Sunday, May 03, 2009

Times Change

One of the bits of American history that we tend to forget because it is painful to remember is that the US has used torture and was complicit in its use by other countries in the past. "Enhanced interrogation techniques" were used by the CIA in Vietnam and in Latin America during the 1970s and thereafter. A.J. Langguth, who has written a book on the US involvement in destabilizing governments in Latin America deemed "too leftward leaning", reminded us of that unsavory history in an op-ed piece published by the Los Angeles Times.

Langguth zeroed in on the role of the CIA in Brazil, especially after the US supported a military takeover which resulted in the duly elected head of that nation fleeing for sanctuary rather than risk the spilling the blood of his nation's citizens. That blood may not have flowed during the coup, but as the military tightened its grip on that country, dissidents were tormented with barbaric techniques, some of them sounding a great deal like those being used more recently. What is so shameful is that the CIA was around to assist.

During the first seven years after Castelo Branco's coup, the OPS trained 100,000 Brazilian police, including 600 who were brought to the United States. Their instruction varied. Some OPS lecturers denounced torture as inhumane and ineffectual. Others conveyed a different message. Le Van An, a student from the South Vietnamese police, later described what his instructors told him: "Despite the fact that brutal interrogation is strongly criticized by moralists," they said, "its importance must not be denied if we want to have order and security in daily life."

Brazil's political prisoners never doubted that Americans were involved in the torture that proliferated in their country. On their release, they reported that they frequently had heard English-speaking men around them, foreigners who left the room while the actual torture took place. As the years passed, those torture victims say, the men with American accents became less careful and sometimes stayed on during interrogations.

There is a significant difference, however, between what happened back in the '70s and what happened in '00s, one that Langguth pointed out in the conclusion of his article:

But in our country, there's been a disheartening development: In 1975, U.S. officials still felt they had to deny condoning torture. Now many of them seem to be defending torture, even boasting about it. [Emphasis added]

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been quite clear that such techniques as water boarding were essential to the security of the United States. He even bragged that the use of such tools "saved" the country from specific attacks and has asked that certain memos be de-classified and released to prove his point. Although it is likely that the documents in question are nothing more than vaguely-worded talking-point memos drafted for use in testimony before Congress, even if Cheney's claims are true, they do not provide an excuse for the use of torture.

Torture was illegal in the 1970s, and no less illegal in the 2000s. That anyone, especially a vice president, would boast of its use is both chilling and shameful. Back in the '70s, Congress responded to the news of the CIA's activities with the Church Commission. The CIA was ordered to cease all such behavior, but there were no penalties handed out in a way that would ensure torture would never be used again. We see how effective that was.

This time we have to do things differently. Yes, Congress should investigate the whole issue. More importantly, however, is that the Department of Justice should also investigate with an eye towards prosecutions as necessary. If Attorney General Holder and President Obama fear this will look like a partisan vendetta, than an Independent Prosecutor should be appointed. It's the right thing to do, especially if we really are serious about not abiding torture in any fashion for any reason.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

The USofA has ALWAYS been a 'terror supporter."

It's just that til now, mostly, we've been able to out-source it to our 'brown' allies...

We'd pay'em and provide training, and gleefully turn the little buggers loose on their own people: El Salvador, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, and ecuador in our hemisphere alone have been the recipients of our 'largess."

6:08 AM  
Blogger danps said...

Fantastic post, Diane.

8:48 AM  

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