How the US Got in the Torture Business

Normally, I’d relegate an article that discusses torture to Links and let readers chat it up among themselves. But an article at TruthOut on the genesis of the US torture program needs to be read widely. And in many respects, it’s not as off topic as it might seem to be.

On one level, it is a troubling illustration of an Israeli saying, “Love your enemy, for you will become him.” The torture program grew out of training courses designed by one Dr. John Bruce Jessen, a psychologist who consulted to the CIA. They were intended to steel soldiers who had been captured from enemy techniques designed to “exploit” them. That might be as mundane as cowing them into being submissive captives, but was presumably for more nefarious purposes: to get them to make false confessions or statements, to spy on fellow prisoners, or to collaborate with their jailers on a more widespread basis. In lay terms, the objective is to break them psychologically yet have them still appear credible to third parties.

Retired Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, who helped hire Jessen in 1989 and later trained thousands of soldiers in the defensive course that Jessen originally developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, found and released some of Jessen’s original handwritten notes for one part of the course, “Psychological Aspects of Detention”:

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

The article does not identify who was involved in the process to turn a defensive operation to protect American personnel from “illegal exploitation” into an effort to brutalize US prisoners and detainees. Jessen set about to reverse engineer the very same abuses he had tried to neuter via “stress inoculation.” And I suspect “reverse engineer” is far too charitable a description of what Jessen did; it implies the US was not out to advance the state of the art in prisoner abuse, merely identify and copy existing best practices.

On another level, this revelation raises troubling questions about how programs like this relate to the coarsening of American society. Some readers will not doubt argue that trying to connect the dots between programs designed for use in combat settings and broad social trends is overreaching. Yet look at the themes Jessen stresses: control, dependency, compliance and cooperation. To use one pet example, why are people so apathetic in the wake of widespread abuses by banks, first the extortions that took place during the bailouts, and now the continued flouting of the law in mortgage servicing and foreclosures?

Although there was no single architect like Jessen for the various elements of our current economic paradigm, they do seem to work to weaken, and perhaps in some cases, to break the will of ordinary citizens to stand up to their tormentors large and small. A policy preference for higher levels of unemployment (to keep inflation down and workers in their place) have reduced many if not most individuals’ sense of control of their own destiny and increased their sense of dependence. When job tenures are short and replacement work at the same level of pay can be hard to get, that alone produces a good deal of the sough-after state, compliance.

Add to that an information apparatus which allows employers to see minor transgressions like late payment and misdemeanors such as getting arrested at protests, and you have effective mechanisms for social control. And there are those who look at the abuse of Bradley Manning, which would have seemed inconceivable fifteen years ago, and wonder who else might be deemed to be enough of a threat to merit similar mistreatment.

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  1. bob

    It’s even worse among the under 35 “educated” age group. The are completely laden with non-dischargeable student loan debt.

    They have less than nothing to lose, and are showing complete dependence on the state which binds them.

  2. psychohistorian

    Thank you for posting this. I agree with your reasoning. I just spent the past 15 minutes reading the linked posting.

    How does one characterize the slippery slope of moral and ethical decay, demise, degradation and downfall without disgust.

    We have found the enemy, it is us.

    We have allowed America to be taken over by sociopaths in multiple key socially moral and ethical areas. What used to be our Dept. of Defense has become the defense of American imperialism passed on to the taxpayers.

    How many more acts of this ugly sick kabuki of society do we have to watch transpire before it collapses in on itself from the cosmic dissonance?

  3. Expat

    When I infrequently return to the US, I worry about being detained or arrested at the border because of comments (mainly half-jests)I have made on web sites, in emails, in instant messages, and during phone calls. I have already been hassled many times and threatened by immigration agents in the US because of my travels. The result is I am probably obsequious and certainly nervous when I hand over my passport.

    Perhaps I am paranoid, but since immigrations agents have threatened me with arrest, loss of citizenship, and refusal of entry, it seems founded.

    I believe the microcosm of immigration is an example of the DHS and as US society as a whole. For those who persist in labeling Al Qaeda as “fascists”, I suggest you look the word up and tell me who the real fascists are, a bunch of mis-guided freedom fighters with a dangerous philosophy and a quasi-inexistant structure or the massive military-financial behemoth that is waging three wars of aggression, torturing its own citizens, kidnapping, and assassinating civilians with due process.

