End Evil

Mercenaries and Torture in Iraq

No doubt you too have been shocked and disgusted to see the treatment handed out to Iraqi detainees by certain British and American personnel. I am sure that our "beloved leader" is correct in saying that not all of the troops are sadistic and vicious, but the "bad apple" excuse does not wash with me. What you may not have heard, is that there are increasing numbers of "private contractors" (i.e. mercenaries) working under the guise of coalition troops.

Iraqi's forced to lie on each other in a naked pile

In a pythonesque move, we are now paying civilians to extract information from prisoners. At present it is estimated that there are 20,000 mercenaries in Iraq guarding politicians and pipelines. This is twice the size of the British Army contingent!

Abu Ghraib was notorious workplace for Saddam's torturers. When the US took over the prison, they also took over the reputation. A reservist, Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, was put in charge, and one cell block was cordoned off to provide a space for military policemen to begin "softening" prisoners for their interrogation.

The Red Cross sprung a surprise visit in October 2003 and witnessed abuse and torture. On 6th November the Red Cross filed their report. The US responded by trying to curb ICRC access to Abu Ghraib.

The actual interrogations were conducted by civilian "specialists from companies such as CACI International (based in Virginia near the Pentagon and CIA headquarters), with translation provided by the Titan Corporation, (Lockheed Martin are in the process of purchasing this company).

Many of these contractors have a military background, but are paid considerably more to do this job as a civilian ($100,000 -$150,000 a year). The military investigation into the conditions in Abu Ghraib found that these individuals gave many of the orders to torture prisoners.

Some of the US soldiers accused of these appalling crimes have been dragged through a court martial (with sentences as lenient as 1 years military detention and discharge from the army for those who turn states evidence). However, the civilian torturers can rest assured that they are not governed by any laws. The Military do not have jurisdiction over civilians, and Paul Bremner exempted them from Iraqi law. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act was passed by Congress, but has never been applied.

This legal grey area reminds me of the use of privateers in the C17th and C18th. The privateer would attack their patron's enemy, but as they were not under the control of their patron, there were no consequences for the patron.

This is of course in line with the US establishing a prison in Cuba (according to them one of the axis-of-evil and the recipient of full trade sanctions by the US) because this allows abuse which would be illegal under US law.

It has also been admitted that most of the detainees in both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have not been charged with any crime. They are picked up at random by US troops and incarcerated by under qualified intelligence officers (according to a former US interrogator Torin Nelson - an employee of CACI who worked in the prison, but is not accused of torture).

Iraqi prisoner tortured by American troops

"A unit goes out on a raid and they have a target and the target is not available; they just grab anybody because that was their job,"

He also alleges that a failure of command led to the overuse of civilian "specialists" and noted that some companies hoping to cash in were sending cooks and drivers to work as interrogators.

"They (the US government) penalise contracting companies if they can't fill slots on time and it looks bad on companies´ records."

CACI confirms that they have not been contacted by military investigators about the work of its employees at Abu Ghraib.

Sgt Mejia (US army) is being court-martialled because he refused to return to his post as he considered his orders to be in breach of Human Rights Laws. He alleges that said soldiers were ordered by three interrogators who were not in regulation US uniform to soften up Iraqis for questioning by staging mock executions, and use sleep deprivation.

Specialist Jeremy Sivits has just been found guilty of abuse in a tribunal and given the maximum penalty - one year in jail, dishonourable discharge, and a reduction in his rank. He alleged that "they were told by military intelligence for them to keep doing what they were doing to the inmates because it was working; they were talking."

New evidence suggests that it is not just the male prisoners of Abu Ghraib who have suffered abuse. Many women have been arrested because they were married to absconding Iraqi officers. There is substantial evidence from agencies such as the Red Cross and amnesty International that these women are being systematically raped and abused by the bringers of freedom and democracy.

The first evidence of this was a note smuggled out by a female prisoner in December 2003. The note alleged the systematic rape of female prisoners, and asked Iraqi resistance to bomb the prison to prevent any further humiliation to the women! A secret US investigation Major General Antonio Taguba concluded the allegations were correct. Taguba's report also noted that there is photographic evidence that US personnel had sex with female prisoners, and that they took photographs and videos of the prisoners naked. The US administration has refused to disclose these photographs.

Even without the abuse scandal there are problems with the use of mercenaries. Do the rules of engagement apply? Do they have any training to help them handle a dangerous and volatile situation?

The British leader of one civilian security team noted "My people know how to use weapons and they're all SAS, but there are people running around with guns now who are just cowboys. We always conceal our weapons, but these guys think they're in a Hollywood film."

The US has specifically targeted Chile as a place to recruit mercenaries. Many of these individuals used to be members of Pinochet's army - and are well trained in the use of terror as a political tool.

The number of Mercenaries killed in the conflict is kept out of the news, reducing the Coalition death toll.

We have also seen the US army laying siege to a town in retaliation for the murder of four civilians from a security firm. The victims should have had some back-up and training to deal with the situation, but they were inexperienced civilians sent into obvious danger. The result was predictable, but the reaction was not. The world joined to condemn the US as their snipers shot men, women and children in Falluja. The Geneva Convention clearly forbids retaliation against a civilian population for the actions of individuals (incidentally a favourite Nazi ploy - so the US is in good company).

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Update

Earlier this year Donald Rumsfeld informed Congress that he knew of no other reports of mistreatment outside the Abu Ghraib prison. That of course, was not quite true.

Documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have revealed that senior Pentagon officials who claimed that Abu Ghraib was an aberration were repeatedly informed of abuse elsewhere through official channels. Furthermore, Army personnel who tried to report the abuse were threatened and told to keep quiet.

For example, Adm Jacoby wrote to his superiors on June 25th describing how two of his interrogators assigned to a detention centre in Baghdad witnessed abuse by special forces troops. The prisoners arrived at the facility with bruises, burn marks and kidney pain. One of the two interrogators actually witnessed officers punch a prisoner in the face repeatedly.

However, rather than investigate, the taskforce supervisor immediately confiscated photographs of the abuse and ordered the interrogators not to leave the compound or report the abuse to anyone in the US.

The documents also include a statement from an FBI agent who worked at Abu Ghraib that " were this prison on US soil, a judge would release almost every detainee for lack of evidence."

Posted 9th December 2004

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