Torture in America

In the light of the depraved acts of torture, sexual humiliation, and human degradation that took place in Abu Ghraib prison, President Bush and Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, have described these acts as “un -American” and as “a stain on the nation’s honor”

These descriptions made from the podium of moral outrage, may be impressive to those unfamiliar with American history, and /or contemporary practices through out the third world, and within the borders of America itself.

In fact, we need not look far or long to detect the monster of American torture, crouching behind a facade of human rights, liberty, and justice; its hands stained with the blood of innumerable victims, its face a grotesque caricature hidden behind a mask of righteousness.

The reasons for inflicting torture are, perhaps, as numerous and as varied as the methods. Some consider torture an unavoidable consequence of medical experimentation on human guinea pigs. Others (particularly in the military and law enforcement) use torture as a tool to extract information. Torture is also applied as a by-product of racism, hatred, ignorance, and fear; and it is usually found wherever there is a desire to terrorize, to subjugate, and to oppress.

Torture used Against Africans

For sheer cruelty, for the fiendish variety of methods, and for the number of years inflicted, the practice of torture on African people (it has continued for over 400 years) stands alone in the annals of human cruelty and unabashed sadism.

In other eras and among other nations, torture was inflicted with an air of solemnness and seriousness, like laborers stuck with an unpleasant job that, nevertheless, most be carried through. Yet, we find that Africans in America were often tormented in a celebratory, carnival like setting and their screams of excruciating pain were frequently accompanied by the cheers, jeers, and laughter of their tormenters. Their battered, mangled, and charred bodies were often sliced up, with fingers, eyeballs, toes, and private parts hoarded as souvenirs and even placed in jars and displayed in businesses and in private homes.

Lest we forget, it was not long ago in America that for the crime of looking a White person in the eye, a Black person would have his eyes burned out with red hot coals or pointed iron spikes. For resisting the advances of white rapists, a Black women would have her face and body mutilated by the cutting off of her ears, lips, eyelids, breasts and private parts. For uttering something disagreeable or “impertinent” a black person would have his tongue cut out of his mouth. To strike fear in the hearts of Black women, she would sometimes be subjected to the incredible torment of having her child cut from her womb, and witness as the head of the infant was crushed under the heel of the slave-breakers boot. On other occasions, a pregnant Black women would be tied to horses on either side, and torn in half as the horses were prompted to gallop off in different directions.

For the offence of attempting to escape slavery, a Black person would be viciously whipped until the skin was shredded, then hot peppers, salt, or lime would be ground into the open wounds. Very often the captured runaway would have his foot hacked off with an ax, or made to wear a ball and chain continuously, for the remainder of his life.

The demonic instruments of torture were abundant, many of them still in use in contemporary times. Some of them were whips, thumbscrews, iron head bands (that were fashioned so they could be slowly tightened around the skull until the eyes popped from their sockets), thumb cuffs, leg shackles, hoisting racks, clubs, bars, and tongue pullers.

The indigenous or Native Americans, also endured the most atrocious and brutal treatment. Some were skinned alive or roasted over slow fires. Many felt the unspeakable pangs of intense hunger as they were deliberately starved to death. Tens of thousands were purposefully infected with small pox, and died horrible slow deaths.

CIA, Agency of Torture

The Central Intelligence Agency, is a ultra secret organization that has long hidden its policies behind a network of clandestine operations and a wall of silence. Yet the wall is not impregnable and information about its activities of torture and intrigue have become known.

In Iran and in conjunction with Shah Mohammad Pavla, the CIA helped form the notoriously brutal police organization, SAVAK. This organization was instructed on torture techniques by the CIA.

In 1960’s Congo, the popular leader Patrice Emery Lumumba, , was abducted under the direction of the CIA. He was beaten and tortured over several days and then murdered. The US backed tyrant, Joseph Mubutu was installed and led a regime of murder, brutality, and corruption over several decades.

In Vietnam, the American military were notorious for torturing captured North Vietnamese forces. In operation Phoenix, the CIA used methods of torture such as applying electrical shock treatment to the genitals, and jamming a six inch dowel into the ear until it penetrated the brain. Vietnamese were also routinely thrown out of helicopters flying at high altitudes.[1]

An elite US Army killing and torture squad, known as the ‘school of the Americas’ and stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, have been involved in murders, mayhem, and torture sessions, particularly in Central and South America.

