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Excerpt: "General Muntadher al-Samari claimed that torture was routine in the SPC-controlled detention centres. 'I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library's columns. And he was tied up, with his legs above his head. Tied up. His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten.'"

General Abul Waleed, Head of Command for the Wolf Brigade, and Col. James Steele, Samarra, Iraq. (photo: Gilles Peress/Magnum)
General Abul Waleed, Head of Command for the Wolf Brigade, and Col. James Steele, Samarra, Iraq. (photo: Gilles Peress/Magnum)

Revealed: Pentagon's Link to Iraqi Torture Centers

By Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith, Guardian UK

07 March 13


he 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.

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."

There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman tortured prisoners themselves, only that they were sometimes present in the detention centres where torture took place and were involved in the processing of thousands of detainees.

The Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation was sparked by the release of classified US military logs on WikiLeaks that detailed hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centres run by the police commandos across Iraq. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years after he pleaded guilty to leaking the documents.

Samari claimed that torture was routine in the SPC-controlled detention centres. "I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library's columns. And he was tied up, with his legs above his head. Tied up. His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten."

Gilles Peress, a photographer, came across Steele when he was on assignment for the New York Times, visiting one of the commando centres in the same library, in Samarra. "We were in a room in the library interviewing Steele and I'm looking around I see blood everywhere."

The reporter Peter Maass was also there, working on the story with Peress. "And while this interview was going on with a Saudi jihadi with Jim Steele also in the room, there were these terrible screams, somebody shouting: 'Allah, Allah, Allah!' But it wasn't kind of religious ecstasy or something like that, these were screams of pain and terror."

The pattern in Iraq provides an eerie parallel to the well-documented human rights abuses committed by US-advised and funded paramilitary squads in Central America in the 1980s. Steele was head of a US team of special military advisers that trained units of El Salvador's security forces in counterinsurgency. Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 while Steele was there and became a major advocate of counterinsurgency methods.

Steele has not responded to any questions from the Guardian and BBC Arabic about his role in El Salvador or Iraq. He has in the past denied any involvement in torture and said publicly he is "opposed to human rights abuses." Coffman declined to comment.

An official speaking for Petraeus said: "During the course of his years in Iraq, General Petraeus did learn of allegations of Iraqi forces torturing detainees. In each incident, he shared information immediately with the US military chain of command, the US ambassador in Baghdad ... and the relevant Iraqi leaders."

The Guardian has learned that the SPC units' involvement with torture entered the popular consciousness in Iraq when some of their victims were paraded in front of a TV audience on a programme called "Terrorism In The Hands of Justice."

SPC detention centres bought video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the show. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, Samari remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit - head of the special commandos - when a call came from Petraeus's office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on TV.

"General Petraeus's special translator, Sadi Othman, rang up to pass on a message from General Petraeus telling us not to show the prisoners on TV after they had been tortured," said Samari. "Then 20 minutes later we got a call from the Iraqi ministry of interior telling us the same thing, that General Petraeus didn't want the torture victims shown on TV."

Othman, who now lives in New York, confirmed that he made the phone call on behalf of Petraeus to the head of the SPC to ask him to stop showing the tortured prisoners. "But General Petraeus does not agree with torture," he added. "To suggest he does support torture is horseshit."

Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. "Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. Even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them - they are lying."

Just before Petraeus and Steele left Iraq in September 2005, Jabr al-Solagh was appointed as the new minister of the interior. Under Solagh, who was closely associated with the violent Badr Brigades militia, allegations of torture and brutality by the commandos soared. It was also widely believed that the units had evolved into death squads.

The Guardian has learned that high-ranking Iraqis who worked with the US after the invasion warned Petraeus of the consequences of appointing Solagh but their pleas were ignored.

The long-term impact of funding and arming this paramilitary force was to unleash a deadly sectarian militia that terrorised the Sunni community and helped germinate a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. At the height of that sectarian conflict, 3,000 bodies a month were strewn on the streets of Iraq.

CV: James Steele


Jim Steele's first experience of war was in Vietnam, where from 1965 to 1975 US combat units were deployed against the communist North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong. 58,000 Americans were killed, dealing a blow to the nation's self-esteem and leading to a change in military thinking for subsequent conflicts.

El Salvador

A 1979 military coup plunged the smallest country in Central America into civil war and drew in US training and funding on the side of the rightwing government. From 1984 to 1986 Steele - a "counterinsurgency specialist" - was head of the US MilGroup of US special forces advisers to frontline battalions of the Salvadorean military, which developed a fearsome international reputation for its death-squad activities. Prof Terry Karl, an expert at Stanford University on El Salvador's civil war, said that Steele's main aim was to shift the fight from so-called total war, which then meant the indiscriminate murder of thousands of civilians, to a more "discriminate" approach. One of his tasks was to put more emphasis on "human intelligence" and interrogation.


