The Soldier Who Killed Herself After Refusing to Take Part in Torture


by Greg Mitchell

In marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this past weekend, numerous reports in the media covered the enormous costs of the “war on terror,” human and financial, that followed the attacks on America. No one, as far as I could see, mentioned one often hidden area that I have focused on since our first troops landed in Afghanistan: the shocking increase in the number of suicides within the US military, and among veterans who served in our recent wars.

Despite the decline in fighting in Iraq in recent years, that suicide rate remains at record levels. Just last week, a U.S. congresswoman revealed that a nephew had shot himself and died in a foxhole in Afghanistan — after being hazed by his peers.

Over the years, I have written about dozens of sad, tragic, individual cases. But one of the saddest of all concerns a young soldier who died eight years ago this week. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what most would call torture — another wrong turn by the United States following 9/11 — Alyssa Peterson refused, then killed herself a few days later, on September 15, 2003.

Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the US Senate committee probe and various press reports that the “Gitmo-izing” of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.

Spc. Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers who died in Iraq. Her death under these circumstances should have drawn wide attention. It’s not exactly the Tillman case, but a cover-up, naturally, followed.

Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Arizona, native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. She was a valuable Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on September 15, 2003, from a “non-hostile weapons discharge.”

A “non-hostile weapons discharge” leading to death is not unusual in Iraq, often quite accidental, so this one apparently raised few eyebrows. The Arizona Republic, three days after her death, reported that Army officials “said 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.” And that might have ended it right there.

But in this case, a longtime radio and newspaper reporter named Kevin Elston, not satisfied with the public story, decided to probe deeper in 2005, “just on a hunch,” he told me in late 2006. He made “hundreds of phone calls” to the military and couldn’t get anywhere, so he filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. When the documents of the official investigation of her death arrived, they contained bombshell revelations.

Here’s what the Flagstaff public radio station, KNAU, where Elston worked, reported: “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.”

The official probe of her death would later note that earlier she had been “reprimanded” for showing “empathy” for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of the report, in fact, is this: “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 then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. “But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle,” the documents disclose.

The official report revealed that a notebook she had written in was found next to her body, but blacked out its contents.

The Army talked to some of Peterson’s colleagues. Asked to summarize their comments, Elston told me: “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.”

Elston said that the documents also refer to a suicide note found on her body, which suggested that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide. He filed another FOIA request for a copy of the actual note. It did not emerge.

Peterson, a devout Mormon — her mother, Bobbi, claims she always stuck up for “the underdog” — had graduated from Flagstaff High School and earned a psychology degree from Northern Arizona University on a military scholarship. She was trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and was sent to the Middle East in 2003, reportedly going in place of another soldier who did not wish to go.

A report in the Arizona Daily Sun of Flagstaff — three years after Alyssa’s death — revealed that Spc. Peterson’s mother, reached at her home in northern Arizona, said that neither she nor her husband Richard had received any official documents that contained information outlined in Elston’s report.

In other words: like the press and the public, even the parents had been kept in the dark.

Kayla Williams (left), an Army sergeant who served with Alyssa, told me me that she talked to her about her problems shortly before she killed herself. Williams also was forced to take part in torture interrogations, where she saw detainees punched. Another favorite technique: strip the prisoners and then remove their blindfolds so that the first thing they saw was Kayla Williams.

She also opted out, but survived, and is haunted years later. She wrote a book about her experience in the military, Love My Rifle More Than You.

Here’s what Williams told Soledad O’Brien of 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.” Kayla Williams told me that she spoke with Alyssa Peterson about the young woman’s troubles a week before she died–and afterward, attended her memorial service.

When I wrote a piece about Peterson two years ago, her brother, Spencer Peterson, left a comment:

Alyssa is my little sister. I usually don’t comment on boards like this, and I don’t speak for the rest of my family (especially my folks), but I think she probably did kill herself over this. She was extremely sensitive and empathetic to others, and cared a lot more about the welfare and well-being of the people around her than she cared about herself…. Thank you to everyone for your continued support of our troops and our family. Alyssa’s death was a tremendous loss to everyone who knew her, and we miss her sweet and sensitive spirit. No one is happier than I am that (many of) our troops are coming home from Iraq, and I pray that the rest of our brave soldiers return home safely as soon as possible. Support our troops–bring them home!

