March 19, 2006

Nasty Ass Military Area...

...otherwise known as Camp Nama. The NYT has the details here.

Excerpts:

Task Force 6-26 was a creation of the Pentagon's post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism, and it quickly became the model for how the military would gain intelligence and battle insurgents in the future. Originally known as Task Force 121, it was formed in the summer of 2003, when the military merged two existing Special Operations units, one hunting Osama bin Laden in and around Afghanistan, and the other tracking Mr. Hussein in Iraq. (Its current name is Task Force 145.)

The task force was a melting pot of military and civilian units. It drew on elite troops from the Joint Special Operations Command, whose elements include the Army unit Delta Force, Navy's Seal Team 6 and the 75th Ranger Regiment. Military reservists and Defense Intelligence Agency personnel with special skills, like interrogators, were temporarily assigned to the unit. C.I.A. officers, F.B.I. agents and special operations forces from other countries also worked closely with the task force.

Many of the American Special Operations soldiers wore civilian clothes and were allowed to grow beards and long hair, setting them apart from their uniformed colleagues. Unlike conventional soldiers and marines whose Iraq tours lasted 7 to 12 months, unit members and their commanders typically rotated every 90 days.

Task Force 6-26 had a singular focus: capture or kill Mr. Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant operating in Iraq. "Anytime there was even the smell of Zarqawi nearby, they would go out and use any means possible to get information from a detainee," one official said.

Defense Department personnel briefed on the unit's operations said the harsh treatment extended beyond Camp Nama to small field outposts in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk. These stations were often nestled within the alleys of a city in nondescript buildings with suburban-size yards where helicopters could land to drop off or pick up detainees.

At the outposts, some detainees were stripped naked and had cold water thrown on them to cause the sensation of drowning, said Defense Department personnel who served with the unit.

In January 2004, the task force captured the son of one of Mr. Hussein's bodyguards in Tikrit. The man told Army investigators that he was forced to strip and that he was punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited. Army investigators were forced to close their inquiry in June 2005 after they said task force members used battlefield pseudonyms that made it impossible to identify and locate the soldiers involved. The unit also asserted that 70 percent of its computer files had been lost.

Vomit, a few kicks in the stomach, and a spot of fainting due to gentle spinal taps, shall we call them? John Yoo would be proud. No organ failure, you see. And regardless, "military necessity" would have allowed for a lost kidney or two, if need be. Remember, this was an elite unit of Rumsfeld's post 9/11 Pentagon meant to be a model for intelligence gathering units. Guess the brutish tactics employed weren't that effective, however. Zarqawi, like UBL, is still on the loose.

On June 26th 04, Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, wrote his deputy William Boykin:

Get to the bottom of this immediately. This is not acceptable. I want a fuller report of action taken, etc., by Wednesday. In particular I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF6-26. SC

What did William Boykin report back to HQ? (The same Boykin who once memorably recounted his confrontation with a Muslim Somali warlord thus: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this"). Well, with gung-ho, primitive evangelical fervor of this stripe, one suspects he'd err on the side of an all-clear for his merry band of Christian warriors, no? And so, drum-roll please...surprise! He told Cambone he had found no pattern of behavior of misconduct at TF 6-26.

A couple things to point out. This was after Abu Ghraib, which probably explains Cambone's so urgent note (before Abu Ghraib, one suspects, Cambone likely wouldn't have shown so much concern, eh?...) 34 troops have been disciplined, nine of whom received "written or oral counseling". How about Court martials? Just five Army Rangers, who received jail time of 30 days to 6 months, and reduction in rank. Two of these will be discharged after serving their sentences.

But here's the thing, gang. These guys are mostly scapegoats, who thought because of the wink-and-nods from higher ups that they were using authorized techniques ("No Blood, No Foul", went the Paintball 'Regulations' at Nama, that well encapsulate the grunt on the ground's view of acceptable tactics). Conditions were so bad at this camp that DIA's Defense Human Intelligence Sevice pulled out their personnel, and as early as December of 2003 Colonel Stuart Herrington, a retired Army intelligence officer, warned in a confidential memo that medical personnel reported that prisoners at Camp Nama had injuries consistent with beatings. He concluded: "It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees."

But nothing happened, for months and months. Why? Because the Pentagon exerted no leadership on such matters until forced to under the weight of the international opprobium resulting from the media maelstrom post the Abu Ghraib disclosures. Let's recap: this Task Force was specifically formed after 9/11 as an elite force meant to gain intelligence from HVT's and engage in sophisticated counter-insurgency against key insurgents and terrorists. These guys were to be the best of the best, the guys chasing Osama and Zarq. Because of John Yoo's legal memoranda, and the laissez-faire posture from civilian and military higher-ups, people went all cowboy in the field, and the result were mega-embarrasments like these.

Meantime, the Nasty Ass Military Area (cute) was relocated to Balad in the summer of '04, as the Cambone's of the world, post-Abu Ghraib, probably decided it was best to close it down. DIA is sending "deployable Humint teams" to supplement Special Ops efforts, and the CIA is conducting debriefs with the task force again, so one hopes interrogation techniques have improved. But does anyone really know? Does anyone have any faith people are still not being crudely and covertly beaten, under the imprimatur of authority of President "We Do Not Torture" Bush--in part given the watered-down signing statement accompanying the McCain Amendment?

