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Utahns detail Iraq interrogations

Inside a room at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center in Baghdad, getting good information from detainees was sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack, according to Lt. Col. Gregory J. Hadfield.

While Hadfield was in Iraq, the group he commanded, the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, helped screen 22,000 detainees, then interrogated 4,000 of them. Sometimes, Hadfield said, they got lucky.

This Friday, the 34 members of the 141st will be coming home to Utah.

"They could see their work was being used by combat units — it was saving lives," Hadfield, born and raised in American Fork, said on the phone this week while at Fort Dix in New Jersey. "It was definitely rewarding for our soldiers to be able to do that job and have something come from it."

Some prisoners were questioned by members of Hadfield's team up to 70 different times over the past 10 months while the 141st was in Iraq. Soldiers wanted to know where roadside bombs and weapons caches were hidden. They wanted to know about planned ambushes and attacks before they happened.

Since last December, teams from the 141st worked in shifts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to ply reliable information out of Iraqis and insurgents. They worked alongside 260 personnel at the "one-of-a-kind" debriefing center that included the Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian contractors.

Most of the interrogations at the center were done inside a room roughly 10 feet by 10 feet, with the detainee and three others, including a linguist, inside the room — and military police keeping a close watch. Some interrogations lasted up to 12 hours.

Hadfield said 17 authorized techniques outlined in a field manual were used to get detainees to talk. Those interrogations, he said, were monitored and recorded by video and audio devices. During interrogations under Hadfield's command, he said, there were no incidents of violence or violations of the Geneva Convention, U.S. law or the policies of the Department of Defense and Army.

As a result of the intelligence they gathered, U.S. and coalition forces were led to, among other things, uncovering two large improvised explosive devices on a road frequently traveled by U.S. troops near a school. Of the 4,130 coalition troops (mostly U.S.) who have died in the Iraq war, 1,637 since July 2003 were killed by IEDs, also called roadside bombs, according to the Web site

The 141st was able to help direct ground troops to numerous weapons caches that included materials used to build IEDs. The group also sifted through intelligence in an effort to find four U.S. soldiers and a handful of civilian contractors declared missing in Iraq.

"I think we were very effective," said Capt. Nathan Ringger. He's a married father of two in Draper and a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company in his civilian life.

The atmosphere on the job in Iraq was "intense" and fast-paced, Ringger said, which made him into a bit of an "adrenaline junkie." How will he adjust to civilian life as a sales rep?

"That's a good question," he said from Fort Dix. "It's definitely going to be a transition."

In Baghdad his job was to help combat troops stay ahead of the enemy, using human conduits for information about threats and tactics that were constantly changing. He said some detainees were "high-value" Sunni prisoners loyal to al-Qaida in Iraq or Shiite members of the extremist group Jaish al-Mahdi. A few were from Saddam Hussein's regime, Hadfield said.

On one side of the room, usually sitting in a chair, sometimes speaking across a table, was a member of the 141st from Utah. Hadfield said the detainees were generally young men whose main motivation for helping to kill coalition forces was to make money.

"It was a way for them to get a job for some sort of compensation and provide for their family," he said. "They needed to make money."

Hadfield's boss in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, has been working on a study to find out what motivates mostly men, often juveniles, and some women to join the insurgency. While some simply hate the United States and coalition forces in Iraq, about half are in the insurgency as a means of income, Hadfield said.

One way of changing the demographic of the detainees is to get them working in one of two brick manufacturing factories being built in southern Iraq and near Baghdad, Hadfield said. The irony, he said, will be that those prisoners will be helping to rebuild Iraq, brick by brick.

Command Sgt. Maj. Stephan Vogl, a full-time Guardsman who lives in Utah County with his wife and five children, found a little extra motivation for his job in Iraq by attending a ceremony where his fallen comrades were honored before their remains were flown out of the country.

"People are giving their lives every day here for this cause," Vogl said.

As part of the 141st, which has been in the interrogation business for 27 years, Vogl also was driven to find one of the missing soldiers or contractors.

"It's tough," he said, adding that he's a husband and father. "You want to bring closure to all the families that you can."

Friday's arrival of the 141st back in Utah will bring the number of Utah National Guard airmen and soldiers serving overseas to about 700.