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American Torture Accountability: New York Times Letter to the Editor

    OPI wrote a letter to the New York Times that was published this week amid renewed debate sparked by the declassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. While the Senate investigation was limited in scope (it did not address who ordered what and only looked at actions by the CIA, not DoD), the release of the 500-page executive summary (of the 6,000 page report) is a positive step in America’s extremely slow reckoning with what went on in the days after the 9/11 attacks in the name of national security.

    I was surprised by one of the torture techniques named (it included hummus, wow) and was impressed with the timeline uncovered on how torture spread from its use on one CIA detainee, to more than 100 (over a quarter of which were innocent bystanders, not like that makes it OK for the others, but just saying). Also surprising was the level faith the agency placed in James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, reflected in, among other things, their $180 million contract. What wasn’t surprising, sadly, was the subsequent public defense (offense?) of torture mounted by Cheney, Bush-era OLC lawyers, and senior-level CIA officials. Their diatribes did the trick: US public approval of torture ostensibly remained steady – about 50% of Americans polled think CIA torture was justified. Thus the most frustrating part about this recent cycle of the torture debate: the lack of accountability, or seemingly any appetite for it.

    Historical distance does sharpen calls for justice. Brazil’s National Truth Commission report, released one day after the summary of the Senate report, looked at human rights abuse committed during the 1964-1985 dictatorship following a US-backed coup. It named 377 perpetrators by name (100 of which are still alive), called for the repeal of a sweeping 1979 amnesty law that has blocked prosecution, and among other achievements, highlighted America’s role in training Brazilian torturers at the School of the Americas. (For a look at the SOA material taught, click here.)

    Time will no doubt yield deeper insights into US use of torture, and broader calls for prosecution. For now, the torturers and those who directed them will continue to walk among us. And I – and many others – will continue to call for justice.

    To the Editor:

    Architects of C.I.A. Interrogation Drew on Psychology to Induce ‘Helplessness’” (news article, Dec. 11) does not mention a critical detail: so-called debility, dependency and dread techniques outlined in Cold War-era C.I.A. interrogation manuals were first used by the agency within the United States.

    Yuri Nosenko was a Soviet defector held by the C.I.A. from 1964 to 1967 — 1,277 days in total. Following strict D.D.D. protocol outlined in the 1963 Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual (a predecessor to the 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual cited in your article), C.I.A. interrogators isolated Mr. Nosenko in a cramped vault. Earphones strapped to his head blasted noise 23 hours a day.

    Mr. Nosenko broke — he experienced terrifying hallucinations — but never admitted to being a double agent. Richard Helms, then the C.I.A.’s assistant deputy director for plans, later testified that the detention was “deplorable, but nevertheless we were doing our best.”

    Sound familiar? A failure to legislate a ban on inhumane and counterproductive D.D.D. torture and prosecute officials who authorize its use ensures that lessons from the past will remain unheeded — and will repeat.


    New York, Dec. 15, 2014

    The writer is the author of “American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond.”