Friday, November 2, 2007

Word to the wise: Junior Caligula wasn't the only "torture president"

I'll start with a quote from liberal blogger Tristero (via IOZ):
Bush will go down in history as the torture president. I hate that this country ever had a president who made the torture of human beings official government policy.
Sounds nice, and certainly for those who are anticipating a regime change of sorts in the US one might expect such statements to have a "feel good" quality to them. I wish I could share the sentiment. There is little doubt in my mind the current US regime has been particularly vile when it comes to human rights abuses. However, as IOZ reminds those who dare to read, Junior Caligula will not be THE torture president. He'll only be one in a long line. At most, one can say that his regime and those in Congress (Democrat and GOP alike) who enabled the White House are just another step in the (d)evolution of our political institutions. So it goes.

The Clinton era was no Garden of Eden, nor were any of the other sorry presidencies that have come and gone in my lifetime. A quick trip down memory lane shall suffice. By the time I had been born (mid 1960s), the School of Americas (now called WHINSEC) had already been in existence for about a couple decades (1949 to be a bit more precise). William Blum has already laid out its history in brief:
School of the Americas

The School of the Americas (SOA), an Army school at Fort Benning, Georgia, has been beleaguered for years by protesters because so many of its graduates have been involved in very serious human-rights abuses in Latin America, often involving torture and murder. SOA insists that it teaches its students to respect human rights and democracy. To examine this claim we must note that wars between nations in Latin America are extremely rare. The question which thus arises is: Who are these military men being trained to fight if not the army of another country? Who but their own citizens?

Over the years, SOA has trained tens of thousands of Latin American military and police in subjects such as counter-insurgency, infantry tactics, military intelligence, anti-narcotics operations, and commando operations. The students have also been taught to hate and fear something called "communism", later something called "terrorism", with little, if any, distinction made between the two, thus establishing the ideological justification to suppress their own people, to stifle dissent, to cut off at the knees anything bearing a likeness to a movement for social change which - although the military men might not think in such terms - might interfere with Washington's global agenda.

Those who have been on the receiving end of anti-communist punishment would have a difficult time recognizing themselves from this piece of philosophy from an SOA class: "Democracy and communism clash with the firm determination of the Western countries to conserve their own traditional way of life." This reads as if dissidents came from some faraway land, with alien values, and no grievances that could be comprehended as legitimate by the "Western" mind.

In September 1996, under continual insistence from religious and grassroots groups, the Pentagon released seven Spanish-language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991. A New York Times editorial declared:
Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught to thousands of Latin American military and police officers at the School of the Americas during the 1980s. A training manual recently released by the Pentagon recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.
SOA graduates have led a number of military coups - so many that the Washington Post reported in 1968 that the school was "known throughout Latin Ameica as the 'escuela de golpes' or coup school". The most recent SOA-linked coup was the 2002 short-lived overthrow of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Amongst the plotters were two SOA grads: Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda.

The school's alumni are also responsible for the murders of thousands of people, particularly in the 1980s, such as the Uraba massacre in Colombia; the El Mozote massacre, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rape and murder of four US churchwomen, and the Jesuit massacre in El Salvador; the La Cantura massacre in Peru; the torture and murder of a UN worker in Chile; and hundreds of other human-rights abuses.

In the village of El Mozote, El Salvador, in December 1981, from 700 to 1,000 persons were reported killed, mostly the elderly, women and children, in extremely cruel and gruesome ways. Ten of the twelve soldiers cited for the massacre were SOA graduates. In the slaying of six Jesuit priests and two others in November 1989, the UN Truth Commission revealed that 19 of the 26 Salvadoran officers involved had been trained at the SOA.

For decades SOA grads have been involved in the chain of command of virtually every major human rights atrocity in Latin America. The School of the Americas Watch has compiled a large amount of the relevant information, which can be accessed on their website.

The SOA has always claimed that it doesn't teach its students how to torture or how to commit other human-rights abuses. When the truth was revealed by the release of training manuals, the SOA claimed that it had changed its ways. But only one of 42 courses in the 1996 course catalogue - "Democratic Sustainment" - centers on issues of democracy and human rights. In 1997, only 13 students took this course, compared with the 118 who took "Military Intelligence". The "mandatory human-rights component" of other courses comprises only a very small portion of the total course hours. Former SOA human-rights instructor Charles Call has reported that human-rights training is not taken seriously at the school, comprising an insignificant amount of students' overall training.


