Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation
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Many Americans have condemned the "enhanced interrogation" techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
During the Cold War, McCoy argues, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency covertly funded psychological experiments designed to weaken a subject's resistance to interrogation. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the CIA revived these harsh methods, while U.S. media was flooded with seductive images that normalized torture for many Americans. Ten years later, the U.S. had failed to punish the perpetrators or the powerful who commanded them, and continued to exploit intelligence extracted under torture by surrogates from Somalia to Afghanistan. Although Washington has publicly distanced itself from torture, disturbing images from the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are seared into human memory, doing lasting damage to America's moral authority as a world leader.
The book is published by University of Wisconsin Press.
fused two new techniques, sensory disorientation and self-inﬂicted pain, whose combination would cause victims to feel responsible for their own suﬀering and, in theory, capitulate more readily to their torturers. Reﬁned through years of practice, the agency’s psychological paradigm came to rely on a mix of sensory overload and sensory deprivation for a systematic attack on all human stimuli via seemingly banal, even benign procedures—manipulation of heat and cold, light and dark, noise and
indication that signiﬁcant changes in attitude can be brought about by use of propaganda under conditions of isolation.” Simultaneous with this correspondence, the Research Board soon quieted the press with a cover story about Hebb doing research to relieve monotony among those monitoring radar screens. Even so, questions were raised in Canada’s Parliament, and the Cabinet decided, on “questions of principle,” that “the contract with Hebb at McGill be cancelled.” In an internal memo to Dr.
conﬂict,” mindful that “under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.” What can we learn from stories of ethical compromises by these titans of modern science, Donald Hebb and Henry Beecher? Clearly, both men were important researchers responsible for lasting contributions to cognitive science and the betterment of humankind. But, in the shadows of the national security state, both also made ethical compromises and conducted secret research that
signifying his omniscience: The entry of the dreaded chief intelligence oﬃcer, who came in with a thick pile of documents, dashed to the ground the last bit of my hopes to get out their [sic] “unscathed.” His initial declaration: “Father, the general has decided that we start interrogating you tonight” was enough to unleash that fear that was building up inside me for these past two months. I felt cold sweat, sweat broke all over my body and I thought I was going to faint. For several hours,
“the triumph of Catholicism over heresy.” In that same spirit, Vasari covered the great Sala di Cosimo I at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence with a fresco (1560) showing Saturn using a ponderous metal scythe to castrate his father Uranus, who lies prone and passive while a naked goddess nearby fondles her breasts in orgasmic pleasure. As the Counter Reformation embraced the Baroque aesthetic, this “cult of sacred and eroticized violence” spread widely. Indeed, “the combined erotic and sanguinary