In this episode, we track down what one powerful religious group was keeping under wraps; troops open up to Reveal about their experiences with torture and whether officers are being held accountable; and high-speed broadband is like electricity for the 21st century – Reveal examines why so many cities still have poor service.
Host: Al Letson
Executive Producer: Kevin Sullivan
Executive Editor: Susanne Reber
Editorial Director: Robert Salladay
Managing Director: Christa Scharfenberg
Lead Sound Designer and Engineer: Jim Briggs
Reveal Producers: Julia B. Chan, Rachel Gotbaum, Delaney Hall and Michael Montgomery
Additional Sound: Adithya Sambamurthy, Damon Jacoby and American RadioWorks
Reveal Reporters and Editors: Trey Bundy, Fernando Diaz, Deborah George
For The Center for Public Integrity: Allan Holmes and Alison Fitzgerald
Senior Management for CIR: Joaquin Alvarado and Robert J. Rosenthal
Senior Management for PRX: John Barth, Kerri Hoffman and Jake Shapiro
- Ezekiel Honig, “More Human Than Human (Soultek’s Morning Dub Remix)” from “More Human Than Human Remix EP” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig and Morgan Packard, “Planting Broken Branches” from “Early Morning Migration” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “A Closed Loop That Opens Everywhere” from “Folding in On Itself” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Between Bridges” from “Folding in On Itself” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Tradition Is the Illusion of Permanence” from “Folding in On Itself” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “High & Low” from “Folding in On Itself” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Concrete and Plastic” from “Scattered Practices” (Anticipate)
- Ezekiel Honig, “Books On Tape” from “Scattered Practices” (Anticipate)
- Hauschka, “Radar (Michael Mayer Remix)” from “Salon Des Amateurs”
- Anenon, “Rites” from “Acquiescence EP” (Ghostly)
- Aeroc, “Orch Pt 7 (High)” (Ghostly)
- Tycho, “Elegy” from “Dive” (Ghostly)
- Steve Gunn, “Old Strange” from “Time Off” (Paradise of Bachelors)
- Ben Benjamin, “Beach Dogs” from “Golden Days, Playful Pop” (Ghostly)
- 10:32, “Written Not Sent” from “Vanitas EP” (Ghostly)
Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.
Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: Reveal is supported by Harrys.com. Harry’s Razors offers a high quality shave that’s better for your face and your wallet. They have their own razor blade factory in Germany. Harry’s got a starter set, it’s $15 and it includes a razor, foamy shave gel or shave cream, and three razor blades, plus free shipping. It would actually make a perfect gift.Go to Harrys.com now and Harry’s will give you $5 off if you type in our coupon code “Reveal” with your first purchase. That’s Harry’s, H-A-R-R-Y-S.com and enter coupon code “Reveal” at checkout for $5 off your first purchase. Harrys.com, start shaving better today.From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Candace was a devoted member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses …
Candace: As a kid, I just remember, my whole opening spill was, “When [did you 00:55] love to live in a beautiful place like this? There would be no sickness, there would be no death.”
Al Letson: When she was just a child, the organization turned into a very dark place for her.
Candace: It never goes away. It’s always there.
Al Letson: We go inside the Jehovah’s Witness organization and investigate how their policies have protected predators in their mix. Also, the battle for broadband heats up. President Obama says, “It’s utility, like water.” Some say lawmakers disagree.
Female: There are a lot of people that live their life very happily without broadband, without the internet.
Al Letson: Businesses say they can’t live without it.
Male: If broadband go down in your hospital, that’s a crisis.
Al Letson: We look at the influence of money from big telecom. All that and more coming up on Reveal.
From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson and on every episode, we pull back the curtain to expose more about the world we live in. This week, it’s all about secrets, the secrets that are still hiding when it comes to the US’ torture of terror suspects.
Also, the secrets between lawmakers and lobbyists and how that affects internet access for millions of people, but we start with a secret of religious group. If you’ve met a Jehovah’s witness, it’s probably because one of them knocked on your door and wanted to share some bible literature with you.
Preacher: Go therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations.
Al Letson: All around the world, eight million Witnesses do this kind of public ministry. They call it “field service.”
Preacher: With those words, Jesus commissioned his followers to share the good news about the kingdom of God …
Al Letson: They also make videos like the one you’re listening to now. Jehovah’s Witnesses were one of the first religious groups to use media to spread their primary message, which is this, “The world is ending soon. Armageddon is coming, but join us and you’ll live forever in an earthly paradise.” That’s the message.
Candace: That is why we shall not fear though the earth undergo change. Do you think God could be our refuge?
Male: It has become the greatest preaching campaign the world has ever known.
Candace: I’ve been going door-to-door, I was going door-to-door from a really young age.
Al Letson: Candace Conti grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness community in Fremont, California. As a child, she spends 70 hours a month doing public ministry, door-to-door. She carried bible pamphlets that painted the picture of heaven on earth, people from all nationalities coming together, animals grazing in technical fields, gardens overflowing with food.
Candace: As a kid, I just remember, my whole opening spill was, “When [did you 03:38] love to live in a beautiful place like this? There would be no sickness, there would be no death, your loved ones that have passed away would be brought back to life.”
Al Letson: When people responded to this vision, when they let Candace inside to talk some more, it felt great.
Candace: There’s nothing like it actually. You’re taught that you’re saving this person’s life. I mean, I wanted to be the best Jehovah’s Witness that I could be.
Al Letson: The organization became a dark place for Candace, a place that she now looks at with anger and sadness. Just to know here that this story covers some difficult material related to sexual abuse. When Candace was in grade school, she went on field service calls with a man named Jonathan Kendrick.
Candace: He was really dominating. He commanded a presence. To me, he’s big.
Al Letson: When they were alone Candace says, Kendrick would take her to his house and molest her. Kendrick denies this claim and was never prosecuted for it but a jury in a civil lawsuit found wrongdoing. Candace blames the policies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for failing to protect her from abuse.
