The full article can be found on the web at: The Nation – ‘Never Before!’ Our Amnesiac Torture Debate
posted December 8, 2005 (December 26, 2005 issue)
Cross Posted At: The Daily KOS
‘Imagine’ A World Of Peace,Understanding,Tolerance
It was the “Mission Accomplished” of George W. Bush’s second term, and an announcement of that magnitude called for a suitably dramatic location. But what was the right backdrop for the infamous “We do not torture” declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.
It was certainly bold. An hour and a half’s drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been “We do torture.” It is here in Panama and, later, at the school’s new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. According to declassified training manuals, SOA students–military and police officers from across the hemisphere–were instructed in many of the same “coercive interrogation” techniques that have since migrated to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food “manipulation,” humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions–and worse. In 1996 President Clinton’s Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned “execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment.”
SOA – Watch
And yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the sordid history of its location. How could they? To do so would require something totally absent from the current debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials long predates the Bush Administration and has in fact been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.
It’s a history that has been exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his upcoming book A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesizes this unwieldy cache of evidence, producing an indispensable and riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls “no-touch torture,” based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
The principal propagator of this narrative (what Garry Wills termed “original sinlessness”) is Senator John McCain. Writing recently in Newsweek on the need for a ban on torture, McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge “that we were different from our enemies…that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them.” It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had already launched the Phoenix program and, as McCoy writes, “its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured thousands more,” a claim he backs up with pages of quotes from press reports as well as Congressional and Senate probes.
Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring “Never again!” Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying “Never Before”? I suspect it has to do with a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this Administration’s crimes. And the Bush Administration’s open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented–but let’s be clear about what is unprecedented about it: not the torture but the openness. Past administrations tactfully kept their “black ops” secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were practiced in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush Administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.
Visit my Diary’s of 12-9-05 Celebrating Human Rights in the Midst of a Global Torture Debate – “End Torture Now!” It’s the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day
For a number of Links to Articles, Reports, etc. On Human Rights Day – 2005
In Latin America the revelations of US torture in Iraq have not been met with shock and disbelief but with powerful déjà vu and reawakened fears. Hector Mondragon, a Colombian activist who was tortured in the 1970s by an officer trained at the School of the Americas, wrote: “It was hard to see the photos of the torture in Iraq because I too was tortured. I saw myself naked with my feet fastened together and my hands tied behind my back. I saw my own head covered with a cloth bag. I remembered my feelings–the humiliation, pain.” Dianna Ortiz, an American nun who was brutally tortured in a Guatemalan jail, said, “I could not even stand to look at those photographs…so many of the things in the photographs had also been done to me. I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming.”
The result is that the memory of US complicity in far-away crimes remains fragile, living on in old newspaper articles, out-of-print books and tenacious grassroots initiatives like the annual protests outside the School of the Americas (which has been renamed but remains largely unchanged). The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the current torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, these past crimes are being erased from the record. Every time Americans repeat the fairy tale about their pre-Cheney innocence, these already hazy memories fade even further. The hard evidence still exists, of course, carefully archived in the tens of thousands of declassified documents available from the National Security Archive. But inside US collective memory, the disappeared are being disappeared all over again.
And that’s the problem with pretending that the Bush Administration invented torture. “If you don’t understand the history and the depths of the institutional and public complicity,” says McCoy, “then you can’t begin to undertake meaningful reforms.” Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus–closing a prison, shutting down a program, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But, McCoy says, “they will preserve the prerogative to torture.”
Center for American Progress – “Torture is not US.”