CIA Torture Programs

The most recent and most prominent instance of the use of torture in interrogation is that of the American CIA. After the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II, the CIA became both student and teacher of torture, propagating torture techniques worldwide to support anti-Communist regimes during the Cold War. The CIA adopted methods used by the Gestapo, KGB and North Koreans from their involvement in the Korean War such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of electric shock, and researched new ideas: so-called ‘no-touch’ torture involving sensory deprivation, self-inflicted pain, and psychological stress. The CIA taught its refined techniques of torture through police and military training to American-supported regimes in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia during the bloody Phoenix program, and throughout Latin America during Operation Condor. Torture also became widespread in some Asian nations and South Pacific nations, in Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, both for interrogation and to terrorize opponents of the regime. “In its pursuit of torturers across the globe for the past forty years,” writer Alfred McCoy notes, “Amnesty International has been, in a certain sense, following the trail of CIA programs.”

This brief collection shows that Abu Ghraib is not only consistent with U.S. policy in Iraq, but also with U.S. policy in much of the world.

Since the publication of Torture, American Style, numerous reports have revealed that the United States has extended its use of torture in various, innovative ways: from the practice of “extraordinary rendition” (whereby terrorism suspects are shipped by the U.S. to countries such as Egypt, Uzbekistan, and Yemen where they can be tortured with impunity) to a network of CIA prisons in various European and Asian countries, uncovered in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Washington Post. But the U.S. government has not “outsourced” all its illicit practices. In flagrant disregard for international law and opinion the United States maintains a prison camp in Guantánamo, Cuba, as well as lesser-known camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which prisoners – who in some cases have been held for years without charges – are abused and tortured.

Rather than being embarrassed by persistent condemnations from various quarters, the U.S. administration has forcefully proclaimed its right to torture in the pursuit of its open-ended “War on Terror.”

Much of the public debate has revolved around the notion that the use of torture represents a departure from the past. This is not the case. On behalf of Historians Against the War, we hope that this article will provide historical context to move people to action.

How could members of the U.S. military carry out such heinous acts against the people we had supposedly come to liberate? Compounding this tragic irony is the fact that the Bush administration had repeatedly offered Sadaam Hussein’s use of torture against the Iraqi people as one of the many pretexts presented by the U.S. government to try and justify its invasion of Iraq.

Many in this country, would like to believe that the horrific acts of torture conducted in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad were an aberration, the atypical behavior of a few bad apples.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. The use of torture by the U.S. government and citizens has a long and sordid history both in the United States and abroad. This article is not an exhaustive study of the use of torture; it focuses specifically on cases of torture conducted by U.S. citizens furthering policies sanctioned by the U.S. state. (1)

Bruce Franklin’s article, “The American Prison and the Normalization of Torture,” shows how the American prison system developed into a central institution of U.S. society, one that has made torture routine and acceptable. The physical, mental, and sexual abuse glimpsed at Abu Ghraib is part of the daily experience for two million people caged in American prisons, while most of the rest of the American public acquiesces or denies the reality of this torture.

Don Luce’s essay, “The Tiger Cages of Con Son,” reveals again, as did his original testimony in the 1970s, the depths to which the U.S. government sank in its ultimately futile efforts to defeat the Vietnamese people. It imprisoned those Vietnamese it considered “the enemy” in tiger cages, subjected them to physical abuses, deprived them of food and water, and, as if all that was not bad enough, poured lye on them to burn and scar them.

Jane Franklin’s “Guantánamo Prison” reveals how Washington’s forced occupation of Cuban territory a century ago has led to its logical conclusion – a prison. Used first for Haitians and Cubans and then for captives of the “War on Terror,” the U.S. military base has become a crucible for torture exported to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Marjorie Cohn’s article, “Torture of Prisoners in U.S. Custody,” asks why the torture story has virtually disappeared from the media and much of the public consciousness. To answer this question, she examines the inner machinations of the Bush administration and the history of its discussions and directives on torture.

John Cox’s article, “The Abu Ghraib Scandal and the U.S. Occupation of Iraq,” accomplishes several critical goals. It succinctly summarizes the history of the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the investigations into it and discusses who is responsible for the abuses. Cox also makes the important point that much of the U.S. media coverage of the abuse has ignored the torture of women and children that took place at Abu Ghraib, the details of which are particularly horrible.

