Standard Interrogation Practice, From Iraq to U.S.
The photos show acts of almost indescribable sadism: a prisoner, his head covered by what looks like a Ku Klux Klan hood, with electrical wires attached to his hands and penis; naked, hooded prisoners heaped on top of each other like a pile of garbage, with grinning guards giving a “thumbs up” sign; a male guard sitting atop an Iraqi; a female guard leering at the sexual organs of naked, hooded Iraqi men with her fingers cocked like a pistol; the same guard, dragging a grimacing Iraqi on the floor by a leash; a prisoner handcuffed to a bed, arms splayed so wide that his back is arched, his face covered by women’s underpants; the face of a dead prisoner with a huge hole in his forehead; the body of a prisoner killed during interrogation, wrapped in plastic and put on ice, to be disposed of without ever recording his presence there. Other photos, still being kept from the public, reportedly show an elderly Iraqi woman, stripped naked and being ridden like a donkey.
From the cheery expressions on the faces of the American soldiers, it’s clear they are not worried that they are doing anything they could get in trouble for. But a courageous soldier, Spec. Joseph Darby, was revolted by the photos and turned them in. In fact, the army investigation of Abu Ghraib prison, carried out by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, found that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force” (“Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade,” March 2004). The report documents the shooting of more than two dozen inmates during prison rebellions and the use of unmuzzled dogs which bit the prisoners. Gen. Taguba held the prison authorities responsible for the horrific conditions, and found that “Army intelligence officers, C.I.A. agents, and private contractors ‘actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses’.”
Some of the more than 1,000 photos of abuse and torture by U.S. military which the Pentagon has sought to suppress. Show the photos on national TV so everyone can get a good look at the hideous face of U.S. imperialism!
(Photo collage courtesy of the New York Times)
Taguba’s report was leaked to CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes show, which first broadcast the photos, and to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, whose article “Torture at Abu Ghraib” (New Yorker,10 May) broke the story. Even before then, the abuses were known outside the military. The International Committee of the Red Cross wrote to the Pentagon in February of prisoners being “subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture” (Wall Street Journal, 7 May). “We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system,” said ICRC operations director Pierre Kraehenbuel. Press reports last fall “told of detainees punished by hours lying bound in the sun; being attacked by dogs; being deprived of sufficient water; spending days with hoods over their heads” (AP, 8 May). The reports were all ignored … until the photos and the Army report were leaked.
The commandant in charge of U.S. concentration camps in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, is now on the defensive for having urged in a report last August that “the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees” (Los Angeles Times, 9 May). His purpose, he said, was to make detentions and interrogations “more effective and more efficient.” Putting hoods on the prisoners was routine, but sleep deprivation and forcing prisoners into “stress positions” (handcuffing them for hours in ways to induce unbearable pain) was not done “unless that was approved.” The techniques used by his “Tiger Teams” were “standard interrogation practice.” Outside “contractors” (mercenaries) were used in these “aggressive conversations,” but they were “doing work up to standard” (New York Times, 5 May).
The horrendous abuse of Iraqi prisoners that caused revulsion and fury throughout the Near East and the entire world, including the United States, was “an aberrant thing,” said Gen. Miller, adding, incredibly, “Trust us.” Only a few “rotten apples,” “not our instructions,” the military intones. But this was standard operating procedure, and the imperialists are only upset because the evidence got out. On the May 1 anniversary of his “mission accomplished” speech, Bush claimed that, “As a result [of the U.S. invasion], there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq.” Yet here are the U.S. occupiers torturing, raping and murdering in the same prison where Hussein’s jailers did their dirty work, and in the Falluja stadium there are mass graves of hundreds of Iraqis killed by U.S. gun ships and missiles last month. “This is freedom?” a prisoner at Abu Ghraib shouted at journalists when they were bused in for a tour. The reporters were quickly bundled back aboard the buses.
