[Marxism] Learning from history

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 7 08:37:00 MDT 2009

Doctors attached to various torture centers intervene after every 
session to put the tortured back into condition for new sessions. Under 
the circumstances, the important thing is for the prisoner…to remain 
alive. Everything – heart stimulants, massive doses of vitamins—is used 
before, during, and after sessions to keep the Algerian hovering between 
life and death. Ten times the doctor intervenes, ten times he gives the 
prisoner back to the pack of torturers.

--Frantz Fanon, “A Dying Colonialism”, p. 138


Challenged by terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare in Iraq, the 
Pentagon recently held a screening of "The Battle of Algiers," the film 
that in the late 1960's was required viewing and something of a teaching 
tool for radicalized Americans and revolutionary wannabes opposing the 
Vietnam War.

Back in those days the young audiences that often sat through several 
showings of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 re-enactment of the urban struggle 
between French troops and Algerian nationalists, shared the director's 
sympathies for the guerrillas of the F.L.N., Algeria's National 
Liberation Front. Those viewers identified with and even cheered for Ali 
La Pointe, the streetwise operator who drew on his underworld 
connections to organize a network of terrorist cells and entrenched it 
within the Casbah, the city's old Muslim section. In the same way they 
would hiss Colonel Mathieu, the character based on Jacques Massu, the 
actual commander of the French forces.

The Pentagon's showing drew a more professionally detached audience of 
about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and 
discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film -- the problematic 
but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting 
clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more 
specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and 
intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans.

Michael T. Kaufman, "What Does the Pentagon See in 'Battle of Algiers'?" 
(The New York Times, September 7, 2003)


Bush's favorite historian British author Alistair Horne explains what 
Pinochet, Sharon and Bush have all taken from his work, why peace means 
getting rid of the priests, and why Iraq is the wrong war in the wrong 

By Gary Kamiya

May. 08, 2007 | Sir Alistair Horne may be the only author in the world 
whose books have been read and praised by George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon 
and Robert Fisk. Not to mention by much of the senior military staff of 
the U.S. Army, Middle East scholars, State Department policy wonks, and 
realpolitik statesmen. The distinguished British historian, author of 18 
books, became the talk of the U.S. chattering classes when it was 
revealed that President Bush was reading his classic account of the 
1954-1962 Algerian War, "A Savage War of Peace." Indeed, Bush was so 
impressed with "A Savage War of Peace" that he invited Horne to come to 
the White House for tea and a talk last Thursday.

"He wrote me the most charming handwritten letter, said he was very 
interested in my books, and wanted to know more. He said 'A Savage War 
of Peace' has been most useful. I was quite stunned," said Horne.


NY Times, April 7, 2009
Report Outlines Medical Workers’ Role in Torture

WASHINGTON — Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive 
interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central 
Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a 
“gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the 
International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.

Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were 
moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators 
concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored 
prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not 
drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners 
in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid 
cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.

Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, 
was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ 
intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report 
said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to 
support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the 
professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”
At times, according to the detainees’ accounts, medical workers “gave 
instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop 
particular methods.”

The Red Cross report was completed in 2007. It was obtained by Mark 
Danner, a journalist who has written extensively about torture, and 
posted Monday night with an article by Mr. Danner on the Web site of The 
New York Review of Books. Much of its contents were revealed in a March 
article by Mr. Danner and in a 2008 book, “The Dark Side,” by Jane Mayer 
of The New Yorker, but the reporting of the Red Cross investigators’ 
conclusions on medical ethics and other issues are new.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, told 
investigators that when he was waterboarded, his pulse and oxygen level 
were monitored, and that a medical attendant stopped the procedure on 
several occasions.

Another prisoner, Walid bin Attash, who had previously had a leg 
amputated, said that when he was forced for days to stand with his arms 
shackled above his head, a health worker periodically measured the 
swelling in his intact leg and eventually ordered that he be allowed to sit.

The report does not indicate whether the medical workers at the C.I.A. 
sites were physicians, other professionals or both. Other sources have 
said that psychologists helped design and run the C.I.A. interrogation 
program, that physicians’ assistants and former military paramedics 
worked regularly in it, and that physicians were involved at times.
By policy, the Red Cross, the chief independent monitor of detention 
conditions around the world, keeps its reports to governments 
confidential to encourage officials to grant access to prisoners. 
Bernard Barrett, a spokesman for the organization in Washington, 
declined on Monday to comment on the report, adding, “We deplore that 
confidential material attributed to the I.C.R.C. was made public.”

Mark Mansfield, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that because of the Red Cross’s 
confidentiality policy, he would not comment on the report. He said that 
President Obama had prohibited all government interrogators from using 
techniques apart from the noncoercive methods in the Army Field Manual, 
and that the new C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, “has taken decisive 
steps to ensure that the C.I.A. abides by the president’s executive orders.”

Mr. Mansfield added, however, that Mr. Panetta “has stated repeatedly 
that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department 
of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” The 
C.I.A.’s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice 
Department under President George W. Bush.

In its 40-page report, the Red Cross roundly condemned the C.I.A. 
detention program not only for using torture and other cruel treatment, 
but also for holding prisoners without notice to governments or families.

“The totality of the circumstances in which the 14 were held effectively 
amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced 
disappearance, in contravention of international law,” said the report, 
which was provided to the C.I.A. acting general counsel, John Rizzo, in 
February 2007.

Shortly after taking office in January, Mr. Obama ordered the C.I.A. 
secret detention program closed and directed that the Red Cross be 
promptly informed of every person detained by the C.I.A. or any other 

The report also provided new details of the Bush administration’s 
failure to cooperate for several years with the Red Cross’s inquiries 
and investigations of American detention programs. Repeated inquiries 
and reports from the organization beginning in 2002 received no response 
from American officials, the report said, though the United States sent 
a diplomatic message addressing some inquiries in 2005.

M. Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor, who also trained 
as a psychiatrist and is now a visiting professor at the University of 
Chicago law school, called the report’s findings “a disturbing 
confirmation of our worst fears about medical professionals’ involvement 
in directing and modulating cruel treatment and torture.”

Another critic of medical involvement in harsh interrogation, Dr. Steven 
H. Miles, a physician at the Center for Bioethics of the University of 
Minnesota, said he had counted about 70 cases worldwide after World War 
II in which physicians were punished for participating in torture or 
related crimes. Most were in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, he 
said. None have been in the United States.

Dr. Miles said that in recent decades, torture had almost always 
involved medical professionals, and that to deter future misconduct, the 
medical role in the C.I.A. program should be fully disclosed.

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