Kids Decide Who Lives or Dies in Iraq

You probably assume that high-level military and intelligence officers decide who gets thrown into the Abu Ghraib prison to get tortured, and whose house gets bombed in Iraq.

That’s not how it works.

It turns out that kids fresh out of high school decide. Specifically, young people with only sixty-three weeks of training in in standard Arabic at Monterey, California make these life-or-death calls. They have usually have no training in Iraqi dialects, and don’t have any real-world experience.

After their stint at Monterey, they are transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where they work for the NSA. In that capacity, they listen into phone calls between Iraqis, and decide who lives, who gets tortured, who dies:

“it’s these people here that are sitting in this windowless room in the state of Georgia, near Augusta, Georgia, that are listening to these conversations in Iraq, in Baghdad, and they’re making instantaneous decisions on whether somebody is telling the truth or not. So they’re writing out these—they’re doing these transcripts, and then they’re writing these little comments saying this person here, Ali, is saying he’s going to deliver a load of melons to his cousin Mohammed tomorrow. And then you have somebody making a decision: is he telling the truth, or isn’t he? Are these melons, or possibly could they be IEDs? And if a person says, ‘You know, I don’t think he’s telling the truth,’ there’s a good chance that that house could be blown up or that person could be put in Abu Ghraib, or whatever.

The above information comes from James Bamford, the Washington Investigative Producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings for almost a decade – where he won a number of journalism awards for his coverage national security issues – whose articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and is the only author to write any books (he wrote 3) on the NSA.

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