Lest you think the U.S. government was shocked and dumbfounded at the recent discovery of an Iraq torture prison, today's Newsday has this story about Iraq police commandos -- "police commandos" almost certainly being a euphemism for "death squads," and "Iraqi" being a somewhat limited description, given the source of some of their training.
...One such group, the Volcano Brigade, is operating as a death squad, under the influence or control of Iraq's most potent Shia factional militia, the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, said several Iraqi government officials and western Baghdad residents.
In the past six months, Badr has heavily infiltrated the Interior Ministry, under which the commandos operate, the sources said. Badr also was accused of running the secret Interior Ministry prison raided Sunday by U.S. troops.
About 2 a.m. on Aug. 23, men in Volcano Brigade uniforms and trucks rolled into the streets of Dolay, a mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhood of western Baghdad, residents say....
For three hours, the raiders burst into Sunni homes, handcuffed dozens of men and loaded them into vans....
Two days later and 90 miles away, residents of the desert town of Badrah, near the Iranian border, found the bodies of 36 of the men in a gully, their hands still bound and their skulls shattered by bullets....
Now, here's the part you may not know:
In the past year, the U.S. military has helped build up the commandos under guidance from James Steele, a former Army Special Forces officer who led U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in El Salvador in the 1980s. Salvadoran army units trained by Steele's team were accused of a pattern of atrocities.
In a May article for The Nation, David Corn, citing this New York Times Magazine article, told us a bit more about Steele:
The [Times] article, by Peter Maass, noted that Steele "honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country's brutal civil war in the 1980s." And, as Maass reminded his readers, that civil war resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people, mostly civilians, and "[m]ost of the killing and torturing was done by the army and right-wing death squads affiliated with it." The army that did all that killing in El Salvador was supported by the United States and US military officials such as Steele, who was head of the US military assistance group in El Salvador for two years in the mid-1980s. (A 1993 UN truth commission, which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the US-backed El Salvador military and its death-squad allies.)
Maass reported that the Special Forces advisers in El Salvador led by Steele "trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses."
And as the Times story notes,
Steele ... is not the only American in Iraq with such experience: the senior U.S. adviser in the Ministry of Interior, which has operational control over the commandos, is Steve Casteel, a former top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration who spent much of his professional life immersed in the drug wars of Latin America. Casteel worked alongside local forces in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia....
Oh yeah -- these guys are going to respect due process.
But let's get back to David Corn, who hasn't told you the best part -- Steele worked for Ollie North:
After the Iran-contra story broke in 1986, Steele was questioned by Iran-contra investigators.... Steele claimed that he had observed the North [contra-supply] network in action but that he had never assisted it. The evidence didn't support this assertion. For one, North had given Steele a special coding device that allowed encrypted communications to be sent securely over telephone lines. Why did Steele need this device if he had nothing to do with the operation? And for a time Steele passed this device to Felix Rodriguez, one of North's key operatives in El Salvador. Furthermore, Congressional investigators discovered evidence indicating that aviation fuel given to El Salvador under a US military aid program that Steele supervised was illegally sold to the North network.... And according to the accounts of others, Steele had made sure that the North network's planes, used to ferry weapons to the contras, could come and go from Illopongo.
When questioned by the Iran-contra independent counsel, Steele maintained that he had limited his actions to providing humanitarian assistance to the contras... But, as independent counsel Lawrence Walsh later pointed out in his book, Firewall, a lie-detector examination indicated Steel "was not being truthful." Steele's name had also turned up in the private notebooks in which North kept track of his various Iran-contra operations. As Walsh wrote, "Confronted with the results of the lie-detector test and North's notebook, Steele admitted not only his participation in the [clandestine] arms deliveries [to the contras] but also his early discussions of these activities with Donald Gregg [the national security adviser to Vice President George Bush] and the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin G. Corr."
Steele was never indicted; he was merely denied a promotion to brigadier general at the insistence of Senator Tom Harkin.
And now he's Aiding The Cause Of Freedom in Iraq.
(More at Needlenose.)