Iraq War Logs: Secret Files Show How US Ignored Torture

• Massive leak reveals serial detainee abuse • 15,000 unknown civilian deaths in war

by Nick Davies, Jonathan Steele and David Leigh

A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail 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.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles, and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee's apparent death.

As recently as December the Americans were passed a video apparently showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, northern Iraq. The log states: "The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound … The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him."

The report named at least one perpetrator and was passed to coalition forces. But the logs reveal that the coalition has a formal policy of ignoring such allegations. They record "no investigation is necessary" and simply pass reports to the same Iraqi units implicated in the violence. By contrast all allegations involving coalition forces are subject to formal inquiries. Some cases of alleged abuse by UK and US troops are also detailed in the logs.

In two Iraqi cases postmortems revealed evidence of death by torture. On 27 August 2009 a US medical officer found "bruises and burns as well as visible injuries to the head, arm, torso, legs and neck" on the body of one man claimed by police to have killed himself. On 3 December 2008 another detainee, said by police to have died of "bad kidneys", was found to have "evidence of some type of unknown surgical procedure on [his] abdomen".

A Pentagon spokesman told the New York Times this week that under its procedure, when reports of Iraqi abuse were received the US military "notifies the responsible government of Iraq agency or ministry for investigation and follow-up".

The logs also illustrate the readiness of US forces to unleash lethal force. In one chilling incident they detail how an Apache helicopter gunship gunned down two men in February 2007.

The suspected insurgents had been trying to surrender but a lawyer back at base told the pilots: "You cannot surrender to an aircraft." The Apache, callsign Crazyhorse 18, was the same unit and helicopter based at Camp Taji outside Baghdad that later that year, in July, mistakenly killed two Reuters employees and wounded two children in the streets of Baghdad.

Iraq Body Count, the London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, says it has identified around 15,000 previously unknown civilian deaths from the data contained in the leaked war logs.

Although US generals have claimed their army does not carry out body counts and British ministers still say no official statistics exist, the war logs show these claims are untrue. The field reports purport to identify all civilian and insurgent casualties, as well as numbers of coalition forces wounded and killed in action. They give a total of more than 109,000 violent deaths from all causes between 2004 and the end of 2009.

This includes 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as "enemy" and 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces. Another 3,771 dead US and allied soldiers complete the body count.

No fewer than 31,780 of these deaths are attributed to improvised roadside bombs (IEDs) planted by insurgents. The other major recorded tally is of 34,814 victims of sectarian killings, recorded as murders in the logs.

However, the US figures appear to be unreliable in respect of civilian deaths caused by their own military activities. For example, in Falluja, the site of two major urban battles in 2004, no civilian deaths are recorded. Yet Iraq Body Count monitors identified more than 1,200 civilians who died during the fighting.

Phil Shiner, human rights specialist at Public Interest Lawyers, plans to use material from the logs in court to try to force the UK to hold a public inquiry into the unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians.

He also plans to sue the British government over its failure to stop the abuse and torture of detainees by Iraqi forces. The coalition's formal policy of not investigating such allegations is "simply not permissible", he says.

Shiner is already pursuing a series of legal actions for former detainees allegedly killed or tortured by British forces in Iraq.

WikiLeaks says it is posting online the entire set of 400,000 Iraq field reports – in defiance of the Pentagon.

The whistleblowing activists say they have deleted all names from the documents that might result in reprisals. They were accused by the US military of possibly having "blood on their hands" over the previous Afghan release by redacting too few names. But the military recently conceded that no harm had been identified.

Condemning this fresh leak, however, the Pentagon said: "This security breach could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed. Our enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations, even the capability of our equipment."

Echoes of El Salvador in Tales of US-Approved Death Squads

by Patrick Cockburn

The Iraqi documents released by Wikileaks produce significantly more detail on US actions in the war in Iraq , but do they produce anything that we did not know already?

The Pentagon will huff and puff with rage as it did over the Wikileaks release of US military documents about Afghanistan, when it took the contradictory position that there was little new in what has been leaked, but important sources of intelligence had somehow still been compromised.

The leaks are important because they prove much of what was previously only suspected but never admitted by the US army or explained in detail. It was obvious from 2004 that US forces almost always ignored cases of torture by Iraqi government forces, but this is now shown to have been official policy. Of particular interest to Iraqis, when Wikileaks releases the rest of its hoard of documents, will be to see if there is any sign of how far US forces were involved in death squad activities from 2004.

From the summer of 2004 Iraq slipped into a sectarian civil war of great savagery as al-Qa'ida launched attacks on the Shia who increasingly dominated the government. From late in 2004 Interior Ministry troops trained by the Americans were taking part in savage raids on Sunni or suspected Baathist districts. People prominent in Saddam Hussein's regime were arrested and disappeared for few days until their tortured bodies were dumped beside the roads.

Iraqi leaders whispered that the Americans were involved in the training of what were in fact death squads in official guise. It was said that US actions were modeled on counter-insurgency methods pioneered in El Salvador by US-trained Salvadoran government units.

It was no secret that torture of prisoners had become the norm in Iraqi government prisons as it established its own security services from 2004. Men who were clearly the victims of torture were often put on television where they would confess to murder, torture and rape. But after a time it was noticed that many of those whom they claimed to have killed were still alive.

