by A.J. Langguth
New York Times, June 11,
LOS ANGELES - A few months ago, I received
some clippings of interviews with a former Federal Intelligence
agency official. That operative, Jesse Leaf, had been involved
with the agency's activities in Iran, and well into the stories
Mr. Leaf made some damning accusations.
He said that the C.I.A. sent an operative
to teach interrogation methods to SAVAK, the Shah's secret police,
that the training included instructions in torture, and the techniques
were copied from the Nazis.
Reading through the clippings, I could
think of several reasons why the accusations had not been featured
prominently. Mr. Leaf could not, or did not, supply the name
of the instructor, his victims would be hard to locate; and the
testimony from opponents of the Shah would be suspect.
But there is still another reason that
I take to be the truest one: We - and I mean we as Americans
- don't believe it. We can read the accusations, even examine
the evidence and find it irrefutable. But, in our hearts, we
cannot believe that Americans have gone abroad to spread the
use of torture.
We can believe that public officials with
reputations for brilliance can be arrogant, blind or stupid.
Anything but evil. And when the cumulative proof becomes overwhelming
that our representatives in the C.I.A. or the Agency for International
Development police program did in fact teach torture, we excuse
ourselves by vilifying the individual men.
This has been on my mind since I returned
from Cuba recently. In Havana, I had tried to hunt down a former
double agent, a Cuban named Manuel, who was said to have information
about United States involvement with torture in Latin America.
Manuel had revealed his true sympathies by leaving his job with
the C.I.A. in Montevideo and returning to his homeland. But from
his editor I learned that Manuel, whose full name turned out
to be Manuel Hevia Conculluela, would be out of the country
the entire time I was in Cuba. I could, however, get a copy of
the book he had published six months earlier, "Pasaporte
11333, Eight Years With the C.I.A."
Mr. Hevia had served the C.I.A. in Uruguay's
police program. In 1970, his duties brought him in contact with
Dan Mitrione, the United States policy adviser who was kidnapped
by the Tupamaro revolutionaries later that year and shot to death
when the Uruguayan Government refused to save him by yielding
up politician prisoners.
Mr. Mitrione has become notorious throughout
Latin America. But few men ever had the chance to sit with him
and discuss his rationale for torture. Mr. Hevia had once.
Now, reading Mr. Hevia's version, which
I believe to be accurate, I see that I too had resisted acknowledging
how drastically a man's career can deform him. I was aware that
Mr. Mitrione knew of the tortures and condoned them. That was
bad enough. I could not believe even worse of a family man.
A Midwesterner. An American.
Thanks to Mr. Hevia, I was finally hearing
Mr. Mitrione's true voice:
"When you receive a subject, the
first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree
of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death
means a failure by the technician.
"Another important thing to know
is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and
the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know
beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject
"Before all else, you must be efficient.
You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not
a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have
to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with
the perfection of an artist
A few months later, Mr. Mitrione paid
with his life for those excesses. Five years late, thanks to
the effort of such men as former Senator James Abourezk, the
police advisory program was finally abolished.
But few of the accomplices in torture
have ever been called to account. Years ago in open hearings,
Senator Frank church tried to force some admissions but his witnesses
sidestepped his staff's sketchy allegations. Given the willingness
of congress to accept the C.I.A.'s alibis about national security,
I don't think any other public hearings would fare better.
But neither Jimmy Carter nor Adm. Stansfield
Turner, the Director of Central Intelligence, is implicated
in those past cruelties, and the President should call on Admiral
Turner for a complete internal investigation and a full report.
If he wants Vice President Mondale to oversee the effort, all
the better. They can start with Operation Bandierantes in São
Paolo, Brazil, continue with manual Hevia's exposé of
practices in Uruguay, and then move on to Child, Iran, and Southeast
If, at the end, the President can assure
us that no American who taught or condoned torture is still
working for the C.I.A. or any other agency of the Government,
I know that at least we will want to believe him.
A.J. Langguth is the author of "Hidden
Terrors," a book about the Central Intelligence Agency in