Across the country, lawsuits against the organization are mounting, but the Witnesses are fighting these claims in court. They argue their child sex abuse policies should be protected by the first amendment. To them, it’s a matter of religious freedom. Reveal reporter Trey Bundy and producer Delaney Hall, tell the story.
Delaney: Ten months ago, a package arrived at the Center for Investigative Reporting. It was a plain Manila envelope. Trey Bundy opened it with his editor.
Trey: It was a stack of documents and one of the first we saw was confidential.
Delaney: A man with ties to the Jehovah’s Witnesses had sent the package. The envelope was filled with documents from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the global headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. That’s where the organization’s governing body lives and works.
Trey: They are the spiritual leaders of the organization. They’re the equivalent of the pope in the catholic church.
Delaney: And they set policies for the organization.
Trey: They call it “Shedding New Light.”
Delaney: The Watchtower distributes the policy through memos sent to elders at congregations across the country. The memos are for the elders’ eyes only. They’re not supposed to be shared outside the organization.
Trey: Here we go.
Delaney: Trey started reading through the documents.
Trey: From Ecclesiastes 3:7, they say, “There’s a time to keep quiet when your words should proved to be few.”
Delaney: The language is this mix of corporate policy and bible verse.
Trey: “I will set a mozzle as a guard to my own mouth, as long as anyone wicked is in front of me.”
Delaney: The memos described how congregation elders should handle allegations of child sex abuse.
Trey: “Improper use of the tongue by an elder can result in serious legal problems for the individual, the congregation, and even the society.” By that, they mean the Watchtower Society.
Delaney: Boiled down, here’s what the memo said …
Trey: “Keep your mouth shut. Do not go to law enforcement.”
Delaney: Irwin Zalkin is a lawyer in San Diego. He has more than a dozen sex abuse lawsuits pending against the Watchtower. He studied these memos and the post-leaders in the organization. He says, the policy on sex abuse is clear.
Trey: “You come to us first, don’t you tell anybody. You don’t warn parents in the congregation. We’ll decide what happens here,” that’s their policy.
Delaney: Which is in-line with the organization’s general mistrust of the outside world.
Trey: They live in a very, very close community. They look at the rest of the world as being disease, as being controlled by Satan. Essentially, they’re told not to mix with the rest of the world anymore than they have to.
Delaney: Trey spent the next nine months learning about this closed community. He discovered the Watchtower has worked with local congregations to hide sex abuse from law enforcement. The organization’s policies wrapped in biblical language have allowed perpetrators to skirt the law, and in some cases, to abuse multiple victims.
Preacher: Chapter five, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest. They are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct and things like these that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
Delaney: Candace Conti has experienced the effects of the Watchtower’s policies firsthand. She says that after Jonathan Kendrick molested her, she didn’t tell anyone about it. She kept attending meetings at her North Fremont congregation. The elders there had known her pretty much all her life.
Candace: In particular, Larry Lamerdin, Michael Clarke, Abrahamson, they all watched me grow up. It is that tight-knit of the community. There really is no outside. This is your association.
Delaney: What Candace did not know was that at least two of those elders were already aware that Kendrick had a history of abuse. Just a year before, he told them that he’d sexually molested his 13-year old step daughter. Here’s Trey again.
Trey: When the elders in Fremont discovered that Kendrick had abuse his stepdaughter, they notified the Watchtower in writing. A couple of weeks later, the Watchtower sent a letter back to North Fremont saying that what Kendrick did was considered uncleanness.
Delaney: Uncleanness is a term from the bible and it’s considered a minor offense.
Trey: Because of that, the sanctions against him wouldn’t be as harsh.
Laywer: Good morning. This marks the beginning of video tape number one in the deposition of Michael Clarke …
Delaney: Years later, in a legal deposition, a Fremont elder named Michael Clarke acknowledge that yes, they’ve known that Kendrick had abuse multiple victims.
Lawyer: Did you notify law enforcement of the information that you received about the touching of these two girls by Mr. Kendrick?
Lawyer: Why not?
Michael: Our legal department advised me.
Denaley: At this point, Jehovah’s Witness lawyer, James McCabe jumps in.
James: I’m going to object. I’m going to ask you not to say what they advised you but you can just said you contact with the legal department you reacted accordingly.
Male: I’ll join in that objection.
Denaley: Clark also said that the Fremont elders didn’t inform the congregation about Kendrick’s abuse.
Clark: We don’t make that public to the congregation. That’s confidential.
James: That’s the policy or the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses that you learned as an elder, correct?
Denaley: Parents in the congregation including Candace’s parents, weren’t notified that Kendrick was a child abuser. Kendrick separated from his wife and when he moved to a new congregation in Oakley, a town about an hour north, they weren’t notified either.
Preacher: Chapter five, “Therefore to the elder men among you, I give this exhortation, shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion but willingly. Neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.”
Roger: Okay. Well, you’re looking at a very nice stokoud building with tile roof. It’s very clean, very simple lines …
Denaley: This is Roger Bentley, he served as an elder in Oakley for almost three decades. In fact, he helped build the Kingdom Hall here. That’s what Witnesses’ called the places where they worship.
Roger: The dimensions of the main auditorium is 44 feet by 88, if I remember correctly. We did the foundation, and I can still see those numbers in my head.
Denaley: Bentley says he loved being an elder, until he was kicked out for speaking up about child abuse. He took his job seriously. He called himself a shepherd of the flock, God’s coworker and it was his job to welcome new members, like Jonathan Kendrick.
Not long after Kendrick arrived, Bentley and the other Oakley elders got in touch with his old congregation in Fremont. They asked the elders there to send a letter of introduction.
Roger: Okay, the whole letter? “Dear brothers, enclosed are the publisher cards of brother Jonathan Kendrick and our colleagues …”
Denaley: This kind of letter was pretty standard for a Jehovah’s Witness transferring from one town to another. The letter mentioned that Kendrick had had a rocky marriage but for the most part, it was positive.
