In 1964, the Brazilian military dictatorship rolled in like a bad dream. President João Goulart fled to Uruguay, and with him went the hopes of progressive reforms. The first of seventeen military decrees, or Institutional Acts (AI), were issued. Institutional Act 5, decreed by military president Artur da Costa e Silva on December 13, 1968, suspended habeas corpus and disbanded congress. Inspired by the 1959 Cuban revolution, and insurgent guerrilla movements in Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Communist Party militants went underground and formed armed movements against the dictatorship, including the National Liberation Alliance and the Popular Revolutionary Vanguard, which would later become the Revolutionary Armed Vanguard Palmares (VAR-Palmares). […]
Dissidents were tracked down, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or worse. According to the 2007 report from the Brazilian government’s Special Commission on Murders and Political Disappeared entitled “The Right to Memory and the Truth,” 475 people were disappeared during the twenty-year-long military dictatorship. Thousands were imprisoned and roughly thirty thousand were tortured. More than 280 different types of torture were inflicted on “subversives” at 242 clandestine torture centers, by hundreds of individual torturers. Current Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was at the time a student activist who became active in the VAR-Palmares (among other guerrilla groups). She was captured by the Brazilian military on January 16, 1970, tortured, and imprisoned for two and a half years, for participating with the guerrilla. Within a few years the armed resistance to the Brazilian dictatorship had been largely eliminated.
Meanwhile U.S.-Brazilian relations became tighter than ever, as the United States worked to turn Brazil into a “success story” in the fight against communism. According to a five-and-a-half-year 5,000-page investigation into the human rights violations of the dictatorship, entitled Brasil Nunca Mais (Brazil Never Again), CIA agents, such as U.S. officer Dan Mitrione, actively trained hundreds of Brazilian military and police officers in torture techniques, or what they called the “Scientific Methods to Extract Confessions and Obtain the Truth.” Several documented accounts reveal that Mitrione tested his techniques on street kids and homeless beggars from the streets of Belo Horizonte. Many of these techniques would be replicated across the region through the U.S.-sponsored Plan Condor, as Brazil’s neighbors also fell to military dictatorships.
The Brazilian military regime employed a “sophisticated and elaborate psychophysical duress system” to “intimidate and terrify” suspected leftist militants in the early 1970s, according to a State Department report dated in April 1973 and made public yesterday. Among the torture techniques used during the military era, the report detailed “special effects” rooms at Brazilian military detention centers in which suspects would be “placed nude” on a metal floor “through which electric current is pulsated.” Some suspects were “eliminated” but the press was told they died in “shoot outs” while trying to escape police custody. “The shoot-out technique is being used increasingly,” the cable sent by the U.S. Consul General in Rio de Janeiro noted, “in order to deal with the public relations aspect of eliminating subversives,” and to “obviate ‘death-by-torture’ charges in the international press.” […]
Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade (“National Truth Commission”), which is investigating torture and other human rights abuses committed by the Brazilian dictatorship, has released all 43 of the recently declassified US documents on their website. To view the memos in their entirety, see: “CNV torna públicos documentos entregues pelo governo norte-americano“
‘[…] Throughout the forty years of the Cold War, the CIA joined with urban gangsters and rural warlords, many of them major drug dealers, to mount covert operations against communists around the globe. In one of history’s accidents, the Iron Curtain fell along the border of the Asian opium zone, which stretches across 5,000 miles of mountains from Turkey to Thailand. In Burma during the 1950s, in Laos during the 1970s, and in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the CIA allied with highland warlords to mobilize tribal armies against the Soviet Union and China.
In each of these covert wars, Agency assets-local informants-used their alliance with the CIA to become major drug lords, expanding local opium production and shipping heroin to international markets, the United States included. Instead of stopping this drug dealing, the Agency tolerated it and, when necessary, blocked investigations. Since ruthless drug lords made effective anti-communist allies and opium amplified their power, CIA agents mounting delicate operations on their own, half a world from home, had no reason to complain. For the drug lords, it was an ideal arrangement. The CIA’s major covert operations-often lasting a decade-provided them with de facto immunity within enforcement-free zones.
In Laos in the 1960s, the CIA battled local communists with a secret army of 30,000 Hmong-a tough highland tribe whose only cash crop was opium. A handful of CIA agents relied on tribal leaders to provide troops and Lao generals to protect their cover. When Hmong officers loaded opium on the ClA’s proprietary carrier Air America, the Agency did nothing. And when the Lao army’s commander, General Ouane Rattikone, opened what was probably the world’s largest heroin laboratory, the Agency again failed to act.
