Psychological torture, sleep deprivation, brutality, severe sexual humiliation, and murder summon visions of a dank dungeon in a remote region of pre-invasion Iraq, Iran, or North Korea, replete with evil inquisitors and hooded executioners. However, those manifestations of horror did not spring forth from the Axis of Evil. They are actually drawn from official post-9/11 US policy. Despite its fabled commitment to human rights, the United States government has been committing and enabling acts of torture for half a century. Not even Superman had the power to snatch “Truth, Justice and the American Way” from the crushing jaws of imperialistic ambition and avarice.
Ironically titled, Albert McCoy’s A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror probes and exposes the extent of “the Land of the Free’s” involvement in human torture over the years. Only a mainstream media 90% controlled by five major corporations (whose executives and major stockholders are amongst the de facto rulers of the America’s so-called republic) could so effectively maintain the illusion that the United States is the world leader in protecting human rights. Somewhere out there, David Copperfield is burning with envy. Rest easy, David. They are running out of magic. Destroying our Constitution and reversing the humanitarian gains achieved by millions of Americans with a social conscience throughout our nation’s history, the Bush Regime is extinguishing the candle of hope America once offered to humanity. Despite the exhaustive efforts of the media handmaidens, people are taking notice.
Painstakingly slow ascent ... high velocity decline
From our nation’s birth, many fine Americans labored vigorously to attain a higher moral plane by ending slavery and advancing the rights of children, minorities, women, and workers. Contrary to the fairy tale of America’s benevolent government “of the people,” many amongst the plutocracy and emerging corporatocracy fought the American evolution of human rights tooth and nail. Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and company have taken that resistance to new heights and are plunging the United States into an abyss of evil, at home and abroad. Minority Americans, Native Americans, and citizens of other nations have been aware of this descent for years, even before the Neocon catalyzed acceleration. However, as the ruthlessly brazen disciples of Strauss have fervently attacked human rights, many amongst America's indoctrinated White working class are smelling the coffee, and it is not the best part of waking up.
On March 8, 2006, the US State Department released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, in which it detailed human rights abuses occurring in over 190 nations. In an act of supreme hypocrisy, they excluded themselves. As one can readily discern simply from reading McCoy's expose' of human torture committed by the United States since 1950, the United States is far from being a bastion of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness".
"Torture is evil, pure and simple," is the powerful lesson Peggy Piel imparted to her son, Alfred McCoy. Having spent a year of her childhood in Nazi Germany, this erudite Jewish American knew a bit about the subject of torture. Despite his mother's moralistic viewpoint, McCoy penned his examination of the history of torture committed and facilitated by the United States in a detached, analytical manner, without imposing a moral judgment. Noting over 30 pages of sources, McCoy meticulously researched his chilling glimpse into America's Heart of Darkness, yet still maintained relative objectivity. No easy task in light of the virtually countless egregious violations of human rights and acts of murder committed by the American Empire and its proxies.
Abu Ghraib was simply a sign of a "few bad apples"... or was it?
In 1950, the intelligence organization of the “leader of the free world” began to take a strong interest in research involving psychological torture.
“From 1950 to 1962, the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort, with psychological warfare and secret research into human consciousness that reached a cost of a billion dollars annually-- a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind.”
While the United States was trumpeting its deep devotion to universal human rights, the CIA was busily developing and funding research to yield “new and improved” torture tactics with which they could extract information from Cold War enemies. Utilizing its unique capacity to wield tremendous power clandestinely, the United States’ intelligence juggernaut infiltrated and exploited hospitals, divisions of the military, and universities to enable its research.
