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Iraq War II, Part 12: Torture
To mark the 20th anniversary of the "wholly unjustified and brutal invasion" of Iraq, as George W. Bush himself now characterizes it, we are serializing that chapter from my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism over the next few weeks exclusively here at Substack.
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The author’s 2017 book, Fool’s Errand, has a much more thorough section on the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations’ torture programs. In order to avoid too much repetition here, the brief version of the story is that the mandates and protections that President Bush gave to the CIA to engage in the brutal torture of al Qaeda suspects at their “black sites” in Poland, Romania, Morocco, Thailand, and their secret annex at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba immediately bled over to the military in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. military forces were instructed that the Geneva Conventions did not apply. “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want,’” a former intelligence official explained to journalist Seymour Hersh. At least five men were murdered by the CIA: one in the “Salt Pit” dungeon in Afghanistan, one in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and three at the CIA’s secret annex, “Camp No,” or “Penny Lane,” in Guantánamo. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou has said, “people were just sort of dying in-process. I always wondered if we were killing people off the books.” They brutally tortured a British citizen named Binyam Mohamed, including slicing his genitals with a razor blade until he made up a story accusing American al Qaeda member Jose Padilla of plotting to attack the U.S. with a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Padilla was illegally held by the military for years over this lie until Bush backed down before his detention case could be heard by the Supreme Court. A Florida jury gave him life in prison anyway.
Torture in the Bagram prison in Afghanistan continued for years into the Obama era. His administration even “rendered” people to Afghan prisons who had never before stepped foot in the country, just to keep them from American courts, which by then had already intervened in the case of Guantánamo Bay.
By the time America was in the heat of fighting the Sunni-based insurgency in Iraq, they were torturing people by the tens of thousands. It was not just the scandal revealed at Abu Ghraib prison, where at least one man was tortured to death and children were raped in front of their mothers. U.S. military forces were torturing Iraqis in their homes, on the side of the road, at military bases — including later-Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal’s “Camp NAMA,” which stood for Nasty-Ass Military Area — and all over Iraq. According to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, at least 108 men were tortured to death or otherwise killed in military custody, a number later confirmed by the Associated Press. No one officer-level or higher was ever held accountable.
Retired Army Colonel Arnaldo Claudio, the 18th Airborne Corps Provost Marshal in command of U.S. military police conduct in Iraq, investigated human rights abuses of Iraqi detainees in the town of Tal Afar in 2005, in a camp commanded by then-Colonel H.R. McMaster, whom Claudio says he threatened to arrest. Claudio told the author that detainees were kept in extremely overcrowded conditions, handcuffed, deprived of food and water, and were left to rot in their own urine and feces in the hot desert sun. A so-called “good behavior program” was implemented by McMaster that held detainees indefinitely (beyond a rule requiring release after two weeks) unless they provided “actionable intelligence,” which, of course, most did not have. McMaster was promoted instead of court-martialed. He ended up becoming President Donald Trump’s second national security adviser.
Great credit goes to the American torture whistleblowers Claudio, Ian Fishback, Joe Darby, Anthony Lagouranis, Joseph Hickman, Todd Pierce, Brandon Neely, John Kiriakou, Steven Kleinman, Samuel Provance and Anthony Camerino (a.k.a. Matthew Alexander) for sticking their necks out to tell the truth on this vital matter.
The U.S. government continues to successfully argue in court against releasing the rest of the pictures and other evidence from Abu Ghraib under the reasoning that they could provoke terrorism. They have claimed the same thing in their case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the secrets he exposed about America’s role in Iraqi torture.
This is a reasonable fear if not a reasonable reaction. Torture, and reports of it, certainly drives terrorist recruitment. It is not our freedom that they hate. As Iraq War II Air Force interrogator Tony Camerino reported, huge numbers of foreign fighter insurgents who had traveled to Iraq to fight said they did so in reaction to the published photos of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s former partner and current leader of al Qaeda, was not involved with the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 but was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time. Zawahiri, a prominent Cairo surgeon, was rounded up and tortured with the rest of them. But being tortured by the new Hosni Mubarak regime was what led him to break from the conservative old Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and instead join the more radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which he then later merged with bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
As Italian journalist and author Loretta Napoleoni showed in her 2005 book, Insurgent Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was just a two-bit criminal until the “royal” regime in Jordan mercilessly tortured him in prison. After suffering that brutality, Zarqawi became deeply committed to his religion and his fight against the king of Jordan — America’s client — and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Americans themselves.
It is now shown in Defense Department documents that Zarqawi’s successor, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the eventual leader of the Islamic State (or ISIS), was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib during the period in which the notorious torture pictures were taken. He, therefore, was likely subject to the same abuses depicted in those photos.
So, there is every reason to believe that three of the very worst terrorists of our era were made by the Americans themselves or American-backed client dictatorships by torturing them. Call it the “setting a ticking time-bomb” scenario.
Stay tuned to this space for the rest of Enough Already, Chapter 3 Iraq War II. They will be published every few days until the anniversary of the invasion in mid-March.
Looking to read ahead? Get a copy of my 2021 book Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism on Amazon.
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