13. Torture in the Crucible of Counterinsurgency

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the White House made torture its secret weapon in the War on Terror. Although Washington mobilized its regular military forces for conventional attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, the main challenge in this new kind of warfare was a covert campaign against “non-state actors,” terrorists who moved easily, elusively across the Muslim world from Morocco to Manila in “ad hoc networks that dissolve as soon as the mission is accomplished.” With its countless Cold War victories, overthrowing enemies on four continents by coups and covert operations, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had an aura of invincibility and soon became Washington’s chosen instrument against Al Qaeda. Yet, in truth, the Agency’s reputation for clandestine derring-do was grossly inflated and its qualifications for this new mission were few indeed.
Though often brilliant against states or state agencies, the CIA remained, at base, a centralized Washington bureaucracy usually lacking the local knowledge, languages, or street smarts for effective intelligence gathering on non-state actors. In its half-century history before September 2001, the CIA had fought only one covert war comparable to its new anti-terror mission against Al Qaeda and the results of its earlier counter-terror campaign during the Vietnam War were decidedly mixed. Desperate for intelligence about its invisible enemy, an underground movement called the Viet Cong, the agency soon descended into systematic torture of suspected communists. Then, forty years later, confronted with a second, similar campaign against another non-state actor, Islamic terrorists, the CIA soon found it had few, if any, assets inside Al Qaeda or militant Muslim circles, forcing the agency to revive the torture techniques it had once used in South Vietnam. With surprising speed, Washington’s recourse to torture in Afghanistan and Iraq soon replicated the same patterns first seen during its “dirty war” in Vietnam–an uncontrolled proliferation of torture into a generalized brutality, anger among the local population, and alienation of the American people from the larger war effort.
Once torture begins, its perpetrators–reaching into that remote terrain where pain and pleasure, procreation and destruction all converge–are often swept away by frenzies of power and potency, mastery and control. Just as interrogators are often drawn in by an empowering sense of dominance over victims, so their superiors, even at the highest level, can succumb to fantasies of torture as an all-powerful weapon. Thus, modern states that sanction torture, even in a limited way, run the risk of becoming increasingly indiscriminate in its application. When U.S. leaders have used torture to fight faceless adversaries, both communist and terrorist, its practice has spread almost uncontrollably. Only four years after the CIA compiled its 1963 manual for use against a few key Soviet counterintelligence targets, its agents were operating forty interrogation centers in South Vietnam that killed over 20,000 suspects and tortured countless thousands more. Similarly, just a few months after the CIA used its techniques on a few “high target value” Al Qaeda suspects, the practice spread to the interrogation of hundreds of Afghans and thousands of Iraqis. In both cases, moreover, not only did torture spread, but the level of abuse escalated relentlessly beyond the scientific patina of the agency’s formal psychological method to become pervasively, perversely brutal.
At the deepest level, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Kabul are manifestations of a long history of a distinctive U.S. covert-warfare doctrine developed since World War II, in which psychological torture has emerged as a central albeit clandestine facet of American foreign policy. From 1950 to 1962, the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort that reached a billion dollars annually—a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind. After experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, this work then produced a new approach to torture that was psychological, not physical, perhaps best described as “no touch torture.”
After a decade of this covert research, the CIA codified its new method in the curiously named “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” manual in 1963 and then set about disseminating these torture techniques to anti-communist allies worldwide. In propagating its new interrogation doctrine from 1962 to 1991, the agency moved through two distinct phases, at first operating undercover through a U.S. police-training program active in Asia and Latin America and later collaborating with U.S. Army training teams that advised local counterinsurgency forces, largely in Central America. Throughout this thirty-year effort, the CIA’s torture training grew increasingly brutal, moving by degrees beyond its original psychological techniques to harsh physical methods through its experience of pacification in Vietnam.
In sum, the development of the agency’s techniques at the height of the Cold War, through a confused, even chaotic process, created a covert interrogation capacity that the White House could deploy at times of extraordinary crisis, whether in South Vietnam in 1968 or Iraq in 2003. Indeed, the pervasive, persistent influence of the Agency’s torture paradigm can be seen in the recurrence of the same interrogation methods used by both American and allied security agencies in Vietnam during the 1960s, Central America in the 1980s, and Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Across the span of three continents and four decades, there is a striking similarity in U.S. torture techniques–from the CIA’s 1963 Kubark interrogation manual, to its 1983 Honduras training handbook, all the way to General Ricardo Sanchez’s 2003 orders for interrogation in Iraq.

Office of Public Safety
From 1962 to 1974, the CIA worked through the Office of Public Safety (OPS), a division of U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) that posted American police advisers to developing nations. Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, OPS grew, in just six years, into a global anti-communist operation with an annual budget of $35 million and over 400 U.S. police advisers assigned worldwide. By 1971, the program had trained over a million policemen in forty-seven nations, including 85,000 in South Vietnam and 100,000 in Brazil. Concealed in the midst of this larger effort, CIA interrogation training soon proved controversial as police agencies across the Third World became synonymous with human rights abuse— particularly in South Vietnam, Uruguay, Iran, and the Philippines.
To launch this aggressive Cold War effort in the early 1960s, the Kennedy administration formed the inter-agency Special Group-Counter Insurgency (CI) whose influential members could cut across bureaucratic boundaries to get the job done — General Maxwell Taylor, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, CIA Director John McCone, and Undersecretary of State U. Alexis Johnson. As a National Security Action Memorandum indicated in 1962, “the President desires that careful consideration be given to intensifying civil police programs in lieu of military assistance where such action will yield more fruitful results in terms of our internal security objective.” Although “the police program is even more important than Special Forces in our global C-I [counter-insurgency] effort,” argued staff member Robert Komer in an April 1962 memo, finding a “congenial home” for this multi-agency initiative proved difficult. In sum, the problem was how to increase U.S. AID’s existing police program so that it would function as an instrument for a more aggressive CIA internal-security effort among Third World allies. The solution, apparently, was to expand the public safety program within U.S. AID while simultaneously placing it under the control of CIA personnel — notably the program’s head, Byron Engle. During his decade as OPS chief, Engle recruited CIA personnel for the program and provided close coordination with the Agency’s intelligence mission.
The hybrid nature of OPS allowed CIA field operatives an ideal cover for dissemination of the agency’s new interrogation techniques. In South Vietnam, for example, Public Safety trained national police in what the U.S. chief adviser called “stringent wartime measures designed to assist in defeating the enemy.” At the provincial level, Vietnamese National Police Field Forces, trained by OPS, worked with CIA mercenaries in apprehending suspected communists for interrogation. In Latin America, the CIA used Public Safety to recruit local police for training at a clandestine center in Washington, International Police Services, that operated behind a blind provided by U.S. AID’s International Police Academy (IPA). In its audit of OPS in 1976, the General Accounting Office reported that “there were allegations that the academy . . . taught or encouraged use of torture,” but its investigation did not support a formal finding of that nature.
Elsewhere in this worldwide effort, the CIA worked through public safety advisers in Brazil and Uruguay to provide local police with training and interrogation equipment. Through its field offices in Panama and Buenos Aires, the Agency’s Technical Services Division (TSD), the unit responsible for this psychological research, shipped polygraph and electro-shock
machines in diplomatic pouches to Public Safety offices across Latin America. For all its global reach, however, Public Safety’s operations were, as the Vietnam War heated up during the 1960s, increasingly concentrated in South Vietnam.

