- Analysis of the Long, Repulsive History
of the United States Inflicting Torture on Its "Suspected Enemies"
(in Conjunction with a Review of A Question of Torture by Alfred W. McCoy)
- 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 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
- 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 Gharib 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.
- McCoy summarizes:
- "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 Gharib 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 Gharib
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 Gharib 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 Gharib 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.
- Abu Gharib is simply a public display
of the psychological and physical torture the CIA has been implementing
and practicing for years. From 1962 to 1974, the CIA sharpened its talons
through a federal entity called the Office of Public Safety, a branch of
US AID. According to McCoy, the OPS trained one million police officers
in 47 countries. Not surprisingly, it was not long before these same law
enforcement entities began committing severe human right rights abuses
and acts of torture.
- "Practice makes perfect"
- It was morally repugnant enough that
the United States killed three million Vietnamese civilians in their imperialistic
escapade into Southeast Asia, euphemistically labeling them as "collateral
damage". However, McCoy describes torture policies and techniques
which resulted in the murder of tens of thousands more Vietnamese. The
Phoenix program was implemented by the CIA to eradicate the Vietcong underground.
Under CIA administration and supervision, the PRUs (aka Provincial Interrogation
Centers) of the Phoenix program degenerated into a collection of South
Vietnamese murderers, thugs and criminals who accepted bribes, presumed
guilt based on gossip, and murdered their detainees after they completed
their interrogation. Ultimately, (if one is gullible enough to take the
word of former CIA director William Colby), the Phoenix program murdered
20,587 "Vietcong". Saigon's government puts the figure at 40,994.
- Educating them on the finer points of
torture and murder
- The CIA also bears responsibility for
the creation of SAVAK, the Shah of Iran's ruthless secret police force.
SAVAK killed 20,000 Iraqi "dissidents" during the Shah's reign.
In the Philippines, CIA instruction resulted in 3,257 murders and 35,000
victims of torture by the Ferdinand Marcos regime.
- 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
- Once located in Panama, an odious US
Army institution known as the School of Americas (sometimes called the
School of Assassins) bestowed the CIA's torture wisdom upon hundreds of
Latin American military officers. The School of Americas fell under the
auspices of Project X and provided the "hands on" training to
accompany the CIA torture manuals. Interestingly, by 1983 the CIA had begun
to re-emphasize the use of psychological over physical torture when it
wrote its Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. A laundry list of
CIA-trained Latin American military personnel and dictators murdered and
tortured hundreds of thousands thanks to the tutelage of Project X.
- Of war crimes, evasion of responsibility
- McCoy notes that the United States took
a break and out-sourced torture to its allies throughout the 1990's. Unfortunately
for the world, the Bush Regime opportunistically seized 9/11 to begin its
PNAC inspired quest for global military dominance. In the process, the
administration implemented torture as official United States policy. Desperately
attempting to fend off critics and preserve the crumbling façade
of moral superiority, America's ruling class has sacrificed several from
amongst those near the bottom of the food chain. However, calling the prosecution
and conviction of a handful of military personnel justice would be a farce.
Those ultimately responsible for America's abject torture continue to act
- As McCoy has vividly illustrated, America's
"grunts" at Abu Gharib and throughout the American Gulag were
acting under the orders of the Bush Regime and under the supervision of
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 which
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
- 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,