In the week in which Iraq re-emerged as a central election issue, human rights organisations have slammed the occupying forces in Iraq for creating a regime of torture.
A year on from the publication of photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, Amnesty International last week reiterated its call for a full inquiry into all aspects of the US’s detention and interrogation practices.
“In Iraq the torture and abuse of detainees was not confined to Abu Ghraib and has been reported in other US controlled detention centres,” an Amnesty spokesperson said. “No US agents have been charged with war crimes or torture. Over 70 percent of official actions have resulted in non-judicial or administrative punishments.
“Members of the administration have remained free of independent investigation despite possible criminal responsibility for the abuses.”
Amnesty’s call was echoed by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organisation based in the US. It summarised evidence of US abuses of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
“Abu Ghraib was only the tip of the iceberg,” said Reed Brody, special counsel for HRW. “It’s now clear that abuse of detainees has happened all over.”
The organisation called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to launch an investigation of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top US commander in Iraq.
HRW rejected a report recently issued by the US Army Inspector General that absolved Sanchez of any responsibility for the torture scandals.
“General Sanchez gave the troops at Abu Ghraib the green light to use dogs to terrorise detainees, and they did, and we know what happened,” said Brody.
Meanwhile US military leaders have been forced to admit that the Iraqi insurgency is growing again, despite their earlier claims to have quelled it.
General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Pentagon briefing that resistance attacks were back up to 50 or 60 a day, following a slight dip after January.
“Their capacity stays about the same,” he said. “Where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago.”
At the same briefing, Donald Rumsfeld was asked directly if the US was “winning” against the insurgents.
He replied, “The US and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency. The people that are going to defeat the insurgency are going to be the Iraqis.”
But the “Iraqis” that Rumsfeld refers to aren’t just the Iraqi army and national guard. Evidence is mounting that the US is stepping up its use of irregular militias and death squads in Iraq.
Earlier this year Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Jaffe interviewed US military commanders about the use of Iraqi militias to back up the occupation.
“We don’t call them militias. Militias are illegal,” replied Major Chris Wales. “I’ve begun calling them irregular Iraqi ministry directed brigades.” Jaffe added that other US officials call them “pop-up militias”.
These “pop-up” units may involve as many as 15,000 soldiers in total. They are well equipped with weapons, ammunition, vehicles and radios.
By contrast, the US is having difficulties recruiting, retaining and equipping soldiers for the regular Iraqi army.
Lieutenant General David Petraeus told Jaffe of how he visited the base of one such militia — set up by a former Iraqi intelligence officer — and agreed to fund it. “When I saw them and where they were living I decided this was a horse to back,” he said.
These irregular squads are typically made up of people sharing a common tribal or religious background and owing their allegiance to their commanders. The US is deploying them in an
attempt to stoke up sectarian conflict which will weaken and divide the Iraqi resistance forces.
The US tactics in Iraq echo those it used in some of its earlier imperialist adventures. The strategy of using death squads against resistance forces has been nicknamed “the Salvador option” by US generals.
This is a reference to El Salvador, Central America, in the 1980s, when the US organised and funded right wing terror gangs against a leftist resistance movement.