Rise of Phoenix
From the start of the US advisory effort in South Vietnam in 1961, the military concentrated on conventional combat, leaving operations against the communist underground government, or what the French called “dirty war,” to the CIA. For nearly fifteen years, the agency waged a covert campaign against the communist infrastructure in South Vietnam that culminated in the formation of its most famous, or notorious, covert operation, the Phoenix Program. After experimenting with police training, psychological warfare, and rural reconstruction, the agency defaulted to a program of systematic torture and extra-judicial executions that killed, by its own count, over 20,000 suspected communist cadre.
The first Public Safety advisers sent to South Vietnam tried to transform the National Police into an effective counter-insurgency force, but by 1963 the clear failure of this effort created pressures for a new approach. Arriving at Saigon in December of that year, the new CIA station chief, Peer DeSilva, soon decided that “the Vietcong were monstrous in their application of torture and murder.” Inspired by a doctrine of counter-terror, DeSilva began a campaign “to bring danger and death to the Vietcong functionaries themselves, especially in the areas where they felt secure.” It was this campaign of counter terror that would lead the agency, by degrees, to the development of extraordinary methods whose sum was formalized, after 1967, under the Phoenix Program.
The CIA thus embarked on a project of both expanding and centralizing South Vietnam’s scattered intelligence operations, which all fell, at least nominally, under its counterpart agency, Saigon’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO). Four Agency advisors were assigned to give the Vietnamese hands-on training by interrogating the hundreds of prisoners locked up inside the concrete walls of the CIO’s National Interrogation Center. After a year under DeSilva’s leadership, each of the forty-plus provinces in South Vietnam had a Province Intelligence Coordination Committee and its own concrete prison compound called the Provincial Interrogation Center (PIC). In these same years, the CIA sent many more “experts . . . most of whom had worked on Russian defectors” from its Technical Services Division to train or re-train the Vietnamese interrogators. Instead of the “old French methods” of crude physical torture, most evident in the Saigon police, the Vietnamese, in the words of one CIA trainer, “had to be re-taught with more sophisticated techniques,” including the agency’s new psychological paradigm. At the provincial centers, however, crude physical methods continued to prevail, including electrical shock, beatings, and rape.
As the CIA brought this covert war to the countryside in 1965, its senior field operative William Colby launched the Counter Terror (CT) program. “CIA representatives,” wrote Agency analyst Victor Marchetti, “recruited, organized, supplied, and directly paid CT teams, whose function was to use…techniques of terror–assassination, abuses, kidnappings and intimidation–against the Viet Cong leadership.” A year later, the CIA “became wary of adverse publicity surrounding the use of the word ‘terror’ and changed the name of the CT teams to the Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs).” Colby also supervised construction of the Provincial Interrogation Centers (PIC) where a CIA employee “directed each center’s operations, much of which consisted of torture tactics against suspected Vietcong, such torture usually carried out by Vietnamese nationals.” By 1965–66, the CIA had thus developed a nationwide intelligence-collection system that reached from the National Interrogation Center in Saigon down to the society’s rice roots via the PIC operations and the PRU counter-terror campaign.
The program expanded in 1967 when Washington established a centralized pacification bureaucracy, Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS). Under this umbrella, the CIA drew all the scattered U.S. counterinsurgency operations–Public Safety police training, military intelligence, the CIO, and its own interrogation units–into CORDS and then used this labyrinthine bureaucracy to conceal the covert assassination campaign that was later named the “Phoenix program.” With limitless funding and unrestrained powers, Phoenix represented an application of the most advanced US interrogation techniques to the task of destroying the Viet Cong’s revolutionary underground.
As conventional combat failed to defeat the enemy, the US mission created Phoenix to correct a major contradiction in its complex, collaborative relationship with South Vietnam’s weak government. The National Police, despite a doubling of their strength to 120,000 between 1966 and 1972, suffered poor leadership and “pervasive corruption” that blunted its effectiveness against the Viet Cong’s underground government. And the South Vietnamese army, as one of its officers explained, felt that “this unarmed enemy was not their proper adversary.” With the police unable and the army unwilling to engage in effective counterinsurgency, the CIA felt the need for a new kind of clandestine operation to attack this invisible communist government that threatened to deny Saigon any control over its countryside and thus defeat the U.S. war effort.
After two years of escalating military operations, the US mission sensed, by mid 1966, that it had failed in its key mission of destroying the enemy’s underground government, which it called the “Viet Cong infrastructure,” or VCI. As Washington and its Saigon command began to realize the limitations of conventional combat, a search for solutions allowed this rare bureaucratic opening for a review of numerous smaller programs long obscured by main-force military operations–making the new pacification program the sum of diverse sources superseded efforts.
In the Mekong Delta’s IV Corps, for example, the chief of US Army intelligence, General Joseph McChristian, found himself in conflict with the CIA and so allied with the head of the National Police, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, to launch Operation Cong Tac IV in mid 1966 with the aim of gathering “intelligence on the identification and location of Viet Cong.” As this program expanded, General Loan in turn delegated its supervision to his CIA-trained Branch chief, Colonel Dang Van Minh, who proposed to transform it into a supple program he called Phung Hoan, or Phoenix, reflecting his view that VC cadre were “to be monitored, not killed.”
In the far north of I Corps, by contrast, the US Marines and CIA collaborated effectively in pacification. To help the Marines cut casualties from entrenched Viet Cong units, the regional CIA paramilitary chief, Robert Wall, developed a localized counter-guerrilla net, the District Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center (DIOCC), that became “the model on which Phoenix facilities were later built throughout Vietnam.”
This long-gestation bureaucratic process began to crystallize in November 1966 when Nelson H. Brickham, a senior CIA analyst generally credited with “the organizational, reforms that paved the way for Phoenix,” briefed the U.S. commander, General William Westmoreland, on his proposal for an “Attack Against the Viet Cong Infrastructure.” Viewing the Viet Cong as a “mafia” that controlled the countryside through terror, Brickham proposed a multi-faceted assault on the communist underground through a mix of penetration, arrest, and assassination by an array of non-military forces–including the National Police Special Branch, the CIA’s Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs), and regional militia. “Without an infrastructure,” Brickham later explained, “there is only a headless body. Destroy the infrastructure, you destroy the insurgency.”
Reflecting these new priorities, in May 1967 President Lyndon Johnson dispatched Robert W. Komer, a tough CIA bureaucratic in-fighter known as the “blowtorch,” to head CORDS as his new hand-picked pacification czar. To liaise with this additional layer of bureaucracy, the agency’s Saigon station chief assigned Brickham to draft “a general plan for pacification,” and he in turn sent Komer his “Personal Observations” with proposals for an intensified attack on the Viet Cong. “The war is a run on a treadmill,” Brickham warned, “as long as existing and totally inadequate process and facilities for detention and neutralization of captured VC remains unchanged.” More broadly, the ephemeral rural presence of US representatives, military and civil, meant that the massive American commitment to Vietnam was having surprisingly little impact. In most rural districts, a refugee officer “kicks bags of rice off of his helicopter and then disappears”; a Public Safety officer assigned to open a detention camp “looks around for fifteen minutes and disappears, never to be seen again”; and a Popular Forces company receives “an occasional visit by a so-called adviser.” Instead of focusing on the battle for the countryside, most agencies, Vietnamese and American, devoted themselves to “private wars” against bureaucratic rivals in Saigon. ARVN, for example, “will have nothing but contempt for Police Intelligence”; while combat units “ignore ‘infrastructure’ and go around looking for big main force enemy which they never or rarely find.” Not surprisingly, “all agencies betray an abysmal ignorance of programs of their colleagues.” This Babel of autonomous information systems– including, Police Special Branch, the Provincial Interrogation Centers, and “various military intelligence sub-systems”– meant “no effective attack has yet been devised for…degradation of VC infrastructure.”
To correct these “numerous grave weaknesses,’ Brickham recommended a “centrally designed and controlled reporting and information system” using “automated data processing systems which have a greatly expanded capacity for storing, manipulating and reproducing information.” With a management model borrowed from the Ford Motor Company, he proposed formation of a centralized pacification committee in Saigon with Robert Komer as chair and a “board of directors” drawn from all US intelligence organizations, civil and military.
Ambassador Komer found the proposal persuasive and, in June 1967, his CORDS office convened a whirlwind round of meetings among top American and Vietnamese officials to build support for a fundamental reorganization of allied intelligence. Under the rubric of the ICEX program, bureaucratic shorthand for “Infrastructure Intelligence Coordination and Exploitation,” he proposed nothing less than an all-out attack on the Viet Cong. At one of these early briefings in Saigon, CORDS explained that, until now, the Vietnamese National Police had compiled most of the intelligence on the Viet Cong’s 80,000 members, but much of this data had been “buried in files, and little effort has been directed toward properly exploiting this information.” To correct this failing and facilitate “the identification and destruction of the infrastructure,” ICEX, a direct predecessor of the Phoenix program, would operate at four, closely coordinated levels: a centralized command in Saigon of top civil and military representatives chaired by Komer himself and managed by a senior CIA paramilitary specialist, Evan Parker; a regional committee in the country’s four corps areas headed by “the CIA Regional Officer in Charge”; a provincial committee led by the senior American adviser who “will be provided a Province ICEX Advisor by CIA”; and, in some hundred selected localities where Viet Cong were strong, a District Operations Intelligence Coordinating Center (DIOCC) supported by the local Provincial Reconnaissance (PRU) and Provincial Interrogation Center (PIC). Though this ICEX structure was still new, there had already been, CORDS reported, some promising signs–notably, the identification of “9,000 VC personalities,” the insertion of “21,000 additional names…in the base data,” and the recent capture of 160 VC cadre in the capital Saigon.
Within days, both the US embassy and the US military command endorsed “the proposed concept for mounting a stepped-up, coordinated attack on the VC infrastructure.” In internal memos, CORDS reported that the US military had committed 126 additional officers to “a joint civil-military management structure.” By centralizing all existing intelligence operations under ICEX, this new effort would, CORDS promised, produce a “timely exploration of operational intelligence” for a “more sharply focused attack.”
From the outset, however, the Saigon regime’s bureaucratic inertia, corruption, and incapacity threatened the program’s success. Most fundamentally, the country’s judicial system proved problematic. As ICEX generated a tide of arrests, CORDS soon discovered what it called “the total inadequacy of physical facilities…for either processing, holding or imprisoning civil detainees.” In December, a top CORDS official, John G. Lybrand, reported that civil court system “does not handle VC defendants,” making “judicial processing…the responsibility of various military tribunals.” After capture by police or military, VC suspects were subjected to tactical interrogation before transfer to “higher headquarters for further interrogation” where the “processing…looses all coherence.” Since the country’s forty-four civil and military prisons were filled to bursting, most detainees rounded up in these early sweeps were soon released. For example, searches by the US 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku Province in early 1967 had netted some 165 Viet Cong suspects, but 158 of these were soon released, including senior cadre “with the means to effect reprisals or the means to buy release.” The seven detained “appeared to be those who had neither the money to bribe their way free nor sufficient importance to the VC organization to warrant an outlay of money for their release.” In general, CORDS concluded, “any individual possessing a sufficient amount of cash can purchase his freedom at any level of the penal system in Vietnam.”
More critically, the ICEX program, as CORDS noted in an internal memo, “cannot succeed without acceptance and energetic support by the Director General of National Police,” the all-powerful General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. As the trusted ally of Premier Nguyen Cao Ky and the head of every major Saigon security agency, General Loan was the dominant force in Saigon’s security effort. When CORDS presented the program to Loan, he “turned it down flat” in part because he thought it would promote his rival Nguyen Van Thieu and in part because, as Brickham put it, he “looked upon it as an infringement of their sovereignty.” It was not until November that General Loan’s “earlier misgivings” were overcome after assurances that “that police intelligence sources and operations need not be revealed, and that police participation…will be to their advantage.” Despite this “disheartening…initial reluctance of the National Police,” CORDS had already established some 115 of the local coordinating committees, the critical DIOCC, which were preparing “blacklists and most-wanted lists…to good effect.” By late 1967, however, it was still not clear whether Saigon officials would “really be willing to go all out and apprehend, try, and imprison, or destroy identified and identifiable VC infrastructure.”
In December, the prime minister’s office finally backed the ICEX program by issuing a “Directive on the Neutralization of the VCI” instructing all relevant South Vietnamese agencies to “take full note of the importance of the matter.” By ordering that the “committees in charge of VCI are called Phung Hoang Committees,” this order gave the program both its distinctive name, Phung Hoang or Phoenix, and its basic organizational character as a collaborative, Vietnamese-American pacification effort. Six months later in July 1968, President Nguyen Van Thieu issued a supplementary directive establishing Phoenix in its final form as “a program, not an organization, to bring about collaboration…among all government agencies which could contribute to the identification and neutralization of the VCI.” Within a year as Vietnamese took control, US officials withdrew from “direct responsibility for the program” though they remained involved as advisers to the Vietnamese Special Police and coordinators for intelligence gathering “on the American side.”
In Saigon, the fully evolved Phoenix program used sophisticated computer information banks, located at the Combined Intelligence Center Vietnam (CICV), to centralize all data on the Viet Cong infrastructure, identifying key communist cadre for interrogation or elimination. In the countryside, Phoenix made use of this intelligence through specially trained counter-guerrilla teams, the PRUs, attached to one of the CIA’s forty plus Provincial Interrogation Centers or PIC. Miming the clandestine cell structure of the Viet Cong units, each PRU was a six-man team which elaborated, through a pyramid-structure, into a provincial unit of 146 men.
After three years of operations from 1967 to 1969, the CIA transferred Phoenix operations to US Army’s military intelligence, and US command, in turn, conceded control to the Vietnamese police. Upon arrival in Saigon in November 1969, the new CIA station chief Ted Shackley decided that “the pacification programs had come of age…that the agency contribution was no longer required,” launching a six-month phase-out that would “free up CIA resources to improve the quality of the intelligence product, to penetrate the Vietcong.” In this transition, the CIA conducted an internal review of Phoenix that summarized the program’s fitful three-year progress to the point where the situation in the countryside could be described as a “race” between the Viet Cong, whose infrastructure had declined to 63,000 members, and the Saigon government, which “has also been slowing in developing its tools for this new nature of the war, Phoenix and the National Police.” Despite promising growth since its inception in mid 1967, Phoenix was still troubled by “its poor press image, highlighted by charges that it was a program of assassination.” Indeed, through what the mission called an “intensive effort at computer mechanization,” the program had developed “a successive hardening of the quota system…to obtain maximum incentive toward elimination of higher level VCI,” raising the monthly total of those “captured, rallied, killed” from 1,200 in 1968 to 1,800 in 1969. By October 1970, Phoenix accounted for “82.9 percent of VCI killed or captured” by all allied forces, US and South Vietnamese. Simultaneously, a “series of actions were launched to…make more effective the overall Phoenix program”–including the creation of “operations centers…at the national, regional, provincial, and district level”; an acceptance among Saigon officials that it was, in fact, their program, culminating in a “marked rise in command attention to Phoenix”; and, in May 1970, a Saigon government decision to place the entire program under the Directorate General of National Police.
The sum of these changes was, the CIA reported, a significant increase in the Saigon government’s presence in the countryside. Long the “stepchild” of the Saigon government, the National Police was finally moving beyond its “strong colonial tradition” as a highly bureaucratic capital security force “in the best French tradition.” Starting in 1969, the National Police shifted its focus from capital to countryside, placing 50 percent of its forces at the district level and establishing 1,800 village police stations. This latter move had produced promising results by “permitting direct…report through Police channels to Phoenix.” In Quang Tin Province, for example, local officials “conducted several massive…offensives against many targets” and created “a Phoenix operations unit, consisting of the National Police Field Force (NPFF), Provincial Reconnaissance Unit (PRU), and Armed Propaganda Team (APT).” From a low of 16,890 officers in 1963, the National Police had grown rapidly, through transfer of 25,000 military personnel, to a projected strength of 122,000 by late 1971. Centralization of Saigon’s effort under the National Police had, moreover, facilitated the ongoing US advisory support for Phoenix by CORDS, Public Safety, military intelligence, and CIA. Through its lead role in rural pacification, the National Police were overcoming their low status “behind the power curve in this military society” and “is slowly rising (albeit from the cellar) in public…esteem.’
Simultaneously, the detention system. the CIA reported, had shown a marked improvement in operation and capacity. Instead of the wholesale corruption evident in 1967, legal handling of captured VCI had improved “to provide a greater component of justice in the proceedings.” Between 1966 and 1970, some 193,000 prisoners, including 100,725 “communist criminals,” had been released from Correction Centers after serving their sentences. But there was still little effort “on a consistent basis in Vietnam to rehabilitate detainees.” Nonetheless, the sum of these changes allowed the Saigon government, in October 1969, to launch the “Phoenix Public Information program” in an attempt to “surface Phoenix publicly, under the rationale of protecting the people from terrorism.”
Even so, the program preserved much of the covert and coercive facets built into its institutional DNA. In 1970, the first year of Vietnamese control, Phoenix assassinations reached their all-time peak of 8,191. Vietnamese police officers selected for training in advanced interrogation techniques at the International Police Academy (IPA) in Washington, a front for covert CIA torture training, readily accepted such brutality as essential for national security. After devoting four pages of his fourteen-page thesis to a history of European torture, Luu Van Huu of the National Police summarized lessons learned: “We have 4 sorts of torture: use of force as such; threats; physical suffering, imposed indirectly; and mental or psychological torture.” Similarly, in his 1971 paper for the IPA, Le Van An of Vietnam’s National Police defended torture, saying: “Despite the fact that brutal interrogation is strongly criticized by moralists, its importance must not be denied if we want to have order and security in daily life.”
Despite later CIA rhetoric designed to give Phoenix a sanitized, technical patina, it soon devolved into a brutality that produced many casualties but few verifiable results. For all its management gloss, the program’s strategy remained grounded in DeSilva’s original vision of physical and psychological counter terror. After a PRU brought in suspected communists, PIC interrogators, often under CIA supervision, tortured these prisoners and summarily executed many without trial or due process. Often these PRUs degenerated into petty protection rackets, extracting bribes from accused communists, and eliminating suspects on the basis of unsubstantiated gossip. Although early recruits were often well motivated, the PRUs began to attract social outcasts, including convicted criminals, who embraced their basic task, murder, by tattooing themselves “Sat Cong” (Kill Communists). According to a 1970 report in the New York Times, each PRU “consists of a dozen or more South Vietnamese mercenaries, originally recruited and paid handsomely by the CIA” who were usually “local hoodlums, soldiers of fortune, draft-dodgers, defectors.”

