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The Latin American Exception

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  • Cort Greene
    [image: Grandin: Of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system. (photo: Jonathan
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20, 2013
      [image: Grandin: 'Of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54
      participated in various ways in this American torture system.' (photo:
      Jonathan McIntosh)]
      Grandin: 'Of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54
      participated in various ways in this American torture system.' (photo:
      Jonathan McIntosh)

      [image: go to original

      The Latin American Exception

      By Greg Grandin, TomDispatch

      18 February 13

      *How a Washington global torture gulag was turned into the only gulag-free
      zone on earth.*

      he map tells<http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/02/05/a-staggering-map-of-the-54-countries-that-reportedly-participated-in-the-cias-rendition-program/>
      story. To illustrate a damning new report, "Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret
      Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition," recently published by the Open
      Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning
      graphic: it's soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years
      after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag

      Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to
      indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the
      sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left
      the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

      All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54
      participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting
      CIA "black
      site <http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/08/13/070813fa_fact_mayer>"
      prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret
      flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own
      citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be
      third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network,
      Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of
      136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though
      its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, "will
      remain unknown" because of the "extraordinary level of government secrecy
      associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition."

      No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag's
      command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even
      social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to
      the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to
      electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin

      What's most striking about the Post's map is that no part of its wine-dark
      horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be
      called Washington's "backyard" participated in rendition or
      Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of "terror suspects."
      Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a
      U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It's true that a fleck of red
      should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy
      Roosevelt took Guant�namo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 "in

      *Two, Three, Many CIAs*

      How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian
      world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist
      matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis' movies might put it)? After all, it was
      in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed
      counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington's twenty-first
      century Global War on Terror.

      Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged
      revolutionaries to create "two, three, many Vietnams," Washington had
      already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence
      agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable
      book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA's
      infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected
      government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening
      "the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries."

      In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S.
      officials set to work "professionalizing" the security forces of individual
      countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal
      but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient,
      "centralized," still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information,
      analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate
      different branches of each country's security forces - the police,
      military, and paramilitary squads - to act on that information, often
      lethally and always ruthlessly.

      Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and
      effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just
      national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of
      a global war for "freedom" and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the
      hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunci�n,
      La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help
      synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

      The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s
      and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's Operation
      which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil,
      Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America's
      transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away
      as Washington D.C. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Letelier>,
      and Rome<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_Letelier%20Washington%20D.C.,%20Paris,%20and%20http://books.google.com/books?id=G497QpeEqpwC&pg=PA127&dq=%22operation+condor%22+paris+france&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BykYUbzDL6KA0AGw5IBQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=rome&f=false>.
      The U.S. had earlierhelped put in
      operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central
      America in the 1960s.

      By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of
      Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned
      without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and
      support. Latin America was, by then, Washington's backyard gulag. Three of
      the region's current presidents - Uruguay's Jos� Mujica, Brazil's Dilma
      Rousseff, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega - were victims of this reign of

      When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of
      dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence
      operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques - and of pushing
      militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their
      barracks. In the 1990s, Washington not only didn't stand in the way of this
      process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America's armed
      forces. Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington
      could now project its power in its own "backyard" through softer means like
      international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage. Then
      9/11 happened.

      *"Oh My Goodness"*

      In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA's secret
      detention and extraordinary
      were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald
      Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric
      meeting of defense ministers. "Needless to say," Rumsfeld nonetheless said,
      "I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was
      extremely important." Indeed.

      This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq
      and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase "September
      11th" every chance he got. Maybe he didn't know of the special significance
      that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a
      CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of
      Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Or did he, in
      fact, know just what it meant and was that the point? After all, a new
      global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway
      and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

      There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation
      Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now
      terming <http://www.defense.gov/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=42482> the
      "integration" of "various specialized capabilities into larger regional
      capabilities" - an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and
      death-dealing already underway elsewhere. "Events around the world before
      and after September 11th suggest the advantages," Rumsfeld said, of nations
      working together to confront the terror threat.

      "Oh my goodness," Rumsfeld
      Chilean reporter, "the kinds of threats we face are global." Latin America
      was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they
      shouldn't lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from
      the clouds gathering elsewhere. Dangers
      "old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking,
      hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as
      cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning."

      "These new threats," he added ominously, "must be countered with new
      capabilities." Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what
      Rumsfeld meant by those "new capabilities."

      A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld's arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S.,
      acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
      detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New
      York's John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a "Special
      Removal Unit." He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then
      to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was
      turned over to local torturers. On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving
      his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar's
      "grave-like" cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year
      being abused.

      Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld's
      Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt
      Pit. As the secretary of defense praised Latin America's return to the rule
      of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in
      the middle of one of his torture sessions, "hung naked for hours on end."

