FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Words Alone Won’t End Torture

“We are going to smash your hands to pulp like the Chileans did to Victor Jara.” Those were the words of the torturers in a Uruguayan prison spoken to my friend Miguel Angel Estrella, a pianist from Argentina. They were referring to the fate of the imprisoned Chilean singer and guitarist Victor Jara, whose hands were destroyed so that he would never play the guitar again. Jara, a fervent opponent of the Pinochet regime, was brutally tortured and later machine-gunned to death following the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973.

Estrella was being held in Uruguay’s Libertad prison, accused of being a guerrilla from Argentina fighting the Argentine military regime. Unable to prove the charges against him, and given the unprecedented international pressure, the Uruguayan government released him in 1978 after having kidnapped him at the end of 1977.

Estrella was luckier than most of those imprisoned by the South American military. Although tortured and held for a long time in isolation, Estrella eventually recovered, leads a brilliant career as a musician, and is now Argentina’s ambassador to UNESCO.

One of those who trained the Uruguayan torturers was an American operative, Daniel (Dan) Mitrione, who was later captured and killed by Uruguayan guerrillas. According to A.J. Langguth, a former New York Times bureau chief in Saigon, Mitrione was among the U.S. advisers who taught torture to the Brazilian police.

Mitrione’s method for the application of torture was carefully orchestrated. Langguth reports that the method was described in detail in a book by Manuel Hevia “Cosculluela,” a Cuban double agent who worked for the CIA, “Passport 11333, Eight Years with the CIA.”

This is Mitrione’s voice: “When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician. Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die . . . before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist..”

In Uruguay, Mitrione was the head of the Office of Public Safety, a U.S. government agency established in 1957 by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to train foreign police forces. At Mitrione’s funeral, Ron Ziegler, the Nixon administration’s spokesman, stated that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.” Thanks to former U.S. Sen. James Abourezk’s efforts, the policy advisory program was abolished in 1974.

Mitrione’s case was far from unique. Through the School of the Americas, thousands of military and police officers from Latin America were trained in repressive methods, including torture. On Nov. 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, a coworker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. I knew one of those killed, Ignacio Martin-Baro, vice rector of the Central American University. He was the closest I have ever been to a saint.

A U.S. Congressional Task Force concluded that those responsible for their deaths were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Human beings make culture. And we also make torture, that bastard child of culture. It is up to us to change this situation. When running for president, Barack Obama stated, referring to the Iraq war, “It is not enough to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mind-set that led us into Iraq.”

A similar assertion could be made about torture. It is not enough to say that torture will not be practiced any longer by the U.S. We need to get out of the mind-set that made torture possible in the first place.

Dr. Cesar Chelala, a writer on human rights issues, is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and a national journalism award from Argentina.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

July 16, 2020
Vijay Prashad
Laos Has Tackled COVID-19, But It Is Drowning in Debt to International Finance
Louisa Willcox
Charlie Russell, Grizzly Whisperer
John McMurtry – Jeffery Klaehn
Money Capital vs Life Capital: the War of Values We Live or Die By
Jesse Jackson
A New Generation of Protest Holds Great Promise for America
Robert Hunziker
The Inertia Bugaboo
Jyoti Saraswati
Seeing the World Through Touch During a Pandemic
Sam Bahour
Time’s Up Israel: Get Your Knee Off Palestine’s neck
Nick Licata
How Protester Occupations Can Succeed
Dean Baker
It’s Going to be a Long, Hard Recession
Mary Miller – Ariel Gold
The U.S. Struggle for Justice for Palestine Begins a New Chapter
Rajan Menon
How the Pandemic Hit Americans: Selective in Its Impact, the Virus Has Struck the Homeless Hard
Chuck Collins
Fair Tax Solutions for Cities Facing Covid-19 Budget Crises
George Ochenski
The Times They are a-Changin’
Neil Decenteceo
Small Island Countries Aren’t Waiting for Rich Countries to Act on Climate
Binoy Kampmark
Blue Steak on Lygon Street: The Mario Corniola Effect
Nan Levinson
Veterans Go to Washington: So What?
July 15, 2020
Jennifer Loewenstein
Forging Greater Israel: Annexation by Any Other Name
John Davis
This is No Way to Live
Melvin Goodman
Bolton’s Book is Not the “Bomb” as Advertised
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s “Blundering Brilliance”…Now Only the Blundering Remains
Daniel Warner
Audacity and Hope in the Summer of Discontent
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Propaganda Beyond Trump
Omar Ramahi
Hagia Sophia and the Catastrophe of Symbolism
Binoy Kampmark
The Yeezy Effect: Kanye West Joins the Presidential Race
Robin Wonsley – Ty Moore
Minneapolis Ballot Measure to Dismantle the Police Will Test the Strength of Our Movement
Robert Jensen
‘Cancel Culture’ Cannot Erase a Strong Argument
Tom Clifford
Jack Charlton, Soccer and Ireland’s Working Class
Elliot Sperber
Mother Goose in the End Times
July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail