A few decades ago, when one thought of nations that practiced torture, those in Latin America immediately came to mind. That continent was notorious for being ruled by brutal dictators who would overthrow, often with help from the US, democratically elected governments and thought nothing of torturing and murdering their opponents. So-called ‘death squads’ consisting of paramilitary forces supported by the government and acting under its auspices would seize people in the middle of the night and they would ‘disappear’, sometimes never to be seen again, sometimes their mutilated bodies would be found later.
Paul Street writes about how things have changed. It is now the US and its allies who are now the torture leaders in the world, and co-opting other countries to aid it, while Latin American nations are the ones most opposed.
As the Open Society demonstrated in an exhaustive February 2013 study titled “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret and Extraordinary Rendition,” “Germany participated in the interrogation of at least one extraordinarily rendered individual. It also had knowledge of the abduction of a German national held in secret CIA detention. Further, Germany permitted use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with the CIA extraordinary rendition program.”
Eighteen other European nations (including Belgium, England, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and even social-democratic Sweden and Denmark) also participated in the global CIA torture network. The roles they played ranged from letting CIA rendition flights use their airspace and airports to letting the CIA snatch captives up on their national territory and to actually (as in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania) hosting secret CIA prisons (torture sites).
It wasn’t just Europe that collaborated with CIA extraordinary rendition and torture. Fifty four nations spread across five of the world’s six inhabited continents participated in the U.S. global torture network. [To its shame, Sri Lanka was also one of those nations-MS}
You can see the full Open Society report here.
The one continent that was not part of the US-sponsored global torture regime was Latin America, despite the efforts of the US, especially Donald Rumsfeld, to get them on board.
Given Latin American governments’ deep collaboration with U.S. military and intelligence force’s torture practices during the last century, it might seem ironic that South and Latin America alone among the world’s great continents and regions can boast that none of its national governments agreed to participate in the global torture network created by the U.S. after 9/11.
Not only that, countries like Uruguay accepted some of the detainees that had been held and tortured by the US. As Street says, the way these prisoners were received and treated by Uruguay provides a striking contrast to how they were treated by the US.
I happened by chance on a remarkable and heartwarming news segment on the reception received by six former Guantanamo prisoners—four Syrians, a Palestinian, and a Tunisian—in Montevideo, Uruguay. Although they were cleared for release in 2009, the U.S. refused to release them until Uruguay’s left wing president Jose Mujica offered to take them in as a humanitarian gesture last December. As one of the released detainees’ lawyers told the PBS “Newshour”: “I have never, in my many years of doing this work, seen a reception like this. It has been overwhelming in its warmth and its compassion. When my client, who has been on a hunger strike for most the past two years, was going around the hospital ward to have tests, other patients in the hospital came out of their wards and leaned in and smiled and waved. I have been hugged by grandmothers in the supermarket simply because I am a lawyer who represents a Guantanamo prisoner. The warmth of the people of Uruguay has been overwhelming. We’re so grateful and so pleased.”
The ex-detainee, Abedlhadi Omar Faraj, sent out a letter through his New York lawyer thanking Uruguay for its gracious welcome. “Were it not for Uruguay,” the letter read, “I would still be in the black hole in Cuba today. It’s difficult for me to express how grateful I am for the immense trust that you, the Uruguayan people, placed in me and the other prisoners when you opened the doors of your country to us…”
Michal Bone, a lawyer for another former “Gitmo” detainee, told the Guardian that “They got hugs from Uruguayan officials, friendly waves and thumbs up from the other patients at the hospital, the Uruguayan reception team even brought bathing suits for them.” Bone noted that while on the flight Cuba on a U.S. military plane, the former prisoners wore handcuffs, shackles, blindfolds and ear-defenders, “the Uruguayans refused to let them walk off the plane in shackles; they insisted that they be allowed to take their first step on Uruguayan soil as free men.” [My emphasis-MS]
As free men—imagine that. The six former detainees’ trip from the bottom reaches of the fascistic, racist, and totalitarian Hell that is the U.S. GWO/OT to peaceful and social-democratic Uruguay was a flight from savagery to civilization—from the clutches of a sadistic Empire of torture to a region that is finding democracy and justice as it emerges from the vicious control of its northern overlords.
I have written about the Uruguayan president before and how he eschews all the trappings of the imperial presidency. Street adds that Mujica’s own experience as a guerilla leader who was tortured by the regime that seized power in a US-backed coup in 1973 likely enables him to better see things from the view of the tortured, rather than the torturers.
Jose Mujica is a former left-wing militant who spent nearly 15 years in prison during the period when Uruguay was under U.S.-sponsored and CIA-assisted military rule. A veteran of the Tupamaro revolutionary organization, he knows a thing or two about U.S.-directed “enhanced interrogation”—torture, that is. “As a prisoner of the brutal military dictatorship that seized power in a [U.S.-backed] coup in June 1973, Encyclopedia Britannica reports, “Mujica was tortured and spent long periods of time in solitary confinement, including two years at the bottom of a well.”
I think people in the US have little idea how other nations view them. The US is still a dominant military and economic power so other countries won’t publicly criticize it too much for fear of reprisals. But we should not take that muted response as a sign that they are not contemptuous of our claims to be a leader in human rights and view our preaching to other nations as anything other than rank hypocrisy.