  1. #1 by Gary on September 16, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    When decently raised, god fearing kids get swept up in the moral depravity that occurs during war,many can’t reconcile their upbringing with the atrocities they witness and even take part in. We will probably never know the depth of crimes committed by America’s “heros”.

  2. #2 by Boxcutter McGee on September 16, 2011 - 5:55 pm

    Alyssa Peterson’s died under extremely suspicious circumstances. Fittingly enough, there is a brief article about her over at (the excellent) “Suspicious Deaths“.

    “After her refusal of task she was then assigned to the base gate monitoring Iraqi guards. According to a later investigational report, she was then put under suicide watch after refusing participation in interrogation sessions which she stated constituted torture of Iraqi prisoners. On September 15, 2003, Peterson was found dead allegedly from a shot from her service rifle. Three days later her sudden demise was then officially ruled death by “non-hostile weapons discharge”.

    This, according to Army officials, includes a number of possible scenarios that are being considered such as: “Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian”.”

  3. #3 by Boxcutter McGee on September 16, 2011 - 5:56 pm

    [typo corrected]
    ———————————–

    Alyssa Peterson died under extremely suspicious circumstances. Fittingly enough, there is a brief article about her over at (the excellent) “Suspicious Deaths“.

    “After her refusal of task she was then assigned to the base gate monitoring Iraqi guards. According to a later investigational report, she was then put under suicide watch after refusing participation in interrogation sessions which she stated constituted torture of Iraqi prisoners. On September 15, 2003, Peterson was found dead allegedly from a shot from her service rifle. Three days later her sudden demise was then officially ruled death by “non-hostile weapons discharge”.

    This, according to Army officials, includes a number of possible scenarios that are being considered such as: “Peterson’s own weapon discharging, the weapon of another soldier discharging, or the accidental shooting of Peterson by an Iraqi civilian”.”

  4. #4 by Dr.Nur on September 16, 2011 - 8:35 pm

    NOW IT IS LIKE SUCH: IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. SLAVERY IS FREEDOM,EVIL IS GOOD AND GOOD IS EVIL. SUCH IS OUR ALL PERVADING ZIONKEE BRAINWASH JUDEO-“CHRISTIAN” FARCE-“CIVILIZATION”, TODAY. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY YOU CAN PUMP YOURSELF A BULLET INTO YOUR BRAIN. MY OWN, ONLY, YOUNGER BROTHER DID THE SAME A FEW YEARS AGO. HE COULD NOT TAKE THE LIES AND THE CARNIVAL ANYMORE. THEY HAVE WON !!!EXCEPT FOR A FEW POCKETS OF RESISTANCE IN LIBYA,SYRIA,IRAN AND WE ARE JUST MAROON SLAVES ON PROBATION TILL OUR SLAUGHTER. IT IS IN THEIR BOOKS…

  5. #5 by galwayspaniard on September 16, 2011 - 10:41 pm

    If under suicide watch how did she get access to her own rifle?

  6. #6 by J M Damon on September 16, 2011 - 11:49 pm

    One reason the suicide rate is so among active duty personnel is the absence of an identifiable antiwar movement among the enlisted personnel.
    During the Vietnam War there was an effective support group to assist individuals who refused to carry out criminal orders and directives from on high, but this is totally lacking in the present imperialistic aggressions.
    Apparently the circumstance that military personnel today are “volunteers” presents an insurmountable psychological obstacle to organizing among the military, even though most personnel are in fact driven to enlist by lack of opportunities for employment or study in the productive sector.

  7. #7 by Emily on September 17, 2011 - 3:12 am

    Truly terrible. It’s amazing how our Zionist -media covers this stuff up, but then again, maybe it’s not. I’m so used to it by now …

  8. #8 by Ingrid B on September 17, 2011 - 9:30 am

    did the girl jump, or was she pushed?

    it`s just a pity that these troubled kids, turn their weapons on themselves, and not on those responsible for their torment..

