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Context of 'Late September 2003: Army Interpreter Protests Brutalizing of Prisoners in Iraqi Facility'

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Three months after George Washington Williams writes his open letter to King Leopold II of Belgium complaining of the atrocities he witnessed being committed by Belgium forces against natives in the Congo, Williams writes a report to US President Harrison. Williams argues that the Unites States has a special responsibility since it “introduced this African government into the sisterhood of states.” In another letter, addressed to the US secretary of state, Williams accuses the Belgium government of having committed “crimes against humanity.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 112]

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

The main generating plant of the Florida Power and Light Company in Jacksonville, Florida.The main generating plant of the Florida Power and Light Company in Jacksonville, Florida. [Source: State Archives of Florida]US Army Specialist Derek Lawrence Peterson is arrested after a Florida police officer, D. F. Valiante, pulls him over for speeding and discovers a wide range of incriminating materials in his truck. Peterson is stopped for speeding in Jacksonville, Florida, by a local deputy sheriff. The deputy is “amazed to find the truck’s driver dressed all in black, wearing a pistol in a shoulder holster and plastic pads on his elbows and knees. In the truck also were large knives, a 12-gauge shotgun, shotgun and pistol ammunition, four ammo magazines, a six-volt battery, duct tape, speaker wire, and parts of an explosive device.” However, the officer is shocked to find the suspect is a soldier on leave from Fort Stewart, Georgia. Shortly after the arrest, the officer realizes he spotted the exact same truck 30 minutes earlier, backing up to the main gate of the nearby Florida Power and Light station. When he and fellow officers visit the power station, they discover footprints on a dirt road leading to an explosive device planted underneath some power lines. Valiante will later say that after informing Peterson of his rights while taking him into custody, Peterson “advised me that he was on the power plant property to practice recon tactics.” According to the Savannah Morning News, “Peterson allegedly told police he had placed a Hoffman explosive device, equal in power to a half-stick of dynamite. He had planned to detonate the explosive but was worried that he would be injured in the blast.” Peterson will be held on a $5 million bond and will eventually receive probation on June 9, 2002. Hank Coxe, Peterson’s attorney, will later say that his client’s case “had been blown out of proportion because police initially suspected Peterson’s acts were related to terrorism.” It remains unclear as to why Peterson would use such dangerous methods in order to practice reconnaissance tactics, or how he is able to avoid a thorough prison sentencing. [Florida Times-Union, 5/14/2002; Savannah Morning News, 5/16/2002; Florida Times-Union, 6/8/2002; Marrs, 9/1/2006, pp. 436]

Entity Tags: D. F. Valiante, Derek Lawrence Peterson, Hank Coxe

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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

Kayla Williams.Kayla Williams. [Source: Bowling Green State University]Sergeant Kayla Williams, an Army interpreter, witnesses prisoners being abused while being detained in Mosul. Williams is troubled by the death of an acquaintance, Private Alyssa Peterson, who actually committed suicide rather than take part in the torture of prisoners (see September 15, 2003 and After). Williams witnesses an incident that closely parallels the kind of interrogation Peterson objected to. She is taken into a special holding area called “the cage,” where she sees US soldiers punching a naked detainee in the face and burning him with lit cigarettes. There is no interrogation, just the brutalization of a prisoner. Williams will later write: “It’s one thing to make fun of someone and attempt to humiliate him. With words. That’s one thing. But flicking lit cigarettes at somebody—like burning him—that’s illegal.” She will later write that soldiers will soon tell her that “the old rules no longer applied because this was a different world. This was a new kind of war.” In 2005, Williams will recall the incident on CNN: “I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes. They stripped prisoners naked and 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. And it really didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. I didn’t know if this was standard. But it did not seem to work. And it really made me feel like we were losing that crucial moral higher ground, and we weren’t behaving in the way that Americans are supposed to behave.” After that session and several others that same day, she tells a superior officer that she will not take part in future interrogations. “I sat through it at the time,” she will recall. “But after it was over I did approach the non-commissioned officer in charge and told him I think you may be violating the Geneva Conventions.… He said he knew and I said I wouldn’t participate again and he respected that, but I was really, really stunned.” In 2009, Williams will say: “In general, interrogation is not fun, even if you follow the rules. And I didn’t see any good intelligence being gained. The other problem is that, in situations like that, you have people that are not terrorists being picked up, and being questioned. And, if you treat an innocent person like that, they walk out a terrorist.” [Huffington Post, 4/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Kayla Williams, Alyssa Peterson

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast.Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast. [Source: Think Progress]The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations [Media Matters, 11/30/2004] (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). [Judicial Watch, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: John Birch Society, Al Sharpton, Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, Jesse Lee Peterson, John Kerry, Sean Hannity, Jesse Jackson, Media Matters, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Byron Williams, in a photo taken shortly after his arrest.Byron Williams, in a photo taken shortly after his arrest. [Source: CBS News]California resident Byron Williams opens fire on Highway Patrol officers after being stopped on an Oakland freeway. Williams is wearing body armor and carrying multiple firearms, including a .308-caliber rifle using armor-piercing rounds. The officers stopped Williams after observing him speeding and weaving through traffic, and Williams opens fire on the officers. Ten Highway Patrol officers ultimately converge on the scene. Williams survives the 12-minute shootout, but is struck several times by police bullets; he inflicts minor injuries on two officers. Williams is a convicted felon who was released from jail two years ago after serving a sentence for bank robbery. His mother, Janice Williams, says he has had a difficult time getting his life together after being released from prison. Mrs. Williams also says her son is extremely angry with the US government. She says: “He’s been upset with the direction the country is going. He feels the people of this country are being raped by our government and politicians.” Williams blames “liberals” in government for making it difficult for him to find a job. Evidence taken from Williams’s truck, and a subsequent interview with Williams, show that he intended to “start a revolution” by killing liberal activists in San Francisco. Williams admits to planning on murdering people at the San Francisco offices of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Tides Foundation, an organization that promotes progressive social causes. Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason says Williams targeted the two nonprofit organizations because of their political ideologies. “Retribution was called for with Tides or anyone working for George Soros [a billionaire known for funding progressive causes] (see August 8, 2006 and February 2007) by taking out 11 people,” Williams says, and adds that he chose to murder 11 people in retribution for the 11 workers killed in the April 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Williams says of his intentions to murder: “I regret it only because of the conditions I’m in and the pain that I’ve put on my mother. But I am 100 percent convinced that we cannot beat the system of corruption.” The Tides Foundation says in a statement, “This is a reminder of the intolerant climate that has been created by the demagogues and fear-mongering pundits of the right wing.” [KXTV, 7/18/2010; Associated Press, 7/21/2010; KGO-TV, 9/15/2010; Media Matters, 10/11/2010] In a jailhouse interview, Williams will say that much of his political thinking was sparked by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck (see October 11, 2010).

Entity Tags: Tides Foundation, George Soros, Byron Williams, American Civil Liberties Union, Janice Williams, Jeff Thomason, Glenn Beck

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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