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Torture Gets The Silence Treatment

By James A. Lucas

26 July, 2004

The recent revelations of torture by Americans in U.S. operated prisons have appalled Americans and others around the world. Most of the attention has been focused on the individuals who have committed these acts rather than on those who gave the orders. Our leadership says this is a matter of a few bad apples.

Many people refuse to believe that the orders to use these torture techniques may have come from high within the U.S. government. However, when one examines the history of our government there are many cases that substantiate this explanation. This report shows that for many years the U.S. government has had a pattern of using torture against people in other nations.

The following list of nations where the U.S. has promoted torture is based primarily on information from three primary sources: the School of Americas Watch (, Amnesty International ( and two books by William Blum (

My preference is to not write in any details about this subject because of the horror involved. But to merely to provide a list of nations where torture has occurred will only help to sweep this problem under the rug. I believe it is necessary to give some description of what torture involves. The focus on the current revelations about prisons in other nations operated by the U.S. happened only because pictures were made available to the public I know of no pictures of the acts of torture referred to below. I can only present a degree of graphic description.

The use of torture is only one of a number of actions employed by our government that causes resentment among people in other nations. The most prominent other actions are those which involved massacres of thousands of people. Torture by the U.S. is probably more prevalent now than in the past. But unless we do all we can to eliminate it as a tool of our foreign policy we can only expect to be a target of foreign terrorism. Resentment against the U.S. will increase we unite to take more than just cosmetic action to remedy it.


In La Paz, in the late 1960s the CIA station informed Bolivian Interior Minister Arguedas that it was sending several “advisors” whose presence was required, since Bolivia’s intelligence service was ineffective. A few days later, four Cuban exiles arrived and assumed their “advisory” positions in his ministry which included two houses of interrogation where Bolivians suspected of aiding the guerrillas were brought for questioning. When Arguedas learned of this, and that in some cases the Cuban were resorting to torture, he demanded that the CIA put a stop to the operation. (1)


Dan Mitrione of the U.S. office of Public Safety (OPS) began his career in Brazil in the 1960s By 1969 OPS had trained over 100,000 policemen for Brazil in police academies. (2)

Amnesty International, referring to the training at these academies, reported in 1974 that “Tortures range from simple but brutal blows from a truncheon to electric shocks. Often the torture is more refined: the end of a reed is placed in the anus of a naked man hanging suspended downwards on the pau de arara (parrots perch) and a piece of cotton soaked in petrol is lit at the other end of the reed. Pregnant women have been forced to watch their husbands being tortured. Other wives have been hung naked besides their husbands and given electric shocks on the sexual parts of their body, while subjected to the worst kind of obscenities. Children have been tortured before their parents and vice versa. At least one child, the three-month-old baby of Virgilio Gomes da Silva was reported to have died under police torture. The length of sessions depended upon the resistance of the victims and have sometimes continued for days at a time.” (3)


When Hector Mondragon was in military custody in Colombia in the 1970s he was tortured on the orders of a Colombian officer trained at the School of the Americas. Hector was hung by his hands from a tree in the hot sun for two days. The permanent nerve damage he suffered caused the tremor in his hands. (4)


In 1982 The U.S. State Department presented a young Nicaraguan at a press conference in Washington and claimed that he had been trained in Cuba and Ethiopia and then sent to El Salvador by the Nicaraguan government. At the press conference he denied that he had ever been to Cuba or Ethiopia. He further said that he had joined the guerrillas on his own and had made his previous statements under torture by his Salvadoran captors. (5)

The CIA and the U.S. military played an essential role in the conception and organization of the security agencies from which the death squads were operating in El Salvador in the 1980s. CIA surveillance programs routinely supplied these agencies with information on and the whereabouts of various individuals who wound up as death squad victims. (6)

In 1984, Amnesty International reported that it had received “regular, often daily reports identifying El Salvador’s regular security and military units as responsible for the torture, disappearance and killing of non-combatant civilians from all sectors of Salvadoran society… A number of patients have allegedly been removed from their beds or operating theaters and tortured and murdered…Types of torture reported by those who have survived arrest and interrogation included beatings, sexual abuse, use of chemicals to disorient, mock executions and the burning of the flesh with sulphuric acid.” (7)

The New York Times published in 1982 an interview with a deserter from the Salvadorian Army who described a class where several methods of torture were demonstrated on teenage prisoners. He stated that eight U.S. military advisers, apparently Green Berets, were present. Watching “will make you feel more like a man,” a Salvadoran officer apprised the recruits, adding that they should not feel pity of anyone; but only “hate for those who are enemies of our country” (8)

Officers of the El Salvadoran National Guard were also trained in the U.S. In August 1986, CBS Television reported that three senior Guard officers who had been linked to right wing death squads, received training at a police academy in Phoenix. (9)

