Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The US enabled torture in Iraq

Over the weekend, WikiLeaks dropped another bombshell, with the release of the Iraq War Logs - 400,000 classified reports on the war and occupation of Iraq from 2004 to 2009. There's a number of dirty secrets hiding in the warlogs, from the US's estimate of the bodycount (over 100,000, not including the battle of Fallujah) to the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians by US helicopter gunships to the murder of Iraqis who were trying to surrender. But the worst of it is what it reveals about torture in the "new" Iraq. Apart from numerous reports of the abuse of prisoners by US troops (often deliberately downplayed), it also reveals that the US had a deliberate policy of not investigating abuse by their Iraqi allies. The result is predictable: having supposedly invaded Iraq to end torture, the US ended up turning over prisoners to Iraqi torture squads:

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for "further questioning". Typical entries read: "All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning" (from 29 November 2004) and "The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning" (30 November 2004).

The field reports chime with allegations made by New York Times writer Peter Maass, who was in Samarra at the time. He told Guardian Films : "US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing," while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said.

An interview conducted by Maass in 2005 at the improvised prison, accompanied by the Wolf Brigade's US military adviser, Col James Steele, had been interrupted by the terrified screams of a prisoner outside, he said. Steele was reportedly previously employed as an adviser to help crush an insurgency in El Salvador.

Turning over prisoners to a jurisdiction where there are substantial grounds for believing they will be tortured is a violation of the Convention Against Torture. It may also violate the Geneva Conventions, the UCMJ, and US domestic law. And there's no question that the US had those substantial grounds - one of the warlogs reports that a US officer explicitly threatened to turn a prisoner and their family over to this unit for torture. Sadly, that officer is not identified - because if he could be, that's a pretty ironclad conspiracy charge right there.

What these leaks show is that the US engaged in crimes against humanity in Iraq as a matter of deliberate policy. And those responsible need to be held to account for it. The people who made the decisions to indiscriminately murder civilians and enable torture, on both a policy and operational level, need to go to jail. And until they do, we should regard the US as a rogue nation, no better than the torturing, murdering regime it unseated.