Roger: The skills of brother Kendrick vary from violin playing and topiary, to woodworking, and welding. He’s a very interesting individual who has taken the lead with some young ones in the congregation and helped them from [varying off course 12:18] …
Denaley: The letter didn’t mention child abuse. In fact, it implied that he was good with kids.
Roger: Looking back now what I know, this is crazy.
Denaley: The Fremont elders claimed they followed up with a second letter that did explain Kendrick’s past abuses, but Trey and I have looked at that letter.
Trey: The letter says right here that his only punishment was for loss of temper and self-control.
Denaley: Kendrick began to settle in. He met and eventually married a woman in the congregation named Linda Hood, Roger officiated.
Trey: We thought we went through all the hoops and letter of the law and all that kind of thing. We thought that everything was fine.
Denaley: But it wasn’t.
Lawyer: Mr. Kendrick, can you state your name and spell your last name for the record?
Kendrick: Jonathan Kendrick, K-E-N-D-R-I-C-K …
Denaley: A few years after they got married, Kendrick sexually molested Linda’s granddaughter, Beth. That’s not her real name by the way. We don’t reveal the identities of child sex abuse victims if they want to remain anonymous. Kendrick admitted to it and eventually served less than a year in jail. This is from a legal deposition in 2012.
Lawyer: When did you sexually touch her granddaughter (beep)?
Kendrick: Late January or February when she was six.
Denaley: Kendrick has never admitted to abusing Candace but in the same deposition, he did confess to molesting his step daughter from his previous marriage back in Fremont. He talked about how the elders there responded.
Lawyer: Did any of these elders ever instruct you to stay away from children alone?
Lawyer: Both of the elders or just one of them?
Kendrick: I can specifically remember, Gary Abrahamson as he was with brother Clarke, [concert 14:07] from both of them.
Lawyer: What did brother Abraham’s say in this regard?
Kendrick: He said do not be alone with children, not allow myself to get into position where claims could be made against me.
Denaley: Back, Linda’s granddaughter is 20 now. She doesn’t get whether Fremont Elders didn’t notify Oakley about Kendrick’s past. Not in a letter of introduction, not in the follow up letter. Maybe Kendrick wouldn’t have abused her if they’d known.
Candace: Yeah. I don’t understand why if they had to watch him so much that they would not let the other congregation know they do the same. They’d protect their own people but not the next congregation’s people.
Preacher: Chapter 10, Proverbs of Solomon, “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”
Denaley: By now, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of paperwork in this story. Trey has sorted through thousands of pages.
Trey: These folders are full of letters from the Watchtower to congregations, from congregations to the Watchtower, court depositions with Watchtower officials.
Denaley: That’s because the Watchtower requires strict communication with congregation elders. Here’s Irwin Zalkin again, the lawyer who’s currently trying more than a dozen sex abuse cases against the Watchtower.
Irwin: They are directed by the Watchtower, they’re controlled by the Watchtower, they answer to the Watchtower, everything goes to the Watchtower.
Denaley: That includes information very relevant to the story. Almost two decades ago, the Watchtower sent out a letter.
Trey: To every elder in the entire United States and said, “We want you to give us all your information on anyone that’s a known child sex abuser in your congregation.”
Denaley: They required congregations to answer specific questions related to the nature of the abused, the name of the offender, and when it happened, so it’s all configured.
Trey: There must be a database for this. They didn’t just do this for the fun of it.
Delaney: Zalkin subpoenaed the Watchtower to turn over that database when he was arguing another case, but they refuse. They said, their data on child abusers is mixed up in millions of other documents. It would take too long to search them.
Richard: We have over 14,400 congregations and that continues to grow.
Delaney: Richard Ash works for the Watchtower. His department oversees correspondence between the Watchtower and local congregations. This is from a deposition last year.
Richard: You will be going through approximately three million documents that are contained in 14,400 files?
Delaney: Here’s Zalkin again.
Zalkin: When they go to the extreme of arguing that the information that they have on the numbers of abusers within their organization is so overwhelming for them to put together, it would suggest that there is a substantial problem that they are clearly aware of and don’t want to reveal.
Delaney: When the Watchtower wouldn’t hand over the information, the judge in that case struck the organization’s defense and awarded a 13.5 million dollar default judgment to Zalkin’s client. Zalkin says the Watchtower’s refusal is a good example of their general stance towards the secular court system.
Zalkin: They see themselves as answering to a higher authority, so they’re not going to change anything to accommodate what we consider reasonable standards of care.
Preacher: Chapter 13, “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.”
Delaney: Seven years after Jonathan Kendrick molested Beth in Oakley, Candace Conti learned about the abuse.
Candace: I have the sense of guilt. What if I did something? What if I hadn’t been such a coward? What if I had done something to maybe protect this other child?
Delaney: Candace decided to bring a civil lawsuit against Kendrick, the north Fremont congregation, and the Watchtower. In 2012, a jury found that the organization was negligent, having known that Kendrick was dangerous. They awarded Candace more than 15 million dollars in damages to be paid by Kendrick, north Fremont, and the Watchtower. The Watchtower and the north Fremont congregation are currently appealing.
Lawyer: May it please the court, James McCabe on behalf of the north Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have two points that I’d like to address …
Delaney: About a month ago, we attended the appeal hearing and listened in on the Watchtower’s arguments. Witness’ layers reference to the first amendment and the constitutional right to religious freedom.
Lawyer: The religious beliefs and standards of Jehovah’s Witnesses were at play in this case from start to finish based on …
Delaney: Namely in the Watchtower letters that outline sex abuse policy.
Lawyer: “… And the elders or council in that letter to give special heed of the council, do not reveal the confidential talk of another,” quoting from the bible book of proverbs chapter 25, verse 9.
