A Brief History of American Torture

American torture is back in the news again as Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, prepares for what could be a rocky Senate confirmation hearing with some tough questions about her role overseeing a secret torture prison in Thailand and destroying tapes of brutal detainee interrogation sessions.

Haspel’s nomination, and to a lesser degree her earlier appointment as deputy CIA director, reopened what more well-meaning observers, including torture survivor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have called “one of the darkest chapters” in US history, the so-called “enhanced interrogation” abuse of men, women and children caught up in America’s endless war on terror. However, post-9/11 detainee abuse can only be called a chapter if we recognize that it is part of a much larger story, one which begins with some of the first European usurpers to set foot on North American soil and one which continues essentially uninterrupted to the present day.

Genocide and Slavery

Torture is almost always a crime attributed to other, less civilized peoples. When most Americans do think of their own country’s torture, if they think of it at all, they usually imagine it to be a regrettable departure the civilized norm misguidedly perpetrated amid the terror and fury ignited by the deadliest attack on US soil in generations. Yet torture has been an unspoken weapon in America’s arsenal since the earliest colonial days. In a nation built on a foundation of genocide and slavery, horrific violence, including widespread torture, was a critical tool for securing and maintaining white dominance in the same way that great global violence has been crucial to perpetuating America’s superpower status in modern times.

The same founding fathers who constitutionally proscribed “cruel and unusual punishment” endorsed and committed the most heinous crimes against both Native Americans and black slaves — witness Thomas Jefferson calling for the “extermination or removal” of Virginia’s Indians. Ever fearful of revolt and revenge, white Southerners subjected black slaves to the some of the cruelest punishments imaginable to break both their physical and psychological ability to resist.

A World of Hurt

By the dawn of the twentieth century, American torture went global following the imperial conquest of former Spanish colonies, including the Philippines, where US occupation troops faced courts-martial for, among other crimes, waterboarding captured resistance fighters. Meanwhile back home, black Americans were scorched, skinned, disemboweled and castrated while still alive by otherwise upstanding citizens, including women and children, during many of the thousands of lynchings that plagued the Jim Crow South and far beyond.

During World War II, the vast bulk of the most barbarous tortures were committed by America’s German and Japanese enemies. Yet rather than punish some of the worst offenders, the United States paid both Nazi and Japanese war criminals for their grisly knowledge as it sought an edge over the Soviet Union in biowarfare, weapons, mind control, espionage and other technologies and techniques. It wasn’t long before the US was carrying out its own torture programs, like the notorious Project MK-ULTRA, while aiding or committing torture in support of brutal dictators in various Cold War hot spots around the world from Vietnam to Iran to Greece, South America and the more recent genocides of Guatemala and East Timor. There are too many other examples to list in this “brief history.”

Torture by the Book

Starting in the early 1960s, the CIA, then the US military, produced torture manuals that were used to instruct both US and foreign personnel in kidnapping, interrogation, assassination and democracy suppression. These manuals introduced or perfected many of the methods that would later become all too familiar to the world as the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the George W. Bush administration in the post-9/11 era. Cold War operatives like Dan Mitrione, a USAID official who kidnapped and then tortured homeless Uruguayans to death in a soundproof Montevideo dungeon to teach local security forces, informed and inspired Bush-era officials who would prove all too willing to authorize appalling physical and psychological tortures in the name of national security.

By September 11, 2001, the United States had literally written the book — a whole series of them — on torture. The shocking slaughter of nearly 3,000 Americans on that bright, blue Tuesday morning, coupled with the hard-line ideology of many leading Bush officials, led to torture becoming official administration doctrine. Bush falsely argued that domestic and international laws against torture no longer applied in the new worldwide war. Justice Department lawyer John Yoo even asserted that the president had unlimited wartimes powers to order the massacre of an entire village of civilians if he so desired.

“If the Detainee Dies, You’re Doing it Wrong”

Although administration and CIA attorneys now endorsed “cruel, inhuman or degrading” detainee treatment as long as it happened abroad, considerable vagueness remained about how much torture was too much. Yoo successfully argued that abuse is only torture if the pain inflicted was equal to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Jonathan Fredman, a CIA attorney, asserted that “if the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” Plenty of detainees would indeed die, but we’re not quite there yet.

First came Guantánamo Bay, where men and boys captured during the early days of Bush’s anti-Islamist crusade, many of them sold for hefty bounties, were sent for interrogation. Bush called these people the “worst of the worst.” However, according to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld all knew that the majority of GITMO detainees were innocent butrefused to release them, largely for political reasons.

