Workers Vanguard No. 1060
23 January 2015
Senate Report Whitewashes White House
CIA Torture, Inc.
On December 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its summary report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and torture program. Most of those whose lives were destroyed under this program were picked up in Afghanistan and Iraq following the U.S. invasions—for the “crime” of being in those countries. The heavily censored summary (less than one-tenth the length of the classified full report) sheds a little more light on the crimes of U.S. imperialism by detailing the sadistic brutality of the CIA torturers. Yet this report, which mostly documents what was already known, is the mere tip of the iceberg in the “war on terror.”
The list of 119 detainees in the report does not touch on the many tens of thousands detained and tortured by the U.S. military in Abu Ghraib and beyond, its local proxies in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the governments that received prisoners as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” operations. The report is also a complete cover-up for the White House, portraying the program as a rogue operation with President George W. Bush kept in the dark. In fact, both Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney have affirmed their knowledge of the program.
A section of the U.S. capitalist ruling class is worried that earlier exposures of the CIA’s widespread use of torture have done damage to the pretense that it is a champion of “human rights.” President Barack Obama declared torture to be “contrary to our values” and Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the Senate committee’s chair, chimed in that it was “a stain on our values and our history.” By fessing up to the existence of the (supposedly defunct) CIA program and tossing the public some tidbits, the Senate report is an attempt to close the book on the issue.
The Senate committee’s main criticism of the CIA program is that torture “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence.” Anyone subjected to the CIA’s depraved tortures would tell their tormenters whatever they wanted to hear, true or not. Such barbarism primarily serves as a means to establish domination and instill terror more widely. As one CIA officer said, torture like “rectal hydration” established the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.”
Those dragged off to the CIA “black site” prisons were shackled in stress positions for extended periods, sometimes with broken limbs, and subjected to sleep deprivation and mock executions. One detainee, after weeks of waterboarding, was placed in a coffin-sized box for 266 hours. Another, Gul Rahman, was beaten, shackled to the wall of his cell and stripped of most of his clothing. The next day, he was dead from hypothermia. The report admits that 26 people did not even meet the CIA’s own standards for being detained, including two who were wrongly held “based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee” who had been tortured. The torturers realized that another man wasn’t the person they thought he was, but not before subjecting him to ice baths and 66 hours of standing without sleep.
No doubt there are many, especially young activists, who see a ray of hope that the CIA will be reined in as a result of these latest revelations, to which we can only say: “Ain’t going to happen.” The U.S. has tortured, is torturing and will continue to torture so long as it exists as a capitalist country. Under capitalism, society is ruled by the bourgeoisie, a tiny stratum that owns the means of production (factories, mines, banks, etc.) and lives off the profits extracted from the working class. That capitalist ruling class relies on the organized violence of its state apparatus to maintain its position atop the exploited and oppressed masses.
Under imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, mass murder, torture and humiliation necessarily accompany the exploitation of labor and the ceaseless struggle of competing advanced powers to dominate the world. The brutalization and dehumanization of “lesser peoples,” untermenschen to the Nazis, is a mainstay of imperialist subjugation—reinforcing the view of the capitalist masters that they are meant to rule over the poor, dirty masses. Former secretary of state John Foster Dulles expressed this mindset: “There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are others.”
In response to the recent report, Cheney pronounced, “I’d do it again in a minute,” while denying that the practices outlined in it constituted torture on the grounds that the victims were not Americans. In reality, the U.S. rulers have wielded torture against not only dark-skinned people around the world, but also leftists and minorities at home, particularly black people. When not presiding over torture themselves, the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world have shared their techniques with their blood-soaked client regimes, especially in Latin America.
State Repression and Bourgeois Democracy
The capitalist politicians behind the Senate committee report are trying to refurbish the image of U.S. imperialism in order to better prosecute the “war on terror,” which both the Democrats and Republicans have fully backed from the first. That so-called war has served as a pretext for imperialist depredations abroad and a wholesale assault on civil liberties at home. The release of the report was held up for two years as the committee, the CIA and the White House sought to balance releasing enough information to be credible against not revealing anything too damaging. After all, Commander-in-Chief Obama, just like any U.S. president, needs the likes of the CIA to do imperialism’s dirty work.
The facade that is bourgeois democracy, not least the lie that the government is responsible to the people, disguises the brutality at the core of capitalist class rule. Witness Feinstein, who is prancing around with a halo as a supposed defender of civil liberties. The Senator has helped push through the massive expansion of the repressive powers of the state under the “war on terror” and howled for the heads of those like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden who exposed some of the imperialists’ crimes. Leading Congressional Democrats, including then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi, were briefed on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” as early as 2002.
A former White House official told the New York Times (26 December 2014): “Many presidents tend to be smitten with the instruments of the intelligence community. I think Obama was more smitten than most,” adding, “this has been an intelligence presidency in a way we haven’t seen maybe since Eisenhower.” Such a reference may seem bizarre to liberals who like to quote Eisenhower’s warnings against the growth of the “military industrial complex.” Like Obama today, Eisenhower fretted over military quagmires costing American lives and dollars. So he vastly expanded covert activity, authorizing the CIA to engineer the overthrow of left-nationalist governments, beginning with Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, with many more to follow. His efforts to undo the Cuban Revolution included a proposal for the U.S. government to carry out murderous acts of sabotage within the U.S. and blame them on Cuba as a pretext for war.
