A question for the Iraqi death squads

This is about the death squads in Iraq.

Sectarian murder I can understand, on a primitive level. You’ve decided a certain group of people is the enemy, and so you kill them. Torturing someone for information: I think it’s overrated, and Jack Bauer’s torture porn sickens me. But I can see the rationale.

But torturing prisoners with power drills, when all along you plan to kill them - why? What’s the point, beyond pure sadism? It’s shit like this that makes me lose faith in humanity.

Violence for a reason, even a bad reason - fine. Why this shit?


If you are Ahmed Iraqi and you have information about a partisan who has been engaged in murder (or blackmail or whatever) and you know that he is likely to engage in really nasty acts of torture, following which he will kill you anyway, (or that he may do the same thing to your family), are you more or less likely to seek out a policeman (or occupation soldier) to give them information?

Plus, once societal restraints have broken down, it is more likely that those who are engaged in lawless acts, anyway, will attracts sadists while those among those groups who oppose sadism may be silenced either out of loyalty to “the cause” or based on their own fear of the sadists.

It may well be that a only tiny minority of the insurgents are truly sadistic, but there are pressures in lawless conditions that cause others to permit them to give rein to their sadism: look at Abu Ghraib.

Intimidation and sadism, as mentioned, and loyalty enhancement. It’s an old method of enforcing loyalty; encourage or order your subordinates to commit atrocities. First, and most obviously, that makes it harder for them to switch sides or surrender, due to a fear of the vengeance of those they’ve abused. Second, it makes it psychologically harder for them to admit to themselves that the cause or person they serve is a bad one, because if they do so they’ll have to admit that they did all those nasty things for no good reason. Look at how many Americans try to justify the tortures we inflicted in Abu Gharaib et al, and consider how much stronger the desire for self justification must be in people who are personally guilty of such things, not just guilty by association/proxy.

I can tell you a little bit about what I know of the death squads based on my experiences.

To get our terms right: usually insurgent is used to mean Sunni fighters and militias is used to mean Shi’s groups. Each has his own style.

Sunni insurgents are fond of bombs, mostly car bombs and IEDs. When you hear about a car bomb in Baghdad, especially multiple ones that go off in phases so that a second bomb catches people fleeing the first bomb, chances are good that it was the Sunni insurgents.

Shi’a militias torture with power drills. Based on what has happened to people I know, the ones doing the killing are teenage boys and I’ve heard it reported that they are sometimes high on drugs, but I don’t know if that is true or not. Teenage boys, as a rule are a pretty sadistic bunch and it doesn’t take much prodding from authority figures to take idle, sexually frustrated teens who are inclined to burn ants with a magnifying glass and turn them loose on people with drills.

My colleagues have reported Shi’a death squads coming into a neighborhood and killing people with drills in the middle of the street. The Iraqi police seal off the block for the death squads and listen on the radio for the approach of the American troops and warn the death squads when the US military is approaching.

It’s also important to understand how broken people are here. There are corpses rotting in the street, uncollected. Bombs going off every day, one minute everything is normal, the next hell is unleashed, it takes a toll.

Imagine now being a 14 year old in Baghdad. You were 10 or 11 when this war started, you can’t go to school, misery and carnage are swirling around you and someone gives you a powerdrill and a victim.

Tortured prisoners will say anything to make the pain stop. ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. The information is useless and unreliable. Most professional interrogators say getting a little close to the prisoner helps. Winning their trust. Not water boarding. This war is being run by the amateurs. Not only is it inhumane , it does not produce results.

That is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever read.


Agreed. Now we can look for a generation’s worth of child-soldier stories from Iraq like the ones we’ve seen as a result of long civil wars in Africa.

And part of President Gump’s New Improved version of The Very Bad Idea (now with extra Blind Faith) is to train more of these upstanding gentlemen so they can ‘police’ the Protected Hamlets, (sorry wrong war flashback) I mean sealed off ‘Security Zones’ which is the main goal of The Very Bad Idea?

Well, I’m convinced.