Probably the one area of the world where the U.S. government has most engaged in the use of torture is Latin America. Torture was integral to U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, as Richard Grossman’s article, “Nicaragua: A Tortured Nation,” illustrates. The infamous School of the Americas trained key Latin American military officers and troops, some of whom ushered in the brutal military dictatorships that presided over their countries from the 1960s to the 1990s. (2) In addition, as Grossman points out, members of the U.S. marine force that occupied Nicaragua in the early 20th century did not just teach the Nicaraguan Guardia how to torture, they also engaged in it themselves as part of their efforts to terrorize Nicaraguans and defeat Augusto Cesar Sandino and his anti-imperialist forces.

On Sept. 1, 1988 S. Brian Willson and two other protesters sat on railroad tracks outside the weapons depot in an attempt to block alleged arms shipments to Central America.

A train leaving the base ran over Willson. He suffered a fractured skull and eventually lost both legs below the knee.

The U.S. government’s sponsorship of torture was not limited to the training of Latin American militaries. As A. J. Langguth details in Hidden Terrors, the U.S. government also worked directly with police forces throughout the continent. His book discusses the work of Dan Mitrione, a police chief from Richmond, Indiana, who instructed the Uruguayan police force in methods of torture in the late 1960s. (3) State of Siege by Costas-Garvas dramatically brings to the screen the story of Dan Mitrione, the anti-democratic methods of coercion and repression he taught the Uruguayan police force, and his subsequent kidnapping and execution by the Tupamaros, the Uruguayan guerrilla force.

Uruguay was not an isolated example, as Martha Huggins shows in her exposé of the U.S. government training of police forces in Latin America, with a particular focus on Brazil. (4)

Vietnam War Many of the U.S. government’s torture techniques used over the past 30 years date back to the 1960s and the Vietnam War. The U.S.’s Phoenix Program killed tens of thousands of Vietnamese. Vietnamese prisoners were thrown into “tiger cages”–built by Texas military conractor RMK-BRJ, the forerunner of Halliburton subsidiary KBR–and routinely tortured.

A recent series in the Toledo Blade focused on the atrocities carried out by one U.S. unit–the “elite” Tiger Force. The series described how U.S. troops tortured and executed prisoners and cut off their ears as souvenirs and to make into necklaces. “There was a period when just about everyone had a necklace of ears,” one soldier remembered. When women and children in one village crawled into a bunker to try to hide, GIs threw grenades into the bunker and ignored the pleas and screams of the wounded until all were dead. Such actions were not limited to this one unit–they were typical of U.S. forces in Vietnam. The widespread murder and torture had a strategic purpose–to terrorize the people, drive them away from the revolutionary fighters, and to force them to follow U.S. orders.

School of the Americas Graduates of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas have carried out countless murders, massacres, tortures, “disappearances,” coups, and other crimes against the people in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1996 the U.S. Defense Department admitted that training manuals used at the School included instructions on the use of torture, beatings, murder, and extortion. The manuals were based on “Project X”–the U.S. Army’s foreign intelligence program from the 1960s.

Honduras and the Contras From 1981 to 1985, John Negroponte was President Reagan’s ambassador to the bloody U.S.-backed regime in Honduras. Negroponte oversaw the training of the Honduran army. According to the Baltimore Sun,a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 316, used “shock and suffocation devices in interrogations…. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves.”

Negroponte also oversaw the brutal Contra war against Nicaragua. The CIA supplied the Contras with a manual titled “Psychological Operations In Guerilla Warfare.” It called for the use of assassinations, kidnappings, extortions, and other “violence for propagandistic effect.”

On April 19, 2004, Bush named Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to Iraq and declared that Iraq “will be free and democratic and peaceful.”

U.S. Border Patrol A 1988 Amnesty International report documented the torture of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. One example in the report is of two Guatemalan women, Luz Lopez and Norma Contreras, who were arrested near El Paso: “[A Border Patrol agent] lifted up Contreras’ dress, pushed her legs open, pulled aside her underwear and stuck his fingers into her vagina… Lopez was told to undo the buttons on her jumpsuit and the agent put his hands inside her top and felt her breasts… The agent then left them in the vehicle while he went to speak to the lone driver of another Border Patrol vehicle. Both men returned and, in full view of the second agent, the arresting agent assaulted both women again. Lopez and Contreras say they were then taken to the Border Patrol office where the same agent sexually assaulted both women a third time in a detention cell and in a bathroom.”

Chile On September 11, 1973, Chilean general Augusto Pinochet led a CIA-organized coup to overthrow the government of Salvador Allende. The Pinochet regime carried out massive torture, murder, and “disappearances.” In a 1974 document, the CIA refers to torture carried out by DINA, the Chilean secret police, using methods “taken directly from the Spanish Inquisition, which often left the person interrogated with visible bodily damage.” During the 1970s, Pinochet’s Operation Condor kidnapped, tortured, and killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Latin Americans and others. According to Covert Action Quarterly , “The U.S. provided inspiration, financing and technical assistance for the repression” carried out under Operation Condor. “CIA operatives provided torture equipment and training.”

