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None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture

The legacy of torture in the “War on Terror,” told through the story of one tank battalion
None of Us Were Like This Before recounts the dark journey of a tank battalion as its focus switched from conventional military duties to guerilla warfare and prisoner detention. Author Joshua E. S. Phillips tells a story of ordinary soldiers, ill trained for the responsibilities foisted upon them, who descended into a cycle of degradation that led to the abuse of detainees. The book illustrates that the damaging legacy of torture is borne not only by the detainees, but also by American soldiers and the country to which they have returned.


  • “The stories contained in this book reveal how brave American service members tried to stop torture and abuse—often at the expense of their careers and their lives. Their sacrifice and the losses that they incurred are absorbed by all of us as a nation.”
  • “This is an important book showing the damage abuse does to the torturers as well as to their victims … Phillips’s message is that we most need the rules banning torture when we most want to break them.”
  • “A serious, comprehensive effort to examine how torture and abuse, once embarked upon, damage the torturer and abuser as well as the tortured and abused.”
  • “A deeply personal story of a generation of American soldiers plunged into conflict after September 11. Joshua Phillips tells these brave Americans’ stories with compassion and vivid detail.”
  • “Joshua Phillips brings much needed close reporting to the question of American torture. He reveals much about the interaction of 'lower down' and 'higher up' behavior, always including permission or encouragement from above. The book also suggests the psychological toll on those who torture, and is an important contribution to American reckoning with a dark moment in our history.”
  • “Joshua Phillips’s incredible work in documenting the experience of soldiers who detained and interrogated detainees reflects the huge dilemma and consequences of their actions. His book is about accountability where senior leaders in the military and in the highest level of government failed to account for their actions, failed to protect soldiers who expected clear instructions, and failed the nation in preventing torture and abuse of the enemy. This led to Abu Ghraib—an epic tragedy in American history.”
  • “A shocking read about a hidden chapter of the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
  • “Basing his work on extensive interviews, [Phillips] details how ordinary American troops participated in the torture of enemy soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
  • “A masterwork of narrative nonfiction.”
  • “Phillips shows that the recourse to blaming a ‘few bad apples’ should be recognised as a disgraceful, face-saving fiction.”
  • “A tour de force of investigative journalism.”
  • “This shattering book is a journey into the heart of American darkness. What Joshua Phillips makes shockingly clear is that the misbehavior of some of our best soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan came about because of a failure of military leadership and because political leaders lacked the courage to admit the word ‘torture’.”
  • “Those who authorized torture and defend it don’t want to talk about this. They took honorable, patriotic young soldiers and convinced them to sacrifice the very principles that they had signed up to defend. That paradox is what Phillips investigates and brings to light. And he does it with the utmost respect for the soldiers.”
  • “Phillips’ book remains the first and best heartbreaking tale not only of the abuses taking place within our military prisons, but also the negative, long term and in many cases fatal psychological affects it is having on both interrogating soldiers and interrogated enemy prisoners of war ... [An] outstanding book [and] a necessary read for all.”
  • None of Us Were Like This Before is a model of conscientious reporting on a volatile subject—the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. His ethical and compassionate approach is an act of citizenship.”
  • “There are many things in this book that are fascinating and generally unknown. One is that these soldiers were afraid to report what they had seen and done … but without reporting it they couldn’t receive any medical help for their trauma.”
  • “The causes and consequences of systematic abuse and torture are all explored by Joshua Phillips through a careful but searing narrative.”
  • “A fascinating yet distressing account of how the use of torture and abusive techniques on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan affected the lives of American soldiers who found themselves caught up in it. Far from neglecting the suffering of the victims, Phillips, through meticulous research, also brings home the full horror of the war crimes inflicted upon the citizens of the occupied nations.”
  • “Joshua Phillips’ book shows that America’s leaders were wrong.”
  • None of Us Were Like This Before ... is an important [book].”


  • Perpetual War and Permanent Unrest: The Battle of Algiers After 9/11

    This essay is excerpted from Sohail Daulatzai's Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue, published by the University of Minnesota Press. A new 4K restoration of The Battle of Algiers is currently touring theaters across the United States. 

    Though it is both troubling and telling, the screening of the film by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is only the latest chapter in the afterlife of The Battle of Algiers. In many ways, the film is a battleground and a microcosm of the enduring struggles between the West and the Rest, whiteness and its others. But in a post- 9/11 moment, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the centrality and omnipresence of the figure of the Muslim and the “War on Terror” have not only coded and shaped every aspect of social life but have also sought to undermine the power and politics of The Battle of Algiers.

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  • After Chilcot: A Reading List on Iraq and the “War on Terror”

    “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.” — John Chilcot.

    The long-awaited Chilcot Report, spanning almost a decade of UK government policy decisions between 2001 and 2009, was released today. The report finds that there was no “imminent threat” from Saddam Hussein, and that Tony Blair had gone to war before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted — the UK's invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not a “last resort”.

    Verso presents a reading list of books that contextualize the disaster resulting from the "War on Terror" and the refugee crisis rooted in its violence. After the invasion by coalition forces in 2003, Iraq began fracturing along sectarian lines, unleashing years of violence and displacement. With the outbreak of war in Syria in 2011, ISIS exploited the chaos and societal tensions of the region to sweep to power on a brutal campaign that has displaced millions of civilians. The Iraq War, too, led to increased risk of terrorism in Europe as well as within the Middle East. 

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  • Book tour illuminates U.S. soldiers’ impulses to avenge, torture

    The recent violent rampage of an American soldier in Afghanistan who killed 16 civilians has sparked yet another uneasy investigation into US military presence in the Middle East, and in particular, how these shocking instances of violence germinate. In a new article for Latitude News, Joshua E.S. Phillips weighs in on the incident, and goes on to describe the mixed reactions he encountered on his tour for None of Us Were Like This Before, which details the lasting psychological trauma of torture on both detainees and American soliders. Phillips remarks:

    I saw people use the book as a prism for viewing U.S. policy, veterans’ issues, and the legacy of torture.  For some, the book stoked anti-American sentiment. Some fumed that it didn’t neatly focus blame on President George W. Bush, though the book showed how Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Convention on detainee treatment catalyzed what followed. Others were angry that it didn’t emphasize one group’s pain over the other.

    Visit Latitude News to read the story in full.

    Verso will publish the updated paperback edition of None of Us Were Like This Before in July 2012.

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