The Sunni community at this time were terrified of mass sweeps by the US forces, sometimes accompanied by Iraqi government units, in which all young men of military age were arrested. Tribal elders would often rush to the American to demand that the prisoners not be handed over to the Iraqi army or police who were likely to torture or murder them. The power drill was a favorite measure of torture. It is clear that the US military knew all about this.

From the end of 2007 the war began to change as the Americans began to appear as the defenders of the Sunni community. The US military offensives against al-Qa'ida and the Mehdi Army Shiah militia were accompanied by a rash of assassinations. Again it would be interesting to know more detail about how far the US military was involved in these killings, particularly against the followers of the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

There were a series of interconnected conflicts going on in in Iraq during the American occupation in 2004-9. One that the seldom made headlines involved a series of tit-for-tat killings and kidnappings against each other by the Americans and Iranians. This reached its peak in 2007 when the Americans tried to seize Iranian intelligence leaders visiting Kurdistan and US soldiers were killed in an abortive raid in Kerbala. The capture of British naval personnel by Iranian Revolutionary Guards may have been part of this shadowy conflict.

Information about Iraq leaked, like that about Afghanistan, should come with a health warning. The Americans were often told by Iraqis, low level agents or high level ministers, what they supposed the Americans wanted to hear, notably that an Iranian hand was behind many anti-American actions. Much of this is likely to be nonsense.

Information given to the Americans by Afghan intelligence implicating Pakistan and ISI military intelligence in aiding the Taliban was obviously concocted. It is not that the Pakistan military do not help the Taliban but they do so subtly and with care to make sure their involvement cannot be traced. Iraqi intelligence passed to the Americans is likely to be equally biased.

Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, Patrick Cockburn was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.

US turned blind eye to torture

by Gregg Carlstrom

An alleged militant identified only as "DAT 326" was detained by the Iraqi army on July 7, 2006 at a checkpoint in the town of Tarmiya, north of Baghdad. When US forces interrogated him later that night, he described hours of brutal abuse at the hands of the Iraqi soldiers, an allegation apparently backed by the findings of a medical exam.

DAT 326 states he was told to lay down on his stomach with his hands behind his back, which is when the Iraqi soldiers allegedly stepped, jumped, urinated and spit on him.

[…] DAT 326 was evaluated and treated for his injuries at Cobra Clinic. Injuries include blurred vision, diminished hearing in left ear, bleeding in ears, bruising on forehead, neck, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, and thighs, cuts over the left eye and on the upper and lower lips, hemorrhaging eyes, blood in nasal cavities, and swollen hands/wrists.

Since the alleged torture was committed by Iraqi forces, the US quickly dropped the case: "Due to no allegation or evidence of US involvement, a US investigation is not being initiated," the report said.

A review of the leaked documents reveals more than 1,000 allegations of abuse committed by Iraqi security forces. Not all of them are credible, as some detainees showed no physical evidence of abuse, while others changed their stories during multiple interrogations.

But hundreds of them – like "DAT 326" – are supported by medical evidence and other corroboration. Those reports demonstrate a clear pattern of abuse and torture in Iraqi jails, one that a high-level Pentagon directive barred US forces from investigating.

"Only an initial report will be made"

The instruction not to investigate was handed down in fragmentary order (FRAGO) 242, first mentioned in a report filed on May 16, 2005.

Provided the initial report confirms US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by HHQ.

The order is mentioned again in a report on June 19, which says that "only an initial report will be made for apparent [laws of armed combat] violations... not involving US forces." That initial report was often enough to establish that torture had taken place, and the results of interviews and medical examinations were reported in gruesome detail, like the July 2006 report about a detainee in Baghdad suspected of being a foreign fighter.

Any further investigation, however, required sanction from superiors and such approval was rarely given. Thus the US did little to address abuses by Iraqi soldiers and police. Hundreds of abuse reports conclude with the phrase, "the allegation is being forwarded to the [Iraqi army] commander for investigation".

The US state department, indeed, has repeatedly noted that the Iraqi government ignores reports of torture and abuse. "There was little indication that disciplinary action was taken against security forces accused of human rights abuses," the department wrote in its 2007 human rights report on Iraq.

That has slowly begun to change – in 2009, Iraq's interior ministry opened 55 investigations into human rights abuses – but the US state department's reporting shows that abuses reported to the Iraqi interior ministry were ignored for years.

Violating its obligations

International law did not require the US to investigate these allegations of Iraqi-on-Iraqi detainee abuse, because all of them were reported after June 30, 2004 – when Iraq once again became a “sovereign country”, according to the United Nations resolution 1546. The United States no longer directly controlled Iraq's security services, and thus, it was no longer legally obligated to police them.

One could argue, of course, that the decision to look the other way represents a clear moral failing – and a conscious decision to undermine US’ own stated goal of nation-building. The US has spent tens of millions of dollars to develop prisons, courts, and the “rule of law” in Iraq. But the leaked documents show that Iraq's security forces routinely violated the most basic rights of detainees in their custody, assaulting them, threatening their families, occasionally even raping or murdering them.

More importantly, many of the detainee abuse reports suggest that the US knowingly violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The convention – which the United States ratified in 1994 – forbids signatories from transferring a detainee to other countries "where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture".