A former member of the El Salvadoran National Guard, stated in a 1986 Thames Television documentary that “I belonged to a squad of twelve. We devoted ourselves to torture, and to finding people who we were told were guerillas. I was trained in Panama for nine months by the (unintelligible) of the U. S. for anti-guerrilla warfare. Part of the time we were instructed about torture.” (10)

In interviews with the American press, Joya Martinez stated that advisers to his El Salvadoran death squad unit had used the names Mauricio Torres and Raul Antonio Lazo and that his unit had carried out 74 assassinations of Salvadoran dissidents between April and July of 1989, and that he himself had been personally involved in eight torture murders. He added that his unit had received explosives training from US. Advisers. (11)

In July 1987, a Salvadoran woman named Yanira Corea was kidnapped outside the Los Angeles office of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). Two men, speaking with what she described as Salvadoran accents forced her at knife point into a van, interrogated her about her political activities and colleagues, cut her hands with a knife, burnt here fingers with cigarettes, sexually assaulted her with stick, then raped her. (12)


The CIA went so far in the 1950s as to torture suspected defectors to the Soviet Union in Munich - using such esoteric methods as applying turpentine to a man’s testicles or sealing someone in a room and playing Indonesian music at deafening levels unto he cracked.” (13)


Torture marked a seven-year Greek nightmare in the 1960s. James Beckett, an American attorney sent to Greece in 1969 by Amnesty International wrote in December 1969 that “a conservative estimate would place at not less than two thousand” the number of people tortured… (14)

Beckett reported that some torturers had told prisoners that some of their equipment had came as U.S. military aid: a special “thick white double cable” whip was one item; another was the heads crew, known as an “iron wreath”, which was progressively tightened around the head or ears. (15)


In the period from October 1966 to March 1968 Amnesty International estimated that somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 Guatemalans were killed by the police, the military, right wing death squads (often the police or military in civilian, carrying out atrocities too bloody for the government to claim credit for), and assorted groups of civilian anti-community vigilantes. By 1976 the count exceeded 20,000, murdered or disappeared without a trace. (16)

Thomas and Marjorie Melville, American Catholic missionaries in Guatemala from the mid-1950s until the end of 1967, have written that Col. Webber, head of the American military mission in Guatemala, “made no secret of the fact that it was at his instigation that the technique of counter terror had been implemented by the Guatemalan Army in the Zacapa and Izabal areas. (17) The Green Berets taught their Guatemalan trainees various methods of “interrogation.”… One method of torture consisted of putting a hood filled with insecticides over the head of the victim; there was also electric shock – the genital area is most effective. (18)

In March 1992 Guatemalan guerilla leader, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, was captured and disappeared. For the next three years, his American wife, attorney Jennifer Harbury, waged an impassioned international campaign -including public fast in Guatemala City and in Washington – to pressure the Guatemalan and American governments for information about her husband’s fate. Both governments insisted that they knew nothing. Finally, in March 1995 Rep. Robert Torricelli of the House Intelligence Committee revealed that Bamaca had been tortured and executed the same year of his capture, and that he, as well as Michael Devine, had been murdered on the orders of Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, who had been on the CIA payroll for several years. (Alpirez was a graduate of Fort Benning’s School of the Americas.)

The facts surrounding these cases were known early on by the CIA, and by officials of the State Department and National Security Council at least a few months before the disclosure. Torricelli’s announcement. prompted several other Americans to come forward with tales of murder, rape or torture of themselves or a relative at the hands of the Guatemalan military. Sister Dianna Ortiz, a nun, related how in 1989, she was kidnapped, burned with cigarettes, raped repeatedly and lowered into a pit full of corpses and rats. A fair skinned man who spoke with an American accent seen to be in charge, she said. (19)


As a part of an effort in 1986 to strengthen the Haitian military CIA money began flowing to Haiti, which enabled the CIA to set up an antinarcotics service called – appropriately SIN (“national intelligence service”). As one CIA man admitted, SIN used its millions in CIA subsidies mainly to suppress popular movements by means of torture and assassination. Far from combatting drugs, many SIN officers engaged in the drug trade themselves. (20)


An intelligence unit in Honduras known as Battalion 316, used shock and suffocation devices in interrogations in the 1980s. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves. Newly declassified documents and other sources show that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy knew of numerous crimes, including murder and torture, yet continued to support Battalion 316 and collaborate with its leaders.” (21)

At least nineteen of the ranking Honduran officers linked to death squad Battalion 316 are SOA graduates, including battalion founder General Luis Alonso Discua. (22)


The notorious Iranian secret police, SAVAK, was created under the guidance of the CIA and Israel. According to a former CIA analyst on Iran SAVAK was instructed in torture techniques by the Agency. In 1976 Amnesty reported that Iran had a system of torture beyond belief. (23)


