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Mar 08 2013

Report: Rumsfeld Set Up Secret Torture Centers in Iraq

In news that should surprise absolutely no one, the Guardian is reporting that a 15-month investigation has revealed that Donald Rumsfeld set up a number of secret detention facilities in Iraq where detainees were tortured, and appointed two veterans of the Latin American death squad wars to run the whole thing.

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…

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.

Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and returned to the country in 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.

The allegations made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.

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.”

You can watch a video about it all here. All of this is shocking, not surprising. And in a rational world, it would up the pressure on President Obama for a full investigation into the Bush torture regime and prosecutions of those responsible. But we don’t like in that world. The world we live in is one where neither party gives a damn about principle or the rule of law, they care only about their immediate political futures.

27 comments

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  1. 1
    Raging Bee

    The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq…

    First, what did this guy accomplish in Latin America — other than merely being on “our” side?

    And second, what could possibly make anyone think that experience in Latin America could have any relevance in the Muslim world? Was this one of those “all those darkies look alike” decisions?

  2. 2
    Sastra

    Raging Bee #1 wrote:

    And second, what could possibly make anyone think that experience in Latin America could have any relevance in the Muslim world? Was this one of those “all those darkies look alike” decisions?

    No, probably more along the lines of “they all scream alike.” How much deep cultural knowledge would you need to torture people?

  3. 3
    oranje

    I’m picturing Rumsfeld, suit jacket off, sleeves rolled up, trying to assemble a torture chamber with an allen wrench.

    I’m dumbfounded that not only was it an open secret that this was going on, but also that there was no effort, then or now, to hold those who ordered it accountable. A shameful chapter in our history, one still being written.

  4. 4
    baal

    @Bee – the US is notorious in Central America for setting up torture camps (it started or exploded under Regan’s war on drugs, sry M.Heath, no cites, I expect google has it buried (old stuff)). They needed experts in torture for Iraq so they pulled folks with experience. They weren’t looking for other skill sets.

  5. 5
    Modusoperandi

    To be fair, part of the reason we invaded Iraq was because they had secret torture prisons. Now we have proof! Take that, hippies!

  6. 6
    Modusoperandi

    Also:
    Look, you don’t set up secret torture prisons in Iraq with the people you want, you set up secret torture prisons in Iraq with the people you have.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    baal:and what, pray tell, did those torture camps in Central America accomplish?

    This is one important lesson to learn from all this: supporters of torture always seem to be the dumbest, most rigid, and least-able-to-learn-from-experience in any nation. That’s one major reason why torture never works.

  8. 8
    fifthdentist

    A glittery pink internet to Modusoperandi for no. 6.

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    I’m dumbfounded that not only was it an open secret that this was going on, but also that there was no effort, then or now, to hold those who ordered it accountable.

    It had to be an open secret, because a huge number of people were in on it. And that’s why the coverup at CIA happened so quickly and efficiently – it’s at all levels of the organization so you had higher-ups giving the nod to lower-downs to eliminate evidence. Like cockroaches when a light is shone on them – they all ran scurrying for cover and none of them will rat out the others because those who’d have to dig into the cockroach nest are all cockroaches, too.

    The american people knew it was happening, too. Don’t kid yourself for a second. How many veterans’ families heard about Abu Ghraib and Mazar-i-Sharif? Are we really trying to say we had no idea what CIA officers like Johhny Spann (who was killed in the prisoner’s uprising) were doing in prisons? Or that the prisoners were willing to die for fun? No – they were being tortured and wanted to take a few of their tormentors down with them. For that matter, how many veterans came home and told their families about what they did to Najaf and Nasiriya? You can’t read John Yoo’s famous memos without understanding in a second what he was whitewashing. These are intelligent people – when they start scuttling around like cockroaches what the fuck else should the american people have thought was going on? The FBI investigated some of the prisoner abuses and killings and then pulled the plug because of what they found. You’d better fucking believe there are a lot of FBI people who saw the pictures and heard the stories. But they kept their mouths shut, too. Why? They are all fucking cockroaches, that’s why.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    This is one important lesson to learn from all this: supporters of torture always seem to be the dumbest, most rigid, and least-able-to-learn-from-experience in any nation. That’s one major reason why torture never works.

