Much more is certain to be written and reported from the 400,000 or so documents from the Iraq War released today by Wikileaks. The government is putting forth its own spin, claiming damage to U.S. security and troops, while the press has its own version of spin. One example comes from the New York Times, who along with the UK Guardian, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde, are releasing all or some of the documents, often with fancy and very interesting interactive graphs and databases.
Last July, I noted that the New York Times had listed the total number of individuals on a secret U.S. commando “capture/kill list” as "about 70," while the European press reported the more accurate number of 2,058.
Well the Times is up to its old tricks, and it is an object lesson in not believing what you read, and the necessity to review the original documents yourself.
An October 22 story, Detainees Fared Worse in Iraqi Hands, Logs Say, by Sabrina Tavernise and Andrew W. Lehren, details some of what the Times found in a review of the Wikileaks documents concerning abuse by Iraqi forces. Buried in the article is the lede, i.e., that the U.S. had a deliberate policy of ignoring wide-spread torture by their Iraqi allies (or puppet government, take your pick). At first, Tavernise and Lehren write that the "abuse cases… seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug…" But five paragraphs into the story we learn that the indifferent "shrug" was really a deliberate policy, as it’s revealed there is a "report dated May 16, 2005, saying that if ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’”
This is the now notorious FRAGO-242 (FRAGO being short for fragmentary order). According to the UK Guardian, it was issued in June 2004, not May 2005, as the New York Times article implies. So far as I can tell from the various news stories, this policy begun during the Bush years is still in effect. It certainly was as late as 2009, well into the administration of President Barack Obama.
According to the UK Guardian:
Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture….
With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to last December. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because "the torture was too much for him to handle".
But the particular New York Times article in question here has a more egregious example of spin than burying the lede. In the following paragraph, an American soldier’s witnessing of torture is reported as if the soldier intervened to stop it. In fact, the very documentary evidence the New York Times links to demonstrates the exact opposite.
Here is the relevant quote from the article (emphasis added):
In August 2006, an American sergeant in Ramadi heard whipping noises in a military police station and walked in on an Iraqi lieutenant using an electrical cable to slash the bottom of a detainee’s feet. The American stopped him, but later he found the same Iraqi officer whipping a detainee’s back.
Here’s the document this paragraph links to — note, you will not find any evidence of the soldier stopping any torture. A report is made, no investigation is initiated, and the prisoner and his torturer are said to remain at the Ramadi jail. The case is closed five days later.
*ALLEGED DETAINEE ABUSE BY IRAQI POLICE IN RAMADI ON 17 AUG 2006
SUSPECTED DETAINEE ABUSE RPTD AT 171100D AUG 06
1. DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT/SUSPECTED VIOLATION (WHO REPORTED INCIDENT AND WHAT HAPPENED):
SGT –––––, 300TH MILITARY POLICE COMPANY, REPORTED IRAQI POLICE COMMITTING DETAINEE ABUSE AT AN IRAQI POLICE STATION IN RAMADI. SGT ––––– WITNESSED 1LT –––– WHIP A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH A PR-24 STRAIGHT SIDE HANDLED BATON AND 1LT –––– KICKING A SECOND DETAINEE. THAT NIGHT SGT ––––– HEARD WHIPPING NOISES WALKING THROUGH THE HALLWAY, AND OPENED A DOOR TO FIND 1LT –––– WITH A 4 GAUGE ELECTRICAL CABLE, WHIPPING THE BOTTOM OF A DETAINEE*S FEET. LATER THAT NIGHT, SGT ––––– CAUGHT 1LT –––– WHIPPING A DETAINEE ACROSS HIS BACK WITH AN ELECTRICAL CABLE. SGT ––––– DOCUMENTED EACH EVENT ON A SWORN STATEMENT FORM AND REPORTED THE INCIDENTS.
2. LOCATION (GRID COORDINATES OR OTHER REFERENCE): 38S LB 37142 99770
3. TIME OF OCCURRENCE AND TIME OF DISCOVERY: REPORTED 17 1100 AUG 06
4. WHO CAUSED (IF KNOWN) OR IDENTITY OF FRIENDLY AND ENEMY UNITS OPERATING IN THE IMMEDIATE AREA (IF KNOWN):
IRAQI POLICE FROM THE AL HURYIA IRAQI POLICE STATION
5. NAME OF WITNESSES (W/UNIT OR ADDRESS): SGT –––– ––––– –––––, 300TH MP COMPANY, MP PIT TEAM
6. UNIT POINT OF CONTACT: CPT –––– – –––– AT DNVT 551-2044 OR ––––.––––@–––––.ARMY.SMIL.MIL
7. EVIDENCE GATHERED AND ITS DISPOSITION: SWORN STATEMENTS AND PICTURES ARE ATTACHED
8. WEAPONS/EQUIPMENT INVOLVED: 4 GAUGE ELECTICAL CABLE, PR-24 BATON
9. DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGE OR INJURIES TO GOVERNMENT/CIVILIAN PROPERTY AND PERSONNEL: CIRCULAR WHIP MARKS, BLEEDING ON BACK, DARK RED BRUISING ON BACK
10. CURRENT LOCATION OF SUSPECTS AND VICTIMS (JAIL, HOSPITAL, AT SCENE, ETC.) BOTH ARE STILL AT AL HURYIA POLICE STATION
11. HOW IS THE SITE BEING SECURED? N/A
12. INVESTIGATING OFFICER. STATUS OF INVESTIGATION: NO INVESTIGATION INITIATED AT THIS POINT.
CLOSED: 22 AUG 2006
The American sergeant documents each incident of torture, but there is no evidence of any other intervention.
