UNRAVELING THE WEB OF DECEIT
Earnest A. Canning
(4th Infantry Division, Vietnam 1968)
“The widespread abuse of prisoners is a virtually foolproof indication that politicians are trying to impose a system — whether political, religious or economic — that is rejected by large numbers of people they are ruling. Just as ecologists define ecosystems by the presence of certain ‘indicator species’…, torture is an indicator species of a regime that is engaged in a deeply anti-democratic project, even if that regime happens to have come to power through elections.” – Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (2007)
In Part I of this four-part series, I took care to distinguish the post-9/11 application of torture techniques by the U.S. military from the role played by the CIA and demonstrated how the Bush/Cheney decision to torture predated the quasi-legal Justice Department memos. In Part II, I covered the CIA’s dark beginnings, including links not only to former Nazi war criminals but to those Americans who provided financial support to Hitler’s Germany, including the late Senator Prescott Bush, George W’s paternal grandfather. I also demonstrated how academic studies performed as part of the CIA’s maniacal quest to crack the code of human consciousness, resuling in their KUBARK torture manual.
Here, we will explore how those KUBARK torture techniques became an essential component of the covert dimension of a US-led corporate Empire — a means for exerting control over populations resistant to the injustice of a system that values the obscene wealth of a few over the needs of the many…
CIA Torture as a Component of U.S. Empire
By focusing on supposedly amateurish efforts to “reverse engineer” SERE (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” military training) techniques and then limiting the discussion to post-9/11 torture under the Bush/Cheney regime, the corporate media deflects attention from a wide range of CIA illegality used to service what John Perkins — a former insider and author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004) and The Secret History of the American Empire (2007) — refers to as the “invisible empire.” That illegality has included corruption, bribery, assassination, torture and drug running.*
One difficulty in conveying the substance of CIA illegality flows from the fact that the very existence of a U.S.-led, corporate empire remains hidden to so many. The myths perpetuated by politicians, mass media and popular culture have produced, in the words of Z. Sadar & M.W. Davies in American Terminator (2004), a “cultural psychosis” which obscures the reality that, for most of the world, what we perceive as “the American dream” has become a “global nightmare”.
Where Americans are told that organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank provide “foreign aid,” Perkins exposes a reality in which these institutions have all the benevolence of a Mafia loan shark. The “aid” monies, which flow primarily into the coffers of U.S. construction companies, like Bechtel, are intended to create a debt so great that it cannot possibly be repaid. “When this happens,” Perkins observes, “then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources such as oil…Of course, the debtor still owes us the money and another country is added to our global empire.”
Imperial conquest, by of way covert and overt destabilization and overthrow of numerous, often democratically-elected governments by the CIA and US military, is confused by the stenographers in an official-source hungry corporate media to merely reflect a desire to “spread democracy.”
A 2008 study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed that global military spending topped $1.3 trillion. The U.S. accounted for nearly half that amount. The US spends $1,600 for every American; China, just $31/person. The spending is always advanced in this country as “defense” no matter the offensive nature of the US arsenal.
Per a 2005 Pentagon Base Structure report, the US maintains at least 737 bases inside other people’s countries. No foreign nation has so much as a single military base inside the US.
Military doctrine calls for “full spectrum dominance” in which complete and unchallenged power is exerted over land, sea, air and space to “protect U.S. interests and investment,” , i.e., to maintain a US-based, multi-national corporate empire whose wealth disparity is so great that, by 1999, the net worth of just three individuals, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Warren Buffet, had grown larger than the gross domestic product of the world’s 41 poorest nations and their 550 million people. (Kevin Phillips, Wealth & Democracy (2002)).
It is here that Naomi Klein’s astute thesis is of immense value. Where others focus on torture’s illegality and ineffectiveness as an intelligence gathering tool, Klein observes:As a means of extracting information during interrogation, torture is notoriously unreliable, but as a means of terrorizing and controlling populations, nothing is quite as effective.
Creating Distance by Using Surrogates to Torture
Per McCoy, the Office of Public Safety (OPS), created by President Kennedy in 1962 to provide police advisers to developing nations, became a vehicle through which the CIA could disseminate its interrogation techniques. A 1976 GAO study, cited in A Question of Torture, discussed allegations that OPS “taught or encouraged the use of torture.” A 1975 Amnesty International Report on Torture documented “widespread torture” in 24 of the 49 nations that had received OPS training.
In a 1974 book, The CIA & The Cult of Intelligence, in which 168 of the 399 passages the CIA had originally sought to censor were redacted, Victor Marchetti, a former special assistant to the deputy director of CIA, alleged the agency, under the direction of William Colby, constructed interrogation centers whose [emphasis added] “operations…consisted of torture tactics against suspected Vietcong…usually carried out by Vietnamese nationals.” McCoy reports that, by 1967, this morphed into the infamous Phoenix Program, leading to the combination of torture with summary executions.
