The world quietly celebrated Human Rights Day (December 10) earlier this month. That week, two big, interrelated human rights events occurred.
The first was the well-publicised revelations that America’s CIA ran and participated in a global torture program which, more than anything, produced vast ambivalence – especially from the top.
The US Senate report recounted, in at times excruciating detail, the CIA’s program after September 11. The program detained – often incorrectly – and tortured those suspected of terrorism. This report not so much provided a watershed moment in America’s self-understanding, but rather revealed how much further it has to go. The report did not lay to rest the public debate on torture: former vice president Dick Cheney said he had “no problem” with detaining innocents.
The second was not so well-publicised, but equally as significant. In Brazil, the National Truth Commission submitted its final report. It was the first time that the Brazilian state began to account for its human rights violations and atrocities during the military regime of 1964-85. This forced a public discussion on a regime that Brazil had previously buried in the past.
As history can strangely often do, these serendipitous events provide a snapshot of where countries are in their national reckoning.
US torture schools
For many, the reports’ revelations do not come as a surprise. Many in Latin America and human rights groups have known for years that the US has been practising, and teaching the world, torture. These techniques and shared intelligence with the US were widespread through Latin America as part of what was known as Operation Condor.
Operation Condor was a secret intelligence system in the 1970s through which South American military states shared intelligence and seized, tortured and executed political opponents in one another’s territory, under the United States’ watch and instruction.
In J. Patrice McSherry’s book Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America, she concluded that “US forces laid the groundwork for Operation Condor” by working:
… behind the scenes with the Latin American military and intelligence forces that comprised the Condor Group, providing resources, administrative assistance, intelligence, and financing.
The result was state run-terror across nearly the entire continent. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was the most well-known head of state responsible for torture. In this time, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans were tortured, killed, disappeared or imprisoned without trial, with the help of Washington.
The training of Latin American security forces for Operation Condor, as well as other human rights violations, occurred at the now-infamous School of the Americas, now known as the Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation.
At this “school”, they explicitly taught unlawful and brutal interrogations and the targeting of civilians to instil fear. However, no-one has been prosecuted for the creation of this school, nor for the “torture manuals” which were distributed to governments all over the continent.