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David Martin Dispatch: One That Didn't Make It

Pentagon correspondent David Martin proposed the following piece to the "Evening News" – and was turned down. Here, he brings PE readers the story of an important, and overlooked, "footnote" to the Abu Ghraib scandal:
The process by which a story gets on the "Evening News" is pretty straightforward – I propose it and the producers of the show say yes or no. Sometimes it works the other way – they propose it and I say yes or no. Either way, I rarely disagree, but if I feel strongly enough I'll call the executive producer of the show and appeal. The "Evening News" turned down the story I'm about to tell you. I disagreed but not strongly enough to appeal. It's the story of a man named Torin Nelson, who was a civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He was not implicated in any of the abuses, but his name has been linked to the scandal, and he has been unable to hold a job as an interrogator ever since.

Nelson told me that he did not witness or take part in any of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, although he did hear stories of mistreatment from one prisoner. According to Nelson, when Army investigators showed up at Abu Ghraib and started asking questions, he cooperated – and for his trouble received death threats from some of the other soldiers. Nelson left Iraq and transferred to an interrogator job in Afghanistan. But then a copy of the Army's investigation landed on the Internet, complete with Nelson's name. His public identification with Abu Ghraib made him unemployable. Here is an e-mail he received from a defense contractor explaining why he would not be allowed to work in Afghanistan. "The decision was based on your association with the high profile issues surrounding Abu Ghraib. I've been informed CJTF-76 (the American command in Afghanistan) have expressed concern about employing anyone who was involved in anyway with the Abu Ghraib incident."

When Nelson appealed to the Pentagon for help, he received an e-mail from a Lieutenant Colonel in Army intelligence stating in part, "the investigation did not find you were involved in any incident of wrong doing." The Lieutenant Colonel also assured Nelson that "there was no policy preventing anyone who worked at Abu Ghraib from working as an interrogator," but – here's the catch – the "commanders on the ground ultimately make the final decision." In other words, tough luck.

Nelson's career as an interrogator has gone up in smoke – at a time when the U.S. military is still short of qualified interrogators. In the larger scheme of world events, Nelson's story is just a footnote to the Abu Ghraib scandal, and I can understand why the "Evening News" took a pass -- although I think part of the reason was not the news value but the fact that nobody wants to put those awful pictures on television again.