Dec
11

Becoming them

By

A few years back I wrote an op-ed about extraordinary rendition flights and the case of Maher Arar, asking readers whether the Bush administration was fighting terrorists, breeding them, or becoming them. In a case of mistaken identity, Arar had been detained at Kennedy International while changing planes on his way home to Canada. He was taken by police in front of his family and sent to Syria where he was tortured for months. He’s been on Twitter recently for some reason:

Given the release of the SSCI torture report and this news from the Guardian, I guess the answer to my original question was all of the above.

Abu Ahmed (nom de guerre), a jihadist with misgivings about the brutality of the so-called Islamist State, spoke with Martin Chulov about the inner workings of ISIS and the rise of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the Americans’ Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq:

“We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”

Baghdadi had inside “a darkness that he did not want to show other people,” Abu Ahmed explained. But he hid it well from the Americans.

Baghdadi also seemed to have a way with his captors. According to Abu Ahmed, and two other men who were jailed at Bucca in 2004, the Americans saw him as a fixer who could solve fractious disputes between competing factions and keep the camp quiet.

“But as time went on, every time there was a problem in the camp, he was at the centre of it,” Abu Ahmed recalled. “He wanted to be the head of the prison – and when I look back now, he was using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status. And it worked.” By December 2004, Baghdadi was deemed by his jailers to pose no further risk and his release was authorised.

“He was respected very much by the US army,” Abu Ahmed said. “If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”

As Isis has rampaged through the region, it has been led by men who spent time in US detention centres during the American occupation of Iraq – in addition to Bucca, the US also ran Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport, and, for an ill-fated 18 months early in the war, Abu Ghraib prison on the capital’s western outskirts. Many of those released from these prisons – and indeed, several senior American officers who ran detention operations – have admitted that the prisons had an incendiary effect on the insurgency.

Mission accomplished, eh?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Iraq, News

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