Redback One by Robert Macklin

Chapter 8 - 'Most Outstanding Soldier'

Within a few seconds a white sack was pulled down over my head, I was stripped naked and someone secured my hands in front with plastic ties. Then, with one person on each side, they marched me into a building. Although I couldn't see through the bag, the sounds of footsteps and voices around me led me to believe that I was in some kind of shower cubicle or perhaps a small cell. There they roughly sat me down on a cold concrete floor and placed me in such a position that it was impossible to relax. I had to continually lean forwards to keep from toppling back onto the ground. Each time my body began to slump from the uncomfortable sitting position, a hand would slap me on the back of the head and gruff voice would command me to sit up straight.

After about eight hours it was impossible to discern wakefulness from slumber, or to control either. At the end of this initial period, designed to isolate and induce severe sleep deprivation, a harsh voice ordered me to get up, and with someone on either side holding my arms I was taken to another room. They sat me down roughly on a cold concrete floor again, and what sounded like a tin plate was dropped onto the concrete in front of me. A voice behind me shouted, 'Eat.'

I was ravenous and grabbed with both hands at where I thought the plate was. I felt pasty-textured food and jammed it up under the sack to stuff some into my mouth. Most of it fell down around my face but I managed to get a mouthful before I heard the plate being quickly snatched away. The food seemed like cold tuna and rice mixed together and it tasted fantastic. They told me later that it was ground-up fish heads and boiled rice. That might explain the scales I felt sticking between my teeth for the next few days. Shortly afterwards I was led into a room where I could hear and sense lots of others like me also standing about or seated. This room was to be our place of confinement for however long they wanted to keep us there.

Each of us was given a timber platform about seven centimetres high, 35 centimetres wide and a metre long. We were commanded to remain on the platform at all times. Sometimes we would have to stand up and remain motionless, sometimes commanded to run on the spot. The rest of the time we sat on them with no part of our bodies touching the floor. The boards were too small to be even remotely comfortable. We were told to keep them clean, so I would brush off any sand or dirt whenever I thought it necessary.

I'm sure the interrogators walked around throwing sand onto our boards to have something to chastise us about. They were a constant presence, men and women, shouting at us, abusing us, or just moving around and coming close and threatening. There were times when I could feel myself getting angry and fed up with this treatment; but then I reminded myself it was just another test and forced myself to calm down.

The desire for sleep was soon overwhelming, and I could have collapsed anywhere and been asleep in seconds if the opportunity arose; but it never did. If I started to doze or slump forwards, another slap on the head would jerk me awake. The interrogators stood us up every few minutes and we had to repeat long-winded mystical chants, most of which made no sense to me, and I immediately forgot them. But they were insistent; we had to repeat them over and over until we had them down pat. The interrogators would also single individuals out and make them chant the phrases while the rest of us listened in a constant dazed stupor. One of my colleagues, Russell, who I came to know well, was formerly in the Intelligence Corps, and the interrogators seemed to know this and often singled him out to recite the endless verses. I was thankful that they chose him, as I would have forgotten most of them anyway.

After several hours thin cotton pyjamas were dumped in our laps. We had remained naked since being removed from the trucks and it was very cold. After a non-stop 24 hours of this treatment they took me out of the room to a separate building to be interrogated individually. I knew that I was only to provide my name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. These, after all, were simulated enemy interrogators. Any additional information could be used against our own men.

When I entered the new location, the sounds suggested that I was in another bare room. They sat me down on a chair and lifted the hood. I was in front of a small table and on the other side was a bloke I recognised immediately as an instructor of a driver training course I had completed some years previously in Brisbane. My first instinct was to say, 'G'day, mate. How are you going?' But I could see he was playing his role seriously, so I went along. In fact it was a clever trick by the DS because each interrogation was to be different, and this was the 'friendly' approach.

He asked me some basic questions and appeared to write all the answers down. Then he interrupted the questioning and passed over a sheet of paper asking me to sign for the blue pyjamas I was wearing. I said, 'I won't sign for anything.' I shouldn't have answered his request at all and just quoted my name, rank, and serial number, but in my semi-conscious state my thinking was blurry and I didn't really know where I was.

He then changed his manner and said if I didn't sign for my stuff I wouldn't be able to wear any clothing at all. He also added that I needed to sign for the clothes of all my colleagues; otherwise they would also have to go naked. And when I refused, he ordered me to undress. I had no choice and stripped off the PJs. They then marched me back to rejoin the main group on our wooden boards without a stitch on. As I sat there freezing, I began to hallucinate. Sleep deprivation was catching up with me and I was watching light shows with animals and dragons on the inside of my hood.