“The past involvement of many of these officers in drugs is well known,” the ClA’s Inspector General said in a still-classified 1972 report, “yet their goodwill . . . considerably facilitates the military activities of Agency-supported irregulars.”
Indeed, the CIA had a detailed know ledge of drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle-that remote, rugged corner of Southeast Asia where Burma, Thailand, and Laos converge. In June 1971, The New York Times published extracts from an other CIA report identifying twenty-one opium refineries in the Golden Triangle and stating that the “most important are located in the areas around Tachilek, Burma; Ban Houei Sai and Nam Keung in Laos; and Mae Salong in Thailand.” Three of these areas were controlled by CIA allies: Nam Keung by the chief of CIA mercenaries for northwestern Laos; Ban Houei Sai by the commander of the Royal Lao Army; and Mae Salong by the Nationalist Chinese forces who had fought for the Agency in Burma. The CIA stated that the Ban Houei Sai laboratory, which was owned by General Ouane, was ‘ believed capable of processing 100 kilos of raw opium per day,” or 3.6 tons of heroin a year-a vast output considering the total yearly U.S. consumption of heroin was then less than ten tons.
By 1971, 34 percent of all U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam were heroin addicts, according to a White House survey. There were more American heroin addicts in South Vietnam than in the entire United States-largely supplied from heroin laboratories operated by CIA allies, though the White House failed to acknowledge that unpleasant fact. Since there was no indigenous local market, Asian drug lords started shipping Golden Triangle heroin not consumed by the GIs to the United States, where it soon won a significant share of the illicit market. […]
Within a few years, the currents of global geopolitics then shifted in ways that pushed the CIA into new alliances with drug traffickers. In 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Sandinista revolution seized Nicaragua, prompting two CIA covert operations with some revealing similarities. During the 1980s, while the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the CIA, working through Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence, spent some $2 billion to support the Afghan resistance. When the operation started in 1979, this region grew opium only for regional markets and produced no heroin. Within two years, however, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands became the world’s top heroin producer, supplying 60 percent of U.S. demand. In Pakistan, the heroin-addict population went from near zero in 1979 to 5,000 in 1981 and to 1.2 million by 1985-a much steeper rise than in any other nation.
“Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a sobering record high in 2013. According to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, cultivation amounted to some 209,000 hectares, outstripping the earlier record in 2007 of 193,000 hectares, and representing a 36 per cent increase over 2012. […]“
CIA assets again controlled this heroin trade. As the Mujaheddin guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade of wide-open drug-dealing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad failed to instigate major seizures or arrests.
In May 1990, as the CIA operation was winding down, The Washington Post published a front-page expose charging that Gulbudin Hekmatar, the ClA’s favored Afghan leader, was a major heroin manufacturer. The Post argued, in a manner similar to the San Jose Mercury News’s later report about the contras, that U.S. officials had refused to investigate charges of heroin dealing by its Afghan allies “because U.S. narcotics policy in Afghanistan has been subordinated to the war against Soviet influence there.”
In 1995, the former CIA director of the Afghan operation, Charles Cogan, admitted the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. “Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn’t really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade,” he told an Australian television reporter. “I don’t think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout…. There was fallout in terms of drugs, yes. But the main objective was accomplished. The Soviets left Afghanistan.”
Again, distance and complexity insulated the CIA from any political fallout. Once the heroin left Pakistan’s laboratories, the Sicilian mafia managed its export to the United States, and a chain of syndicate-controlled pizza parlors distributed the drugs to street gangs in American cities, according to reports by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Most ordinary Americans did not see the links between the ClA’s alliance with Afghan drug lords, the pizza parlors, and the heroin on U.S. streets. […]’
Excerpt from Alfred McCoy, “Drug Fallout” (The Progressive, 1997)
“Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan reached a sobering record high in 2013. According to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, cultivation amounted to some 209,000 hectares, outstripping the earlier record in 2007 of 193,000 hectares, and representing a 36 per cent increase over 2012. […]”
“[…] what applies to the children murdered there by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Pakistan by a sombre American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern. Yet there are no presidential speeches or presidential tears for them, no pictures on the front pages of the world’s newspapers, no interviews with grieving relatives, no minute analysis of what happened and why.