The fairy tale that this is just a bunch of low-level soldiers’ sick idea of fun and games is belied by the fact that the identical techniques have been used by the U.S. spy agencies and military intelligence worldwide in recent years. In the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Washington Post (26 December 2001) published a lengthy exposé on the use of such methods at the Baghram air base north of Kabul: “Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles…. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights – subject to what are known as ‘stress and duress’ techniques.” “If you don’t violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,” the article quoted one official who supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. Refusing to tolerate such violations “was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA,” the official said. The Bush administration justified the adoption of torture to a compliant Congress shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks:
“At a Sept. 26  joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, spoke cryptically about the agency’s new forms of ‘operational flexibility’ in dealing with suspected terrorists. ‘This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11,’ Black said. ‘After 9/11 the gloves come off’.”And this brutality is “S.O.P.” not only in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. As U.S. generals in Iraq were claiming that the torture, beating and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was “aberrant,” newspapers reported a new lawsuit on behalf of Muslim detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn where they were held without charges for months in the hysteria following the 11 September 2001 attacks. “The lawsuit charges that the men were repeatedly slammed into walls and dragged across the floor while shackled and manacled, kicked and punched until they bled, cursed as ‘terrorists’ and ‘Muslim bastards,’ and subjected to multiple unnecessary body-cavity searches, including one during which correction officers inserted a flashlight into [a detainee’s] rectum, making him bleed” (New York Times, 5 May).
Another article, “Mistreatment of Prisoners Called Routine in U.S.” (New York Times, 8 May), reported: “Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.” Around the country, inmates are routinely stripped; in Phoenix, Arizona male inmates in the county jail “are made to wear women’s pink underwear as a form of humiliation”; in Virginia’s Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have black hoods placed over their heads. The Abu Ghraib prison was inaugurated by Lane McCotter, former head of Texas, New Mexico and Utah state prison systems who later became a top executive of a private prison company. And one of the main torturers at the Iraqi prison works as a guard at the notoriously racist Pennsylvania state prison where death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is held (see article).
Operation Condor: U.S. Torture Inc. in Latin America
In fact, such torture techniques intended to break prisoners’ will to resist and to dehumanize them are taught by the U.S. military, and have been for years. Latin American army death squad chiefs got their basic training at the School of the Americas at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone, now moved to special forces headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Navy SEALS ran torture camps in northwest Maine and near San Diego; cop torturers were trained at the International Police Academy in Washington. Latin American juntas had long practiced torture, of course. What the U.S. did was make it more “scientific,” calibrating just how much pain prisoners could stand, when to apply it, etc. Nazi SS men added their expertise: Walter Rauff played a key role in setting up General Augusto Pinochet’s secret police in Chile, the infamous DINA; Klaus Barbie provided similar services for Bolivian dictators. These fascist torturers and butchers were brought by the CIA’s “rat line” (in cooperation with the Vatican) to Latin America, where their services were enlisted in the “war on communism.”
This cooperation between the police agencies of Yankee imperialism and the dictatorships of the “Southern Cone” of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) sharply expanded following the September 1973 CIA-instigated coup that overthrew the popular-front government of Salvador Allende in Chile, and was formalized in 1975 with the inauguration of “Operation Condor.” This agreement among the spy agencies facilitated a wave of assassinations across the continent and the murder of former Allende minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. in 1975. Torture against leftist militants was used on an industrial scale. An account by Brazilian journalist Nilson Cezar Mariano, Operación Condor: Terrorismo de estado en el Cono Sur (Buenos Aires: Lohlé-Lumen, 1998) describes the conditions in Chile:
“The variety of tortures seemed inexhaustible. The executioners also got vicious dogs riled up and set them on the prisoners; they put acid in their eyes; they ran over their hands and feet with the wheels of vehicles, causing multiple microfractures; they pulled out their teeth and fingernails…. In short, they set up a branch office of hell in Chile.”Harking back to Nazi Germany, the DINA took to disposing of the bodies of the torture victims (officially listed as “disappeared”) in lime ovens. Of course, the methods reported in Iraq don’t include pulling out teeth and finger nails. Their “stealth torture” techniques don’t leave marks. But the torturers weren’t counting on the photos.