Many of the nauseating acts of inhumanity depicted in the Abu Ghraib photos reflect the rotten fruits of CIA labors. Years of study and experimentation determined that torture involving physical pain lacked efficacy. The CIA found that strong subjects usually responded by stiffening their resistance and weaker ones often gave false information just to end the pain. Psychological torture, including sensory deprivation, sensory disorientation, assault on personal identity and self-inflicted pain appeared to provide a much richer yield of information. The Abu Ghraib photos are a window through which one can view the CIA-created world of psychological torture. Hooding, stress positions, extreme intimidation with ferocious dogs (for which a soldier was convicted on 3/21), and sexual humiliation are recurring images in the Abu Ghraib pictures and are powerful examples of CIA torture protocol. Other techniques of psychological torture the US military and CIA have used on detained suspects in the “War on Terror” are sleep deprivation, isolation, and dietary manipulation. As the Command Responsibility report by Human Rights First indicates, 45 detainees in the US “War on Terror” have been murdered or have died as a result of physical abuse. As McCoy argues, there is a fine line between psychological torture and physical torture, and as the American Gulag has demonstrated, torturers usually cross that line.
As an aside, it is
important to remember that there are currently over 14,000 “suspected
terrorists” or “enemy combatants” in US custody. These individuals have
been charged with no crime and have been denied due process. Guilty until
proven innocent. Now that is justice the American way. Abu Ghraib is only
an aberration because the torturers were caught. Inflicting severe
psychological and mental anguish on suspected enemies of the Empire is now
official policy and has taken place at Bagram Air Base, Camp Cropper,
Guantanamo Bay and throughout the American Gulag. As for the McCain
Anti-Torture Law, Bush and his fellow war criminals are already inventing
ways to circumvent it.
Educating them on
the finer points of torture and murder
After its defeat in Vietnam, the United States government infiltrated Latin America with a vengeance (to stop the spread of the “Communist threat”). Project X, represented another CIA endeavor to impart their wisdom in the arts of torture to ruthless US allies Not satisfied with their 1963 torture manual called Kubark, the CIA wrote a sequel in Spanish entitled Handling of Sources, Interrogation, Combat Intelligence, and Terrorism and the Urban Guerilla.
Of the sequel, McCoy writes,
Apart from these cold-blooded tactics of kidnapping, murder, beatings, and betrayal, the manual evidences, in its 144 single-spaced pages, an amorality, a studied willingness to exploit an ally without restraint or compunction, hardened on the anvil of the Vietnam conflict.
Of war crimes,
evasion of responsibility and impunity
As McCoy has vividly illustrated, America’s “grunts” at Abu Ghraib and throughout the American Gulag were acting under the orders of the Bush Regime and under the supervision of the CIA:
1. On September 11, 2001, George Bush told Donald Rumsfeld and his staff, “Any barriers in your way, they are gone.” When they reminded him of legal constraints, Bush shouted, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say; we are going to kick some ass.”
2. Six days later, Bush authorized the CIA to begin rendition of terror suspects to nations known to commit torture.
3. On November 13, the President determined that Al Qaeda suspects would be denied access to domestic or international courts.
4. Close to the end of 2001, Bush’s Justice Department approved the use of “sleep deprivation and deployment of ‘stress factors’” for counter-terror interrogation.
5. Bush decided the Geneva Conventions did not apply to his “War on Terror” on January 8, 2002.
6. On January 9, 2002 John Woo of the Justice Department crafted a memo denying application of the Geneva Conventions and the US War Crimes Act to suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, whom he characterized as “enemy combatants.” Since they were now neither soldier nor citizen, the articles of the Geneva Convention barring “cruel treatment and torture” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” did not apply to them (according to Yoo’s perverse logic).
7. As Afghans captured in the “War on Terror” started populating Guantanamo Bay prison on January 11, Donald Rumsfeld stated that those “unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention.”
8. On January 18, the man Bush later elevated from White House legal counsel to Attorney General (for his loyalty to the Empire) informed the President that the Justice Department “had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War does not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda.”
9. The following day, Rumsfeld advised his field commanders that “Al Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
10. January 22, 2002: Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee presented Alberto Gonzales with a 37-page memo which outlined the means to implement “coercive interrogation” without legal consequences, affirming that “neither the federal War Crimes Act nor the Geneva Conventions would apply to the detention conditions of al Qaeda prisoners”, and that Bush had the Constitutional power to suspend US treaties with Afghanistan.
