The Los Angeles Times reports today that the government of Iraq held hundreds of Sunni men in a secret torture prison where they were suffocated with plastic bags, shocked with electricity, and sodomized.

Back in the bad old days, circa 2005-2007, the Iraqi government — particularly the interior ministry, run by Shiite religious extremists — ran many such facilities. They’re back. Or, maybe they never went away.

In this case, the torture prison was run directly by the secret military unit that reports to Prime Minister Maliki.

Reports the Times, in a piece by Ned Parker:

“Hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret Baghdad prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s military office, where many were routinely tortured until the country’s Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, Iraqi officials say.”

More than 100 people were tortured, and one, a former colonel in the army, died. At least one prisoner was raped daily.

Maliki is denying that he knew about the prison, which is absurd. The revelation about the prison will make it much more difficult for Maliki to create a government of national unity, bringing in Sunnis to his cabinet, or forming an alliance with former Prime Minister Allawi. That’s true despite the glowing reports today that Maliki’s forces killed two leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in a raid that was apparently coordinated with U.S. intelligence and military forces.

Adds the Los Angeles Times:

“Maliki defended his use of special prisons and an elite military force that answers only to him; his supporters say he has had no choice because of Iraq’s precarious security situation. Maliki told The Times that he was committed to stamping out torture — which he blamed on his enemies.”

On his enemies! The torture was carried out in a prison run by his own military unit, and he’s blaming his enemies.

The Times goes on:

“Maliki’s critics say the network of special military units with their own investigative judges and interrogators are a threat to Iraq’s fragile democracy. They question how Maliki could not have known what was going on at the facility, and say that regardless, he is responsible for what happened there.

“”The prison is Maliki’s because it’s not under the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Interior officially,’ said one Iraqi security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.”