NEW YORK, Mar 19 (AFP): An elite US Special Operations forces unit has converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention centre and used one of the former Iraqi leader's torture chambers as its own interrogation cell, The New York Times reported late Saturday.
The newspaper said the chamber was named the Black Room.
In June 2004, Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone ordered his deputy, Lieutenant General William Boykin, to look into allegations of detainee abuse at Camp Nama, according to the report.
The windowless, garage-size Black Room was used by some soldiers to beat prisoners with rifle butts, yell and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, use detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball, The Times said.
Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the paper pointed out, citing unnamed Defense Department personnel, who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.
The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26, according to the report.
Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.
The paper said placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "No Blood, No Foul."
The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it."
According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, The Times said, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges.
From Karbala adds: A mortar shell exploded in the centre of the holy city of Karbala in southern Iraq Sunday as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims gathered for a religious commemoration, but there were no casualties, police said.
"The mortar shell fell in a parking lot about 150 metres (yards) away from the Imam Hussein shrine," police spokesman Rahman Mushawi told AFP. "There were no casualties."
Shiite pilgrims have been running a gauntlet of bullets and bombs as they walked to Karbala to join Monday's annual commemoration marking the end of the 40-day mourning period for Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Imam Hussein, killed near the city in 680 AD.
A dozen pilgrims so far have been killed or wounded by roadside bombs and drive-by shootings on their way to the holy city.
US and Iraqi forces have bolstered security in and around Karbala, and the US military has called up an additional battalion-sized force of 700 troops from Kuwait for the holiday.
Sunni Islamic extremists have repeatedly attacked Shiites on their religious holidays since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime three years ago.
In March 2004, at the start of the Ashura holiday which marks Hussein's death on the battlefield, suicide bombings in Karbala and Baghdad killed more than 170 people.