A Low, Dishonest Decade: New Details for the Iraq War Crime Mosaic
The truth-telling of the imprisoned Bradley Manning continues to bear rich fruit, even as he faces a lifetime in prison for acting on principle to save innocent lives and prevent his country from staining itself further with war crimes. This week, the Guardian released a special investigation into the hideous regime of torture that the United States imposed and empowered during its years-long rape of Iraq.
The Guardian report draws on the trove of documents that Manning gave to Wikileaks (and the now diplomatically "sequestered" Julian Assange) to provide new details on the direct links of America's highest officials -- including the bipartisanly adored and now much mourned retired apparatchik David Petraeus -- to the torture of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
In many ways, of course, it's hardly a revelation that American forces were deeply involved in torture during the "extraordinary achievement" (B. Obama) in Iraq. Some cranks have been writing about it since the earliest days of the invasion -- as in this piece, from August 2003:
Here's a headline you don't see every day: "War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals."
Perhaps that's not the precise wording used by the Washington Post this week, but it is the absolute essence of its story about the Bush Regime's new campaign to put Saddam's murderous security forces on America's payroll.
Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out American tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo – perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad – and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.
Naturally, the Iraqi people – even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" – aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also re-opened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis – men, women and children as young as 11 – seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day.
There were many, many more where that came from, from many sources, as the mosaic of horror built up, fragment by fragment. Unfortunately, America's multifarious war crime in Iraq is news that stays news -- because awareness of the depth of evil we wrought there has scarcely penetrated the American public consciousness. And of course, the Wikileaks documents give more form and substance to the piecemeal parceling of earlier truth fragments.
The Guardian pieces focus on the long lineage of the American way of torture, as represented by the figure of James Steele, a Special Forces offer who made his bones in the torture racket during the murderous American-backed, American-trained, American-funded "counterinsurgency" campaigns in Latin America during the 1980s. Steele has a little pal back in those days by the name of Davy Petraeus; later, the two worked cheek-by-jowl in Iraq to foment a hell on earth of sectarian violence and state terror.
In June 2004 Petraeus arrived in Baghdad with the brief to train a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Steele and serving US colonel James Coffman introduced Petraeus to a small hardened group of police commandos, many of them among the toughest survivors of the old regime, including General Adnan Thabit …With Steele and Coffman as his point men, Petraeus began pouring money from a multi-million dollar fund into what would become the Special Police Commandos. According to the US Government Accounts Office, they received a share of an $8.2bn (£5.4bn) fund paid for by the US tax payer. The exact amount they received is classified. With Petraeus' almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele's field expertise in counterinsurgency the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force.
One more element would complete the picture. The US had barred members of the violent Shia militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army from joining the security forces, but by the summer of 2004 they had lifted the ban. Shia militia members from all over the country arrived in Baghdad "by the lorry-load" to join the new commandos. These men were eager to fight the Sunnis: many sought revenge for decades of Sunni-supported, brutal Saddam rule, and a chance to hit back at the violent insurgents and the indiscriminate terror of al-Qaida.
Petraeus and Steele would unleash this local force on the Sunni population as well as the insurgents and their supporters and anyone else who was unlucky enough to get in the way. It was classic counterinsurgency. It was also letting a lethal, sectarian genie out of the bottle. The consequences for Iraqi society would be catastrophic. At the height of the civil war two years later, 3,000 bodies a month were turning up on the streets of Iraq — many of them innocent civilians of sectarian war that ignited on both side.
Again, it's been known for years -- to anyone who wants to know -- that the vicious sectarian civil war in Iraq was deliberately seeded and pushed by the Pentagon brass and their White House bosses. [For an in-depth look, see Ulster on the Eurphrates: The Anglo-American Dirty War in Iraq.] As the Guardian investigation confirms, Petraeus was hip-deep in the process. The aim of this deeply evil program, one supposes, was to achieve the "creative destruction" so beloved of the neocon savants who provided the "intellectual" framework for the Hitlerian act of aggression. True to their Trotskyist roots, they longed for the cleansing fire of war and ruin to clear the ground for their fanatical, world-shaping dreams. (Unlike Trotsky, of course, they never led troops in the field or put their own lives on the line.) Or as that deep thinker Glenn Reynolds once put it, gleefully: "More rubble, less trouble."