  9. #9 by galwayspaniard on September 17, 2011 - 9:42 am

    Damon: I agree- when all around you lack fervor and are dull and/or dullards, and there is no sign of life, laughter, humanity, some choose to end it all. A lot of these youth need to unglue their restrictive dull selves from their electronic devices. Someone with some real sense about life and people should have made it clear to someone in command that they were going to have a dead soldier if they didn’t act NOW.
    I am glad I grew up on streets of 50s Brooklyn- little money but there was vitality to life.
    At least this soldier cared.
    Volunteer Army seems to give assinine civilians attitude of “well, it was their choosing to join”. Morality comes first to some soldiers. To others, it is mission first, but without integrity there is nothing.
    Dr Nur: I can see why people choose to end it all but I prefer to fight for myself and others and change it all. I am no Gandhi but he was once ambulance team Indian army during Boer War in S Africa. Of course, people in modern society are beat down, made prisoner to economic issues , all the more reason to band together.

  10. #10 by ajmacdonaldjr on September 17, 2011 - 10:29 am

    Another horrendous, criminal act on the part of our “government” and its military. A recent article in the Epoch Times “Clandestine Warfare and Morality” recounts the similar experience of a CIA officer who refused to take part in torture due to it’s conscience searing nature. http://epoch-archive.com/a1/en/us/was/2011/09-Sep/15/A1_EET20110915-DCUS.pdf

    The article concerns the CIA officer’s book “The Interrogator” in which the officer realizes his duty to his conscience and the US Constitution overrules the illegal order to torture someone http://www.amazon.com/Interrogator-Education-Glenn-L-Carle/dp/1568586736

    Our troops are loosing more than life and limb overseas; they are loosing their hearts, souls, and humanity, which is far worse. The VA can fit someone with an artificial limb but not an artificial soul.

    This “government” must be stopped and abolished. Good people must rise up and cast it off, instituting new – better – government in its place. We have allowed criminals and thugs to ruin everything America stands for. We can abandon America or we can rise up and restore America. The choice is ours. Now is not the time for politics as usual; now is the time for intelligent action and radical change http://www.scribd.com/doc/62966380/Philosophy-and-Plan-of-Action-The-Summer-of-Justice-2012-DC

  11. #11 by galwayspaniard on September 17, 2011 - 5:39 pm

    Thanks – went to your site acmacdonaldjr.
    Dr Nur- I am sorry about what your family lives with after your brother’s death.
    Some of us have to catch ourselves in not dwelling on so many of the dead that we knew in 69. It eats people up for their entire lives …unless they have decent support systems. Getting older does not heal a lot of people…only makes some periods worse.

  12. #12 by galwayspaniard on September 17, 2011 - 5:42 pm

    acmacdonaldjr: I would clearly want to lose a limb than live with uncontrollable bad dreams, etc. I don’t know if and when it occurs to so many military leaders that lives were taken and hope and trust went down the drain, and now there is widespread anger, depression, torment of the soul and mind, and worse for the families of those killed.

  13. #13 by Susan Livingston on September 18, 2011 - 1:50 am

    “Our troops are loosing more than life and limb overseas; they are loosing their hearts, souls, and humanity, which is far worse. The VA can fit someone with an artificial limb but not an artificial soul.” Thanks to Wade Fulmer for the heads-up.

  14. #14 by abinashi on September 18, 2011 - 6:21 am

    This story is heartbreaking! I would have been proud to have known this Lady. To force a good human being to participate in cruel evil can only be described as Satanic! Those who engineered our involvement in this war must be punished. This is an ongoing war-crime. It must stoped, and the neo-cons, many of whom also have Israeli citizenship, must be eliminated!

  15. #15 by SlackerSlayer on September 18, 2011 - 2:34 pm

    She had a ‘WEAPON’ while on “suicide watch” because they call it suicide when they execute in the field those that refuse to carry out their illegal orders, and rightly refused. Do not buy the fraud in that claimed story. She was ‘suicided’ to keep the ilegal wars and activities of the “advisors” from israel ongoing in their depravity toward innocent humans they have some inbred hatred for.

  16. #16 by Pro-Gentile on September 18, 2011 - 4:17 pm

    “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.”

    That is one of the biggest life lessons: One cannot serve 2 masters.

    It just so happens most of the people in this world serve mammon.

    How else can you explain the way that these satanic criminal garbage in positions of power are not brought to Justice?

    There is a sickness in all cultures/nations… those that don’t value Justice, should and will be destroyed. Ask Rome.

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