We don't, really. And so, among other reasons, these are very sad times. We have a Secretary of Defense who has brought dishonor on our Armed Forces, as the Gitmo interrogation tactics he personally approved migrated to war theaters where thing got, well, nastier. Meantime, John Yoo gets feted doing the rounds of think tanks like AEI and Heritage, which is, quite frankly, stunning (yet another one for the time capsule). Only the grunts suffer, for the purposeful sins of people like Yoo and Rumsfeld, or the sins of omission of people like Bush (ie, his apparent cluelessness about what occurs under his Commander in Chief authority). Just a few more bad eggs, you see, these not on the night shift at Abu Ghraib, but rather the day shift at Camp Nasty, it appears.

And still no accountability from on high. Make no mistake, this is an immense disgrace, and one of the darkest chapters in U.S. military history. And the person who directly presided over it remains in office. Rumsfeld must resign, or be pushed out. And soon. Of course, I'm not alone in this. For Christ's sake, if Fred Barnes is pushing for Rummy to step down, who else is left (save uber-apologists like Hugh Hewitt or sad, rabid nutters like Charles Johnson?). And don't miss this must-read call for his resignation either from retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was charged with training of the Iraqi Army from '03--04. Read the whole thing, as they say.


Posted by Gregory at March 19, 2006 04:55 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Some more history of task forces 6-26, 121, and 20.

Cambone's note was specifically in response to this letter from Vice Admiral Jacoby, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

As summarized by Knight-Ridder (sorry, this is from a Google cache, but you can just click on the original document to double check):

The incident was at the center of a June 25 memo that Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby sent to Stephen A. Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Jacoby wrote that two DIA interrogators assigned to the task force saw prisoners being brought into a temporary detention facility in Baghdad with burn marks on their backs and that some of the prisoners were complaining of kidney pain.

One interrogator was ordered out of the room after he saw a task force soldier punch a prisoner in the face, and the task force leader confiscated photos of the abuse.

The memo said that after the interrogators complained about the incident, they were "threatened" by members of the task force, had their car keys confiscated, were ordered not to leave the detention facility and were warned against telling anyone about what they'd witnessed.

Again, the HEAD OF THE DIA wrote to Cambone with these allegations. A bunch of righty blogs are citing Cambone's little memo as evidence that DoD had nothing to do with this and was committed to stopping torture. But if you look at the situation, he basically had no choice.

Posted by: Katherine at March 21, 2006 04:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The mere fact that Cambone referred the inquiry to *Boykin* is sufficient proof that Cambone didn't really care about stopping anything, except perhaps his own culpability.

Posted by: Anderson at March 21, 2006 03:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Though I don't doubt there has been wrong doing and I would support taking real action in cases of actual wrong doing, it is disappointing to take the words of any detainee as gospel. Our enemies know that most of our media will instinctively do this.

Posted by: mark at March 22, 2006 01:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Freedom is on the march.

In the end, spreading liberty and democracy are all that matters...even if a few Islamofacsist terrorist are made uncomfortable, in the process.

Posted by: Bill Sanders at March 22, 2006 05:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mark, the article is sourced to DOD employees, ferchrissakes.

Bill, you're a liberal troll, right?

Posted by: Anderson at March 23, 2006 12:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This isn't the main point, but I feel bad for the soldiers who get caught up in this. "Just following orders" obviously doesn't cut it, and I know we like to think if we were in their situation we would have the courage of our convictions, but I suspect real life is probably less dramatic. These guys have careers they've been building for years, colleagues they see as family, they have to feed their own family, and kicking around some guy you think is a terrorist probably doesn't seem like that big of a moral quandary in the first place. So of course that's where leadership comes in, you don't put men in this position to begin with. Conservative, liberal, green, I don't care anymore, I just want competence. For the love of God, where are the adults in this government?

Posted by: Mike at March 23, 2006 05:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This isn't the main point, but I feel bad for the soldiers who get caught up in this. "Just following orders" obviously doesn't cut it, and I know we like to think if we were in their situation we would have the courage of our convictions, but I suspect real life is probably less dramatic. These guys have careers they've been building for years, colleagues they see as family, they have to feed their own family, and kicking around some guy you think is a terrorist probably doesn't seem like that big of a moral quandary in the first place. So of course that's where leadership comes in, you don't put men in this position to begin with. Conservative, liberal, green, I don't care anymore, I just want competence. For the love of God, where are the adults in this government?

Posted by: Mike at March 23, 2006 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great point, Mike. Rumsfeld, Cambone et al. couldn't be acting like this without a complete lack of respect for the men in uniform.

Posted by: Anderson at March 24, 2006 08:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mike, I echo Anderson, what you said is a great summary of the whole torture program and its effects. As to where the adults are in this government, there are not any adults at all in this current administration!

Posted by: David All at March 27, 2006 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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