11. Behind the scenes, Bush and Rumsfeld approved an SAP or “special-access program” within the CIA. By its very nature, only a handful of top-level government officials are aware of the existence of an SAP. This particular SAP endowed the CIA, Navy Seals, and Army Delta Force with the power to assassinate, kidnap and, of course, to torture. Concurrently, the CIA began creating the American Gulag by establishing secret prisons in places like Diego Garcia Island and Thailand.
12. The Bush administration entrusted the CIA with “operational command” of its long coveted “War on Terror”, which enabled the United States to abandon FBI and military restrictions on torture.
13. In August of 2002, Bybee, Yoo, and Vice Presidential counsel David Addington created another Justice Department memo “legitimizing” torture. Employing reasoning which defied the laws of reality, this trio determined that federal law and the UN anti-torture conventions only prohibited torture that was “specifically intended to inflict severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical.” They concluded that to be a crime, the torture must “be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Utilizing this memo, the CIA could evade responsibility for torturing “enemy combatants” simply by claiming they were attempting to gain information rather than to inflict pain. The memo also constructed a very strict definition of psychological torture, interpreting many CIA techniques as legal. Most significantly, in defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Youngstown Sheet and Tube et al vs. Sawyer, Bybee and his cohorts asserted that restraints on Bush’s directives to interrogate would “represent an unconstitutional infringement of the President’s authority to conduct war.”
14. At about the same time as the release of the Bybee memo, the Justice Department gave the CIA classified permission to utilize harsher interrogation tactics than the military, including water boarding, a practice which leads the victim to believe they are drowning.
Bush and his murderous cabal gave the authorization, the CIA provided supervision, and the military carried out the “coercive interrogation”. A Question of Torture sheds significant light on the culpability of Generals Miller and Sanchez in implementing the policy of inflicting excruciating psychological and physical pain on “enemy combatants” throughout the military prison system in Iraq, the nation America “rescued” from Saddam Hussein. America’s leaders condoned torture and ordered their subordinates to carry it out. In the tradition of monsters like Pol Pot and Idi Amin, they revel in their endless access to money, power, and immunity. Small wonder much of the world hates the American Empire, and its de facto rulers in particular.
Playing with fire
The CIA has repeatedly demonstrated that they are slow learners. Brutality, abuse, and torture, whether physical or psychological, are not only gross violations of a person’s inalienable human rights; they are ineffective means of extracting information or modifying behavior. The FBI is one of the few federal law enforcement or military entities not implicated in the web of torture emerging in the “War on Terror” and, according to McCoy’s research, its agents’ legal, humane interrogation tactics were yielding respectable results before Bush superseded them with the CIA.
Besides lacking value beyond its capacity to satisfy a primal urge for revenge, torture is a double-edged sword that harms both perpetrator and victim. McCoy points out that committing torture intoxicates one with power. Organizations and governments engaging in mass torture deteriorate as the rule of law and respect for humanity disintegrates, breaking down their political and social structures. Objectifying and inflicting suffering upon helpless human beings leaves deep scars upon the souls of the torturers and creates monstrous sociopaths Contrary to the wishful thinking of the Bush Regime, the United States will reap a bitter harvest once the noxious weeds of torture grow to maturity.
Realistically, except in the minds of those who tenaciously cling to their indoctrination from the American Empire, there is no question that the United States egregiously violates human rights on a frequent basis. For a more thorough examination of the cancer of torture ravaging the United States, read A Question of Torture by Alfred McCoy.
Jason Miller is a 39-year-old activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. When he is not spending time with his wife and three sons, researching, or writing, he is working as a loan counselor. He is a member of Amnesty International and an avid supporter of Oxfam International and Human Rights Watch. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org or comments on his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner.
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