Monday, April 28, 2008

Darkness Fell (An Answer to "Darkness Falls")

Originally posted at Daily Kos

I started to write a comment to OPOL's excellent, impassioned diary, Darkness Falls. But the comment grew and grew until I knew I had to post it as a diary.

I've taken the present tense of OPOL's work and put it in its proper past tense, because the U.S. association with and operation of torture goes back decades. OPOL asks why the American people have not moved to stop their government from torturing. The question can be asked retrospectively. The problem remains a timid and bought-off press, and two political parties uninterested, at best, in tackling the issue, or complicit, at worst, in war crimes and their cover-up.

Both his diary and mine grow out of the latest New York Times revelations that Mukasey's Justice Department has a working set of rulings that allow U.S. agents to "legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law." Indeed, the government's letters are worth reading, going on for paragraph after sick paragraph about what could possibly be meant by the Geneva Protocol's use of the term "humane treatment."

OPOL asks why the U.S. populace doesn't rise up and stop the torture. If you wish the answer to this question, then you must be prepared to learn the entire history, and to teach the entire history.

Why? Why? Why? The earnest question is asked. The answer is that torture has been conducted under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Until (and if ever) the progressives decide to clean out their party of anyone associated with the program and practice of torture, including those who assisted in the legal shenanigans that allowed torture to go unprosecuted (including the Clinton White House legal team that allowed the evisceration of the UN Convention Against Torture with the legal "Reservations" attached to the treaty -- the same "Reservations" that Ashcroft was screaming about the other day, as reported in Elisona's diary), then U.S. torture will continue, overtly or covertly.

(The Reservations to UNCAN made the treaty "non-executable" without laws passed by the Congress. Such laws weakened the language of the treaty, and the use of these "reservations", concocted by Reagan Administration attorneys, but used by the Clinton team, has helped legally cover torture and the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading detainee treatment, from the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to the American Psychological Associations's interrogations resolutions of the past few years. -- See David Luban's coverage of the issue. Luban is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.)

"Darkness Falls" is a good, impassioned diary, which I recommend, but it has one crucial factual error. It asserts that Bush has constructed "the first official torture program in American history".

This is hardly the case, nor is it the largest such program (although it is the largest rendition program).

The Phoenix Program in Vietnam (and its precursors there), which killed tens of thousands (according to the Church Committee in the 1970s), and tortured hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, probably deserves the distinction of the largest such program. But it, too, wasn't the first.

Then there was the CIAs Ed Lansdale. His work may deserve that distinction for his use of torture and terror in the Philippines against the so-called Huk rebellion in the early 1950s. Lansdale later helped set up counterinsurgency programs in Vietnam.

There was also the multi-million dollar MKULTRA program, which researched brainwashing and mind control through use of isolation, sensory deprivation and drugs. This program began in the late 1940s, and saw its heyday from 1953-1968.

Consider, too, this:

The CIA also bears responsibility for the creation of SAVAK, the Shah of Iran's ruthless secret police force. SAVAK killed 20,000 Iraqi "dissidents" during the Shah's reign. In the Philippines, CIA instruction resulted in 3,257 murders and 35,000 victims of torture by the Ferdinand Marcos regime.

After its defeat in Vietnam, the United States government infiltrated Latin America with a vengeance (to stop the spread of the "Communist threat"). Project X, represented another CIA endeavor to impart their wisdom in the arts of torture to ruthless US allies. Not satisfied with their 1963 torture manual called Kubark, the CIA wrote a sequel in Spanish entitled Handling of Sources, Interrogation, Combat Intelligence, and Terrorism and the Urban Guerilla.

Once located in Panama, an odious US Army institution known as the School of Americas (sometimes called the School of Assassins) bestowed the CIA's torture wisdom upon hundreds of Latin American military officers. The School of Americas fell under the auspices of Project X and provided the "hands on" training to accompany the CIA torture manuals. Interestingly, by 1983 the CIA had begun to re-emphasize the use of psychological over physical torture when it wrote its [Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual]. A laundry list of CIA-trained Latin American military personnel and dictators murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands thanks to the tutelage of Project X. Link
The best book on Phoenix is Douglas Valentine's The Phoenix Program. Library Journal wrote:
Designed to destroy the Vietcong infrastructure and ostensibly run by the South Vietnamese government, the Phoenix Program--in fact directed by the United States--developed a variety of counterinsurgency activities including, at its worst, torture and assassination. For Valentine... the program epitomizes all that was wrong with the Vietnam War; its evils are still present wherever there are "ideologues obsessed with security, who seek to impose their way of thinking on everyone else." Exhaustive detail and extensive use of interviews with and writings by Phoenix participants make up the book's principal strengths...
OPOL well described in his diary the psychological response of denial to this kind of information. But we must move past this if we are ever to stop this cancer of terror and torture that has eaten so corrosively away at the foundations of the nation, and threaten to destroy what ever is left of this democracy and the promise of freedom began back in the days of the Enlightenment.

I like OPOL, and consider the contributions of this diarist to be top notch. I hope and trust that the criticisms I engage in here are seen as constructive and in the best interest of moving the dialogue forward.

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