Friday, September 10, 2004

The road to Abu Ghraib

With Abu Ghraib fresh on the mind, Alfred McCoy urges us to recall the CIA's long history of using torture:

Looked at historically, the Abu Ghraib scandal is the product of a deeply contradictory U.S. policy toward torture since the start of the Cold War. At the UN and other international forums, Washington has long officially opposed torture and advocated a universal standard for human rights. Simultaneously, the CIA has propagated ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of these same international conventions, a number of which the U.S has ratified. In battling communism, the United States adopted some of its most objectionable practices -- subversion abroad, repression at home, and most significantly torture itself.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA conducted massive, secret research into coercion and the malleability of human consciousness which, by the late fifties, was costing a billion dollars a year. Many Americans have heard about the most outlandish and least successful aspect of this research -- the testing of LSD on unsuspecting subjects. While these CIA drug experiments led nowhere and the testing of electric shock as a technique led only to lawsuits, research into sensory deprivation proved fruitful indeed. In fact, this research produced a new psychological rather than physical method of torture, perhaps best described as "no-touch" torture.

The Agency's discovery was a counterintuitive breakthrough, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the seventeenth century -- and thanks to recent revelations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, we are now all too familiar with these methods, even if many Americans still have no idea of their history. Upon careful examination, those photographs of nude bodies expose the CIA's most basic torture techniques -- stress positions, sensory deprivation, and sexual humiliation.
For vivid illustration, it's always fun to peruse two of the CIA's manuals on torture. That should hold you over until Hersh's book comes out next week, when hopefully these disgraceful policies will again be thrust into the face of a complacent public that seems perfectly fine with blaming those "few bad apples" even while there's a mountain of evidence that suggests responsibility for Abu Ghraib reaches all the way to the White House.