Monday, October 12, 2009

What War Brings: death squads

WHAT WAR BRINGS: death squads

In wars and occupations, lots of different people and lots of different groups take up killing other people – for a variety of reasons. One thing these wars and occupations have in common is small groups of men who roam around as a team and kill people off. These men might be locals or foreigners. They might be undercover agents, paid mercenaries, local police, regularly military or government official’s militias.

And it is still happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Gunmen broke into the home of a Kurdish policeman earlier this month, and killed his wife and three children as they slept. This happened in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Gunmen kill Iraq police officer’s sleeping family

Omed Abdul-Hamid had already left for work when the gunmen burst into the house and sprayed the woman and children with bullets, police Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qadir said. The children were ages 3 through 10, he said. The attackers did not steal anything, suggesting it was an insurgent attack, Qadir said.

Back in 2005, death squads were running rampant in Iraq. This happened (coincidentally?) after Negroponte showed up to ‘train’ the Iraqi forces. One incident I have blogged about repeatedly – it is the story of Ali Nasir Jabur. One August night in 2005, men wearing Iraqi security forces uniforms raided his home and killed his father, mother, two brothers and a sister. Ali survived by hiding under a blanket. There is a picture of this child at this link.

It was never clear why this happened…or who the killers were. But, I can tell you one thing: I brought this to the attention of every US Senator and all 13 NC Representatives at the time. They all did nothing. Ali’s story is one of tens of thousands of stories. Some of the death squads were ‘terrorists’ and some were Iraqi forces. Some were criminals, and the US and British forces there also acted as death squads. There is more information on that in the book “Winter Soldier”.

There were several journalists who were investigating death squad activity in Iraq, as was the Christian Peacemaker Teams. In a review of Tom Fox’s death, World Prout Assembly cover what Fox was looking into and information about the Wolf Brigade.

Tom Fox, death squads & the dogs of war

The most widely known of these Iraqi commando units is called the Wolf Brigade. The Wolf Brigade is one of several units that have been accused of targeting Palestinian refugees in Iraq, using torture to extract confessions from prisoners, and slaying Sunni clerics. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Wolf Brigade is the most feared and effective commando unit in Iraq. They also had this to say about them: Last December (2005), the Wolf Brigade--backed up by the Iraqi army and U.S. military--achieved notoriety after launching a series of counterinsurgency operations in Mosul, a Sunni stronghold northwest of Baghdad. Their popularity was further buoyed by the success of Terrorism in the Grip of Justice, a primetime show on U.S.-funded Al Iraqiya television that features live interrogations of Iraqi insurgents by commandos.

….. Suffice to say, human-rights groups legitimately accuse creators of the counterterrorism television show of violating the Geneva Conventions by publicly humiliating detainees after extracting confessions by torture.

The Christian Peacemaker Teams were not the first people to show an interest in the topic. The allegations of torture, murder, and abuse these people were investigating happened to be the same story investigated by Steve Vincent (New York Time), Yasser Salihee (Knight Ridder) and Fakher Haider (New York Times). All three journalists have this in common: That was the last story these journalists covered before they were killed in Iraq in 2005.

At this time, ‘special forces’ of Iraqis trained by US Army’s Special Forces are operating in Iraq. Here is one story about them, where an Iraqi police sergeant has his home raided by the “dirty brigade” in June 2008. This report was published in June 2009.

Iraq’s New Death Squad

At first he couldn't tell whether the men were Iraqis or Americans. He says he identified himself as a police sergeant, offering his ID before they took his pistol and knocked him to the ground. The men didn't move like any Iraqi forces he'd ever seen. They looked and spoke like his countrymen, but they were wearing American-style uniforms and carrying American weapons with night-vision scopes. They accused him of being a commander in the local militia, the Mahdi Army, before they dragged him off, telling his wife he was "finished." But before they left, they identified themselves. "We are the Special Forces. The dirty brigade," Hassan recalls them saying.

…… On the same night Hassan Mahsan's house was raided, 26-year-old Haidar al-Aibi was killed with a bullet to the forehead. His family says there was no warning.

………. Fathil al-Aibi says the family was awakened around midnight by a nearby explosion. His brother Haidar ran up to the roof to see what had happened and was immediately shot from a nearby rooftop. When Fathil, his brother Hussein and his father, Abbas, tried to bring Haidar downstairs, they were shot at, too. For about two hours he lay lifeless on the roof while his family panicked as red laser beams from rifle scopes danced on their windows. "We had tests the next day at the university," Hussein says. "We didn't think he would go like this."

Right now, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces number around 4,500, but there are plans for more. They are not under the control of the Defense Ministry or the Interior Ministry. Americans pressured the Iraqi government to create a new minister-level office called the “Counter-Terrorism Bureau” and they currently answer directly to Maliki. The perception in Baghdad is that they actually answer to the US military. The US Special Forces do have advisors deeply involved with this group. From the same article as above:

Accusations of human rights abuses, killings and politically motivated arrests have surfaced, including assaults on a university president and arrests of opposition politicians.

….. The effective head of the American ISOF project is General Trombitas of the Iraq National Counter-Terror Transition Team. A towering man with a gray mustache and a wrinkled brow, Trombitas spent nearly seven of his over thirty years in the military training special forces in Colombia, El Salvador and other countries.

I suspect there is quite a lot that remains to be uncovered about the death squads of Iraq, who was running them, who directed them and who paid for them (most likely, the US taxpayers). It is looking very suspicious.