Nonetheless, Guantánamo prisoners were subjected to tortures including severe beatings, interrupted drowning (better known as waterboarding), brutal sodomization, shackling in excruciating “stress positions,” prolonged sleep, sensory and dietary deprivation, solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures and maddeningly repetitive loud music. Medical professionals, including leading psychiatrists and psychologists, actively participated in, and even devised, these torture sessions and techniques.

“You Can’t Spell Abuse Without Abu”

As the war on terror expanded to include countries that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, people resisting US invasion and occupation, as well as innocent men, women and children, were imprisoned and abused. The most notorious of these torture prisons was Abu Ghraib near Baghdad, Iraq, where prolonged vicious beatings, sexual humiliation and death threats were common, and where men, at least one boy and, allegedly, numerous women were raped by their jailers. As one former guard there quipped, “you can’t spell abuse without Abu.”

Abu Ghraib detainees were forced to sleep in flooded cells without mattresses, stripped naked and forced to crawl and bark like dogs, attacked with dogs, forced to curse Islam and eat pork and food from dirty toilets. Old women were dragged around by their hair, ridden like donkeys and urinated on by soldiers like Sgt. Charles Graner, who was fond of sodomizing innocent detainees with found objects.

“The Christian in me says it’s wrong,” Graner said of torturing prisoners. “But the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love making a grown man piss himself.’”

Gen. Antonio Taguba, who compiled a scathing report on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, concluded that the majority of prisoners there — the Red Cross said 70 to 90 percent— were innocent. Female relatives of wanted Iraqi insurgents were also jailed at Abu Ghraib as bargaining chips. One woman was thrown in a cell with the corpse of her murdered son. Perhaps the most shocking yet little-known fact about Abu Ghraib is that at least 34 detainees died there while in US custody, with nearly half of these deaths officially listed as homicides. By 2006, at least 100 prisoners had died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of them violently.

Tortured to Death

The most well-publicized detainee death happened at the notorious “Salt Pit,” a CIA black site, or secret prison, in Afghanistan, where Gul Rahman died of hypothermia after being stripped naked and chained to a wall in near-freezing temperatures. Abuse of prisoners, who were often kidnapped from third countries in a practice known as extraordinary rendition, was rampant at black sites around the world, including Detention Center Green in Thailand, which Gina Haspel ran in late 2002.

Black site prisoners were hung by chains from ceilings for days on end, stuffed into boxes, deprived of sleep, shackled naked in cold temperatures and subjected to mock executions. Prior to Haspel’s arrival, CIA torturers at Detention Center Green waterboarded the wrong man, a cooperative man, 83 times in a month. In addition to supervising Detention Center Green, Haspel also played a key role in the destruction of videotaped CIA torture sessions.

Scores of friendly nations as well as some of the world’s most notorious dictators, including Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the mullahs of Iran, cooperated with the CIA’s rendition program. The US also outsourced torture and interrogation by sending abductees to these and other countries knowing they would be abused, as well as by allowing agents from some of the world’s worst human rights violators, including China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Libya, to interrogate and even abuse detainees inside Guantánamo.

Bush Impunity, Trump Opportunity

There was widespread hope that the election of Barack Obama, who promised to end and investigate torture, would usher in an age of justice and transparency. However, not only did Obama, who explained that he wanted to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” fail to prosecute or even investigate the policies and actions of the Bush officials who authorized and justified torture, he actively protected them from facing justice for their crimes. Obama also declined to declassify a landmark 2014 Senate report detailing brutal, even deadly, detainee abuse by CIA operatives, and torture continued at Guantánamo and elsewhere under his watch despite an early executive order banning it.

In a very real sense, Obama’s dubious decision to “look forward” set the stage for President Trump to look backwards into the darkest depths of our nation’s past and openly embrace torture, which he did on the 2016 campaign trail when he vowed to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” and during his presidency when he nominated two torture supporters to head the CIA. However, unlike the dramatic surge in civilian casualties following Trump’s promise to “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State militants and kill their innocent families, there hasn’t been any reported spike in torture under the current administration. There have, however, been continued allegations of detainee abuse at Guatánamo Bay.