    I don’t think America has ever been what it believed itself to be, a fair, democratic society dedicated to individual rights and freedom. But I also think it has at least been self-delusional and generally ashamed about its crimes. Now America is proud of its sickness. Torture is good. War is peace. Debt is credit. And the rich deserve not only what they earned, but everything else as well.

    1. Francois T

      “For those who persist in labeling Al Qaeda as “fascists”, I suggest you look the word up and tell me who the real fascists are.”

      Or the origins of the word “terrorist”: It never cease to surprise people to whom I show this article:

      MUCH as George W. Bush’s presidency was ineluctably shaped by Sept. 11, 2001, so the outbreak of the French Revolution was symbolized by the events of one fateful day, July 14, 1789. And though 18th-century France may seem impossibly distant to contemporary Americans, future historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century conservatism.

      Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements came together to form an association that would become known as the Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

      The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty versus its enemies. The French Revolution, as they understood it, was the great event that would determine whether liberty was to prevail on the planet or whether the world would fall back into tyranny and despotism.

      The stakes could not be higher, and on these matters there could be no nuance or hesitation. One was either for the Revolution or for tyranny.

      By 1792, France was confronting the hostility of neighboring countries, debating how to react. The Jacobins were divided. On one side stood the journalist and political leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, who argued for war.

      Brissot understood the war as preventive — “une guerre offensive,” he called it — to defeat the despotic powers of Europe before they could organize their counter-Revolutionary strike. It would not be a war of conquest, as Brissot saw it, but a war “between liberty and tyranny.”

      Pro-war Jacobins believed theirs was a mission not for a single nation or even for a single continent. It was, in Brissot’s words, “a crusade for universal liberty.”

      Brissot’s opponents were skeptical. “No one likes armed missionaries,” declared Robespierre, with words as apt then as they remain today. Not long after the invasion of Austria, the military tide turned quickly against France.

      The United States, France’s “sister republic,” refused to enter the war on France’s side. It was an infuriating show of ingratitude, as the French saw it, coming from a fledgling nation they had magnanimously saved from foreign occupation in a previous war.

      Confronted by a monarchical Europe united in opposition to revolutionary France — old Europe, they might have called it — the Jacobins rooted out domestic political dissent. It was the beginning of the period that would become infamous as the Terror.

      Among the Jacobins’ greatest triumphs was their ability to appropriate the rhetoric of patriotism — Le Patriote Français was the title of Brissot’s newspaper — and to promote their political program through a tightly coordinated network of newspapers, political hacks, pamphleteers and political clubs.

      Even the Jacobins’ dress distinguished “true patriots”: those who wore badges of patriotism like the liberty cap on their heads, or the cocarde tricolore (a red, white and blue rosette) on their hats or even on their lapels.

      Insisting that their partisan views were identical to the national will, believing that only they could save France from apocalyptic destruction, Jacobins could not conceive of legitimate dissent. Political opponents were treasonous, stabbing France and the Revolution in the back.

      To defend the nation from its enemies, Jacobins expanded the government’s police powers at the expense of civil liberties, endowing the state with the power to detain, interrogate and imprison suspects without due process. Policies like the mass warrantless searches undertaken in 1792 — “domicilary visits,” they were called — were justified, according to Georges Danton, the Jacobin leader, “when the homeland is in danger.”

      Robespierre — now firmly committed to the most militant brand of Jacobinism — condemned the “treacherous insinuations” cast by those who questioned “the excessive severity of measures prescribed by the public interest.” He warned his political opponents, “This severity is alarming only for the conspirators, only for the enemies of liberty.” Such measures, then as now, were undertaken to protect the nation — indeed, to protect liberty itself.

      If the French Terror had a slogan, it was that attributed to the great orator Louis de Saint-Just: “No liberty for the enemies of liberty.” Saint-Just’s pithy phrase (like President Bush’s variant, “We must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself”) could serve as the very antithesis of the Western liberal tradition.

      On this principle, the Terror demonized its political opponents, imprisoned suspected enemies without trial and eventually sent thousands to the guillotine. All of these actions emerged from the Jacobin worldview that the enemies of liberty deserved no rights.

      FT: “Liberty” being defined by those who hold power…of course! Note also the progression: demonization of the “enemy”, imprisonment w/o trial or due process. BTW, we’re already there people…so sayeth Da Leader! So…when do we get the guillotine’s treatment?

      Though it has been a topic of much attention in recent years, the origin of the term “terrorist” has gone largely unnoticed by politicians and pundits alike. The word was an invention of the French Revolution, and it referred not to those who hate freedom, nor to non-state actors, nor of course to “Islamofascism.”

