[News] Torture and Assassination as Policy - The CIA’s Secret Killers

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Fri Dec 19 11:20:18 EST 2014


Weekend Edition December 19-21, 2014
*http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/19/the-cias-secret-killers/*


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*Torture and Assassination as Policy*


  The CIA’s Secret Killers

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Some time in early or mid-1949 a CIA officer named Bill (his surname is 
blacked out in the file, which was surfaced by our friend John Kelly 
back in the early 1990s) asked an outside contractor for input on how to 
kill people. Requirements included the appearance of an accidental or 
purely fortuitous terminal experience suffered by the Agency’s victim.

Bill’s  contact – internal evidence suggests he was a doctor – offered 
practical advice: “Tetraethyl lead, as you know, could be dropped on the 
skin in very small quantities, producing no local lesion, and after a 
quick death, no specific evidence would be present.”   Another 
possibility was “the exposure of the entire individual to X-ray.”  (In 
fact these two methods were already being inflicted on a very large 
number of Americans in lethal doses, in the form of leaded gasoline and 
radioactive fallout from the atmospheric nuclear test program in 
Nevada.) “There are two other techniques,” Bill’s  friend concluded 
bluffly, which “require no special equipment beside a strong arm and the 
will to do such a job. These would be either to smother the victim with 
a pillow or to strangle him with a wide piece of cloth, such as a bath 
towel.”

As regular as congressmen being taken in adultery or receiving cash 
bribes, every year or two the Central Intelligence Agency has go into 
damage-control mode to deal with embarrassing documents like the memo to 
Bill, and has to  square up to the question – does it, did it ever, have 
its in-house assassins, a Double O team.

It just happened. In mid-July the news headlines were suddenly full of 
allegations that in the wake of the 9/11/2001 attacks, vice president 
Dick Cheney had ordered the formation of a CIA kill squad and expressly 
ordered the Agency not to disclose the program even to congressional 
overseers with top security clearances, as required by law. As soon as 
CIA offials disclosed the program to CIA director Leon Panetta, he 
ordered it to be halted.

And regular as the congressmen taken in adultery seeking forgiveness 
from God and spouse, the CIA rolled out the familiar response that yes, 
such a program had been mooted, but there had been practical 
impediments. “It sounds great in the movies, but when you try to do it, 
it’s not that easy,” one former intelligence official told the New York 
Times. “Where do you base them? What do they look like? Are they going 
to be sitting around at headquarters on 24-hour alert waiting to be 
called?” The C.I.A. insisted it had never proposed a specific operation 
to the White House for approval.

With these pious denials we enter the Theater of the Absurd. We’re 
talking about a US Agency that ran the Phoenix Program, that supervised 
executive actions across Latin America, that …

Before irrefutable evidence of its vast kidnapping and interrogation 
program in the post-2001 period surfaced the CIA similarly used to 
claim, year after year, that it had never been in the torture business 
either. Torture manuals drafted by the Agency would surface –  a 
128-page secret how-to-torture guide produced by the CIA in July 1963 
called “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation”, another  1983 manual, 
enthusiastically used by CIA clients in the “contra” war against Central 
American leftist nationalists in President Reagan’s years – and the 
Agency would deny, waffle and evade until the moment came simply to 
dismiss the torture charge as “an old story.”

In fact the Agency took a practical interest in torture and 
assassination from its earliest days, studying Nazi interrogation 
techniques avidly and sheltering noted Nazi practitioners. As it 
prepared its coup against the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1953 the 
Agency distributed to its agents and operatives a killer’s training 
manual (made public in 1997) full of hands-on advice:

    “The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of
    75 feet or more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts, stair wells,
    unscreened windows and bridges will serve. … The act may be executed
    by sudden, vigorous [excised] of the ankles, tipping the subject
    over the edge. If the assassin immediately sets up an outcry,
    playing the “horrified witness”, no alibi or surreptitious
    withdrawal is necessary.

    “…In all types of assassination except terroristic, drugs can be
    very effective. An overdose of morphine administered as a sedative
    will cause death without disturbance and is difficult to detect. The
    size of the dose will depend upon whether the subject has been using
    narcotics regularly. If not, two grains will suffice.

    “If the subject drinks heavily, morphine or a similar narcotic can
    be injected at the passing out stage, and the cause of death will
    often be held to be acute alcoholism.”

What about targets of assassination attempts by the CIA, acting on 
presidential orders?  We could start with the bid on Chou En-lai’s life 
after the Bandung Conference in 1954; they blew up the plane scheduled 
to take him home, but fortunately for him, though not his fellow 
passengers, he’d switched flights. Then we could move on to the efforts, 
ultimately successful in 1961, to kill the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, in 
which the CIA was intimately involved, dispatching among others  the 
late Dr Sidney Gottlieb, the Agency’s in-house killer chemist, with a 
hypodermic loaded with poison.  The Agency made many efforts to kill 
General Kassim in Iraq. The first such attempt on  October 7, 1959 was 
botched badly, and one of the assassins, Saddam Husssein, was, spirited 
out to an Agency apartment in Cairo. There was a second Agency effort in 
1960-1961 with a poisoned handkerchief. Finally they shot Kassim in the  
coup of February 8/9, 1963.

The Kennedy years saw deep US implication in the murder of the Diem 
brothers in Vietnam and the first of many well-attested efforts by the 
Agency to assassinate Fidel Castro. It was Lyndon Johnson who famously 
said shortly after he took office in 1963, “We had been operating a 
damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.” Reagan’s first year in office saw 
the inconvenient Omar Torrijos of Panama downed in an air crash. In  
1986 came the Reagan White House’s effort to bomb Muammar Q’addafi to 
death in his encampment , though this enterprise was conducted by the US 
Air Force. Led by that man of darkness, William Casey, in 1985 the CIA 
tried to kill the Lebanese Shiite leader Sheikh Mohammed Hussein 
Fadlallah by setting off a car bomb outside his mosque. He survived, 
though 80 others were blown to pieces.

In his Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 
II, 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1567512526/counterpunchmaga>Bill 
Blum has a long and interesting list starting in 1949 with Kim Koo, 
Korean opposition leader, going on to efforts to kill Sukarno, President 
of Indonesia, Kim Il Sung, Premier of North Korea, Mohammed Mossadegh, 
Claro M. Recto (the Philippines opposition leader), Jawaharlal Nehru, 
Gamal Abdul Nasser, Norodom Sihanouk,  José Figueres,Francois “Papa Doc” 
Duvalier, Gen. Rafael Trujillo, Charles de Gaulle, Salvador Allende, 
Michael Manley, Ayatollah Khomeini, the nine comandantes of the 
Sandinista National Directorate, Mohamed Farah Aideed, prominent clan 
leader of Somalia, Slobodan Milosevic…

And we should not forget that the CIA is by no means the only US 
government player in the assassination game. The US military have their 
own teams. A friend of ours once had a gardener – “a very scary looking 
guy” — who remarked that he’d been part of a secret unit in the U.S. 
Marine Corps, murdering targets in the Caribbean.

In sum, assassination has always been an arm of US foreign policy, just 
as in periods of turbulence, as in the Sixties, it has always been an 
arm of domestic repression as well. This is true either side of the 
executive order, issued by president Gerald Ford in 1976, banning 
assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall 
engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states 
Executive Order 11905.

One way to read the brou-ha-ha of the past few days is as an effort at 
pre-emptive damage control by the CIA. Remember, in the months following 
the 2001 attacks, Americans were looking for blood. They wanted teams to 
hunt down Osama and his crew and kill them. They cheered the reports – 
now resurfacing – of U.S., British and French special forces presiding 
over and directing the slaughter in November, 2001, of about 1,000 
prisoners of war by the Northern Alliance at Mazar-e-Sharif, with the 
Taliban prisoners  shut in containers left out in the sun with an okay 
by US personnel,  till their occupants roasted and suffocated. Over the 
next few months and years, more terrible stories will probably surface. 
Attorney General Eric Holder told Newsweek recently he was “shocked and 
saddened” after reading the still secret 2004 CIA inspector general’s 
report on the torture of detainees at CIA “black sites.” “Shocked and 
saddened”, after what we know and what we have seen already? It must be 
pretty bad. As William Polk remarks on this site today of the evidence 
of sodomy, rape and torture captured in the photograph collection that 
Obama first wanted to release and then changed his mind: “Those who 
profess to know say that what these pictures show is truly horrible. 
Some have compared them to the vivid record the Nazis kept of their sadism.”

The CIA death squads and kindred units from the military killed and 
tortured to death many, many people and most certainly there was 
extensive “collateral damage” – meaning innocent people being murdered. 
As regards numbers, we have this public boast in 2003 by president 
George Bush: “All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been 
arrested in many countries. And many others have met a different fate. 
Let’s put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States 
and our friends and allies.”

The CIA’s former counter-terrorism chief of operations, Vincent 
Cannistraro, recently remarked that  “There were things the agency was 
involved with after 9/11 which were basically over the edge because of 
9/11. There were some very unsavory things going on. Now they are a 
problem for the CIA,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on the CIA 
now and it’s going to handicap future activities.” Just because vice 
president Dick Cheney may have been supervising Murder Inc it doesn’t 
mean that CIA officers who became his operational accomplices 
shouldn’t be legally vulnerable. President Obama continues to keep the 
lid on still secret crimes committed by US government agencies in the 
Global War on Terror in the Bush years. The CIA is clearly positioning 
itself for further disclosures. So is Dick Cheney.

/*Alexander Cockburn’s* Guillotined! 
<http://store.counterpunch.org/product-category/books/> and A Colossal 
Wreck <http://store.counterpunch.org/product-category/books/> are 
available from CounterPunch./

/*Jeffrey St. Clair* is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is /Killing 
Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence 
<http://store.counterpunch.org/product/killing-trayvons/>/ (with JoAnn 
Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: 
sitka at comcast.net <mailto:sitka at comcast.net>./

/This column is adapted from a piece that ran in CounterPunch in July 2009.
/

-- 
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