Iraq's Apt Pupils

October 24, 2010

The publication yesterday by Wikileaks of almost 400,000 classified documents relating to US operations in Iraq has reinforced the claims made in Amnesty’s recent report “New Order Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and Torture in Iraq”.

The report, published last month, exposed the systemic mistreatment of detainees – often political rivals of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s United Iraqi Alliance coalition – in Iraqi prisons. It also charged that in its unseemly rush for the exit the United States had turned a blind eye to these abuses. The usual denials followed.

The Wikileaks documents contain hundreds of reports of detainee abuse by Iraqi security forces including beatings, electrocutions, burning, forced amputations, taking electric drills to limbs, pouring acid on flesh and, in at least six cases, murder.

One US order dated May 16, 2005, appears to confirm that US soldiers were instructed not to investigate allegations of abuse unless US personnel were involved or they were otherwise directed to do so by senior officers. Don’t rock the boat seems to have been the prime directive.

The documents also contain evidence that some American soldiers actively used the threat of handing an individual over to the Iraqi security forces as a lever to force suspects to cooperate. In fairness, it should be noted that other documents reveal that some US soldiers intervened to prevent abuse.

Now US combat troops have left Iraq we can begin to examine the legacy that our intervention has left behind and the picture is not pretty. Billions of dollars spent on democracy building and we taught our most durable lesson at Abu Ghraib. Iraq’s new masters learned it well – the end justifies the means.

The result is plain to see, with enforced disappearances, indefinite detention and torture all too commonplace in territory controlled by all three major sectarian factions. In Iraq, it seems, the national security apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.