I was not surprised at the torture atrocities by United States soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo.
I have traveled to Guatemala many times to be with returning refugees, the survivors of massacres and torture. I was in Guatemala in November of 1989 when Sister Diana Ortiz, a nun from the United States, was seized and subjected to unbelievable torture there. I was also there when, that same month, five Jesuit priests were massacred in El Salvador.
I have read documentation of CIA and Pentagon intelligence training, as well as of training in what was formerly the Army School of the Americas (SOA), now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The United States government has provided training and encouragement in these tactics.
The torture of Iraqi detainees held at the Abu Ghraib military prison is part of a larger pattern of abuse and torture at the hands of U.S. soldiers, U.S.-trained soldiers, independent contractors and intelligence agents around the world. In fact, U.S. Army intelligence manuals advocating torture techniques and describing how to circumvent laws on due process, arrest and detention were used for at least a decade to train Latin American soldiers at the School of the Americas.
“We see a consistent pattern of the Pentagon claiming to work for democracy,” says Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, “while in their prisons and training centers, reports of torture and human rights abuses continue to surface.”
More than 64,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained in combat skills and psychological warfare at the School of the Americas. Graduates are consistently involved in human rights abuses and atrocities.
In 1996, the Pentagon, under intense public pressure, released the classified training manuals used at the SOA. The Washington Post, in a story headlined “U.S. Instructed Latins in Executions, Torture,” reported on Sept. 21, 1996, that the manuals promoted executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion.
The manuals recommended the imprisonment of family members of those who support “union organizing or recruiting,” those who distribute “propaganda in favor of the interest of workers,” those who “sympathize with demonstrations or strikes,” and those who make “accusations that the government has failed to meet the basic needs of the people.” The training manuals are available on the SOA Watch Web site, www.soaw.org.
“Why the great surprise over Abu Ghraib?” asked Jennifer Harbury, a human rights lawyer whose husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, was tortured for two years and then was either dismembered or thrown from a helicopter by Guatemalan military officials receiving generous CIA payments. “This has been standard operating procedure for years.”
Reports of torture and abuse at the hands of U.S. and U.S.-trained soldiers, from Latin America to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, continue to surface, and the Pentagon continues to distance itself from the abuses.
“As in Latin America, officials claim the soldiers involved in torture in Iraq are ‘just a few bad apples,’” Father Bourgeois continued, “but as instances of human rights violations continue to grow around the world, a much larger picture of systematic abuse becomes clear.”
Peg Morton of Eugene, Ore., is serving a 90-day sentence at Federal Prison Camp Dublin in Dublin, Calif. She was convicted of criminal trespass that occurred during a demonstration last November at Fort Benning, Ga., site of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. She wrote this for Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), www.wand.org; courtesy MinutemanMedia.org.