According to the Veterans for Peace website (, under the heading “U.S. Atrocities” it is mentioned that thousands of North Korean and Chinese POWs died due to deliberate shooting and torture by prison guards, starvation and medical experiments. General Crawford Sam’s so-called Bubonic plague ship, Landing Craft No. 1091, was stationed in the Koje Island where the majority of the POWs were kept. The ship is suspected of having used the POWs to work out certain aspects of germ warfare. (24)


At eleven o’clock on the night of January 23, 1983, according to Ahmed Rami, General Dlimi was called to the palace in Marrakesh, Morocco where ten security men escorted him to an underground interrogation room. At one a.m. “two American officers” arrived with the king and went into the interrogation room for several hours, Dlimi was tortured and, at five a.m. he was shot. His body was later placed in his car, which was exploded in a suburb. (25)


During the occupation of Panama following the invasion of December 1989, some American soldier engaged in torture of soldiers of the Panama Defense Forces. In one case a metal cable was inserted in an open producing intense pain. In another reported case, a PDF soldier was hung up by one arm on which he already had an injury to the elbow, which had been stitched up. (26)


Writer Christopher Reed recalls that in 1974 Caxias, a prison near Lisbon was opened to the public shortly after the fascist dictatorship was overthrown by a coup. Reed talked to a psychiatrist, a former inmate of the prison, who said that torture techniques such as sleep deprivation devised by the CIA were used by PIDE (International Police for the Defense of the State). This was confirmed by another psychiatrist who treated Caxias victims. A 128 page secret manual produced by the CIA in July 1963 called Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation was central to the procedure for using sleep deprivation. He said he was told several times that these methods came from the CIA. (27)


In an interview given to Brazilian newspaper in 1970, the former Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro Otrero, declared that U.S. advisers, and in particular Dan Mitrione, (also see Brazil) had instituted torture as a more routine measure; to the means of inflicting pain, they had added scientific refinement; and to that a psychology to create despair, such as playing a tape in the next room of women and children screaming and telling the prisoner that it was his family being tortured.” (28)

The Uruguayan Senate, after a five-month study, concluded unanimously that torture in Uruguay had become a “normal, frequent and habitual occurrence.” (29)

In 1981, a former Uruguayan intelligence officer declared that U.S. manuals were being used to teach techniques of torture in his country’s military. He said that most of the officers who trained him had attended classes run by the U.S. and Panama. Among other niceties, the manuals listed 35 nerve pointed where electrodes could be applied. (30)


When Donald Duncan was a member of the Green Berets in Vietnam he was trained in counter measures to hostile interrogation received by Americans captured by Communists who would torture them. Translations of an alleged Soviet interrogation manual, which described various methods, were handed out to the class. A student asked the teacher, Sergeant Lacey, whether he was suggesting that they use such methods. He replied, “We can’t tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. “The mothers of American wouldn’t approve.” The class bursts into laughter at the sarcastic cynicism. Furthermore we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended.” (31)

Senator Stephen Young of Ohio, in the mid 1960s, was reported to have said that while he was in Vietnam he was told by the CIA that the Agency disguised people as Vietcong to commit atrocities, including murder and rape, so as to discredit the Communists. After the report caused a flurry in Washington, Young said that he had been misquoted, that the CIA was not the source of the story. Congressman Cornelius Gallagher, who had accompanied Young on the trip, suggested that it “may well be that he (Young) spoke to Vietcong disguised as a CIA man. (32)

Operation Phoenix was the coordinated effort of the U.S. and South Vietnam to wipe out the Vietcong infrastructure. Under this program, Vietnamese citizens were rounded up and jailed. Often in tiger cages, often tortured, often killed, either in the process of being arrested or subsequently. By Colby’s (former head of the CIA) records during the period between early 1968 and May 1971, 20,587 alleged Vietcong cadres met their death as a result of the Phoenix Program. A similar program under a different name, had existed since 1965 and been run by the U.S. alone. (33)

A former U.S. military-intelligence officer in Vietnam, K. Barton Osborn, testified before a House Committee that suspects caught by Phoenix were interrogated in helicopters and sometimes pushed out. He also spoke of the use of electric shock torture and insertion into the ear of a six-inch dowel, which was tapped through the brain until the victim died. (34)


With the CIA’s help, Patrice Lumumba was captured in December 1960, by the troops of General Joseph Mobutu, who had assumed control of the government. Lumumba was held prisoner for over a month, interrogated, tortured, then finally shot in the head. His body was dissolved in hydrochloric acid. (35)


(1) Washington Post, August 29, 1971 in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 226.

(2) Agency for International Development (AID Program and Project Data Presentation to the Congress for Fiscal Year 1971, p. 26 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p.171.

(3) Amnesty International, Report on Allegations of Torture in Brazil (London, 1974) p.40 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 171.