There have also been well-documented cases of abuse, including widespread sex crimes, at prisons, many of them for-profit, holding immigrants and asylum seekers who often languish behind bars for years as their cases slowly proceed through the system. Meanwhile, solitary confinement — which former Vietnam POW John McCain and others have called a form of torture every bit as awful as physical torment — is used to punish and break inmates, including children, at prisons, jails and detention facilities across America.

Return to Darkness?

To this day, not a single US government, military or intelligence official who devised, authorized, supervised or implemented America’s decades-old torture regime has been brought to justice or even criminally investigated for what are very clearly grave violations of domestic and international law. The American people don’t seem to care. A 2016 International Red Cross survey found that nearly half of Americans believe it is acceptable to torture enemy combatants to obtain important information. This, despite the fact that military and intelligence veterans, as well as the Senate torture report, concur that torture doesn’t work and produces unreliable information at best.

Denial — from the highest levels of government to mainstream media still reluctant or refusing to even say or print the word torture to a public which still embraces torture despite its barbarity and inefficacy — is the order of the day when it comes to facing America’s tortured history. Our nation’s failure to honestly examine its darkest deeds raises the all-too-real prospect of their repetition, a chilling possibility that seems likelier than ever given Trump’s choice of Haspel, someone accused of torturing for torture’s sake — and enjoying it.


Originally published on 2018-05-08

About the author: Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace.

