Petraeus linked to torture units in Iraq

A new investigation finds U.S. sent veteran of "dirty wars" to oversee torture centers, report directly to Petraeus

Published March 6, 2013 5:26PM (EST)

A new 15-month investigation published Tuesday by the Guardian and BBC Arabic links Gen. David Petraeus to sectarian police commando units in Iraq that operated secret detention and torture centers to get information from insurgents. "These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the U.S. occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war," the report noted.

The investigation found that the Pentagon sent a veteran of America's "dirty wars" in Central America, Col. James Steele, to oversee the torture centers.  Another retired colonel worked with Steele to set up the detention centers and reported directly to Petraeus when the general was sent to Iraq in 2004.

Via the Guardian:

The allegations made by both American and Iraqis witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, for the first time implicates US advisors in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that General David Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an advisor to this abuse. Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus's "eyes and ears out on the ground" in Iraq.

"They worked hand in hand," said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. "I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there ... the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture."

The investigation into U.S. torture centers was sparked by leaks from the cache of documents passed by Bradley Manning to WikiLeaks. The leaked documents detailed "hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centers run by the police commandos across Iraq."

A spokesman speaking on behalf of Petraeus responded to the investigation's findings. His comments highlight how knowledge of torture centers stayed strictly within the U.S. chain of command:

During the course of his years in Iraq, General Petraeus did learn of allegations of Iraqi forces torturing detainees. In each incident, he shared information immediately with the US military chain of command, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad ... and the relevant Iraqi leaders.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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David Petraeus Dirty Wars Insurgents Iraq War Torture