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One Nation Under Psy-Ops

February 28, 2006
By Patricia Goldsmith

In my view, Mary McCrory got it right when she said that the Project for a New American Century manifesto reads like it was written in a tree-house. Nevertheless, it is documentary evidence showing the direction the worst aspects of our government - the ones who are now in power - have been taking for the last thirty plus years. Their goal, as laid out in various PNAC papers, is permanent world domination, and for these people, there is no doubt that the ends justify the means. Professor Alfred McCoy talks about that in his book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror, a history of the CIA's decades-long study of techniques of psychological control, including torture.

At first, McCoy says, the government dabbled heavily in drugs, including the notorious LSD experiments of the Vietnam era. But what really worked, they discovered after lots of trial and error (and billions of dollars), are a couple of simple principles: sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. When Professor McCoy saw the black-hooded figures from the Abu Ghraib photos, posed in stress positions with electrodes dangling from their fingers, he instantly recognized classic CIA technique:

Oh, it's very simple. Dr. Donald O. Hebb of McGill University [Canada], a brilliant psychologist, had a contract from the Canadian Defense Research Board, which was a partner with the CIA. In this research, he found that he could induce a state of psychosis in an individual within 48 hours. It didn't take electroshock, truth serum, beating or pain. All he did was have student volunteers sit in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, earmuffs, so that they were cut off from their senses, and within 48 hours, denied sensory stimulation, they would suffer, first hallucinations, then ultimately breakdown. ...

Now, then, the second major breakthrough that the CIA had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the CIA studied Soviet KGB torture techniques, and they found that the most effective KGB technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand - OK, you're not beating them, they have no resentment - you tell them, "You're doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." And so, as they stand, what happens is the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they separate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.

Looked at this way, you can understand their refusal to renounce their new "flexible" interrogation techniques and release Guantanamo detainees, even though prisoners who've been held for years are increasingly unlikely to possess urgent, actionable information. The fact is, Guantanamo is nothing less than a dream laboratory for those who've been working on psy-ops theory for decades:

Now, this produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it's the one that's with us today, and it's proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.

Let's make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture light." Psychological torture, people who are involved in treatment tell us it's far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. ... It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something we don't realize in this country. ...

And under General Miller at Guantanamo they perfected the CIA torture paradigm. They added two key techniques. They went beyond the universal sensory receptors of the original research. They added to it an attack on cultural sensitivity. ...

And then they went further still. Under General Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, Behavior Science Consultation Teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogations, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of the dark or attachment to mother, and by the time we're done ... it had a three-fold assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobias.

This form of torture - self-inflicted pain - is entirely congruent with BushCo's general style of governance. Everything is always the victims' fault. The victim always does it to him/herself, from Harry Whittington to the black millionaire looters in New Orleans. To put it in Rovian terms, everyone's fair game.

After we found out that Bush was putting taps on the main switches at all the phone companies - meaning quite simply that he's tapping the whole country - BushCo managed to switch the conversation from the staggering proportions of their crime, to the question of the guilt or innocence of ordinary American citizens. After all, the spin went, if you haven't done anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about.

Alberto Gonzales unabashedly announced the Bush family's new legal interpretation at the NSA "oversight" hearings that Congress quickly convened. We have to protect America, he said, from a domestic fifth column movement. During his confirmation hearing, Samuel Alito explained that a fifth column is "a movement known to every war where American citizens will sympathize with the enemy and collaborate with the enemy." If that's not enough, for those who still don't get the point, he went further and pledged, "I stand behind this president being commander-in-chief, to pursue fifth column movements."

Gonzales claims that the commander-in-chief has inherent constitutional authority to order the military to spy on American citizens on the grounds that the continental United States, after September 11, is a theater of war ["The Memo," by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, 2-27-06]. Eventually we're going to notice that that's just a nice way of saying martial law.

Allister Sparks, the crusading anti-apartheid South African journalist, recently talked to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! about what it's like living in a brutal police state.

And ... this is why I find it deeply disturbing to see what is happening in the United States today ... everything from detentions without trial to wiretapping to the torture of prisoners, which seems to be blatantly done and obviously condoned from very high quarters. So many of the odious things that I lived with for so long in my country, that poisoned our society, I now see them occurring in the United States, which I've always admired, and it's tarnished my admiration most seriously. It's a country I really have no great wish to visit again.

