Textbook Repression: US Training
by Lisa Haugaard
Covert Action Quarterly magazine,
Several recently declassified US military
training manuals show how US agents taught repressive techniques
and promoted the violation of human rights throughout Latin America
and around the globe. The manuals provide the paper trail that
proves how the US trained Latin American and other militaries
to infiltrate and spy upon civilians and groups, including unions,
political parties, and student and charitable organizations; to
treat legal political opposition like armed insurgencies; and
to circumvent laws on due process, arrest, and detention. In these
how-to guides, the US advocates tactics such as executing guerrillas,
blackmail, false imprisonment, physical abuse, using truth serum
to obtain information, and paying bounties for enemy dead. Counterintelligence
agents are advised that one of their functions is "recommending
targets for neutralization," a euphemism for execution or
On September 20, 1996, the Pentagon released
seven training manuals prepared by the US military and used between
1987 and 1991 for intelligence training courses in Latin America
and at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), where the US
trains Latin American militaries.
The manuals' discovery has helped reinvigorate
grassroots, religious, and congressional efforts to close the
US Army School of the Americas. It proves on paper what so many
have said for so long-that US training contributed to the devastating
human rights violations in the region. Although Latin American
militaries were perfectly capable of violating human rights and
democratic principles without US sponsorship, the anti-democratic
training methods advocated by the US provided -at the very least-a
green light for repression. And for decades, the traffic was heavy.
Techniques of control contained in the manuals were actively adopted
by Latin American militaries, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s;
in Chile's and Argentina's "dirty wars" in which thousands
of dissidents disappeared; by military dictatorships in Brazil,
Paraguay, and Uruguay; in the Central American wars, where tens
of thousands of civilians were killed; and in the Andean countries,
where human rights violations still abound. In most cases, the
militaries being trained not only suppressed armed rebellion but
also repressed democratic, civic opposition.
The paper trail begins with the mysterious
"Project X." Like the Army manuals, the Project X materials
"suggested militaries infiltrate and suppress even democratic
political dissident movements and hunt down opponents in every
segment of society in the name of fighting Communism," according
to the Washington Post.
At least some of these teaching materials
were pulled from circulation by the Carter administration, which
was concerned they would contribute to human rights abuses in
Latin America. In 1982, the Reagan administration asked the SOA
to rush out a new counterintelligence course for Latin American
militaries. The instructor asked to develop the course, Capt.
Vic Tise, turned to Project X materials, stored at Fort Huachuca,
Arizona, and updated them into lesson plans.
In 1987, the 470th Military Intelligence
Brigade took the SOA lesson plans and turned them into textbooks:
Handling of Sources, Guerrillas and Communist Ideology, Counterintelligence,
Revolutionary War, Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla, Interrogation,
Combat Intelligence, and Analysis 1. These manuals were then used
by US trainers in Latin America and distributed to Latin American
intelligence schools in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru.
They came full circle back to the SOA in 1989 when they were reintroduced
as reading materials in military intelligence courses attended
by students from Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
The US government estimates that as many as 1,000 copies may have
been distributed at the SOA and throughout Latin America.
From start to finish, six of the seven
Army manuals are how-to-guides on repressive techniques. Throughout
their 1,100 plus pages, there are few mentions of democracy, human
rights, or the rule of law. Instead, there are detailed techniques
for infiltrating social movements, interrogating suspects, surveillance,
maintaining military secrecy, recruiting and retaining spies,
and controlling the population. While the excerpts released by
the Pentagon to the press are a useful and not misleading selection
of the most egregious passages-the ones most clearly advocating
torture, execution, and blackmail-they do not reveal the manuals'
highly objectionable framework. In the name of defending democracy,
the manuals advocate profoundly undemocratic methods. Just as
objectionable as the methods they advocate is the fundamental
disregard for the differences between armed insurgencies and lawful
political and civic opposition-an attitude that led to the deaths
of hundreds of thousands of Latin American civilians.
Opposition = Revolution
The Counterintelligence manual, for example,
defines as potential counterintelligence targets "local or
national political party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs
or ideologies contrary or in opposition to the National Government",
or "teams of hostile organizations whose objective is to
create dissension or cause restlessness among the civilian population
in the area of operations." This text recommends that the
army create a "blacklist" of "persons whose capture
and detention are of foremost importance to the armed forces."
It should include not only "enemy agents" but also "subversive
persons," "political leaders known or suspected as hostile
toward the Armed Forces or the political interests of the National
Government," and "collaborators and sympathizers of
the enemy," known or suspect.
Throughout, the manuals highlight refugees
and displaced persons as possible subversives to be monitored.