Delaney: Because those policy letters reference Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, The Psalms, Proverbs, Witness lawyers argue that their first amendment right of religious freedom protects them from scrutiny, but Zalkin isn’t buying that.
Lawyer: That’s not the law. The law is that we can’t question what you believe, believe what you want to believe, but we can question your conduct.
Delaney: For months, Trey has been sending emails and making phone calls, trying to get in-touch with local elders and the Watchtower’s governing body. He wants to know why the organization hasn’t really stir information on known child abusers.
Trey: Hi. Can you please connect me with extension …
Delaney: He called Gerrit Lösch, the longest serving member of the governing body.
Trey: Hi, extension 46 …
Delaney: … And Richard Ashe, the Watchtower supervisor who you heard in an earlier deposition and [Allen Shuster 20:21], a Watchtower administrator. No response. Trey traveled to Watchtower headquarters in New York, but no one would talk, which gets back to the issue at the heart of this story, secrecy. Then just before our broadcast, we received this written statement from the Watchtower …
Trey: It says, “Jehovah’s Witnesses [uproar 20:45] child abuse.” Then it says, “Congregation elders comply with child abuse reporting laws and that they’re committed to doing to doing all they can to prevent child abuse.”
Delaney: As the Watchtower faces a growing number of sex abuse lawsuits across the country, they’re doubling down on their policies. Their most recent memo about how to handle crimes came out just a few months ago. Again, it discourages elders from reporting to police and advises them to rely on internal judicial committees instead.
Trey: Then it list the types of crimes you’re talking about, murder, rape, child abuse, fraud, theft, and assault. They’re essentially strengthening their original position, “We’re not going to cooperate, we’re not going to talk.”
Delaney: Slowly, lawsuit-by-lawsuit, the Watchtower’s policies are being exposed. People like Candace aren’t keeping quiet anymore.
Candace: I wasn’t going to take the backseat. I wanted to go full steam ahead and expose them for what they really were and the policies and procedures for what they really were.
Delaney: For Reveal, I’m Delaney Hall.
Trey: I’m Trey Bundy.
Al Letson: In 2012, Beth, Kendrick’s stepdaughter brought a lawsuit against the Watchtower but it was dismissed on first amendment grounds. Linda Hood remains married to Jonathan Kendrick who still attends the Oakley Kingdom Hall. Judges will rule on the Watchtower’s appeal in the Candace Conti case this spring. To read the Watchtower’s full statement and find out more about the story, visit our website at revealnews.org.
Up next, so the reports have come out about CIA torturing terror suspects, right? What about the torture performed by the military and where does the buck stop? That’s coming up when we return on Reveal.
I’m Al Letson and you are listening to Reveal. When it comes to the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation, there’s still a lot of unfinished business. Just this past December, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that stirred up a lot of conversation in the public and in congress.
Female: The CIA’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our value and our history. The release of this 500-page summary cannot remove that stain.
Male: This particular release in my judgment, serves no purpose whatsoever, other than to endanger Americans around the world.
Al Letson: Here’s the thing, it wasn’t just the CIA. The US military also use similar techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq and come on, let’s be real here. When I say techniques, what we are really talking about is torture. We know a lot more about torture, not just because of the senate report, but from a host of whistle blowers including Alberto Mora. He was the navy’s top lawyer during the Bush administration.
Alberto: If we’re to say that we’re a country that uses torture and uses cruelty, then we’re not the country we were founded and we’re not the country where it meant to be.
Al Letson: We’ll get back to my conversation with Mora later. First, a story about the Iraq war and the impact of torture on the men who took part in the abuse. Reporter Joshua Phillips spent years investigating a group of army soldiers who came home deeply troubled by some of the things they did to Iraqi prisoners. Phillips was drawn to one man in particular, a combat medic with lots of secrets. Here’s Josh.
Josh: Before you continue, just spell your name for me so I have it.
Jonathan: It’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N. Last name is Millantz, M-I-L-L-A-N-T-Z
Al Letson: The first time I spoke with Jonathan Millantz was this phone call in 2006. The war in Iraq had been going on for three years and John was a combat medic there during some of the worst fighting. Now, he was back home on a medical discharge.
Jonathan: Let’s see here. I don’t care if you use my name, but I’m not going to release any higher information [inaudible 24:48] or anything I’ve got …
Al Letson: He was offering to help me report on soldiers who had tried but failed to blow the whistle on abuses by US troops in Iraq. John told me violent interrogations, cruelty, and torture weren’t limited to the CIA or at Abu Ghraib prison. He described a remote place in Iraq that the public didn’t know about, a small army base where captured Iraqis were beaten, kept sleepless, and chained to bars for days.
Jonathan: My job is actually to check their vital signs and to make sure that we’re not killing them.
Al Letson: I wanted to know more, but it was tough to get details. John would reach out to me, then disappear for months. When I caught him on the phone, he could be evasive. He finally agreed to sit down for an interview at his mother’s house in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. John told me about his deployment to the Sunni triangle, the turbulent region north of Baghdad.
He was attached to a tank battalion, part of the 4th infantry division but with American troops being targeted and killed by the insurgents, the men left their tanks and fought a different kind of war. They raided homes, hauling captured Iraqi men back to a forward operating base.
John: There’s already a jail there, sliding doors, and all that good stuff. I don’t know if it was something from Saddam’s regime that he had put there or whatever, but there’s about six cells on each side.
Al Letson: Next to the jail were the interrogation booths, John told me detainees were beaten and tormented there before and during questioning. Sometimes troops abuse prisoners out of anger and frustration with the war.
John: Some of the guys in the jail I remember, some are Iraqi stories, they’re like “Why am I even here?” The rest of them [inaudible 26:36] farm or trying to make a living and they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t really imagine getting interrogated for so long, for weeks. They’re just thinking, “What the hell? I don’t even do anything.” I’m sure some of the guys are probably making up stuff to say because they really didn’t know.