He became involved in the Iran-Contra affair, which saw the proceeds from covert arms sales by senior US officials to Iran used to fund the Contras, rightwing guerrillas fighting Daniel Ortega's leftwing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Steele ran operations at El Salvador's Ilopango airport, from where Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North illegally ran weapons and supplies to the Contras.


Soon after the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, now retired Colonel James Steele was in Baghdad as one of the White House's most important agents, sending back reports to Donald Rumsfeld and acting as the US defence secretary's personal envoy to Iraq's Special Police Commandos, whose intelligence-gathering activities he oversaw. Drawn mostly from violent Shia militia, the commandos developed a reputation for torture and later for their death-squad activities directed against the Sunni community. your social media marketing partner


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+16 # ThinkRodan 2013-03-07 10:12
It is strange that the TIME-FRAME of these incident's in NOT MENTIONED! The IRAN-CONTRA affair occurred during the REAGAN era;the IRAQ incidents occurred during the GW BUSH affair in IRAQ.
+5 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-07 12:20
Well, some of the readers of this site have a bit of historical memory. So they might make the connection between the historical time frames and who was then the chief decider.

To deny the article has a time frame only suggests one's own lack of an historical/poli tical time frame.

I like having a little historical & political time frame because it helps me connect allusions and suggestions with particular, if unmentioned, characters who have peopled the historical political stage.
+30 # intheEPZ 2013-03-07 10:47
Business as usual for the Pentagon. Guns, drugs and torture. What a culture. Our tax dollars at work.
+19 # indian weaver 2013-03-07 11:42
Rather what a lack of culture we are. Working for decades now with Tibetans and Navajos, I've seen close up the incredible superiority of Native cultures that depend on and honor our Great Mother. Cultures that are not "capitalistic" but socialistic, which support each other and good ole Mom who supports them / us (maybe not a lot longer however). Our culture doesn't compare to a legitimate, sustainable way to live that is manifested by these Native Peoples, includig worldwide native peoples in addition to the 2 named above.
+22 # mjc 2013-03-07 10:51
Such incidents of torture have been known for some time by various Americans, in South America, in Vietnam, and in Iraq. What has been lacking is widespread, hard evidence of that behavior. For any general officer to claim that he knew the Iraqis were engaged in torture but certainly not the United States is sheer crap, lying, covering one's a.. Since Vietnam the higher the rank in whatever military service the greater the desire to be appealing to a nation that has come to wonder if any part of our government can be trusted. Witness the loud, twisted defense of water boarding, a form of "interrogation" our military opposed so mightily in Korea. But the Bush administration seemed to loosen many more of the strictures that have informed our warfare for centuries, sadly.
+3 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-07 12:27
It is important not to mis-overestimat e just how ignorant a general or admiral might be. It is also important to not mis-underestima te that same thing.

For a general or admiral to say that something didn't happen in a combat area, is, for me, to hear a hollow can uttering echoes. Generals and admirals do not go into combat zone.

They are also, and routinely, and purposefully, kept seriously ignorant of what is going on where not only other generals/admira ls are doing their thing, official or otherwise, but also where they are actually in command of what is supposed to be going on, and preventing what is supposed to not be going on. In other words, the chain of command runs in several directions, not just up and down, as we were taught in boot camp.

To get into the farther reaches of special operations, one can only surmise who is where in the chain of command. One does what one is told. By the "commander" who is most present. That may or may not be the senior most officer present. It may only be the man or woman whose opinion/view you most respect in the moment of the most urgent and most immediate truth. If you don't have your heart right with the great spirit, you may get serious PTSD from whatever you do, even if no one commanded you to do it and you simply relied upon your best judgement - in the moment.

Moments of truth are moments of life and death.
+3 # mjc 2013-03-07 15:01
Many generals do indeed go into combat areas and in certain wars of choice that "combat zone" could be right where the general officer's headquarters, Iraq and Afghanistan. And they get reports, lots of them, especially the wars fought more recently; it is an important political tool for the officer. So really do not believe that they can make claims of none information. But you aren't going to tell the embedded press that you have these reports or that they say anything about OUR torture.
+1 # Doubter 2013-03-07 21:42
"It is important not to mis-overestimat e just how ignorant a general or admiral might be. It is also important to not mis-underestima te that same thing."

I can't quite figure out this sentence but I think I agree with the meaning wholeheartedly. (specially if it's a putdown on generals and admirals which are my favorite whipping boys)
0 # RMDC 2013-03-10 06:35
"Such incidents of torture have been known for some time by various Americans, in South America, in Vietnam, and in Iraq. What has been lacking is widespread, hard evidence of that behavior."

I don't think this is right. There's a ton of hard evidence, far more than is ever presented in a court in a trial against any so-called terrorist.

