America’s Secret Army

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 13 2012 @ 11:49am

Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady have a new e-book, The Command, about the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). According to authors, the JSOC "has done more to degrade the capacity of terrorists to attack the United States than any other single entity." In a new interview, Ambers describes JSOC's use of torture:

As the insurgency in Iraq became too much for commanders to bear, there was a scramble to figure out how to get tactical intelligence out of anyone they captured. And it seemed like the military’s first response, generally, to use a broad over generalization, for the important people, we’ll rough them up. At least they’ll say something, and that’ll give us something tactical. But obviously it didn’t work very well, it’s immoral. They hadn’t really figured out beforehand that [Iraq] would require a lot of tactical intelligence. All the intelligence planning that went on for the Iraq war was strategic.

But how on earth did they have the authority to do such vile things? For a reminder of what happened under Cheney and McChrystal:

Camp Nama (a law-free Nasty-Ass-Military Area") housed the "black room" – a torture cell: The black room was 12 by 12 [feet]. It was painted black floor to ceiling. The door was black, everything was black. It had speakers in the corners, all four corners, up at the ceiling. It had a small table in one of the corners, and maybe some chairs. But usually in the black room nobody was sitting down. It was standing, stress positions, and so forth. The table would be for the boom box and the computer. We patched it into the speakers and made the noise and stuff. Most of the harsh interrogations were in that room. . . . Sleep deprivation, environmental controls, hot and cold, water.

There was also a yard for freezing and beating naked prisoners:

He was stripped naked, put in the mud and sprayed with the hose, with very cold hoses, in February. At night it was very cold. They sprayed the cold hose and he was completely naked in the mud, you know, and everything. [Then] he was taken out of the mud and put next to an air conditioner. It was extremely cold, freezing, and he was put back in the mud and sprayed. This happened all night. Everybody knew about it. People walked in, the sergeant major and so forth, everybody knew what was going on, and I was just one of them, kind of walking back and forth seeing [that] this is how they do things.

In contrast with these Cheney style war crimes,  simply taking pictures of insurgents and their belongings and running those pictures and other data through intelligence databases in real-time proved much more effective:

If you captured Abu So-and-So, you’d be able to say within a minute, “Hey, I know your uncle is this person, who we really want to get to. If you can tell me where this person is right now, we’ll give you a break and even let you go.” And often, that would be what Abu So-and-So would do, because it would be in his best interest. Within maybe 20 minutes, JSOC could launch a second raid targeting the uncle of Abu So-and-So.