They describe universities as breeding grounds for terrorists,
and identify priests and nuns as terrorists. They advise militaries
to infiltrate youth groups, student groups, labor unions, political
parties, and community organizations.
Even electoral activity is suspect: The
insurgents "can resort to subverting the government by means
of elections in which the insurgents cause the replacement of
an unfriendly government official to one favorable to their cause";
"insurgent activity" can include funding campaigns and
participating in political races as candidates.
One of the most pernicious passages, in
"Combat Intelligence", lists ways to identify guerrilla
presence. "Indicators of an imminent attack by guerrillas"
include demonstrations by minority groups, reluctance by civilians-including
children-to associate with US or their local troops, celebrations
of national or religious festivals, or the presence of strangers.
"Indicators of control by guerrillas" over a certain
civilian population include the refusal to provide intelligence
to government forces or the construction of new houses. Indications
that insurgents are conducting psychological operations include
accusations of government corruption, circulating petitions, attempts
to discredit the government or armed forces, calling government
leaders US puppets, urging youth to avoid the draft, demonstrations
or strikes, or accusations of police or army brutality.
A Purely Military Response
Civil society and government, too, are
often viewed simply as impediments to military control. With no
mention of the propriety of the practices, a number of the manuals
advocate controlling information through censorship as well as
by spying on and infiltrating civilian groups. In general, the
population is a source of information at best, an enemy force
at worst. The civilian government fares little better; it is one
more entity to be reported on or pushed aside. Ways to impose
curfews, military checkpoints, house-to-house searches, ID cards,
and rationing are presented without reference to laws or the role
of the legislature. Indeed, there is little discussion of the
proper relationship between a civilian government and military
Much more effort is put into the role
of the army in quashing revolutionary tendencies. Several of the
manuals teach militaries and intelligence services how insurgencies
develop and how to control them. The description of the former
is generally simplistic and dated, with few references to the
role official repression plays in fueling insurrection. The brief
histories of El Salvador and Guatemala, for example, in "Terrorism
and the Urban Guerrilla" skip over repression, human rights
violations, or problems in democratic governance that contributed
to the growth of revolutionary movements. Insurgents are reduced
to manipulators of popular discontent, in thrall to Soviet style
Marxism. While "Combat Intelligence" offers a more sophisticated
explanation of the underlying reasons for revolutionary movements-such
as the strains created by rapid modernization, the existence of
corrupt elites and government repression-neither this manual nor
any other suggests steps a civilian government might take as a
political response to popular discontent. There is no limitation
on when to use military and counterintelligence methods.
From Bad to Worse: The CIA Manuals
The two recently declassified CIA manuals
make even more chilling reading. The CIA had written KUBARK Counterintelligence
Interrogation in 1963 for use by US agents against perceived Soviet
subversion. (KUBARK was the CIA's code name for itself. ) While
it was not intended to train foreign military services, its successor,
Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual --- 1983, which drew
heavily on material in KUBARK, was used in at least seven US training
courses conducted in Latin American countries between 1982 and
1987, according to a June 1988 memo placed inside the manual.
This 1983 manual originally surfaced in response to a June 1988
congressional hearing which was prompted by allegations by the
New York Times that the US had taught Honduran military officers
who used torture. The 1988 hearing was not the first time such
manuals had surfaced. In 1984, a CIA manual for training the Nicaraguan
Contras in psychological operations created a considerable scandal.
These two CIA textbooks deal exclusively
with interrogation and devote an entire chapter each to "coercive
techniques." Human Resource Exploitation recommends surprising
suspects in the predawn hours, arresting, blindfolding, and stripping
them naked. Suspects should be held incommunicado, it advises,
and deprived of normal routines in eating and sleeping. Interrogation
rooms should be windowless, sound proof, dark, and without toilets.
The manuals do admonish that torture techniques can backfire and
that the threat of pain is often more effective than pain itself.
However, they then go on to describe coercive techniques ''to
induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior
outside force to bear on his will to resist.'' These techniques
include prolonged constraint, prolonged exertion, extremes of
heat, cold, or moisture, deprivation of food or sleep, disrupting
routines, solitary confinement, threats of pain, deprivation of
sensory stimuli, hypnosis, and use of drugs or placebos.
According to the Baltimore Sun, "the
methods taught in the 1983 manual and those used by [the US-trained
Honduran] Battalion 316 in the early 1980s show unmistakable similarities."
The paper cites the case of Ines Murillo, a Honduran prisoner
who claimed she was held in secret jails in 1983, given no food
or water for days, and kept from sleeping by having water poured
on her head every ten minutes.
