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The US Soldier Who Committed Suicide After She Refused To Take Part in Torture
By Greg Mitchell, The Nation
With each revelation, or court decision, on US torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo -- or the airing this month of The Tillman Story and Lawrence Wright's My Trip to Al-Qaeda -- I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who died seven years ago this week. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what most would call torture, she refused, then killed herself a few days later, on September 15, 2003.
Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the US Senate committee probe and various press reports, that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.
Spc. Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers who died in Iraq. Her death under these circumstances should have drawn wide attention. It's not exactly the Tillman case, but a cover-up, naturally, followed.
Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. She was a valuable Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003, from a "non-hostile weapons discharge."
A "non-hostile weapons discharge" leading to death is not unusual in Iraq, often quite accidental, so this one apparently raised few eyebrows. The Arizona Republic, three days after her death, reported that Army officials "said that a number of possible scenarios are being considered, including Peterson's own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian." And that might have ended it right there.
But in this case, a longtime radio and newspaper reporter named Kevin Elston, not satisfied with the public story, decided to probe deeper in 2005, "just on a hunch," he told me in late 2006. He made "hundreds of phone calls" to the military and couldn't get anywhere, so he filed a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request. When the documents of the official investigation of her death arrived, they contained bombshell revelations.