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America's Hired Death Squads and Torture Teams Are Still Operating in Iraq

A 15-month investigation exploring war crimes long denied by the Pentagon lays out the tragic truth.
 
 
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A Wave of Sexual Terrorism In Iraq

 
 
 
 

Death squads, torture, secret prisons in Iraq, and General David Petraeus are among the featured atrocities in a recently-released new British documentary – James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq – the result of a 15-month investigation by Guardian Films and BBC Arabic, exploring war crimes long denied by the Pentagon but confirmed by thousands of military field reports made public by Wikileaks. 

The hour-long film explores the arc of American counterinsurgency brutality from Viet-Nam to Iraq, with stops along the way in El Salvador and Nicaragua.  James Steele is now a retired U.S. colonel who first served in Viet-Nam as a company commander in 1968-69.  He later made his reputation as a military advisor in El Salvador, where he guided ruthless Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s. 

When his country called again in 2003, he came out of retirement to train Iraqi police commandos in the bloodiest techniques of counterinsurgency that evolved into that country’s Shia-Sunni civil war that at its peak killed 3,000 people a month. Steele now lives in a gated golf community in Brian, Texas, and did not respond to requests for an interview for the documentary bearing his name. 

James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq  is online 

News coverage of this documentary has been largely absent in mainstream media.  The Guardian had a report, naturally, at the time of release and DemocracyNOW had a long segment on March 22 that includes an interview with veteran, award-winning reporter Maggie O’Kane, as well as several excerpts from the movie she directed.   

The documentary is available online at the Guardian and several other websites. 

James Steele opens with a montage of soldiers, some masked, taking prisoners, some hooded, as the woman narrator sets the stage:

“This is one of the great untold stories of the Iraq War, how just over a year after the invasion, the United States funded a sectarian police commando force that set up a network of torture centers to fight the [Sunni] insurgency…. 

“This is also the story of James Steele, the veteran of America’s dirty war in El Salvador. He was in charge of the U.S. advisers who trained notorious Salvadoran paramilitary units to fight left-wing guerrillas. In the course of that civil war, 75,000 people died, and over a million people became refugees.

“Steele was chosen by the Bush administration to work with General David Petraeus to organize these paramilitary police commandos.” 

U.S. Counterinsurgency Requires Secret Prisons, Torture, Death Squads

The documentary concentrates on the creation and activities of the Iraqi police commandos who executed American policy in the face of Iraqi resistance the U.S. had never anticipated, having expected to be greeted as liberators.  There are only glancing references to the policy failures that created the crisis, such as disbanding the army and most of the government of Iraq or assuming that six U.S. police professionals would be sufficient to train a civilian police force capable of keeping peace in a nation of 30 million people. 

Steele was in Iraq early in 2003 as an “energy consultant” with easy access to authorities like Gen. Petraeus, even though what he actually did in Iraq remained a mystery to most people.  As the Sunni insurgency developed, Steele was brought in to organize counterinsurgency.  Though still, technically, a civilian, he worked closely with Gen. Petraeus and reported directly to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 

Steele set about working with Iraqi officers to organize “special police units” under military control, as the notion of a civilian police force faded.  By April 2005 there were nine battalions of these police commandos operating in Iraq, with some 5,000 in Baghdad alone. 

 
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