Sunday, March 19, 2006

A black hole of impunity

On the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the New York Times prints an investigation into the systematic torture of Iraqi detainees by a shadowy special forces unit before, during, and after the period when the Abu Ghraib torture was becoming known.

Task Force 6-26 (originally known as Task Force 121, reported by Sy Hersh in December 2003), was driven by the idea, bizarre even then, that Zarqawi was the mastermind of the resistance. [Hersh was given a different rationale: see comments.] It fed information to Rumsfeld, via his Deputy Secretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone and the notorious ultra-Christian zealot Lt. Gen. William Boykin. For a period in 2004, the unit used one of Saddam Hussein's former torture rooms for their own. Also, apparently, his standards of transparency and accountability:

It is difficult to compare the conditions at the camp with those at Abu Ghraib because so little is known about the secret compound, which was off limits even to the Red Cross.
The secrecy surrounding the highly classified unit has helped to shield its conduct from public scrutiny. The Pentagon will not disclose the unit's precise size, the names of its commanders, its operating bases or specific missions. Even the task force's name changes regularly to confuse adversaries

{NL note: Apparently 'adversaries' includes the Red Cross, DIA interrogators, and New York Times reporters}
In the summer of 2004, Camp Nama closed and the unit moved to a new headquarters in Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad. The unit's operations are now shrouded in even tighter secrecy.
Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry [into the torture of the son of a Saddam bodyguard from Tikrit] in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.
The harsh treatment extended beyond Camp Nama to small field outposts in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk. These stations were often nestled within the alleys of a city in nondescript buildings with suburban-size yards where helicopters could land to drop off or pick up detainees.

We knew.

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At 1:26 PM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Hersh's article doesn't mention Zarqawi, and his sources (in the fall of 2003, before the capture of Saddam and the killing of his sons) were describing the task force as a manhunt for leaders of the indigenous insurgency, former Ba'athists and their network.
That sounds more plausible to me than the Times version, and it's supported by information about the few detainees whose history is known.

The focus on Zarqawi: lie or delusion? Hard to know. My guess is mostly lie; those involved think the torture and abuse is easier to defend if seen as efforts to catch "Islamofascist beheaders".

At 3:39 PM, March 20, 2006, Blogger Nell said...

Oops. After the shootout in which Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed, before Saddam's capture.


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