Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Culture of Torture

With the release of the Senate Committee's report on torture during the Bush/Cheney administration, there will be a lot written about what happened. What you probably won't find mentioned is that all of this was not simply a response to 9/11. Context is important. So I'm going to reprise something I wrote back in April. If we are going to understand what happened, we need to understand the culture from which it sprung.

Back in 2007, when the Bush/Cheney administration's use of extraordinary rendition and torture were coming to light, Greg Grandin made the connection so many others missed.
In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.
The list of examples of what Grandin is referring to are too numerous to recount here. However, it is important to note that during the time he is talking about, the United States operated what was then called the School of the Americas which was tasked with training the police/military forces of Central and South American governments in "anti-communist counterinsurgency" techniques. Among those was the use of torture and assassination.
On the lessons taught at the School, former SoA direction of instruction Maj. Joseph Blair said, "The doctrine that was taught was that if you want information you use physical abuse, you use false imprisonment, you use threats to family members, you use virtually any method necessary to get what you want... [including torture] and killing.
Much of what we've learned about the use of those techniques comes from when they were used against American citizens living in South/Central America. Perhaps the most publicized example of that was when four nuns were raped and murdered by Salvadoran death squads in 1980.

But the story of Sister Dianna Ortiz reveals much about the parallels of what happened under the Bush/Cheney administration and her experience in Guatemala in 1989.  She was abducted by military forces, tortured and repeatedly raped. The entire ordeal was captured in videos and pictures taken by her assailants. At one point, an American male came on the scene and told them to stop.
He ordered the men to stop the torture, telling them that I was a North American nun, and that my disappearance had become public, and it was because — my disappearance was beginning to cause an uproar.
Its clear who was in charge - because the Guatemalans who had been torturing Sister Ortiz stopped what they were doing on those orders. The American man helped her get dressed, put her in his car and gave her a dire warning as they drove away.
...during the ride he told me to forgive my torturers, telling me that they were all just trying to fight communism; if I didn’t, that there would be consequences. He reminded me that my torturers had made videotapes and had taken photographs of the part of the torture that I was most ashamed of...[he] told me that if I didn’t forgive my torturers, he would have no other choice than to release the videotapes and the photos to the press.
We know that it was common practice for the CIA to videotape and photograph their use of torture during the Bush/Cheney years. Perhaps now you understand why. That was part of the technique taught at the School of the Americas and carried forward.

All of this is to say that - if we are serious about wanting to "expose the CIA's dark side" - we have to take a long view backwards. What the Bush/Cheney administration did was despicable. But it didn't spring up out of whole cloth during their 8 years in office.

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