Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Roots of Abu Ghraib in CIA Techniques: 50 Years of Refining, Teaching Torture Found in Interrogation Manuals

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Roots of Abu Ghraib in CIA Techniques: 50 Years of Refining, Teaching Torture Found in Interrogation Manuals

Article excerpt

Last April when Americans found themselves looking at photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing naked and hooded Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison, it's a safe bet that most didn't realize they were looking at torture techniques refined by the Central Intelligence Agency over the last half century.

The Bush administration worked overtime to convince Americans that what they were seeing was the work of a "few bad apples," whom the president said exhibited "disgraceful conduct" that "dishonored our country and disregarded our values."

Even as late as July, the Army's inspector general, Paul Mikolashek, claimed that "these abuses should be viewed as what they are: unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals."

A month later, after human rights groups pointed to evidence of much wider culpability, two government reports--one released by an Army panel chaired by Major Gen. George Fay, the other by a commission headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger--confirmed what many already sensed: that the abuse went far beyond the seven arrested MPs.

The 171-page Fay report cites more than two-dozen military intelligence officers, along with several military contractors. It details some 44 incidents, including the stripping, hooding and sodomizing of detainees; subjecting them to temperature extremes; leading them around naked on leashes; and attaching electrical wires to their genitals. In one case, two naked youths were terrorized by snarling, unmuzzled military dogs held by military personnel who competed to try to make the teenagers defecate.

The two reports have been presented as sweeping indictments of U.S. military leadership, but Human Rights Watch, the largest U.S. human rights group, said the reports utterly fail to assess the obvious: the role that official government policies played in bringing about the horrendous abuse.

While the Schlesinger report notes administration policies--such as the Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department opinion that redefined torture as pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury" such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death"--it fails to evaluate whether the policies played a role in contributing to the abuses.

The Schlesinger panel, whose members were handpicked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "seems to go out of its way not to find any relationship between Rumsfeld's approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread mistreatment and torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo," said Reed Brody, special counsel with Human Rights Watch.

Not only do they leave the dots unconnected, but they fail to make critical links to the past, said Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin Madison and author of "Closer Than Brothers," a study of the impact of the CIA's torture methods on the Philippine military.

In an interview with NCR and in own writings, McCoy described the photos at Abu Ghraib as snapshots of "CIA torture techniques that have metastasized over the last 50 years like an undetected cancer inside the U.S. intelligence community."

Throughout the 1950s and early '60s, the CIA--the lead agency doing interrogations at Abu Ghraib--financed and conducted secret research on coercion and human consciousness, McCoy said. "The scale of that research should not be minimized. By the late '50s, it reached a billion dollars a year. The agency was providing the majority of the funding for a half-dozen leading psychology departments."

The research ranged from using electric shock, to giving LSD to unsuspecting subjects, to employing sensory deprivation. It was the latter experiments that bore fruit, he said, producing a revolutionary new psychological torture paradigm that was superior to various physical methods that had been used for 2,000 years, from ancient Rome's hot irons to the medieval rack and wheel. …

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