The quintessential example of U.S. torture training in Latin America was Dan Mitrione, the police advisor from Indiana who was kidnapped in 1970 by the Tupamaros. The Uruguayan urban guerrillas demanded the freeing of 150 prisoners in exchange for his release, and then executed him when their demand was refused. This was dramatized in the film State of Siege (1973) by Greek director Constantin Costa Gavras. The movie portrays Mitrione training police recruits in torture. An American liberal, A.J. Langguth, wrote a book on the affair, Hidden Terrors (1978), that bends over backwards to be “fair” to Mitrione. But even he admits that as head of the Office of Public Safety mission in Montevideo, Mitrione set up programs to teach police torture methods, and helped form police death squads in Brazil after the 1964 coup and in the Dominican Republic after the 1965 U.S. invasion. Langguth quotes from a conversation with Cuban double agent, Manuel Hevia, who Mitrione thought was working for him:
“Mitrione considered interrogation an art, he told Manuel. First, there is a time of softening up the prisoner. The object is to humiliate him, to make him understand that he is completely helpless and to isolate him from the reality outside this cell. No questions, just blows and insults. Then blows in total silence. After all that, the interrogation begins.”This is what the torturers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were doing, “softening up” the prisoners, with one difference: instead of torturing individual “suspects,” they were humiliating their Iraqi prisoners as a group. This underlines the racist nature of their abuse, recalling Nazi treatment of Jews. Their defense, the classic Eichmann refrain that they were “only following orders,” is no excuse at all – although it is certainly true. Whatever they were before, they had become sociopathic monsters. But the undeniable guilt of these cogs in the machinery of imperialist repression is vastly surpassed by that of the far greater monsters who issued the orders, from the CIA and military intelligence operatives, mercenaries and prison officials on the spot to the head of the occupation government, the military commanders and right up the line to the Pentagon and White House. They are imperialist war criminals one and all, who richly deserve to be subjected to revolutionary justice, tried by a jury of their victims and sentenced under the severest wartime laws.
But to mete out comprehensive revolutionary justice, we must first make the revolution.
From Vietnam to Iraq: Abu Ghraib and My LaiFor millions of people around the world, the ghastly torture and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib have come to symbolize the horror of U.S. occupation of Iraq. But Iraq is not an isolated instance. Now that (some of) their dirty secrets have been aired, the military are investigating numerous deaths under interrogation or in U.S.-controlled prisons in Iraq and at Baghram in Afghanistan. The same interrogation methods were used at the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo, whose former commandant is now in charge of Iraqi prisons. The army investigator said that “GT [Guantánamo] methods” were introduced last fall at Abu Ghraib, and the former prison chief said that Miller vowed to “‘Gitmoize’ the detention process.” Those methods, including sleep deprivation and other torture techniques, were explicitly approved by the Pentagon in April 2003, according to the Washington Post, 9 May. In fact, the torture techniques that were taught by Dan Mitrione and which, with some refinement, are still in use today were based on the U.S.’ “Operation Phoenix” in Vietnam which “exterminated” more than 30,000 “subversives” after keeping many Viet Cong locked up in tiny “Tiger Cages” for years.
My Lai massacre in Vietnam, March 1968, more than 300 dead, some of them raped and tortured before being killed. Sec. of State Colin Powell, then a U.S. Army major, helped cover up abuses by Americal Division that carried out this atrocity.
Last month, as a rebellion against the colonial occupiers broke out across central and southern Iraq, the media was suddenly full of stories about how “Iraq is not Vietnam.” Now that the torture scandal has shocked the world, the refrain is “Abu Ghraib is not My Lai.” The comparison is inevitable: Seymour Hersh, the journalist whose New Yorker article first reported the Iraq torture story, also broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, where in 1968 U.S. troops gunned down more than 300 unarmed civilians. Secretary of State Colin Powell on the TV talk show Larry King Live brought up My Lai. Powell knows that case well, as he was a key part of the official cover-up of atrocities by the army division responsible for that outrage in Vietnam.
As a rising officer Powell worked in the headquarters of the Americal division, where one of his first jobs was to refute a letter by a soldier, Spec. 4th Class Tom Glen, who wrote that U.S. troops “for mere pleasure, fire indiscriminately into Vietnamese homes and without provocation or justification shoot at the people themselves.” Glen reported that “soldiers commonly ‘interrogate’ by means of torture that has been presented as the particular habit of the enemy. Severe beatings and torture at knife point are usual means of questioning captives or of convincing a suspect that he is, indeed, a Viet Cong.” The response written in December 1968 by Major Colin Powell asserted that U.S. troops treated Vietnamese “courteously and respectfully,” and while “there may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs…this by no means reflects the general attitude throughout the Division.” “In direct refutation of this portrayal” in the soldier’s letter, Powell wrote, “is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent”!
The truth about My Lai was finally revealed by a courageous soldier who dared to contradict the brass. But in his autobiography, My American Journey (1995), after mentioning the My Lai massacre, Powell gave a chilling justification for the routine murder of unarmed young Vietnamese men: “Brutal? Maybe so …. The kill-or-be-killed nature of combat tends to dull fine perceptions of right and wrong.” The murder of hundreds of Vietnamese women and children at My Lai and the torture and degradation of thousands of defenseless Iraq i prisoners hardly count as “kill-or-be-killed” combat, but they do provide a measure of the finely dulled perceptions of the certified war criminals who are carrying out the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. As a major in Vietnam, as head of the military high command in the 1991 Persian Gulf war (“Desert Slaughter”) where Iraqi soldiers were deliberately buried alive, and now as secretary of state peddling lies about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” in order to sell the imperialist invasion and colonial occupation of Iraq, Powell is well practiced in doing the dirty work for the U.S. ruling class, of which he is a millionaire member.