If the victims of Mr Obama’s drone strikes are mentioned by the state at all, they are discussed in terms which suggest that they are less than human. The people who operate the drones, Rolling Stone magazine reports, describe their casualties as ‘bug splats’, ‘since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed’. Or they are reduced to vegetation: justifying the drone war, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that ‘you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back’ […]
Like George Bush’s government in Iraq, Obama’s administration neither documents nor acknowledges the civilian casualties of the CIA’s drone strikes in north-west Pakistan. But a report by the law schools at Stanford and New York universities suggests that during the first three years of his time in office, the 259 strikes for which he is ultimately responsible killed between 297 and 569 civilians, of whom at least 64 were children. These are figures extracted from credible reports: there may be more which have not been fully documented.
The wider effects on the children of the region have been devastating. Many have been withdrawn from school because of fears that large gatherings of any kind are being targeted. There have been several strikes on schools since Bush launched the drone programme that Obama has expanded so enthusiastically: one of Bush’s blunders killed 69 children.
The study reports that children scream in terror when they hear the sound of a drone. A local psychologist says that their fear and the horrors they witness is causing permanent mental scarring. Children wounded in drone attacks told the researchers that they are too traumatised to go back to school and have abandoned hopes of the careers they might have had. Their dreams as well as their bodies have been broken.”
“There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other. You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States. Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States. And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid. So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends and their movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free. They’re not even being paid money. They’re not even being directly coerced to do it. They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion. But people should understand what is really going on. I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.
William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as ‘turnkey totalitarianism,’ that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extrajudicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.”
And here’s another comment from Assange, on a related subject:
“I’m quite interested in the philosophy of technique. Technique means not just a piece of technology but it means, say, majority consensus on a board, or the structure of a parliament — it’s systematized interaction. For example, it seems to me that feudal systems came from the technique of mills. Once you had centralized mills, which required huge investments and which were easily subject to physical control, then it was quite natural that you would end up with feudal relations as a result. As time has gone by we seem to have developed increasingly sophisticated techniques. Some of these techniques can be democratized; they can be spread to everyone. But the majority of them — because of their complexity — are techniques that form as a result of strongly interconnected organizations like Intel Corporation. Perhaps the underlying tendency of technique is to go through these periods of discovering technique, centralizing technique, democratizing technique — when the knowledge about how to do it floods out in the next generation that is educated. But I think that the general tendency for technique is to centralize control in those people who control the physical resources of techniques.”
For years, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the United States government “really” tortures, or if it is doing something that is supposedly more benign (“harsh interrogation”, “psychological pressure”, etc). However, anyone who takes an honest look at history will have no doubt that the U.S. does torture.
The U.S. government has used beating, burning, cutting, rape, electrocution, dismemberment, solitary confinement, hooding, stress positions, shackling, etc. — anything their sadistic minds can come up with to get what they want. Let’s take a minute to explore some history of torture by people working for the the U.S. government.
As part of the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War, the United States military and CIA captured, tortured, and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. Common methods of torture in the CIA interrogation centers included:
“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.”‘
Military intelligence officer K. Milton Osborne witnessed the following use of torture in Vietnam:
“The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears, and the tapping through the brain until dead. The starvation to death (in a cage), of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local political education cadre in one of the local villages … The use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to … both both the women’s vaginas and men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission.”
This was not limited to Vietnam. The CIA and U.S. military trained thousands of Latin American police and military personnel in torture techniques. Here’s some testimony from a trainee in El Salvador:
“The officers said ‘We are going to teach you … how to teach a lesson to these guerrillas’. The officers who were teaching us this were the American Green Berets … then they began to torture this young fellow. They took out their knives and stuck them under his fingernails. After they took off his fingernails, they broke his elbows. Afterwards they gouged out his eyes. They took out their bayonets and made all sorts of slices in his skin … They then took his hair off and the skin off his scalp. When they saw that there was nothing left to do with him, they threw gasoline on him and burned him … the next day they started the same thing with a 13 year old girl. “
— Witness testimony from El Salvador, Covert Action Information Bulletin, March 1982
However during the 1960s, in a quest for more effective interrogation techniques, the CIA began funding a large number of psychological-control/torture experiments using human subjects in the United States. These experiments, known by their CIA cryptonym “MKULTRA”, determined that physical pain, while certainly a vital tool, was not actually the most effective method for achieving psychological dominance over an unwilling subject (the ultimate goal of all torture).