Eli Wright: The majority of people that we captured and tortured were completely innocent, that seems to keep getting lost in the defense of these techniques that were used and things like that.
Al Letson: Eli Wright met John in basic training. He’s one of about a dozen soldiers I’ve interviewed who served alongside John or the nearby base and who witnessed prisoner abuse. Like John, Wright was a combat medic who treated Iraqi men after brutal interrogations.
Eli Wright: As a medic, I guess I enlisted with some pretty high deals. To be put in a situation where I was involved in being party to hurting others, which is of course what happens in war but to do it in a way that we were doing it in those holding cells, it really shattered my world view.
Al Letson: John also seem shattered by powerful feelings of guilt.
John: It’s been really hard over the years, coming terms what’s actually happened over there and …
Al Letson: I remember this moment in one of our interviews. John is sitting uneasily in a hotel room. As he struggles for words, his fingers slowly tear apart a styrofoam coffee cup.
John: I just feel uncomfortable even talking about it myself or another veteran or someone who’s there because from my point of my view, keeping it personal lives, a lot of these so-called interrogation techniques were going on definitely burns damage to your brain that you’ll never forget.
Al Letson: One day, John handed me a snapshot. In the photo, John is posing with an army lieutenant in the jail back in Iraq with a question detainees. Sitting in the foreground is an Iraqi man wincing in pain. John shared this pictured to prove abuse and torture really happened and that officers were present and oversaw it, but the photo reveal something else, both men standing next to the prisoner are smiling.
John’s smile is a little goofy, but he also seems to be raising his fist over the man’s head. Turns out, John wasn’t just treating prisoners at the jail, he also took part in the abuse. Recently, I showed footage to his friend Eli Wright. It was the first time he had seen the image.
Eli Wright: You can see in the picture if you look closely enough that the detainee is sweating through.
Male: Oh, he’s completely covered in sweat. Yeah. He [soaked 29:30] through. You can’t barely see any dry spots on his clothing.
Al Letson: The Iraqi prisoner is holding a heavy wooden board in his hands. John had told me, the prisoner was forced to hold the board so long that his wrist broke.
Eli Wright: It’s really hard to see him in that photo because that’s not the Johnny I knew and that’s not the way that he was before he went to war for sure. Like many of us, it brought out a dark side that we all have within us and allowed it to run completely free with no restraint. For me, and seeing this officer standing there, that’s where it feels like a major betrayal that we were lead into this by people who gave a green light to just go ahead with whatever crazy stuff they would invent and come up with.
Obviously, speaks again one of those disconnects that often is portrayed on these incidents that these are young, bad apple soldiers.
Al Letson: When I asked John about his role in the abuse, he told me this …
John: I think any human being in that sort of situation would have done the same thing.
Al Letson: He also told me he tried to speak out about the abuses in the jail.
John: I’m not going to say and ask but I’ve voiced my opinion many times to officers in the units and NCOs. It was beat into our brains entire time, “Look at there, this is a company-level operation. Do not talk about it. Do not talking about this” because they know exactly what the hell they’re doing.
Al Letson: Another one of John’s friends, Michael Blake says John told him about trying to report the abuse to his superiors. Blake also served in the 4th infantry division and was stationed nearby.
Blake: They try to take it to the first line of supervisor, platoon sergeant and went all the way up to the CO and nobody would listen to him or do anything about it.
Male: It’s not easy to be a whistle blower in the US military.
Al Letson: John Sifton of Human Rights Watch has widely investigated brutal interrogations and detainee abuse by the US military. He says John Millantz’s story is one piece in a broad pattern of US torture and how American forces got away with it.
John: In Iraq and Afghanistan, and most people who were investigated, got off with a slap on the wrist or nothing.
Al Letson: John Millantz and his friends would often make that point to me, “Low-ranking soldiers have taken most of the blame.”
John: The most greediest thing is not so much that the soldiers were not held accountable, but that the accountability didn’t go up to chain of command, to the people who made the decisions that lead to the abuse in the first place.
Al Letson: After he returned from Iraq, John was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was open with me about that and like other members of his unit, he was dealing with substance abuse, prescription and street drugs. He was also haunted by a member of his unit who attempted suicide and then died of a drug overdose. That soldier had told his friends and family that he was troubled by the prisoner abuse and torture.
Josh: How are you, man? It’s Josh. How you doing?
John: Yeah. How are you doing?
Al Letson: For a time, it looks like John was coping. He was living at home, getting counseling and had a new girlfriend.
John: I consider myself very fortunate. I have friends commit suicide when I got back. I know people who have had guns pull out of their mouth. I know people who can’t get their butt everyday without being on 15 different types of medication at the VA.
Al Letson: He also found a way to channel his anger and frustration about Iraq (people shouting). He joined the Anti-war Movement.
John: I was in a big protest in Manhattan. There’s about 60,000 people behind us and I was leading the march, and a guy from American Legion came up and called me a traitor. I guess I understand where he’s coming from but he didn’t see the same thing I saw.
Al Letson: Drugs caught up with him. Days after one of our interviews, John almost died from an overdose of Xanax. I didn’t know it at the time. His sister, Roslyn says he was in anguish when she saw him in the hospital.
Roslyn: He would mumble things to me when he was in the consciousness in the hospital after taking numerous pills. He would mumble things to me like “I tried so hard Roslyn, to fix what I did” and I’ll be like “Jonathan, what are you talking about?” He’d be like “The tortures, the jails.”
Al Letson: John’s friends wondered if it was a suicide attempt. No one knew for sure.
John: Hey Josh, what’s up? This is John here. I’m doing really good. Really good. [It was Kuffar 34:14] from our counseling group. Give me a call in the house whenever you want to. I look forward to you. Okay. Bye.
Al Letson: This message was one of the last times I heard from John. Looking back, I never fully knew the depths of his depression, but John’s sister Roslyn, saw it close up.
Roslyn: He just felt alone and isolated, and felt that he didn’t deserve how … He thought he needed to be put to death in one way or another for his actions over in Iraq.