In response to pleas from the liberals, the U.S. president finally managed to lip-synch the word “sorry.” Powell and Rumsfeld followed suit. But calling on George Bush (known as “Governor Death” in Texas, where he executed more inmates than any other U.S. state) to apologize for torture in Iraq is like calling on Hitler to apologize for the Kristallnacht pogrom against Jews in Germany. No phony apologies can wipe out the fact that Abu Ghraib is the hideous face of U.S. imperialism in Iraq.
Torture and Counterrevolution
What lessons are to be drawn from this outrage? What is to be done? In another imperialist war, that of the French colonialists in Algeria in the 1950s, revelations that the French forces (under a Socialist government) routinely engaged in torture served to galvanize opposition among intellectuals, leftists and many others to the sale guerre (dirty war) being carried out against an entire population. The book La Question (1958) by Henri Alleg, a leader of the Algerian Communist Party and editor of the daily Alger Républicain (which was banned by the colonial authorities), recounting the torments he was subjected to by torturers of the French army, was sold in clandestine editions of tens of thousands of copies. This slim volume played an enormous role in building opposition to the war in France, and in educating a new generation of youth about the brutal realities of French imperialist “democracy,” contributing to the radicalization that along with outrage over the Vietnam War led to the potentially revolutionary upheaval of May 1968.
It’s also significant that the brutal interrogation methods used on colonial subjects in Algeria soon showed up in metropolitan France as well. They were pioneered by Maurice Papon, the police chief of Bordeaux who shipped thousands of Jews to death camps under the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime during World War II, and who went on to become police chief of Paris in the republic (see “France: Racist State Terror From World War II to Today,” The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998). The victims of torture in France put together accounts of their torture in the book La Gangrène (which like Alleg’s book was banned). Pierre Vidal-Naquet in his book La torture dans la République (1972) notes that “what is striking in reading these reports is less the barbarism of the methods used than the tranquil assurance of the cops, the certainty they had of their impunity.” It is this same tranquil assurance that one sees in the demonic (or moronic) faces of the MPs at Abu Ghraib.
As occurred in France, the use of such methods in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reflected in the United States as well, particularly with the drive toward a full-fledged police state under the auspices of John Ashcroft’s Injustice Department, Tom Ridge’s Fatherland Security Department and the U.S.A. Patriot Act. (See box with excerpted article by Darius Rejali, “Forced to Stand: An Expert Torture.”) Moreover, some of those who become expert in such racist torture and murder in the Near East will eventually be found in the ranks of fascist killers in the U.S. It’s worth recalling that Timothy McVeigh, who together with a band of nativist fascists still at large bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was a soldier in the 1991 Desert Slaughter in which he drove a bulldozer that buried Iraqi soldiers alive.
Liberals and pacifists will ascribe the torture in Iraq to the inevitable terrors of war. Conservatives will argue that the scenes of humiliation pale in comparison to the killing of four “contractors” in Falluja on March 30. Of course, the rocket attack on a carload of mercenary killers, the “dogs of war,” was then followed by the U.S. onslaught that killed up to a thousand in Falluja, rivaling the Nazis in “collective punishment.” But torture is not just another military tactic. It is the use of wanton and excruciating violence against those who are already under the complete control of the captor. (It is also notoriously not very effective in obtaining accurate information, although it does usually get the victim to say what he or she thinks the torturer wants to hear.) Torturers don’t just torture because they are barbarous brutes, but because they are aware of their isolation from a hostile populace and believe they cannot get what they want by “softer” methods. When used on a large scale or against groups of people, as in Iraq, it is intended to terrorize an entire population.
It is no accident, therefore, that torture is above all characteristic of counterrevolutionary regimes. Systematic torture harks back to the Holy Inquisition, with which the Catholic hierarchy sought to extirpate the spreading religious “heresy” of the Reformation which accompanied the rise of the urban bourgeoisie, threatening the tottering institutions of decaying feudalism, notably the Church hierarchy shot through with corruption. The church men and women who wrote the book Brasil: Nunca mais [Brazil: Never Again] (1985), documenting the widespread use of torture under the military dictatorship of 1964 to 1985, included lengthy excerpts from Nicolau Emérico’s 14th century Manual of the Inquisitors, showing that this classic torture manual of the medieval Catholic Church could have been written by the 20th-century military rulers under the doctrine of national security.
