Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Memory Hole - My Speech Tonight

In George Orwell's book, 1984, Winston Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth was to rewrite history. Part of the job was to literally send the old documents down the memory hole to be incinerated. Then he wrote the new history as ordered by the ruling class. No traces of the old history were allowed to be saved.

As it turned out, none of that was necessary. By the time of the actual 1984, Ronald Reagan was President. The United State was supporting "freedom fighters" in Central America and in Afghanistan, sending billions to fund the muhajadeen, and setting up schools in Pakistan, where children were trained with US suppplied textbooks in the ways of jihad. We were officially supporting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, sending him arms, intelligence, and biological and chemical weapons. But we also sold arms in secret to Iran, although they were officially our enemy.

All of this is now down the memory hole, but only figuratively. Today the documentation isn't burned, you can still find it, but it doesn't matter. The Ministry of Truth, now called the corporate media, simply presents the new truth in an authoritative manner and the proles accept it without question. We are now told that everyone loved Ronald Reagan, and the 2008 election was about who got to be the new Reagan. The Afghan freedom fighters turned into terrorists, but the Central American ones remained heroes, all without historical comment. The madrasses are now bad. We have always been at war with Iran and Iraq.

In 1988, we were shocked, shocked to find out that the US was teaching torture techniques to the Central American heroes using a manual called "Human Resources Exploitation Manual", which was an update of the Kubark manual, used in the 60s to teach torture to military forces from Guatemala to Columbia to Vietnam, where we were shocked, shocked to find out about the Phoenix Program, in which the US and its Vietnamese proxies tortured and killed tens of thousands of prisoners. It has been claimed that not one prisoner survived interrogation in the Phoenix Program. We were shocked when Office of Public Safety was shown to have taught torture to police forces in Central and South America in the 70s. We have periodically been shocked when it turns out that some graduate of the SOA is responsible for a massacre that catches our attention for some reason. Maybe they rape and kill nuns, or accidentally murder an American - something out of the ordinary run of the mill peasant suppression massacre. These forms of torture should be classified as terrorism. Multilated bodies thrown into ditches and dropped from helicopters terrorize the population into submission. US involvement in these mass torture and murder projects have usually been covert, hence the "shock" when information leaks out.

How is the George Bush/Dick Cheney administration different? Using the destruction of 9-11, along with a massive fear mongering propaganda campaign afterwards that told us that we were all afraid of terrorists, they embarked on a new chapter in American history - open imperialism, with blatant disrepect for international law, including illegal invasions, indefinite detentions and the unashamed use of torture by Americans.

Much to their dismay, Americans who were engaged in torture at Abu Ghraib took pictures, enabling more than the usual suspects to find out about real American foreign policy. International outcry forced some sort of response. Those involved who took pictures were tried and convicted. Although evidence surfaced that similar torture techniques were used at Bagram and Guantanamo, no one involved took pictures, and none of them was tried.

Alfred McCoy, who had researched the history of American torture, realized that the accounts of the "bad apples" at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, who we were told all spontaneously came up with similar methods of torture, were actually all using methods which had been developed by the CIA in a massive outsourced research project which lasted for years- 1950-1962- and cost about one billion a year, in 1950's dollars. He wrote "A Question of Torture" to explain US torture history.

The CIA was not trying to find the most painful ways to torture with this research project, although, as I pointed out, horrendous forms of torture were used to terrorize select populations. But the CIA had bigger plans. They wanted to find ways to totally break down and then remake a human. Their goal was mind control. (And, by the way, they researched ways to brainwash an entire society as well as individuals, which seems to be working out pretty well for them.) But I would like to talk about Project Bluebird, which led to Project Artichoke, which became MKULTRA, and had as its goal, "Can we get control of the individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self preservation?"

In the post WW2 years, when respect for science was at its peak, the CIA turned to universities and hospitals to do the research, passing out grants to psychologists, psychiatrists and professors to find the best ways to break down a human personality. By the end of the project, 3 of the 100 most eminent phycholgists of the 20th century had been involved in torture research, as well as several presidents of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.

Donald Hebb, chair of McGill University's psychology department, wrote a grant proposing a sensory deprivation experiment, in which "slight changes in attitude might be effected". It suceeded beyond expectation, and the CIA began to focus on this cheap, easy way to effect total personality breakdown.

