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
By the next morning, however, his euphoria has disappeared. Fox paces around the S-3 office. Instead of praise, his bosses have come down on him--hard. The battalion's executive officer, Lt. Col. Craig Triscari, questions Fox's decision to transfer the prisoners from police to military custody. And now the executive officer, the XO in military jargon, and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Alan Kelly, tell Fox to take the prisoners back from Majeed and return them to the police. Fox reacts sarcastically, telling Kelly, "We'll put back the weapons." As he paces, Fox brings Alleathe and the others in the S-3 office up to speed on what has happened. "The XO is a by-the-book guy, and he's got the colonel all wound up," Fox tells them. "I am not a by-the-book guy. I am a retire-in-'07 man. If we give them back, we will lose all the intelligence value. Major Sabah [Majeed] is going to flip out."
Kelly and Triscari are worried not just that Fox has transferred prisoners from civilian authorities to military authorities but that he is enabling the mistreatment of the prisoners by giving them to an interrogator with a reputation for tough tactics."I am not about mistreating anyone," Fox says. "But the lives that the 2-2-2 may have saved . . . " Fox trails off. He stops moving. "Somehow, it's a negative thing."
Fox resumes pacing. The others in the S-3 shop are burying their heads in their computers, but Alleathe stares at Fox. Alleathe lives in Dearborn, Mich., but he was born in southern Iraq. Although technically just a "terp," the shorthand for interpreter, Alleathe has become Fox's trusted adviser on the psychology of Iraqis. It would be a grave mistake, he tells Fox, to take the detainees from Majeed and give them to the police. "This situation," he says, "is bigger than the IP s [Iraqi police] understand."
"Major Sabah is going to say, 'What are you guys thinking?' " Fox answers. "From the height of ecstasy to the agony of defeat."
That evening, at the 1-17's operations center, the mood remains tense. After the daily battle update brief, called the BUB, Kelly sits down in the battalion conference room and explains why he has ordered Fox to return the prisoners to the police. "We as an Army would never accept a citizen prisoner from the police," Kelly says. "And as we try to establish a government here, we are modeling it after ours." Kelly's lined face bears a hard, world-weary look. Like Fox, he spends much of his day on the streets of Mosul. But where Fox haunts the police station and combat outposts, Kelly prefers to take the city's pulse by engaging ordinary residents.
The larger plan for Mosul is to get both the American and Iraqi military out of the city, leaving the police responsible for urban security. Therefore, the Americans need to help the police improve their counterinsurgency operations. Kelly doesn't doubt that Majeed is a better interrogator than either the police or the Americans. But, he says, it was wrong to hand the prisoners over to him: "My biggest concern was the potential for detainee abuse. We are trying to teach them to get information the right way." It may be impossible to teach the Iraqi interrogators not to use force, Kelly knows, but his battalion is going to try anyway. "You will never totally eliminate it--it is in this culture," he says. "You have a country here that has lived by fear. But you have to hope that people can learn to trust the courts."