The thousand-plus allegations of torture in Iraqi jails, many of them substantiated by medical evidence, clearly seem to constitute "substantial grounds" to believe that prisoners transferred to Iraqi custody could be tortured. Yet the US has transferred thousands of prisoners to Iraqi custody in recent years, including nearly 2,000 who were handed over to the Iraqis in July, 2010.

"Evidence of unchecked torture"

The abuses reported by detainees were often nearly identical to those used by the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein. Some detainees were whipped across the feet with heavy cables, an excruciatingly painful form of torture but one that leaves few marks on its victims. Others reported being hung from hooks attached to the ceiling, or receiving electrical shocks across their bodies.

1x detainee claims that he was seized from his house by IA in the Khalis area of the Diyala province. He was then held underground in bunkers for approximately 2 months around August 2005 and subjected to torture by members of the 2/5 IA. This alleged tortured [sic] included, among other things, the strappado stress position, whereby his hands were bound/shacked [sic] and he was suspended from the ceiling; the use of blunt objects (i.e. pipes) to beat him on the back and legs; and the use of electric drills to bore holes in his legs.

Sexual assault, or the threat there of, was a common tactic for interrogators. One detainee said he was sodomised with a water bottle; another, with a hose.

A number of reports describe apparent "torture rooms" in police stations and army installations across the country.

Evidence of unchecked torture was noted in the Iraqi police station in Husaybah, IZ. Large amounts of blood on the cell floor, a wire used for electric shock and a rubber hose were located in the holding cell.

US forces did occasionally act to stop abuses by Iraqi security forces: In August 2005, for example, an American army patrol stopped a group of Iraqi soldiers from punching a detainee in their custody.

Such intervention was more an exception rather than the rule. An August 2006 report describes Sergeant Andrew Spade, from the 300th Military Police company, who witnesses Iraqi police whipping and kicking detainees. But the army does nothing to remove them from the abusive officers: "Both [detainees] are still at Al Huryia police station," the report notes. [[173:060]] US forces too indulged in abuses. The most notorious of course was the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad.

However, the leaked Iraq reports document a number of smaller-scale abuses. In October 2006, for example, members of a Stryker battalion talked about detainee abuses committed by their unit, a report that was forwarded to a higher-level commander.

They said when persons were detained, the driver of the Stryker would call back to warn the soldiers that he was about to stop abruptly. The soldiers would hold on and watch as the detainee was propelled forward. PFC Palmer and unidentified SPC also explained how soldiers in the bank [sic] of the Stryker would take turns punching the detainees... on one occasion a Sunni detainee was extremely upset after the Stryker knowingly dropped the detainee off outside of a Shia mosque.

There are numerous other claims, of US troops allegedly beating detainees or threatening to kill their families.

Still, the vast majority of the allegations deal with abuse committed by Iraqi security forces – abuse that human rights groups allege continues to this day. Indeed, Amnesty International warned in September that detainees recently transferred to Iraqi custody – and others who could soon be handed over - "remain at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment".

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The Shaming of America

Our writer delivers a searing dispatch after the WikiLeaks revelations that expose in detail the brutality of the war in Iraq - and the astonishing, disgraceful deceit of the US

by Robert Fisk

As usual, the Arabs knew. They knew all about the mass torture, the promiscuous shooting of civilians, the outrageous use of air power against family homes, the vicious American and British mercenaries, the cemeteries of the innocent dead. All of Iraq knew. Because they were the victims.

Only we could pretend we did not know. Only we in the West could counter every claim, every allegation against the Americans or British with some worthy general - the ghastly US military spokesman Mark Kimmitt and the awful chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Peter Pace, come to mind - to ring-fence us with lies. Find a man who'd been tortured and you'd be told it was terrorist propaganda; discover a house full of children killed by an American air strike and that, too, would be terrorist propaganda, or "collateral damage", or a simple phrase: "We have nothing on that."

Of course, we all knew they always did have something. And yesterday's ocean of military memos proves it yet again. Al-Jazeera has gone to extraordinary lengths to track down the actual Iraqi families whose men and women are recorded as being wasted at US checkpoints - I've identified one because I reported it in 2004, the bullet-smashed car, the two dead journalists, even the name of the local US captain - and it was The Independent on Sunday that first alerted the world to the hordes of indisciplined gunmen being flown to Baghdad to protect diplomats and generals. These mercenaries, who murdered their way around the cities of Iraq, abused me when I told them I was writing about them way back in 2003.

It's always tempting to avoid a story by saying "nothing new". The "old story" idea is used by governments to dampen journalistic interest as it can be used by us to cover journalistic idleness. And it's true that reporters have seen some of this stuff before. The "evidence" of Iranian involvement in bomb-making in southern Iraq was farmed out to The New York Times's Michael Gordon by the Pentagon in February 2007. The raw material, which we can now read, is far more doubtful than the Pentagon-peddled version. Iranian military material was still lying around all over Iraq from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and most of the attacks on Americans were at that stage carried out by Sunni insurgents. The reports suggesting that Syria allowed insurgents to pass through their territory, by the way, are correct. I have spoken to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers whose sons made their way to Iraq from Lebanon via the Lebanese village of Majdal Aanjar and then via the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to attack the Americans.