What happened, of course, was the opposite: more rubble meant more trouble, and the shallow fools and blithering incompetents who comprise the American leadership class lost control of the situation. The carnage was so horrific that it threatened to damage the whole war-profiteering enterprise; why, there were even a few timorous calls among some quadrants of the elite suggesting that maybe it was time to begin thinking about considering the idea of mulling over at some unspecified point in the future the vague possibility of maybe thinking about considering the possibility of ending the war sometime, maybe, somewhere down the line. This tinkling trickle of potential opposition was quickly quelled, however, with the great googily-moogily "Surge": another invasion with thousands of American troops, more bribes for Sunni extremists, plus months of maniacal, American-backed "ethnic cleansing" to help Shiite collaborators eke out a victory in the civil war.
In one of the many blood-dark ironies of the war, Petraeus was put in charge of the murderous effort to stem the sectarian violence he had been fomenting at Washington's command. When the killing levels were no longer at historically unprecedented levels but were merely the worst anywhere in the world, the "surge" was proclaimed a great triumph, and Petraeus was the bipartisan hero of the hour.
(Speaking of bipartisan, let us not forget the Bush Regime bloodbath in Iraq was preceded by the murder of upwards of a million innocent Iraqis -- including an officially admitted total of 500,000 children -- in the ruthless sanction regime imposed by the good ole Big Dawg himself back in the 90s.)
But while he was showering in accolades on Capitol Hill, this is what the system installed by Petraeus and Steele and their Washington masters was doing back in Iraq:
The commandos set up a network of secret detention centres where insurgents could be brought and information extracted from them. The commandos used the most brutal methods to make detainees talk. There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman took part in these torture sessions, but General Muntadher al Samari, a former general in the Iraqi army, who worked after the invasion with the US to rebuild the police force claims that they knew exactly what was going on and were even supplying the commandos with lists of people they wanted brought in. He says he tried to stop the torture on several occasions, but failed and fled the country.
"We were having lunch. Col Steele, Col Coffman, and the door opened and Captain Jabr was there torturing a prisoner. He [the victim] was hanging upside down and Steele got up and just closed the door, he didn't say anything – it was just normal for him."
He says there were 13 to 14 secret prisons in Baghdad under the control of the Interior Ministry and used by the Special Police Commandos. He alleges that Steele and Coffman had access to all these prisons and that he visited one in Baghdad with both men. "They were secret, never declared. But the American top brass and the Iraqi leadership knew all about these prisons. The things that went on there: drilling, murder, torture. The ugliest sort of torture I've ever seen."
According to one soldier with the 69th Armoured Regiment who was deployed in Samarra in 2005 but who doesn't want to be identified: "It was like the Nazis … like the Gestapo basically. They [the commandos] would essentially torture anybody that they had good reason to suspect, knew something, or was part of the insurgency … or supporting it, and people knew about that."
... Neil Smith, a 20-year-old medic who was based in Samarra, remembers what low ranking US soldiers in the canteen said. "What was pretty widely known in our battalion, definitely in our platoon, was that they were pretty violent with their interrogations. That they would beat people, shock them with electrical shock, stab them, I don't know what else ... it sounds like pretty awful things. If you sent a guy there he was going to get tortured and perhaps raped or whatever, humiliated and brutalised by the special commandos in order for them to get whatever information they wanted."
He now lives in Detroit and is a born-again Christian. He spoke to the Guardian because he said he now considered it his religious duty to speak out about what he saw. "I don't think folks back home in America had any idea what American soldiers were involved in over there, the torture and all kinds of stuff."
Through Facebook, Twitter and social media the Guardian managed to make contact with three soldiers who confirmed they were handing over detainees to be tortured by the special commandos, but none except Smith were prepared to go on camera.
"If somebody gets arrested and we hand them over to MoI they're going to get their balls hooked, electrocuted or they're going to get beaten or raped up the ass with a coke bottle or something like that," one said. He left the army in September 2006. Now 28, he works with refugees from the Arab world in Detroit teaching recent arrivals, including Iraqis, English.
"I suppose it is my way of saying sorry," he said.
But as we have seen in all the recent media hoopla around the 10th anniversary of the invasion, none of criminals in charge of the war crime, or the savants who promoted it, or the media sycophants who "stovepiped" the lies of the warmongers to the public, or any member of the political-media elite who by direct or collateral hand were complicit in this war crime have ever apologized for what they have done -- much less been made to suffer the slightest discomfort or inconvenience for it.
As for Steele himself, he left Iraq after helping set up the torture apparatus and went into -- what else? -- the oil business.