For his part, Obama, who never wanted the Senate investigation, has an anti-terror strategy that he presents as more compatible with the trappings of bourgeois democracy than that of his predecessor: pervasive snooping by the National Security Agency (NSA) and its ilk coupled with the CIA’s take-no-prisoners drone attacks, which have killed thousands, including many women and children. Torture isn’t by any means off Obama’s menu, though, as the 122 people still held in Guantánamo could attest.
Many liberals feel that the lack of any prosecutions weakens the effort to clean up the CIA’s image. Thus, the headline of a New York Times (21 December 2014) editorial calls to “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses” (by which its editors did not mean Bush). Since 2009, before his first inauguration, Obama has made clear that he did not intend to subject the torture carried out under Bush to official scrutiny, offering: “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Shortly after taking office, he promised CIA officers that none of them would ever be prosecuted and, indeed, a Justice Department review of the torture program found no reason to indict anyone. In response to the Senate report, Obama declared that “a profound debt of gratitude” is owed to “the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency.”
We are all for those responsible for torture getting their just deserts, while recognizing that such savagery is endemic to this system of exploitation and oppression. Justice for the innumerable victims of imperialist terror will only come when the working class has overthrown capitalist rule, sweeping aside the capitalist state apparatus and establishing a workers state. Reformist socialists pretend otherwise, sowing illusions in the possibility of a kinder, gentler imperialism, if only enough pressure is applied to Democratic Party politicians.
One such group, the Workers World Party, cites the Senate’s 1975-76 Church Committee as an example of the “struggle to restrain the CIA” (workers.org, 13 December 2014). Coming in the wake of the Watergate affair and the tumultuous social struggles of the 1960s and early ’70s, the Church Committee was set up to contain outrage sparked by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s revelations that the CIA was not only destabilizing foreign governments but also spying on thousands of Americans. Committee hearings exposed the FBI/CIA’s repeated efforts to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders as well as the campaign of spying on antiwar and civil rights activists.
In the end, the Church Committee covered up more than it revealed and led to the implementation of toothless “reforms”: Congressional “oversight” committees that have rubber stamped all the CIA’s machinations and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has given legal sanction to massive CIA/NSA wiretapping and surveillance. A rare dose of reality emerged from the Church Committee hearings when James Angleton, the CIA’s former chief of counterintelligence, said, “It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the government has to comply with all the overt orders of the government.”
The Long History of
Far from an aberration, torture has been a commonplace of modern capitalist society: the Belgians in the Congo, the British in Kenya and Northern Ireland, the French in Algeria, the now-ubiquitous “war on terror.” The U.S.—a society originating with the genocide of the indigenous population and built on the systematic oppression of black people from chattel slavery to today’s wage slavery—has its own long history of torture.
After seizing the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico as colonies from Spain in 1898, U.S. troops killed up to half a million Filipinos to suppress a nationalist uprising. Colonel Jacob Smith (who a decade earlier participated in the massacre of Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee) declared to his troops: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and the more you burn, the better you will please me.” Those who were taken prisoner were subjected to hideous torture. The most notorious was the “water cure,” in which bamboo tubes were forced down prisoners’ throats and dirty water pumped into their stomachs. Soldiers then jumped on their abdomens until the individual either “informed” or died.
While Washington was consolidating the country’s status as an imperialist power abroad, there was an epidemic of lynching at home. An average of two black people were lynched every week as Jim Crow segregation became the law of the land in the South. In addition to lynch mobs, there was the state’s legal lynching—the death penalty—often based on false confessions extracted with threats of the gun or the noose. But even the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1926 ruled that confessions obtained through waterboarding, “a specie of torture well known to the bench and bar of the country,” had crossed a line that mandated overturning a murder conviction.
Most of the world knows of the Nazi torture machine in the 1930s and ’40s. Kept hidden are the horrendous practices of the imperialist democracies at the time, including during the occupation of Germany after World War II. The Americans, along with the British, had set up Direct Interrogation Centers purportedly to uncover Nazi war criminals, but with the Cold War beginning they shortly turned to gathering intelligence on the Soviet Union. Anyone who had contact with the Soviet Zone could wind up in an interrogation center, where they were stripped naked, beaten, forced to stand for hours and deprived of sleep, mirroring the tortures described in the recent Senate report.
As Giles MacDonogh records in his book After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (2007):
“The Americans had used methods similar to those employed by the SS in Dachau. One of these was keeping the prisoner for long periods in solitary confinement.... Worse still were the mock executions, where the men were led off in hoods, while their guards told them they were approaching the gallows. Prisoners were actually lifted bodily off the ground to convince them they were about to swing.”