But, written in bleak militarese as it may be, here is the evidence of America's shame. This is material that can be used by lawyers in courts. If 66,081 - I loved the "81" bit - is the highest American figure available for dead civilians, then the real civilian mortality score is infinitely higher since this records only those civilians the Americans knew of. Some of them were brought to the Baghdad mortuary in my presence, and it was the senior official there who told me that the Iraqi ministry of health had banned doctors from performing any post-mortems on dead civilians brought in by American troops. Now why should that be? Because some had been tortured to death by Iraqis working for the Americans? Did this hook up with the 1,300 independent US reports of torture in Iraqi police stations?

The Americans scored no better last time round. In Kuwait, US troops could hear Palestinians being tortured by Kuwaitis in police stations after the liberation of the city from Saddam Hussein's legions in 1991. A member of the Kuwaiti royal family was involved in the torture. US forces did not intervene. They just complained to the royal family. Soldiers are always being told not to intervene. After all, what was Lieutenant Avi Grabovsky of the Israeli army told when he reported to his officer in September 1982 that Israel's Phalangist allies had just murdered some women and children? "We know, it's not to our liking, and don't interfere," Grabovsky was told by his battalion commander. This was during the Sabra and Chatila refugee camp massacre.

The quotation comes from Israel's 1983 Kahan commission report - heaven knows what we could read if WikiLeaks got its hands on the barrels of military files in the Israeli defence ministry (or the Syrian version, for that matter). But, of course, back in those days, we didn't know how to use a computer, let alone how to write on it. And that, of course, is one of the important lessons of the whole WikiLeaks phenomenon.

Back in the First World War or the Second World War or Vietnam, you wrote your military reports on paper. They may have been typed in triplicate but you could number your copies, trace any spy and prevent the leaks. The Pentagon Papers was actually written on paper. You needed to find a mole to get them. But paper could always be destroyed, weeded, trashed, all copies destroyed. At the end of the 1914-18 war, for example, a British second lieutenant shot a Chinese man after Chinese workers had looted a French military train. The Chinese man had pulled a knife on the soldier. But during the 1930s, the British soldier's file was "weeded" three times and so no trace of the incident survives. A faint ghost of it remains only in a regimental war diary which records Chinese involvement in the looting of "French provision trains". The only reason I know of the killing is that my father was the British lieutenant and told me the story before he died. No WikiLeaks then.

But I do suspect this massive hoard of material from the Iraq war has serious implications for journalists as well as armies. What is the future of the Seymour Hershes and the old-style investigative journalism that The Sunday Times used to practise? What is the point of sending teams of reporters to examine war crimes and meet military "deep throats", if almost half a million secret military documents are going to float up in front of you on a screen?

We still haven't got to the bottom of the WikiLeaks story, and I rather suspect that there are more than just a few US soldiers involved in this latest revelation. Who knows if it doesn't go close to the top? In its investigations, for example, al-Jazeera found an extract from a run-of-the-mill Pentagon press conference in November 2005. Peter Pace, the uninspiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is briefing journalists on how soldiers should react to the cruel treatment of prisoners, pointing out proudly that an American soldier's duty is to intervene if he sees evidence of torture. Then the camera moves to the far more sinister figure of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who suddenly interrupts - almost in a mutter, and to Pace's consternation - "I don't think you mean they (American soldiers) have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it."

The significance of this remark - cryptically sadistic in its way - was lost on the journos, of course. But the secret Frago 242 memo now makes much more sense of the press conference. Presumably sent by General Ricardo Sanchez, this is the instruction that tells soldiers: "Provided the initial report confirms US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by HHQ [Higher Headquarters]." Abu Ghraib happened under Sanchez's watch in Iraq. It was also Sanchez, by the way, who couldn't explain to me at a press conference why his troops had killed Saddam's sons in a gun battle in Mosul rather than capture them.

So Sanchez's message, it seems, must have had Rumsfeld's imprimatur. And so General David Petraeus - widely loved by the US press corps - was presumably responsible for the dramatic increase in US air strikes over two years; 229 bombing attacks in Iraq in 2006, but 1,447 in 2007. Interestingly enough, US air strikes in Afghanistan have risen by 172 per cent since Petraeus took over there. Which makes it all the more astonishing that the Pentagon is now bleating that WikiLeaks may have blood on its hands. The Pentagon has been covered in blood since the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, and for an institution that ordered the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 - wasn't that civilian death toll more than 66,000 by their own count, out of a total of 109,000 recorded? - to claim that WikiLeaks is culpable of homicide is preposterous.

The truth, of course, is that if this vast treasury of secret reports had proved that the body count was much lower than trumpeted by the press, that US soldiers never tolerated Iraqi police torture, rarely shot civilians at checkpoints and always brought killer mercenaries to account, US generals would be handing these files out to journalists free of charge on the steps of the Pentagon. They are furious not because secrecy has been breached, or because blood may be spilt, but because they have been caught out telling the lies we always knew they told.

US official documents detail extraordinary scale of wrongdoing

WikiLeaks yesterday released on its website some 391,832 US military messages documenting actions and reports in Iraq over the period 2004-2009. Here are the main points:

Prisoners abused, raped and murdered

Hundreds of incidents of abuse and torture of prisoners by Iraqi security services, up to and including rape and murder. Since these are itemised in US reports, American authorities now face accusations of failing to investigate them. UN leaders and campaigners are calling for an official investigation.