Peru U.S.-backed regimes in Peru have used torture extensively against political prisoners, especially those accused of being part of the Maoist people’s war led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Most were convicted by secret tribunals. In 2002 families of poltical prisoners at one notorious prison, Challapalca, issued a statement which said in part: “The policy at the Challapalca prison is officially called `The Special Closed Regimen,’ but it is commonly known as the `punishment’ prison because the guiding philosophy at the prison is that prisoners can be `rehabilitated’ through the application of pressure, torture, and even death.” In 1992 the Peruvian secret police, with CIA help and direction, captured Chairman Gonzalo and other PCP leaders. Today, Chairman Gonzalo and other PCP leaders are still locked away under cruel and isolated conditions in a specially constructed underground prison. The treatment of the PCP prisoners and other political prisoners in Peru has been widely condemned as a violation of all international standards.

Haiti From 1957 to 1986, “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier ran Haiti–backed by the U.S. “Papa Doc” established the Tontons Macoute death squad which tortured, murdered, or “disappeared” thousands of Haitians. After the Duvalier regime was overthrown, the CIA backed the FRAPH, which was responsible for the torture and death of many people from 1990 to 2000. They attacked entire neighborhoods and towns where elected President Aristide was popular. The recent coup in Haiti that ousted Aristide was led by former members of FRAPH and backed by the CIA and the U.S. government.

Indonesia and East Timor Indonesian dictator Suharto came to power in a CIA coup in 1965 during which an estimated million members and supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party were massacred. In 1974 Indonesia invaded East Timor when the people demanded independence. The U.S. increased weapons sales to Indonesia and vetoed a UN resolution condemning the invasion. The CIA urged the Indonesian military to use “overwhelming force” against Timorese resistance. In 1977, Indonesian planes, reportedly aided by U.S. pilots and mercenaries, began daily saturation bombing using defoliants, napalm, and other chemical and biological weapons–combined with ground assaults and deliberate attempts to starve the population. Indonesian troops–trained and supplied by the U.S.–carried out widespread torture, rape, and “disappearances” of the East Timorese people. Over 250,000 people were killed.

Iran For over two decades, Iran under the Shah was a key outpost of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. The Shah’s brutal secret police, the Savak, was originally formed by the CIA and Mossad (Israeli intelligence agency). In Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran, Ervand Abrahamian describes the techniques used by Savak against thousands of prisoners: “Brute force was supplemented with the bastinado; sleep deprivation; extensive solitary confinement; glaring searchlights; standing in one place for hours on end; nail extractions; snakes (favored for use with women); electrical shocks with cattle prods, often into the rectum; cigarette burns; sitting on hot grills; acid dripped into nostrils; near-drownings; mock executions; and an electric chair with a large metal mask to muffle screams while amplifying them for the victim. This latter contraption was dubbed the Apollo–an allusion to the American space capsules. Prisoners were also humiliated by being raped, urinated on, and forced to stand naked.”

U.S. Guards forced male Iraqi prisoners to masturbate, wear female underclothes, and perform fellatio on each other. (5)

The torture of Iraqis, like the abuse of the prisoners in Guantánamo and Vietnam, or the slaves in the U.S. south is the logical, extension of U.S. state policy. The U.S. government invaded Iraq, as it had invaded Vietnam and Afghanistan, and as slaveholders had enslaved Africans. Those who were and are the victims of occupation–either of their nations or their bodies–resisted, just as the Iraqis resisted.

America attacked the wrong country and tortured a bunch of Iraqi’s that had nothing to do with 9/11.

Then, the courageous people who tried to expose or stop the torture like Bradley Manning, John Kiriakou and Julian Paul Assange were jailed. And those who destroyed video evidence,  participated or ordered the torture have all been promoted. The evidence speaks for itself. The US continues to block evidence in court proceedings, continues to torture on US Navy ships and third world countries.

Pulitzer prize winner and breaker of Mai Lai, Seymour Hersch has seen one of the videos. The most horrifying part is the Americans raping a little boy in front of his parents as the little boy screams. The irony is, this is the very tactic, in the very same torture chamber, that Saddam himself used.

The Senate torture report is a graphic testament to official deception and brutality. It provides stark evidence that CIA interrogators threatened a number of detainees with sexual assault and actually raped others.