Only thing we know for sure is that the number of contractors used by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing. They now make up about 50% of the total US forces in these wars, and they are not subject to a whole lot of oversight. It is not known how much involvement they have with death squads.

There are no reports of death squads run by al Qaeda in Iraq, but I would not be surprised if they did this too. I would surprised if they did not run death squads.


20,000 Pakistani troops went into Swat, part of the North West Frontier Province, last April. This caused a huge refugee crisis, and of course, the death and suffering of many civilians. This was strongly supported (or insisted upon) by Richard Holbrooke and others in the current administration. Here’s how the situation is described in September 2009:

Now, the Pakistani military continues to occupy the area, carrying out a reign of terror in which individuals identified as opponents of the government and the US occupation across the border are being picked up and tortured to death. According to a report published September 15 in the New York Times, with the military occupation of the Swat Valley “a new campaign of fear has taken hold, with scores, perhaps hundreds, of bodies dumped on the streets in what human rights advocates and local residents say is the work of the military.”


And over in Afghanistan, a report from last year detailed how Australian forces are acting as death squads. It raises the question of the effectiveness of this tactic, in light of the fact that the targets of these assassinations are often identified incorrectly.

Rare insight of SAS operations in Afghanistan

The Defence Department won't say what proportion of these missions involve assassination, nor how many involve simple arrests. But the fact that some insurgents are targeted for killing raises a host of questions about effectiveness and accountability. What happens if the wrong person is killed, if civilians are injured, or the soldiers end up acting on faulty intelligence? Despite those risks, the people who watch the military and their compliance with the laws of war say such missions are definitely legal.

…..Well, obviously, if there are local rivalries, the people who are providing intelligence knowing that Coalition forces will act on that intelligence might want to secure assistance in their rivalries, their feuds, by seeking to create or exacerbate a threat that will then result in a Coalition strike of some kind.

Well, here is the follow up to what happened one night in Afghanistan:

Australian SAS units function as death squads in Afghanistan

The intended target, codenamed "Musket" by the Australian military, was an alleged member of the Islamist Taliban movement. While much of the mission statement remains censored, it is apparent that a squad was sent out to storm into the man's house in the dead of night and execute him in cold blood. The possibility for things to go wrong is inherent in such operations in civilian areas, and on September 17, they went terribly wrong.

I guess you can probably figure out what happened there – they raided the wrong guy, and the locals thought the bullets were coming from the Taliban, and the end result was a couple dead Afghans, and several wounded. Just another night in Afghanistan.

Here’s another one:

Other missions result in massacres. On November 23, 2007, Private Luke Worsley of 4RAR was killed during an assault on a residence in Chenartu village in Uruzgan. Because of the Australian fatality, details of the incident were made public. The target was Taliban leader Mullah Baz Mohammed, who was expected to be at the house that night. Australian troops crept up under the cover of darkness, blew the outer doors off the housing compound and rushed in. They left the Daad family—three men, two women and one female child—dead on the floor. A neighbour, Faiz Mohammed, told Time magazine: "There was blood everywhere." Worsley was shot as he entered the house. Mullah Baz Mohammed was not there.

Not all the death squads in Afghanistan are ISAF troops, however. This article claims that locals are acting as death squads on the orders of foreign intelligence agencies. This spokesperson for the UN claims the death squads are acting outside the law, in contrast to the claim above that SAS operations are within the law.

Afghan death squads ‘acting on foreign orders’

Secret Afghan death squads are acting on the orders of foreign spies and killing civilians inside Afghanistan with impunity, a senior UN envoy has claimed. Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on illegal killings, said "foreign intelligence agencies" had used illegal groups of heavily armed Afghans in raids against suspected insurgents.

…..At the end of a 12-day fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, Professor Alston said: "There have been a large number of raids for which no state or military appears to take responsibility. I have spoken with a large number of people in relation to the operation of foreign intelligence units. I don't want to name them but they are at the most senior level of the relevant places. These forces operate with what appears to be impunity."

These local death squads are operating out of US and British bases in Afghanistan. These killings are done without anyone taking responsibility for them. The evidence points to these death squads being run by US Special Forces or the CIA.

This nothing new. Under the Bush administration, the CIA formed teams of assassins to take out “al Qaeda” although we are not totally sure that those teams were operational. And for all we know, those teams are still around.

Bush’s Hit Teams

Despite the new controversy over whether a global CIA “hit team” ever went operational, there has been public evidence for years that the Bush administration approved “rules of engagement” that permitted executions and targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. In effect, President George W. Bush transformed elite units of the U.S. military – including Special Forces and highly trained sniper teams – into “death squads” with a license to kill unarmed targets on suspicion that they might be a threat to American occupying forces.

The US forces have been acting as death squads in Afghanistan for quite a while. I wrote up a blog post on “Killing the wrong people in Afghanistan” in January 2007.

Maroofa, stands in the doorway where her father and sister were killed during a raid of the U.S military on their home in Darnami village of Mando Zayi district of Khost province, Dec. 12, 2006. Her mother holds a child in the background. (AP Photo/Jason Straziuso).

Afisullah, shows blood stained clothing after a raid by the U.S military on his brother's home in Afghanistan's Darnami village of Mando Zayi district of Khost province in this photo of Dec. 12, 2006. Afisulla's brother Mohammad Jan, an official with the Agriculture Ministry was killed in the raid.

And I suspect al Qaeda and the Taliban have also sent out death squads. I read a news report the other day about the Taliban doing drive-by shootings, but not confirmation of death squads operating.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: death squads.

Bala Baluk, Afghanistan – May 2009

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