      Taken a month before Rumsfeld's visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd
      al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was
      transferred "to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was
      waterboarded." After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guant�namo,
      Romania, and back to Guant�namo, where he remains. Along the way, he was
      subjected to a "mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and
      hooded," had U.S. interrogators rack a "semi-automatic handgun close to his
      head as he sat shackled before them." His interrogators also "threatened to
      bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him."

      Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al
      Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.

      Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America
      shared "common values," Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died "after
      severe mistreatment" in CIA custody at something called the "Bagram
      Collection Point." A U.S. military investigation "concluded that the use of
      stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment...
      caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death."

      Two days after the secretary's Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the
      Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor
      without blankets. Rahma froze to death.

      And so the Open Society report goes... on and on and on.

      *Territorio Libre*

      Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments. Some of the region's
      militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the
      secretary's vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign
      against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to
      U.S. command. As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the
      time of Rumsfeld's Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up
      Washington's latest set of themes, insisting that "defense must be treated
      as an integral matter," without a false divide separating internal and
      external security.

      But history was not on Rumsfeld's side. His trip to Santiago coincided with
      Argentina's epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.
      It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model - think of it as
      Reaganism on steroids - that Washington had been promoting in Latin America
      since the late Cold War years. Soon, a new generation of leftists would be
      in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national
      sovereignty and limiting Washington's influence in the region in a way that
      their predecessors hadn't been.

      Hugo Ch�vez was already president of Venezuela. Just a month before
      Rumsfeld's Santiago trip, Luiz In�cio Lula da Silva won the presidency of
      Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected N�stor
      Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country's joint military
      exercises with the U.S. In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced
      one setback after another. In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S.
      military from Manta Air Base.

      In that same period, the Bush administration's rush to invade Iraq, an act
      most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of
      the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region. Iraq seemed to confirm
      the worst suspicions of the continent's new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was
      trying to peddle as an international "peacekeeping" force would be little
      more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived
      unilateral imperial war.

      *Brazil's "Smokescreen"*

      Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil
      rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington's new global gulag

      A May 2005 U.S. State Department
      for instance, reveals that Lula's government refused "multiple requests" by
      Washington to take in released Guant�namo prisoners, particularly a group
      of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be
      sent back to China.

      "[Brazil's] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and
      will likely not change in the foreseeable future," the cable said. It went
      on to report that Lula's government considered the whole system Washington
      had set up at Guant�namo (and around the world) to be a mockery of
      international law. "All attempts to discuss this issue" with Brazilian
      officials, the cable concluded, "were flatly refused or accepted

      In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration's
      efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot
      It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to
      revise<http://cablesearch.org/cable/view.php?id=08BRASILIA504> its
      legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to
      prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy

      Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State
      Department didn't realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its
      diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil's supposed interest in reforming its
      legal code to suit Washington a "smokescreen." The Brazilian government,
      another Wikileaked cable
      was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to
      target "members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements
      fighting for a more just society." Apparently, there was no way to "write
      an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions" of Lula's
      left-wing social base.

      One U.S. diplomat
      this "mindset" - that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties -
      "presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism
      cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation." In addition,
      the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go
      after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many. One can imagine that if
      Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in
      Washington's rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle
      Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.

      Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly
      brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela's Hugo Ch�vez, which
      would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South
      America into its counterterrorism posse.

      In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell
      met with Lula's Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Ch�vez.
      Jobim told <http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08BRASILIA236.html> Sobell
      that Brazil shared his "concern about the possibility of Venezuela
      exporting instability." But instead of "isolating Venezuela," which might
      only "lead to further posturing," Jobim instead indicated that his
      government "supports [the] creation of a 'South American Defense Council'
      to bring Chavez into the mainstream."

      There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was
      Ch�vez's idea in the first place! It was part of his effort, in partnership
      with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled
      by Washington. The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how
      curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez's "idea for defense
      cooperation" as part of a "supposed containment strategy" of Ch�vez.

      *Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War*

      Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of
      Latin America, the Bush administration
      It attempted instead to build a "perfect machine of perpetual war" in a
      corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico. The
      process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of
      fighting "the drug wars," has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.
      Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom - the Pentagon
      command that covers Central and South America - can operate more or less at
      will. A look at this other
      put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look
      like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.

      Washington does
      push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer
      military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less
      ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its
      aspirations. U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like
      to have <http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CE4QFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dtic.mil%2Fcgi-bin%2FGetTRDoc%3FAD%3DADA505390&ei=2JoVUZKrJbS40gHQq4Bg&usg=AFQjCNGwuq0Lpl1E1hWeeKDvJxNdJPvC_w&bvm=bv.42080656,d.dmQ>an
      airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the
      Atlantic. The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing
      Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command,

      But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.
      Returning to that Washington Post map, it's worth memorializing the simple
      fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun
      never rose on US-choreographed torture.

      *Greg Grandin is a TomDispatch
      the author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford�s Lost
      Jungle City<http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312429622/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20>,
      a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. Later this year, his new book, Empire of
      Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, will be
      published by Metropolitan Books.*

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