A special investigation by The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic that took place over 15 months claims to reveal a shocking, but substantial connection between the murderous tactics of US-backed Latin American ‘death squads’ in the 1980’s and the rise of a similar tactics—including secret detention centers, torture, disappearances, and mass killings—that helped spark a sectarian civil war between Shia and Sunni rivals in the violent days triggered by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
And the connection, according to the investigation, lives in a gated golf community in Texas and has a name: (Ret.) Colonel James Steele.
“Steele’s contribution was pivotal” in Iraq, says the report. And his time in El Salvador nearly 20 years earlier made him a perfect choice for the Pentagon’s Donald Rumsfeld, who took control over a plan to break the back of an insurgency unwilling to conform to US occupation.
“It was a role made for Steele,” the investigative team writes. “The veteran had made his name in El Salvador almost 20 years earlier as head of a US group of special forces advisers who were training and funding the Salvadoran military to fight the FNLM guerrilla insurgency. These government units developed a fearsome international reputation for their death squad activities. Steele’s own biography describes his work there as the “training of the best counterinsurgency force” in El Salvador.”
As the Guardian explains:
The allegations made by both American and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, for the first time implicates US advisers in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that General David Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse. Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus’s “eyes and ears out on the ground” in Iraq.
“They worked hand in hand,” said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. “I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there … the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture.”