      A terroriste was, in its original meaning, a Jacobin leader who ruled France during la Terreur.

      Et Vlan!

      1. DownSouth

        For an explanation of how libertarianism has morphed into tyranny, there is Part 3: “We Will Force You To Be Free” of Adam Curtis’ documentary film The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, which can be viewed here.

        Following is Wikipedia’s review of “We Will Force You To Be Free” but there is just one statement from the film that I don’t see how Wikipedia could have missed:

        Moderator: But Isaiah Berlin knew that it was going to be difficult to achieve and maintain this negative idea of freedom. And in his lecture, and throughout his lifetime, he warned of the danger it would face. Those who promoted negative liberty must never come to believe that it is an absolute ideal, because such a belief in one final answer always leads to coercion and the opposite of freedom.

        That statement to me sums up what has happened to modern-day libertarianism. The movement was captured by absolutists and extremists like Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman. Maybe Berlin’s philosophy never was anything but a pipedream, but nevertheless, that was the final disastrous result.

        Here’s Wikipedia’s review of “We Will Force You To Be Free”:

        The final programme focussed on the concepts of positive and negative liberty introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin. Curtis briefly explained how negative liberty could be defined as freedom from coercion and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential. Tony Blair had read Berlin’s essays on the topic and wrote to him[7] in the late 1990s, arguing that positive and negative liberty could be mutually compatible. He never received a reply, as Berlin was on his death bed.

        The programme began with a description of the Two Concepts of Liberty and Berlin’s opinion that, since it lacked coercion, negative liberty was the safer of the two. Curtis then explained how many political groups who sought their vision of freedom ended up using violence to achieve it.

        For example the French revolutionaries wished to overthrow a monarchical system which they viewed as antithetical to freedom, but in so doing ended up with the Reign of Terror. Similarly, the Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia, who sought to overthrow the old order and replace it with a society in which everyone was equal, ended up creating a totalitarian regime which used violence to achieve its ends.

        Using violence, not simply as a means to achieve one’s goals, but also as an expression of freedom from Western bourgeois norms, was an idea developed by Afro-Caribbean revolutionary Frantz Fanon. He developed it from the existentialist ideology of Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that terrorism was a “terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others.”.[8] These views were expressed, for example, in the revolutionary film The Battle of Algiers.

        This programme also explored how economic freedom had been used in Russia and the problems this had introduced. A set of policies known as “shock therapy” were brought in mainly by outsiders, which had the effect of destroying the social safety net that existed in most other western nations and Russia. In the latter, the sudden removal of e.g. the subsidies for basic goods caused their prices to rise enormously, making them hardly affordable for ordinary people. An economic crisis escalated during the 1990s and some people were paid in goods rather than money. Then-president Boris Yeltsin was accused by his parliamentary deputies of “economic genocide”, due to the large numbers of people now too poor to eat. Yeltsin responded to this by removing parliament’s power and becoming increasingly autocratic.

        At the same time, many formerly state-owned industries were sold to private businesses, often at a fraction of their real value. Ordinary people, often in financial difficulties, would sell shares, which to them were worthless, for cash, without appreciating their true value. This ended up with the rise of the “Oligarchs”—super-rich businessmen who attributed their rise to the sell offs of the ’90s. It resulted in a polarisation of society into the poor and ultra-rich, and indirectly led to a more autocratic style of government under Vladimir Putin, which, while less free, promised to provide people with dignity and basic living requirements.

        There was a similar review of post-war Iraq, in which an even more extreme “shock therapy” was employed—the removal from government of all Ba’ath party employees and the introduction of economic models which followed the simplified economic model of human beings outlined in the first two programmes—this had the result of immediately disintegrating Iraqi society and the rise of two strongly autocratic insurgencies, one based on Sunni-Ba’athist ideals and another based on revolutionary Shi’a philosophies.

        Curtis also looked at the neo-conservative agenda of the 1980s. Like Sartre, they argued that violence would sometimes be necessary to achieve their goals, except they wished to spread what they described as democracy. Curtis quoted General Alexander Haig then US Secretary of State, as saying that “some things were worth fighting for”. However, Curtis argued, although the version of society espoused by the neo-conservatives made some concessions towards freedom, it did not offer true freedom. The neo-conservatives were ardent supporters of the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile which used violence to crush opponents in a police state.