Al Letson: Jonathan Millantz died at his home in Greensburg three years after her first phone call. The corner found it was acute combined drug toxicity from a mix of prescription drugs.
On a recent blustery winter evening, I visited John’s friend, Eli Wright at an art studio in Branchburg, New Jersey. He’s been working with the Veteran’s Art Collector called the Combat Paper Project. They beat military uniforms into pulp for handmade paper.
Male: What are you doing here?
Eli Wright: Just emptying out the beater, putting the pulp into a bucket and then for beater, it’s going into the bath where I pull the sheets from.
I think he has an important story to tell and he’s not here to tell it anymore, and so it’s up to the few up us left that he had an impact on to keep him alive through telling his story.
Al Letson: Wright is crafting the paper into three masks. One represents himself, another, the prisoners he encountered in Iraq. The third mask is John.
Eli Wright: It’s not intended to be a literal representation or portrait of just Johnny himself, it’s representative of a broader range of people who have seen things and experience things that they weren’t able to reconcile.
Al Letson: In two of the masks, the faces are blindfolded. For John’s, the eyes are wide open.
Eli Wright: Often, there’s things that we wish we could un-see, and I’ve got sort of an idea in mind of sowing his eyes open so that he’s unable to look away, he’s unable to un-see the things that were in front of him.
Al Letson: Wright stares at the mask, he reflects on the damage that torture inflicted on his friend and on him. It’s a legacy that Wright still recons with today. It’s one that he can’t un-see either.
Joshua Phillips has tried many times over the past eight years to get the military to respond to soldiers’ accounts of torture, allegations that officers knew what was going on and [this type with 36:59] complaints from men like John Millantz. They came back with nothing so this January, we try it again. Just before broadcast, we heard back.
The army told us, there’s no record of any investigation into the alleged abuse. They say the information we provided including the soldiers’ testimonies and that photo, the actual photograph of the officer with the Iraqi prisoner, all that wasn’t enough.
To search their database for complaints of abuse, the army would need the detainee’s name or military-issued serial number. Of course, the problem with that is that we don’t have those details. You see, that’s the exact type of information the military is charged with finding. You can see the photo from this story on our website, revealnews.org.
Now, we’re going to dig just a little bit deeper on the US’ use of torture with Alberto Mora. He was the general counsel of the navy during the Bush administration. Now, he opposed the White House’s interrogation policies and try to change them. Today, he co-directs the Costs and Consequences of Torture Program at Harvard University. Alberto Mora, thank you so much for joining us.
Alberto: Most welcome.
Al Letson: I want to ask you about the senate intelligence committee report on the CIA interrogation program that was released in December. The accounts of cruelty by US personnel were pretty graphic, was any of that information new to you?
Alberto: In general terms, it was not, but I think there were … In specific terms, there was a lot that was new. The level of cruelty was much higher than I had previously understood. I think higher than most of the American people understood and I think one effect of that is that no reasonable person can call the program of enhanced interrogations by that euphemism any longer.
I think we can all recognize as being as a program of torture and cruelty, but torture was certainly inflicted.
Al Letson: It sounds the Bush administration on his treatment of detainees while you were the navy’s top lawyer. Let’s hear a little bit of that testimony before the senate arms service committee back in 2008.
Male: Mr. Chairman, our nation’s policy decision to your so-called harsh interrogation techniques during the war on terror was a mistake of massive proportions. It continues to damage our nation. This policy violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the [rhetoric 39:30] of our laws, our overarching foreign policy interest and our national security.
Al Letson: I want to ask you, what was it like to take on the Bush administration?
Alberto: Actually, that’s not the way I saw it. I was very much a part of the Bush administration. I felt I saw more clearly than perhaps others what the law required and what our policy interest in this area should have dictated. I was active in the internal debate to protect the navy, certainly that was my job, but protect also the Department of Defense and protect our president from the consequences of a fully chosen policy.
Also, I was never alone in this. I was fully supported by the navy marine core, fully supported by all the military lawyers in the Pentagon, and fully supported by the senior military officials and civilian officials that I spoke with.
Al Letson: When you think about like raw numbers, the military actually ended up using these enhanced interrogation or torture, whatever we’re labeling it as. They actually use it more than the CIA.
Alberto: I think first of all, the observation is correct one and what that points to is a fact that often, decisions are different from implementation in varying degrees and that the policy-making process is messy. To a man and woman, the senior leader, military leaders in the Pentagon understood that the use of cruelty is not something that we did or would want to do as a nation.
Clearly, the nation also sent out a signal from the White House, down to many others that use of cruelty was effective and perhaps necessary to save us from further lost of life. As we’ve got transmitted down into the field, that message was also taken onboard and it encouraged acts of brutality, the use of brutality and the interrogation of detainees in the military system. The end result of that was, as you described, that the actual numbers of abuse were greater on the military side than on the CIA side.
Al Letson: Literally, we’re talking about a practice here that we morally look at as wrong but yet, there’s no consequences for it. Therefore, it’s kind of a right feel for it to happen again.
Alberto: You’re exactly right and this is the [law 41:41] that the nation faces. We have effectively immunized the use of torture as we did in the Bush administration, because the facts are exactly as you describe them, we have not held anybody accountable for the commission of torture. Now, it’s no good to have a law in the books if you don’t enforce it, and it’s no good to say that torture is reprehensible and constitutes a crime if no one’s going to be prosecuted for the commission of a crime.
Al Letson: Who would you hold accountable for the actions that have happened?
Alberto: I am not sure how to answer that question. I’m not sure because while it is … As a matter of conventional black letter, legal analysis, everyone who applied the torture and who authorize the facilitator this application, is to be held accountable under US law and international law for doing that. In this case, President Bush himself has indicated that he authorized the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques that we know to be torture, and Vice President Cheney and others.