    If that’s the lesson you think you learned, I think you learned the wrong lesson.

    Here’s the lesson you should learn:
    There are a certain kind of vicious cowardly boot-lickers that are attracted to power over the helpless, and will gravitate toward situations and positions where they can live their fantasies. They don’t care about what “works” they want to hurt their enemies but they’re physical cowards who can only do it when their enemies are chained, caged, and shackled. The torture isn’t a means to an end; it’s an end in itself. So many people quote Orwell’s brilliant glimpse into the mind of the authoritarian (“picture a boot stamping on a human face – forever”) but the important part was right before that:
    “How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?”
    Winston thought. “By making him suffer,” he said.

    As O’Brien explains to Winston earlier:
    “Power is not a means; It is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”

  11. 11
    Marcus Ranum

    Oh, I forgot to finish my thought.

    Acknowledging that such people exist, societies (especially democracies*) need to structure organizations where such power is likely to accrue, so that there are checks and balances to prevent it or discover it and stop it when it happens.

    We understand, for example, that pedophiles are attracted to positions of authority like the church or boy scout camps, etc, and – finally – society is starting to pay more attention to the kind of people that search for such authority. We should be equally on our guard when the CIA sets up “Special Operations Groups” like they did in Vietnam because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’re set up to do the same kind of things they did in Vietnam, much to the shame of every decent person. We need to go a step farther and acknowledge that when an organization like the CIA asks for the cover of secrecy it’s because they’re doing stuff we’d be ashamed of – not because it’s protecting their “sources and methods” – If we need an intelligence community at all, it needs to be structured with oversight built into every layer. Instead, we have the department of covert dirty tricks. And we shouldn’t be at all surprised when they pursue the only play-book they know and understand.

    We know the play-book too and should be turning over those rocks and shining bright lights under them on a regular basis.

    (* Because in theory the actions of the state are taken with the approval and on behalf of the people)

  12. 12
    Marcus Ranum

    Every time I open my copy of 1984, it sucks me in and after 10 minutes I want to slit my wrists. Oh, how I envy the complacent simpletons who believe in god or karma or otherworldly punishment that awaits the Rumsfelds, Cheneys, Bushes, Yoos, and Obamas of the world. They’ll die comfortably in bed and their hagiographers will waste words on them. In fact, none of them are worth a bullet.

  13. 13
    Don Williams

    Anybody ever hear of Maurice Papon? Shipped about 1600 Jews to the Nazis while police supervisor under Vichy then claimed to have been in the Resistance when the Germans lost. Tortured a hundred or so insurgents during the Algiers rebellion. Later Chief of Paris Police who ordered the 1961 crackdown that saw around 200 FLN demonstrators killed — the Paris Massacre.

    DeGaulle’s man for all seasons. DeGaulle appointed him director in the Sud Aviation compnay. Not tried for his WWII collaboration with the Nazis until 1998. Stripped of his medals (big deal.) Died in 2007 — age 96.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Papon#World_War_II

  14. 14
    democommie

    “tried for his WWII collaboration with the Nazis until 1998. Stripped of his medals (big deal.) Died in 2007 — age 96.”

    Why do you hate the Guardians of Freedomosity? Look., being stripped of his metals is exactly the same as being beaten, starved, sodomized and, eventually killed!

  15. 15
    Marcus Ranum

    Look., being stripped of his metals is exactly the same as being beaten, starved, sodomized and, eventually killed!

    Did you hear what they did to Cheney in punishment? They replaced his heart!
    And Rumsfeld’s doomed to a comfortable retirement.
    At least Cheney is a tag-line for comedians, now. :/ For arrogant bastards like them, nothing hurts like knowing that everyone realizes what failures they were.

  16. 16
    jeroenmetselaar

    Do they even realize how this endangers the lives of US soldiers around the world? When you are with the side that tortures you don’t get to whine about POW rights and Geneva anymore.

    When people here in Europe here a US soldier was tied to a table and shred to pieces quite a few would think ‘what goes around comes around’.