        The neo-conservatives also took a strong line against the Sandinistas — a socialist group in Nicaragua — who were seen as a threat to American security and against which the U.S. supported the anti-communist Contras. Curtis argued, they were using all manner of techniques, including the torture, rape and murder of civilians. The CIA allegedly funded the Contras by flying in cocaine into the United States, as financing the Contras directly would have been illegal.

        However such policies did not always result in the achievement of neo-conservative aims and occasionally threw up genuine surprises. Curtis examined the Western-backed government of the Shah in Iran, and how the mixing of Sartre’s positive libertarian ideals with Shia religious philosophy led to the revolution which overthrew it. Having previously been a meek philosophy of acceptance of the social order, in the minds of revolutionaries such as Ali Shariati and Ayatollah Khomeini, Revolutionary Shia Islam became a meaningful force to overthrow tyranny.

        The programme reviewed the government of Tony Blair and its role in achieving its vision of a stable society. In fact, argued Curtis, the Blair government had created the opposite of freedom, in that the type of liberty it had engendered wholly lacked any kind of meaning. Its military intervention in Iraq had provoked terrorist actions in the UK and these terrorist actions were in turn used to justify restrictions of liberty.

        In essence, the programme suggested that following the path of negative liberty to its logical conclusions, as governments have done in the West for the past 50 years, resulted in a society without meaning populated only by selfish automatons, and that there was some value in positive liberty in that it allowed people to strive to better themselves.

        The closing minutes directly state that if western humans were ever to find their way out of the “trap” described in the series, they would have to realise that Isaiah Berlin was wrong and that not all attempts at creating positive liberty necessarily ended in coercion and tyranny.

      2. DownSouth

        And for a much more intellectually satisfying explanation of how libertarianism has descended into tyranny, there’s Michael Allen Gillespie’s book Nihilism before Nietzsche.

        Gillespie traces the idea of the “absolute will,” which eventually evolved into the “absolute I”, from Occam through Descartes to Fitche to the German Romantics to the Bolsheviks. “At the end of modernity,” Gillespie surmises, “the dark God of nominalism appears enthroned within the bastion of reason as the grim lord of Stalin’s universal terror.”

        An updated version of that would be: “At the end of modernity, the dark God of nominalism appears enthroned within the bastion of reason as the grim lord of Obama’s universal terror.”

    2. migrant stockbroker

      hassled many times and threatened by immigration agents in the US because of my travels. The result is I am probably obsequious and certainly nervous when I hand over my passport.

      Perhaps I am paranoid,


      You need to understand what your body is doing when you ascend into the stratosphere. Pressure at that height is less than 11% of sea-level pressure. Cabins are usually pressurized to only 50% of sea-level-pressure. You are talking 555 millibars or so. Going up, as pressure drops microscopic bubbles form inside your brains arteries. Such a bubble lodges inside vessel at branching point. Upon reaching the ground-level larger bubbles compress enough to proceed past the branching point to end-artery or end-arteriole which has no anastomotic connection to circumvent the blockage. After few minutes on the ground you can have severe paranoid reaction internally that perhaps will go unnoticed by airline personnel. Memory of this could be very painful.

      Why you don’t travel by tramp-steamer, train, etc.? But don’t worry; you are in good company. Even Tom Madden seldom flies.

      Just a thought

      1. DownSouth

        migrant stockbroker,

        If you’re going to poke fun at people, and expect it to be funny, then you have to have at least a modicum of truth on your side.

        In this case you do not have truth on your side, as Glenn Greenwald documents in this post, !”Government-created climate of fear.”

        So instead of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, as a court jester would do, you instead join the chorus of courtiers lauding the naked emperor’s fabulous new outfit.

        You are not daring and outrageous, only sheeplike and submissive.

  4. la paz

    The real genesis of the U.S. torture program began much earlier, and has always had civilian applications.

    For example, police used to used “the third degree” to extract confessions. “The Third Degree” was a form of torture.

    In the 50s and 60s, the government sponsored psychologists at Ivy League schools to research methods of psychological torture. You may have heard about the Milgram experiment. There were numerous other experiments as well, that matched any of the ones in the Third Reich for psychological brutalness.

    In the 80s, the U.S. was #1 in torture techniques and set up the School of the Americas to train paramilitary death squads in Latin America to torture and overthrow democratically elected governments. It had already gotten some experience in replacing Allende with Pinochet and the mass torturings that occurred with that. They were even torturing American nuns living in Latin America, since members of the Catholic Church were seen as being too helpful to the common people. They raped them, burned them on every square inch of their body with cigarettes, and forced them to kill other people at gunpoint. An American nun who was tortured in this way reported that an American CIA guy was overseeing her torture.

