Friday, December 14, 2007

Tracing Torture

New York University historian Greg Grandin knows a lot about Latin America, and the events in Iraq have led him to write a book, Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. The book details the United States development of systematic terrorism via a triad of 1) death squads, 2) disappearances, and 3) torture. Here terrorism is not some extremist group setting off a bomb. Here it refers to the carefully crafted system for repressing the entire populations of a dozen Latin American countries.

The first successful CIA coup (Operation Ajax) overthrowing democratically elected leadership occurred in Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah. The next year, the CIA overthrew Guatamala's democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz (operation PBSUCCESS) after the government tried to expropriate large tracts of land owned by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based banana merchant (Chiquita Banana).

Citing the fear of communism, the US played a heavy hand in Latin America, the CIA training and establishing death squads that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians. The continent created a term, desaparecido - "disappeared" to refer to those who simply vanished. US helicopters flown by US operatives transported bodies off the coast and dumped them into the Pacific. According to Grandin, the real US sponsorship of death squads started in 1962 in Colombia. US General William Yarborough advised the Colombian government to set up an irregular unit to "execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents."

Yarborough left behind a "virtual blueprint" for creating military-directed death squads. The use of death squads would become part of the effort to "counter-terror."

The irony.

Turning to Vietnam, death-squad executions (the Phoenix Program) "neutralized" more than 80,000 Vietnamese between 1968 and 1972. The idea was to terrorize the population into submission. The U.S. Information Service in Saigon provided thousands of copies of a flyer printed with a ghostly looking eye. The "terror squads" then deposited that eye on the corpses of those they murdered. The technique was called "phrasing the threat."

During late 60s early 70s in both Vietnam and Latin America, Washington wanted to professionalize the security infrastructure into a network capable of gathering, analyzing, sharing, and acting on information in a quick and efficient manner, supplying phones, teletype machines, radios, cars, guns, ammunition, surveillance equipment, explosives, cattle prods, cameras, typewriters, carbon paper, and filing cabinets, while instructing its apprentices in the latest riot control, record keeping, surveillance, and mass-arrest techniques.

The US backed coups in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, institutionalizing death squads across the continent. The CIA backed Chilean Dictator Pinochet (Operation Condor) to orchestrate an international campaign of terror and murder.

Consider the possibility that we are the terrorists. A Pentagon "torture manual" describes at length "coercive" procedures using information gathered from CIA-commissioned mind control and electric-shock experiments. In today's war on terror, "torture memos" parse the difference between "pain" and "severe pain," "psychological harm" and "lasting psychological harm," these manuals went to great lengths to regulate the application of suffering. "The threat to inflict pain can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain," one handbook read.

US police advisor Dan Mitrione states, "You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more."

In Latin American, Mitrione taught by demonstration, reportedly torturing to death a number of homeless people kidnapped off the streets of Montevideo. "We must control our tempers in any case," he said. "You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist."

The United States of America has cancer.

For this post the links are extremely important, especially the one about Mitrione.

Bill O'Reilly is a complete moron, as is the Congressman from Missouri who described the experience of waterboarding as comparable to learning the back stroke. Torture is an inherent lie and not about obtaining information. As John McCain, someone familiar with the subject has stated, it does not work for extracting reliable information. Torture me enough, and I'll tell you I'm Santa Claus. Torture is about terror. Torture is about destroying people and spreading the fear of being destroyed.

Update: Thanks to John for providing a link to a Huffington Post piece reminding us that some of the information Colin Powell used to link Iraq to terrorism was obtained by torture.

Of course the CIA destroyed those tapes. Not to worry, Eggplant assures us that we don't torture.


Blogger Dustin said...

whatever X, torture is a proven technique. Torture helped to uncover countless heretic and witch plots. Think of all the lives that were saved!

I never much cared for the rule of law anyway.

12/14/2007 1:12 PM  
Anonymous diana said...

