Killing Our Daughters with Torture

Terrorists cannot defeat us. We can only defeat ourselves. Every time we surrender our values to fear, the terrorists triumph.

Specialist Alyssa Peterson, an interrogator in Iraq, committed suicide because she could not reconcile the “interrogation techniques” with her conscience.

Alyssa Peterson, a devout Mormon and former missionary, had volunteered to go to Iraq in place of someone else. It was a Christlike act concluding in a Christlike tragedy.

I admire Alyssa Peterson. Her obligation to humanity was more important to Alyssa than her life. I shall remember her as a martyr.

Though only remotely, I am proud to be associated with her. Losing her life, she protected her honor. Alyssa’s struggle recovers our honor.

Unless we take courage, Alyssa Peterson will not be the last to die due to torture. How many souls have been broken?

We have to take courage and stand up to terrorists and anyone else who exploits our fear. Sadly, that includes some of our leaders who were too afraid to uphold our values.



  1. Suicide? I’m not so sure I buy it. She probably had, IMO, some information or knew something disturbing and was going to come forward with it. So they blew her away. It’s their style. Sorry if that offends you all, it’s just the first thing that came to mind, and I hope to God it’s not true.

    Still, I find this story sad. This whole torture thing is just wrong, as well as the post eventu indemnification efforts of the Military Commissions Act which covers GB against any war crimes. I hope justice finds him.


  2. This story is sad enough as it is. No need to invent stuff.

    I appreciate your zynicism, David. Often it’s justified. Given that the armed forces have hidden the suicide for two and a half years, that’s probably the story in this case.


  3. Sadly, Alyssa’s actions play out stories I heard from [Mormon] General Authories as I was growing up. About how it was better to come home in a pinebox with your virtue intact, than to come home sullied.

    Brian Turner, in his book of poems, HERE BULLET, wrote a eulogy for one of his commrades in arms, who also took his own life in Iraq. He wrote the poem out of frustration that his friend was not recognized in a memorial to the war’s fallen. As if somehow there was no honor in the way his friend died.


  4. I wonder just how much more evidence Mormons need that this whole war that Bush started is wrong. Why do like 80% of Utahns still support Bush?


  5. Ok, boys, is there actual evidence as to why she killed herself? And I wouldn’t leap to a Mormon view of this either. There are any number of things that could have, sadly, pushed her over the edge. Poor, poor girl.


  6. And Hellmut, I don’t wish to discuss religion (this is a fiercely secular blog) but I do not see how her actions constitute a “Christlike action.” Suicide is a tragedy. I wouldn’t wish to glorify it. And please do not take this as me questioning this woman’s character. I’m just saying that suicide is not “honourable,” it’s a tragedy. I think war suicides should be recognised among the dead, yes, even honoured. But we in doing that we honour the person, not the act.


  7. Yes, suicide is a tragedy. The sacrifice of a paratrooper who jumps on a grenade to save his comrades is a tragedy. The death of a fire fighter is a tragedy. The crucifixion is a tragedy. If it were not for tragedy there would be no honor.

    We know that Alyssa commited suicide because the reporter Kevin Elston filed a freedom of information request with the armed forces, which disclosed that there is a suicide note.

    Since you are asking Ronan, Alyssa Peterson’s actions were doubly Christlike. First, substituting for another soldier, Alyssa put herself into harms way to spare someone else. Second, rather than treating prisoners inhumanely Alyssa decided to sacrifice her life. Like Christ, she laid down her life because she could not tolerate the suffering of others.

    This situation was not of Alyssa’s choosing. Placed in a situation where she had to choose between her life and her integrity, she chose honor. In the process, Alyssa Peterson recovered a little bit of honor for all of us. For it is our leaders that have forfeited our integrity when they were too scared to remain true to America’s mission. In a democracy, the actions of our political leaders implicate all of us. Therefore, Alyssa Peterson’s action redeems all of us, if only partially.

    I understand why religious organizations want to make suicide a taboo. However, it is the function of honor to induce self-destructive behavior, hopefully for a greater good.

    When Helmuth Huebener confronted the Nazis with a stack of fliers, he knew that his actions were self-destructive. When the officers tried to overthrow Hitler, they knew that chances of success were slim. They also knew that they were risking not only their own lifes but also that of their children. They understood that their actions were suicidal and some literally attempted suicide. They also knew that they were recovering Germany’s honor, which became the foundation for Germany’s recovery.

    Suicide may never have been a virtue in the Christian sense but it is part and parcel of nobility. Honor enforces the promise to embrace self-destruction to save someone else or to contribute to a greater good. That is the essence of being a soldier and a noble.

    In that sense, Alyssa Peterson is the greatest hero in our community since Helmuth Huebener. She remained faithful even when her leaders had forsaken America in favor of fear. Alyssa Peterson deserves not only to be mourned. She deserves to be celebrated. If our leaders and the rest of us were as courageous as her than we would be winning the war against al Quaeda and freedom, not fear, would be on the march.


  8. Hold on, Hellmut: is the choice here between committing suicide and going along with torture? I want soldiers to do the right thing. I don’t want them to commit suicide.


  9. Hellmut, so I guess you’re not one of the types who is critical of the folk doctrine mentioned in Dave Sonntag’s comment at 4:59 am about it being better for a missionary to come home in a casket with virtue intact than to come home having fornicated or otherwise sinned? Because judging by your material in the blogosphere, I would have guessed you would be critical of such folk doctrine that circulates in the [Mormon] Church.


  10. Also, I find your comparison of this to Helmuth Hübener disturbing. I think there are many differences that make the comparison completely inapt. Helmuth was a true hero. Alyssa was someone who apparently killed herself, but as far as I can tell, we don’t know why she killed herself. There is a causation gap or a missing link in the following: Alyssa was LDS; Alyssa apparently disapproved of U.S. interrogation tactics; Alyssa apparently shot herself while enlisted in the armed forces. The three of these could be wholly unrelated; as Dan seems anxious to point out, her being LDS certainly does not necessarily have any link to her being against U.S. interrogations techniques. And she might have killed herself because she was depressed, or she didn’t get a date with a certain guy or girl, or she had child abuse issues that got the better of her, or an unlimited number of other reasons. She might very welll be more comparable to Goethe’s Werther than to Helmuth Hübener.

    Anyway, I agree with Ronan that it seems you have created a false dichotomy and then transported Alyssa into it. Either she employ U.S. interrogation techniques with which she disagreed or she kill herself; no other alternatives. To alienate her further from Helmuth, she didn’t even make any fliers by listening to and translating Al Jazeera; she didn’t risk her life resisting a totalitarian regime; she didn’t come into custody of said totalitarian regime and face hartnäckiger Überzeugungsarbeit as the official Gestapo file says of Hübener, only to be beheaded after being forced, against fundamental beliefs and express wishes, to drink alcohol, as Hübener states in one of his final letters to a member of his Hamburg congregation.


  11. Thanks, all, for the comments. I think perhaps it is best to leave this alone until further details are forthcoming. A person died. This is sad. Third-party commentary seems a little crass.


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