Civilian death toll cover-up

Coalition leaders have always said "we don't do death tolls", but the documents reveal many deaths were logged. Respected British group Iraq Body Count says that, after preliminary examination of a sample of the documents, there are an estimated 15,000 extra civilian deaths, raising their total to 122,000.

The shooting of men trying to surrender

In February 2007, an Apache helicopter killed two Iraqis, suspected of firing mortars, as they tried to surrender. A military lawyer is quoted as saying: "They cannot surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets."

Private security firm abuses

Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism says it found documents detailing new cases of alleged wrongful killings of civilians involving Blackwater, since renamed Xe Services. Despite this, Xe retains extensive US contracts in Afghanistan.

Al-Qa'ida's use of children and "mentally handicapped" for bombing

A teenage boy with Down's syndrome who killed six and injured 34 in a suicide attack in Diyala was said to be an example of an ongoing al-Qa'ida strategy to recruit those with learning difficulties. A doctor is alleged to have sold a list of female patients with learning difficulties to insurgents.

Hundreds of civilians killed at checkpoints

Out of the 832 deaths recorded at checkpoints in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests 681 were civilians. Fifty families were shot at and 30 children killed. Only 120 insurgents were killed in checkpoint incidents.

Iranian influence

Reports detail US concerns that Iranian agents had trained, armed and directed militants in Iraq. In one document, the US military warns a militia commander believed to be behind the deaths of US troops and kidnapping of Iraqi officials was trained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

A Worse Record Than Saddam's

It could fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, suicide bombers and ugly attitudes towards the West. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong

by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Bad boy Julian Assange, the pretty, blondish founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks was hugely admired when he uncovered oppressors and political chicanery in places like China and Kenya, but now he takes on Western duplicity and crimes. Can't have that. This spawn of Beelzebub, say our masters, a traitor whose insolence is a crime against the secretive states of the US and UK. Disregard the pique and dyspepsia of officialdom. It is a distraction, smoke from fires deliberately started to stop us seeing what lies before us.

The audacious website first released confidential and candid material on the hellish war in Afghanistan and now opens up a new front, more than 400,000 classified US files documenting the previously untold horrors of the Iraq war. Revealed are countless atrocities and the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of US and British soldiers and Iraqi personnel who had joined the allies. Men were burnt, some had parts removed, others were killed slowly; women were shot, children too, killed before they grew. Anything goes, it seems, during a military conflict and no questions are asked. As an Israeli army trainer said, when asked about the death of Rachel Corrie, the young, pro-Palestinian activist mown down by an Israeli tank: "During war there are no civilians".

The authorities in Iraq did not investigate reports of abuse and killings. An Iraqi friend tells me the rape of girls, women, boys and men was widespread, a tool used both to intimidate and punish. Apparently, there are images from Abu Ghraib prison of these sadistic "punishments"; they were never released because of the feelings they could arouse in Muslim countries. So morally deformed are these men of war that they care more about inconvenient outrage than they do about crimes against the people they supposedly went to save. They should have heeded the words of Martin Van Creveld, an erudite Israeli war historian who compared the disastrous American Vietnam War with the Iraq adventure: "He who fights the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins, also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel." By this reasoning, to fight the weak who are not in any sense your enemy is extreme brutishness and totally self-defeating.

Key figures in the British Army and Government must have been privy to this information. They held their tongues and presumably sidestepped any ethical niggles. The Americans were in command and you don't get to lick the arse of the world's only superpower and then turn round and kick it. That, you understand, is the pact, the unbreakable deal behind our special relationship.

Manfred Novak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, says Obama's administration must investigate and come clean – after all, this President vowed to change the image and behaviour of the US which, for too long, has co-operated with tyrants and violated human rights across the world, including in Guantanamo Bay, which is still open and where captured, lost boys became broken men.

Fewer and fewer global citizens now believe the rapturous anthems and sombre panegyrics of God's own America. After this week, the number will have tumbled further, which, in some ways, is a pity. There is much to praise about the US, its history of perpetual resistance to unacceptable state power, its energy, creativity, business, intellectual and cultural buzz. When such a great nation does great wrong, its mirror is shattered and even if the shards are stuck back together again, the cracks will always remain. And when the custodian of the free world behaves so appallingly, how do we liberal Muslims promote democratic values across the Muslim world?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (sounding like a clone of Condi Rice) slammed the Wikileaks exposé and warned that lives of US civilians and forces and their allies were now in serious danger. At one level, I fear she is right. The internet traffic over the past two days has been so fast, furious and volatile, it could indeed fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, even more violence in unstable Iraq, suicide bombers in Afghanistan and ugly attitudes towards the West, home to millions of Muslims. But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong. Innocent Iraqi people should never have been made to suffer by the allies and even the guilty should have faced due process to prove commitment to justice and decent values. When there was evidence of liberators behaving monstrously, action should have been taken and in the public eye. Clinton must know this, as a lawyer. It is a primary principle of her profession.