    Which is just to say, that America has a rich history of torture dating back at least 100 years. Seen in its historical context, this particular revelation is not that interesting since most of the psychological techniques had already been discovered 20 years earlier.

    The observation about applying these techniques more broadly to the general population, with increasing boldness and visciousness, though is correct.

    1. David

      Agreed. For more information on this I highly recommend Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. Eye opening and stomach turning.

  5. cvtulley

    try to do a google search of “Bradley Manning Torture” and you will get adds that have nothing to do with the subject, what is going on?

    1. TimOfEngland

      Well, here the UK I get pages and pages of links – some not relevant but most are….

  6. kevin de bruxelles

    If we step back a little bit in time we will see that the decision whether to employ torture or not has much to do with the nature of the enemy being faced. In a conventional war against an equally matched enemy, most armies will employ a no-torture policy because their prisoners will be at risk if torture became the norm, and all-important troop morale would suffer. Against an inferior enemy in an unconventional war, where there is little risk of losing many prisoners; where there is little to no respect for the inferior culture; and where it is decided that in any case these barbarians cannot be dissuaded from torturing the few prisoners they happen to capture, in these conditions there is indeed a tendency for the superior culture to opt for the short-term advantages of torture while ignoring the long-term losses its use ensures.

    Torture often works on the lower and more immediate tactical level but is a disaster on the higher and more long-term strategic. It is a question of future time. A well organized and disciplined force will tend to have a longer future time while a disorganized and incohesive force will tend to focus on the immediate. But often the tipping point is the nature of the enemy faced.

    Everyone is familiar with the dilemma between tactical and strategic (short future time vs. long future time) in their daily lives. The tendency most people have is to push to the limit the short term rewards of the tactical; and then when the line is crossed, to attempt to avoid the long term punishment through deception. In a marriage it is strategically better to remain faithful to one’s spouse but the tactical gains to be had by a tryst with that hot shirtless landscaper is often too much for some bored housewives to pass by. Or it is clear that it is in a teenager’s interest to go to school in order to (nowadays perhaps) get a better job but the short term fun of ditching school and going drinking with his pals often wins the day.

    The classic example of the tactical vs. strategic nature of torture is the Algerian War of Independence (1954-62). Thanks to the systemic use of torture that bordered on creating death camps, the French won the short-term victory of the Battle of Algers. But not only did internal and international support grow the Algerian insurgency, the French military authorities, having become addicted to the power of short-term thinking, themselves launched a coup d’etat in France that paradoxically eventually spelled the end of the war since Charles de Gaulle was the only politician in France who had the wherewithal to actually stop the war. The generals had decided that the long term benefits of democracy were too much of a restriction on their short-term need to win the Algerian war. As a result French cohesion eventually collapsed, even very briefly sparking a civil war, and the war effort failed.

    A look back on American military history shows that when fighting inferior opponents in, for example, the Indian Wars or in the Philippines, torture was regularly used. During the so-called Long War (1914-1990) which includes WW1, WW2, and the Cold War, there was a strong public emphasis away from torture (although isolated cases surely occurred). But with the US ascendancy to hyperpower status, which was only possible due to the lack of any remotely equal conventional enemy, the strictures against torture were quickly lifted and are likely to remain that way for some time. Only the fear of a conventional equal will bring the focus back to more long-term thinking. But paradoxically, the short-term choice to use torture will certainly bring about the end of the US hyper power status more quickly. For as in France during the Algerian War, once the sweet fruit of short-termism is tasted, the temptation multiplies to use it over and over again. And therefore the tactical will be increasingly chosen over the strategic until the US sees its strategic position crumble so far that they are forced–through the fear of being dominated by others–to get back to thinking long-term again.

    1. DownSouth

      kevin de bruxelles said: “…once the sweet fruit of short-termism is tasted, the temptation multiplies to use it over and over again.”

      That sounds more like a description of the modern corporate board room than a Pentagon war party.

      1. kevin de bruxelles

        To be sure military leaders would be much more self-aware regarding these choices as they tend to be far more thoughtful and well-read than business leaders. I would say that the move towards torture was at the very least encouraged by the political leadership. And to be fair to the Pentagon, right after the Iraq War was launched, they organized a screening of the film The Battle of Algers in order to warn against exactly what happened a year or two later.

