The sordid history of US torture in the Middle East laid bare by the release of the Senate report is explained by some as “9-11 changed everything”. The truth, however, is that US support for torture long pre-dates 2001.
The Vietnam War lasted more than 10 years and involved more than a half-million US troops, and torture was a routine part of US actions. Vietcong prisoners were thrown from helicopters to get others to talk, they were tortured with electric shocks, six-inch pegs were driven into their ears, and female prisoners were threatened with the death of their children.
In the Middle East, the most notorious torture regime was that of the Shah of Iran, installed by a CIA-coup in 1953. Operatives of his secret police, the Savak, were trained by the hundreds by the CIA at its headquarters in Langley, Va. In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter, now seen by many as a champion of human rights, personally approved continued CIA-Savak cooperation.
The Savak is gone, but systematic torture continues in at least one more country in the region that receives massive US support – Israel, which routinely tortures Palestinian political prisoners.
CIA support for torture in Latin America was equally extensive. In Chile, the CIA-supported coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power brought with it the torture and murder of thousands of left-wing activists. The head of Chile’s secret police, the DINA, was a CIA asset. Throughout the 1980s, the US provided training and support for the government in El Salvador, whose death squads routinely used torture as a means of suppressing opposition.
In Venezuela, the secret police was called DISIP, and its head and chief torturer in the 1970s was CIA agent and notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. Here the story of US involvement with torture takes a different turn – the US supported torture while it was happening but later used the false claim of potential torture to shield Posada from prosecution.
Posada and Orlando Bosch were the masterminds of the 1976 mid-air bombing of Cubana Flight 455, killing all on board. Both escaped justice in Venezuela, and in 2005 Posada entered the US illegally. Venezuela, where Posada is still wanted on 73 counts of murder for the airplane bombing, filed an extradition request.
Nine years later, that request has neither been honoured or even answered, but eventually, since Posada was a known terrorist and had entered the US illegally, the US government was forced to move to deport him. During those hearings, a man named Joaquin Chaffardet testified in Posada’s defence that if he were extradited to Venezuela, led at the time by Hugo Chávez, he would be tortured. Chaffardet offered no proof for this baseless allegation, and the US government offered no witnesses to rebut him. Of course, Venezuela was known to torture prisoners – when Posada ran the DISIP and it was supported by the US!
And who was Chaffardet? He was Posada’s associate at DISIP, a fellow torturer! Later, both left DISIP to form a private investigation firm, a firm that worked hand-in-glove with the CIA, and the same firm that employed the two people who actually put the bomb on the plane in 1976.
The US government’s attitude toward torture hasn’t changed in decades, nor has its willingness to see torturers pay for their crimes. In President Obama’s statement on the torture report, he asserted that torture is “against our values,” but pointedly failed to point out that it is also against the law.
Just like police brutality serves a role internally at keeping people under control, so too torture serves a role internationally. Neither will end until the brutal system that employs them, capitalism and imperialism, are ended.
By: Colten Stokes