Book Excerpt: ‘War And Moral Injury’

The Long March
Courtesy Wipf and Stock Publishers

There’s a new collection on the subject. This excerpt, about torture and terrorists, is by Bill Edmonds, an Army officer: Proceeds of the book go to a good cause.


I smile because this time, we know—know—what this man has done. There are no more guesses; we just need him to document his confession with a smudgy thumbprint.

Shoeib is broken and will confess at any moment. I just know it. All of Saedi’s hitting and kicking serves to quicken the inevitable, to turn Shoeib’s thoughts away from the inner sanctum of self-pity where selfish killers retreat under interrogation. Today, Saedi’s abuse is not only a tactic to get a confession. He is also taking personal satisfaction from it.

I smile and nod to my partner.

“Speak!” Saedi screams. “If you talk, I may not spend all my time focusing on you.”

“I have done ten operations,” Shoeib says with lowered eyes and pitiful sobs.

“What type of operations?” demands Saedi.

“Cutting off the heads, or killing them by a bullet to the head.”

Saedi and I just sit there and glare—for almost a minute we let the silence become a deafening roar—and then the questions start again. “Describe to me your operations.”

“In four operations, my job was to hold the legs of the person. I was to keep them still and to stop them from kicking. Six times I was told to do the killing myself. I would either cut off his head or shoot him in the back of the head.”

“Who were these people you killed?” Saedi asks with quiet loathing.

“I don’t know. I would get a call from Mohammed. He would tell me to be at a certain house. Mohammed and some other people I don’t know would kidnap someone and bring them to the house. I would either hold the legs or do the killing myself as they made a videotape.”

Shoeib starts to cry. Then he raises his hands above his head and wails, “Wa-allah, Saedi, Wa-allah!” From only a few feet away, I feel the shimmers of evil come off this man who dares to sit here and plead for God’s help. Well, God is not here.

Night after night, these men confound me with their acts of inhumanity. I try to stop my slide into their darkness, and so far I’ve succeeded, barely, but tonight is different. When Shoeib wails for some higher power’s assistance, I feel a fracture slide down the center of my chest. For the first time in my life, I fervently want to kill another human being. I want to reach across this small prison cell and let my shadow fly.

As I feel my darkness intensely and taste this killer’s pleas, I can hear everything, even the now-silent prayers of his victims. I can see everything, every drop of moisture that slides down the cinderblock walls. I hear perfectly every breath, every heartbeat, and every shuffle of booted feet. I’m conscious of every scent, and the odors speak of the excitement, the anticipation, the fear, and the hatred that we all feel. Then suddenly it vanishes.

I open my eyes, and Saedi is bent over the still crying prisoner. He whispers in his ear, and cigarette smoke escapes his nose to float up in the air and twirl around the one hanging light bulb. I hear more sobs, which become suckling whimpers.

I feel a deep loss.

I despair.

I need to escape.

I must escape, or I will become lost.

I quickly leave the cell and climb the stairs to the roof. Outside, the sun is just beginning to rise. Mosul is beautiful in the early morning, and I need only a few minutes in the crisp early light. I desperately need the rebirth of a sunrise because beneath my rage is guilt: This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen Shoeib. Two months ago, he was captured by the Iraqi army and brought to Saedi’s prison, the same prison where he wails in the room below me. But two months ago, I chose a different path. I made the decision to protect him. I told Saedi, “No, on no account.” So, two months ago, Shoeib didn’t confess, and after a few days, Saedi released him back onto Mosul’s streets.

So, today, when Shoeib confessed to those ten executions? Instantly, those deaths became my fault, and those weren’t the first, nor the last deaths, that I’ll have to account for.

Excerpted, with permission, from War and Moral Injury: A Reader, edited by Robert Emmet Meagher and Douglas A. Pryer.

WATCH NEXT:

In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less