In their memoirs, former CIA operatives confirmed this dismal assessment of Phoenix’s operations. During a tour of the program’s provincial interrogation centers near Saigon in 1969, a CIA regional chief, Orrin DeForest, was “disgusted” to find them “irretrievable, just a horrible mess…commonly considered the sites of the worst tortures–in particular the water treatment, where they forced water down prisoners’ throats until their stomachs swelled up, or the torture in which they applied electric shock to the genitals and nipples.” Assigned to this same region as CIA chief for Gia Dinh Province in 1968, Ralph W. McGehee found himself in “the middle of an insane war” that defied rationality and mocked the statistical indices of progress amassed by the vast CORDS counterinsurgency program. “The CORDS meetings,” he recalled, “the killings by the CIA’s assassination teams–the Provincial Reconnaissance Units–and the absurd intelligence-collection activities progressed as in a Greek tragedy.” As he left Saigon in 1970, the Phoenix program’s founder, Robert Komer, described it as “a small, poorly managed, and largely ineffective effort.” Indeed, one Pentagon contract-study of Phoenix’s operations found that, in 1970-71, only 3 percent of the Viet Cong “killed, captured, or rallied were full or probationary Party members above the district level.” Over half the supposed Viet Cong captured or killed “were not even Party members.” CIA veteran McGehee was even blunter, stating: “The truth is that never in the history of our work in Vietnam did we get one clear-cut, high-ranking Viet Cong agent.” Not surprisingly, a pacification effort based on this problematic program failed either to crush the Viet Cong or win the support of Vietnamese villagers, contributing to the ultimate U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War.