Dismissive of the rule of law, Human Resource
Exploitation Training Manual-1983 states the importance of knowing
local laws on detention, but then notes, "Illegal detention
always requires prior [headquarters] approval.'' The manual also
refers to one or two weeks of "practical work" with
prisoners as part of the course, suggesting that US trainers may
have worked with Latin American militaries in interrogating actual
detainees. This reference gives new support to the claims by Latin
Americans held as prisoners and by US nun Dianna Ortiz, tortured
by the Guatemalan army in 1989, that US personnel were present
in interrogation and torture rooms.
In 1985, in a superficial attempt to correct
the worst of the 1983 manual, a page advising against using coercive
techniques was inserted and handwritten changes were haphazardly
introduced into the text. For example, "While we do not stress
the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of
them and the proper way to use them," has been coyly altered
to, "While we deplore the use of coercive techniques, we
do want to make you aware of them so that you may avoid them."
But the entire chapter on coercive techniques is still included,
again with some items crossed out. Throughout, the reader can
easily read the original underneath the "corrected"
items. These corrections were made in response to the 1984 scandal
when the CIA training manual for the Contras hit the headlines.
The second manual, KUBARK Counterintelligence
Interrogation, is clearly the source of much of the 1983 manual;
some passages are lifted verbatim. KUBARK has a similar section
on coercive techniques, and includes some even more abhorrent
elements, such as two references to the use of electric shock.
For example, one passage requires US agents to obtain "prior
Headquarters approval ... if bodily harm is to be inflicted,"
or "if medical, chemical, or electrical methods" are
to be used. A third condition for obtaining prior approval is,
ominously, whited out.
Ignorance as a Defense
While none of the manuals was written
or used on the Clinton administration's watch, the administration
so far has failed to send a clear message repudiating such training
methods and to take decisive action to ensure that such materials
are never developed again. On February 21, 1997, the Department
of Defense's inspector general completed another investigation.
It admitted that in creating and using the seven army manuals
"from 1982 through early 1991, many mistakes were made and
repeated by numerous and continuously changing personnel in several
organizations from Panama to Georgia to Washington, D.C."
Without apparent irony, the report concludes that there is no
"evidence that a deliberate and orchestrated attempt was
made to violate DOD or U.S. Army policies.
The report claims that because these numerous
US personnel did not know that it was against US policy to train
Latin American militaries to use threats or force with prisoners,
"neutralize" opponents, hold prisoners in clandestine
jails, and infiltrate and spy upon civilian organizations and
opposition political parties-all techniques described in the manuals-no
disciplinary action was deemed necessary. The report, which Rep.
Kennedy termed a "whitewash" and "hogwash,"
does not examine any systemic problem that might have led to "numerous
and continuously changing personnel" over a ten-year period
lacking a working knowledge of human rights. Thus, the report
fails to assign either individual or collective responsibility
for training Latin American militaries to violate human rights
and use profoundly antidemocratic methods.
While the report concludes that the lesson
plans and manuals somehow escaped oversight and could not be read
because they were in Spanish, Rep. Kennedy's own investigation
reveals these as mere dog-ate-my-homework excuses. Kennedy's report
states that SOA instructors sent their lesson plans to Fort Huachuca
and to at least two offices in Washington to be reviewed, al though
the question of whether they were approved in Washington continues
to be disputed. Moreover, the materials were approved for use
in English before being translated into Spanish.
The report does demonstrate that little
was done to implement the recommendations stemming from the 1991
investigation. In three agencies to which they were simply circulated
as a memo, there was no record of it having even been received.
In three others, it was received but did not result in any increase
in oversight of foreign military and intelligence training. However,
the report merely calls for the memo to be reissued as a "directive,"
rather than stimulating a serious discussion within the military
and setting up workable oversight mechanisms.
All of the investigations into the various
sets of manuals have been hampered by their basic premise: the
disingenuous assumption that these manuals did not represent official
US policy and somehow slipped through the cracks. But it was official
US policy to train and arm repressive forces in Latin America,
Vietnam, and other developing countries. The manuals fit squarely
within that framework.
The slow, piecemeal surfacing of these
manuals and the limited investigations at each point suggest that
there may be many other inappropriate training materials still
in circulation. Materials from the most intense days of the Cold
War in the 1960s, which should never have been created in the
first place, kept on being repackaged and reused despite a series
of scandals and investigations that should have forced a full-scale
review. That these manuals were used until recently in this hemisphere,
however, is hardly shocking. They merely confirm what many long
knew about US support for repressive militaries in Latin America.
They prove that the United States not only provided the guns and
the money for repression; the United States also supplied the
of the Americas Watch