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Profile: Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus was a participant or observer in the following events:

Conflicting stories surround the capture of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003). Several different military sources say that Hussein was captured through the auspices of an informant, later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, but stories differ as to how the information was garnered from that informant. “This guy was in interrogation. He wasn’t willingly giving stuff up,” says an officer involved in the capture, leading to speculation that the informant may have been put through harsh interrogation methods to give up Hussein’s location. Religion professor and columnist Ira Chernus writes, “It is hard to avoid thinking about the the dirty word that everyone is too polite to mention, the ‘T-word’: torture.” But the commander of the capture operation, Colonel James Hickey, tells a different version of events, saying: “Once in our custody the informant was cooperative, and he did provide the crucial information. But will he receive the $25 million [bounty for Hussein’s capture offered by the US]? I seriously doubt it.” According to CNN, “It is unclear whether anyone will receive the $25 million bounty because the information leading to his capture came under duress.” Another “senior administration official” says the informant “didn’t provide any information willingly.” Hickey says the informant first gave false information, and “there was three or four hours of questioning before he blurted Saddam’s location.” US officials insist that the informant was not tortured, but merely “interrogated.” News reports also note that weeks before Hussein’s capture, “US forces decided to identify anyone who might have current knowledge of where Hussein was, including former bodyguards, and then to go after them with a vengeance, rounding up their families and friends—women, children, grandparents, everyone. Many of the key clues came in involuntary interrogations of informants.” A US official tells a reporter: “Some people were impossible to find, but we’d find their relatives. One interrogation led to another raid, which led to another interrogation.” And another official says: “You’d squeeze them: ‘Where is Saddam?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my cousin knows somebody who knows somebody else who might know.’” (Chernus 12/17/2003; Goldstein 4/17/2004)


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