FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

As American as Apple Pie

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Torture’s back in the news, courtesy of those lurid pictures of exultant Americans laughing as they torture their Iraqi captives in Abu Ghraib prison run by the US military outside Baghdad. Apparently it takes electrodes and naked bodies piled in a simulated orgy to tickle America’s moral nerve ends. Kids maimed by cluster bombs just don’t do it any more. But torture’s nothing new. One of the darkest threads in postwar US imperial history has been the CIA’s involvement with torture, as instructor, practitioner or contractor. Since its inception the CIA has taken a keen interest in torture, avidly studying Nazi techniques and protecting their exponents such as Klaus Barbie. The CIA’s official line is that torture is wrong and is ineffective. It is indeed wrong. On countless occasions it has been appallingly effective.

Remember Dan Mitrione, kidnapped and killed by Uruguay’s Tupamaros and portrayed by Yves Montand in Costa-Gavras’s film State of Siege? In the late 1960s Mitrione worked for the US Office of Public Safety, part of the Agency for International Development. In Brazil, so A.J. Langguth (a former New York Times bureau chief in Saigon) related in his book Hidden Terrors, Mitrione was among the US advisers teaching Brazilian police how much electric shock to apply to prisoners without killing them. In Uruguay, according to the former chief of police intelligence, Mitrione helped “professionalize” torture as a routine measure and advised on psychological techniques such as playing tapes of women and children screaming that the prisoner’s family was being tortured.

In the months after the 9/11/01 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, “truth drugs” were hailed by some columnists such as Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter for use in the war against Al Qaeda. This was an enthusiasm shared by the US Navy after the war against Hitler, when its intelligence officers got on the trail of Dr. Kurt Plotner’s research into “truth serums” at Dachau. Plotner gave Jewish and Russian prisoners high doses of mescaline and then observed their behavior, in which they expressed hatred for their guards and made confessional statements about their own psychological makeup.

As part of its larger MK-ULTRA project the CIA gave money to Dr. Ewen Cameron, at McGill University. Cameron was a pioneer in the sensory-deprivation techniques. Cameron once locked up a woman in a small white box for thirty-five days, deprived of light, smell and sound. The CIA doctors were amazed at this dose, knowing that their own experiments with a sensory-deprivation tank in 1955 had induced severe psychological reactions in less than forty hours. Start torturing, and it’s easy to get carried away.

Torture destroys the tortured and corrupts the society that sanctions it. Just like the FBI after 9/11/01 the CIA in 1968 got frustrated by its inability to break suspected leaders of Vietnam’s National Liberation Front by its usual methods of interrogation and torture. So the agency began more advanced experiments, in one of which it anesthetized three prisoners, opened their skulls and planted electrodes in their brains. They were revived, put in a room and given knives. The CIA psychologists then activated the electrodes, hoping the prisoners would attack one another. They didn’t. The electrodes were removed, the prisoners shot and their bodies burned. You can read about it in our book, Whiteout.

In recent years the United States has been charged by the UN and also by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International with tolerating torture in US prisons, by methods ranging from solitary, twenty-three-hour-a-day confinement in concrete boxes for years on end, to activating 50,000-volt shocks through a mandatory belt worn by prisoners? Many of the Military Police guards now under investigation for abuse of Iraqis earned their stripes working as guards in federal and state prisons, where official abuse is a daily occurence. Indeed, Charles Granier, one of the abusers at Abu Ghraib and the lover of Linndie England the Trailer Park Torturer, worked as a guard at Pennsylvania’s notorious Greene Correctional Unit and has since gone back to work there.

And as a practical matter torture is far from unknown in the interrogation rooms of U.S. law enforcement, with Abner Louima, sodomized by a cop using a stick one notorious recent example. The most infamous disclosure of consistent torture by a police department in recent years concerned cops in Chicago in the mid-70s through early 80s who used electroshock, oxygen deprivation, hanging on hooks, the bastinado and beatings of the testicles. The torturers were white and their victims black or brown. A prisoner in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison was thrown into boiling water. Others get 50,000-volt shocks from stun guns.

Many states have so-called “secure housing units” where prisoners are kept in solitary in tiny concrete cells for years on end, many of them going mad in the process. Amnesty International has denounced U.S. police forces for “a pattern of unchecked excessive force amounting to torture.”

In 2000 the UN delivered a severe public rebuke to the United States for its record on preventing torture and degrading punishment. A 10-strong panel of experts highlighted what it said were Washington’s breaches of the agreement ratified by the United States in 1994. The UN Committee Against Torture, which monitors international compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, has called for the abolition of electric-shock stun belts (1000 in use in the U.S.) and restraint chairs on prisoners, as well as an end to holding children in adult jails.

It also said female detainees are “very often held in humiliating and degrading circumstances” and expressed concern over alleged cases of sexual assault by police and prison officers. The panel criticized the excessively harsh regime in maximum security prisons, the use of chain gangs in which prisoners perform manual labor while shackled together, and the number of cases of police brutality against racial minorities.

So far as rape is concerned, because of the rape factories more conventionally known as the U.S. prison system, there are estimates that twice as many men as women are raped in the U.S. each year. A Human Rights Watch report in April of 2001 cited a December 2000 Prison Journal study based on a survey of inmates in seven men’s prison facilities in four states. The results showed that 21 percent of the inmates had experienced at least one episode of pressured or forced sexual contact since being incarcerated, and at least 7 percent had been raped in their facilities.

A 1996 study of the Nebraska prison system produced similar findings, with 22 percent of male inmates reporting that they had been pressured or forced to have sexual contact against their will while incarcerated. Of these, more than 50 percent had submitted to forced anal sex at least once. Extrapolating these findings to the national level gives a total of at least 140,000 inmates who have been raped.

Want to read more? Then RUSH to order our new book Imperial Crusades. Hot off the presses, and everything you can’t find in the corporate press about Uncle Sam’s rampages. It’s a must-read diary, up there with Tacitus and Macaulay. Order here on the site, or call CounterPunch at 1-800-840-3683 where CounterPunch business staff are standing by. It’s an inflation busting $15, shipping and handling included.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Dmitry Kolesnik
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus, as, Fear and Loathing Grip Europe.
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail