United States set precedent for immoral actions

Column | Swimming Upstream

The story of U.S. Army Col. James Steele is a long one that has its roots in one of the darker periods of American foreign policy, often referred to as America’s “Dirty Wars.” I’m talking of the course about the U.S. support for death squads and counterrevolutionary forces in Latin America, including El Salvador and Nicaragua. For Steele, however, Latin America was just the beginning of his long and devious relationship with anti-democratic forces and murderous thugs across the globe.

After avoiding punishment for his involvement with Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair, Steele took a break from his work in professional treason and served as an international energy consultant. Eventually, for U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the gang called on him to help deal with the ongoing insurgent rebellion in Iraq. The idea was to “fight terror with terror,” a phrase that was now being used to describe the techniques that would be necessary to combat insurgent forces in Iraq beginning in 2004. The result of these policies was a staggering flow of nearly 3,000 deaths in Iraq each month.

As the Sunni insurgency began to bubble over, U.S. soldiers were surprised at the ferocity and unwavering dedication of the rebels. The influx of flag-covered coffins and growing anti-war protests back in the U.S. were also beginning to raise serious concerns in Washington, D.C., especially with the 2004 presidential election looming just around the corner. As U.S. casualties continued to climb, it became clear to U.S. commanders on the ground and to US politicians on Capitol Hill that something had to be done.

The Bush administration knew it needed to put a few notches in the win column if it wanted a second round in the White House, so they sent Steele to Iraq in 2003 to assess the situation. Steele and the Bush administration decided that the Salvador option would be the best way to suppress the Sunni uprising without getting their own hands dirty. Playing on the latent hatred against recently deposed Saddam Hussein, the United States recruited and armed thousands of Shiite militants, including the infamous Badr Brigades, and released them into the streets of Iraq to take out their frustrations against Sunni supporters of the fallen regime. These Special Police Commando brigades were bankrolled using a multi-billion dollar fund under the control of U.S. Army Gen. David Patreaus, while Steele oversaw the commandos as they tortured detainees and committed countless human rights abuses.

Using locations like the Samarra public library as their headquarters, the U.S.-backed militias took to the streets and began a campaign of death and terror that borders on ethnic cleansing. Reports of torture, rape and brutalization poured out of the country, including one report of a 14-year-old boy tied up by his legs, his body black and blue from being beaten repeatedly with metal cables. Most of these crimes occurred in close proximity to U.S. personnel. In fact, one unit from the Oregon National Guard even attempted to blow the whistle on these torture chambers, but the national news networks conveniently failed to pick up the story.

In a sickening, yet hardly surprising twist, when confronted about the abuses, the Pentagon replied “Obviously we have seen the reports and we are currently looking into the situation. As you know the issue surrounding accusation of abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees is a complex one that is full of history and emotion. It will take time to work a thorough response.”

Admittedly, the Pentagon is right to a certain extent. Allegations of torture and abuse are certainly full of emotional complexities and moral turmoil. Yet, if I recall correctly, the U.S. didn’t seem too emotional when they locked up John Kiriakou, or when Bradley Manning was rotting in solitary confinement for 11 months and imprisoned for three years before even receiving a trial. Should we expect Rumsfeld to be thrown in a dark cage wearing only his underwear for a year? If not, Rumsfeld, then perhaps Steele? Of course not, because that would be looking backward, and the USA only looks backward to make sure they’re covering their ass.

Joe Amditis is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in criminal justice and political science with minors in psychology and criminology. His column, “Swimming Upstream,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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