PURCHASE, N.Y. – The torture scandal surrounding the American military and the prison at Abu Graib and the deadly consequences of a failed CIA bid to turn Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi into an American spy were among the topics discussed Tuesday night by a pair of authors at Manhattanville College.
Journalists Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker magazine and Joby Warrick of the Washington Post spoke about their books on the Middle East. Gourevitch wrote “The Ballad of Abu Graib,” which examines the 2003 incident where American servicemen in Iraq were accused of torturing prisoners, while Warrick’s book, “The Triple Agent,” examines al-Balawi, who was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on al-Qaeda, but turned on America and killed seven Americans in Afghanistan.
“What I felt ultimately was that they were both instruments of a great injustice,” Gourevitch said about the prisoners and military police officers at Abu Graib. “There was scapegoating done in their names.”
Gourevitch said the Abu Graib incident was the breakdown of an entire military system, adding that no useful intelligence was gained from what was done there.
“Oftentimes, the military police didn’t know they were torturing,” Gourevitch said. “The government not only got away with it, but they defended their policy.”
Warrick said al-Balawi, a Jordanian physician who was a former member of al-Qaeda recruited by the CIA to spy on the terrorist group, became trusted by the Americans, who believed he was on their side. However, in December 2009, al-Balawi made his suicide bomb attack, killing seven Americans.
“He came up with some amazing stuff, including meetings with the No. 2 guy in charge of al-Qaeda,” Warrick said. “He began providing more specific stuff to the CIA, and even the White House liked him. It turns out he had another plan.”
Warrick said that, when he spoke with people in the CIA about the suicide bomber, it wasn’t something people in that department wanted to talk about. Still, from traveling to Afghanistan and working his sources in the CIA, Warrick was able to finish a book about the incident.
“It was such a big disaster by CIA standards,” Warrick said. “The book shows the context of a very human narrative from a spy mission gone bad.”