Priests Expose Secret Cycle of US Torture

Tucson, Arizona.

Two Roman Catholic priests, Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly and Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale, are exposing the secret cycle of U.S. torture, beginning with Fort Huachuca, a military intelligence operation in southern Arizona with a sordid history.

With pretrial motions beginning this morning, Aug. 13, they are prepared to go to prison in order to speak out against torture carried out by U.S. military.

With the two priests hoping for a jury trial, Fr. Kelly said they want to expose the human rights violations on a broad scale, citing international law and United Nations agreements. Fr. Kelly admits the U.S. courtroom can be a “very, very dangerous place.” Still, he adds, “The more they prosecute us; it makes for a more high profile case.”

“We would like to put torture on trial,” Fr. Kelly. “It is important for us to speak up.”

The tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo ­ people hooded with electrical wires running from them ­ reveal the same torture techniques that were used in Central America. The United States actually published torture manuals to train Latin military, resulting in the rape, mutilation, disappearance and murder of masses of Indigenous Peoples in Central America in the 1980s.

Those torture manuals were produced in Fort Huachuca and used in training by the School of Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., in the 1980s. More recently, soldiers trained at the Fort Huachuca U.S. Army Intelligence Training Center, have gone on to torture at Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Fr. Kelly and Fr. Vitale were arrested as they knelt in prayer outside the gates of Fort Huachuca when they sought entry to speak with enlisted personnel on Nov. 19, 2006. They were delivering a letter denouncing torture and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, destined for Major Gen. Barbara Fast, commander at the post at the time. Major Gen. Fast was a key figure in the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

After the priests were halted outside the gates and knelt in prayer, they were charged with federal trespass and the Arizona state charge of failure to comply with a police officer. They each face 10 months in prison.

Both priests spoke Sunday night, Aug. 12, at Southside Church, the building that served as the passageway and root of the Sanctuary Movement, were more than 10,000 Indigenous Peoples passed through in the 1980s and early 1990s, finding sanctuary and refuge from torture in Central America. At this site in the barrio of the now-famous Underground Railroad, the details of the United States’ torture were exposed.

Bill Quigley, attorney for Fr. Vitale and Fr. Kelly, spoke on torture. Quigley, professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans, said these acts of torture do not just leave the detained person dehumanized, but shatter the lives of their families. Further, the torturers themselves become the victims of torture. Often, the torturers are young soldiers, fearful of not following orders.

Forty-four detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan have died in U.S. captivity that were hooded, strangled, gagged or beaten with blunt objects, he said.

Quigley described the tortures, which George Bush no longer considers torture.

One detainee from Saudi Arabia was tied with a leash, forced to wear a bra and strip-searched in front of women. He was forced to urinate in his clothing.

In Abu Ghraib, one detainee was forced to strip in front of females and commit a sexual act, which was recorded on film with the threat of showing his family. In another case, a detainee was chained to the prison floor, while a female performed a strip tease and spread what appeared to be menstrual blood on his face.

Quigley asked, “If the Iraqis did that to our soldiers, what would we do?”

Quigley said this brutality and sadism were often carried out by U.S. military police and military intelligence, sometimes by the National Guard.

There is now a prevalence of torture. There are 330 documented cases of U.S. military and civilians abused or killed detainees. Those cases involved 600 U.S. personnel and 460 inmates.

“There is a code of silence,” Quigley said. One method of ensuring the code of silence is to force others present to participate in the torture.

Fr. Vitale recalled the torture of Sister Dianna Ortiz by security forces in Guatemala in 1989. Ortiz described how the guard put cigarettes out on her body, including her breasts, and made her dance naked with him.

Fr. Vitale said, “But because he didn’t penetrate her, according to George Bush, it wasn’t torture.”

