How Does Frago 242 Relate to Our Collaboration with the Wolf Brigade?

The biggest headline from Friday’s Wikileaks dump (everywhere but the NYT, anyway) is that the “US ignored torture.” But the way in which an official policy ignoring torture was followed by collaboration with one of Iraq’s torture squads raises the question whether the US involvement in Iraqi torture was more direct.

Did the US “ignore” torture, or “encourage” it?

The basis for the claim that the US ignored torture comes from references to Frago 242, which officially instituted a policy of looking the other way in cases of Iraqi on Iraqi abuse.

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a “fragmentary order” which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ”.

While the Guardian ascribes the timing of this order–which they date to June 2004–to Iraqi sovereignty and the effort to get Iraqis to take over more of their own security, it also coincides with the time when Abu Ghraib made it politically difficult for the US to remain in the torture business.

By the end of 2004, according to the Wikileaks dump, the US was handing over detainees to a US trained group known to torture.

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for “further questioning”. Typical entries read: “All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning” (from 29 November 2004) and “The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning” (30 November 2004).

The field reports chime with allegations made by New York Times writer Peter Maass, who was in Samarra at the time. He told Guardian Films : “US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing,” while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said.


The Wolf Brigade was created and supported by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, this time to terrorise insurgents. Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects. The then interior minister in charge of them was alleged to have been a former member of the Shia Badr militia.

Now, the timing of the two events–the formal policy of doing nothing about Iraqi on Iraqi torture and the collaboration with the Wolf Brigade–is not exact. Wolf Brigade was founded in October 2004, some time after Frago 242 was issued.

But given how adamant Rummy was in late 2005 that US soldiers were not required to physically stop any abuse they found,

Q    And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE:  It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it.  As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago.  There’s a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility.  That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts.  They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it.  So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.

GEN. PACE:  If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

It sure seems that the relationship between Frago 242 and the torture committed by the Wolf Brigade constitutes even more than just “ignoring” torture.

  1. harpie says:

    From Jeff Kaye‘s Update:

    UPDATE: Since first writing this diary, more material related to U.S. complicity in wide-spread and systematic torture by the Iraqi government is coming to light, as well as information about other war crimes. One of especial interest is a video at UK Guardian, which also has an interview with New York Times correspondent Peter Maass, who was allowed time with Iraq’s notorious special commandos, Wolf Brigade. Maass puts Gen. Petraeus special adviser, James Steele, a “retired United States Army colonel who also helped develop the special police as a member of General Petraeus’s team”, in the same room as himself when both heard an Iraqi being tortured in another room.

    A January 2007 article by Dahr Jamail noted the connections between Steele and his old El Salvador counterinsurgency boss, John Negroponte, who was U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005. Negroponte then was U.S. ambassador as FRAGO 242 was put into operation.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Thanks, harpie, you beat me to it. The presence of Steele and Negroponte is clear enough evidenceti me (along with all those tortured corpses) that what some (like Maass) were calling the “Salvador option” (death squads and torture) was implemented in Iraq & most likely Afghanistan. More properly, It is Operation Condor and Phoenix redux.

        • Jeff Kaye says:

          Well, now I see it. I hadn’t gone back and looked. I basically like the new format, but my senescencing brain feel stretched more tautly with such novelty.

          Nell, thanks for the nod to the New Yorker article. I don’t believe I read it, but may have and forgotten (see 1st paragraph for reference to aging brain). I’ll have to look it up.

          And why bother? Because as Arbusto has so succinctly put it, it’s clear that Obama has been following the same policy, and has been inserted into the torture operations, beyond simply cover-up and the Appendix M imbroglio that I have been trying to convince people of (but apparently not Scott Horton!!) for some time now. Obama is manifestly guilty of violations against the UN Convention Against Torture, and possibly other laws. I would guess, by the way, that the Armed Services Committees and the Intelligence committees in Congress were not unaware of this policy.

