hours. If he had been allowed to keep him longer, he says, he could have gotten more information. "Maybe he would have told me where he got the IED s from. Maybe he would have said the names of other cell leaders," Majeed says. "I could have gotten more information. Maybe he would have told me."
Majeed has a good relationship with the 1-17 battalion, he says, and particularly with Fox. "I can tell we think alike," Majeed says. "Major Fox is trying to understand how the locals think." But after working with Americans for the past 2 1/2 years, Majeed is beginning to understand how they operate--and to see what he regards as weaknesses when it comes to fighting insurgents. "The Americans have a line. They like to follow a straight line. They don't like to zigzag," Majeed says. "But sometimes there needs to be a special case. Sometimes," he says, "we need to go over the line."