US interpreter who witnessed torture in Iraq shot herself with service rifle

It is possible that one of the victims of the United States' torture policy is a young, devout Mormon woman from Arizona called Alyssa Peterson. She was a soldier who not only saw the rough interrogation methods that the US military used on Iraqi prisoners, but was deeply troubled by them. Some weeks after formally protesting about them to her superiors, and asking to be reassigned, she took her gun and killed herself. The cause of her death was kept secret for two years, and the mystery of what Peterson witnessed, and the content of the notes she made, still goes on.

It was in September 2003 at Tal-Afar air base, northern Iraq, that Specialist Peterson, serving with a military intelligence section of the 101st Airborne, came across interrogation methods very different from the ones she had known in training. An Arab-speaker, Peterson was assigned to work as an interpreter at interrogation sessions in a unit known as "The Cage". After only two nights, she refused to take further part in the sessions and was reassigned. Then, on 15 September, she shot herself with her service rifle. A notebook recording her thoughts was found by her body. Its contents were blanked out in the subsequent official report.

Her family, in Flagstaff, Arizona, were told she had died from a "non-hostile weapons discharge". It was only after an Arizona reporter, Kevin Elston, investigated, that the army revealed Peterson had killed herself. They refused to say what interrogation she objected to, and maintain that all documents relating to methods used at Tal-Afar have been destroyed.

But, at Mosul, also in northern Iraq, a former US soldier, Kayla Williams, later told the broadcasterCNN: "There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes. They stripped prisoners naked then removed their blindfolds so that I was the first thing they saw. And then we were supposed to mock them and degrade their manhood."

She, too, objected. Williams had once met Peterson, and conceded the interpreter had personal problems. The official army report into her death, obtained in 2007 by the Arizona Daily Sun, said that she had once been reprimanded for "showing empathy" to detainees. It said her superiors had given her suicide prevention training.

Her body was buried, with military honours, in Flagstaff, Arizona. One of scores of messages on a memorial website reads: "Alyssa Peterson was a shining example to all, a true hero and patriot for displaying empathy and her opposition to torture."

Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Management Accountant

£40000 - £46000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Global publishing and digital bu...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits