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Profile: Kevin Elston

Kevin Elston was a participant or observer in the following events:

Private Alyssa Peterson.Private Alyssa Peterson. [Source: Arizona Daily Sun]Private Alyssa Peterson, deployed as an Arabic-speaking interrogator in Iraq, commits suicide rather than participate in torturing Iraqi prisoners. Peterson, from Flagstaff, Arizona, serves with the 311th Military Intelligence Unit, a part of the 101st Airborne, at an American air base in Tal Afar. Her death is initially cited as an accident resulting from a “non-hostile weapons discharge,” a not uncommon citation. Shortly after her death, Army officials tell the Arizona Republic 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.” In 2005, reporter Kevin Elston will probe more deeply into Peterson’s death; documents released under the Freedom of Information Act will show that, according to Elston’s report for radio station KNAU: “Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.” Official records show that Peterson had been “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for the prisoners. The report of her death states, “She said that she did not know how to be two people; she… could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire.” She was reassigned to gate duty, and sent to suicide prevention training, but, the report reads, “[O]n the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.” A notebook is found next to her body, but its contents are entirely redacted. Peterson also leaves a suicide note, which Elston will be unable to obtain. After reviewing the records documenting the circumstances of her death, Elston will say: “The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were.” Peterson’s parents will not be told of their daughter’s suicide for three years, but are told merely that she died as a result of an accident. [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009] In 2009, reporter and author Greg Mitchell will interview former Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter who served briefly with Peterson at Tal Afar. Williams, like Peterson, objected to abusive techniques being used on prisoners, and is eventually transferred to different duties (see Late September 2003). Williams will note that there are probably more factors involved in Peterson’s suicide than her revulsion to torture. “It’s always a bunch of things coming together to the point you feel so overwhelmed that there’s no way out,” Williams will say. “I witnessed abuse, I felt uncomfortable with it, but I didn’t kill myself, because I could see the bigger context. I felt a lot of angst about whether I had an obligation to report it, and had any way to report it. Was it classified? Who should I turn to?… It also made me think, what are we as humans, that we do this to each other? It made me question my humanity and the humanity of all Americans. It was difficult, and to this day I can no longer think I am a really good person and will do the right thing in the right situation.” Mitchell will write, “Such an experience might have been truly shattering to the deeply religious Peterson.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Kayla Williams, Kevin Elston, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Army, Alyssa Peterson, Greg Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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