Investigating Phoenix
The character of CIA pacification in Vietnam first emerged, albeit obliquely, in 1969 during the investigation of Colonel Robert B. Rheault, a West Point graduate and Special Forces commander, for the summary execution of a suspected Viet Cong spy named Thai Khac Chuyen. After the Green Berets captured a roll of film revealing that their Vietnamese operative was a double agent working for the enemy, they used sodium pentathol (“truth serum”) and lie-detector tests, probably with CIA assistance, for an interrogation that supposedly confirmed his treason. Thinking the agency had ordered his “elimination,” the Special Forces unit at Nha Trang drugged Chuyen with morphine, shot him with a .22 caliber pistol, and dumped his body at sea. Furious, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, ordered a “no-holds-barred” investigation that culminated in murder charges against Colonel Rheault, the alleged trigger-man Captain Robert F. Marasco, and five other Green Beret officers. But the CIA, at the behest of the Nixon White House, refused to allow its agents to testify, ultimately forcing the Army to back down and dismiss charges against Colonel Rheault and his five co-accused. In its analysis of the case, the New York Times argued the killing was a product of confused intelligence operations that had been the impetus, two years earlier, for formation of the CIA’s Phoenix program to train Vietnamese assets “in the fine art of silent killing.” Indeed, two years later Captain Marasco admitted that he had shot the double-agent on “very,very clear orders from the CIA,” and claimed there had been “hundreds” of similar summary executions in South Vietnam. Despite the case’s dismissal, the investigation thus alerted the U.S. Congress and public to the covert war against the Viet Cong, one that apparently included summary executions of “suspected” VC agents.
After nearly four years of these murky operations, Congress and the press finally exposed the Phoenix Program in 1970. William Colby, a career CIA officer and chief of pacification in Vietnam, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that, in 1969 alone, Phoenix had killed 6,187 members of the 75,000 strong Viet Cong infrastructure. Although admitting some “illegal killings,” Colby rejected a suggestion by Senator J. William Fulbright (Democrat, Arkansas) that it was “a program for the assassination of civilian leaders.”
In the wake of this press exposé, the House Operations Subcommittee conducted the first wide-ranging congressional probe of CIA pacification operations, finding that Phoenix had killed 9,820 Viet Cong suspects in the past fourteen months. “I am shocked and dismayed,” said Representative Ogden R. Reid (Republican, New York). “Assassination and terror by the Viet Cong or Hanoi should not, and must not, call forth the same methods by Saigon, let alone the United States, directly or indirectly.”
Several days later, William Colby told the committee that Phoenix had killed 20,587 Viet Cong suspects since 1968. The Saigon government provided figures attributing 40,994 Viet Cong kills to the Phoenix program. When Representative Reid charged that Phoenix was responsible for “indiscriminate killings,” Colby defended his program as “an essential part of the war effort” that was “designed to protect the Vietnamese people from terrorism.”
In these same hearings, K. Barton Osborn, a Military Intelligence veteran who had worked with the CIA’s Phoenix program in 1967–68, described “the insertion of the six-inch dowel into the ear canal of one of my detainee’s ears and the tapping through the brain until he died; and the starving to death of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being part of the local [Viet Cong] political education cadre.” He also recalled “the use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to the. . . women’s vagina and the men’s testicles . . .[to] shock them into submission.” During his eighteen months with the Phoenix program, not a single VC suspect had survived CIA interrogation. All these “extralegal, illegal, and covert” procedures were, Osborn testified, found in the Defense Collection Intelligence Manual, issued to him during his intelligence training at Ft. Holabird, Maryland. Adding to this lethal aura, by 1972 the Phoenix total for enemy “neutralization” had risen to 81,740 Viet Cong eliminated and 26,369 prisoners killed.

To discredit such damaging testimony, the U.S. Army Intelligence Command conducted a thorough investigation of Osborn’s charges which William Colby released, in a declassified summary, during his 1973 confirmation hearings as CIA director. Though the Army’s classified report nitpicked many of his secondary details, it did not challenge Osborne’s overall sense of Phoenix’s systematic brutality–a negative assessment confirmed by both eye-witness accounts and official studies.
In early 1968, for example, two CORDS evaluators, John G. Lybrand and L. Craig Johnstone, conducted an official review of the program in II Corps (Central Vietnam), finding that: “The truncheon and electric shock method of interrogation were in widespread use, with almost all [U.S.] advisers admitting to have witnessed instances of the use of these methods.” As their Saigon counterparts started these cruel interrogations, the study found that, “Most advisers claimed they did not personally take part in [tortures] but ‘turned their backs on them.’” Similarly, an American who advised PRU irregulars in Binh Thuan Province during 1968-69, Richard Welcome, indicates that Americans allowed their Phoenix allies wide latitude: “Prisoners were abused. Were they tortured? It depends on what you call torture. Electricity was used by the Vietnamese, water was used, occasionally some of the prisoners got beat up. Were any of them put on the rack, eyes gouged out, bones broken? No, I never saw any evidence of that at all.” Even Colby himself, the program’s founder, admitted “various of the things that Mr. Osborn alleges might have happened.” In the wink-nudge approach that Phoenix advisers adopted to abuses by their Saigon allies, Colby added that, “Phoenix…was not to be a program of assassination and we issued instructions…that not only were American not to participate…but they were to make their objections known…I did receive some reports of this nature…and took them up with the government of South Vietnam…I knew there were people killed, there is no question about it, …but I certainly reject the idea that it was a systematic program of assassination.” Reviewing this evidence, one recent conservative history of Phoenix concluded that “the large majority of South Vietnamese interrogators tortured some or all of the Communist prisoners in their care” and “a smaller number tortured villagers suspected of collaborating with the Communists.” `
Even in the aftermath of revelations about Phoenix, there was still a deep, almost inexplicable silence over the issue of torture. In 1977, for example, former CIA agent Frank Snepp published a best-selling memoir of his Vietnam experience. With graphic detail reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, Snepp’s first chapter described the months he spent torturing a captured North Vietnamese cadre, Nguyen Van Tai. Just as Orwell’s fictional interrogator broke the anti-hero Wilson by discovering his greatest fear, rats, so CIA and Vietnamese interrogators found that this dedicated communist cadre had one “psychic-physical flaw”–a deep fear of cold. For over four years, the CIA, using its torture technique of sensory deprivation, kept Tai in solitary confinement inside an all-white, windowless room with just one feature–“heavy-duty air conditioners.” Even so, the Vietnamese interrogators failed. Next, an “American specialist” made little progress. Finally, Snepp himself, assigned to the case as lead interrogator, maintained the endless, painfully cold air conditioning and probed, through two or three interrogations daily, to discover “only two discernibly exploitable flaws” in Tai’s personality–most importantly, a deep longing to return to his wife and child. Playing upon this weakness “to drive the wedge deeper,” Snepp varied Tai’s interview times “so as to throw off his internal clock” and tantalized him with the hope of reunion with his family. These CIA textbook techniques finally worked and the dossier began to grow as Tai, enticed by Snepp’s hints of release, began talking. Just before Saigon fell, however, a “senior CIA official” suggested that Tai should be “disappeared” and he was “loaded onto an airplane and thrown out over the South China Sea.”
By his references to an “American specialist” in interrogation, the elaborate sensory deprivation, and psychological probing to produce personality regression, Snepp provided unmistakable clues that the CIA was, by this point, applying sophisticated torture techniques. But the press focused on his tales of political intrigue and ignored these revelations that the Agency was engaged in torture. In retrospect, all the sensational revelations about the Phoenix program’s extraordinary toll of extra-judicial executions and CIA drug experimentation failed to expose anything approaching the full extent of the agency’s torture training and thus produced little lasting reform.

Lessons for Latin America
In retrospect, Phoenix proved a seminal experience for the U.S. intelligence community, combining both physical and psychological techniques in an extreme method that would serve as a model for later U.S. counterinsurgency training in Latin America. At a deeper level, moreover, the year 1975 is doubly significant, marking not only the defeat of the United States in Vietnam but also the dissolution of the Office of Public Safety, a long-time cover for CIA torture training.
Amidst these traumatic transitions, CIA, in collaboration with the Defense Department, intensified its efforts in Latin America where Washington was determined to hold the line against communism. Denied access to Latin American police after the abolition of OPS in 1975, the CIA would work primarily through U.S. military advisers to train allied armies. We can track this paper-trail through once-secret Pentagon memos about “Project X,” the Army’s program for transmitting Vietnam’s lessons to South America.
In 1965-66, U.S. Army intelligence launched “Project X” designed, according to a confidential Pentagon memo, “to develop an exportable foreign intelligence package to provide counterinsurgency techniques learned in Vietnam to Latin American countries.” According to a Pentagon counterintelligence staffer, Linda Matthews, the team of U.S. Army officers drafting one of the project’s training manuals, “Intelligence for Stability Operations,” in 1967-68 was in contact with “a resident instruction course…in the Phoenix program” at the Army Intelligence School, and thus “some offending material from the Phoenix program may have found its way into the Project X materials.” One of these manuals, in the Pentagon’s words, “provided training regarding use of sodiopentathol compound in interrogation, abduction of adversary family members to influence the adversary, prioritization of adversary personalities for abduction, exile, physical beatings and execution”–in short, all the trademark Phoenix techniques. For the next quarter century, the U.S. Army would transmit these extreme tactics, by both direct training and mailing manuals, to the armies of ten Latin American nations. By the mid 1980s, counter-guerrilla operations in Colombia and Central America would thus bear an eerie but explicable resemblance to South Vietnam.
Eventually, Project X developed a complete counterinsurgency curriculum based on seven training manuals, all in Spanish, that addressed key tactical problems–including, Handling of Sources, Interrogation, Combat Intelligence, and Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla. Among these seven handbooks, at least five contained violent counter-terror tactics far beyond anything in the CIA’s 1963 Kubark manual. For example, the agency’s handbook on Handling of Sources refers, in the words of a Pentagon content analysis, “to motivation by fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.”
Upon closer reading, the 1989 edition of this Handling of Sources has chilling lessons about control of assets in counterinsurgency, applying past examples from the Philippines and Malaysia to current Latin American operations. By appealing to “mercenary motivations” or using “fear as a weapon,” the counter-intelligence agent recruits an “employee” for infiltration into a guerrilla zone, taking care to psychologically manipulate the employee’s every emotion and thus “maintain the necessary control.” To establish his asset’s credibility as a “guerrilla recruit,” the agent, the manual says, “could cause the arrest or detention of the employee’s parents, imprison the employee or give him a beating.” And if regular scrutiny of this employee’s reports reveals “possible deception,” then the agent begins with “friendly character interrogations,” checking all answers against an operational archive and preparing a “new Declaration of Personal History.” If this friendly approach fails to produce a similar breakthrough, then the agent should escalate to the “mental test,” waking the employee from a deep sleep for questioning, and then to the “mechanical test” with hypnotism and injection of sodiopentathol (“truth serum”). If the employee turns out to be an “information trafficker” or a guerrilla “penetration agent,” then our operative should “initiate termination proceedings” on “bad terms” through means “which are only limited by the agent’s imagination.” Although “threats of physical violence or true physical abuse” should, if possible, be avoided, the agent can effect an erring employee’s “removal by means of imprisonment” after setting him up “to commit an illegal act.” Or, in the ultimate twist, the agent can send “him in a specially dangerous mission for which he has been inadequately prepared…[and] pass information to guerrilla security elements”–thus, saving his government the cost of the bullet. Apart from these cold-blooded tactics of kidnap, murder, beatings, and betrayal, the manual evidences, throughout its 144 single-spaced pages, an amorality, a studied willingness to exploit an ally without restraint or compunction, hardened on the anvil of the Vietnam conflict.
For over twenty years, Project X was energetic, even determined, in its dissemination of these ruthless techniques. From 1966 to 1976, the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, then based in Panama, taught these methods to hundreds of Latin officers at its military intelligence course. After a four-year hiatus in this training caused by President Jimmy Carter’s human rights concerns, the U.S. Army’s Southern Command resumed distribution of revised editions of these manuals during the 1980s, using them as hand-outs for its training programs in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Between 1989 and 1991, moreover, the School of the Americas, now relocated to Georgia, issued 693 copies of these handbooks as texts in intelligence courses for students from ten nations, including Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Human Resources Manual
Though the U.S. intelligence community operated in this way across the continent, our detailed knowledge of the actual torture training in Latin America comes from a single, surviving document, the Agency’s Honduras “Human Resources Exploitation Manual — 1983.” In comparison with the Army’s Project X handbooks, with their lurid, post-Phoenix methods of kidnapping and murder, this CIA manual emphasizes the non-violent psychological techniques defined in the original Kubark interrogation doctrine–a reason, perhaps, that it survived the Pentagon’s later systematic destruction of almost all Project X documents. After completing a training session for Honduran military interrogators in early 1983, an anonymous CIA instructor evidently combined this field experience with the Agency’s psychological doctrine to produce a full statement of its methods.
At the outset of the Honduran training session, this anonymous instructor emphasizes that he will explain two types of “psychological techniques,” the coercive and non-coercive. “While we do not stress the use of coercive techniques,” the agent tells his students, “we do want to make you aware of them and the proper way to use them.” In his review of non-coercive techniques, the agent explains that they “are based on the principle of generating pressure inside the subject without application of outside force. This is accomplished by manipulating the victim psychologically until resistance is broken and an urge to yield is fortified.”
To establish control from the start the questioner should, the CIA instructor said, “manipulate the subject’s environment, to create unpleasant or intolerable situations, to disrupt patterns of time, space, and sensory perception. The subject is very much aware that the ‘questioner’ controls his ultimate disposition.” Among many possible techniques, the subject can be arrested at a time selected to “achieve surprise and the maximum amount of mental discomfort,” particularly, early morning when “most subjects experience intense feelings of shock, insecurity, and psychological stress.” Once in custody, a subject should be immediately placed in “isolation, both physical and psychological,” “completely stripped and told to take a shower” while blindfolded before a guard, and “provided with ill-fitting clothing (familiar clothing reinforces identity and thus the capacity for resistance).” If the subject proves resistant, then an interrogator can employ a “few non-coercive techniques which can be used to induce regression”–techniques that would be repeated twenty years later at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay:
A. Persistent manipulation of time
B. Retarding and advancing clocks
C. Serving meals at odd times
D. Disrupting sleep schedules
E. Disorientation regarding day and night

Though the manual’s overall approach is psychological, the CIA trainer points out that coercion still plays an important role in effective interrogation. “The purpose of all coercive techniques,” the CIA trainer explains, “is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist.” As coercion is applied, the subject suffers “a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level.”
There are, the manual states, three basic coercive techniques — debility, disorientation, and dread. “For centuries,” the CIA trainer explains, “‘questioners’ have employed various methods of inducing physical weakness . . . [on the] assumption that lowering the subject’s physiological resistance will lower his psychological capacity for resistance.” While disorientation can “destroy his capacity to resist,” sustained dread also “induces regression.” Thus, the trainer explains, in words that emphasize the primacy of the psychological over the physical: “The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. For example, the threat to inflict pain can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain.”
But even within the CIA’s psychological paradigm, there are times when threats of physical pain are necessary. “Threat is basically a means for establishing a bargaining position by inducing fear in the subject,” the trainer explains. “A threat should never be made unless it is part of the plan and the ‘questioner’ has the approval to carry out the threat.” In his conclusion, however, the trainer reiterates his emphasis on the psychological. “The torture situation is an external conflict, a contest between the subject and his tormentor,” he explains. Pain inflicted on the victim “from outside himself may actually…intensify his will to resist,” but pain that “he feels he is inflicting upon himself is more likely to sap his resistance.” Restating the defining tenet of the Agency’s interrogation doctrine, the manual warned that crude physical torture weakens the “moral caliber of the [security] organization and corrupts those that rely on it.”

Comparing this 1983 Honduran handbook with the CIA’s original 1963 Kubark manual reveals, in ten key passages, almost verbatim similarities in language for both conceptual design and technical detail. After psychological techniques to induce “regression” in the subject, both documents emphasize elimination of “sensory stimuli” through “solitary confinement to induce sensory disorientation.” In their emphasis on the use of self-inflicted pain, both manuals warn that pain inflicted externally, by an interrogator, can actually strengthen a subject’s resistance. Having articulated these two central elements, both documents then itemize the particular methods whose sum will effect a devastating psychological assault on individual identity–disorienting arrest, isolation, manipulation of time, threats of physical pain or drug injection, and careful staging of the interrogation room. (See, table below.) Between 1963 and 1983, enemies, continents, and interrogators may have changed, but the two essential elements of this interrogation method remained constant–sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain.

OPS in Latin America
Although the Phoenix program was the largest and bloodiest CIA interrogation effort, it was the OPS police training in Latin America that prompted a Senate attempt to end US torture training altogether. Ironically, it was the murder of an American police adviser in Uruguay that exposed the Public Safety’s involvement in torture and precipitated the program’s abolition.
This story broke in August 1970 when the New York Times reported that an American police adviser, Dan A. Mitrione, had been kidnapped by Tupamaro guerrillas in Montevideo. The first reports described him as an ordinary family man from Indiana who was heading the U.S. Public Safety program in Uruguay to encourage “responsible and humane police administration.” In an inadvertent hint of Mitrione’s actual mission, the report added that he “unquestionably knew more about the Tupamaro operations than any other United States official.” Ten days later in its report of his point-blank execution, the Times noted he “was considered to have contributed materially to the Government’s anti guerrilla campaign.” Nonetheless, an accompanying editorial expressed the paper’s “shock and horror,” saying: “Only diseased minds could see in the gunning down of this father of nine from Indiana the weakening of the capitalist system or the advancement of social revolution in the Americas.”
Only days after an emotional funeral in his hometown of Richmond, Indiana, the story of Mitrione’s role began to emerge. A senior Uruguayan police official, Alejandro Otero, told the Jornal do Brazil that Mitrione had used “violent techniques of torture and repression.” On August 15, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Montevideo called the charge “absolutely false.”

Eight years later, however, a Cuban double-agent, Manuel Hevia Cosculluela, who had joined the CIA and worked with Mitrione in Montevideo, published a book with a very different picture of this American hero. In the Cuban’s account, Mitrione had tortured four beggars to death with electrical shocks at a 1970 seminar to demonstrate his techniques for Uruguayan police trainees. “The special horror of the course,” Hevia added, “was its academic, almost clinical atmosphere. Mitrione’s motto was: ‘The right pain in the right place at the right time.’ A premature death, he would say, meant that the technique had failed.” Significantly, the Cuban charged that Mitrione’s deputy in the Public Safety office was William Cantrell, a CIA agent.
Only three months before Mitrione’s death in Uruguay, the unsettling coincidence of U.S. police training in Brazil and evidence of police torture finally raised questions about torture-training in the U.S. Congress. In May 1971, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee summoned the chief U.S. Public Safety adviser for Brazil, Theodore D. Brown, and scrutinized his program. Brown’s statement that OPS taught “minimum use of force, humane methods” sparked a dialogue that led to an affirmation by all, senators and police adviser alike, that America would not, could not train torturers. In his questioning of Brown, Senator Claiborne Pell (Democrat, Rhode Island) had the uncommon insight to recognize the de-legitimizing impact of torture on the regimes it was designed to defend, asking “Why is it the Brazilians . . . use torture as a police method when it will alienate their friends and allies around the world?” Yet Senator Pell also followed up with a question revealing the mistaken assumption that psychological torture was not really torture, asking: “But from a police viewpoint, you would agree that psychological, nonphysical methods of interrogation can be just as effective as the physical, as torture?”
It took another four years for Congress to curtail the Public Safety program’s operations. Led by Senator James Abourezk (Democrat, South Dakota), congressional investigators found widespread allegations that the program was training torturers in the Latin American police. Concerned about these persistent allegations, Congress finally cut all funds effective July 1975 for “training or advice to police, prisons, or other law enforcement”— in effect, abolishing the Office of Public Safety. Many of the USAID Public Safety officers soon found themselves disavowed, discredited, and unemployed.
Though these reforms were well intentioned, Congress had failed to probe for the source of this torture. And although these investigations had exposed some elements of the CIA’s mind-control project, there was no public pressure to restrain the Agency’s propagation of psychological torture. Furthermore, by the time Congress began investigating the Office of Public Safety, the CIA had already stopped using it as a cover for its foreign operations, shifting its torture training to the U.S. Army’s Military Adviser Program (MAP).

During the last decade of the Cold War in the 1980s, media probes and congressional pressure led to surprising revelations about the extent of CIA torture training in Latin America. While congressional inquiries in the 1970s had been inconclusive, these later investigations established unequivocally that the Agency coached military interrogators throughout the region, promoting the systematic tortures that became the hallmark of its military dictatorships.
In 1988, reporter James LeMoyne, writing in the New York Times Magazine, uncovered the CIA’s role in the Honduras’s brutal counterinsurgency, producing another cycle of public shock and official indifference. Most importantly, the Times revealed both the extent of Agency torture training and its impact on actual military operations. As civil war had intensified in Honduras during the late 1970s, the CIA imported Argentine officers, veterans of that nation’s “dirty war,” to train local army interrogators and also sent Honduran soldiers to the United States for instruction by its own experts. “I was taken to Texas with 24 others for six months between 1979 and 1980,” Sergeant Florencio Caballero told the Times reporter. “There was an American Army captain there and men from the CIA.” The sergeant knew the chief Agency instructor only as a “Mr. Bill” who had served in Vietnam. Sergeant Caballero said the American officers “taught me interrogation in order to end physical torture in Honduras. They taught us psychological methods — to study the fears and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don’t let him sleep, keep him naked and isolated, put rats and cockroaches in his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold water on him, change the temperature.”
After their training, these soldiers joined Battalion 316, a special army intelligence unit supported by the CIA and organized by Colonel Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, a “vitriolic, anti-communist…trained in Argentina” who commanded both the national police and a private death squad. One of those tortured by Sergeant Caballero’s unit, a young Marxist named Ines Murillo, recalled her eighty days of torture in an interview with the Times from exile in Mexico. Following her capture in 1983, she was taken to a secret army safe house in the town of San Pedro Sula where she was stripped naked and subjected to electrical shock for thirty-five days. Then, she was moved to a second, secret prison near Tegucigalpa where her questioners, following the CIA’s more refined psychological methods, “gave her raw dead birds and rats for dinner, threw freezing water on her naked body every half hour for extended periods and made her stand for hours without sleep and without being allowed to urinate.” Although American CIA agents visited both prisons and interrogated the prisoners, it is not clear whether they knew of these abusive practices and tolerated them as an acceptable level of coercion. Sergeant Caballero said the “Americans didn’t accept physical torture,” but the CIA nonetheless backed the rise of Colonel Alvarez to command the army even though another local colonel had denounced him as a killer at a press conference in 1982. Indeed, U.S. ambassador John D. Negroponte told the Times that Colonel Alvarez was “a hard man but an effective officer” needed in a country where “Marxist guerillas are organizing.” And one U.S. official added about the torture: “The C.I.A. knew what was going on, and the Ambassador complained sometimes. But most of the time they’d look the other way.”
This New York Times exposé of the CIA’s role in Honduras prompted a congressional inquiry that, though somewhat cursory, did reveal, for the first time, the existence of the Agency’s torture training manuals. When the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, responsible for legislative oversight of the CIA, met in closed session to review the Times allegations, its chair, Senator David Boren (Democrat, Oklahoma), stated that in the course of the Agency’s internal review of these allegations “several interrogation training manuals, including one used to train the Hondurans, had been uncovered.” The techniques in these manuals were, in Boren’s view, “completely contrary to the principles and policies of the United States.”

Significantly, a fact sheet prepared for the committee showed that US Army Special Forces had conducted at least seven “human resources exploitation” courses in Latin America between 1982 and 1987–a frequency confirming that the CIA had indeed shifted its interrogation training from police advisers to US Army instructors after Congress abolished OPS in 1975.

Cold War Aftermath
With the end of the Cold War, the United States resumed its active participation in the global human rights movement through both diplomacy and domestic legislation. In 1991, Congress passed the U.S. Protection for Victims of Torture Act to allow civil suits in U.S. courts against foreign perpetrators who enter American jurisdiction–using the same narrow definition of “mental pain” that the State and Justice Departments had drafted for the Reagan administration back in 1988. And, at the 1993 Vienna Human Rights conference, Washington revived its vigorous advocacy of a universal humanitarian standard, opposing the idea of exceptions for “regional peculiarities” advocated by dictatorships of the left and right, China and Indonesia. A year later, when Congress, at President Clinton’s behest, ratified the UN Torture Convention, it also amended the U.S. criminal code to make torture, as narrowly re-defined by the Reagan administration in 1988, a crime punishable by twenty years’ imprisonment.
While civil authorities had ratified the UN anti-torture convention in ways that legitimated psychological torture within U.S. criminal law; the Army was complying fully with the Geneva Conventions by making all torture, physical and psychological, crimes under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice. The sum of these reforms, civil and military, amounted a contradictory conclusion of the Cold War. In effect, Washington had, by the late 1990s, buried this contradiction between its anti-torture principles and its continuing practice of torture only to it them erupt with phenomenal force, just a few years later, in the Abu Ghraib controversy.

Global War on Terror
Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President Bush gave his White House staff wide secret orders, saying , “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” Within weeks, the White House began issuing formal, albeit top-secret orders for extreme interrogation by both the military and CIA.

In the months that followed,
administration attorneys devised three controversial legal doctrines to translate their president’s otherwise unlawful orders into U.S. policy. From the start, these controversial directives were carefully cloaked in three legal arguments derived, at base, from a neo-conservative doctrine of overarching presidential power called “the New Paradigm.” Arguing, most fundamentally, that the president is above the law, administration lawyers like Antonio Gonzales, then White House counsel, and David S. Addington, the vice president’s chief of staff, said the president could override laws and treaties as commander-in-chief to order torture or ignore the Geneva Conventions. Next, in a search for legal loopholes to justify such orders, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee found grounds, in his now notorious August 2002 memo, for exculpating any CIA interrogators who would torture but later claimed their intention was not to inflict pain but to gain information. Moreover, by parsing the UN and US definitions of torture as “severe” physical or mental pain, Bybee concluded that suffering equivalent to “organ failure” was legal—effectively allowing torture up to the point of death. Finally, as the administration began confining terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, Justice Department lawyer John Yoo argued that this US Navy base was not US territory and was thus beyond the writ of US courts.
Throughout 2002-2003, the CIA controlled a clandestine network of allied security services–a veritable “spider’s web spun across the globe” of prisons, planes, and operatives—that allowed it to seize and torture suspects, successfully and secretly, anywhere in the world. In February 2002, the CIA for asked assurances that the Bush administration’s public pledge to abide by the Geneva Conventions did not apply to its operatives; and was allowed ten “enhanced” interrogation methods designed by “agency psychologists” including “water boarding.” And in a departure from past practice, the White House allowed the agency to hold suspects in its own prisons, and it soon opened some eight “black sites” stretching from Poland to Thailand. Inside these secret prisons, the CIA used enhanced psychological torture techniques, minimizing fatalities or crude brutality that might spark dissent within the Agency or the military. When blatant physical techniques were needed, the CIA dispatched detainees to nations notorious for torture—including, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, and, the most brutal of all, Uzbekistan. To maintain the secrecy of these movements, the agency operated two dozen charter jets, veiled by front companies, that made some 2,600 secret flights between 2001 and late 2005. Through this network of allied secret services, the CIA transcended the territorial controls of any nation or international body, plucking individuals from sovereign states and levitating them into a secret, supra-national gulag.
Under the escalating pressures of the war on terror, the expanded interrogation techniques originally intended for a few top Al-Qaeda targets would migrate from Guantanamo to Bagram and Abu Ghraib, becoming more brutal with each stage in this clandestine progress.
In late 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appointed General Geoffrey Miller to command Guantanamo with wide latitude for interrogation, allowing him to make this prison an ad hoc behavioral laboratory for the perfection of the CIA’s psychological paradigm. Moving beyond the original attack on sensory receptors universal to all humans, Guantanamo’s interrogators stiffened the psychological assault by exploring Arab “cultural sensitivity” to sexuality, gender identity, and fear of dogs. General Miller also formed Behavioral Science Consultation teams of military psychologists who probed each detainee for individual phobias, such as fear of dark or attachment to mother. Through this total three-phase attack on sensory receptors, cultural identity, and individual psyche, Guantanamo perfected the CIA’s psychological paradigm. Significantly, after visits to Guantanamo between January 2002 and June 2004, the International Red Cross, in uncharacteristically blunt language, concluded: “The construction of such a system…cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.”

Under the pressure of the Iraq occupation, these brutal interrogation policies quickly proliferated to involve thousands of ordinary Iraqis. In August 2003, Iraq suffered a wave of terror bombings that rocked the Jordanian Embassy with nineteen deaths and blasted UN headquarters, leaving twenty-three dead, including its head, Sergio Vieria de Mello. One U.S. military study soon found that the lethal roadside bombings were “the result of painstaking surveillance and reconnaissance,” and that rebels drew their intelligence from sympathizers in both the Iraqi police and the secure U.S. Green Zone in downtown Baghdad. In striking contrast to the rebels, the U.S. command realized, in this study’s words, that its own “human intelligence is poor or lacking…due to the dearth of competence and expertise.” As American casualties surged and violence spread, U.S. headquarters in Baghdad ordered sweeps of civilian neighborhoods, rounding up suspects and filling up military prisons whose populations soon swelled from 3,500 to 18,000. “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees,” a captain emailed his Military Intelligence (MI) comrades in mid August. “Casualties are mounting and we need to start gathering info to help protect our fellow soldiers from any further attacks. I thank you for your hard work and dedication. MI ALWAYS OUT FRONT!”

These CIA torture techniques reached Abu Ghraib from Guantanamo by two routes–indirectly from Afghanistan and directly through General Miller’s personal mission to Iraq.
As the insurgency erupted in August, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly acted with characteristic decisiveness by ordering his “special-access program” operatives into Iraq, inserting them into U.S. military prisons with authority for harsh interrogation beyond U.S. Army regulations. That summer, at a Pentagon briefing about the growing Iraq insurgency, Secretary Rumsfeld “complained loudly” about poor intelligence from Iraq, contrasting it with the yield from his new “extreme” interrogation practices at Guantanamo. Voicing “anger and frustration” over the application of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, Rumsfeld gave oral orders for his Guantanamo commander, General Miller, to “Gitmoize” Iraqi intelligence. Consequently, in early September 2003, the general, who had spent the past nine months developing Guantanamo’s regimen, inspected Iraqi prisons with “a team of personnel experienced in strategic interrogation,” recommending, in a classified report for army headquarters in Baghdad, that “it is essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of internees.” General Miller also urged a radical re-structuring in detainee policy to make Iraq’s prisons the front-line for information warfare, saying: “Detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation…to provide a safe, secure and humane environment that supports the expeditious collection of intelligence.” In expansive, almost visionary rhetoric, General Miller wrote that his program would allow Abu Ghraib to “drive the rapid exploitation of internees to answer…theater and national level counter terrorism requirements,” thus meeting the “needs of the global war on terrorism.” If implemented immediately, his plan would, he said, produce “a significant improvement in actionable intelligence…within thirty days.”
Explaining his plan to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib, General Miller added, “We’re going to select the MPs [Military Police] who can do this, and they’re going to work specifically with the interrogation team.” General Miller left an interrogation manual and Compact Disk (CD) with what he called “training information” to facilitate integration of the MPs into his new procedure. In one of his internal reports that September, Miller also advised that “teams, comprised of operational behavioral psychologists and psychiatrists, are essential in developing integrated interrogation strategies and assessing interrogation intelligence.”
Indeed, on September 14, just five days after General Miller’s departure, the U.S. commander for Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, signed a remarkable memo authorizing, in the words of a later inquiry, “a dozen interrogation techniques beyond [Army] Field Manual 34-52–[and] five beyond those applied at Guantanamo.” In his instructions, Sanchez explained that his “Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy” was “modeled on the one…for interrogations conducted at Guantanamo Bay, but modified for applicability to a theater of war in which the Geneva Conventions apply.” In a very restricted distribution, Sanchez provided copies of his guidelines only to Military Intelligence, denying knowledge of these extreme measures to his Military Police chief, General Janis Karpinski, or her officers. In this memo, which remained in effect for a month until modified in October, the general ordered sophisticated psychological torture, derived from the CIA’s basic methods of sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain:

T. Dietary Manipulation: Changing the diet of a detainee…
U. Environmental Manipulation: Altering the environment to create moderate discomfort (e.g. adjusting temperatures or introducing an unpleasant smell)…
V. Sleep Adjustment: Adjusting the sleeping times of the detainee (e.g. reversing the sleeping cycles from night to day)….
X. Isolation: Isolating the detainee from other detainees while still complying with basic standards of treatment…Use of this technique for more than 30 days…must be briefed to 205th MI BDE Commander prior to implementation.
Y. Presence of Military Working Dogs: Exploits Arab fear of dogs while maintaining security during interrogations…
Z. Sleep Management: Detainee provided minimum 4 hours of sleep per 24 hour period, not to exceed 72 continuous hours.
AA. Yelling, Loud Music, and Light Control: Used to create fear, disorient detainee and prolong capture shock. Volume controlled to prevent injury…
CC. Stress Positions: Use of physical posturing (sitting, standing, kneeling, prone, etc.) …Use of technique(s) will not exceed 4 hours.

So extreme was the sum of these methods that military lawyers objected and, a month later, Sanchez rescinded some of the “harshest techniques.” Nonetheless, the force of these memos was soon felt at remote Army outposts and inside Abu Ghraib prison. “On 15 Oct 2003,” one prisoner told investigators, “they started punishing me in all sorts of ways…and they cuffed me high for 7 or 8 hours. And that caused a rupture to my right hand…And in the following days, they also put a bag over my head, and of course, this whole time I was without clothes and without anything to sleep on.” That September as well, the 82nd Airborne Division started torturing Iraqi captives with “beatings, exposure to extremes of heat and cold,…and sleep deprivation.” Of particular note, the New York Times reported the soldiers had learned these “stress techniques” in Afghanistan “watching Central Intelligence Agency operatives interrogating prisoners.”

Significantly, General Sanchez, though trained as an ordinary combat commander, had issued orders for a multi-faceted assault on the human psyche. The synergy of these specific interrogation techniques was a systematic attack on all human stimuli, psychological and biological, quite similar to the CIA’s 1963 Kubank manual and its 1983 Honduran handbook.
Indeed, a close comparison of Sanchez’s memo with the CIA’s 1983 manual for training Honduran military interrogators reveals six key points of similarity, both in broad principles and particular methods. As the Honduran handbook explains, “successful questioning is based upon…psychological techniques.” In very similar language, General Sanchez advises that “interrogation approaches are designed to manipulate the detainee’s emotions and weaknesses to gain his willing cooperation.” Just as the CIA’s 1963 Kubark manual and 1983 Honduran handbook emphasize “isolation, both physical and psychological, must be maintained” to effect sensory disorientation, so in 2003 Sanchez orders “isolating the detainee from other detainees,” “reversing sleep cycles from night to day,” and “dietary manipulation.” Emphasizing the importance of self-inflicted pain, the CIA’s Honduran handbook teaches that “pain which he [the subject] feels he is inflicting upon himself is more likely to sap his resistance,” while the general achieves the same effect by authorizing “stress positions: use of physical postures (sitting, standing, kneeling, prone, etc.)” In their lists of more specific techniques, all three documents try to create an environment that elevates the interrogator, by making him, as Sanchez puts it, “appear to be the one who controls all aspects of the interrogation,” while simultaneously breaking down the detainee by “significantly increasing the fear level.” This specific sequence of psychological techniques indicates the Agency’s methods had, in fact, spread to become the conceptual foundation for standard U.S. interrogation doctrine, even within the regular military. Clearly, in both its design and detail, General Sanchez’s memo was influenced by past CIA interrogation research.

The impact of these command initiatives was soon manifest in harsher interrogation at Abu Ghraib. To improve the intelligence yield, in July 2003 veteran army interrogators from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, led by Captain Carolyn A. Wood, had arrived from the CIA’s Bagram center near Kabul. As the insurgency intensified, these interrogators were already working to introduce harsh methods to Abu Ghraib–including some that had already produced several Afghan fatalities. From October to December, moreover, a six-person team traveled from Cuba to Iraq bringing the “lessons learned” at Guantanamo Bay, notably the use of military dogs. One team member, Staff Sergeant James Vincent Lucas, later testified that they introduced Abu Ghraib interrogators to Guantanamo’s aggressive, innovative techniques including “short chaining” and “clothing removal.” Apparently building upon these procedures, as well as orders from Miller and Sanchez, Military Police in the security blocks at Abu Ghraib began to soften up detainees for CIA and MI interrogation with techniques documented, in the words of a later Army report, by “numerous photos and videos portraying in graphic detail detainee abuse by Military Police.” One of the MPs later convicted of abuse, Private Ivan L. Frederick, recalled that an interrogator gave him lists of prisoners he wanted dog handlers to visit and guards then used the animals to “intimidate inmates.” Significantly, cell blocks 1-A and 1-B, the sites of the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs, had been informally removed from General Karpinski’s command and were now controlled by two intelligence officers who reported directly to General Sanchez’s headquarters in Baghdad–Colonel Thomas M. Pappas and Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan.
Then, on November 19, 2003, General Sanchez issued orders removing all of Abu Ghraib prison from General Karpinski’s command and assigning it, along with the top-secret facility near Baghdad airport known as Camp Cropper, to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade under Colonel Pappas–a division of authority that army investigators later called “not doctrinally sound” since it exacerbated an already “ambiguous command relationship.” In the months of most intense abuse in late 2003, General Sanchez summoned Colonel Pappas for periodic grillings and pressed him hard to deliver more intelligence.

Under Colonel Pappas, MPs at Abu Ghraib were responsible for an initial phase of intensive disorientation to prepare detainees for later interrogation by CIA, MI, and private contractors, producing what the Army’s investigation later called “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses . . . on several detainees.” In the words of Major General Antonio Taguba’s investigation, this abuse involved “punching, slapping, and kicking detainees” and “keeping them naked for several days at a time.” In the escalation that often comes with psychological torture, this treatment soon moved beyond sleep and sensory deprivation to sexual humiliation marked by “photographing naked male and female detainees; forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions . . . ; forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate while being photographed.” Dismissing the idea of such behavior as simply aberrant, General Taguba’s inquiry found that: “Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other U.S. Government Agency’s (OGA) [CIA] actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation.”
In making this latter charge, General Taguba cited a revealing statement by one of the MPs later accused of abuse, Sabrina Harman. She was, she said, ordered to stop prisoners from sleeping, including one famously photographed on a box with wires to his hands and feet.“MI wanted them to talk,” she said, then implicating two of her fellow MPs. “It is Graner and Frederick’s job to do things for MI and OGA [CIA] to get these people to talk.”
As part of General Taguba’s investigation, the MI chief at Abu Ghraib, Colonel Pappas, drew up a memo on “Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy” in January 2004 outlining the procedures he had been using in cell blocks 1-A and 1-B. Significantly, his orders required MI interrogators, in cooperation with physicians and MPs, to apply a method whose larger design seems derived from the CIA’s trademark fusion of sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. “Typically,” Pappas wrote, MI interrogators give MP guards “a copy of the interrogation plan and a written note as to how to execute [it]…The doctor and psychiatrist also look at the files to see what the interrogation plan recommends.” This policy, Pappas contends, followed innovations at Guantanamo Bay where teams of psychologists and psychiatrists helped tailor harsh techniques to break individual prisoners. At Abu Ghraib, Colonel Pappas’s interrogators used seven sensory-disorientation techniques to soften up prisoners, including:

1.) “dietary manipulation–minimum bread and water, monitored by medics”;
2.) “environmental manipulation–i.e. reducing A.C. [air conditioning] in summer, lower[ing] heat in winter”;
3.) “sleep management–for 72-hour time period maximum, monitored by medics”;
4.) “sensory deprivation–for 72-hour time period maximum, monitored by medics”;
5.) “isolation–for longer than 30 days”;
6.) “stress positions”; and
7.) “presence of working dogs.”

Then, in the second phase of Colonel Pappas’s program, trained MI and CIA operatives administered the requisite mix of interrogation and self-inflicted pain — a process that evidently took place outside the frame of the now famous photographs. Under the 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, forced nudity became a standard interrogation procedure to humiliate and break prisoners at Abu Ghraib, seeking answers to seven key questions–notably, “who and where are the mid-level Ba’athists,” “which organizations or groups…will conduct high payoff attacks,” “what organizations are Ba’athist surrogates,” and “who are the saboteurs against infrastructure?” Amidst this harsh regimen, there were, moreover, increasing incidents of capricious cruelty. In November 2003, for example, five Iraqi generals suspected of instigating a small prison riot were manacled, blindfolded, and beaten by guards “until they were covered in blood.” Although the prison’s Detainee Assessment Branch filed at least twenty reports of serious abuse with General Sanchez and General Fast, headquarters did not intervene. Significantly, General Taguba later found that Colonel Pappas and his deputy, Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan, chief of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center, were “directly or indirectly responsible” for the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.

In contrast to General Taguba’s succinct, dispassionate descriptions, a February 2004 Red Cross report offers explicit, even chilling details of U.S. interrogation techniques. Through late 2003, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made twenty-nine visits to U.S. detention facilities across Iraq, exercising their right to arrive unannounced for unrestricted inspections. While conditions for most detainees were, the Red Cross found, satisfactory, those “under supervision of Military Intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture.” Some coalition military intelligence officers told the ICRC that “between 70 percent and 90 percent” of detainees in Iraq, totaling over 41,000 by mid 2004, “had been arrested by mistake.” In their visits to Abu Ghraib’s military intelligence section, several U.S. officers told the ICRC that “it was part of the military intelligence process to hold a person . . . naked in a completely dark and empty cell for a prolonged period [and] to use inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion.” In words that could have been lifted almost verbatim from past CIA interrogation manuals, the ICRC detailed the forms of “ill treatment” that U.S. Military Intelligence used “in a systematic way to . . . extract information” from Iraqi detainees:

–Hooding, used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely . . . ;
–Beatings with hard objects (including pistols and rifles) . . . ;
–Threats (of ill-treatment, reprisals against family members, imminent execution . . . );
–Being stripped naked for several days while held in solitary confinement . . . ;
–Being paraded naked outside their cells in front of other persons . . . ;
–Being attached repeatedly over several days, for several hours each time, with handcuffs to the bars of their cells door in humiliating (i.e. naked or in underwear) and/or uncomfortable position causing physical pain;
–Being forced to remain for prolonged periods in stress positions such as squatting or standing with or without the arms lifted.

During a visit to Abu Ghraib in October 2003, the height of General Sanchez’s extreme regimen, the ICRC discovered detainees “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness, allegedly for several days.” The Red Cross medical staff determined that prisoners so treated were suffering from “memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, . . . and suicidal tendencies.” In sum, the ICRC concluded that U.S. Military Intelligence was engaged in practices that “are prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.”
In the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the national press pursued stories confirming that the abuse shown in those photos was not, as the White House would have it, the work of a few bad apples but was instead both widespread and systematic. In September 2005, for example, the New York Times reported allegations by Captain Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate, that the 82nd Airborne Division had engaged in routine torture of Iraqi captives that included “beatings, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep deprivation.” Indicating the covert source of such methods, soldiers had “learned the stress techniques from watching Central Intelligence Agency operatives interrogating prisoners” in Afghanistan. Similarly, in April 2006, the Times reported that a special Military Intelligence unit called Task Force 6-26, operating out of a secret base near Baghdad in 2003-2004, had used a mix of elaborate psychological and crude physical tortures in its search for al Qaeda leaders, becoming capriciously, even playfully cruel in their treatment of detainees. A later Pentagon inquiry found that Special Operations forces had, during a four month period in 2004, subjected Iraqi detainees to an extreme form of psychological torture involving starvation, stress positions, extreme cold, blaring music, and confinement in cells so small they could neither stand nor sit.

Reflecting on these incidents in Abu Ghraib prison and beyond, it seems that torture was systematic, not aberrant, and its widespread proliferation may be symptomatic of both command decisions and a crisis over a failing pacification effort.

Conclusion
If a Vietnam/Iraq analogy has relevance beyond a few obvious similarities like the use of torture, then other aspects of Phoenix should prove predictive of future revelations about the underside of the Iraq war. Though it is difficult to document, torture’s dual psychopathology of fear and empowerment makes it possible that this policy was adopted, not just to extract information, but to pacify a recalcitrant population with something akin to the counter-terror used in South Vietnam. For hints of these revelations, we can, over the next half-century, look beyond the specifics of torture techniques to the full Phoenix Program for other aspects of this counter-terror campaign, for other dimensions of this dirty war, this guerre sale.

Apart from torture per se, CIA black lists, death squads, and deep penetration agents were key facets of Phoenix that might be operating, beyond the ken of a press cosseted inside Baghdad’s Green zone, in the cities and villages of Iraq. It took thirty-five years for the most serious of Vietnam-era atrocities to emerge–notably, a systematic counter-terror campaign by the 101st Airborne’s elite Tiger Force that murdered hundreds of unarmed civilians, with command approval, over a period of six months.
To date, just a few hints of similar covert operations have escaped the strict classification procedures the Bush administration has imposed over combat in Iraq. The first revelations about the CIA use of Iraq mercenaries, for example, emerged when the Denver Post won a court order breaking the national-security seal on pre-trial hearings for soldiers charged with the murder of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, the former Iraqi air defense chief. According to court records, General Mowhoush had walked into Forward Base “Tiger” at Al Qaim in the Iraqi desert on November 10, 2003, asking to see U.S. officers about the release of his son. At first the general cooperated, telling interrogators he was “commander of the al Quds Golden Division,” a network of Saddam loyalists supplying the insurgents. When tough tactics backfired and the general grew silent, soldiers transferred him to the nearby “Blacksmith Hotel,” a ramshackle desert prison where CIA and Special Forces were doing tactical interrogation. There he was worked over by an Agency operative named “Brian,” a Special Forces veteran, and his four-man squad of “Scorpions,” Iraqi mercenaries the CIA had first formed for sabotage but were now using for counter-guerrilla operations–just as the Phoenix program had once used similar units, the PRUs, in South Vietnam. “When he didn’t answer or provided an answer they didn’t like, at first [redacted] would slap Mowhoush, and then after a few slaps, it turned into punches,” Army investigator Curtis Ryan told the military court. “And then from punches, it turned into [redacted] using a piece of hose.”
Subsequent research indicates that the scope of the Scorpion operation was larger and more lurid than it had appeared from these first, fragmentary revelations. A year after the Denver Post expose, the Washington Post reported that the CIA, acting on presidential finding signed in early 2002, had formed the Scorpions for an elaborate destabilization operation before the Iraq invasion and later, after Baghdad’s fall, used them penetrate the insurgency, doing what one agent called “the dirty work.” At some point in this process, the CIA began using the Scorpions in interrogation and snatch informants from dangerous areas outside the Green Zone. Most recently, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff reveals, from interviews with the agency official who ran the program, that about 80 Scorpions were trained in Nevada and were used for sabotage in western Iraq. During the invasion, however, they were preempted by another CIA squad of Kurdish paramilitary that “conducted a deadly series of drive-by shootings and ambushes of Iraqi military and Baath Party security officials. These were in effect targeted assassinations against identified regime figures.” At this rather preliminary point in our knowledge, it seems that the CIA has revived at least three key attributes of the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program—torture, assassination, and native mercenaries—for its covert war in Iraq.
In the future, we can expect more such revelations whose sum will portray the full scope of the covert pacification operations in Iraq and allow new comparisons with other similarities and differences, continuities and discontinuities with earlier U.S. efforts in South Vietnam.

13. Torture in the Crucible of Counterinsurgency by Alfred W. McCoy

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