Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation
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Many Americans have condemned the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject's resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America's moral authority as a world leader.
The book is published by University of Wisconsin Press.
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 agency used Public Safety to recruit local police for training at a clandestine center in Washington, International Police Services, which operated
August, Baghdad suﬀered a wave of terror bombings that rocked the Jordanian Embassy, causing nineteen deaths, and blasted UN headquarters, leaving twenty-three dead. One U.S. military study soon found that the lethal roadside bombings were “the result of painstaking surveillance and reconnaissance” by rebel sympathizers inside both the Iraqi police and the secure U.S. Green Zone in downtown Baghdad. In striking contrast to the insurgents, the U.S. command realized, in this study’s words, that its
breakdown of military socialization. Not only did this class provide the leaders for most of the country’s many coup attempts, but about 15 percent of its classmates participated in the massive 1989 coup that nearly seized power. These oﬃcers were, in every sense, the nation’s military elite. Most had been outstanding cadets—regimental oﬃcers, top athletes, and leading scholars. They were natural leaders, men who, in the normal course of events, would have risen to the highest echelons of
saved from certain defeat only by events so unpredictable that many Catholic faithful regarded them as a miracle. The mass uprising that followed was a drama in four acts over four days— February 22 to February 26. Its stage was Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA, the eight-lane highway that rings Manila and runs between Camp Crame, General Ramos’s Constabulary headquarters, and Camp Aguinaldo, the site of Enrile’s Defense Ministry. On Day One—Saturday, February 22, 1986—Enrile and Ramos
Moreover, the migration of the ticking-bomb scenario and the Jack Bauer character from mass media to political debate establishes a clear connection. Over time, the repeated display in video games, television dramas, and feature ﬁlms served to normalize torture, changing an inhumane criminal act into a credible policy option. By simultaneously showing torture’s eﬃcacy for interrogation and often eroticizing the experience, mass media may well have desensitized ordinary Americans to the inhumanity