FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Long Shadow of CIA Torture Research

by ALFRED W. McCOY

The photos from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison are snapshots, not of simple brutality or a breakdown in discipline, but of CIA torture techniques that have metastasized, over the past 50 years, like an undetected cancer inside the US intelligence community.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led massive, secret research into coercion and consciousness that reached a billion dollars at peak. After experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, this CIA research produced a new method of torture that was psychological, not physical–best described as “no touch torture.”

The CIA’s discovery of psychological torture was a counter-intuitive break-through–indeed, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the 17th century. In its modern application, the physical approach required interrogators to inflict pain, usually by crude beatings that often produced heightened resistance or unreliable information. Under the CIA’s new psychological paradigm, however, interrogators used two essential methods, disorientation and self-inflicted pain, to make victims feel responsible for their own suffering.

In the CIA’s first stage, interrogators employ simple, non-violent techniques to disorient the subject. To induce temporal confusion, interrogators use hooding or sleep deprivation. To intensify disorientation, interrogators often escalate to attacks on personal identity by sexual humiliation.

Once the subject is disoriented, interrogators move on to a second stage with simple, self-inflicted discomfort such as standing for hours with arms extended. In this phase, the idea is to make victims feel responsible for their own pain and thus induce them to alleviate it by capitulating to the interrogator’s power.

In his statement on reforms at Abu Ghraib last week, General Geoffrey Miller, former chief of the Guantanamo detention center and now prison commander in Iraq, offered an unwitting summary of this two-phase torture. “We will no longer, in any circumstances, hood any of the detainees,” the general said. “We will no longer use stress positions in any of our interrogations. And we will no longer use sleep deprivation in any of our interrogations.”

Although seemingly less brutal, “no touch” torture leaves deep psychological scars on both victims and interrogators. The victims often need long treatment to recover from trauma far more crippling than physical pain. The perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to escalating cruelty and lasting emotional problems.

After codification in the CIA’s “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual in 1963, the new method was disseminated globally to police in Asia and Latin America through USAID’s Office of Public Safety (OPS). Following allegations of torture by USAID’s police trainees in Brazil, the US Senate closed down OPS in 1975.

After OPS was abolished, the Agency continued to disseminate its torture methods through the US Army’s Mobile Training Teams, which were active in Central America during the 1980s. In 1997, the Baltimore Sun published chilling extracts of the “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual” that these Army teams had distributed to allied militaries for 20 years.

In the ten years between the last known use of these manuals in the early 1990s and arrest of Al Queda suspects since September 2001, torture continued as a US intelligence practice by delivering suspects to allied agencies, including Philippine National Police who broke the trans-Pacific bomb plot in 1995.

Once the War on Terror started, however, the US use of “no touch” torture resumed, first surfacing at Bagram Air Base near Kabul in early 2002 where Pentagon investigators found two Afghans had died during interrogation. In reports from Iraq, the methods are strikingly similar to those detailed over 40 years ago in the CIA’s Kubark manual and later used by US-trained security forces worldwide.

Following the CIA’s two-part technique, last September General Miller instructed US military police at Abu Ghraib to soften up high-priority detainees in the initial disorientation phase for later “successful interrogation and exploitation” by CIA and Military Intelligence. As often happens in “no touch” torture sessions, this process soon moved beyond sleep and sensory deprivation to sexual humiliation. In the second, still unexamined phase, US Army intelligence and CIA operatives probably administered the prescribed mix of interrogation and self-inflicted pain–outside the frame of these photographs.

If a fuller inquiry does establish that this is was what happened at Abu Ghraib, then these seven MPs are neither “creeps” nor weaklings who succumbed to the prison pressure-cooker. They are ordinary American soldiers following orders within a standard interrogation procedure. Whatever their guilt, the court martial of these soldiers should be just a first step up the chain of command and beyond to far-reaching reforms.

At home and abroad, the United States has been, for over 50 years a strong voice in the fight against torture. Simultaneously, however, the CIA’s method has become so widely accepted that US interrogators seem unaware that they are, in fact, engaged in systematic torture. From 1970 to 1988, Congress held hearings four times to expose the CIA’s use of torture. But each time, the public did not demand reform and the practice persisted.

But now, through these photographs from Abu Ghraib, we can see the reality of these interrogation techniques. We have a chance to join fully with the international community in repudiating a practice that, more than any other, represents a denial of democracy.

ALFRED W. McCOY is professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is the author of Closer Than Brothers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), a study of the impact of torture upon the Philippine armed forces, and The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, which made the list as one of CounterPunch’s Top 100 books of the last century.

This column originally appeared in the Boston Globe.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail