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THE BLOODY HISTORY OF C.I.A. TORTURE:
Red in Tooth and Claw: American Terror, Then and Now
...the CIA also taught these same torture tactics to the Islamic extremists that the United States was arming, training and funding in Afghanistan.Thursday, 24 January 2008—Lobster – the British "journal of parapolitics" (or "deep politics," as its usually called in North America, following the work of Peter Dale Scott) – is an interesting magazine. A very low-key affair, with no pictures, no ads, no color, just columns of plain, small-print, heavily footnoted articles, Lobster comes out twice a year, published in the front room of editor Robin Ramsay's house in Hull. In a profile in the Sunday Herald a few years back, Ramsay described the magazine this way: "Lobster is a futile remnant of an ancient notion of trying to educate people to behave rationally in politics, so it's a complete waste of time." I first heard about it a couple of years ago from the film director, Alex Cox, who has written for the magazine in the past. There is good stuff to be found in every issue, along with pieces you might strongly disagree with.
As an example of the former, the current issue – not on-line – has a devastating piece by John Newsinger on "The CIA: A History of Torture." It is a succinct overview of the notorious record of what Newsinger rightly calls "the most dangerous terrorist organization at work in the world since the Second World War." He continues:
It has overthrown governments, sponsored wars, carried out assassinations and terrorist attacks, organized and financed death squads, kidnapped and tortured, trafficked in drugs, bribed and blackmailed, even worked with the Mafia. Despite this, it remains a 'respectable' organization, listened to by Western governments...and treated by the mainstream media as a credible intelligence-gathering organization."
Then, drawing on the work of Alfred McCoy, Thomas Powers and others, he goes on to detail the decades-long history of CIA involvement in atrocity, with telling vignettes from individual episodes, such as the Phoenix Program in Vietnam: the CIA death-squad program that murdered tens of thousands of people. (The CIA itself admits to 20,000 deaths; the South Vietnamese government estimated the blood harvest at 40,000.) Torture was "a routine feature" of Phoenix, which was dubbed a "counter-insurgency operation":
...K. Barton Osborne told a House of Representatives subcommittee that during his time in Vietnam he had seen a prisoner killed by means of a six-inch dowel hammered into his ear and a woman prisoner starved to death. He could not recall a single prisoner surviving interrogation. It was in these bloody circumstances that the Agency decided to conduct some controlled experiments in torture, presumably assuming that with so much going on, no one would notice. In mid-1966, two CIA psychiatrists flew into the country and carried out electro-shock experiments on prisoners at the Bien Hoa mental hospital outside Saigon. The prisoners were tortured to death. Even more horrific, in July 1968 another CIA team, accompanied by a neurosurgeon, flew in to carry out experiments implanting electrodes in the brains of three prisoners in an attempt to control their behaviour. The experiments failed and the victims were killed and their bodies destroyed."
(For details of an earlier experiment in "mind control" – this time on one of their own, an American CIA scientist who looked a bit too closely at what his comrades were getting up to -- see "The Secret Sharers: The CIA, the Bush Gang, and the Killing of Frank Olson.")
As Newsinger notes, the CIA was not deterred by America's defeat in Vietnam; they simply transferred their black ops to Central America – where many top officials responsible for "counter-insurgency" in Iraq first honed their skills in directing torture teams and death squads. The genocidal fury reached its apex under the rule of the saintly Ronald Reagan (lauded by Obama) and George H.W. Bush (bosom friend and father figure to the Clintons). As Newsinger notes, in Central America
the United States, with the full support of the Thatcher government [recently lauded by H. Clinton] engaged in two of the most brutal counter-insurgency campaigns of modern times in El Salvador and Guatemala....The Guatemalan military conducted themselves with a brutality that rivaled that of the Nazis. The civilian population in those areas that supported the guerrillas was physically exterminated in the most cruel and sadistic fashion. By the end of the conflict in 1996, over 200,000 people had been killed, overwhelmingly by the military (the UN Truth Commission estimated that the military were responsible for 93 percent of the atrocities). Throughout all this horror the Americans worked hand-in-glove with the Guatemalan military....The CIA was operating an enormous network of paid informants, most of them well-known for their involvement in torture and other war crimes. The CIA and related intelligence officials knew which prisoners had been kidnapped, where they were being held, and the fact that their torturers were the CIA's own paid informants.
At the same time they were aiding this holocaust, Reagan and Bush were also conducting the illegal proxy war against Nicaragua, using an army described by a top U.S. military advisor as "just a bunch of killers." The "Contras" -- which Reagan famously described as the "moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers" -- were trained in terrorism by the CIA. Newsinger quotes Greg Grandin's book on the subject:
One high-level Contra official who worked closely with the CIA said that brigades would "arrive at an undefended village, assemble all the residents in the town square and then proceed to kill -- in full view of the others -- all persons suspected of working" for the government. Other Contra officials confessed to "damnable atrocities" and "hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes" of which "CIA superiors were well aware."
Back to Newsinger:
All this was prescribed in the instruction manual that the CIA produced for the Contras. [Newsinger notes that the author of the manual, John Kirkpatrick, was a veteran of the Phoenix Program.] One section, "Selective Use of Violence for Propagandist Effects" recommended the killing of "carefully selected and planned targets such as court judges, police and State Security officials, CDS Chiefs, etc." As Holly Sklar observed: "A hit list that starts with court judges and ends with etcetera is a mighty broad license for murders." And in practice, the etcetera included teachers, doctors, nurses, indeed anyone believed to the sympathetic to the Sandinistas."
At the same time, the CIA was also teaching these same tactics to the Islamic extremists that the United States was arming, training and funding in Afghanistan. And we have seen these exact same methods being carried out in Iraq, where judges, teachers, doctors and other professional "etcetera" have been carefully selected and targeted by....militias and death squads armed, trained and funded by the United States, and, no doubt, by rogue "blowback" bands whose roots and training go back to the global jihad movement that the United States helped create under Carter, Reagan and Bush I.
Of course, as noted above, Iraq -- and the top echelons of the Bush Administration -- are crawling with officials who made their bones in the dirty wars of Central America. Such as John Negroponte, the lifetime Bush Faction factotum who was head of the entire intelligence apparat under George II before moving back into the shadows at the State Department. Newsinger writes:
Crucial as a base for the covert war against Nicaragua was neighboring Honduras. Effectively ruled from the American Embassy, there were so many US military and CIA personnel in the country that it was jocularly known as "the USS Honduras." Presiding over this was the US Ambassador, John Negroponte, later a key figure in the Iraq War. Negroponte had earlier served in the US Embassy in Saigon. Now he supervised both the contra operation and the brutal suppression of dissent in Honduras itself. The CIA, with the co-operation of the Honduras army, established death squads that tortured and killed dozens of people....An elite Honduran Army unit, Battalion 3-16, provided the personnel for the death squads, which were trained and financed by the CIA. According to one veteran of the unit, "US advisors taught 'psychological methods' of coercive interrogation. In practice, they made use of both the new and old methods of torture.
No one, not a single person in the ruling circles of the U.S. bipartisan political class, has ever been held accountable for these mass murders and terrorist crimes.We have seen how the whole nefarious history of the CIA and its fellow black operators in the National Security State has been played out in the killing fields of Iraq: death squads, torture, assassinations, corruption, "etcetera." (For more, see "Ulster on the Euphrates: The Anglo-American Dirty War in Iraq.") It's also being played out in Afghanistan and Somalia and countless other countries, and in every far-flung "secret site" in the Terror War's global gulag. And it will go on playing out in the same brutal, blood-soaked way -- because no one, not a single person in the ruling circles of the bipartisan political class, has ever been held accountable for these mass murders and terrorist crimes. Not one. Instead, the perpetrators have soared comfortably through long careers strewn with honors, riches, privilege and power. There is literally no penalty whatsoever for any high American official who orders, supports or even directly commits atrocities.
So why should they stop? The system of power protects them. The system creates them. The system needs them. They are the system.
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published on January 24, 2008.