The CIA Privatized Torture

Damn video and digital cameras.

If not for the availability of these electronic devices, it is possible the world would have never viewed — to its collective disgust — the images of the hideous events that took place in the murky depths of the Abu Ghraib military prison.

It’s safe to say US Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski — who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade in Baghdad and will likely be held responsible for what happened inside Abu Ghraib — regrets such devices ever existed.

It is not simply a proliferation of cheap electronic cameras that revealed how US military and intelligence officers and agents work over detainees, but a secret US Army internal investigation report leaked to the New Yorker and handed over to ace investigative journalist Seymour Hersh played an important role as well.

According to the author of the report, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, reservist military police at Abu Ghraib were instructed by Army military officers and the CIA to “set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses” — in other words they were to be tortured until they were reduced to well-disposed porridge.

As we now understand, it was not simply the military and the CIA involved the torture at Abu Ghraib — so-called interrogation specialists from private defense contractors were hired to humiliate and break detainees identified by Hersh as common criminals, security detainees suspected of crimes against the occupation, and a small number of suspected high-value leaders of the resistance against the occupation.

Following Hersh’s explosive revelations, the Guardian filled in conspicuous gaps and reported companies contracted at Abu Ghraib include CACI International and the Titan Corporation. CACI’s website claims its mission is to “help America’s intelligence community collect, analyze and share global information in the war on terrorism.” Titan describes itself as “a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions and services for national security.”

As Julian Borger of the Guardian points out, the military and the CIA may be using private “security” and “national security” corporations because they are not under military jurisdiction. “One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him,” writes Borger.

In fact, the CIA has used torture by proxy for decades.

Consider as an example the CIA’s activities in Guatemala. “In March 1995, it was revealed that CIA Guatemalan assets were involved in the murders of American citizen Michael Devine and Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a guerrilla leader married to an American woman, Jennifer Harbury,” writes Jon Elliston. Harbury and Sister Diana Ortiz — an American nun kidnapped, raped, and tortured by Guatemalan security forces in 1989 — managed to gain Clinton White House assurances that the CIA’s involvement in Guatemala would be made public.

But as investigative journalist Allan Nairn discovered, the CIA had “systematic links to Guatemalan Army death squad operations that go far beyond the disclosures” made public by the Clinton administration. Nairn interviewed former officials from the United States and Guatemala who revealed that “CIA operatives work inside a Guatemalan Army unit that maintains a network of torture centers and has killed thousands of Guatemalan civilians.”

A former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency official in Guatemala told Nairn the involvement was so extensive that “it would be an embarrassing situation if you ever had a roll call of everybody in the Guatemalan Army who ever collected a CIA paycheck.”

In June 1995, Baltimore Sun reporters Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson revealed the CIA’s close involvement with a Honduran military intelligence unit, Battalion 316. As Cohn and Thompson reported, the CIA worked with Argentine military experts that had a decade of experience torturing and killing dissidents. The CIA and Argentine thugs instructed and guided Battalion 316 in surveillance and interrogation in much the same way the CIA and the Pentagon’s MI apparently instructed “contractors” from CACI International and the Titan Corporation at Abu Ghraib in the torture of unfortunate Iraqis.

In addition to Honduras and Guatemala, the CIA has instructed torturers and assisted in overthrowing governments in Chile, Bolivia,Uruguay, Greece, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, El Salvador, Brazil, Ecuador, Congo, Haiti, Laos, Iran, and elsewhere. Noriega, Galtieri, Pinochet, Rodriguez, Fujimori, and Alvarado — these are but a few of the murderous dictators tutored by the CIA. Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda are creations of the CIA. According to the Association for Responsible Dissent, by 1987 6 million people had died as a result of CIA covert operations. William Blum, a former State Department official and historian, terms this an “American Holocaust.”