What is lacking is a criminal justice system in the US or in the world that is willing to prosecute members of the Bush or Obama regimes or the US military, CIA, or their contractors. The CIA has 1000s of pages of manuals on torture, just the exact kinds of techniques that we have photographic and eye-witness testimony to.

The world lacks the will to prosecute Americans for torture. The US is not a part of the International Criminal Court and Bush vowed to go to war against any nation which tried to bring an american to trial.
+32 # reiverpacific 2013-03-07 11:12
Well, there goes the recipient of some of the "Missing Iraqi Billions" and a chunk of the seemingly bottomless CIA Black Budget.
I've always figured that just to do business with all the warlords let off Hussein's leash by "shock and awe" to facilitate the planning, design and construction of the biggest embassy in the world would result in a huge amount of covert bribery by the no-bid KBR, Haliburton and their CHOSEN subcontractors.
All of course, part and parcel of the same huge taxpayer-funded sink of corruption, national and international cronyism presided over by the Dimwits/Cheney Mafia that resulted in two illegal wars, the destruction of two countries and the US economy.
Now I see that the Goulish Cheney is coming out and saying he'd "do it all again" -and he's walking about free with a ticking clock mechanical heart a bit like the crocodile in Peter Pan. Watch out when you hear him coming -he's a lethal coward.
+9 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-07 12:30
Yes, he is a lethal coward. He also enjoys the company and adoration of a very large host of bipartisan 'somebodies' who are more or less equally lethal, and, though it is difficult to imagine, much more cowardly.
+9 # mdhome 2013-03-07 14:04
"Now I see that the Goulish Cheney is coming out and saying he'd "do it all again" -and he's walking about free with a ticking clock mechanical heart a bit like the crocodile in Peter Pan. Watch out when you hear him coming -he's a lethal coward."

Makes me sick to see him on TV with his "holier than thou" attitude, a more despicable piece of dog crap I cannot imagine.
0 # Cassandra2012 2013-03-08 18:11
yes, though it's 'ghoulish' ...
+6 # mjc 2013-03-07 15:06
And if you followed the Fallujah story in Iraq, one realizes that the hate of the American forces there, exhibited in the treatment of American bodies, wasn't without a cause because of the way that city was methodically murdered, as the goal of our forces.
+3 # genierae 2013-03-08 10:33
I well remember the tragedy of Fallujah, it was a sickening experience to watch what our soldiers were doing and have no power to stop it. To see the reality of a city being destroyed, its people exterminated, being covered up by lies and propaganda. To see these evil monsters, Cheney, Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, etc., smirk and smile their vile smiles, snickering down their sleeves at the ignorance of most of Americans. Cheney, perhaps the most evil of them all, struts about in broad daylight, reinforcing his heinous acts by his refusal to repent. I think he holds on despite his ill health, because he hasn't been able to completely eradicate the thought of God from his mental processes, and so in the almost total darkness in which he operates, there's a tiny vein of consciousness that nags at him. He might just be held accountable. Fortunately he's right, his horrific karma must be answered. What a good day that will be!
+9 # fuzzbuzz 2013-03-07 11:21
Alright, so a superpower invaded and murdered a helpless population, then used terrorism to keep them subdued.

What else is new?
+11 # indian weaver 2013-03-07 11:37
Yes that's right. This is what we did to all Native Americans when europeans invaded north america. Nothing new here.
-18 # reo100 2013-03-07 11:49
Um, evidence fuzzbuzz?
+10 # fuzzbuzz 2013-03-07 15:20
Quoting reo100:
Um, evidence fuzzbuzz?

Really? "evidence, fuzzbuzz?"

200 years of agression, dating back *at least* to the Monroe Doctrine, are not enough evidence?

Ignoring the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, there are TWENTY countries that have been invaded by the world's superpower since WWII, when the US emerged as the SOLE superpower. Twenty NAMELESS countries that you probably can't find on a map.

Was Nicaragua really a threat to the US military machine? How about Vietnam? Afghanistan?

It's always these poor helpless countries in strategic locations that are always trying to take over the world, huh? Strange...

Asking for evidence about US agression is like asking for evidence that the Sun exists. Where do you even begin to respond? Just take a look around you.
+2 # amos365 2013-03-08 18:46
And there you have it!
+6 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-07 12:15
What is new here is the story of how that power did the damages while it was telling a completely different story.

In other words, the 'victors' do not always 'write the history,' for the simple reason that those who won today may lose tomorrow.

We could have learned that in Vietnam, as many of us combatants there, Vietnamese as well as US & others, did learn. But as a nation, we only learned from that imperial stupidity to agree to disagree.

Now we may or may not achieve anything else. But this article helps pull some of the official lies out into the realm where undeniable facts are considered more important than temporary victories, such as official lies are always aimed to achieve.
+9 # fredboy 2013-03-07 11:31
Should we feign surprise?