I wonder if some staunch supporters of the Iraq war will now think again about the purpose and execution of that illegal and vainglorious expedition. The sanctions and war killed, maimed and destroyed more civilians than Saddam did, even during the most diabolical periods of his rule. Blair, Bush and their armies have never had to face proper, international judicial interrogations. Now imagine good Muslims worldwide, who know all about universal rights, but can see that there is no universal accountability, that Third World despots are made to pay while others earn millions writing autobiographies and lecturing the world on good leadership and governance. Hundreds of savvy, smart, keenly aware young people email me from various Muslim states asking: "What's the point? They say one thing and do the opposite. They say they want to help us and kill our people. Why should we trust the British and Americans?"

What do our army commanders and American leaders advise me to tell these disenchanted Muslims? And Mr Blair, I wonder if he has some wise thoughts? He is, they tell me, still one of the greatest prime ministers this country has had. And his wife, the hot human rights lawyer, does she think these abuses her husband just might have known about should be investigated? No answers will be forthcoming. Those who took us into this war are not obliged to explain themselves, not liable. In that they are worse than the dictator they toppled. Not comfortable that thought, but true.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a Ugandan-born British journalist and author. Currently a regular columnist for The Independent and the Evening Standard, she is a well-known commentator on issues of immigration, diversity and multiculturalism. She is a founder member of British Muslims for Secular Democracy.

IVAW Statement on the Iraq War Logs - A Call for Accountability

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 26, 2010
5:27 PM

CONTACT: Iraq Veterans Against the War

Tel: 215.241.7123
General info/inquiries: ivaw@ivaw.org
Press requests: media@ivaw.org

Statement on the Iraq War Logs - A Call for Accountability

WASHINGTON - October 26 - The recent Wikileaks release--The Iraq War Logs--has shed important light on the high rate of civilian death and widespread atrocities, including torture, that are endemic to the war in Iraq. As veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are outraged that the U.S. government sought to hide this information from the U.S. public, instead presenting a sanitized and deceptive version of war, and we think it is vital for this and further information to get out. Members of IVAW have experienced firsthand the realities of war on the ground, and since our inception we have spoken out about similar atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are asking the U.S. public to join us in calling on our government to end the occupations and bring our brothers and sisters home.
 
The U.S. government has been claiming for years that they do not keep count of civilian death tolls, yet the recent releases show that they do, in fact, keep count. Between 2004 and 2009, according to these newly disclosed records, at least 109,032 Iraqis died, 66,081 of whom were civilians. The Guardian reports that the Iraq War Logs show that the U.S. military and government gave de facto approval for hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi soldiers and police officers. These recent revelations, along with the Afghan War Diaries and Collateral Murder footage, weave a picture of wars in which the rules of engagement allow for excessive violence, woven into the fabric of daily life with the U.S. military presence acting as a destabilizing and brutalizing force. The Iraq War Logs, while crucial, are reports produced in real time and themselves may be slanted to minimize the culpability of U.S. forces. Still, they represent an important part of evidence in assessing the reality of the Iraq war, evidence that can only be improved by the further release of documents and information and corroboration by individuals involved. To this end, our members are reviewing both Wikileaks' Afghanistan War Diaries and the Iraq War Logs to identify incidents we were part of and to shed more light on what really happened.

IVAW has been speaking out about these atrocities and abuses since our inception. Our organization is comprised of over 2,000 veterans and active duty troops who have served since September 11, 2001. We demand immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, reparations for the people of those countries, and full benefits for returning veterans, including mental healthcare. At our March 2008 Winter Soldier hearings in Maryland, more than fifty veterans and active-duty service members publicly testified about the orders they were told to carry out in these countries, sharing stories of excessive violence, trauma, and abuse.
 
Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord, two IVAW members who were in the unit captured in the Wikileaks "Collateral Murder" video, have spoken out about how the incidents caught on film are not isolated cases of 'a few bad soldiers' but rather, part of the nature of these wars. "There has been little accountability in the wars that my friends and I once thought represented everything that was noble about our country," wrote Stieber in anticipation of the Iraq War Logs. In an open letter, Stieber calls for policy makers to "take accountability for these wars and the full truth about them."
 
