A newly released report of an investigation into the suicide of U.S. Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson of Flagstaff reveals a soldier deeply conflicted about her job as a counter-intelligence officer.
She told fellow soldiers she was unable to separate being an interrogator from who she was as a person.
She felt so much empathy for Iraqi detainees that she was reprimanded and reassigned after just two days as an interrogator.
"She was very upset with the fact that the detainees did not have showers in the cage and other types of accommodations," said a fellow soldier in the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Attack), "She also (said) that she could not change her personality and be all in the face of one detainee and be all nice to the other."
About 25 days after arriving in Tel Afar, Iraq, on Sept. 15, 2003, Peterson was dead. She was 27.
Initially, her death was listed as a "non combat weapons discharge" by the U.S. Army.
The official cause of death was eventually determined to be an "apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," according to a report requested of Peterson's commander. The report was released to the Arizona Daily Sun under the Freedom of Information Act.
In the report, Peterson's fellow soldiers remembered her aversion to interrogating Iraqi detainees.
"We told her that you have to be able to turn on and off the interrogation mode — that you act differently towards the people we meet with outside of the detainee facility," one fellow soldier stated. "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."
Peterson had joined the unit in late August 2003. She was assigned as a counter-intelligence interrogator. After two days as an interrogator, the report stated Peterson was reassigned to language duties other than interrogation. Her last duty, which she was to begin the morning her body was found, was to "… listen to conversations of the host nation guards to see if there was any duplicitous activity."
DETAINEES TREATED AS GUILTY
According to the 311th Web site, the unit is responsible for "… combat intelligence, electronic warfare, counterintelligence, battlefield deception, interrogation and psychological operations support providing commanders the capability to see and shape the battlefield by identifying Iraqi dispositions, capabilities, vulnerabilities, intentions and delivering targets."
But Peterson had a problem with the way that mission was being carried out, her colleagues recalled.
In one of her fellow soldiers' sworn statements, "(Peterson) commented that her first exposure was when we detained 43 individuals and that we only found three who were worth further attention. She was angry with the fact that we treated them all as guilty initially and only backed off when their innocence was proven."
Peterson was always eager to speak Arabic when she had the opportunity, according to her fellow soldiers' statements.
"Early in the month, she had to be reminded about the use of her language skills and that (there) was a place and time to use her skills," stated one soldier. "She had to be (told) more than once that sometimes she was more than an asset by only listening and not letting anybody know that she spoke the language."
The officer went on to write that Peterson had "trouble with the EPW cage" and dealing with the people detained.
Peterson was officially reprimanded for showing "empathy" to the detainees, according to the report.
Documents describing the interrogation techniques that troubled Peterson have been destroyed, according to the U.S. Army.
SUICIDE CAME UNEXPECTEDLY
On Aug. 29, a few days after arriving in Tel Afar, Peterson attended suicide prevention training with the rest of her unit.
After her death, investigators with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, in a separate report, stated they found a notebook with Peterson's body. She had commented on her suicide training, but what she wrote in the notebook was blacked out of the report. The contents of the notebook were not turned over to the Daily Sun.
According to her fellow soldiers, Peterson never showed warning signs of being suicidal. They also stated that she kept to herself, did not want to owe anybody anything, and appeared to favor the Iraqis.
Stated one soldier, "She was more comfortable and more animated when talking with the locals than I ever saw her with other soldiers or even our interpreters."
The findings of the investigation concluded that Peterson's direct supervisors acted appropriately in removing her from a "stressful situation," and trying to integrate her into her unit.
"When it became evident that SPC Peterson wasn't integrating into her duties properly, the company chain of command acted promptly to accommodate her and find her duties she was capable of performing," stated the report.
The investigation, according to the report, can't determine what caused her to kill herself.
U.S. Army Major General David H. Petraeus, approved the findings of the investigation.
DRIVEN, INTELLIGENT AND WARM
Peterson had graduated from Flagstaff High School in 1994. Her friends described her as a driven, intelligent and warm person.
A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, friends consistently commented on Peterson's devotion to her faith.
She had a talent for learning languages and after graduating from Northern Arizona University, she joined the Army and attended the Army's Defense Language Institute, specializing in Arabic.
After graduation from DLI, she was assigned to the 311th.
Peterson's body was returned to Flagstaff in late September 2003, where she was buried with military honors at Citizens Cemetery.