 

That was just the beginning. The interrogations continued one after the other, some friendly, others totally threatening. When I returned to my wooden board on one occasion, I could swear I heard the clapping of hands, but they weren't human hands; they were robots with rubber palms and fingers and thumbs and I was standing in the middle with them all around me. I was bewildered and stupid until suddenly, smack! One of the interrogators slapped me back into temporary reality - my colleagues had been ordered to run on the spot and clap in my absence.

On another occasion they told us we would be able to lie on our boards and sleep for two hours. Immediately I lay down and was fast asleep in seconds. Only 15 minutes later we were all wakened by the guards. When I woke, I had no idea where I was, so I immediately lifted off my hood and peered around in the dark room. The guards yelled at me to pull my hood back over my head.

The next interrogation was a repetitive series of questions asking for name, rank and serial number. This went on for an hour. The interrogator remained totally deadpan and monotone throughout the questioning. Towards the end he started to add in other questions, dropping them casually, like, 'Oh, unit; what unit are you from?'

I gave no response. He tried again, then again. It was almost as though he was trying to put me into a hypnotic state and when my defences were down I'd drop the information automatically without realising what I was doing. Once I figured out what he was up to, I held the line and gave him nothing. Finally they dragged me out and returned me, still naked, to the main group.

The next interrogation was the nastiest, as the interrogator was openly hostile. He screamed his questions at me and threatened to injure or even kill me if I didn't cooperate. I was now so exhausted I was starting to believe that the situation was real and not a training and assessment scenario. He accused me of one certain thing to which I inappropriately responded by calling him a liar. He told me to lie naked and face down on the ground in a half-push-up position and continued to interrogate and scream at me. He then summoned two guards and they held me back in a chair and proceeded to pour cold water into my face while demanding responses to their questions. The water running into my mouth, nose, ears and eyes made it impossible to do anything except cough and splutter to try to get a breath. I fought for control. I was determined not to crack. And after a while they at last dragged me, still naked, back to the group area and sat me on my wooden board.

The last and worst was still to come. By now I wasn't sure how long I had been at the interrogation centre. I kept losing track of time and had to force myself to concentrate until reality re-emerged. I had to tell myself it was a test, that at some stage it would end and it was up to me to see it through. But then I was singled out with a handful of other blokes and marched outside into the cold winter daylight.

We were all still hooded, so couldn't see anything. They stood us up against a wall and without warning turned a fire hose on us. The water was powerful and freezing. It slammed me back against the wall; it thudded into my body and I had to turn aside to protect myself. God knows how long they kept it up for, but when they were done they commanded me to get on my hands and knees and crawl along the ground. And when they told me to stand up, two guards placed some kind of a lifting harness on me and tightly secured some buckles. I was then attached to a small crane or hoist and lifted off my feet.

I had no idea how high off the ground I was but while I was suspended in mid-air they fired questions at me and told me if I didn't respond I would be submerged into a tank of water. Immediately I felt the hoist drop and my entire body went under water into the iciest cold I had ever felt. After a second or two I was lifted up again and commanded to respond to the questioning; and when I refused they once again dropped me down into the icy tank.

This happened at least three times and after the last one I was unhooked from my harness and again taken back to the main group. I was now on my last legs and feeling really bad. My only consolation was i knew - because I had heard them say so - that the interrogation would only last three days, and I had been counting the periods of daylight I had discerned through my hood whenever I was taken outside into the sunlight. I knew that we must be in the last 12 hours, and so I slumped forwards on my wooden board pretending to be even sleepier than I really was... and that's saying something.

One of the guards even felt some empathy, and at one time I felt someone lift my hood and place a sweet into my mouth. This was very bizarre after being so badly mistreated for the best part of the last month.

The guards were a mixture of men and women and came from intelligence sections in the east. They used the SASR selection to hone and practise their interrogation skills and procedures. It must have been a great opportunity to do realistic interrogation techniques on Defence personnel, one that normally would arise only in times of war.

Of course they were not allowed to injure us, but they went about as far as they could without doing physical injury. What mental trauma their actions may have caused, I cannot say, but I think there may be serious health ramifications from some of the techniques they used against us. Looking back now, I believe that experiences like these can leave a permanent mark and serve to shape the psyche of a person for the rest of his life.

Robert Macklin, Redback One, (Sydney: Hachette, 2014), pp. 93 - 101.

You can get a copy of the book here.