As veterans, we know that the violence documented in the Iraq War Logs traumatizes the people living under occupation. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also have been marked by staggering rates of military trauma and suicide among the troops tasked with carrying out these orders. Last year, 239 soldiers killed themselves and 1,713 soldiers survived suicide attempts; 146 soldiers died from high-risk activities, including 74 drug overdoses. A third of returning troops report mental health problems, and 18.5 percent of all returning service members are battling either Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. Our Operation Recovery campaign, launched on October 7, seeks to end the cruel and inhumane practice of redeploying troops suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, Traumatic Brain Injury, and other mental and physical wounds--a practice that underlies the continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Critics attacking Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's character are attempting to use ad hominem arguments to detract from the real issues and divert public attention from the content of the Iraq War Logs. We urge honest and thorough discussion of the content of these documents, and we think this discussion must not be sidelined. Furthermore, with past Wikileaks revelations, U.S. administration and military authorities were quick to vilify Army Specialist Bradley Manning who is being accused of leaking these documents to the public. Yet we insist that it is the right of the U.S. public to have accurate information about wars that are being fought in our name and funded by our tax dollars, and we support the public sharing of this information. Exposing war crimes is not a crime.
Government deception is inexcusable. Authorities have kept this information secret in the name of 'national security,' but what they really are afraid of is public opinion, which they know will turn against them if the truth about these wars gets out in the mainstream. An accurate count of Iraqi dead, acknowledgment of torture, and full disclosure of the role of private contractors are facts that should be made public in a democracy. We believe that real national security is created where government transparency and accountability, free press, and an end to spending on illegal wars and occupations are the norm. Continued silence and secrecy is a grave threat to the security of the Iraqi and Afghan people, and we demand openness, accountability, and real discussion of these revelations.
We grieve for the Iraqi and Afghan lives that were lost and destroyed in these wars. We also grieve for our brothers and sisters in arms, who have been lost to battle or suicide. The Iraq War Logs bring home part of the harsh reality of these wars, a reality that we--as veterans--live with everyday. We demand a real end to both wars, including immediate withdrawal of the 50,000 "non-combat" troops who remain in the Iraq. The Iraq War Logs underscore the urgent need for peace, healing, and reparations for all who have been harmed by these wars. The first step is to bring our brothers and sisters home.

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In Solidarity,

Iraq Veterans Against the War
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Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was founded by Iraq war veterans in July 2004 at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in Boston to give a voice to the large number of active duty service people and veterans who are against this war, but are under various pressures to remain silent.

UN Investigator Urges Probe of Alleged US Torture

UN says "torture practices" under Bush not continuing * But Obama administration has failed to investigate

by Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS - A U.N. torture investigator said President Barack Obama has ended harsh interrogations that were commonplace during the Bush era but an independent probe is needed of U.S. practices since 2001.

"There is a major difference between the Bush and the Obama administration," Manfred Nowak told reporters on Tuesday. "To my knowledge, the torture practices under the Bush administration are not anymore continuing."

Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer who has been U.N. special rapporteur on torture for six years, called for an investigation of all allegations of U.S. torture and collusion with states that use torture since the fight against militants began in earnest after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Nowak was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, above all for what he described as the "illegal" military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and secret transfers of suspected militants to third countries where prisoners were routinely tortured -- a practice known as "extraordinary rendition."

"I'm not receiving allegations -- and I received them during the Bush administration on a more or less daily basis -- of torture, ill treatment (and) rendition flights to countries that are torturing," he said.

Nowak said Obama, who took office in January 2009, appeared to be sincere in his desire to shut down the widely criticized Guantanamo Bay prison but had been impeded by Congress, governors of states who refused to let detainees be transferred and a lack of help from European nations.

Officials from President George W. Bush's administration have denied practicing torture but acknowledged using "enhanced interrogation" techniques on suspected militants such as waterboarding, in which water is forced down the noses and throats of prisoners to make them fear they are drowning.

Many human rights experts say waterboarding amounts to torture. Bush's rendition program was also heavily criticized.

"NOT MUCH HAS BEEN DONE"

Nowak criticized the Obama administration for not pursuing the allegations of torture under Bush.

There was "an obligation under the Convention Against Torture to independently investigate every allegation of torture or suspicion of torture, and there are plenty of allegations," he said. "Not much has been done."

The obligation, Nowak said, extended to the courts, which are required to prosecute those suspected of committing or supporting torture and to order the payment of compensation.

Nowak complained that the Obama administration, like Bush's before, has invoked state secrecy laws to block all civil litigation by victims of alleged rendition and torture.

Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the countries to which the United States consistently sent suspected militants, he said.

Nowak also reiterated calls by him and other U.N. officials for the Obama administration to investigate reports from reams of leaked military documents showing U.S. troops killed Iraqi civilians or ignored prisoner abuse by Iraqis.

But he made clear a proper investigation should not be limited to Iraq and that congressional inquiries would not suffice because they are not in the public domain.

"What we need is a full investigation into torture practices by U.S. officials -- whether it's military officials, CIA officials or private security companies," he said, adding it should include those "who willingly and knowingly handed over detainees to other states" that torture.

An ideal probe, Nowak said, would be conducted by a special prosecutor or panel of international experts.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

Torture Orders Were Part of US Sectarian War Strategy

by Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The revelation by Wikileaks of a U.S. military order directing U.S. forces not to investigate cases of torture of detainees by Iraqis has been treated in news reports as yet another case of lack of concern by the U.S. military about detainee abuse.

But the deeper significance of the order, which has been missed by the news media, is that it was part of a larger U.S. strategy of exploiting Shi'a sectarian hatred against Sunnis to help suppress the Sunni insurgency when Sunnis had rejected the U.S. war.

And Gen. David Petraeus was a key figure in developing the strategy of using Shi'a and Kurdish forces to suppress Sunnis in 2004-2005.

The strategy involved the deliberate deployment of Shi'a and Kurdish police commandos in areas of Sunni insurgency in the full knowledge that they were torturing Sunni detainees, as the reports released by Wikileaks show.

That strategy inflamed Sunni fears of Shi'a rule and was a major contributing factor to the rise of al Qaeda's influence in the Sunni areas. The escalating Sunni-Shi'a violence it produced led to the massive sectarian warfare of 2006 in Baghdad in which tens of thousands of civilians - mainly Sunnis - were killed.