(4) Columbians Trained to Torture Unionists by Sean Donahue, May 9, 2004, Corporatism and Militarism Project of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse.

(5) New York Times, 17 March 1982, p.1 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 363.

(6) Allan Nairn, “Behind the Death Squads, The Progressive magazine (Madison, Wisconsin) May 1984, pp. 1, 20-29 a detailed account of the CIA’s long-standing and close ties to the Death Squads and /or their parent organizations, and to the organizations’ leaders who were on the CIA payroll. New York Times, 22 October 1987, p. 11; 6 December 1987, IV, p.2 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 354.

(7) Amnesty International Torture in the Eighties (London, 1984), pp 155-6 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common

Courage Press, 1995, p. 360.

(8) New York Times, 11 Jan., 1982, p.2 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 359.

(9) The Guardian (London 7 Aug., 1986 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 360.

(10) The National Guardsman, identified only as “Manuel”, was interviewed in the television documentary “Torture”, produced and directed by Rex Bloomstein for Thames Television Ltd (Great Britain) in 1986 with the cooperation of Amnesty International. Video copy in author’s possession cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 359.

(11) Los Angeles Times, 11 July 1987, p.1. cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 361.

(12) Los Angeles Times, 11 July 1987, p.1. cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 360.

(13) Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA (New York, 1979) pp. 155, 157 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 116.

(14) Becket, p. 10 Amnesty International Report 27 January 1968 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 219

(15) Becket, p. 15 Amnesty International Report 27 January 1968 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 219.

(16) William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p.232.

(17) Atrocities and tortures compiled from the sources cited herein: also see A.J. Languet, (New York, 1978) p. 139, 193 for U.S. involvement with the use of the field Telephones for Torture in Brazil cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press Blum, p. 232.

(18) Thomas and Marjorie Melville, Guatemala-Another Vietnam! (Great Britain, 1971) Published in the United States the same year in a slightly different form as Guatemala: the Politics of Land ownership cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 232.

(19) Devine and Bamaca Cases New York Times, 23 March 1995, p.1: 24 March, p.3; 30 March, p.1; Los Angeles Times 23 March 1995, p. 7; 24 March , p.4; 31 March, p.4; 2 April, p. M2; Time Magazine, 10 April 1995, p. 43. cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 239.

(20) Mark Zepezauer, The CIA’s Greatest Hits, Odonian Press, 1994 p. 86.

(21) Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson, “Unearthed: Fatal Secrets,” Baltimore Sun, reprint of a series that appeared June 11-18, 1995 in Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of Assassins, p. 46 Orbis Books 2001.

(22) Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of Assassins, p. 46 Orbis Books 2001.

(23) Martin Ennals, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, cited in an article by Reza Baraheni in Matchbox (Amnesty Publication in New York) Fall, 1976 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 239.

(24) Hugh Deane, the Korean War, 1945-1983 (1999 ) cited in “A New Look at the Korean War” by John H. Kim which is included in the Report of the Korea Peace Campaign of Veterans for Peace, Nov. 6, 2003, p. 6.

(25) Interview in Africa Now (London), March, 1983 , pp. 14-15 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 279.

(26) Philip Wheaton, Panama Invaded (New Jersey, 1992), p. 14-15; this is from testimony recorded by the staff of the Central American Human Rights Center of San Jose, Costa Rica, taken in Panama on Jan. 29, 1990 from a Red Cross contact cited in William Blum, Rogue State Common Courage Press, 1995. p. 55.

(27) Christopher Reed, My Journey to Caxias, How the CIA Taught the Portuguese to Torture May 21, 2004 in Counterpunch

(28) A.J. Langguth , Hidden Terrors (New York, 1978 ) pp. 285-7 and passim. Langguth was formerly with the New York Times and in 1965 served as Saigon Bureau Chief of the newspaper; NewYork Times, 15 August, 1970 cited in

William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 201.

(29) Extracts from the report of the Senate Commission of Inquiry into Torture, a document accompanying the film script in State of Siege (Ballantine Books , New York, 1973) pp. 194-6; also see “Death of a Policeman: Unanswered Questions About a Tragedy” Commonweal (Catholic biweekly magazine, New York), 18 September 1970, p. 457; Langguth, p. 249. cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, 201.

(30) San Francisco Chronicle, 2 November, 1981 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 204.

(31) Donald Duncan, The New Legions (London, 1967) pp. 28,31 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 128.

(32) Chicago Daily News, 20 October 1965; Washington Post, 21 October 1965 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 130.

(33) Victor Marchetti and John Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (New York, 1975) pp.236-7 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 131.

(34) William Colby, Honorable Men, My Life in the CIA (New York) pp. 273, 275-6 cited in William Blum, Killing Hope Common Courage Press, 1995, p. 131.

(35) Mark Zepezauer, The CIA’s Greatest Hits, Odonian Press, 1994 p. 16.