May 10, 2007
By Rowan Scarborough, National Security Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has sent a memo to his military training teams ordering them to physically intervene if they witness mistreatment of detainees.
"You must be vigilant regarding evidence of abuses," Army Gen. David Petraeus told his Iraqi Security Force transition teams, which are embedded with Iraqi soldiers. "Take all reasonable action in accordance with the [rules of engagement] to stop and prevent suspected detainee abuse and promptly report violations to your Iraqi counterpart."
Sunni Muslim leaders have complained that the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tolerates the murder and torture of Sunnis by security officials. In 2005, the U.S. discovered off-the-books jails where rogue forces were detaining and torturing Sunni prisoners.Petraeus said the abuse must stop if Iraq is to achieve political reconciliation.
"The legitimacy of, and popular support for, [Iraq's] security forces would plummet were they to sink to the levels of al Qaeda, the insurgents or those of the prior regime," Petraeus wrote.
The American transition teams are a linchpin in the overall U.S. strategy to secure Baghdad and turn counterinsurgency missions over to the Iraqis. The teams train at Fort Riley, Kan., before arriving in Iraq. The units attend the Phoenix Academy at Camp Taji, a sort of "finishing school" on the complexities of working with Iraqi soldiers of different sects and tribes.
The teams then embed at the battalion, brigade and division level, watching and teaching Iraqi soldiers as they conduct missions.
Col. Steven Boylan, Petraeus' spokesman, said the order to stop the abuse of detainees is a restatement of existing policy.
"What that is intended to do is to remind [teams] that are out there already, and to be a letter intended for incoming teams that have not yet arrived or are just arriving," Boylan said.
The policy was not so clear in 2005. At a news conference, Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said troops had an obligation to stop abuse; former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld corrected him, saying the obligation was to report cases of mistreatment, not to physically intercede.
The rare public split prompted a policy review that led to a decision to intervene in cases of mistreatment. Petraeus' memo was a forceful public expression of the policy.