A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (American Empire Project)

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9780805082487: A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (American Empire Project)

"An indispensable and riveting account" of the CIA's development and use of torture, from the cold war to Abu Ghraib and beyond (Naomi Klein, The Nation)

In this revelatory account of the CIA's fifty-year effort to develop new forms of torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy locates the deep roots of recent scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo in a long-standing, covert program of interrogation. A Question of Torture investigates the CIA's practice of "sensory deprivation" and "self-inflicted pain," in which techniques including isolation, hooding, hours of standing, and manipulation of time assault the victim's senses and destroy the basis of personal identity. McCoy traces the spread of these practices across the globe, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, and argues that after 9/11, psychological torture became the weapon of choice in the CIA's global prisons, reinforced by "rendition" of detainees to "torture-friendly" countries. Finally, McCoy shows that information extracted by coercion is worthless, making a strong case for the FBI's legal methods of interrogation.

Scrupulously documented and grippingly told, A Question of Torture is a devastating indictment of inhumane practices that have damaged America's laws, military, and international standing.

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About the Author:

Alfred W. McCoy is a professor of history at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia and Closer Than Brothers.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter OneTwo Thousand Years of Torture

In April 2004, the American public was stunned when CBS Television broadcast photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, showing Iraqis naked, hooded, and contorted in humiliating positions while U.S. soldiers stood over them, smiling.1 As the scandal grabbed headlines around the globe, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assured Congress that the abuse was "perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military," whom columnist William Safire branded as "creeps."2 Other commentators—citing the famous Stanford prison experiment in which ordinary students role-playing the "guards" soon became brutal—attributed the abuse to a collapse of discipline by overstretched American soldiers in overcrowded prisons.3

But these photos are not, in fact, snapshots of simple sadism or a breakdown in military discipline. Rather, they show CIA torture methods that have metastasized like an undetected cancer inside the U.S. intelligence community over the past half century. If we look closely at these grainy images, we can see the genealogy of CIA torture techniques, from their origins in 1950 to their present-day perfection. Indeed, the photographs from Iraq illustrate standard interrogation practice inside the global gulag of secret CIA prisons that have operated, on executive authority, since the start of the war on terror. These photos, and the later investigations they prompted, offer telltale signs that the CIA was both the lead agency at Abu Ghraib and the source of systematic tortures practiced in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In this light, the nine soldiers court-martialed for the abuse at Abu Ghraib were simply following orders. Responsibility for their actions lies higher, much higher, up the chain of command.

In this heated controversy, all of us, proponents and opponents of torture alike, have been acting out a script written over fifty years ago during the depths of the Cold War. Indeed, a search for the roots of Abu Ghraib in the development and propagation of a distinctive American form of torture will, in some way, implicate almost all of our society—the brilliant scholars who did the psychological research, the distinguished professors who advocated its use, the great universities that hosted them, the august legislators who voted funds, and the good Americans who acquiesced, by their silence, whenever media or congressional critics risked their careers for exposés that found little citizen support, allowing the process to continue.

What began as an isolated incident of abuse by a few "bad apples," "sadistic" soldiers on the "night shift," or some "recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland" would grow, in just six months, into a great political scandal that diminished the majesty of the American state, the world’s preeminent power. As the U.S. press probed and Washington’s bureaucracy hemorrhaged documents, revelations of abuse spread from Abu Ghraib to American military prisons worldwide. Despite eleven military investigations, twelve congressional hearings, and forty White House briefings all designed to bury the scandal, responsibility climbed, by degrees, from the handful of prison guards to the Pentagon and, ultimately, the president.4 What started as an examination of the night shift in one cell block ramified into an inquiry, first into the Bush administration’s interrogation policy, and then into the inner workings of the national-security state, the constitutional restraints on executive powers, and the limits of civil liberties—making other recent American political scandals appear, if not petty or parochial, at least somewhat more limited in their implications. Compared to weighty matters of state raised by Abu Ghraib, Watergate, narrowly construed, seems little more than the failure of one man’s character; Iran-Contra an isolated albeit intriguing incident at the sunset of the Cold War; and, above all, l’affaire Monica Lewinsky sad, sordid, and forgettably partisan. At last, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, America’s century, the United States had a crisis worthy of its grandeur as a global power, one revealing of the most profound ambiguities of our age—the tensions between security and freedom, morality and expediency, sovereignty and internationalism, the rule of law and the imperatives of covert operations, democracy at home and dominion abroad. Yet, ironically, the gravity of the scandal has discouraged television coverage, defied close analysis, and may ultimately drive Abu Ghraib from America’s collective memory.

More deeply, this controversy is the product of a contradictory U.S. policy toward torture evident since the start of the Cold War. At the UN and other international forums, Washington opposed torture and advocated a universal standard for human rights. But, in contravention of these diplomatic conventions, the CIA propagated torture during those same decades. Several scholarly essays have noted this conflict in U.S. human rights policy without understanding the reason: notably, the persistence of torture techniques and the prerogative of their use within the intelligence community.5

At the deepest level, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, 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 if clandestine facet of American foreign policy. Thus, this book does not focus primarily on particular incidents, even important ones such as the events at Abu Ghraib, but instead examines these events as expressions of how American power has been brought to bear upon the world—so strong, so forceful, and so misapplied.
From 1950 to 1962, the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort, with psychological warfare and secret research into human consciousness that reached a cost of a billion dollars annually—a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind.6 After experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, electric shock, and sensory deprivation, this work then produced a new approach to torture that was psychological, not physical, perhaps best described as "no-touch torture." The agency’s discovery was a counterintuitive breakthrough— indeed, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in more than three centuries. To test and then propagate its distinctive form of torture, the CIA operated covertly within its own society, penetrating and compromising key American institutions—universities, hospitals, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the armed forces. As the lead agency within the larger intelligence community, the CIA has long been able to draw upon both military and civil resources to amplify its reach and reduce its responsibility. Moreover, the agency’s attempts to conceal these programs from executive and legislative review have required manipulation of its own government through clandestine techniques, notably disinformation and destruction of incriminating documents.

Still, if genius is the discovery of the obvious, then the CIA’s perfection of psychological torture was a major scientific turning point, albeit unnoticed and unheralded in the world beyond its secret safe houses. For more than two thousand years, interrogators had found that mere physical pain, no matter how extreme, often produced heightened resistance. By contrast, the CIA’s psychological paradigm fused two new methods, "sensory disorientation" and "self-inflicted pain," whose combination causes victims to feel responsible for their suffe

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Descrizione libro Owl Books (NY), United Kingdom, 2006. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. An indispensable and riveting account of the CIA s development and use of torture, from the cold war to Abu Ghraib and beyond (Naomi Klein, The Nation) In this revelatory account of the CIA s fifty-year effort to develop new forms of torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy locates the deep roots of recent scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in a long-standing, covert program of interrogation. A Question of Torture investigates the CIA s practice of sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain, in which techniques including isolation, hooding, hours of standing, and manipulation of time assault the victim s senses and destroy the basis of personal identity. McCoy traces the spread of these practices across the globe, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, and argues that after 9/11, psychological torture became the weapon of choice in the CIA s global prisons, reinforced by rendition of detainees to torture-friendly countries. Finally, McCoy shows that information extracted by coercion is worthless, making a strong case for the FBI s legal methods of interrogation. Scrupulously documented and grippingly told, A Question of Torture is a devastating indictment of inhumane practices that have damaged America s laws, military, and international standing. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780805082487

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