No deck watch on the Cole...

No Air National Guard on 9/11...

Is anyone out there still swallowing the Kool Aid?
+7 # Walter J Smith 2013-03-07 12:12
I like this kind of reporting. It reveals what the Fascists and Nazis, the two most effective parties in Washington, D. C., are collaboratively hiding, and even does more.

It also reveals the most likely, though admittedly speculative at this point, linkages between the current Administration and the GWB & other previous Administrations.

This is a portrait of bipartisan collaboration's most significant results. To say that collaboration has more important results will certainly also be a welcomed contribution to the defense of bipartisanship.

And to the extent it offers evidence, it will be most appreciated.

Results of any cooperative efforts are always measured, or measurable by how much they subsequently shape the larger world, whether that 'larger' is only one faction of one party, or the whole planet.

Where the whole planet is powerfully impacted is truly significant, whether the impact is negative/regres sive, or positive/redemp tive/restorativ e in relation to both what is most worth conserving, and also what is most worth changing in a particular direction.
+8 # David Starr 2013-03-07 13:41
I'm all the more angered at this, being a U.S. citizen. So I'm told that the actions of a Steele and a Coffman are to protect my freedom. To them I say, "Fuck off."

Steele and Coffman should be tried as traitors, not only of myself and of the U.S., but of humnanity itself. The bastards deserve a "vacation" in an Abu Ghraib "hotel," as special guests. Their stay could equal the time period from Vietnam to Iraq.

Then they could check out any time they like...but they could never leave.
+4 # mjc 2013-03-07 15:10
Agree that someone should be tried or at least accused as being treasonous, a traitor even, but you would need to go higher up the chain of command, all the way to the CIC.
+4 # mdhome 2013-03-07 14:13
The only reason to go into Iraq was to show I got/am a bigger dick than you daddy (HW). And he (W) only showed is what an idiot he is/was.
+5 # aljoschu 2013-03-07 15:46
Maybe that is why this allegedly insane North Korean dictator wants to nuke America. Perhaps he isn't that crazy, after all.
+4 # Paul Scott 2013-03-07 18:33
Authorizing, promoting, committing, or condoning torture, for whatever reason, is not worthy of anything more than hanging when found out. Only the low-life, of human creatures, thinks that committing murder and mayhem preserves a better way of life.
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2013-03-07 20:51
Ah, America, bastion of truth, justice & democratic fair play. Exceptional, eh?
+4 # wleming 2013-03-08 09:57
Your brief cv of Steele omits the fact that what killed his military career.. he was up for brigader general, was the fact that he lied to Congress in testimony concerning his relationship and knowledge of what Oliver North was doing. But these renegade types like Elliot Abrams, Steele, North, Poindexter and worse are just what Bush and Co. were looking for... men who had been compromised.
+4 # genierae 2013-03-08 10:49
I keep returning to the simple fact that were the majority of Americans awake and engaged in the political world, we would begin to see a true democracy emerge. In every chapter of American history there haven't been enough good people who found the courage to resist empire. We allowed the theft of this country from its rightful inhabitants, allowed them to be exterminated, allowed slavery to thrive, then allowed Jim Crow to continue their misery. Allowed war after illegitimate war to kill off our young, while destroying countries around the world. We are now living in an empire that is protected and nurtured by the very same people who are supposed to represent us. These representatives are colluding with the military/indust rial complex to destroy what's left of the American middle class, and who's going to stop them? Ignorance and apathy create a doormat citizenry, and it's only when we get up off the floor and organize against them, that we will overcome.
+1 # amos365 2013-03-08 18:41
These are not the guilt ridden "troopers" who daily commit suicide-- tortured souls-- anguishing over ordered acts against their fellow creatures-- all of them-- big and small. Nor are these humanoids reptilian-- they are not natural, not humane/human. But very wealthy I do imagine... I do not get it... it's the money? I suppose. I just don't get it. Such horrific waste.Steel is special.
+1 # Thomas E. Davis 2013-03-08 21:43
To learn now of torture overseen and possibly ordered by U.S. retired special forces via back channels in the war in Iraq is as dishonorable and infuriating as learning of the Iran-Contra affair which tried to depose a democratically elected government. In Iran-Contra Ronald Reagan was finally directly implicated, although he was always able to convince himself of no culpability in it, perhaps at all. He could convince himself of anything about himself that he wished to believe.

Now we have Dick Cheney admitting that he believes torture is a useful tool. He would do nothing different if he had to go through his complete involvement in the Iraq War from the deception of the American people to his arranging no-bid contracts for Haliburton and its affiliate, Brown and Root. And water-boarding was not torture, Dick?

Finally, we have insult added to injury, given the 60 billion dollars flushed down a rat hole in the so-called rebuilding of Iraq.

God save us from future neo-con power grabs!

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