  17. 17
    Moggie

    How much traction is this story getting in the US? Obviously it’s good that the Guardian is reporting this – but most Americans don’t read a lefty UK newspaper. Is it getting much coverage where it matters most?

  18. 18
    left0ver1under

    Where’s the surprise? This is the country and government that produced the “camp of the Americas” where torture, terrorism and overthrow of democracy were standard courses.

    It’s also the country and individual who sold WMDs and equipment to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Rumsfeld likely knew where the buildings were, that’s why he chose them as torture sites.

  19. 19
    Marcus Ranum

    Do they even realize how this endangers the lives of US soldiers around the world?

    The chickenhawks behind this don’t give a whiff for the soldiers. After all, they’re the same people who are putting them in unwinnable wars for short-term profit. Soldiers, on either side, are irrelevant – though you can be sure there will be hypocritical tub thumping if a US soldier is tortured. After all, Bush was on TV complaining that showing downed US airmen during the Iraq war was “a war crime” – probably at around the same time as Yoo and Gonzales were retroactively laying the paperwork for CIA torture.*

    (* anyone who thinks that they waited for the DOJ’s clearance to torture is unbearably naive.)

  20. 20
    slc1

    Well, how about this. Iraq is in bed with Iran and Hizbollah in supporting the Assad Government in Syria, allowing Iranian arms shipments to pass through its territory. Yessir, our installation of the Malaki government really improved our strategic standing in the region! Not.

    http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=305724

  21. 21
    slc1

    As fashionable as it is to beat up Dick Cheney over his Iraq adventure, and deservedly so, the gays getting married in Maryland owe him big time. His phone calls to Rethuglican legislators persuaded 2 of them to support the bill, which was just enough to put it over the top. Sans those phone calls, the bill might have gone down to defeat in the Maryland lower house, taking any presidential hopes of the governor down with it.

  22. 22
    jayarrrr

    Of course Rumsferatu set this all up. I always said the only way the man can get an erection is to watch a video of somebody getting his fingernails ripped out.

    Sick sumbitch, and he’ll never be brought to justice… Oh, no, gotta “Look Forward”, Precious, yes we do…

  23. 23
    Nick Gotts

    Unfortunately, I’m not at all sure that torture does in general fail to achieve political goals. In both Chile post-coup, and Central America in the 1980s, it was an important part of the counter-offensive that succeeded in turning back the prospect of social revolution. It’s true that leftist or former-leftist parties (like the Sandinistas) have been allowed to win elections in those places subsequently, but only after ensuring that the real levers of power are out of their reach.

  24. 24
    Moggie

    Yes, people who say that torture is ineffective assume that it’s genuinely used for the purpose claimed by its proponents: the gathering of true evidence. But if its real purposes are the manufacture of fake evidence, terrorising opponents into submission, and providing entertainment for sociopaths, it works pretty well.

    slc1:

    As fashionable as it is to beat up Dick Cheney over his Iraq adventure, and deservedly so, the gays getting married in Maryland owe him big time.

    I’d have more respect if that faint glimmer of humanity wasn’t due to his own daughter being a lesbian. Cheney looks after his own? Great, so maybe he’s a mammal after all.

  25. 25
    matty1

    Great, so maybe he’s a mammal after all.

    Let’s not go overboard, Cheney is the best evidence going that David Ike is right about the lizard people.

  26. 26
    democommie

    Matty1 beat me to it @25. I was going to say that there is are some paleontologists and other scientists who hypothesize that perhaps even T. Rex had some basic maternalistic instincts, brooding its eggs and guarding its young.

    I know that cold-blooded monsters who aren’t really mighty predators but carrion feeders are hard to see as having any feelings for their progeny but Teh Dorklord Cheney has not yet eaten his mate or his young (afaia).

  27. 27
    baal

    Bee @7 – “baal:and what, pray tell, did those torture camps in Central America accomplish?”

    Nothing good. They also tortured Americans who were doing things like relief work for the wrong groups. The net impact was the loss of any good will we may have had out side of the cities. Also, lots of folks suffered.

    I’m not pro-torture as you imply rather I was answering the question of why import torturers to Iraq from the central america region.

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