Why, in the face of decades of terrible publicity, increasingly more militant protests and civil disobedience at the base in Georgia, thousands of arrests, and sharply decreasing Congressional support, has the Pentagon clung to the School of the Americas? What is it that's so vital to the military brass? The answer may lie in this: The school and its students along with a never-ending supply of US military equipment to countries in Latin America are part of a a package that serves the US foreign policy agenda in a special way. The package is called "access". Along with the equipment come American technicians, instructors, replacement parts, and more. Here is the testimony before Congress of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), in 1990.
Security assistance leads directly to access, and without access afforded by our friends we cannot project U.S. military forces into [an] area and stey there for any appreciable length of time.... [If] our military assistance programs diminish, our influence will erode and we will come to the point where we will have little or no ability to control the use of the weapons or the escalation of hostilities.... The second pillar of our strategy is presence. It is the symbol of America's continued interest in and commitment to stability in the region... The third pillar of CENTCOM's strategy is combined [military] exercises. They demonstrat our resolve and commitment to the region. They foster increased cooperation, and they enhance our ability to work with our friends in a coalition environment."
Thus it is that military aid, military exercises, Naval port visits, etc. - like the School of the Americas - means repeated opportunities to foster close ties, even camaraderie, between American officers and foreign military personnel; and, at the same time, the opportunity to build up files of information on many thousands of these foreigners, as well as acquiring language skills, maps, and photos of the area. In sum total: personal connections, personal information, country databases - indispensable assets in time of coup, counter-coup, revolution, counter-revolution, or invasion.

US military presence has, in effect, served the purpose of "casing the joint"; it also facilitates selecting candidates, not just Latin Americans for SOA, but thousands of military and police personnel from other continents who come to the US for training at scores of other military schools; the process of access replenishes itself. It is not unusual for the military-to-military contacts to thrive even while diplomatic relations between Washington and the students' government are rather cool (in the late 1990s, e.g., Algeria, Syria, and Lebanon) - another indication of the priority given to the contacts.

The military equipment sales that access leads to are highly valued as well.

The New Improved School of the Americas

When Congress came close to ending funding for the school in the fall of 1999, the Defense Department finally saw the writing on the wall. It announced that it was planning on making major changes to the school - less strictly military focus and more academic; civilian students as well as military; teaching democratic principles, etc.; changing the name to the Center for Inter-American Security Cooperation (Later changed to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).

The question remains: Why keep the school at all? Are there not enough academic schools here and in Latin America that meet such a need? Americans don't have free university education. Why should the United States provide it for foreigners?

The answer appears to be the factor that the changes wouldn't affect - access; perhaps new, improved access, inasmuch as in addition to military students, there will be further access to present and future political and civilian leaders as students.

In any event, there will still be the numerous other military training facilities for foreigners in the US, in addition to the extensive training to the Pentagon abroad.

SOA/WHINSEC now claims that all their applicants must undergo a stringent vetting process, declaring: "Specifically, Chiefs of Missions should ensure that all nominees for training or travel grants, military or civilian, in country or in the U.S., are scrutinized for records of human rights abuses, corruption, or criminal activities that would render them ineligible or inappropriate for the U.S. training programs."

School of the Americas Watch, in Washington, DC, has questioned this. The activist group claims that the screening process for applicants to WHINSEC is mostly cosmetic. They offer the following examples:

In a well known and high profile cases, Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz was investigated by the 1992 UN-mandated El Salvador Truth Commission as having bound, beaten, and shot 16 residents from the Los Hojas cooperative of the Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas. Yet Col. del Cid Diaz attended WHINSEC in 2003.

While a captain, Filmann Urzagaste Rodriguez, was one of those responsible for the kidnap and torture of Waldo Albarracin, then the director of the Popular Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia. The now-Major Urzagaste took a 49-week officer training course at WHINSEC in 2002.