Source: Counter Punch

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

READ MORE!
Independent” Kosovo: Gangland Spills Savagery Worldwide
The Western power centers use the “Republic of Kosovo” as a testing ground for working out the ways to create a quasi-state that could be defined as an abnormal criminal case of global scope. The final goal is reshaping the whole of South East Europe. (www.strategic-culture.org) The states below the «first echelon» are subject to the formula «back to slavery and barbarity». This is a model of authoritative outside governance entailing devastation of natural environment, extraction of resources and creation of disastrous economy and ‘stillborn» state structures along with extreme pauperization of population. And this is not all. Control over vast ...
READ MORE
The Problem is Washington, not North Korea
Washington has never made any effort to conceal its contempt for North Korea. In the 64 years since the war ended, the US has done everything in its power to punish, humiliate and inflict pain on the Communist country. Washington has subjected the DPRK to starvation,  prevented its government from accessing foreign capital and markets, strangled its economy with crippling economic sanctions, and installed lethal missile systems and military bases on their doorstep. Negotiations aren’t possible because Washington refuses to sit down with a country which it sees as its inferior.  Instead, the US has strong-armed China to do its bidding by using their diplomats as interlocutors who are expected to convey Washington’s ultimatums as threateningly as possible.  The ...
READ MORE
There is no Strategy Behind Trump’s War, Just Brute Force
These are awesome days for headline writers. So many global settings, such an abundance of weapons, such a wealth of choices! On the morning of April 14, the New York Times led with “A Giant U.S. Bomb Strikes ISIS Caves in Afghanistan,” matched by CNN’s “US Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs.’” The Washington Post chose Syria, where “Errant U.S. Strike Kills 18: Victims in Syria Were Allied Forces.” By mid-afternoon that same day, the Associated Press had shifted to the horn of Africa, where the “U.S. Sends Dozens of Troops to Somalia, 1st Time in Decades.” And as the Friday rush hour ...
READ MORE
Empire’s Aggression on Syria
With the pounding of 59 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles on Shayrat airbase in Syria the Empire has widened its aggression in the strategically crucial country. The sounds of destruction announce imperialism’s and aggression, interference and intervention. This is the sound of “peace” imperialism likes to impose on peoples of other countries. Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Donald Trump, the US president, branded Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, a “dictator”, and called on “all civilized nations to join” the US “in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and ...
READ MORE
A Letter From the Greek American Community on the Cyprus Talks
On the eve of the Conference on Cyprus, we feel compelled to express our views on the Cyprus negotiations on behalf of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA), the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations (FCAO), the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), the American Hellenic Council (AHC), the Hellenic Federation of New Jersey, and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH). Our community has worked with successive US Administrations on behalf of a workable and lasting solution on Cyprus. In 2004, when we warned that the flawed Annan Plan was headed in the wrong direction, ...
READ MORE
Why America Needs War
GR Editor’s Note: This incisive article was written on April 30, 2003, by historian and political scientist Jacques Pauwels. A timely question: Why Does Hillary Want War… ? And why do people support her?  *     *     * Wars are a terrible waste of lives and resources, and for that reason most people are in principle opposed to wars. The American President, on the other hand, seems to love war. Why? Many commentators have sought the answer in psychological factors. Some opined that George W. Bush considered it his duty to finish the job started, but for some obscure reason ...
READ MORE
Colour Revolutions: Made in?
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations. Save
READ MORE
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
The facts do not support the mythology. The United States government did not need to make Japan a junior partner in imperialism, did not need to fuel an arms race, did not need to support Nazism and fascism (as some of the biggest U.S. corporations did right through the war), did not need to provoke Japan, did not need to join the war in Asia or Europe, and was not surprised by the attack on Pearl Harbor. For support of each of these statements, keep reading. This week I’m testifying at an Iraq Tribunal about the Downing Street Minutes. In U.S. thinking the ...
READ MORE
Accusing Russia: Listening to History
The prophet Cassandra’s curse was that when she told the future, no one listened; history’s curse is that when it tells the past, no one does. The West has no shortage of charges it hurls against Russia, but most of them can be grouped into one of three categories: that Russia intervened in the American elections, that Russia is dragging the world into a new cold war, and that Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and expansionist. Sometimes when charges are brought against you, the best witness you can call to your defense is history. Election Intervention This history of Russia, America and political ...
READ MORE
The Spirit of Christmas: War Criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair Banned from the Birthplace of Jesus Christ
First published by GR in December 2006 War criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair were banned for life in April 2003 from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, widely believed to be the birth-place of Jesus Christ. The ban was announced at the height of the illegal US-allied bombing and invasion of Iraq. Below are the original 2003 press reports pertaining to that decision as well as a subsequent introductory note published by Global Research in December 2006. “The Bethlehem sanctuary issued a ringing reprisal Sunday [April 2003] of the coalition attack, going as far as barring US President George W. Bush, ...
READ MORE
War between US and Russia Could Be Sooner than Later: “The Danger of a Nuclear War”
Right now the US mainstream media is obsessing over Donald’s alleged womanizing and female groping soap opera as the Clinton’s/MSM’s pruriently entertaining smokescreen, neatly designed to cover up Hillary/Bill’s serial raping and her criminal lead role as enabler/strong armed intimidator of past victims. Meanwhile, barely noticed in a virtual media blackout in the West are at least a half dozen high alert, significant international developments this last weekend that all strongly indicate the extreme danger of a nuclear war breaking out at any time against Russia and its Eastern alliance. Again, do not pay attention to the US deceivers behind their Oz-like ...
