Chapter 3: States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counter-revolution
(Previous posts here, here and here; Sarah’s posts here.)
I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. …
— former US vice-president Dick Cheney
Infamous Chilean despot General Augusto Pinochet died in December of 2006. His passing came one month after Milton Friedman, the man whose faithful acolytes, as Naomi Klein outlines in Chapter 3 of The Shock Doctrine, helped lay the ideological groundwork for the bloody counter-revolution undertaken by Pinochet and his right-wing brethren. (For the grim details, see Trend over at Alterdestiny).
As Klein notes:
For the first year and a half, Pinochet faithfully followed the Chicago rules: he privatized some, though not all, state-owned companies (including several banks); he allowed cutting-edge new forms of speculative finance; he flung open the borders to foreign imports, tearing down the barriers that had long protected Chilean manufacturers; and he cut government spending by 10 percent — except the military, which received a significant increase. He also elimiated price controls–a radical move in a country that had been regulating the cost of necessities such as bread and cooking oil for decades.
But, as Klein further notes, despite assurances from the Chicago Boys that these radical ‘market reforms’ would (somehow) spur a decrease in inflation, inflation in Chile jumped to 375 percent in 1974, “the highest rate in the world and almost twice the top level under [former president Salvadore] Allende.” Sensing a shift among both the public and, most disturbingly, Chile’s business elite, the Chicago Boys “decided to call in the big guns,” enlisting Friedman himself to use his “rock star” presence to sell economic shock-therapy by sheer force of will.
And it worked:
In his letter of response, Chile’s supreme chief expressed “my highest and most respectful regard for you,” assuring Friedman that “the plan is being fully applied at the present time.” Immediately after Friedman’s visit, Pinochet fired his economic minister and handed the job to Sergio de Castro, whom he later promoted to finance minister. De Castro stacked the government with his fellow Chicago Boys, appointing one of them to head the central bank.
Freed of the naysayers, Pinochet and de Castro got to work stripping away the welfare state to arrive at their pure capitalist utopia. In 1975, they cut public spending by 27 percent in one blow–and they kept cutting until, by 1980, it was half of what it had been under Allende.
Elsewhere, in Brazil and Argentina, other right-wing juntas perfected the Chilean model, waging a dirty war on those whose left-wing ideological leanings were in opposition to the wave of corporatist economic and social reform underway within the nations of the Southern Cone. But behind the counter-revolutionary action in Central and South America lurked a covert American presence, one that provided both training and materiel to the military arbiters of radical neoliberal ‘reform’ under the dubious auspices of Operation Condor. According to Klein, as part of the infamous program “the intelligence agencies of the Southern Cone shared information about “subversives”–aided by a state-of-the-art computer system provided by Washington–and then gave each other’s agents safe passage to carry out cross-border kidnappings and torture, a system eerily resembling the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” network today”.
The justification for the dirty work was the same then as it is now: a war on ‘terror’, in which it was deemed necessary to sometimes skirt the boundaries of human rights and dignity in order to serve a higher purpose. Whether that purpose was the spread of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ or neoliberal doctrine is, of course at the heart of both Klein’s book and this series. Regardless, as Klein notes, the parallels between what occurred in the 1970s and 80s and the post-9/11 era are striking.
Sarah outlines these parallels in further detail:
Warrantless wiretapping certainly isn’t mass disappearances of citizens, but it is a tool that keeps everyone in fear that they are next. It suppresses dissent and keeps people in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled. America hadn’t undergone enough of a shock to allow, for instance, Social Security privatization, but in Chile and the other Friedmanite regimes, torture and repression left people unable to fight back.
In a NY Times op-ed (adapted from a lengthy essay published in the New York Review of Books), Mark Danner shows in stark detail just how far the Bush administration was willing to go in order to fight its contemporary “war for freedom and against tyranny”, as Argentinian Junta leader Admiral Massara at the time justified his nation’s embrace of the dark side:
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.
At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:
“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”
The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”
After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.
“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.
“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”
After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.
“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold. This went on for approximately one week.”
The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.
As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.
What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.
Klein estimates that the number of individuals tortured in the Southern Cone during the 70s and 80s was “probably somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000, tens of thousands of them killed.” Though the numbers of so-called ‘enemy combatants’ who faced torture in CIA black sites represent a mere fraction in comparison, the willingness to throw away stated values in the name of a greater goal is borne of the same moral limbo, where ends justify all means, no matter what. And, as Sarah noted, even though the numbers are far from comparable, the effect remains the same: keep the populace “in fear for their basic safety, while around them their economic safety net is dismantled.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 4: Cleaning the Slate: Terror Does its Work
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