Three Colombian police officers - Captain Dario Sierro Chapeta, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Patino Fonseca, and Captain Luis Benavides - were under investigation for personal use of counter-narcotics funds t the same time they attended WHINSEC in 2002-03.
Alfred McCoy also provides a useful summary of the controversy that has surrounded SOA/WHINSEC that can be found in his book, A Question of Torture (2006, Metropolitan Books) . McCoy also in that book lays out the involvement of psychologists and the occasional psychiatric researcher in conducting the experimental research central to the techniques published in the KUBARK manual used to train torturers across the globe. One can also find the early summaries of that research itself quite enlightening, as a psychologist who blogs as Valtin has made crystal clear:
What if there was a book that dispassionately looked at the history and methodology of torture? What if this book looked at human physiology and psychology and tried to scientifically establish how to best break another human being and bend him or her to your will? What if this book were written by top behavioral scientists and published in the United States? And, finally, what if the studies published in this book were financed by the U.S. government?
Look no farther, there is, or rather was, such a book. Published in 1961 by John Wiley & Sons, The Manipulation of Human Behavior was edited by psychologists Albert D. Biderman and Herbert Zimmer. This book, unfortunately, cannot be found online, nor was a second edition or printing ever made (not surprisingly). But I will provide a review here, and an introduction into the nightmare world of science, torture, and politics that helped shape our modern world and today's news.
This book represents a critical examination of some of the conjectures about the application of scientific knowledge to the manipulation of human behavior. The problem is explored within a particular frame of reference: the interrogation of an unwilling subject....
Much of the work in this book was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force...(p. 1)
Albert Biderman had researched the so-called brainwashing of American POWs during the Korean War. He worked as Principal Investigator of an Air Force Office of Scientific Research contract studying stresses associated with capitivity. Biderman was also Senior Research Associate at the Bureau of Social Science Research.
...the U.S. Air Force provided at least half of the budget of the Bureau of Social Science Research in the 1950s. Military contracts supported studies at this Bureau such as the vulnerabilities of Eastern European peoples for the purposes of psychological warfare and comparisons of the effectiveness of "drugs, electroshock, violence, and other coercive techniques during interrogation of prisoners." (from a review of Chistopher Simpson's Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960)
His associate, Herbert Zimmer, was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University, and also worked at times as a consultant for the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. When you read their book, The Manipulation of Human Behavior (MHB), the various essays by other authors include statements crediting research to grants from the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology and the Office of Naval Research.
The titles of the book's essays are bone-chilling in their scientific bland exactitude. Here they are, with authors, for the record:
1. The Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject as it Affects Brain Function, by Lawrence E. Hinkle, Jr., Assoc. Professor of Clinical Medicine in Psychiatry, New York Hospital
2. The Effects of Reduced Environmental Stimulation on Human Behavior: A Review, by Phillip E. Kubazansky, Chief Psychologist, Boston City Hospital
3. The Use of Drugs in Interrogation, by Louis A. Gottschalk, Assoc. Professor of Psychiatry and Research Coordinator, Cincinnati General Hospital
4. Physiological Responses as a Means of Evaluating Information, by R. C. Davis, Professor of Psychology, Indiana University
5. The Potential Uses of Hypnosis in Interrogation, by Martin T. Orne, Teaching Fellow, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard University Medical School

