CBS report on Iraq's "Wolf Brigade" ignored reports that feared unit engages in torture

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In a November 30 CBS Evening News report on problems facing Iraq's "tough commando units, like the Wolf Brigade," CBS News correspondent Lara Logan omitted any mention of allegations that the brigade has engaged in torture and harsh treatment to obtain confessions from those it captured.

Logan's report focused on the Iraqi troops whom President Bush "is counting on to take up the fight in Iraq." Noting the troops' claims that they lack body armor, uniforms, and firepower and that they are underpaid, she reported that the Wolf Brigade's Brig. Gen. Amir Al-Dulaimi, "hopes the U.S. doesn't make another mistake [the first being the disbanding of the Iraqi army] by pulling out too early." Al-Dulaimi said, "We still need the Americans to help us, whether we want [it] or not." Schieffer said Logan was "painting a picture of a very demoralized unit. Was this what you expected to find?" Logan responded, "No, it wasn't what I expected."

But Logan's investigation entirely ignored reports regarding the Wolf Brigade's treatment of detainees, including repeated accusations that its members had obtained confessions using torture. According to a May 21 Knight Ridder article, numerous complaints from Sunni Muslim leaders about Wolf Brigade treatment and tactics were ignored by the brigade's commander:

Abul Waleed rifled through a pile of papers, considering the latest accusations against the elite brigade of Iraqi police commandos he leads from a dusty fortress.

The complaints against the Wolf Brigade were the usual: excessive force, renegade patrols, kidnapping, murder. The charges came from Iraq's most powerful Sunni Muslim leaders, and Abul Waleed clearly relished reading them. It's precisely this take-no-prisoners reputation that's made his Wolf Brigade the most feared and revered of all of Iraq's nascent security forces.

"The Muslim Scholars Association? They're infidels," Abul Waleed said, tossing his detractors' complaints into the wastebasket. "The Islamic Party? Humph. More like the Fascist Party."

The Knight Ridder article also noted that, at the time, a television show featuring the Wolf Brigade, " 'Terrorists in the Grip of Justice,' [was] the most watched program in the country." The show, which aired on the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya television network, broadcast the videotaped confessions of suspected insurgents. Many of the accusations stem from the brigade's alleged collaboration with Shiite militias:

The brigade trained with U.S. forces for nearly two months before making its debut in Mosul, the flashpoint Sunni city northwest of Baghdad where the commandos hunted Sunni Muslim extremists. Confident in his men's performance, Abul Waleed allowed the videotaping of interrogations and turned it into a primetime TV show.

As the cameras rolled, suspects, some with black eyes and bruises, confessed to offenses ranging from massive bombings to sexual assaults. The interior ministry has praised the Wolf Brigade's success in Iraq's counterinsurgency war. Critics say the commandos routinely beat suspects and coerce confessions. Sunnis, especially, complain about a sectarian-driven abuse of power because of the commandos' frequent collaboration with Shiite militias.

Abul Waleed denied his men beat the suspects they find after kicking in doors and storming houses. When confronted with a photo of a bruised offender, the unfazed commander explained that the man had "tripped and fallen on his face." The rank and file of the Wolf Brigade was more up front about the way they treat the men suspected of causing mayhem in Iraq.

"We were full of rage and hate. We were ready," said a commando named Khyri Khuder, describing the day the brigade seized men suspected of raping and killing a girl in Mosul.

"Human rights (workers) used to come and complain about how we treat the prisoners, but they never ask about how the terrorists treated the people they killed," added Yasser al-Qureishi, a Sunni who serves as Abul Waleed's personal assistant. "If it was your sister who was raped and killed, how would you deal with it?"

A July 28 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that a woman the newspaper had interviewed said Wolf Brigade officers "whipped her sister with telephone wires to force her to confess to terrorist acts and to accuse her male associates of raping her and of having homosexual relations. The detainee, Khalida Mashhandani, was later released after it was determined that her confessions had been coerced." An October 28 Amnesty International report identified four men who showed signs of having been beaten prior to confessing to a Baghdad bombing. The report further stated that the men signed confessions for five other bombings, but when a lawyer representing the men's families investigated those attacks, "he obtained documents showing that these attacks never actually took place." According to the report, the four men told the lawyer that they confessed after being tortured while in Wolf Brigade custody:

The men described to the lawyer how they suffered systematic torture for 27 days while being held by the Wolf Brigade in a Ministry of Interior building in the district of al-Ziyouna in Baghdad. They claimed that they were beaten with cables, received electric shocks to the hands, wrists, fingers, ankles and feet, received cigarette burns to the face, and were left in a room with water on the floor while an electric current was applied to the water. The men signed confessions claiming responsibility for five other bomb attacks in other districts of Baghdad. However, when the lawyer investigated these five alleged bomb attacks at police stations, he obtained documents showing that these attacks never actually took place.

From the November 30 broadcast of the CBS Evening News:

SCHIEFFER: The president talked of how more and more Iraqi troops are taking the lead in the battle, so our Lara Logan went out with one of those units today, and here's what she found.

LOGAN: This is who the president is counting on to take up the fight in Iraq: tough commando units, like the Wolf Brigade, seen here training at their base in the most dangerous part of Baghdad. They're eager to see American troops go home, but there's a problem. Is it fair to say that terrorists are better armed than you?

AL-DULAIMI (through translator): Yes, of course.

LOGAN: You're still fighting with Kalashnikovs and just a couple of machine guns?

AL-DULAIMI: (through translator): Yes.

LOGAN: And what do they have?

AL-DULAIMI (through translator): They have snipers, mortars, and many other weapons.

LOGAN: The soldiers complain they have to buy their own uniforms and pay for their own body armor because the government equipment is such poor quality. What do you need to fight this war that you don't have now?

PVT. MAHMOUD KASEEM (Wolf Brigade, through translator): Good armor like the American one, a good pistol. We should be fully equipped, and we need the American air power. When Americans go out, they have their knives, torches, pistols, everything, but we don't. So there's a battle, we get killed, but the Americans don't.

LOGAN: Commandos like this and other militias operating throughout the country have made people question who's really in control of Iraq's security forces and why the Americans are looking for alternatives. Iraqi military officials admit there are plans under way, sanctioned by the U.S., to bring back Saddam Hussein's army. Anyone from the rank of major down who wasn't a senior official in the Ba'ath Party will be invited to return, a sign that disbanding the army was a mistake. The Wolf Brigade commander hopes the U.S. doesn't make another mistake by pulling out too early.

AL-DULAIMI (through translator): Frankly, the army and the police are not doing very well. We can't provide adequate security. We still need the Americans to help us, whether we want [it] or not.

LOGAN: This elite commando unit doesn't have a chow hall or even a shower, and as one soldier said to me, they're very, very tired of this.

SCHIEFFER: Lara, you're painting a picture of a very demoralized unit. Was this what you expected to find? You know this group.

LOGAN: No, it wasn't what I expected. I mean, you hear reports all the time of complaints from the soldiers and the police because they're underpaid. But I didn't realize that they were so unhappy about the conditions that they were operating in.

SCHIEFFER: And what is the main problem?

LOGAN: Their biggest complaint is that they don't have pistols, because when they leave their units to go home after work or at the weekends, that's when they're targeted. They have to keep it secret that they even are part of these units. And they want protection for themselves. They've lost lots of colleagues this way, and they're very unhappy about not having pistols.

SCHIEFFER: All right, well, thank you very much, Lara. This is very different than the problems that our own Army faces, that's for sure, and this really underlines it. Thank you very much, Lara.

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