Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq -- a 27 year old whose suicide is made more tragic with the release of these memos on torture. She objected to the interrogation techniques being used and refused when ordered to carry them out after only two nights. Days after her refusal she grabbed her service rifle and took her own life.
Alyssa Peterson should still be alive.
She was a trained Arabic-speaking interrogator who served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne, there is no reason why under normal and legal circumstances that she would not be able to perform interrogations. The evidence suggests these weren't normal and legal circumstances. We will only find out with a formal investigation because much of the information has been covered up by the military, including lying about her suicide at first calling it a "non-hostile weapons discharge".
If Alyssa Peterson had never been ordered to torture she would still be alive.
The intense struggle between service and conscience pushed her to end her life, but it should have never happened because she should have never been ordered to torture. She may have pulled the trigger, but others created the situation in which people like Alyssa are told to commit acts so heinous and illegal that they would consider suicide.
Alyssa is obviously not the only one. Many other military interrogators were ordered to perform acts so intense and inhumane that they have also, like Alyssa, been deeply affected. According to a recent military report veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq are have been committing suicide at higher and higher rates as the wars continue, 2009 is already on track to surpassing 2008's numbers.
Now that President Obama has stopped the Bush Administration torture programs we can begin work to undo the harm these illegal acts have caused. We've talked about repairing our image abroad, about how our use of torture was a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda, but we have not examined the damage the Bush Administration caused the people being interrogated or the interrogators themselves.
For those struggling with conflicts between their military service and their conscience, you are not alone, you are not weak, you are not wrong. You have the right to refuse service that conflicts with your conscience. I know it is an incredibly daunting task to honor your conscience when the military demands complete obedience, but when I followed my conscience I found the opposite of what the military told me. Instead of being alone, weak, and wrong, I had the support of many inside and out of the military which empowered me to choose what I knew to be right.
People in the Bush Administration also had choices, and prioritized getting information that would link Saddam Hussein to 9-11 and al-Qaeda. They chose to gather this information by any means necessary, although they knew that torture provides unreliable testimony. They chose to bend the law until it broke. The law does not have a choice. No matter how many other urgent crises there are to attend to at the moment, the evidence revealed last week must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible must be punished for war crimes.