The strategy of using primarily Shi'a and Kurdish military and police commando units to suppress Sunni insurgents was adopted after a key turning point in the war in April 2004, when Civil Defense Corps units throughout the Sunni region essentially disappeared overnight during an insurgent offensive.

Two months later, the U.S. military command issued "FRAGO [fragmentary order] 242", which provided that no investigation of detainee abuse by Iraqis was to be conducted unless directed by the headquarters of the command, according to references to the order in the Wikileaks documents.

The order came immediately after Gen. Petraeus took command of the new Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq (MNSTC-I). It was a clear signal that the U.S. command expected torture of prisoners to be a central feature of Iraqi military and police operations against Sunni insurgents.

Petraeus knew that it would take more than two years to build a competent Iraqi military officer corps, as he told Bing West, author of the "The Strongest Tribe", in August 2004. Meanwhile, he would have to use Shi'a and Kurdish militias.

In September 2004, Petraeus adopted a plan to establish paramilitary units within the national police.

The initial units were from non-sectarian former Iraqi special forces teams. In October, however, Petraeus embraced the first clearly sectarian Shi'a militia unit - the 2,000- man Shi'a "Wolf Brigade", as a key element of his police commando strategy, giving it two months of training with U.S. forces.

In November 2004, after 80 percent of the Sunni police defected to the insurgents in Mosul, the U.S. command dispatched 2,000 Kurdish peshmurga militiamen to Mosul, and five battalions of predominantly Shi'a troops, with a smattering of Kurds, were to police Ramadi. But a few weeks later, after the completion of its training, the Wolf Brigade was also sent to Mosul.

Hundreds of Shi'a troops from Baghdad and southern areas of the country were also sent into Samara and Fallujah.

It did not take long for the Wolf Brigade to acquire its reputation for torture of Sunni detainees. The Associated Press reported the case of a female detainee in Wolf Brigade custody in Mosul who was whipped with electric cables in order to get her to sign a false confession that she was a high-ranking local leader of the insurgency.

But an official of the U.S. command later told Richard Engel of NBC that the Wolf Brigade had been a very effective unit and had driven the insurgents out of Mosul.

The Wolf Brigade was then sent to Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, where the Association of Muslim Scholars publicly accused it of having "arrested imams and the guardians of some mosques, tortured and killed them, and then got rid of their bodies in a garbage dump..."

The Wolf Brigade was also deployed to other Sunni cities, including Ramadi and Samarra, always in close cooperation with U.S. military units.

The war logs released by Wikileaks include a number of reports from Samarra in 2004 and 2005 describing how the U.S. military had handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for "further questioning". The implication was that the Shi'a commandos would be able to extract more information from the detainees than would be allowed by U.S. rules.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, who succeeded Petraeus as the commander responsible for training Iraqi security forces in September 2005, hinted strongly in an interview with Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News three months later that the U.S. command accepted the Wolf Brigade's harsh interrogation methods as a necessary feature of using Iraqi counterinsurgency forces.

Dempsey said, "We are fighting through a very harsh environment... these guys are not fighting on the streets of Bayonne, New Jersey." Contrary to the Western notion of "innocent until proven guilty", he said the view in Iraq was "close" to the "opposite".

Vargas reported, "For Dempsey, a big part of building a viable police force is learning to accept, if not embrace, the cultural differences."

A second stage of the strategy of sectarian war against the Sunnis came after the new Shi'a government's takeover of the Interior Ministry in April 2005. The Shi'a minister immediately filled the Iraqi police - especially the commando units - with Shi'a troops from the Badr Corps, the Iranian-trained forces loyal to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Within days the Badr Corps, along with the Wolf Brigade, began a campaign of mass arrests, torture and assassination of Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere that was widely reported by news agencies.

The U.S. command responded to that development by issuing a new version of the previous order on what to do about Iraqi torture, according to the Wikileaks documents. On Apr. 29, 2005, the U.S. command issued FRAGO 039 requiring reports through operational channels on Iraqi abuse of prisoners using a format attached to the order. But no follow-up investigation was to be made unless directed by higher headquarters.

The former Minister of Interior, Falah al-Naquib, later told Knight-Ridder correspondent Tom Lasseter that he had personally warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials about the sectarian violence by Badr police commandos against Sunnis. "They didn't take us seriously," he lamented.

In fact, the U.S. military and the U.S. Embassy were well aware of the serious risk that the strategy of relying on vengeful Shi'a police commandos to track down Sunnis would exacerbate sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi'a. In May 2005, Ann Scott Tyson wrote in the Washington Post that U.S. military analysts did not deny that the U.S. strategy "aggravates the underlying fault lines in Iraqi society, heightening the prospects of civil strife".

In late July 2005, when Petraeus was still heading the command, an unnamed "senior American officer" at MNSTC-I was asked by John F. Burns of the New York Times whether the U.S. might end up arming Iraqis for a civil war. The officer answered, "Maybe."

The U.S.-sponsored Shi'a assault on the Sunnis gave al Qaeda a new opportunity. In mid-2005, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, announced the creation of a special unit, the Omar Brigade, to combat the Shi'a commando torture and death squads. That led to the massive sectarian bloodletting in Baghdad in 2006, when thousands of civilians were dying every month.

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