The CIA released 50 new documents yesterday relating to its post-9/11 torture and rendition program. Despite the many disclosures that have come in the course of our decade-long fight to reveal the details of the program, the new revelations still have the capacity to shock.

The documents, released in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, vividly depict the brutality of torture, and further expose the fiction that this abuse is a scientific method for extracting information from victims. The documents also reveal how hard the CIA worked to bury the evidence of its crimes — including by seeking to silence its victims.

A few of the many new findings include:

Sexual abuse and sexual tortureDetainee Binyam Mohamed ”CIA agent took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over.”

Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his “private parts” – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.

In the interviews with his lawyers, Khan described a carnival-like atmosphere of abuse when he arrived at the CIA detention facility.

Years before the report was released, Khan complained to his lawyers that he had been subjected to forced rectal feedings. Senate investigators found internal CIA documents confirming that Khan had received involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. In an incident widely reported in news media after the release of the Senate investigation, CIA cables showed that “Khan’s ‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”

When a doctor arrived to check his condition, Khan begged for help, he said. Instead, Khan said, the doctor instructed the guards to again hang him from the metal bar. After hanging from the pole for 24 hours, Khan was forced to write a “confession” while being videotaped naked.

CIA pressure to “break” detainees was deadly. A newly released CIA inspector general report about the death of detainee Gul Rahman concluded that he was singled out for especially harsh torture because of “pressure” to “break him.” We learned that he was kept nude or in a diaper for most of his detention, “solely for humiliation.” When they ran out of diapers, the guards would use “a handcrafted diaper secured by duct tape.”  CIA torturers kept Rahman naked in “cold conditions with minimal food or sleep” and kept questioning him even when he “appeared incoherent.” When they decided he wasn’t sufficiently “broken,” CIA personnel brutalized, starved, and froze him to death — and then lied about it.

We also learned just why the CIA and Bruce Jessen, one of the psychologists who designed the program, considered Rahman “resistant,” leading to torture so extreme that it resulted in his death. Based on pseudoscientific theories of torture and “resistance,” they assessed Rahman to have a “sophisticated level of resistance training,” because — among other reasons — he “complained about poor treatment” and said he couldn’t “think due to conditions (cold).” No one has yet been held accountable for Mr. Rahman’s death, but the ACLU represents Mr. Rahman’s family in suing Jensen and James Mitchell, the other psychologist who collaborated with the CIA in designing and overseeing the torture program.

The CIA’s rush to use the most brutal techniques on prisoners it decided were “resistant.” Although the CIA claimed that it would only use its most extreme torture techniques after more moderate interrogation methods failed, we now know from previously secret sections of the CIA inspector general report that the CIA in fact “accelerated” the use of waterboarding because “it was considered by some in Agency management to be the ‘silver bullet.’” The CIA would “rapidly escalate” to the waterboard based on its flawed belief that if a prisoner couldn’t provide new information, he must be withholding. Under the CIA’s logic, the less a detainee had to say, the more he would be tortured because “analysts are reluctant to agree that a detainee is not employing resistance techniques.”

More details about the extent to which the CIA was willing to go try and keep its crimes secret. Newly disclosed sections of the inspector general report reveal that “a particular concern for senior Agency managers is the long-term disposition of detainees who have undergone” torture. They were “loath to send CIA detainees” who had been tortured “to detention facilities where they would be available to the ICRC [the International Committee for the Red Cross].” In document after document, CIA employees made clear that they wanted a guarantee that their victims would never — for the rest of their lives — have a chance to tell their stories.

The documents also reveal why the CIA was so obsessed with secrecy: As everyone knew, the torture program could never withstand legal scrutiny. That is why the CIA discussed seeking an extraordinary “get out of jail free card” — an advance promise from the attorney general not to prosecute its agents for their crimes.”

The CIA’s fixation on secrecy even impeded its own intelligence work.  Newly disclosed sections of the inspector general report describe senior officers expressing concern that efforts to keep the existence of the torture program secret were blocking “the dissemination of information obtained from the interrogation of detainees to analysts and the FBI in a timely manner.”

This new cache of documents fills in the picture of one of our darkest hours. Today, when loud voices call for a return to brutal and unlawful torture methods, it’s more important than ever that we have access to the full story of CIA torture. These documents, which the CIA suppressed for years, show just how horrific the torture program was, and how shameful it is that none of the perpetrators have yet been held accountable for their crimes.

No one implicated in CIA torture, including the rape and sexual assault of detainees, is under criminal investigation, let alone being prosecuted.

