American Torture

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report was known some days ago, showing that U.S.A. used torture systematically since 2001 to 2009.

Is that a surprise? That U.S. use torture is a well-known fact, between 2001 and 2009, before 2001 and after 2009. Perhaps it is ignored in U.S. and I’m sure that American media don’t talk usually about it, but it’s widely known in the rest of the planet.


As a British judge said in 2006, “America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations.” This judge was talking about Guantanamo (the concentration camp that Barack was going to close, has he done it already?), but now the American torturers are doing it again; Dick Cheney, in an incredible exercise of cynicism claims that it wasn’t torture but medical treatment.

Torturing in Philippines – The water cure

This cynicism isn’t new. We can see it more than one century ago, when U.S. was torturing in Philippines. A reverend published an open letter in 1902 (The water cure from a missionary point of view)  saying that “the water cure” (waterboarding torture) wasn’t torture because prisoners could tell the information they were being asked and so stop the process. Yes, that uses to be the torturer’s target, but the reverend’s statement is so absurd and surreal that it’s difficult to reply.

Waterboarding in Philippines

A soldier reported that he helped to administer the water cure to 160 natives, and only 26 survived (The Water Cure). Surely they couldn’t give the information they were being asked for, because most of them were civilian natives, kidnapped by American soldiers trying to get any information about the fighters for independence; and so they were tortured to death.


Torturing in Vietnam – The Phoenix Program

During the Cold War, U.S. used torture in counter-insurgence programs, also encouraging their allies to do the same. Corea, Vietnam, are some of the places where more people was tortured and murdered by the CIA and U.S. army.

The Phoenix Program is a good sample of this age. It was designed to destroy the infrastructure of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam via infiltration, capture, terrorism, torture and assassination. Between 1965 and 1972, 81.740 people were “neutralized”, in the Orwellian language used by the CIA. As it happened in Philippines, many of them were simple peasants, tortured to death by the American death squads, because they couldn’t answer the questions.

These were some of the techniques that U.S. agents used:

US soldiers torturing Vietcong prisoner
Vietnam – Uncensored History

“Rape, gang rape, rape using eels, snakes, or hard objects, and rape followed by murder; electric shock (‘the Bell Telephone Hour’) rendered by attaching wires to the genitals or other sensitive parts of the body, like the tongue; the ‘water treatment’; the ‘airplane’ in which the prisoner’s arms were tied behind the back, and the rope looped over a hook on the ceiling, suspending the prisoner in midair, after which he or she was beaten; beatings with rubber hoses and whips; the use of police dogs to maul prisoners.” (State Terrorism and Neoliberalism: the North in the South, by Ruth Blakely, 2009).


Torturing in Latin America – The Kubark manual and the Operation Condor

The KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation is a CIA manual for “coercive counterintelligence interrogation of resistant sources”: torture. This manual, dated 1963, was made after the investigations on torture and mind control (project MKUltra), made by the CIA.

Henry Kissinger - photo by Marion S. Trikosko
Henry Kissinger – photo by Marion S. Trikosko

The Kubark manual describes the use of torture techniques as sensory deprivation, isolation, fear, electric shock, deprivation of food and sleep. Also it recommends arresting victims early in the morning by surprise, blindfolding them, and stripping them naked, as U.S. soldiers are doing nowadays in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 1983, using the Kubark manual as basis, the CIA made a second manual, the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. It explains how to proceed with the victims, in seven chapters: Arrest, Detention, Deprivation of sensory stimuli, Threats and fear, Pain, Hypnosis, Narcosis.

The first and the second version of the manual were used between 1987 and 1991 for torture training courses at the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas located at Fort Benning, Georgia. The manuals were also distributed to military personnel in most Latin American countries. Hundreds of thousands people were tortured -many of them to death- in most of countries at South America using the techniques of these useful manuals, sometimes with the direct participation of American agents.

In 1975 the dictatorships of South America and U.S.A. implemented the Operation Condor, a terrorist campaign trying to erradicate socialism from South America, involving kidnapping, torture and assassination. The members were U.S.A., Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. Due the clandestine nature of these terrorist operations, it’s not possible to know the exact number of victims, but it’s estimated at least 60.000 deaths between 1975 and 1983.

Henry Kissinger,  Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations, played a prominent role in the Operation Condor. In several judicial investigations, he has been required for interrogation, and even a request for his extradition to Uruguay. But the terrorist Kissinger continues receiving awards and honours in United States.


Torturing in Arab world – The Military Commissions Act

Since 2001 a new age in use of torture began. Until then, U.S. tortured people, but always trying to do it secretly; since then, CIA and U.S. army torture people openly. Even the Bush government redefined unilaterally the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, to authorize the use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. In fact, U.S. is out of the Geneva Convention, an international law ratified by 196 countries.

United States of America, with the Military Commissions Act ratified on October 17, 2006, legalized the use of torture. There are many countries where torture is done, but only a few have legalized it, and U.S.A. is in this select group.

Guantanamo detainees

The most known places where U.S. has been torturing during last years are Bagram (Afghanistan), Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Guantanamo (Cuba), although U.S. have many other torture camps at Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Thailand, and the collaboration of other countries to torture in their prisons: Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, Gambia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Yibuti, Uzbekistan (El imperio y la legitimación de la tortura). Also some “democratic” countries collaborated in the move of these victims to the torture camps, knowing their fate: United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Croatia, Finland, Sweden, Portugal… the “civilised” Western World.

Some of the known techniques are forced nudity, sleep deprivation, binding victims in forced postures, sexual assault including rectal feeding, beatings, exposition to extreme temperatures, Russian roulette, waterboarding. These are the torture methods that are being used in last years and currently in American torture camps.

Again, many of the victims are just peasants, shepherds, missionaries or charitable workers and other inoffensive people. U.S. army offered important rewards for Taliban combatants, but it is much easier to hunt a shepherd than a real Taliban combatant. So, the false reports were plentiful. Victims were kidnapped by Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters, sold to U.S. and carried to Guantanamo or other torture camp (Center for Policy and Research report). After months of torture, once verified that a victim was inoffensive, he was classified as “low-level enemy combatant” and forgotten in his cell. With luck, these victims were released years later with physical and psychological scars, if they hadn’t died.


American exceptionalism

But all this is not torture according to the American authorities. As the British judge said, America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours”. Even once known the Senate’s report, the White House is talking of “hard interrogation” and other euphemisms, to avoid using the word torture.

It’s not torture when an American agent applies any of these methods to a non-American citizen, in the same way that it’s not terrorism when an American drone kills non-American citizens in a country that isn’t United States of America. Indeed, the reverse would certainly be torture and terrorism.

This is the meaning of the so named American exceptionalism.


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