Thursday, October 28, 2010

Iraq war logs: These crimes were not secret, they were tolerated

Why did we not investigate allegations of murder and torture in Iraq at the time, when it was well known what was going on?

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, Oct 25, 2010

Iraqi soldiers guard a blindfolded detainee during an operation outside Baquba, north of Baghdad. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The most shocking of the revelations in the current batch of leaked Iraq war logs is that most of the acts of torture and murder were committed in the open. They weren’t secret. They were tolerated, sanitised – justified, even. Take the Wolf Brigade, the 2nd battalion of the interior ministry’s special commandos. Everybody knew about them. You would see them in their pick-up trucks wearing balaclavas. When there was a sectarian murder people would talk about the wolves, until they became a shorthand to describe a certain kind of cruel violence. The wolf commandos became killers in the uniform of the Iraqi police.

I recall speaking to UN human rights investigators, western police advisers, diplomats and army officers about what was going on. In 2005 an Iraqi government official confirmed a list of places where she believed torture and murder were taking place. A British police mentor described entering the office of a notorious figure at the interior ministry and found a man with a bag over his head standing in the corner of the office.

Some of us who covered Iraq wrote about what we found. In summer 2005, I described the operation of the torture squads. Human rights organisations prepared their own reports. But nothing very much happened, except excuses.

When the bodies started turning up in western Baghdad in 2004, the official line was that it was former Ba’athists who were being killed. Like the looting that occurred in the aftermath of the fall of Iraq, it was “understood.” The victims probably deserved it, was the unspoken intimation. Officials, British and American, were really not that bothered.

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