Today, years later, the process has been refined. To quote Alfred McCoy, "Through relentless probing into the esential nature of the human organism to identify its physicological and psychological vulnerbilities, the CIA's "sensory deprivation" has eveolved into a total assault on all senses and sensibilities- auditory, visual, tactile, temporal, temperature, survival, sexual and cultural. Refined through years of practice, the method relies on simple, even banal procedures-isolation, standing, heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence - for a systematic attack on all human senses."

This what we saw in the Abu Ghraib photos, hooded victims in stress postitions, kept in bright lights with loud music playing at all times, deprived of sleep and food, naked in freezing conditions, forced into sexual humiliation and terrorized with dogs. Psychologists are still used, especially at Guantanamo, to personalize the torture to each person's private hopes and fears.

How did Americans react to the revelations of torture? The people Lincoln referred as those you can fool all of the time, (who are now Fox News viewers)- were fine with it, steeped in fear of Islamic terrorists and helped along by a pro-torture propaganda TV show called 24, where evil doers dastardly deeds were weekly thwarted by the good guys and their torture tools. Sadly, 31 percent of Americans in a recent poll were OK with torture if it would potentially save lives, and 13% are fine with it generally, for a total of 44% approval, up from 36% two years earlier. They had Rumsfield joking about forced standing as a form of torture, saying that he stood at work. Actually, Cornell University researchers found that standing for days was "devastating torture, the legs swelled, the skin erupted in suppurating lesions, the kidneys shut down, hallucinations began." Funny stuff.

What about those of us who are harder to fool? The people here tonight? The propaganda must be much more subtle. If too jarring, people may recall facts which have been consigned to the memory hole. So we have New Yorker author Jane Mayer, on a nationwide publicity tour for her book against torture, smoothly mixing facts with fiction to rewrite history. This is Jane on Democracy Now, a progressive news show.

"I think, to step back, what you need to know is that the CIA had no experience really in interrogating prisoners. They had never really held prisoners before. And so, they really had no idea how to go about getting information out of people. So they turned to an incredibly strange place, which is a secret program inside the military that had studied torture, and it had studied torture in order to teach our own soldiers how to survive it if they were ever taken captive by some kind of completely immoral regime. Because they understood torture, the CIA turned to them and said, “Well, so how do you do it?” And basically they reverse-engineered this program in the most ironic way, and what became a program that was defensive became instead a—it was like a blueprint for torture. It was, you know, a rulebook."

Slick, isn't it? Fox News worthy disinformation, neatly wrapped in a package of anti-torture rhetoric, to make it very easy to swallow without thinking. And Jane Mayer got a lot of corporate media time, unlike Alfred McCoy.

And the Democrats in Congress, bravely speaking against waterboarding-thereby minimizing the rest of the program. The entire torture debate in Congress ignored the horrors of professional torture, while focusing on the ancient practice of waterboarding.

Here is Senator Kennedy at the confirmation hearings of Michael Mukasey for Attorney General, when the senators postured toughly, extracting promises that Mukasey would, in the future, stop the one practice of waterboarding-
"We are supposed to find comfort in the representation by a nominee to the highest law enforcement office in the country that he will, in fact, enforce the laws that we pass in the future? Can our standards really have sunk so low?

Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general. It is a prerequisite, not a virtue that enhances the nominee's qualifications. Make no mistake about it: Waterboarding is already illegal under United States law".

Strong words, Sen. Kennedy, but actually, all torture is illegal under US law. From the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Constitution, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the Geneva Convention Treatment of Prisoners of War, to the UN Convention Against Torture, all the expensively researched torture that the US has commissioned, taught and used is illegal. To stop only waterboarding is like having the local police only enforce jaywalking laws, ignoring speeding, drunk driving and running red lights.

Please keep this history in mind when the propaganda machine tries to distract you with token gestures and empty words. Don't just close Guantanamo, close Bagram and all other black sites, close the School of the Americas, obey US and international law.

1 comment:

David G said...

Great article! Winners write the history, that's for sure.

Unfortunately, in our world, there are few winners and billions of losers!

Take care.