In 1971 Colby told Congress that the Phoenix Program, which Gen. David Petraeus suggested be reinstated on a “global scale,” killed some 20,587 Vietcong suspects over the span of just two years. A 1968 Pentagon assessment acknowledged the presence U.S. personnel while South Vietnamese interrogators used “electroshock and truncheons.” On May 1, 2009 Prof. McCoy reported that some 46,000 South Vietnamese lost their lives to the Phoenix torture program.
In A Question of Torture, McCoy notes that, through the OPS/CIA, third world “police agencies…became synonymous with human rights abuses—particularly in South Vietnam, Uruguay, Iran, and the Philippines.” However, he adds, revelations of the program’s use in Latin America led Congress to cut all funds to OPS in July, 1975, though, by that time the CIA had already stopped using OPS as a cover, “shifting its torture training to the Army’s Military Advisor Program.”
The CIA’s role in Latin American torture is documented in a National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book.
A July 31, 1991 Department of Defense report [PDF] records a phone conversation with Major Victor Tice, who served in 1982 as a counterintelligence instructor at the School of the Americas (“SOA”) — known throughout Latin America as the School of the Assassins. Tice revealed that SOA training manuals not only included direct references to KUBARK, the CIA’s 1963 torture manual (see Part II of this series for details), but contained explicit instructions on sensory deprivation, such as suggesting the use of “a cell with no light” or use of “an environment still more subject to control, such as water-tank or iron lung.”
The SOA manuals were in use from 1966 to 1976 and “suspended after a Congressional panel witnessed the teaching program.” This form of counterintelligence training was terminated by the Carter administration, only to be resurrected by the Reagan administration in 1982, in yet another demonstration of how these practices may be diminished for a while, depending on the current administration, only to be revisited and restored where full accountability has not been properly brought, as I argued in “Prosecute or Perish” earlier this year.
As further revealed by the National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, in 1983, the CIA compiled the “Human Resource Exploitation Manual” [PDF], drawing upon sections of the KUBARK guidelines as well as U.S. Military Intelligence Field manuals. “The manual was used in numerous Latin American countries as an instructional tool by CIA and Green Beret trainers between 1983 and 1987 and became the subject of executive session Senate Intelligence Committee hearings in 1988 because of human rights abuses committed by CIA-trained Honduran military units.”
Anecdotal evidence provided by torture victims assembled by human rights lawyer Jennifer Harbury, the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s “Stop Torture Now” campaign, like that provided by Sister Diana Ortiz, leave little room for doubting CIA complicity in Central and South American torture during the Reagan/Bush I era. Harbury, whose husband was killed by a Guatemalan officer on the CIA’s payroll, told Amy Goodman, “the very things that we’re seeing out of Abu Ghraib, like the use of dogs, holding people in water pits in the Afghan file, the water boarding…, the stress and duress positions…sleep deprivation…those are very standard CIA torture techniques that were used all over Latin America.”
Ortiz, who was repeatedly raped and burned by lit cigarettes, made a direct link between her experience and the photos from Abu Ghraib.**I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming….They were laughing while they were filming these horrible things and threatening that later they would show them to my friends and family or even publish them…. No matter what you tell yourself rationally, those threats haunt you for a lifetime. It’s part of the psychological torture of making you feel that it’s all somehow your fault; that you are to blame for it all; also that they can still find you and hurt you later on.
1992 was an election year.
On Mar. 10, 1992, then Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney ordered [PDF] a recall and destruction of SOA training manuals containing “offensive and objectionable” materials because these “undermine[d] U.S. credibility, and could result in significant embarrassment.”
On Sept. 28, 1992 the US Army Field Manual was revised [PDF] to insure full compliance with international law. It specifically barred forced stress positions and psychological torture. It warned that interrogators who violated the Geneva Convention would be subject to prosecution.
CIA officers, however, were not subject to the revised provisions of the US Army Field Manual.
As The BRAD BLOG observed previously, on May 20, 1988, at a very public ceremony, President Ronald Reagan added his signature, sending the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification. Reagan’s signing statement hailed the treaty as “a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment.”
“Ratification…will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today,” Reagan wrote at the time.
But one has to pay attention to the man behind the curtain. As noted by McCoy in A Question of Torture, the Reagan State and Justice Departments expressed reservations about the vagueness of the Treaty’s definition of psychological torture — an alleged vagueness Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-NC) would allude to during a May 13, 2009 televised Senate subcommittee hearing in which Graham sought to defend the Bush administration’s decision to torture.
The Reagan State and Justice Departments proposed limiting the definition to “prolonged mental harm caused by” such activities as threats of imminent death. The definition conveniently left out sensory deprivation, disorientation and self-inflicted pain, hallmarks of the CIA’s storied history of torture. These reservations held up ratification for the next six years.