You are an idiot.

The leaders of the free world are doing what it takes to protect our freedom, and it is not always pretty.

It's peace freaks like you that would just bow down and try to love everyone to death. Freedom does not work like that, and you would be a slave if it weren't for men that had the courage to do what it takes to protect this nation.

If people like you were in charge, we'd be speaking Russian right now and the whole world would be communist or worse. You would have let Hitler just take over the entire world by appeasing to his every demand for fear of hurting someone.

Thank God this country has men with courage and conviction and the will to implement what it takes, and yes that means hurting the enemy. It's a tough world that hates freedom and wants to kill it.

The price of liberty is high, but the price of slavery is higher.

You softies are so annoying.

12/14/2007 1:16 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...


No, we wouldn't be speaking Russian right now, nor would Hitler have occupied Europe. We would not be enslaved.

We managed to defeat the Axis without systematically resorting to death squads or torture. Yet, somehow, we now face existential threats which justify any means?

If it were _truly_ a question of all this was necessary or our very way of life would be destroyed, then _maybe_ you would have a justifiable case (I could make a pretty powerful case that certain lines shouldn't be crossed regardless, but lets ignore that).

However, that's not the level of threat we face, despite repeated clamoring from those such as yourself. You scare me nearly as much as the "men with courage and conviction" currently running the country.

12/14/2007 1:36 PM  
Blogger John Rose said...


The question of whether to torture or not is really about saving lives. Will you save lives by torturing information out of people? Maybe- I'm sure every once in a while, it's useful.

But how many lives does torture cost us? We've tortured hundreds of Iraqis to death. Torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay has given millions of Muslims reason to hate America and pushed them farther towards extremist groups.

Just recently, it was revealed that the CIA tortured Ibn al Sheikh al Libi in Egypt, trying to find a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda. According to the CIA, Al Libi "had difficulty even coming up with a story," but later his false admission was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations as a justification for starting the Iraq War- the same trillion-dollar war that has cost the lives of nearly 4,000 American troops and wounded and maimed another 30,000.

With the known costs of torture so high, and the benefits so ambiguous, how can you simply dismiss our position by calling us "peace freaks" and "softies"?

12/14/2007 2:13 PM  
Blogger John Rose said...


12/14/2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger Dustin said...

"how can you simply dismiss our position by calling us "peace freaks" and "softies"?"

because that's easier than submitting your own beliefs to critical review. Diana simply believes what she is told to believe. Sirocco is correct to assert that many of our past conflicts have been resolved sans torture.

Diana, I would suggest searching your own soul. Here are some questions to help you get started.

What if it were our men and women in uniform undergoing these same techniques?

What if the powers that be started using these techniques on american citizens on a large scale?

Does torture increase or decrease our moral standing?

Does torture yield real information? or just whatever the torturer wants to hear to make the pain stop?

Would you undergo these techniques yourself?

I'm sorry, but maintaining the standards we have lived by for over 200 years is neither soft nor freakish. Frankly, I find your accusations insulting, never mind the fact that they are born of ignorance.

12/14/2007 2:52 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

I was wondering when the next wacko comment would arrive.

I think the place averages about one a week, usually from an anonymous.

Diana, when it's you or your husband or child that is abducted without cause and whisked away to some room, your opinions might change.

When you protest the disappearance of your innocent loved one, some bureaucrat will assure you we are "doing what it takes" to keep America safe.

What America? How safe is your loved one that just vanished?

12/14/2007 7:35 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

First, I just want you to know that I know you are not a woman. What is your real name? Homer? Goober? Bubba?

Also, I fully realize that your primitive fascist beliefs do not allow for freedom of speech. However, most people in this country still believe in the First Amendment so why don't you try to respect that? Instead of calling x4mr an idiot, which he is not, why don't you simply recognize his right to free speech and find a political blog that is not so diametrically opposed to your own opinions?

12/14/2007 10:07 PM  

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