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Southern Command Manuals Recommend Torture, Autumn 1996

Southern Command Manuals Recommend Torture, Murder to Latin Militaries

The Pentagon admitted on September 20 that the U.S. Southern Command in Panama and the School of the Americas used instruction manuals that recommend extortion, torture and execution as methods for obtaining information.

The seven Spanish-language manuals were distributed by Southern Command training teams from 1987 to 1989 to militaries in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, and other leading human rights violators in the hemisphere. Students were advised to "involuntarily" obtain information from their sources — in other words, torture them; to arrest their parents and other relatives; to use "motivation by fear"; to pay bounties for enemy dead; to execute civilian opponents; to use blackmail and even "truth serum" to obtain information. The manual on "Terrorism and Urban Guerrillas" explains how to build mail bombs.

The manuals also show a disturbing distrust in democracy, frequently implying that democracy gives too many advantages to subversive groups. One guide says that rebels may "resort to subverting the government by electoral means." Another describes Tom Hayden — anti-Vietnam War activist and current state senator in California — as "one of the masters of terrorist planning."

Nearly a thousand of the manuals were distributed to Latin American militaries, which were "discovered" by the Pentagon in 1991, but only made public this year after public pressure prompted an investigation into the role of the CIA in Guatemala. The investigation's report mentioned the manuals and requests to fully declassify them followed. The Pentagon said it had tried to retrieve the manuals, but "retrieval of all copies is doubtful." No one was sanctioned for producing such materials instructing contempt for human rights and civilian rule.

"When interviewed by investigators, the manuals' authors stated that they believe intelligence oversight regulations applied only to U.S. personnel and not to the training of foreign personnel," writes Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group. "In other words, that U.S. instructors could teach abusive techniques to foreign militaries that they could not legally perform themselves."

Protests Against School Intensify

"These tactics come right out of an SS manual and have no place in a civilized society," asserted Representative Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), who for the last three years has sponsored a bill to close the School of the Americas. "Every American ought to be outraged by what has been revealed," he said. The New York Times also called for the School to be closed.

The School of the Americas was located in Panama from 1946 to 1984, when it was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. However, teams of U.S. Special Forces stationed at U.S. bases in Panama still visit militaries in the region to train them in a variety of military tactics for up to six months at a time.

Meanwhile, two students who attended the School of the Americas when it was in Panama are interviewed in a new film about the School called "Inside the School of the Americas." One of the students claimed that U.S. instructors told them how to torture suspects, and that to demonstrate the torture methods more effectively, they were told to kidnap Panamanians from off the street — generally beggars — in order to practice on live subjects.

The witness, whose identity was protected on the film, also said that the School used videos and drawings to show where the most sensitive nerves are on the body, how to revive a subject who has lost consciousness, and how to recognize when a subject is near death and suspend the torture to avoid losing the subject's information.

Sources: Dept. of Defense, "Fact sheet concerning training manuals containing materials inconsistent with U.S. policy," 9/20/96; Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II statement, 9/25/96; La Prensa, 9/29/96; In These Times 10/14-27/96.