[JURIST] US forces abused Iraqi detainees long before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, the New York Times reported Saturday. An elite special forces unit formerly known as Task Force 121 and now known as Task Force 6-26 converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near the Baghdad International Airport into a secret detention center and used one of Hussein's torture chambers as an interrogation cell dubbed the "Black Room." Soldiers allegedly beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and used them for target practice with paintball guns. The Black Room, part of Task Force 6-26's secret headquarters at Camp Nama, was often the first stop for insurgents on their way to Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive]. Army investigators and Army intelligence officials warned the commanders of Camp Nama in August 2003 that some of their interrogation techniques were out of hand. The Central Intelligence Agency then prohibited its officers from participating in harsh interrogations at Camp Nama and secretly barred its officers from working at Camp Nama, but allowed them to provide target information and intelligence to the task force. Camp Nama closed in the summer of 2004 and Task Force 6-26 moved its headquarters to Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, where their operations are even more secretive than before.
Information about Camp Nama emerged as a result of a Freedom of Information Act [summary; text] request by the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] and information gleaned from several people involved in Camp Nama at one point. Most of the people who agreed to speak were career government employees with previous military service.
The Pentagon formed Task Force 6-26 in 2003 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive] in New York City and Washington DC, and its main mission is to hunt down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [BBC profile], the most wanted terrorist in Iraq. The Pentagon refuses to disclose the unit's exact size, the names of its commanders, its operating bases or its specific missions in an effort to shield the unit from public scrutiny. The highly secretive unit, which changes its name often to confuse adversaries, seemingly has had a disproportionate number of troops punished for detainee abuse. Since 2003, 34 task force members have been disciplined, and at least 11 have been removed from the unit. Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall of the New York Times has more.