Exposed: How Pentagon and Petraeus Oversaw Creation of Sectarian Torture Units in Iraq
March 19th marks the 10th anniversary of the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, which resulted in immense destruction inflicted on Iraqi society and countless deaths. And today, The Guardian reveals more details that show just how deep into the moral abyss the U.S. traveled to when it comes to the Iraq War.
The British newspaper, along with BBC Arabic, has published an eye-opening investigation that comes after a 15-month project. The most important takeaway is that the U.S. government aided and abetted sectarian torture squads that unleashed havoc on Sunni Iraqis. The responsibility for this torture reaches all the way to the now-disgraced General David Petraeus, who had responsibility for training Iraqi security forces.
The investigation reveals that the Pentagon appointed a veteran of U.S. “dirty wars” in Latin America to oversee sectarian units that carried out systematic torture against those suspected of being insurgents in the fight against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
That man was Colonel James Steele. Another man, Colonel James Coffman, worked alongside Steele. Coffman reported directly to Petraeus.
The Guardian notes that their investigation was sparked by the actions of Bradley Manning, the Army whistleblower who recently admitted to giving classified material to WikiLeaks. Manning, facing years in prison, leaked thousands of thousands of documents in an effort to spark a debate on U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those documents included revelations about how “US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished,” as The Guardian put it back in 2010 when they published on the “Iraq War logs.”
Here’s some of the most important parts of today’s Guardian expose on sectarian torture squads:
Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus's "eyes and ears out on the ground" in Iraq.
"They worked hand in hand," said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. "I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there ... the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture."
Additional Guardian reporting has confirmed more details of how the interrogation system worked. "Every single detention centre would have its own interrogation committee," claimed Samari, talking for the first time in detail about the US role in the interrogation units.
"Each one was made up of an intelligence officer and eight interrogators. This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts."
There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman tortured prisoners themselves, only that they were sometimes present in the detention centres where torture took place, and were involved in the processing of thousands of detainees...
The pattern in Iraq provides an eerie parallel to the well-documented human rights abuses committed by US-advised and funded paramilitary squads in Central America in the 1980s. Steele was head of a US team of special military advisers that trained units of El Salvador's security forces in counterinsurgency. Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 while Steele was there and became a major advocate of counterinsurgency methods.
The Guardian concludes by noting that arming and training this paramilitary Shia force helped to fuel the brutal Iraqi civil war. Some of the members of the sectarian paramilitary force came from the Badr brigades--forces that ironically were trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. While the neoconservatives in the Bush administration who helped pushed the Iraq War wanted to reduce the power of Iran, they in fact helped to empower the Islamic Republic, which has forged close ties with the Iraqi government.
Read The Guardian's profile of Col. James Steele here. Watch the video investigation of the Iraqi torture units here.