6. The Experimental Investigation of Interpersonal Influence, by Robert R. Blake and Jane S. Mouton, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas, and Social Science Research Associate, University of Texas, respectively
7. Countermanipulation Through Malingering, by Malcolm L. Meltzer, Staff Psychologist, District of Columbia General Hospital
Six of the essay contributors were psychologists; two were psychiatrists.
Cui bono?
I cannot give a full review here of all the research and conclusions derived herein. The significance of the book itself is hard to gauge, because nothing of its like was ever published again. We can assume that the government agencies that financed the research passed along the results to those who could use it. Biderman himself in his introduction to MHB put it this way:
In assuming the attitude of the "hard-headed" scientist toward the problem, there is a danger in falling into an equivalent misuse of science....
The conclusions reached do in fact show that many devlopments can compound tremendously the already almost insuperable difficulties confronting the individual who seeks to resist an interrogator unrestrained by moral or legal [scruples]....
Several scientists have reported on the possible applications of scientific knowledge that might be made by eht most callous interrogator or power. The results of their thinking are availbale here for anyone to use, including the unscrupulous. (pp. 6, 9) (emphasis mine)
Spine feeling the shivers yet? When I first read the above, I thought I had stumbled into a fascist nightmare out of Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors. But then, I read on:
The alternative is to confer on the would-be interrogator a monopoly of knowledge by default. His success, as the various chapters of this book illustrate, depends heavily on the ignorance of his victims. [B. F.] Skinner has aruged that those who are most concerned with restricting the vulnerabilty of men to control others have the most to gain from a clear understanding of the techniques employed. (p. 9)
Was Biderman saying that publishing this material publicly was an oblique attempt to expose what was going on? Was there a twinge of guilt in these men and women, working for the military under the guise of medical and university establishments? I don't know. But Biderman had a few other psychological observations about torture worth quoting (and think about President Bush as you read this, as he said the other day that he has spent a significant amount of time studying the issue of interrogations, torture, etc.):
The profound fascination of the topic under consideration may stem from the primitive, unconscious, and extreme responses to these problems, which gain expression in myth, dreams, drama, and literature. On the one hand, there is the dream-wish for omnipotence, on the other, the wish and fear of the loss of self through its capture by another. The current interest in problems of manipulation of behavior involves basic ambivalences over omnipotence and dependency, which, if projected, find a ready target in the "omniscient" scientist....
Conjectures concerning the prospects of "total annihilation of the human will" appear almost as frequently as those regarding the threat of mankind's total destruction by thermonuclear of similar weapons.....
Viewing the problem in magical or diabolical terms is not an altogether irrational analogy, given the existence of those who simultaneously practice and seek perfection of the means for controlling behavior and conceive their efforts as directed toward "possessing the will" of their victims....
Thus, magical thinking and projections, as has been indicated, pervade prevalent judgments regarding the significance of the behavioral alterations that interrogators can effect. (pp. 4-6)
No matter whatever qualms these researchers had, they were sure of two things: "that some potentialities of interrogation have been overestimated", particularly those that relied on old methods (extreme violence); and
There is no question that it is possible for men to alter, impair, or even to destroy the effictive psychological functioning of others over whom they exercise power. (p. 10)
The problem for the torturers, though, was the "elicitation of guarded factual information". For this, something more scientific was needed, something better than the old, unreliable techniques. -- In many ways, the disputes over interrogation now embroiling Washington are about the utility of methods, with Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney representing the old (omnipotence-craving) school, and McCain, Powell, and the military representing those who understand that psychlogical manipulation (often amounting to torture itself) gets them what they want, without the international treaty entanglements. The CIA is itself split within by a similar two wings.
If one goes to the original diary by Valtin, one will find that he goes on to describe in more detail the experiments described in the above book chapters. I happen to have a copy of the book in question as well and familiar with what Valtin is describing.

The thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't seem to matter much who controls Congress or who occupies the White House - the use of torture and training in the techniques of torture predate the current White House occupant by several decades. As IOZ correctly points out, the use of "black sites" and torture were commonplace during the so-called "Cold War." Extraordinary renditions also have a history that predates Bush - all we have to do is look back to his predecessor, Bill Clinton in order to see that was SOP by about the mid 1990s. In other words, this is nothing all that new. Evil, yes. New? Hardly. To expect that Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, or Barack Obama will wave her/his wand in late January 2009 and make all the bad stuff go away is to border on the delusional. My reasoning for taking an antipartisan approach to human rights is based precisely on the assumption that both the Democrat and Republican parties have had their hands dirty for ages and will continue to have their hands dirty for as long as they manage to maintain their grip on power. Obama might insist that prisoners being renditioned to god knows wherever be treated to the soothing sounds of Kenny G on the flight over to their particular Gulag, whereas most of the GOP candidates would not even consider such a thing.

In the historical scheme of things, it really matters little whether we drop a few Donkle names (Truman, Carter, Clinton) or GOP names (Raygun, Nixon, both Papa Doc and Baby Doc Bush).

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