Goodman pointed out to Sparks that there were ties between recently-indicted Republican uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the South African apartheid regime. "Abramoff," Goodman explained, "helped launch the pro-apartheid International Freedom Foundation in the mid-1980s. ... While Abramoff headed the IFF in Washington, in South Africa it was run in part by Craig Williamson, a notorious military intelligence officer known for carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations." In other words, Williamson worked for the CIA.

As it happens, Sparks testified against Williamson in a South African truth and reconciliation trial; Sparks knew the victims of one of Williamson's letter bombs, a family.

He was also involved in the killing of the family of an Afrikaner, a white Afrikaner dissident named Marius Schoon - a letter bomb killed his wife, his daughter, and injured a two-year-old boy who was left floundering around in this devastated home for two days before anyone found him. Yeah, that's the record of Craig Williamson. ...

He was also involved in an organization called Stratcom, which was Strategic Communications, which involved planting smear letters of anti-apartheid activists, or smear stories. Again, there were gullible journalists, or some of them were plants and colleagues of his. And he and his organization succeeded in getting stories published, which discredited, you know, really good brave activists. ... [T]hat's his career. That's his record. And you're telling me that Mr. Abramoff was a colleague, was involved with him.

But even South Africa, I dare say, did not conduct surveillance on the scale imagined by BushCo, which is building huge electronic storage space for all the data it's mining and collecting. I'm certain that they are perfecting a truly American form of spying, in the same way they've perfected torture, and the whole field of psy-ops, from the stories planted in headlines by the Rendon Group to Muslim riots right on cue. No doubt, just as psychologists participated in the torture experiments, expert data analysts are participating in the mining of the information this government is capturing. For people who want complete control, it is a gold mine.

Given the parallels between surveillance and torture, it might be wise to consider Professor McCoy's most serious warnings:

There's an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal, and once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control. ...

There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that's impossible. That cannot operate. It will eventually spread.

So what do we do?

First, we have to stop relying so heavily on electronic communications, and that includes the net. We know that Rumsfeld recently completed Internet war games. Wouldn't you love to know how they plan to plant disinformation and sow discord? But somehow I have this feeling we might be skeptical enough to thwart them there.

This is Sparks on life with bugs:

And again, one had these meetings, and, you know, you would talk under trees in the garden to avoid all these listening devices. It became a way of life. You know, wiretapping intrudes on your life in a terrible way.

On the other hand, the need to get into face-to-face groups just might be our salvation. We're going to have to get to know each other outside of our usual political boxes, and the sooner the better. Republicans are becoming Dems, Dems are going Green, the non-political among us are joining peace groups or the Sierra Club or starting feminist consciousness-raising groups for young women (boy, could we use some of those): doing whatever we have to do to heed Cindy Sheehan's call to leave the comfort zone.

I know some of you must be itching to get into a blackboxvoting cell. Do it now. Don't think about it, just do it. You'll be glad you did later.

I can even see a beneficial side-effect of losing the vote: when you don't have to worry about winning, because you know the game is rigged, you might actually start to think about what your true political ideals are. You might find that the majority of people agree on most things, including agreement on what's most important at this time, namely, our global climate crisis. I realize, now, that even when our votes were counted fairly, our choices were manipulated into a range of choices so narrow as to constitute an a priori defeat, and that's one of the reasons we are where we are today. We have to dig deeper.

Only when we all stop believing the ends justify the means can we focus on fighting for a return to inalienable human rights and due process.

The trick to coming together is seeing exactly who the enemy is.

We have a shining example before us in South Africa, which was able to destroy its own vicious apartheid police state when all the people, black and white alike, got sick of being treated like the enemy by a criminal regime. Comment interests overcame divide-and-conquer politics. Sparks says, "[T]he solution ... [is] one secular country shared by all and ruled over by the majority. And if you find that unthinkable [as applied to Israel and Palestine, for example], then perhaps [you] have some appreciation of what we've done, because that is what we did. ... And it was a remarkable thing."

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