“Ironically,” McCoy observes, “it was the liberal Clinton administration that, in approving the UN convention, acceded to the conservative language of Reagan-era reservations.”
That critical error, one could add, opened the door to the lawlessness of the Bush/Cheney cabal. President Obama would do well to “look back” on that error, for a similar failure to now seek accountability for war crimes committed in our name will undoubtedly spawn a new round of torture that perhaps will be worse than the last.
And, as I’ll discuss in Part IV, the concluding episode in this series, “the last” has been very bad indeed…
_______* Torture is but one of the liberally used techniques, over the years, employed to help control the population in the U.S. empire’s forward march. Drug trafficking, for example, has long been used by the CIA to both control, and fund, its projects.
For example, as revealed by Joseph Trento in Prelude to Terror, the CIA’s direct involvement in the drug smuggling business dates back to 1949 when the CIA shipped weapons to remnants of the Nationalist Chinese army in Burma, returning with shipments of heroin to Taiwan, Bangkok and Saigon. In 1966 the CIA’s station chief in Laos decided to ship heroin home as “a means of financing operations without having to depend upon Congressional approval and funding.” By 1967 Dover Air Force base became a transit for CIA heroin shipped inside the body bags of members of the US armed forces killed in Vietnam. In 1968, the CIA’s principle customer, Mafioso Santos Trafficante took control of all the large Saigon nightclubs that catered to U.S. servicemen, where Trafficante would then do his bit to “support the troops” by selling them heroin on the cheap.
By the mid-80’s, Reagan’s Afghan “freedom fighters,” the same CIA-backed mujahideen who would eventually morph into al-Qaeda, with the aid of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, turned Afghanistan into the world’s single largest exporter of opium and the source of half the heroin consumed in the US.
In Cocaine Politics (1991), P.D. Scott & J. Marshall expose the CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering, murder, repression, and intrigue within a labyrinthine web of connections during the 1970s and 1980s involving, among the many, anti-Castro Cubans, Mexican drug lords, Argentina’s former military junta, right wing military governments in Bolivia, El Salvador and Honduras, Klaus Barbie, Manuel Noriega, the Cali Cartel in Columbia and Oliver North’s Contra supply network.
Scott & Marshall reveal that the monies from the Afghan opium trade were laundered through BCCI, which, per Trento, was transformed by the former Director of the CIA, George H. W. Bush, and the former head of Saudi intelligence “into a worldwide money-laundering machine…Bush had an account with BCCI…Subsequent Senate and other investigations concluded that the CIA, beginning with Bush, had protected the bank while it took part in illicit activities.”
Afghan opium production would drop off dramatically under the Taliban only to return with a vengeance following the late 2001 U.S. invasion. By October 2006, Afghanistan produced 87% of the world’s supply of opium. Coincidence?
The history of CIA torture can only be understood within the context of a long, sordid history of a variety of illegalities used to maintain the invisible empire. During the 80s that illegality was concealed, in part, by a phony “war on drugs” in which, as noted by Scott & Marshall, the Reagan/Bush I administration coined “narcoterrorism” as part of its propaganda blitz designed to blame Cuba and Nicaragua for the flood of narcotics, even as CIA-acquired drugs were devastating our inner cities.
Under Bush/Cheney, 9/11 and al-Qaeda provided the ideal cover — a global “war on terror” in which imperial conquest and a continuation of illegality, including application of CIA torture techniques, could be wrapped inside the American flag.
** British attorney Phillipe Sands observed that it was not just the few photos whose release Obama has now blocked but hundreds of photos at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay that will show that torture was not the work of “a few bad apples.” But it’s broader than that. What Ortiz’s remarks reveal is that filming is a standard CIA technique used to heighten the impact of psychological torture. This, together with a sense of impunity, explains why the CIA videotaped waterboarding — supposedly destroying the tapes only when it feared public disclosure.
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California State Bar since 1977 and has practiced in the fields of civil litigation and workers’ compensation at both the trial and appellate levels. He graduated cum laude from Southwestern University School of Law where he served as a student director of the clinical studies department and authored the Law Review Article, Executive Privilege: Myths & Realities. He received an MA in political science at Cal State University Northridge and a BA in political science from UCLA. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).
Gordon Duff posted articles on VT from 2008 to 2022. He is a Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War. A disabled veteran, he worked on veterans and POW issues for decades.
Gordon is an accredited diplomat and is generally accepted as one of the top global intelligence specialists. He manages the world’s largest private intelligence organization and regularly consults with governments challenged by security issues.
Duff has traveled extensively, is published around the world, and is a regular guest on TV and radio in more than “several” countries. He is also a trained chef, wine enthusiast, avid motorcyclist, and gunsmith specializing in historical weapons and restoration. Business experience and interests are in energy and defense technology.