excerpted from the book
A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000
"Physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected,
not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically
proven to be ineffective," said Richard Stolz, Deputy Director
of Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1988.
The CIA likes to say things like this because they think it
sounds like good plausible denial. But who can believe that torture
does not loosen up tongues, that for such purpose it is not exceedingly
effective? ... Torture's effectiveness extends yet further, for
its purpose is frequently not so much to elicit information as
it is to punish, to coerce the victims from any further dissident
activity by gouging out the idealism from their very being, and
as a warning to their comrades.
For these ends, the CIA has co-existed with torture for decades.
(Turkey, it must be remembered, is one of Washington's very closest
strategic allies; for Honduras, see below.) Sleeping with friendly
torturers has been a closely guarded secret at the Agency, and
for that reason the actual painful details have been difficult
to come by over the years. But here is some of the record that
has made its way to the light of day:
During the late 1940s, the CIA was instrumental in the creation
of a new internal security agency, KYP. Before long, KYP was carrying
out all the endearing practices of secret police everywhere, including
systematic torture. It was most active during the military junta,
1967-74, a period of routine horrific torture. Amnesty International
later reported that "American policy on the torture question
as expressed in official statements and official testimony has
been to deny it where possible and minimize it where denial was
not possible. This policy flowed naturally from general support
for the military regime."
James Becket, an American attorney sent to Greece by Amnesty,
wrote in 1969 that some torturers told prisoners that some of
their equipment had come as US military aid. One item was a special
"thick white double cable" whip that was "scientific,
making their work easier"; another was the head screw, known
as an "iron wreath", which was progressively tightened
around the head or ears. American support, reported Becket, was
vital to the torturers:
Hundreds of prisoners have listened to the little speech given
by Inspector Basil Lambrou, who sits behind his desk which displays
the red, white, and blue clasped-hand symbol of American aid.
He tries to show the prisoner the absolute futility of resistance
"You make yourself ridiculous by thinking you can do anything.
The world is divided in two. There are the communists on that
side and on this side the free world. The Russians and the Americans,
no one else. What are we Americans. Behind me there is the government,
behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S. You can't
fight us, we are Americans."
The notorious Iranian security service, SAVAK, which employed
torture routinely, was created under the guidance of the CIA and
Israel in the 1950s.9 According to a former CIA analyst on Iran,
Jesse J. Leaf, SAVAK was instructed in torture techniques by the
Agency. After the 1979 revolution, the Iranians found CIA film
made for SAVAK on how to torture women.
In the 1950s, in Munich, the CIA tortured suspected infiltrators
of Soviet emigre organizations in Western Europe, which the Agency
was using in anti-Soviet operations. Amongst the techniques employed
by the CIA were such esoteric torture methods as applying turpentine
to a man's testicles or sealing someone in a room and playing
Indonesian music at deafening levels until he cracked. This information
probably surfaced because it's weird-sounding to the point of
being amusing; there was likely more of regular torture methods
not fit for conversation.
The Green Berets taught its members who were slated for duty
in Vietnam in the 1960s how to use torture as part of an interrogation.
The notorious Operation Phoenix, set up by the CIA to wipe
out the Vietcong infrastructure, subjected suspects to torture
such as electric shock to the genitals of both men and women,
and the insertion into the ear of a six-inch dowel, which was
tapped through the brain until the victim died; suspects were
also thrown out of airborne helicopters to persuade the more important
suspects to talk, although this should probably be categorized
as murder of the ones thrown out, and a form of torture for those
not. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the US turned prisoners
over to their South Vietnamese allies in full knowledge that they
would be tortured, American military personnel often being present
during the torture.
In 1967, anti-Castro Cubans, working with the CIA to find
Che Guevara, set up houses of interrogation where Bolivians suspected
of aiding Che's guerrilla army were brought for questioning and
sometimes tortured. When the Bolivian interior minister leamed
of the torture, he was furious and demanded that the CIA put a
stop to it.~6
In the late 1960s, Dan Mitrione, an employee of the US Office
of Public Safety (part of the Agency for Intemational Development),
which trained and armed foreign police forces, was stationed in
Montevideo, Uruguay. Torturing political prisoners in Uruguay
had existed before Mitrione's arrival. However, in a surprising
interview given to a leading Brazilian newspaper, Jo~nal do Brasil
in 1970, the former Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro
Otero, declared that US advisers, and Mitrione in particular,
had instituted torture as a more routine measure; to the means
of inflicting pain, they had added scientific refinement; and
to that a psychology to create despair, such as playing a tape
in the next room of women and children screaming and telling the
prisoner that it was his family being tortured.
The newspaper interview greatly upset American officials in
South America and Washington. The director of OPS in Washington
tried to explain it all away by asserting: "The three Brazilian
reporters in Montevideo all denied filing that story. We found
out later that it was slipped into the paper by someone in the
composing room at the Jornal do Brasil."
Mitrione built a soundproofed room in the cellar of his house
in Montevideo, in which he assembled Uruguayan police officers
to observe a demonstration of torture techniques. Four beggars
were rounded up to be the subjects upon whom Mitrione demonstrated
the effects of different voltages on different parts of the body.
The four of them died.
"The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise
amount, for the desired effect," was Mitrione's motto.
"When you get what you want, and I always get it,"
he said, "it may be good to prolong the session a little
to apply another softening-up Not to extract information now,
but only as a political measure, to create a healthy fear of meddling
in subversive activities."
Before the Office of Public Safety assigned Dan Mitrione to
Uruguay, he had been stationed in Brazil. There, he and other
Americans worked with OPS, AID and CIA in supplying Brazilian
security forces with the equipment and training to facilitate
the torture of prisoners. The Americans also advised on how much
electric shock could be administered without killing the person,
if his or her death might prove awkward.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Guatemalan security forces,
notably the Army unit called G-2, routinely tortured "subversives".
One method was electric shock to the genital area, using military
field telephones hooked up to small generators, equipment and
instructions for use supplied by Uncle Sam. The US and its clients
in various countries were becoming rather adept at this technique.
The CIA advised, armed and equipped the G-2, which maintained
a web of torture centers, whose methods reportedly included chopping
off limbs and singeing flesh, in addition to electric shocks.
The Army unit even had its own crematorium, presumably to dispose
of any incriminating evidence. The CIA thoroughly infiltrated
the G-2, with at least three G
2 chiefs of the 1980s and early 90s, as well as many lower-level
officers, being on the Agency's payroll.
Also benefiting from the Agency's generosity was General Hector
Gramajo Morales, who was Defense Minister during the armed forces'
1989 abduction of Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun. She was
burned with cigarettes, raped repeatedly, and lowered into a pit
full of corpses. Typically, torturers exult in demonstrating the
power they hold over their victims-one of them put a large knife
or machete into Ortiz's hand, put his own hands on top of hers,
and forced her to stab another female prisoner. Ortiz thinks she
may have killed the woman. A fair-skinned man, whom the others
referred to as "Alejandro", and as their "boss",
seemed to be in charge, she said. He spoke Spanish with an American
accent and cursed in English. Later, Ortiz adds, when this man
realized she was American, he ordered the torture stopped. Clearly,
if his motivation had been humanitarian, and not simply trying
to avoid a possible political flap, he would have stopped it regardless
of her nationality.
In 1996, in the United States, Ortiz received a number of
documents from the State Department in response to a Freedom of
Information Act request. Only one, dated 1990, contained a significant
reference to Alejandro. It read as follows:
VERY IMPORTANT: We need to close the loop on the issue of
the "North American" named by Ortiz as being involved
in the case...The EMBASSY IS VERY SENSITIVE ON THIS ISSUE, but
it is an issue we will have to respond to publicly...
The next two pages were completely redacted.
During the counter-insurgency period of the 1980s, there was
wide' spread torture practiced by the various Salvadoran security
forces, all of whom had close working relations with the CIA and/or
the US military. In January 1982, the New York Times published
an interview with a deserter from the Salvadoran Army who described
a class where severe methods of torture were demonstrated on teenage
prisoners. He stated that eight US military advisers, apparently
Green Berets, were present. Watching "will make you feel
more like a man,"
a Salvadoran officer apprised the army recruits, adding that
they should "not feel pity of anyone" but only "hate
for those who are enemies of our country."
Another Salvadoran, a former member of the National Guard,
later testified in a 1986 British television documentary: "I
belonged to a squad of twelve. We devoted ourselves to torture,
and to finding people whom we were told were guerrillas. I was
trained in Panama for nine months by the [unintelligible] of the
United States for anti-guerrilla warfare. Part of the time we
were instructed about torture."
During the 1980s, the CIA gave indispensable support to the
infamous Battalion 316, which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds
of citizens, using shock and suffocation devices for interrogation,
amongst other techniques. The CIA supplied torture equipment,
torture manuals, and in both Honduras and the US, taught battalion
members methods of psychological and physical torture. On at least
one occasion, a CIA officer took part in interrogating a torture
victim. The Agency also funded Argentine counter-insurgency experts
to provide further training for the Hondurans. At the time, Argentina
was famous for its "Dirty War", an appalling record
of torture, baby kidnappings and disappearances. Argentine and
CIA instructors worked side by side training Battalion 316. US
support for the battalion continued even after its director, Gen.
Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, told the US ambassador that he intended
to use the Argentine methods of eliminating subversives. In 1983,
the Reagan administration awarded Alvarez the Legion of Merit
"for encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras".
At the same time, the administration was misleading Congress and
the American public by denying or minimizing the battalion's atrocities.
During the occupation of Panama following the invasion of
December 1989, some American soldiers engaged in torture of soldiers
of the Panama Defense Forces. In one case, a metal cable was inserted
into an open wound, producing intense pain. In another reported
case, a PDF soldier was hung up by one arm on which he already
had an injury to the elbow, which had been stitched up.
For those readers who have difficulty believing that American
government civilian and military personnel could be closely involved
in the torture of foreigners, it is suggested that they consider
what these Americans have done to other Americans.
At the US Navy's schools in San Diego and Maine during the
1960s and 1970s, students were supposedly learning about methods
of "survival, evasion, resistance and escape" which
they could use if they were ever a prisoner of war. There was
in the course something of survival in a desert, where students
were forced to eat lizards, but the naval officers and cadets
were also subjected to beatings, jarring judo flips, "tiger
cages"-hooded and placed in a 16-cubic-foot box for 22 hours
with a coffee can for their excrement-and a torture device called
the "water board": the subject strapped to an inclined
board, head downward, a towel placed over his face, and cold water
poured over the towel; he would choke, gag, retch and gurgle as
he experienced the sensation of drowning.
A former student, Navy pilot Lt. Wendell Richard Young, claimed
that his back was broken during the course and that students were
tortured into spitting, urinating and defecating on the American
flag, masturbating before guards, and, on one occasion, engaging
in sex with an instructor.
In 1992, a civilian oversight board revealed that over a 13-year
period (1973-1986), Chicago police officers and commanders engaged
in "systematic" torture and abuse of suspects, including
electric shock to penises, testicles and other areas; beatings,
suffocation (plastic bags secured over the heads, stopping the
flow of oxygen; some subjects passed out, and when they recovered,
the bag was placed over their head again); guns stuck in prisoners'
mouths and triggers pulled; prisoners hung from hooks by handcuffs
attached to their wrists and beaten on the bottoms of their feet
and on their testicles; as well as much psychological torture.
Some were released after being tortured and were never charged.
More than 40 cases were collected. According to one of their attorneys,
"All of the victims were black or Latino, so far as we've
seen, and the people who were doing the torturing were white officers."
A Human Rights Watch investigation of more than 20 US prisons
and jails in New York, California, Florida and Tennessee, and
a close look at prison litigation for a ten-year period, showed
"extensive abuses of the U.N.'s minimum standards for the
treatment of prisoners...amounting to torture"...a handcuffed
prisoner forced into a tub of 145-degree water...prisoners dying
after receiving repeated jolts of electricity from stun guns or
stun belts (50,000 volt shock for 8 seconds)...prisoners held
in outdoor cages, rain or shine...prisoners held in total isolation
from other human beings for long periods of time with sensory
Amnesty International has released reports such as "Torture,
111 Treatment and Excessive Force by Police in Los Angeles, California"
(1992), and "Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the
New York City Police Department" (1996), as well as later
reports dealing with Chicago and other cities. Amnesty states
that US police forces have been guilty of "violating international
human rights standards through a pattern of unchecked excessive
force amounting to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading
Lest any of the above give the impression that the United
States government is not disturbed by the practice of torture,
it should be pointed out that Congress passed a bill in 1996 allowing,
for the first time, an American citizen to sue a foreign government
in a US court for having been tortured in the foreign country.
There was one small limitation imposed, however. The only countries
that can be sued under this law are Washington's officially-designated
enemies (ODE), those categorized as "terrorist states".
For other states, the situation may be like the case in the
early 1990s of Scott Nelson, an American who sued Saudi Arabia
in a US court for torture. A Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that
he had a right to sue, but the State Department helped the Saudis
to get the case reversed in the Supreme Court.