Obituary of Thomas Bernard Prunty
Thomas B. Prunty
1972 – 2023
The situation in Afghanistan was unstable in 2003, with growing resistance to the international military presence everywhere in evidence. Prisoners taken by coalition forces were generally, by this stage, lower-level fighters. But occasionally important enemy leadership figures were taken into custody. In one such instance, the senior enemy figure being searched asked his captors whether he would be sent to Guantanamo Bay. Among the soldiers checking the bearded fighter for hidden weapons was one who knew precisely where the man was headed: Tom Prunty.
Prunty was at the height of his powers in Afghanistan, powers honed over a career that began on his 17th birthday in 1989 when he enlisted in the Army Reserves. While his peers set off for college, Prunty was posted to the prestigious Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. There, he graduated among the top of his German class, some of whom were senior officers bound for sensitive work abroad. Following the DLI, Prunty went on to the Army’s Interrogation School at Ft. Huachuca, AZ – a military occupational specialty at which his keen mind, sharp memory and gift for understanding human nature were supremely well-suited. His talents took shape under some of the Army’s best practitioners – men whose experience included service in Vietnam and whose lessons in counter-insurgency warfare Prunty eagerly adopted.
Showing professional promise (and not without talent in the art of maneuvering within the military bureaucracy), Prunty was selected to attend the British Joint Services Interrogation Organization school – where the training emphasis was again on “asymmetrical warfare”. He brought the skills he acquired back to his unit in Danbury and, through determined advocacy, helped to re-orient the training curriculum toward intelligence operations in low intensity conflict environments. Such extraordinary influence from a still relatively junior soldier was testament to the respect Prunty enjoyed among his superiors and a growing body of influencers beyond the narrow confines of his Reserve unit. His contributions were widely credited for his Intelligence outfit being among the best-prepared – Active or Reserve – for the coming campaigns in Southwest Asia.
Graduated from Western Connecticut State University, Prunty began balancing his parallel civilian career with the increasing pace of military deployments. Yet soldiering was always his first, great love: neighbors grew accustomed to Prunty’s childhood sorties in sometimes startlingly well-rehearsed maneuvers around his home. Beyond a notorious encounter at twelve years old with Danbury’s S.W.A.T. team (in which he was rumored to have bested his latterly bemused opponents summoned by frightened newcomers to the neighborhood), Prunty’s first confrontation with a live adversary was in Bosnia in 1996. He went on to take voluntary assignments in Panama, Germany (where he questioned former members of the STASI), the Philippines, and Colombia, as well as stateside assignments to advance his interrogation and language credentials.
Following the September 11 Attacks, Prunty was a natural choice to help establish Human Intelligence Collection operations at Guantanamo. He had, by this time, garnered a solid reputation in both Army Intelligence circles and with the corresponding civilian agencies with whom he was occasionally tasked to cooperate. This background proved ideal for the interagency work he was called upon to perform at the now infamous US detention facility. His achievements included helping to adapt Cold War interrogation techniques to the challenging work of terror-cell questioning. Some of the techniques he advanced are still in use today and serve as models of humane interrogation tactics. In fact, his steadfast adherence to the Hague Conventions (highlighted in a celebrated post-war interview with “60 Minutes” in which he fiercely defended the conduct of interrogation operations he oversaw) was a bright spot in the sometimes uneven history of US interrogation activities during the long war.
In 2002 & 2003, Prunty handed over his senior interrogator role at Guantanamo to replacements, some of whom he had trained during the course of his career. Trading the relative comforts of the Navy base for a front-line role in Afghanistan and later Iraq, he combined his now highly refined interrogation skills with soldierly coolness in sometimes dangerous settings. At that time the Bush administration was keen to reduce the number of prisoners being sent to Guantanamo and anyone who could make quick and accurate assessments at the point of capture was an important asset. Prunty’s knowledge of Guantanamo operations and gut instincts with respect to human nature made his interventions at the earliest stages of enemy capture of inestimable value. While Prunty’s decisions sent some high-profile terrorists and enemy fighters into US custody (sometimes against the erstwhile decisions of less-experienced soldiers), he always thought his role in preventing the unnecessary deportation of low-level fighters and innocents was his greatest contribution.
Prunty was born in Danbury, the seventh and last child in his Irish Catholic family. He was educated at St. Gregory’s and Immaculate High School. His sense of enterprise and tireless energy propelled him to a successful civilian career representing pharmaceutical companies, a role which demanded regular travel throughout the world. He eventually started his own company in the same field, and, with a nod to his proud Irish ancestry, named his company “Aramed”, derived from the Irish god of healing. Prunty was a restless, lifelong learner and added graduate studies at the University of Maryland and an MBA from Notre Dame to his list of educational accomplishments.
For his remarkable record of military service Prunty counts the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor in combat, multiple awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Forces Commendation Medal and the Close Combat Badge, along with many other awards, campaign medals and foreign decorations.
He is predeceased by his mother, Beatrice; and his nephews Finton Prunty.
He is survived by his father William, of Danbury, and six brothers and sisters who return from near and far to bury their beloved baby brother: MaryBeth, Peter, Tim, James, Robert and Ellen, as well as brother-in-law Robert (Goyda). Tom is also survived by his Godfather, Kevin Murtha. He was adored by his nieces and nephews: Monica, Megan, Katie, Brenna, Camryn, Keegan, Kierny, Melania, and William. Prunty’s Godchilden, above all, Patrick, revered him, as did his cousins, his devoted, life-loyal Sigma Chi Fraternity brothers, and many close friends. He will be greatly missed as a gentleman, a patriot and citizen-soldier, who lived to the fullest the Army Intelligence motto: “Always Out Front”.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Wednesday, April 5th at 10:00am at St. Joseph Church, Danbury, with Military Honors following Mass. Cremation and interment will take place at a later date.
The family will receive friends on Tuesday, April 4th between the hours of 4:00 – 7:00pm, at the Cornell Memorial Home, 247 White Street Danbury.
Mass of Christian Burial
In Loving Memory
1972 - 2023
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