Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Fixing Hell, an Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Fixing Hell, an Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib

Article excerpt

Fixing Hell, An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib. By Col. (ret) Lawrence James, Ph.D. New York: Grand Central Publishers, 2008. 304 pp. $24.99 ($22.78, audio).

James, a U. S. Army colonel and a psychologist deployed to Abu Ghraib in the wake of the prison's scandals, tells of his efforts to "fix hell" there - in other words, to help repair the image of the U.S. Army in Iraq. The author seeks to explain the psychodynamics and the culture that allowed for the twisted and sometimes depraved behavior of eight army guards. James was also charged with establishing mies and procedures involving the interrogation of nonmilitary enemy combatants.

The book reads well, with crisp sentences and easily digestible ideas, and without foggy psychological theories or obscure military jargon. Indeed, several chapters of the book have the feel of the "leadership" style books fashionable in recent years. It also raises three issues of enduring interest concerning the Middle East.

First, what is the best way to incarcerate, interrogate, and possibly reintegrate nonmilitary combatants? Are harsh interrogation procedures more or less effective than a compassionate, empathetic approach in eliciting information from such combatants? James recommends more efforts at rehabilitation and suggests interrogators become much better educated in the social relations of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Second, can the hyperbolic anger in young Islamist Iraqis be classified as a new psychological disorder, given that the offenders do not display symptoms associated with psychosis? …

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