The list is long and sordid and includes the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the training of cruel dictators, Omar Torryos and Manuel Noriega of Panama, Robert Viola of Argintina, and Banzer Suaez of Bolivia.[2]

Torture in American Prisons

The practice of inflicting torture on human beings incarcerated in American prisons, has long been documented, although rarely highlighted. From the earliest and most notorious prisons like Sing Sing, the notoriously brutal prison farms such as Parchman and Angola, to the infamous prison fortresses that carry such names as Attica, Jackson State, San Quentin, Huntsville, Milan, Pelican Bay, Soledad, Rikers Island, and Folsom; the physical and mental agony of torture has reverberated throughout the American landscape, and has become an integral part of American correctional traditions, policies, and procedures.

Inmates confined for years in concrete cubicles (segregated housing units) with virtually no human contact, the use of electric stun guns and poison gas, the shackling of prisoners in painful ‘stress positions’ or to steel posts to simmer in the heat of a scorching sun, the watering down of prisoners with powerful hoses, the wanton rape of women inmates by male guards (as in the Ohio Reformatory for Women or at the women’s facility in Plymouth Michigan, and the beating and killing of inmates, sometimes for the slightest infraction.

Torture and Human Experimentation

Beginning in 1932, a United States government experiment was initiated at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Hundreds of Black men, who had been diagnosed with syphilis, were never told that the were infected, only that they were to be monitored and treated for ‘bad blood.’ The government doctors were guided by the prevailing racist theories and attitudes in 1930’s America that considered Black people an inferior species who were inclined toward sexual immorality and degeneracy and who were susceptible to diseases because of inherent physical and mental weaknesses.

All of the 390 Black men had to endure the agony of a spinal tap, in which a twenty gauge needle was jammed into their spines to remove fluid samples.

The men were monitored for signs of the progress of the disease in a time period that spanned 40 years and only came to light because of the efforts of independent investigations.

The victims of this so-called experiment, suffered the gradual wasting away of their physical and mental faculties along with unimaginable pain and suffering. All the while US government doctors stood by and watched, refusing to administer the needed medicines, as though the men were no more than laboratory rats.[3]

Some of the symptoms the men suffered as the disease reached the tertiary stage were, the inflamation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal chord, extreme nausea and vomiting, excruciating abdominal, rectal and laryngeal pain, the loss of control over the bladder and rectal functions, seizures, strokes, total paralysis and death.[3]

Project Bluebird

In 1950, a human research program dubbed ‘Project Bluebird’ was approved by the director of the CIA. It’s stated purpose was to develop the means to control individuals through special interrogation techniques, and to develop ways to prevent the extraction of information from CIA operatives.

The project included interrogation techniques on human subjects utilizing LSD, sodium pentothal, and hypnosis.

The program was expanded in 1953, with the development of Project MKDELTA.

This research focused on the use of harassment, discrediting, and disabling, as well as to test a litany of mind altering drugs on human subjects.

During this same period, project ORKULTRA was hatched for the study of biological and chemical effects on human beings.[4]

Most disturbing are the reports that the United States government, through the agency of the CIA, used children in many of its secret mind control projects.

According to sworn testimony given before the President’s Committee on Radiation (March 15, 1995) human subjects, with some as young as four years old, were placed in government run facilities where they were methodically brainwashed, tortured, forced to take mind bending drugs, threatened, mentally and physically abused, and even raped. Almost all of those victims who describe their experiences tell of being subjected to electric shock, sensory deprivation, hypnosis, dislocations of limbs, and sexual abuse. [5]

Most of these so-called experiments took place in the decades starting with the 1940’s, running through the 50’s and 60’s and ostensibly ending with the independent investigations of the 1970’s. There are, however, reports that similar (if not more dangerous and insidious) government sponsored research continues up until the present.

It is important to remember, that the government activities described above, are merely the tip of the iceberg. The breadth of this article does not afford me the space to document even a fraction of the instances and episodes of state sponsored experimentation and torture. And if there is that is a stain on the nation’s honor, it is one that has left its mark for centuries, and one that appears to be growing instead of receding.

Notes and References:

[1]. Accessible online at…

[2]. Ibin

[3]. Andrew Goleszak, “In the Name of Science: A History of Secret Programs, Medical Research, and Human Experimentation.” St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, 2003, p.p. 82,83

[4]. Ibin

[5]. Ibin, p. 154

[6]. Ibin, p. 166