Many were kept imprisoned solely for having too much firsthand knowledge of the tortures to which they were subjected. Most of those held in American prisoner-of-war camps were German army conscripts drawn from the working masses, while former Nazi intelligence agents of the Gehlen organization were incorporated into the CIA.
CIA-organized torture was a weapon in U.S. imperialism’s efforts to overthrow the Soviet Union and the other deformed workers states, not least its attempted rollback of the social revolution in Vietnam. The CIA’s Phoenix program, begun in 1967, set up torture centers in every district of that country. In 1970, two U.S. Congressmen went to Vietnam, finding tens of thousands of prisoners held in underground “tiger cages.” Then-Congressman Tom Harkin described, “There were as many as five people in an airless pit.... Many are forced to drink their own urine. Most of the men could not stand up, their legs having been paralyzed by beatings and by being shackled to a bar about one or two feet off the floor.”
In that same period, the cops and FBI tortured black militants in the U.S. One example was the effort to get Black Panthers to confess to the 1971 killing of San Francisco police officer John Young. During several days of interrogation in 1973, three Panther members were stripped, blindfolded and beaten, covered with blankets soaked in boiling water, shocked with electric cattle prods on their genitals and anuses. Even though the charges were thrown out in 1975 on the basis that their confessions had been coerced through torture, the vendetta against the former Panthers framed up for the killing of the cop continued until 2011.
Today, tortures such as isolation and sensory deprivation are a daily reality for the thousands of inmates—overwhelmingly black and Latino—in the solitary confinement Special Housing Units (SHU) of America’s prisons. The High Security Units in the Lexington, Kentucky, women’s prison were a prototype for the SHUs. Those units were designed to hold leftist political activists as part of Ronald Reagan’s “war on terror,” launched in 1986. Among the women locked up in them were leftists Susan Rosenberg and Silvia Baraldini as well as Alejandrina Torres, a supporter of the Puerto Rican-nationalist FALN.
The prisoner held the longest in solitary confinement in this country is Albert Woodfox. He has been in solitary since 1972, framed up with another Black Panther for the killing of a prison guard. Woodfox is kept in a closet-size, windowless cell 23 hours per day. He eats all his meals alone and has no access to the prison’s educational or religious activities. Even though he is under constant supervision and is shackled whenever he is moved, he is subjected to visual body cavity searches up to six times a day. Woodfox’s conviction has repeatedly been overturned, most recently this past November, but his conditions remain unchanged.
Socialist Revolution Will End Imperialist Barbarism
While torture is an intrinsic part of the armory of repression of capitalist states everywhere, another type of society is possible, the model for which issued out of the Russian October Revolution of 1917. Led by the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, that revolution made the working class the rulers of society for the first time in history. The Soviet workers state was a fundamentally different state than any capitalist state. It defended not the interests of a tiny exploiting minority but of the vast majority of society—the working masses of the proletariat and poor peasantry. As part of their liberating program, the Bolsheviks repudiated dehumanizing barbarities like torture, even while using all means necessary to ensure victory in the civil war against Russian counterrevolutionaries and the 14 capitalist powers that sent troops to overthrow the workers government.
Temporary and drastic measures were required to defeat counterrevolution. For that purpose, the early Soviet workers state established the Cheka (Extraordinary Commission to Combat Counterrevolution and Sabotage). The Cheka’s methods reflected the proletarian morality of the Soviet power. In 1918, Cheka head Felix Dzerzhinsky issued the following instructions:
“Let all those who are assigned to conduct searches, take people into custody, and imprison them behave solicitously toward those being arrested or searched. Let them be much more courteous even than toward close friends. Let them remember that the incarcerated cannot defend themselves and that they are in our power. Each and every one must remember that they represent Soviet power, the workers’ and peasants’ government, and that any verbal abuse, rudeness, injustice, or impropriety is a blot upon the Soviet power.”
When a small Moscow journal, Cheka Weekly, published a letter calling for the use of torture, the Cheka responded, “The proletariat is merciless in its struggle. At the same time it is unshakable and strong. Not a single curse at our most wicked enemies. No tortures and torments!” The Presidium of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the highest governmental body, passed a decree: “The Soviet regime fundamentally rejects the measures advocated in the indicated article, as despicable, dangerous, and contrary to the interests of the struggle for Communism” (quoted in Roy A. Medvedev, Let History Judge ). The Cheka Weekly was closed down, and the authors of the letter dismissed and forbidden to hold office in the Soviet republic.
The economic backwardness of Russia, the decimation of the advanced layers of the proletariat during the civil war and the failure to extend the revolution internationally allowed a bureaucratic caste headed by J.V. Stalin to usurp political power from the proletariat in 1923-24. Under the Stalinist regime, all the old “tortures and torments” denounced by the early Soviet government were revived. Despite its Stalinist degeneration, the Soviet Union remained a workers state, based on proletarian property forms, until its final undoing through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92.
We stand in the tradition of the liberating goals of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks. Our aim is to win revolutionary-minded youth and proletarian fighters to the necessity of building revolutionary parties, in the U.S. and internationally, to lead the working class to power. Only then will mankind be able put an end to torture, repression and imperialist war and develop a society of abundance, where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.