The attorney general and many on the Department of Justice legal team that provided counsel, consciously authorized these techniques and falsely or tendentiously, claimed that what is torture and what is always been torture was not torture under American law.
The end result is clear to see, but how this all shakes out is unclear from an accountability standpoint. What is unthinkable legally that people not be held accountable by the same token from a political standpoint, it’s equally unthinkable that people be held accountable particularly, the former president.
Al Letson: Alberto Mora, thank you so much for joining us today.
Alberto: Thank you so much.
Al Letson: A story about US torture policies was produced by Michael Montgomery. Next up on Reveal, what happens when your town is stuck in dial-up speeds?
Female: Without high-speed broadband, our industrial development, our job recruitment ends up being electrified cow pastures calling them industrial parks.
Al Letson: Duking it out with the giants who control your Wi-Fi, that’s coming up. This is Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal.
Do you remember that sound? The first time you heard it, it was a wondrous, weird, beckoning to an undiscovered world, the internet. After a while though, it got irritating, the connections and disconnections, the waiting and now, that sound, that dial-up sound is downright arcane.
These days, most of us are on the internet, the minute we click on our browser. It’s become a part of our lives. President Obama says, “Fast internet is critical, a utility as vital as electricity.”
Pres. Obama: Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Al Letson: Thousands of cities and towns across the country don’t have the kind of fast service, the flashy ads promises.
Male: They bring fiber optics right to your door in three different spectrums of light to get to …
Female: All we wanted was affordable internet. Do we have to buy additional product? (music playing).
Al Letson: Some cities have taken things into their own hands, 400 of them have built their own high-speed broadband networks. The telecom giants though are fighting back. Here’s Allan Holmes from the Center for Public Integrity with our story.
Allan Holmes: Walking through historic downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina doesn’t take very long. It’s about six blocks of antique stores, cafes, and offices. For the past 20 years, the city has spent millions of dollars to revitalize its downtown but many of the buildings are still vacant and the city’s unemployment numbers are among the highest in the state. There’s something that’s making it tough to attract businesses here.
Pat Wright: Everybody is having problems with the internet here. It still as slow as molasses.
Allan Holmes: Pat Wright owns Moonlight Communications, they make videos programs for customers all over the US. She says high-speed internet here is spotty.
Pat Wright: For business like ours, we upload and download video all the time. When we don’t have good strong connection, for maybe a five minute program, it could take three hours or we can’t do it at all.
Allan Holmes: What’s the response you’ve gotten from Time Warner when you’ve asked them to put cable in?
Pat Wright: They say that it’s impossible, that there’s no hub over here, that they can’t connect us, and they just throw up roadblocks. They don’t even act like it’s a possibility in the near future.
Allan Holmes: Slow internet service affects people all across town, including a few miles from here at Dr. Eric Mansfield’s busy ear, nose, and throat practice.
Dr. Eric: … So open up for me. How’s your sleeping?
Male: Every once in a while …
Allan Holmes: We found Mansfield examining one of his young patients.
Dr. Eric: You have these things on your nose?
Dr. Eric: Since you’re going to be a scientist, [you haven’t seen 46:40] your nose can’t turbinates …
Allan Holmes: Mansfield said he sees 40 to 50 patients a day and he keeps all of the records online in the Cloud. He bought the most expensive plan that Time Warner Cable offers, but he says the internet at his medical practice often shuts down.
Dr. Eric: There are periods of the day where all of our … We have 19 workstations, all 19 workstations will pause and I’m seeing one patient every 10 minutes. Right in the middle of you, looking at their record before you walk in, you have nothing.
Allan Holmes: Mansfield says he’s coping in his office, but the same happens in the nearby hospital where he does surgery.
Dr. Eric: If broadband go down in your hospital, that’s a crisis. Can’t run down the hall or run down three flights of steps to get information. While that was the standard of care 20-25 years ago, is not the standard care now.
Allan Holmes: There is a solution to the internet problem in Fayetteville, the city owns 200 miles of fiber optic cable. That cable connects city offices and monitors electricity, sewer, and water. It runs in front of almost every house and business here, but nobody has access to it. That’s because North Carolina has a law that makes it virtually impossible for cities to create their own broadband network.
Eric Mansfield practices medicine but in the past, he was also a state senator for Cumberland County, that’s when he tried to persuade lawmakers to allow Fayetteville residents to hook into the city’s super fast network. He lost he says, because the telecom industry just has too much power in North Carolina.
Dr. Eric: There’s no doubt in my mind that the campaign contributions persuade legislators and in this case, I believe that Time Warner Cable felt very threatened as far as market share, and so they [clinch 48:31] to an agenda and because they had way more dollars than Cumberland County, they won.
Allan Holmes: Time Warner Cable wouldn’t talk to us about its lobbying efforts or about anything else. The Center for Public Integrity analyze the money Time Warner and other telecom giants spend in state legislators. We found that in the past two decades, the industry has given a 118 million dollars to state lawmakers’ campaigns nationwide. North Carolina is among the top 10.
Marilyn: There are a lot of people that live there life very happily without broadband, without the internet.
Allan Holmes: Meet North Carolina state representative, Marilyn Avila. On the list of campaign donations from the telecom industry, she ranks sixth in the state. Avila was the one who sponsored that law that makes it harder for cities to build their own broadband networks, but she says, money doesn’t influence her policy decisions. For her, it’s about competition and being fair to the private sector.
Dr. Eric: If a community goes to Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, we need this to be able to attract business. They feel that if they say, “No, why can’t we do it?” Because we have to do something or else, we’re going to die.
Marilyn: If it was a utility like the sewer and water, if it was a utility like your electricity and that critical to people’s lives, everybody would be signed for it. Companies go into areas because it will give them a return on their investment. It’s just not going to be economically feasible. I mean, that’s a sad fact but it’s an economic fact.
Allan Holmes: Hundreds of cities and towns across the US already run their own broadband networks. We wanted to see how they were doing so we traveled 500 miles west to checkout Tullahoma, Tennessee, a small city where they’ve had high-speed internet for several years.
