Torture in Iraq and Chile: The US Connection
by Tito Tricot
May 11, 2004

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A gentle drizzle covered my home city’s soft hills the day I revived torture all over again, not in Chile, but far away in Iraq. Yes, because the pictures of Iraqi prisoners being tortured and humiliated by US soldiers brought back memories of the horrifying ordeal thousands of Chileans went through when other soldiers did exactly the same to defenseless human beings. Different times, different continents, but one common element though, for it was the United States that trained Latin-American officers to wage a dirty war in the 60’s and 70’s. They did it at the School of the Americas located at a US base in the Panama Canal Zone where nearly 60 thousand Latin-American officers underwent “counter insurgency” training. Nearly 3 thousand of these were Chilean army men who, without a doubt, they did learn their lesson, for they diligently applied torture techniques after the military coup that overthrew president Salvador Allende in 1973. Therefore, allow me to express my skepticism regarding brigadier general Mark Kimmitt's statement saying he was “horrified” at the abuse committed by his troops on Iraqi prisoners of war. Because the use of torture is nothing new for US troops, in fact, back in 1996 it was discovered that the School of the Americas, that had then been moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, included torture manuals in their academic syllabus. These manuals recommended the utilization of intimidation, executions, beatings and kidnappings, among other torture techniques, to obtain information from the enemy.

Therefore, what happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad cannot come as a surprise, although, it is certainly disgusting and shameful that a country which calls itself democratic incurs in such abominable practices. When one hears about the inhuman treatment of Iraqi prisoners, their sexual humiliation, the beatings, the long spells in solitary confinement, their heads covered by hoods, the use of dogs to terrify prisoners, one might as well be describing Chile under the military dictatorship. Too many similarities to be just a coincidence, too many painful memories to keep quiet at such atrocities, especially because the events at Abu Ghraib may not be isolated incidents, but a common practice in occupied Iraq. The United States alleged the existence of weapons of mass destruction to invade the country, but found none. Then they argued they were fighting for freedom and democracy in Iraq, but so far, the Iraqi people have seen neither freedom nor democracy, instead they’ve witnessed bombings, repression and widespread fear.

It is this fear; the overwhelming sensation of defenselessness that repression and torture entail that prompts me to express my solidarity with these Iraqi prisoners. I do not know them and probably I never will, but we are united in that fear, the sharing of a blindfold, the tied hands, the dried mouth, the wires sending electricity through our bodies. We are connected by torture, by that brutal violation of a human being’s integrity.

There is another frightening connection between Chile and Iraq, for the United States’ partial privatization of the war has reached our continent too. The US Blackwater Security firm has recruited at least 135 Chilean mercenaries to travel to Iraq to perform security duties. Needless to say they hired former members of the Dictatorship’s repressive apparatus and Special Forces. They were trained at a company installation in Moyock, North Caroline, but they also underwent training on Chilean soil. Indeed, at a secret location in El Arrayan, eastern Santiago, they organized their own paramilitary training camp. This, of course, is prohibited under Chilean law, but for some unknown and strange reason, Chilean authorities seemed to have turned a blind eye on the activities of “Red Tactica” Consulting Group, the local subsidiary of Blackwater. Thus, the first hundred of an expected total of 800 Chilean mercenaries left for Iraq.

The School of the Americas changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Perhaps, this is exactly what Blackwater is doing: cooperating with the Pentagon and the US occupying force in Iraq. Perhaps this is the reason they hired ex members of the dictatorship’s repressive services; maybe they will need their skills in torturing and killing innocent civilians.

Tito Tricot was a political prisoner during the Pinochet dictatorship and is an independent journalist and a sociologist. He directs academic programs in Chile for the School for International Training, the University Academy of Christian Humanism and the University of Art and Social Sciences.