In the modern imperialist era, the Russian tsarist Okhrana, the German Nazi Gestapo, the French colonialist army, the Cold Warriors of the American CIA and Latin American death squad regimes all made ample use of torture. What these different bourgeois regimes have in common is fear of Communism and Bolshevism, that is the spectre of revolution. The Russian Bolsheviks, who carried out the first workers revolution in history in an isolated, economically backward country, forced into a bloody Civil War by tsarist armies and the invading forces of 21 imperialist/capitalist powers, could not renounce red terror in the face of counterrevolutionary white terror. But the Bolsheviks did ban torture. Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, issued a decree (24 October 1919) proclaiming, “Woe to the unworthy soldier who sticks a knife into an unarmed prisoner” (The Military Writings and Speeches of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 2 ). The Cheka (Special Committee for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage) prohibited physical pressure in interrogations and even shut down its weekly paper when an editorial advocated use of torture for extracting information from prisoners. While there were abuses of this rule, Lenin and Trotsky insisted on revolutionary legality.
As a result of the isolation of Soviet Russia and the failure of attempted workers revolutions in the West, following Lenin’s death an ascendant bureaucracy under the leadership of Stalin seized political power in 1923 and rejected the revolutionary internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky in favor of the anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country.” As the Communist International slid from centrism into outright reformism, Stalin’s repression in the Soviet Union against the genuine communists of Trotsky’s Left Opposition intensified, reaching its culmination in the Moscow Purge Trials of 1937. It was precisely at this time that Stalin legalized the use of torture by his secret police (the GPU) against the Trotskyists, although it had long been used “informally” against them. Stalinist agents also used torture heavily in repressing leftists in Republican Spain. While the bureaucratically deformed Soviet Union still preserved the property forms of proletarian rule, Stalin’s usurpation of power constituted a political counterrevolution, and thus the recourse to torture was entirely predictable.
Today, liberals demanded “apologies” from Bush and Rumsfeld for the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Some (including the conservative London Economist) have called for Rumsfeld’s resignation. Now these warmongers and torturers-in-chief have grudgingly made their cynical apologies, but neither that nor a personnel change at the helm of the Pentagon (or the White House) will alter basic facts. U.S. colonial occupation is now seen as an oppressive regime by all sectors in Iraq. A CNN/USA Today poll reports that a majority want U.S. troops to leave the country immediately. Fearing “chaos,” liberals and reformists will call on the United Nations and human rights organizations (from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan, the handmaidens of imperialist war) and appeal to the hoax of “international law” to pull the U.S.’ che stnuts out of the fire. But the Iraqi masses, who starved for years under U.N. sanctions, won’t likely be fooled. The U.N. didn’t explicitly authorize the war on Iraq, although it did pass the resolution Bush used as a pretext. But it did formally endorse U.S. occupation, as it also did with Afghanistan.
Iraqis outside U.S.' Abu Ghraib prison camp protest against torture, May 5.
Iraqis must not fight alone. Revolutionaries demand freedom for all U.S.-
held detainees. Shut the prisons, let them go! Photo: Khalid Mohammed/AP)
Working people and all opponents of imperialism in the U.S. and around the world must demand the immediate release of all of the thousands of Iraqi prisoners being held in the U.S.’ concentration camps. Shut the prisons down, let the inmates go – and return Guantánamo to Cuba! We must organize powerful working-class action to defeat the imperialist war on Iraq and Afghanistan, which is intimately linked to the bosses’ war on working people, minorities and immigrants in the imperialist countries. A revolutionary workers party must be built in struggle against all the capitalist parties and politicians, not only the Republican Bush and his Dr. Strangelove war secretary Rumsfeld, but also “me-too” Democrat Kerry who voted for the war. The entire U.S. bourgeoisie, along with their semicolonial puppets and their imperialist allies/rivals, are responsible for the sadistic slaughter in the Near East. Ultimately, it will take international socialist revolution to smash imperialism and get rid of the torturers and war criminals forever. n
Torturer Is Guard at Prison Where Mumia Abu-Jamal held
Darius Rejali, Forced to Stand: An Expert Torture
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