Juan Mendez is a UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. He’s also a victim of torture himself, at the hands of a brutal Argentinian junta in the 1970s. He has an article in Politico expressing his disappointment that the United States, which helped free him from his torturers, has now embraced that very practice.
Ten years ago today, “60 Minutes II” broadcast infamous pictures of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison then controlled by the United States. The photographs were heartbreaking. Naked men stacked up on top of each other in human pyramids. Prisoners forcibly staged in humiliating positions to mimic sex acts. Bags placed over men’s heads, denying their humanity. The most memorable image — a hooded man standing on a box, contorted Crucifixion-like with wires protruding from his hands — remains an indelible reminder that a country that long abhorred torture practiced it after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Those pictures shattered my belief that well-established democracies do not torture. I am a survivor of torture who owes his release from the Argentine junta’s notorious Unit 9 prison in part to U.S. pressure in the 1970s. If U.S. citizens and certain members of Congress had not written letters to the Argentine government inquiring about my situation, I might have become one of the thousands of people “disappeared” by the Argentine military in its Dirty War against political activists like me. I owe my life to the solidarity those Americans showed and their principled opposition to the military’s machinery of death and torture.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government that stood up to my torturers has been compromised — by both the Bush administration, which adopted torture as policy, and the Obama administration, which has kept evidence of U.S. torture hidden for years. It also is being compromised by the Central Intelligence Agency itself.
This is quite appalling, of course, but it should not be surprising. The CIA and the U.S. government has trained and armed torturers for more than half a century (at the very least). From the Shah of Iran to the infamous School of the Americas, we have taught brutal dictators how to torture, given them mountains of American money and weaponry to carry it out and provided political cover for them.