          How does one clean up a government when multiple branches of it are implicated? On another thread, bluetoe noted we may need to be “liberated”, but of course there is no country to so liberate us. Nor in this great land, so wide and massive, with its hundreds of millions, is there consensus yet that we need such liberation. But disgust builds, and who is to say when the breaking point will come?

      • bobschacht says:

        When I heard of Negroponte’s appointment, this is one of the first consequences that I thought of.

        Interesting that the UN is asking the US to formally investigate these human rights abuses.

        Bob in AZ

    • Nell says:

      Jeff has beaten me to the mention of Col. Steele.

      I had the dubious pleasure of meeting Steele at the U.S. embassy in El Salvador in the mid-1980s, during a period when the U.S. had poured in hundreds of spooks and special forces, and was directing intensive bombing sweeps from the air in the countryside. People taken during this period were routinely tortured (women were also routinely raped). The torture was conducted by Salvadorans, but the interrogations were attended by North Americans and non-Salvadoran Latin Americans (prisoners were blindfolded, so this was based on the accents of voices heard).

      When Steele popped up again in Iraq in 2004 (appearing not only in the NY Times Magazine story but in Jon Anderson’s reporting in the New Yorker in spring 2004 on the April uprising), I lost whatever doubt I might have had that the U.S. military and “intelligence” apparatus was once again encouraging and organizing torture on a large scale.

  2. phred says:

    It sure seems that the relationship between Frago 242 and the torture committed by the Wolf Brigade constitutes even more than just “ignoring” torture.

    Agreed. I think the proper term here is “outsourcing”.

  3. Arbusto says:

    I wonder how Obama’s looking forward will affect the US response to the UN requesting investigations. I’m glad some entity, even one as ineffective as the UN is holding his feet to the fire, figuratively speaking.

    • Arbusto says:

      Addendum: Especially since the torture seems to have continued under Obama’s watch, ending in December 2010.

  4. harpie says:

    Ha! I can empathize with brain senescencing! [Though, I had to look up the menaing and couldn’t spell it without seeing it in front of me.] “taut” would be an understatement for me.

  5. neildavidsmith3 says:

    I was in Samarra in 2004 and I lived in a patrol base just across the street from the MOI compound. I never new of the name Wolf brigade- we just called them MOI commandos. When we wanted to clean up the police force, our commander had anyone who was accused of associating with insurgents arrested and tortured by the MOI. We were all pretty aware of what was involved- electrocution, beatings, and rape. One of my fellow medics was asked to patch up puncture wounds inflicted by the MOI on more than one occasion so that the prisoner wouldn’t die and the interrogation/torture could continue. “Handing over to the MOI” was one of the main threats used against Iraqis in and around Samarra. I was under the impression that everyone in my Battalion (including our Battalion CO, XO, and CSM). This was the main thing that made me lose faith in what we were doing in Iraq. As far as I knew it was policy to use the MOI to torture prisoners. There was even a saying that we could either send prisoners “down river or down river” meaning down river to Baghdad for trial or down river as their dead bodies (killed by either the Public Order Battalion or MOI) floated down to Baghdad.

    • neildavidsmith3 says:

      I meant to say that everyone in our Battalion knew about the torture.

      I am really glad that this is finally becoming public.

      • guyg says:

        Hi nelidavidsmith3 @ 13

        I am writing from the Guardian Newspaper, I was very interested to read your post about working in Samarra in 2004. Would it be possible to speak to you in confidence about what you witnessed. I am just trying to build a picture of what went on there and the newly released war logs only provide a fraction of information. Here is a link to the initial short film we made… but we would like if possible to go further

        I can be contacted on the below email address
        [email protected] T:02033533308

        Guy Grandjean

  6. guyg says:

    I am writing from the Guardian Newspaper and was involved in the making of the film about Frago 242:licence to torture

    I was really interested to read what nelidavidsmith3 posted. Am very keen to speak in confidence to anyone who was posted to Samarra in 2004/2005 and was aware of what the wolf brigade / MOI commandos were doing. We are trawling through the war logs, which are a good starting point – but they are only part of the picture.

    Guy Grandjean
    [email protected]