Latin America: IACHR calls for CIA torture probe

The human rights agency of the Organization of American States (OAS) has joined other international rights groups in calling for the US government to act on a report that the US Senate Intelligence Committee released on Dec. 9 about the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to its Dec. 12 press release, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) called for the US "carry out a full investigation in order to clarify the facts, and prosecute and punish all persons within its jurisdiction responsible for acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and to provide integral reparations to the victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and measures of non-repetition, pursuant to international standards." The commission added that "the lack of punishment encourages practices that erode respect for integrity and human dignity."

Critics of the IACHR have questioned the group's ability or willingness to enforce its call. During his weekly radio show on Dec. 13, center-left Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa dismissed the IACHR statement as a "fake." "You'll see that absolutely nothing will happen," he said, attributing his doubts to the fact that the US finances the Washington, DC-based commission and many of its members "come and go to and from gringo foundations." The IACHR's own press release noted that since early in 2002 the commission has repeatedly "called for the reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees at the [US-operated] Guantánamo detention facility to be investigated, and for the facility to be closed." These calls seem to have had no effect on the US government. (IACHR press release, Dec. 12; El Tiempo, Ecuador, Dec. 13, from EFE)

Some US commentators have emphasized that there is nothing new for Latin Americans in the evidence that US agencies employ torture: the region has had decades of experience with torture advocated by US agents.

In 1988 a Honduran Army officer told the New York Times' James LeMoyne about his training by the CIA and the US Army: "They taught us psychological methods—to study the fears and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don't let him sleep, keep him naked and [in] isolation, put rats and cockroaches in his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold water on him, change the temperature." In September 1996 the US Defense Department released documents showing that from 1982 to 1991 the US Army School of the Americas (SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC) trained Latin American military officers with US Army intelligence manuals advocating the blackmail, torture and murder of insurgents. Four months later, in January 1997, the Baltimore Sun reported that CIA manuals on the use of torture and other forms of coercion were employed in training Latin American military personnel in the 1980s. The DC-based National Security Archive has provided links to these CIA training manuals..

"[A] direct line runs between what happened in Central America [in the 1980s] and US torture methods during the George W. Bush administration," according to Bloomberg News' James Gibney, who points to an unnamed CIA officer mentioned in the Intelligence Committee report. In Central America this officer provided training and "conducted interrogations" for an unidentified group, which according to Newsweek "was almost certainly the Nicaraguan contras," a right-wing rebel group fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government of the 1980s. "The CIA inspector general later recommended that [the officer] be orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques," the Senate report says. In the fall of 2002, this same officer "became the CIA's chief of interrogations in the CIA's Renditions Group, the officer in charge of CIA interrogations." (Newsweek, Dec. 10; Bloomberg News, Dec. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 14.