What worked better than using physical abuse alone, was to use techniques that were carefully designed to break people down psychologically, making them feel totally helpless and dependent upon the torturer. Shame/degradation, solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, heavy doses of pharmaceuticals, and self-inflicted pain were actually found to work better than just ripping someone’s fingernails off and electrocuting their genitals. This is not to say that physical abuse has stopped (as you can see from the photos here), but rather that these physical methods are much more effective when combined with advanced, scientifically tested psychological torture techniques.
For example, one of the MKULTRA subprojects most relevant to the torture camps of today (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, etc.) is Project ARTICHOKE, which was described by the CIA as follows:
The goal of ARTICHOKE was to find answers to the question:
“Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation?”
I’ve been reading a book recently, called A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, by Alfred McCoy, which is talking about the history of the CIA’s torture techniques — how they were developed, where they have been applied, and what legal/political issues have arisen as a result. McCoy points out that when people talk about MKULTRA, they often focus on the fact that government agents dosed people will LSD and other such things, that just sound weird or crazy, for example:
“[…] There were at least three CIA safe houses in the Bay Area where experiments went on. Chief among them was 225 Chestnut on Telegraph Hill, which operated from 1955 to 1965. The L-shaped apartment boasted sweeping waterfront views, and was just a short trip up the hill from North Beach’s rowdy saloons. Inside, prostitutes paid by the government to lure clients to the apartment served up acid-laced cocktails to unsuspecting johns, while martini-swilling secret agents observed their every move from behind a two-way mirror. Recording devices were installed, some disguised as electrical outlets.
To get the guys in the mood, the walls were adorned with photographs of tortured women in bondage and provocative posters from French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The agents grew fascinated with the kinky sex games that played out between the johns and the hookers. The two-way mirror in the bedroom gave the agents a close-up view of all the action […]”
This is certainly disturbing: federal agents dosing San Francisco residents with LSD, without their knowledge, and then having them enact bondage/rape/torture … watching through a one way mirror, chugging martinis, in order to develop more effective torture techniques … It lays waste to the claim that they are concerned with “protecting” the public. The people that were doing it certainly didn’t have any illusions that this was what they were up to:
“… it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and bidding of the All-highest?”
— 1971 letter to MKULTRA overseer Sidney Gottlieb, from George Hunter White, who oversaw the Operation Midnight Climax experiments
But while the things that were done during Operation Midnight Climax were horrible, they become even more repulsive when viewed in the wider context of all of the MKULTRA experiments, and the overarching ends towards which Midnight Climax was aiming.
Even here, in what are are often referred to as “LSD experiments”, the air of a torture chamber is clearly present. The bondage porn, photographs of tortured women on the walls to “get the guys in the mood” … men watching from behind two-way mirrors at the torture scene inside, which they are directing …
The solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, humiliation (being rubbed in feces, etc.), threats of violence against loved ones, and other forms of psychological torture employed today at places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (which are combined with traditional methods like rape, electrocution, beatings, etc.), are all elements of a torture system designed — with funding from the CIA and military — in the science labs of U.S./Canadian universities, in mental hospital electroshock chambers, and in covert experiments on civilians such as Operation Midnight Climax.
The techniques developed during these experiments were later integrated into the CIAs KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual and other training programs, and are still being used by the U.S. and fascist police forces around the world.
“The frequent screams of the patients that echoed through the hospital did not deter Cameron or most of his associates in their attempts to depattern their subjects completely.”
— Ewen Cameron‘s psychological torture/control experiments done as part of MKULTRA
Federal officials were aware that these experiments, and their desire to torture people, would be repulsive to the public; so they took active steps to hide the existence of these programs from them, and continued the programs with the full knowledge that they were unethical and illegal:
“The concepts involved in manipulating human behavior are found by many people both within and outside the Agency to be distasteful and unethical. […] Public disclosure of some aspects of MKULTRA activity could induce serious adverse reaction in U.S. public opinion.”
— John Earman, CIA Inspector General
“While I share your uneasiness and distaste for any program which tends to intrude upon an individual’s private and legal prerogatives, I believe it is necessary that the Agency maintain a central role in this activity.”
— Richard Helms, CIA Deputy Director of Plans
We should never fall into the trap of believing that when some horrendous example of U.S. torture is leaked to the public, that it is just a problem caused by “a few bad apples”. The system used by the Bush and Obama administrations is simply the “state of the art” in torture technique, based on decades of careful experimentation. The use of torture by the U.S. government is nothing new. What is new is the techniques and strategies they are using, and the way they talk about torture.