I suppose the authors may have been unaware of what they wrote. The savagery and butchery may have made them unconsciously prettify the picture, and project fictional heroism by the American soldier. But the truth is ugly, and can’t be covered up. That’s the beauty of having actual documents, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to Wikileaks and the anonymous leaker(s) for bringing us the truth.
No doubt there were cases where U.S. military personnel intervened to stop torture, but even in the documents I’ve seen thus far, plenty of victims are left in control of their captors. The news reports seem to emphasize the wide-spread nature of the crimes.
Among whatever other truths are to be revealed, one truth stands out, and the UK Guardian headline is clear in its reporting: Iraq war logs: secret files show how US ignored torture. The truth. Both under the administration of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the United States forces in Iraq countenanced the use of torture on a massive scale by its allies in the Iraq government. They did not publicize what was happening, and to this day, they say this policy is acceptable.
The stories of the torture are horrific, as are the murders, the deaths of tens of thousands of non-combatants. And the casualty figures cannot themselves be trusted, as the U.S., for instance, reports no civilian casualty figures for the attack on Fallujah.
This is a country without a moral compass. War crimes on a massive scale, and a populace too afraid, too inured, too ignorant or self-satisfied to do anything about it. A terrible reckoning is coming, but it will not be from Al Qaeda, or from terrorists, or from God. It will be when the people of this country wake up and throw the rotten murderers and torturers and their apologists out of power.
Through its wide-ranging acceptance and tolerance of torture, the U.S. destroys its own integrity. I await the outrage or lack of it in coming days, but I won’t hold my breath. The country has been made stupid by its addiction to elections funded by the wealthy, elections that only perpetuate the same evil powers, and offer little if any real choice to the voting public.
By claiming these documents will aid the enemy, the U.S. rulers only reveal their own guilt. It is not tactics and procedures they fear will be released, but an image of their own crimes.
UPDATE: Since first writing this diary, more material related to U.S. complicity in wide-spread and systematic torture by the Iraqi government is coming to light, as well as information about other war crimes. One of especial interest is a video at UK Guardian, which also has an interview with New York Times correspondent Peter Maass, who was allowed time with Iraq’s notorious special commandos, Wolf Brigade. Maass puts Gen. Petraeus special adviser, James Steele, a “retired United States Army colonel who also helped develop the special police as a member of General Petraeus’s team”, in the same room as himself when both heard an Iraqi being tortured in another room.
A January 2007 article by Dahr Jamail noted the connections between Steele and his old El Salvador counterinsurgency boss, John Negroponte, who was U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005. Negroponte then was U.S. ambassador as FRAGO 242 was put into operation.
It is Negroponte who oversaw the implementation of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, as it was referred to in Newsweek in January 2005.
Under the “Salvador Option,” Negroponte had assistance from his colleague from his days in Central America during the 1980′s, Ret. Col James Steele. Steele, whose title in Baghdad was Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces supervised the selection and training of members of the Badr Organization and Mehdi Army, the two largest Shi’ite militias in Iraq, in order to target the leadership and support networks of a primarily Sunni resistance.
Planned or not, these death squads promptly spiraled out of control to become the leading cause of death in Iraq. Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today.
Of course, Jamail didn’t know of FRAGO 242, but the implication of his article have been borne out with a vengeance, as the U.S. appears to have organized and unleashed torture and death squads in Iraq, much as they did in Latin America over the decades, in Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, etc.
As for Steele, his presence in Iraq told ominously of the real U.S. mission there. As a 1988 article in The Nation explained, “as head of the U.S. Military Group at El Salvador’s Ilopango Air Base, [Steele] was a critical operative in the contra resupply outfit run by Oliver North and Richard Secord. Steele made sure the Enterprise’s planes could come and go from Ilopango.” According to a 2005 New York Times Magazine piece by Maass, Steele was close to Iraqi General Adnan Thabit, leader of the Special Police Commandos. One of the latter’s projects was a TV show broadcast over the U.S.-financed Al Iraqiya television station — “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice” — which broadcast insurgents’ confessions, which appear to have been largely induced by torture.
The very first thing anyone who considers themselves progressive in this country must do is hold the current administration responsible for what is happening right now, end the FRAGO 242 policy, and begin the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. The “don’t look back” policy of Obama must be renounced, and a movement for accountability and social justice began in this country. Otherwise, the torturers are waiting to take over. They already have control of much of the military.
Time is short.
My thanks to the brave folks at Wikileaks. With some luck, there will be enough time, but not unless we give up illusions in washed-up U.S. politicians who have no intent on changing the course of Empire, an empire built on terror, murder, and torture.