READ MORE
The Original 9/11: 45 Years After Pinochet’s Coup
On this day in 1973 the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet. In the aftermath, 3000 leftists were murdered, tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands  driven from the country. Since it doesn’t serve to justify further domination by the powerful few in the Canadian media will commemorate the ‘original 9/11’. Even fewer will recognize Canada’s role in the US backed coup. The Pierre Trudeau government was hostile to Allende’s elected government. In 1964 Eduardo Frei defeated the openly Marxist Allende in presidential elections. Worried about growing support for socialism, Ottawa gave $8.6 million to ...
READ MORE
‘Croatian Scenario’ Shortcomings for Ending the Donbass Conflict
The so called "Croatian scenario", is something that has been periodically brought up after the start of the armed conflict in Donbass. (Among other instances, yours truly noted this in articles from this past December 17 and August 24, 2015.) Promoted at Johnson's Russia List, the December 28 Euromaidan Press article "What Ukraine Can Take from the 'Croatian Scenario' of Conflict Resolution", omits some key factors for being apprehensive about the probability for success of an Operation Storm like strike against the Donbass rebels. In 1995, the Serb Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, had essentially dropped the Krajina Serbs, with the hope that he could improve his relationship with the West. At ...
READ MORE
American Rape of Vietnamese Women was Considered “Standard Operating Procedure”
Comparing testimony from Vietnamese women and American soldiers, Gina Marie Weaver, in her book Ideologies of Forgetting: Rape in The Vietnam War, finds that rape of Vietnamese women by American troops during the US invasion of Vietnam was a “widespread”, “everyday occurrence” that was essentially “condoned”, even encouraged, by the military, and had its foundation in military training and US culture.  She explores why US rape in Vietnam was so common, and why this aspect of US behavior has been virtually “erased” from “narratives of the war”.  She stresses the issue is also important as rape in the US military continues ...
READ MORE
USAID or US CIA?
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) was created by Pax Americana to provide a cover for CIA agents under the pretext of helping the 3rd World. US Imperialism has to do some good or its potential targets would not open their doors to intelligence agents posing as do gooders, so USAID was created. Today the USAID is headed by Gayle Smith, formerly the “Special Advisor” to President Barack Obama and Senior Director of the National Security Council. To put it simply, Gayle Smith is one of the top “spooks” in the USA, someone who told the CIA what to do. Today ...
READ MORE
The Obama Legacy: Genocide, Destruction, Chaos, Color Revolutions and Subservience to World Zionism
As of this moment, from the gentrified hipster hellholes in Brooklyn to the pedophile-infested devil-den of Hollywood to Satan-occupied Washington DC, liberals nationwide are wailing, howling, shrieking and blubbering over Barack Obama getting out of the White House. Their tears are gushing like rushing rivers breaking through weak dams in pusillanimous sadness, their little Judaized hearts are breaking into pieces of Gefilte fish because an end has come to the presidency of this man they repetitiously and affectionately refer to as “American’s First ‘Black’ President” who brought “hope and change” not only to the USA but the world at large. ...
READ MORE
The Disaster That Bill Clinton Created In Bosnia By Backing Muslims Against The Serbs
Two decades later Bosnia is still suffering the consequences. ISIS has declared the Balkans the next front for the Islamic Caliphate, and in remote mountain villages, Muslims are already flying the ISIS flag. Central Bosnia in 2015 Russia Insider (h/t Maksim)  The Balkans is the latest arena where the West is trying to circumcise any attempt of Russia to regainits influence. This anti-Serbian resolution and initiative is the part of the broader strategy and the latest Western attempt to demonize Serbs and delegitimize pro-Russian Republic of Srpska (Serbian part of Bosnia) in an effort to forcefully centralize Bosnia and give the driving seat to ...
READ MORE
Hillary Clinton – A Member of the “Axis of (D)evil”
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
READ MORE
Is Trump the Back Door Man for Henry A. Kissinger & Co?
The term Back Door Man has several connotations. In the original blues song written by Willie Dixon, it refers to a man having an affair with a married woman, using the back door to flee before the husband comes home. During the Gerald Ford Presidency, Back Door Man was applied to Dick Cheney as Ford’s White House Chief of Staff and his “skills” at getting what he wanted through opaque means. More and more as Cabinet choices are named, it looks like the entire Trump Presidency project is emerging as Henry A. Kissinger’s “Back Door Man,” in the Cheney meaning of ...
READ MORE
Barack Obama vs. Vladimir Putin: How Bloomberg ‘News’ Lies
On December 31st, Josh Rogin of Bloomberg ‘News’ headlined “Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia,” and his opening sentence ‘reported’ on “the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown little interest in … halting his aggression in neighboring Ukraine.” That ‘reporter’ from Bloomberg ‘News’ was ‘reporting’ from only sources inside the U.S. Administration — only from individuals who are hired by and who represent Barack Obama, none who are hired by and who represent Obama’s enemy Vladimir Putin; and so the question naturally arises as to whether Rogin and Bloomberg ‘News’ are ‘reporting’ propaganda, or are they instead reporting ...
READ MORE
Independent” Kosovo: Gangland Spills Savagery Worldwide
The Problem is Washington, not North Korea
There is no Strategy Behind Trump’s War, Just Brute Force
Empire’s Aggression on Syria
A Letter From the Greek American Community on the Cyprus Talks
Why America Needs War
Colour Revolutions: Made in?
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Accusing Russia: Listening to History
The Spirit of Christmas: War Criminals George W. Bush and Tony Blair Banned from the Birthplace of Jesus Christ
War between US and Russia Could Be Sooner than Later: “The Danger of a Nuclear War”
The Original 9/11: 45 Years After Pinochet’s Coup
‘Croatian Scenario’ Shortcomings for Ending the Donbass Conflict
American Rape of Vietnamese Women was Considered “Standard Operating Procedure”
USAID or US CIA?
The Obama Legacy: Genocide, Destruction, Chaos, Color Revolutions and Subservience to World Zionism
The Disaster That Bill Clinton Created In Bosnia By Backing Muslims Against The Serbs
Hillary Clinton – A Member of the “Axis of (D)evil”
Is Trump the Back Door Man for Henry A. Kissinger & Co?
Barack Obama vs. Vladimir Putin: How Bloomberg ‘News’ Lies
Policraticus

Written by Policraticus

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published at this website. The views of the authors presented at this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu

Website: http://www.global-politics.eu