Fr. Vitale said there has already been one cause for celebration since arrests. Commander Major Gen. General Barbara Fast is no longer at Fort Huachuca. Major Gen. Fast was the highest raking intelligence officer tied to the torture at Abu Ghraib and yet she has never been punished. Two soldiers with ties to Fort Huachuca are among 28 implicated in the 2002 beating deaths of two prisoners in Afghanistan.

“We were successful. She is gone.”

Fr. Vitale said at Fort Huachuca, Fast and others taught how to break people down. Describing the inhumane acts of the torturers, he said, “It is about humiliation.”

As Fr. Vitale and Fr. Kelly spoke on Sunday night, it was clear, that truth has a way of seeping out. The news of a vigil taking place outside of Guantanamo filters past the impenetrable walls to the detainees in the prison of horror. With the passage of time, the details of what really goes on behind the walls of Fort Huachuca is revealed by former soldiers. Regardless of the consequences, some military personnel speak out and expose the tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

According to one former solider at Fort Huachuca, “The whole world sees us as not very moral people.”

Fr. Kelly, dedicated in the struggle against nuclear weapons, described walking in protest of torture to Guantanamo prison in Cuba. He said that earlier, “George Bush said, ‘We’ve got nothing to hide, anyone is welcome to be here.'”

Therefore, on December 10, 2005, Fr. Kelly and about 25 others held a vigil outside the prison, hoping this news would filter in to the detainees. He knew this was possible, since he had been a prisoner himself, for attempting to literally beat a nuclear weapon into a plowshare. While in prison, the news of vigils and protests had filtered through to the imprisoned.

Now anti-torture proteters and prisoners of conscience in Tucson are organizing a November 18-19 torture teach-in and action, there is hope here that the protests against Fort Huachuca will grow as large as the protests against the School of the Americas. In the beginning, there were only about 20 protesters and now there are about 22,000 at Fort Benning during last year’s November protest.

In this room in Southside Church, there are many women and men with gray hair who have served six months in jail for stepping across the line at the School of the Americas in conscientious protest.

While Americans are complacent in their self-glory, the truth is, the rest of the world now views America as a country without morals, without adherence to international laws banning torture. Torture has become the United States’ stain, a fall from grace in the eyes of the world.

The shockwaves from the case are already present. According to one soldier at Fort Huachuca, the website can no longer be accessed from the base.

During the evening, the Hopi Foundation Center for the Prevention and Resolution of Violence in Tucson offered a presentation of poetry from its Owl and Panther Program, which provides young victims of torture with the opportunity to express themselves through poetry.

Youth Vicki Hernandez read, “You can’t just torture a little bit.”

Pressing for the Military Commissions Act to be revoked, torture-free activists here pointed out that the MCA allows detainees to be subjected to stress positions, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation and possibly waterboarding. Further, it authorizes the use of evidence obtained through “coercion,” another word for torture, in U.S. military tribunals to secure convictions.

The MCA allows the President to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, without charge by designating them as “enemy combatants” or “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Further, legal U.S. residents and foreign citizens living in their own countries are subject to summary arrest and indefinite detention, with no hope of appeal.

It also authorizes retroactive immunity for U.S. military and intelligence officers for abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and secret CIA facilities.

In the MCA, the definitions of rape and sexual assault are diluted as compared to the standards of international law.

The MCA ignores the fact that rape and sexual assault can be perpetrated not just through force, but through any type of situation, that negates consent on the part of the victim. Further, MCA uses an older and more narrow definition of sexual assault by requiring “sexual contact” between the perpetrator and the victim.

This narrower definition of sexual assault would exclude acts such as forced nakedness, forced sexual entertainment, or practices witnessed at Abu Ghraib such as piling naked prisoners on top of one another or forcing prisoners to strip and wear female underwear on their heads.

The MCA provides legal justification for intelligence abuses that are un-American and which have led to a severe decline in the reputation of the United States among the community of nations.

BRENDA NORRELL is human rights editor for U.N. OBSERVER & International Report. She also runs the Censored website. She can be reached at: