Thursday, January 8, 2009

Torture - American Style

by Donna Weaver

Imagine how you would feel if you saw a plaque commemorating the life of Osama Bin Laden hanging at the site where the World Trade Center once stood.

The plaque pictured left hangs in a place of honor in City Hall in
Richmond, Indiana, the birthplace of Dan A. Mitrione, Sr. Richmond's son, and former police chief, will certainly live eternally in the memories of the citizens of Uruguay, and most Latin Americans for that matter. That he is remembered with reverence by the majority of people in that part of the world, however, is not only highly doubtful, it is an incredible insult to the loved ones of hundreds of thousands disappeared and murdered persons in Uruguay, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic. For them, the name Dan Mitrione is synonymous with the father of the Latin American Death Squads, and although August 10th was the thirty-eighth anniversary of his death, the mere mention of his name is still enough to strike fear, horror, pain, and rage in their hearts and minds.

If the name Mitrione sounds familiar, it may be because you recognize it from previous posts I've written referring to disgraced former FBI agent, Dan Mitrione, Jr. That's right, the apple, it seems, did not fall far from the tree. Dan, Jr., you may recall, was the agent who went bad while heading up Operation Airlift--one of the FBI's first major undercover drug operations in the early '80's. It is believed my husband, Gary Weaver, and Jairo Sanchez were murdered in 1983, casualties of Airlift.

"The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect."

The motto made famous by American, Dan Mitrione, Sr., while instructing Latin American police forces in the art of torture.

Mitrione trained at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia before being recruited in 1960 to work for the Office of Public Safety (OPS) under the direction of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It was no secret that the OPS was a CIA front. Many CIA agents operated abroad under cover of the OPS, although Mitrione was not one of them. After stints in the Dominican Republic and Brazil, Mitrione was sent to head up the OPS mission in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1969.

Mitrione was certainly not the first to implement torture of political prisoners in Uruguay, but by the time he arrived in Montevideo, he had made some distinct refinements to torture techniques and the practice became routine on persons considered to be political insurgents. According to former New York Times correspondent A. J. Langguth, "One of the pieces of equipment that was found useful was a wire so very thin that it could be fitted into the mouth between the teeth and by pressing against the gum increase the electrical charge. And it was through the diplomatic pouch that Mitrione got some of the equipment he needed for interrogations, including these fine wires."

In his book, Killing Hope, William Blum writes: "Things got so bad in Mitrione's time that the Uruguayan Senate was compelled to undertake an investigation. After a five-month study, the commission concluded unanimously that torture in Uruguay had become a "normal, frequent and habitual occurrence", inflicted upon Tupamaros as well as others. Among the types of torture the commission's report made reference to were electric shocks to the genitals, electric needles under the fingernails, burning with cigarettes, the slow compression of the testicles, daily use of psychological torture ... "pregnant women were subjected to various brutalities and inhuman treatment" ... "certain women were imprisoned with their very young infants and subjected to the same treatment"

Once a thriving democracy, severe economic decline gave rise to student demonstrations, street violence, and labor strikes and gave birth to a highly organized, intelligent group of revolutionaries called Tupamaros. Their members held key positions in government, banks, universities, and the professions, as well as in the military and police."Unlike other Latin-American guerrilla groups," the New York Times stated in 1970, "the Tupamaros normally avoid bloodshed when possible. They try instead to create embarrassment for the Government and general disorder. "

In an interview given to a leading Brazilian newspaper in 1970 that astonished Uruguayans and Americans alike, the former Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro Otero, declared that US advisers, and in particular Mitrione, had instituted torture as a more routine measure; to the means of inflicting pain, they had added scientific refinement; and to that a psychology to create despair, such as playing a tape in the next room of women and children screaming and telling the prisoner that it was his family being tortured. "The violent methods which were beginning to be employed," said Otero, "caused an escalation in Tupamaro activity. Before then their attitude showed that they would use violence only as a last resort."

Excerpted from Killing Hope:
Dan Mitrione had built a soundproofed room in the cellar of his house in Montevideo. In this room he assembled selected Uruguayan police officers to observe a demonstration of torture techniques. Another observer was Manuel Hevia Cosculluela, a Cuban who was with the CIA and worked with Mitrione. Hevia later wrote that the course began with a description of the human anatomy and nervous system ... Soon things turned unpleasant. As subjects for the first testing they took beggars, known in Uruguay as bichicomes, from the outskirts of Montevideo, as well as a woman apparently from the frontier area with Brazil. There was no interrogation, only a demonstration of the effects of different voltages on the different parts of the human body, as well as demonstrating the use of a drug which induces vomiting -- I don't know why or what for -- and another chemical substance. The four of them died.

On another occasion, Hevia sat with Mitrione in the latter's house, and over a few drinks the American explained to the Cuban his philosophy of interrogation. Mitrione considered it to be an art. First there should be a softening-up period, with the usual beatings and insults. The object is to humiliate the prisoner, to make him realize his helplessness, to cut him off from reality. No questions, only blows and insults. Then, only blows in silence. Only after this, said Mitrione, is the interrogation. Here no pain should be produced other than that caused by the instrument which is being used... During the session you have to keep the subject from losing all hope of life, because this can lead to stubborn resistance. "You must always leave him some hope ... a distant light."

"When you get what you want, and I always get it," Mitrione continued, "it may be good to prolong the session a little to apply another softening-up. Not to extract information now, but only as a political measure, to create a healthy fear of meddling in subversive activities." The American pointed out that upon receiving a subject the first thing is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, by means of a medical examination. "A premature death means a failure by the technician ... It's important to know in advance if we can permit ourselves the luxury of the subject's death."

On July 31, 1970, Dan Mitrione was kidnapped by the Tupamaros. They demanded the release of 150 political prisoners in exchange for his life. With the strong support of President Nixon, the Uruguayan government refused. Ten days later on August 10, 1970, Mitrione was found shot to death in the back seat of a stolen car. He had not been tortured.

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