Bush “plans to ‘unleash’ the CIA to perpetrate political assassinations, torture and a string of human rights violations,” writes Raymond Ker of Middle East News, “…’physical interrogation’ (read: torture) is recommended by the venerable Newsweek magazine; and George W Bush orders the institution of military tribunals for suspected terrorists in camera and without a jury.”

It appears this is what happened at Abu Ghraib — the CIA and military intelligence were “unleashed” on those in the Iraq resistance (or simply suspected of being associated with the Iraqi resistance or maybe insulting viceroy Bremer’s intelligence).

9/11 provided the CIA with a custom-made excuse to continue its gratuitous use of torture, either directly or through proxy. After thethe Senate Intelligence Committee conducted hearings on terrorism in December 2002, several CIA officers told Alasdair Palmer of the UK Telegraph that “they were in no doubt about what they would have to do: they would have to torture people … The unanimity in American law-enforcement circles is striking. Torture is no longer simply a topic for debate. The debate has been won.”

At the Bagram air force base in Afghanistan, this debate is ancient history — and there is absolutely no worry about human rights or the Geneva Convention as it pertains to prisoners of war. As the Washington Post reported in December 2002, the CIA routinely tortured al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects at Bagram — interrogations resulting in at least two deaths.

Cofer Black, the former director of the CIA’s counter-terrorist branch, told a congressional intelligence committee at the time: “All you need to know: there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11… After 9/11 the gloves come off.”

According to US officials responsible for capturing and detaining terrorist suspects, the only problem with torture is that the CIA was prevented from using it by fence-straddling lawmakers and a public without stomach. “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,” an official told the Washington Post.

Late last year the Sunday Times reported the CIA was actively recruiting former agents from Saddam Hussein’s notorious security force, Mukhabarat. Mohammed Abdullah, who had spent 10 years in the Mukhabarat and eight in Iraqi military intelligence, told the Sunday Times he was on the CIA’s payroll — hired to hunt down members of the resistance as well as Iraqis allegedly spying for Iran and Syria. “If successfully set up, the group would work in tandem with American forces but would have its own structure and relative independence,” an anonymous intelligence officer told the Times. “It could be expected to be fairly ruthless in dealing with the remnants of Saddam.” It does not seem to matter to the CIA or Bush, however, that many former members of Mukhabarat remain Saddam loyalists.

Considering the above, a pattern begins to emerge: the CIA runs the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq, from directing Mukhabarat in the field — rounding up resistance fighters and their supporters — to overseeing the operations of mercenaries (many recruited from Chilean and South African military services) and directing “interrogations” conducted by private companies such as CACI International, the Titan Corporation, and defense contractors.

Although individual soldiers are under investigation for abusing Iraqi detainees — and Hersh names them in his article — there is no mention of the CIA, military intelligence, or private corporations (this information was provided by Jullian Borger of the Guardian, aBritishnewspaper). As usual in such situations, lowly scapegoats will be sacrificed — careers ruined, pensions lost — and the real culprits will fade into the background, allowed to continue their repulsive work.

On Sunday, May 2, Fox News and CNN were strangely mute about the scandal, although the European and Arab press continued to publish accounts of the torture. Of course, considering another CIA Operation — innocuously dubbed Operation Mockingbird — this should be expected. As far back as the late 1940s, the CIA recruited US news organizations and individual journalists as disseminators of CIA propaganda. All told, at least 25 news organizations and 400 journalists became helpmates for the mega-snoop organization.

Of course, for Iraqis finding such behavior deeply offensive — especially the pornographic aspects at odds with Arab culture — the wholesale depravity of Abu Ghraib will serve as yet more inspiration to resist the occupation and eventually get rid Bush, the CIA, and their hired sadists. Fox News and CNN may choose to allow Abu Ghraib drop from the media radar screen and move on to more superficial and politically disengaged news items but in the Arab world the damage has been done and it has momentous consequences.

On the day the US leaves Iraq in disgrace, not even Fox News will not be able to ignore helicopters departing from the roof of the US embassy in Baghdad.

KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books.

He can be reached at:


KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: