Textbook Repression: US Training Manuals Declassified
by Lisa Haugaard
Covert Action Quarterly magazine, September 1997
Several recently declassified US military training manuals
show how US agents taught repressive techniques and promoted the
violation of human rights throughout Latin America and around
the globe. The manuals provide the paper trail that proves how
the US trained Latin American and other militaries to infiltrate
and spy upon civilians and groups, including unions, political
parties, and student and charitable organizations; to treat legal
political opposition like armed insurgencies; and to circumvent
laws on due process, arrest, and detention. In these how-to guides,
the US advocates tactics such as executing guerrillas, blackmail,
false imprisonment, physical abuse, using truth serum to obtain
information, and paying bounties for enemy dead. Counterintelligence
agents are advised that one of their functions is "recommending
targets for neutralization," a euphemism for execution or
On September 20, 1996, the Pentagon released seven training
manuals prepared by the US military and used between 1987 and
1991 for intelligence training courses in Latin America and at
the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), where the US trains
Latin American militaries.
The manuals' discovery has helped reinvigorate grassroots,
religious, and congressional efforts to close the US Army School
of the Americas. It proves on paper what so many have said for
so long-that US training contributed to the devastating human
rights violations in the region. Although Latin American militaries
were perfectly capable of violating human rights and democratic
principles without US sponsorship, the anti-democratic training
methods advocated by the US provided -at the very least-a green
light for repression. And for decades, the traffic was heavy.
Techniques of control contained in the manuals were actively adopted
by Latin American militaries, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s;
in Chile's and Argentina's "dirty wars" in which thousands
of dissidents disappeared; by military dictatorships in Brazil,
Paraguay, and Uruguay; in the Central American wars, where tens
of thousands of civilians were killed; and in the Andean countries,
where human rights violations still abound. In most cases, the
militaries being trained not only suppressed armed rebellion but
also repressed democratic, civic opposition.
The paper trail begins with the mysterious "Project X."
Like the Army manuals, the Project X materials "suggested
militaries infiltrate and suppress even democratic political dissident
movements and hunt down opponents in every segment of society
in the name of fighting Communism," according to the Washington
At least some of these teaching materials were pulled from
circulation by the Carter administration, which was concerned
they would contribute to human rights abuses in Latin America.
In 1982, the Reagan administration asked the SOA to rush out a
new counterintelligence course for Latin American militaries.
The instructor asked to develop the course, Capt. Vic Tise, turned
to Project X materials, stored at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and
updated them into lesson plans.
In 1987, the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade took the
SOA lesson plans and turned them into textbooks: Handling of Sources,
Guerrillas and Communist Ideology, Counterintelligence, Revolutionary
War, Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla, Interrogation, Combat
Intelligence, and Analysis 1. These manuals were then used by
US trainers in Latin America and distributed to Latin American
intelligence schools in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru.
They came full circle back to the SOA in 1989 when they were reintroduced
as reading materials in military intelligence courses attended
by students from Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
The US government estimates that as many as 1,000 copies may have
been distributed at the SOA and throughout Latin America.
From start to finish, six of the seven Army manuals are how-to-guides
on repressive techniques. Throughout their 1,100 plus pages, there
are few mentions of democracy, human rights, or the rule of law.
Instead, there are detailed techniques for infiltrating social
movements, interrogating suspects, surveillance, maintaining military
secrecy, recruiting and retaining spies, and controlling the population.
While the excerpts released by the Pentagon to the press are a
useful and not misleading selection of the most egregious passages-the
ones most clearly advocating torture, execution, and blackmail-they
do not reveal the manuals' highly objectionable framework. In
the name of defending democracy, the manuals advocate profoundly
undemocratic methods. Just as objectionable as the methods they
advocate is the fundamental disregard for the differences between
armed insurgencies and lawful political and civic opposition-an
attitude that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Latin
Opposition = Revolution
The Counterintelligence manual, for example, defines as potential
counterintelligence targets "local or national political
party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs or ideologies
contrary or in opposition to the National Government", or
"teams of hostile organizations whose objective is to create
dissension or cause restlessness among the civilian population
in the area of operations." This text recommends that the
army create a "blacklist" of "persons whose capture
and detention are of foremost importance to the armed forces."
It should include not only "enemy agents" but also "subversive
persons," "political leaders known or suspected as hostile
toward the Armed Forces or the political interests of the National
Government," and "collaborators and sympathizers of
the enemy," known or suspect.
Throughout, the manuals highlight refugees and displaced persons
as possible subversives to be monitored. They describe universities
as breeding grounds for terrorists, and identify priests and nuns
as terrorists. They advise militaries to infiltrate youth groups,
student groups, labor unions, political parties, and community
Even electoral activity is suspect: The insurgents "can
resort to subverting the government by means of elections in which
the insurgents cause the replacement of an unfriendly government
official to one favorable to their cause"; "insurgent
activity" can include funding campaigns and participating
in political races as candidates.
One of the most pernicious passages, in "Combat Intelligence",
lists ways to identify guerrilla presence. "Indicators of
an imminent attack by guerrillas" include demonstrations
by minority groups, reluctance by civilians-including children-to
associate with US or their local troops, celebrations of national
or religious festivals, or the presence of strangers. "Indicators
of control by guerrillas" over a certain civilian population
include the refusal to provide intelligence to government forces
or the construction of new houses. Indications that insurgents
are conducting psychological operations include accusations of
government corruption, circulating petitions, attempts to discredit
the government or armed forces, calling government leaders US
puppets, urging youth to avoid the draft, demonstrations or strikes,
or accusations of police or army brutality.
A Purely Military Response
Civil society and government, too, are often viewed simply
as impediments to military control. With no mention of the propriety
of the practices, a number of the manuals advocate controlling
information through censorship as well as by spying on and infiltrating
civilian groups. In general, the population is a source of information
at best, an enemy force at worst. The civilian government fares
little better; it is one more entity to be reported on or pushed
aside. Ways to impose curfews, military checkpoints, house-to-house
searches, ID cards, and rationing are presented without reference
to laws or the role of the legislature. Indeed, there is little
discussion of the proper relationship between a civilian government
and military authorities.
Much more effort is put into the role of the army in quashing
revolutionary tendencies. Several of the manuals teach militaries
and intelligence services how insurgencies develop and how to
control them. The description of the former is generally simplistic
and dated, with few references to the role official repression
plays in fueling insurrection. The brief histories of El Salvador
and Guatemala, for example, in "Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla"
skip over repression, human rights violations, or problems in
democratic governance that contributed to the growth of revolutionary
movements. Insurgents are reduced to manipulators of popular discontent,
in thrall to Soviet style Marxism. While "Combat Intelligence"
offers a more sophisticated explanation of the underlying reasons
for revolutionary movements-such as the strains created by rapid
modernization, the existence of corrupt elites and government
repression-neither this manual nor any other suggests steps a
civilian government might take as a political response to popular
discontent. There is no limitation on when to use military and
From Bad to Worse: The CIA Manuals
The two recently declassified CIA manuals make even more chilling
reading. The CIA had written KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation
in 1963 for use by US agents against perceived Soviet subversion.
(KUBARK was the CIA's code name for itself. ) While it was not
intended to train foreign military services, its successor, Human
Resource Exploitation Training Manual --- 1983, which drew heavily
on material in KUBARK, was used in at least seven US training
courses conducted in Latin American countries between 1982 and
1987, according to a June 1988 memo placed inside the manual.
This 1983 manual originally surfaced in response to a June 1988
congressional hearing which was prompted by allegations by the
New York Times that the US had taught Honduran military officers
who used torture. The 1988 hearing was not the first time such
manuals had surfaced. In 1984, a CIA manual for training the Nicaraguan
Contras in psychological operations created a considerable scandal.
These two CIA textbooks deal exclusively with interrogation
and devote an entire chapter each to "coercive techniques."
Human Resource Exploitation recommends surprising suspects in
the predawn hours, arresting, blindfolding, and stripping them
naked. Suspects should be held incommunicado, it advises, and
deprived of normal routines in eating and sleeping. Interrogation
rooms should be windowless, sound proof, dark, and without toilets.
The manuals do admonish that torture techniques can backfire and
that the threat of pain is often more effective than pain itself.
However, they then go on to describe coercive techniques ''to
induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior
outside force to bear on his will to resist.'' These techniques
include prolonged constraint, prolonged exertion, extremes of
heat, cold, or moisture, deprivation of food or sleep, disrupting
routines, solitary confinement, threats of pain, deprivation of
sensory stimuli, hypnosis, and use of drugs or placebos.
According to the Baltimore Sun, "the methods taught in
the 1983 manual and those used by [the US-trained Honduran] Battalion
316 in the early 1980s show unmistakable similarities." The
paper cites the case of Ines Murillo, a Honduran prisoner who
claimed she was held in secret jails in 1983, given no food or
water for days, and kept from sleeping by having water poured
on her head every ten minutes.