President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency helped implement the agency’s torture program under the George W. Bush administration, was recently unanimously approved to lead the agency.

Former CIA director Pompeo has said that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” do not constitute torture. And he has defended intelligence officials and others who engaged in these practices as “heroes” and “patriots” simply protecting their country.

Torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners—up to and including rape—can only be described as the systematic policy of the US military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), sanctioned at the highest levels of government.

Trump says he wants to legalize torture and use “even worse” methods than what we already do.

These are his words, they’re right here, without editorializing:

Torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners—up to and including rape—can only be described as the systematic policy of the US military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), sanctioned at the highest levels of government.

Evidence shows various forms of torture, including forced nudity and sexual humiliation were studied, justified, and individually approved by top White House and congressional officials.

Trumps executive order does not seem to be limited to ‘foreign’ detainees but “anyone, anywhere that the President deems to be a threat to the safety and security of the United States.”

Most people kidnapped and tortured are people of color, innocent of terrorism. They are used for non-consensual human experimentation according to recent reports. (See AFP, Doctors have central role in CIA abuse: rights group and CIA doctors face human experimentation claims)

According to Reprieve Founding Director, Attorney Clive Stafford Smith. “Everyday, the U.S. picks up 40 – 60 people considered ‘suspects’ from around the world and imprisons them.” This system is now internationally known to be a U.S. sponsored kidnap-torture-experiment program.

Clive Stafford Smith dedicated humanitarian spent 25 years working on behalf of defendants facing U.S. death penalty. As Reprieve Director, Smith oversees Reprieve’s Casework Program plus the direct representation of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney-at-law.

Matthew Alexander was the senior military interrogator for the task force that tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and, at the time, a higher priority target than Osama bin Laden. Mr. Alexander has personally conducted hundreds of interrogations and supervised over a thousand of them.

“Torture does not save lives. Torture costs us lives,” Mr. Alexander said in an exclusive interview at Brave New Studios. “And the reason why is that our enemies use it, number one, as a recruiting tool…These same foreign fighters who came to Iraq to fight because of torture and abuse….literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives.”


1.) There are many other examples of U.S. government torture whose story needs to be told. If you know of other examples and/or would like to write about them, please contact me, Margaret Power, at

2.) William Blum, The CIA, A Forgotten History, London: Zed Books, 1986.

3.) A. J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors, New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

4.) Martha K. Huggins, Political Policing: The United States and Latin America, Durham: Duke University Press.

5.) New York Times, October 7, 2004.  Margaret Power is an anti-war activist and Associate Professor of History at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She is the author of Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende and co-editor with Paola Bacchetta of Right-Wing Women: From Conservatives to Extremists around the World. Her current research projects include modernity, gender, and technology in Chile, 1964 to 2000 and the Latin American right after 1945. Contact her at

Want more?

Former military interrogator Matthew Alexander refutes Dick Cheney’s claim that torture saved American lives.

The United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.[1] These violations included physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder.[2][3][4][5]

FBI Records
(released by the Government 5/19/2005, released by the ACLU 5/25/05 | More Torture Documents Released Under FOIA)

The General’s Report How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.By Seymour M. Hersh

A Guide to the Memos on Torture

Children tortured before parents, raped, all covered up by Bush/Cheney and our media

The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at U.S. prisons overseas.

Marine’s case would draw attention to Afghan ‘sex slaves’


Anti-Torture Initiative with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

@Anti Torture
Expanding strategies of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez to provide comprehensive thematic and country specific follow-up. RT ≠ endorsement.

irct International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

UN Committee Against Torture

Abolish Torture Muslims Against Torture And Political Imprisonment Everywhere

Witness Against Torture formed in 2005 when 25 Americans went to Guantánamo Bay and attempted to visit the detention facility. Once we returned from that journey, we began to organize more broadly to shut down Guantánamo, working with interfaith, human rights and activists’ organizations.

Stop Torture The Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition

Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe. Its staff consists of human rights professionals including country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Established in 1978, Human Rights Watch is known for its accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of media, and targeted advocacy, often in partnership with local human rights groups.

TASSC (Torture Abolition & Survivors Support Coalition) is a coalition of torture survivors, representing countries and ethnic groups throughout all parts of the world.

APT  The Association for the Prevention of Torture was founded in 1977 by the Swiss banker and lawyer Jean-Jacques Gautier. Our work is built on the insight that torture and forms of ill-treatment happens behind closed doors, out of public view. We therefore promote transparency in all places where people are deprived of liberty.

Amnesty International is a global movement of people fighting injustice and promoting human rights.