As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein’s former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government’s torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.
In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq’s most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.
Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.” The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. “The reality is, there were no rules there,” another Pentagon official said.
Despite the task force’s access to a wide range of intelligence, its raids were often dry holes, yielding little if any intelligence and alienating ordinary Iraqis, Defense Department personnel said. Prisoners deemed no threat to American troops were often driven deep into the Iraqi desert at night and released, sometimes given $100 or more in American money for their trouble.
Back at Camp Nama, the task force leaders established a ritual for departing personnel who did a good job, Pentagon officials said. The commanders presented them with two unusual mementos: a detainee hood and a souvenir piece of tile from the medical screening room that once held Mr. Hussein.
We are a nation that tortures people.
It just rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it?