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February 20, 2006

CIA And The Science Of Torture 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq

Alfred McCoy, history professor at UW here in Madison, made his reputation exposing CIA complicity in the international drug trade. Now he's written a new study of the CIA's history of perfecting and applying techniques of psychological coercion and torture.

What follows are excerpts from an interview McCoy gave to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. It's very important material.

[I]f you look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms...In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of CIA torture. It's very simple. He's hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental CIA techniques, developed at enormous cost.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. And what they discovered — they tried LSD, they tried mescaline, they tried all kinds of drugs, they tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities — Harvard, Princeton, Yale and McGill — and the first breakthrough came at McGill. [...]

Dr. Donald O. Hebb of McGill University, a brilliant psychologist, had a contract from the Canadian Defense Research Board, which was a partner with the CIA in this research, and he found that he could induce a state of psychosis in an individual within 48 hours. It didn't take electroshock, truth serum, beating or pain. All he did was had student volunteers sit in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, earmuffs, so that they were cut off from their senses, and within 48 hours, denied sensory stimulation, they would suffer, first hallucinations, then ultimately breakdown.

And if you look at many of those photographs, what do they show? They show people with bags over their head. If you look at the photographs of the Guantanamo detainees even today, they look exactly like those student volunteers in Dr. Hebb’s original cubicle.

Now, then the second major breakthrough that the CIA had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the CIA studied Soviet KGB torture techniques, and they found that the most effective KGB technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand — okay, you're not beating them, they have no resentment — you tell them, "You're doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." And so, as they stand, what happens is the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they separate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.

Now, if you look at the other aspect of those photos, you'll see...people are standing with their arms extended, that's self-inflicted pain. And the combination of those two techniques — sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain — is the basis of the CIA's technique. [...]

What they found time and time again is that electroshock didn't work, and sodium pentathol didn't work, LSD certainly didn't work. You scramble the brain. You got unreliable information. But what did work was the combination of these two rather boring, rather mundane behavioral techniques: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain.

And in 1963, the CIA codified these results in the so-called KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual. If you just type the word KUBARK into Google, you will get the manual, an actual copy of it, on your computer screen, and you can read the techniques. But if you do, read the footnotes, because that's where the behavioral research is. Now, this produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it's the one that's with us today, and it's proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.

Let's make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture lite." Psychological torture, people who are involved in treatment tell us it's far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. As Senator McCain said, himself, last year when he was debating his torture prohibition, faced with a choice between being beaten and psychologically tortured, I'd rather be beaten. Okay? It does far more lasting damage. It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something that we don't realize in this country.

Now, another thing we see is those photographs is the psychological techniques, but the initial research basically developed techniques for attacking universal human sensory receptors: sight, sound, heat, cold, sense of time. That's why all of the detainees describe being put in dark rooms, being subjected to strobe lights, loud music...That's sensory deprivation or sensory assault. Okay, that was sort of the phase one of the CIA research. But the paradigm has proved to be quite adaptable.

Now, one of the things that Donald Rumsfeld did, right at the start of the war of terror, in late 2002, he appointed General Geoffrey Miller to be chief at Guantanamo, alright, because the previous commanders at Guantanamo were too soft on the detainees, and General Miller turned Guantanamo into a de facto behavioral research laboratory, a kind of torture research laboratory. And under General Miller at Guantanamo, they perfected the CIA torture paradigm. They added two key techniques. They went beyond the universal sensory receptors of the original research. They added to it an attack on cultural sensitivity, particularly Arab male sensitivity to issues of gender and sexual identity.

And then they went further still. Under General Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, behavioral science consultation teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogation, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of dark or attachment to mother, and by the time we're done, by 2003, under General Miller, Guantanamo had perfected the CIA paradigm, and it had a three-fold total assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobia. [...]

