"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


April 4, 2013

Early in March 2013, as the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was approaching, investigative journalists broke an important story.  After a fifteen-month investigation, a team from the London Guardian and BBC Arabic alleged that General David Petraeus and Colonel (ret.) James Steele were responsible for the organization of death and torture squads in Iraq for the purpose of fighting the Sunni insurgency that developed after the March 2003 invasion.  The information that the Guardian and BBC Arabic presented is so serious that a formal investigation is called for.  Those who are responsible must be held accountable.  They must be tried, and if convicted, they must be punished.  James Steele, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney should be prosecuted for organizing a criminal conspiracy to commit torture in Iraq.

The sensational story broke on March 6.  It shows in convincing detail that Gen. Petraeus was responsible for deploying in Iraq what was known as the "Salvador option"—a euphemism for torture and death squads as an instrument of counter-insurgency warfare.  Such death squads were extensively used in El Salvador in the 1980s, and U.S. Army Col. James Steele was an expert on organizing and training them.  The Guardian-BBC report identifies the same James Steele, now retired, as the man to whom the U.S. military specifically turned to organize this inhumane, illegal instrumentality in Iraq.  He answered to Gen. David Petraeus, who in June 2004 had been named commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq.  Testimony and evidence in the Guardian-BBC report give every indication that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were also involved, and that President George W. Bush was well informed.  The report presents high-level Iraqi officials publicly speaking on the record about the role of the U.S. in organizing death squads.

But American media have imposed a blackout on the story.  The day after publication, the Guardian reported that "Requests to key members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, which could investigate the allegations, for comment were declined or ignored" (March 7, 2013).  This has also been the response from virtually all of American journalism as well (except Democracy Now! and the Real News Network).  In the past two weeks, according to Google News, there has been only one reference to James Steele in all of U.S. news media.  On March 28, an anonymous political blogger on the L.A. website City Watch noted that while General David Petraeus had apologized for his affair with Paula Broadwell, there is "no word yet whether he is sorry for torturing Iraqis."

The silence from American governmental and journalistic institutions is as chilling as (or perhaps even more chilling than) the story itself.  But observers of American policy can hardly claim to be surprised.  The story of the Salvador option in Iraq violates a cardinal principle of mainstream media in the United States:  the Doctrine of Good Intentions.

According to the Doctrine of Good Intentions, the United States of America always means well.  Except for a few occasions in the dim, safely distant past, American intentions are always noble and good, even if, often enough, they prove to be unrealizable in this fallen world.  The author of the 2008 bestseller The Forever War, Dexter Filkins, can tell you:  hew to this line and you can win book awards, be touted by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, etc.  Violate this principle, and however meritorious your work, not only will your work not win awards, it will receive scant attention of any kind.  Ask Alfred McCoy, William Blum, Michael Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and dozens of others we could name.  As for the courts, when push comes to shove, crimes of state can be protected by the states secrets privilege, a rule devised in 1953 that makes it possible to dismiss lawsuits that the U.S. government finds inconvenient.  Not for nothing does the United States refuse to join the International Criminal Court.

Freedom may have a price, but acceptance of torture must not be part of the bill.  Torture has always been illegal in the United States.  The United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment.  The U.S. has ratified three treaties that outlaw torture as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and under the Constitution these treaties are part of the supreme law of the land.  There are also federal laws that criminalize torture.  The U.S. Army Field Manual forbids torture.

United for Peace of Pierce County therefore calls for the prosecution of James Steele, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney for criminal conspiracy in organizing torture in Iraq.  We also call on journalists, especially American journalists, to devote resources to the investigation of the story that the Guardian-BBC Arabic investigation has opened up.

It is increasingly clear that President Barack Obama made a fundamental error when he decided that the U.S. should "focus on getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past" (interview with George Stephanopoulos, January 11, 2009).  This is not about what "we" did.  This is about crimes that were committed.  Looking at past crimes is part of getting things right in the future.  George Santayana put it most succinctly:  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."