Friday, March 22, 2013

Death squads, the special ingredient in The Surge

This anniversary week of the invasion of Iraq, it's worth remembering what was involved in The Surge, which is currently widely assumed among the punditocracy to be successful, model counterinsurgency.

Mona Mahmood et al, reported in Revealed: Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres Guardian 03/06/2013::

The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war.

Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.

After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding.
The Guardian provides a 51-minute documentary on the story, James Steele: America's mystery man in Iraq - video 03/08/2013, for which embedding is unfortunately not currently available.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks reports on the story in Horrifying Iraq Torture - Pentagon's Complacency Revealed 03/07/2013:

Jim White comments on the Guardian story in Guardian Lays Out Details of How Petraeus Organized Death Squads in Iraq Emptywheel 03/07/2013

Another of the Guardian pieces is by Murtaza Hussain, How the US exported its 'dirty war' policy to Iraq – with fatal consequences The Guardian 03/08/2013, who looks at the phenomenon of the US exporting the worst of its misdeeds in Latin American to the Middle East:

Most chillingly, a veteran of the United States' "dirty war" in El Salvador was reported to have been brought in to personally oversee the interrogation facilities. As described by Iraqi officials this program was condoned at the highest levels of the US military and utilized "all means of torture to make the detainee confess … using electricity, hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails". The alleged involvement of a senior participant of the American intervention in El Salvador is, indeed, particularly odious given the legacy of institutionalized torture and murder which characterized US military involvement in that country.

At the now infamous School of the Americas, thousands of Latin American "special forces" were explicitly trained in torture techniques by US handlers. Many of those SOA graduates took their new training home to El Salvador, where they waged a war that killed an estimated 80,000 Salvadoran civilians. Similar "trainees" were sent out in the thousands to kill and maim on behalf of US interests in wars from Honduras to Guatemala. In the latter alone, US-supported death squads murdered over 50,000 civilians suspected of holding sympathies with leftist rebels. The creation and patronage of locally trained militias to wreak havoc among subject populations in pursuit of American military objectives is a tactic that seems to have been adapted to the present day with great effect – most notably in Iraq.

On a summer night 2008, armed paramilitaries broke into Hassan Mahsan's home in Baghdad's Sadr City district and put a gun to his young daughter's head. Demanding he reveal the location of a suspected insurgent, the men threatened to kill his daughter in front of the family before dragging Mahsan off for interrogation and telling his wife "he is finished". The paramilitaries were members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), an elite counterterrorism force referred to as "the dirty brigade". Believed to be trained and guided by US military advisers at every level of its organizational hierarchy, the ISOF has been structured so as to place it outside the confines of normal oversight for such organizations. Operating today essentially as a private paramilitary force for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ISOF has also been described as a "local ally" of the United States in the country – a euphemism for an asset utilized for covert special operations.
The sooner the United States stops glorifying war - if that's even imaginable - the better off we'll be.

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