Dismissive of the rule of law, Human Resource Exploitation
Training Manual-1983 states the importance of knowing local laws
on detention, but then notes, "Illegal detention always requires
prior [headquarters] approval.'' The manual also refers to one
or two weeks of "practical work" with prisoners as part
of the course, suggesting that US trainers may have worked with
Latin American militaries in interrogating actual detainees. This
reference gives new support to the claims by Latin Americans held
as prisoners and by US nun Dianna Ortiz, tortured by the Guatemalan
army in 1989, that US personnel were present in interrogation
and torture rooms.
In 1985, in a superficial attempt to correct the worst of
the 1983 manual, a page advising against using coercive techniques
was inserted and handwritten changes were haphazardly introduced
into the text. For example, "While we do not stress the use
of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of them and
the proper way to use them," has been coyly altered to, "While
we deplore the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make
you aware of them so that you may avoid them." But the entire
chapter on coercive techniques is still included, again with some
items crossed out. Throughout, the reader can easily read the
original underneath the "corrected" items. These corrections
were made in response to the 1984 scandal when the CIA training
manual for the Contras hit the headlines.
The second manual, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation,
is clearly the source of much of the 1983 manual; some passages
are lifted verbatim. KUBARK has a similar section on coercive
techniques, and includes some even more abhorrent elements, such
as two references to the use of electric shock. For example, one
passage requires US agents to obtain "prior Headquarters
approval ... if bodily harm is to be inflicted," or "if
medical, chemical, or electrical methods" are to be used.
A third condition for obtaining prior approval is, ominously,
Ignorance as a Defense
While none of the manuals was written or used on the Clinton
administration's watch, the administration so far has failed to
send a clear message repudiating such training methods and to
take decisive action to ensure that such materials are never developed
again. On February 21, 1997, the Department of Defense's inspector
general completed another investigation. It admitted that in creating
and using the seven army manuals "from 1982 through early
1991, many mistakes were made and repeated by numerous and continuously
changing personnel in several organizations from Panama to Georgia
to Washington, D.C." Without apparent irony, the report concludes
that there is no "evidence that a deliberate and orchestrated
attempt was made to violate DOD or U.S. Army policies.
The report claims that because these numerous US personnel
did not know that it was against US policy to train Latin American
militaries to use threats or force with prisoners, "neutralize"
opponents, hold prisoners in clandestine jails, and infiltrate
and spy upon civilian organizations and opposition political parties-all
techniques described in the manuals-no disciplinary action was
deemed necessary. The report, which Rep. Kennedy termed a "whitewash"
and "hogwash," does not examine any systemic problem
that might have led to "numerous and continuously changing
personnel" over a ten-year period lacking a working knowledge
of human rights. Thus, the report fails to assign either individual
or collective responsibility for training Latin American militaries
to violate human rights and use profoundly antidemocratic methods.
While the report concludes that the lesson plans and manuals
somehow escaped oversight and could not be read because they were
in Spanish, Rep. Kennedy's own investigation reveals these as
mere dog-ate-my-homework excuses. Kennedy's report states that
SOA instructors sent their lesson plans to Fort Huachuca and to
at least two offices in Washington to be reviewed, al though the
question of whether they were approved in Washington continues
to be disputed. Moreover, the materials were approved for use
in English before being translated into Spanish.
The report does demonstrate that little was done to implement
the recommendations stemming from the 1991 investigation. In three
agencies to which they were simply circulated as a memo, there
was no record of it having even been received. In three others,
it was received but did not result in any increase in oversight
of foreign military and intelligence training. However, the report
merely calls for the memo to be reissued as a "directive,"
rather than stimulating a serious discussion within the military
and setting up workable oversight mechanisms.
All of the investigations into the various sets of manuals
have been hampered by their basic premise: the disingenuous assumption
that these manuals did not represent official US policy and somehow
slipped through the cracks. But it was official US policy to train
and arm repressive forces in Latin America, Vietnam, and other
developing countries. The manuals fit squarely within that framework.
The slow, piecemeal surfacing of these manuals and the limited
investigations at each point suggest that there may be many other
inappropriate training materials still in circulation. Materials
from the most intense days of the Cold War in the 1960s, which
should never have been created in the first place, kept on being
repackaged and reused despite a series of scandals and investigations
that should have forced a full-scale review. That these manuals
were used until recently in this hemisphere, however, is hardly
shocking. They merely confirm what many long knew about US support
for repressive militaries in Latin America. They prove that the
United States not only provided the guns and the money for repression;
the United States also supplied the textbooks.
of the Americas Watch