Steve Cope is the former mayor of Tullahoma, he helped make it happen. Cope says the city’s super fast broadband or big pipes, some people call it, is attracting new business at Tullahoma. In recent years, the rate of job growth here has doubled the state average.
Steve Cope: We’re competing at the same right now as the larger cities throughout Tennessee in the country, because of the gigabyte capability of Tullahoma.
Allan Holmes: The network in little Tullahoma is actually twice as fast as what’s offered in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. Those speeds are the major reason the high-tech firm Adjacent came to Tullahoma. Cameron Newton is the investor who brought the company here.
Cameron: The responsive of the software is very, very fast. It allows us to host data for many, many different customers all over the globe that can be accessed instantaneously. Without the pipe, without the broadband, it makes no sense to host the company here.
Allan Holmes: When Newton says, “Very fast,” he means it. We found that Tullahoma’s broadband network is up to 80 times faster than what the private companies offer here. It’s also cheaper and we saw that same pattern on all the other cities in Tennessee that have their own broadband networks.
There’s also another advantage. Tullahoma residents tell us competition has improved the rates of the commercial providers, and AT&T and Charter Communications now have lowered their prices, but not everybody has access to Tullahoma’s fast and cheap internet. That’s because Tennessee law prohibits cities from offering that service outside city limits.
Freda: Okay. Let’s come in from the front where you can see …
Allan Holmes: Real Estate broker, [Freda Jones 52:15] shows us a house for sale just outside of Tullahoma.
Freda: This home his located in Strawberry Ridge in Coffee County and it’s been on the market for approximately seven months. We’ve had to reduce the price by $60,000 and one of the reasons is because of the lack of broadband.
Allan Holmes: AT&T and Charter Communications offer broadband service a few hundred feet from here, but not on this street. That makes state senator Janice Bowling mad.
Janice: Without high-speed broadband, our industrial development, our job recruitment ends up being electrified cow pastures calling them industrial parks.
Allan Holmes: Last year, Bowling introduced the bill that would allow Tullahoma and other Tennessee cities to expand their broadband networks, but it failed. The telecom lobby pushed back hard, she says, including a threat of a lawsuit by AT&T. This is what she told the company …
Janice: My legislation is not mandating that you go into every hill and hall of Tennessee to provide high-speed broadband. We’re just saying where you’re business plan has not allowed you to go, we’ve got to provide these people with the essential utility of the 21st century, high-speed broadband.
Allan Holmes: In Tennessee, the telecom industry is considered one of the most powerful lobbying forces in the state. At the top of that list is AT&T. Neither AT&T nor Charter Communications would speak to us but now, the battle over public broadband is about to get ugly. The Federal Communications Commission which regulates the big telecoms will decide whether to block the restrictive laws in North Carolina and Tennessee. That decision could determine how the industry operates and who gets access to the internet in America. President Obama has already said what he wants.
Pres. Obama: This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix or scroll through your Facebook news feed, although that’s fun, and that’s frustrating if you’re waiting for a long time before the thing finally comes up. This is about helping local businesses grow, and prosper, and compete in a global economy.
Allan Holmes: The telecom industry has promised a major fight, just look at the numbers. Last year alone big telecoms spent almost 90 million dollars lobbying federal regulators and members of congress and the companies have millions more to spend on lawsuits. For Reveal, I’m Allan Holmes with the Center for Public Integrity.
Al Letson: Rachel Gotbaum produced that story. Allan Holmes has been reporting on the fight over municipal broadband for the last year. You can find links to CPI’s investigation at revealnews.org.
Listen, we really hope your internet is fast enough to reach us on Facebook, and Twitter and visit our website at revealnews.org. Even at dial-up speeds, you will enjoy it, I guarantee you.
That is our show. If you want more from Reveal, check out our podcast on iTunes. You’ll hear how a filmmaker capture the story of a couple who risk their lives for love.
Zohreh Before I say the name of [Nioz Muhammad 55:30], the father said, “Don’t say the name of this donkey man. I don’t want to even hear his name.”
Al Letson: It’s a Romeo and Juliet story, set in modern day Afghanistan, a country where young women can be imprisoned for running away from arranged marriages. Director Zohreh Soleimani takes us behind the scenes to talk about the film she made with us called To Kill a Sparrow.
Zohreh: For me, it was very important to find somebody who can turn her story on the camera who’s able to talk. I’ve seen that somebody is walking toward me and it was Soheila.
Al Letson: She tells us what it was like to question deeply-held traditions of a culture.
Zohreh: I said, “Are you going to engage your daughter when she’s six years old as well?” Soheila’s brother said, “Yes, I engaged my daughter already when she was three days old.” I said, “Three days old?” He said, “Yeah, three days after she was born. One, two, three. Just three days.”
One of the difficult place to get in and work was prison. When I went to see Nioz Muhammad, I just thought, “You know what? You have to change your strategy. This is not working” and I start shouting, “Whom do you think I am?” I was like, “Okay.”
Al Letson: You sort of had to meet testosterone with testosterone, like to growl him as loud as he’s growling at you.
Al Letson: You can hear the rest of my conversation with Zohreh on the Reveal podcast. Now, watch the film at revealnews.org.
Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan and Susanne Reber is our executive editor. Our editorial director is Robert Salladay and our managing director is Christa Scharfenberg. Producers Delaney Hall, Rachel Gotbaum and Michael Montgomery worked on this episode. Additional sound from Adithya Sambamurthy, Damon Jacoby and American Radio Works. Deb George helped us out with some editing. Our lead sound designer and engineer is Jim Briggs or as I call him Jay Breezy.
Special thanks to our partners this week, the Center for Public Integrity. Our theme music is by Ezekiel Honig. You can find his music at ezekielhonig.com. That’s H-O-N-I-G.com. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
I’m Al Letson and remember, there is always more to the story.