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
Sitting in his office in the 1-17 battalion operations center, Triscari, the executive officer, could not disagree more. "An individual who gets tortured may tell you anything," he says. "Does that mean we get actionable intelligence? It does not." Triscari is pleased with the results of the operation but remains troubled by the possibility that Majeed used force to get Nashwan and Abu Mahmoud to talk. Triscari is an accomplished officer. He has written a book about transforming Army brigades and will most likely be offered command of a new battalion when he returns stateside. He has dark hair and eyes and a lean, unlined face. The United States, Triscari says, cannot fudge the rules to have a detainee handed over to the Iraqi Army, especially if it is concerned that the suspects may be abused. "If we see someone tortured," he says, "we have an obligation to say, 'Do not do that.' We do not wink at torture." To Triscari, there are clear lines that the American Army must not cross. The rules ensure that the Americans stay within bounds.
The day after the elections, Fox drops two Army intelligence soldiers off at One West to interrogate Abu Mahmoud and Sassan, the man suspected of being the IED transporter. Later that night, Fox walks into the S-3 office to find out how the interrogators fared. Inside the office he finds Musick and Triscari.
"What did they get out of the interrogation?" Fox asks.
"They f- - - - d up: They kept them in the same cell," Musick reports. All the Mujahideen Army members, Musick says, had stopped talking except Nashwan. Abu Mahmoud had persuaded them to disavow their confessions as coerced. "The old guy was coaching everyone," Musick says. "All the others said: 'We didn't do anything. We were beaten.' "
"We should have let the Army keep them," Fox says with a scowl.
Triscari shakes his head. "We wouldn't have got much more."
Over at the 2-2-2 battalion headquarters, Majeed is not so sure of that. Dressed in a knit watch cap and camouflage jacket, he leans forward on his couch, cigarette in hand. In a corner of his office, a small television plays a racy Arabic music video channel. On the table in front of him is a cup of tea with a package of vitamin C; Majeed has a cold. Originally a pilot, Majeed became an interrogator in Saddam's army in 1996 after the U.S.-imposed no-fly zone shut down the Iraqi Air Force. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was due to be promoted to full colonel in May 2003. But the Americans invaded. The old Iraqi Army was defeated, then dismantled. When the military was re-created, Majeed was offered the rank of major. It was the only job available.
Majeed says he does not torture people, adding that there is more to his interrogation methods than simply hitting someone. "I am like a professor of psychology," he says. "I can tell when they want to talk." Nashwan had not slept, bathed, or eaten for three days when he arrived at the battalion headquarters. Majeed gave him a shower and some food. "We gave him all that stuff," Majeed recalls, "then we told him, 'We gave you what you asked for. If you want more, you are going to have to help us.' "