In mid-2003, when the Iraqi resistance erupted, the United States found it had no intelligence assets; it had no way to contain the insurgency, and they — the U.S. military was in a state of panic. And at that moment, they began sweeping across Iraq, rounding up thousands of Iraqi suspects, putting many of them in Abu Ghraib prison. At that point, in late August 2003, General Miller was sent from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and he brought his techniques with him. He brought a CD, and he brought a manual of his techniques. He gave them to the MP officers, the Military Intelligence officers and to General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. Commander in Iraq.

In September of 2003, General Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452, and if you look at those techniques, what he's ordering, in essence, is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation, and if you look at the 1963 CIA KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, you look at the 1983 CIA Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then twenty years later, you look at General Sanchez's 2003 orders, there's a striking continuity across this forty-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence, okay? And the specific techniques, the way of achieving that, through the attack on these sensory receptors. [...]

When [Rumsfeld] was asked to review the Guantanamo techniques in late 2003 or early 2004, he scribbled that marginal note and said, you know, "I stand at my desk eight hours a day." He has a designer standing desk. "How come we're limiting these techniques of the stress position to just four hours?" So, in other words, that was a clear signal from the Defense Secretary. Now, one of the problems beyond the details of these orders is torture is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. There's an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal, and once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control.

So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders for, basically, techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaeda suspects, but within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul, and a few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. And you can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we've described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That's why it's necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that's impossible. That cannot operate. It will inevitably spread. [...]

I looked at those photos, I didn't see individual abuse [by "bad apples"] . What I saw was two textbook trademark CIA psychological interrogation techniques: self-inflicted pain and sensory disorientation.

[O]ne of the problems of talking about this topic in the United States, is that we regard all of this panoply of psychological techniques as "torture lite," as somehow not really torture...And we're the only country in the world that does that. The UN convention bars – defines torture as the infliction of severe psychological or physical pain. The UN convention which bans torture in 1984 gives equal weight to psychological and physical techniques. We alone as a society somehow exempt all of these psychological techniques. That dates back, of course, to the way we ratified the convention in the first place.

Back in the early 1990s, when the United States was emerging from the Cold War, and we began this process of, if you will, disarming ourselves and getting beyond all of these techniques, trying to sort of bring ourselves in line with rest of the international community, when we sent that — when President Clinton sent the UN Anti-Torture Convention to the US Congress for ratification in 1994, he included four detailed paragraphs of reservation that had, in fact, been drafted by the Reagan administration, and he adopted them without so much as changing a semicolon. And when you read those detailed paragraphs of reservation, what you realize is this, is that the United States Congress ratified the treaty, but basically we outlawed only physical torture. Those paragraphs of reservation are carefully written to avoid one word in the 26 printed pages of the UN convention. That word is "mental." Basically, we exempted psychological torture. [...]

[T]he White House had Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina amend McCain's amendment by inserting language into it, saying that for the purposes of this act, the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay is not on US territory...[T]hen in the last month, the Bush administration has gone to federal courts and said, "Drop all of your habeas corpus suits from Guantanamo." There are 160 of them. They've gone to the Supreme Court and said, "Drop your Guantanamo case." They have, in fact, used [the McCain] law to quash legal oversight of their actions. [Emphasis added]

Key points to take away: There is a continuous history of CIA research in and use of torture spanning four decades or more. The torture techniques being used at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, techniques that Rush Limbaugh compared to innocuous fraternity hazing, are actually the most destructive techniques uncovered in CIA research. They were not invented by a few "bad apples." They are not "torture lite." And the McCain torture amendment isn't the end of the story. The Bush administration succeeded in building in loopholes that made the amendment, at best, a fig leaf, at worst, a means of ending legal oversight of operations at Guantanamo.

Posted by Jonathan at February 20, 2006 04:50 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


"So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders ... limited to top al-Qaeda suspects"

What if Al-Qaeda it just a myth? then, what Bush and other crimminals of his gang had in their minds?.

And Al-Qaeda is a myth, like Tora-Bora caverns, like Saddam weapons, like government explanation for 9/11, like anthrax attacks, like...

I strongly advice: take your time and watch The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear a BBC awesome work.

DOwNLOAD it from:


Posted by: Beuce at February 21, 2006 08:54 PM