        But your point is true and this short-termism is now ubiquitous among America’s elites. I think that only a return to a more competitive world (and with it the fear of being dominated) will force them to return to a long-term view.

  7. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

    Substitute “employer” for “detainer” and the ramifications of “torture” for the civilian population become readily obvious.

    “From the moment you walk [volutarily] in the door(if some kind of exploitation is your [employer’s] goal) everything your [employer] does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your [employer] will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )via the threat or actual loss of employment. …Your [employer] wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your [employer] wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

    INVOLUNTARY UNEMPLOYMENT and/or the threat of it is a form of TERRORISM to the extent that it facilitates CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION at work and in the larger society surrounding an individual. It is psychologically debilitating and dehumanizing. Torture affects US all even if the wiring of our genitals to a 12 volt battery remains psychological – at least for now.

    1. DownSouth

      For the liberation of the labourers in the initial stages of the Industrial Revolution was indeed to some extent contradictory: it had liberated them from their masters only to put them under a stronger taskmaster, their daily needs and wants, the force, in other words with which necessity drives and compels men and which is more compelling than violence.
      ▬Hannah Arendt, On Revolution

  8. billwilson

    Excellent points. One could almost argue that the lack of a competing economic power has also led the US to follow short term approaches economically.

    1. kevin de bruxelles

      Wow a real tough guy here. So back in the day if Pinochet’s goons had clamped some jumper cables to bare cojones you would have heroically held out against each wave electric shock and not spilled the beans?

      Let’s take a minute or two look at the logical conclusion of your emotional outburst that took milliseconds for you to formulate. If torture doesn’t work then any US serviceman or woman who discloses classified information (or denounces the US in front of a camera) should be liable for prosecution if they are ever released back to the US since according to “Chad” everyone knows torture does not work.

      The logical conclusion of the Chad Doctrine is that the US military was wasting their time training soldiers to withstand torture since everyone know torture doesn’t work anyway. I would say the opposite was true; everyone knows torture often works, only the most exceptional people will not cough up the information the torturer is after, assuming of course they actually have this information. Most militaries advice their soldiers to not even bother resisting torture or at the most resist for a limited time. All the US program aimed at resisting torture could hope to accomplish at best is to buy a couple days before whatever information the soldier held was compromised, or before he was parroting before the cameras whatever script he was fed.

      1. DownSouth

        In a contest of violence against violence the superiority of the government has always been absolute; but this superiority lasts only as long as the power structure of the government is intact—-that is, as long as commands are obeyed and the army or police forces are prepared to use their weapons. When this is no longer the case, the situation changes abruptly. Not only is the rebellion not put down, but the arms themselves change hands—-sometimes… [T]he question of this obedience is not decided by the command-obedience relation but by opinion, and, of course, by the number of those who share it. Everything depends on the power behind the violence.


        No government exclusively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis—-the secret police and its net of informers.


        Rule by sheer violence comes into play where power is being lost; it is precisely the shrinking of power of the Russian government, internally and externally, that became manifest in its “solution” of the Czechoslovak problem—-just as it was the shrinking power of European imperialism that became manifest in the alternative between decolonization and massacre.


        Politically speaking, the point is that loss of power becomes a temptation to substitute violence for power—-in 1968 during the Democratic convention in Chicago we could watch this process on television—-and that violence itself results in impotence. Where violence is no longer backed and restrained by power, the well-known reversal in reckon with means and ends has taken place.
        ▬Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic

  9. Tony Montana

    I see everyone is touching on a point. But I’ll go further by saying that the above will guarantee below par economic growth for the US as a whole.

    Let me explain. All this manipulation and surveillance works at the beginning but then the surveil oppresses people will become extremely passive aggresive and criminal minded, short circuiting conciously and subsconciously the will and goal of the oppressor and eventually increasing their overall cost. So at the end they will not succeed at their goals.

    Have you ever woder why Hitler & its Gestapo, Stalin and its KGB, Castro and its State Security (which was set up for him by the east german Statsi) never made it succesfully to their end goals. It’s because they failed from the inside a million small cuts at a time.

    Those system as hard, oppressive, and ugly as they are eventually turn a sizeable minority into the fictional hard ass & criminal minded Tony Montana of the world, and a larger majority into Two faced-outer passive and complaint and inner warrior and destructor which makes them totally reliable in destroying the system by a very small cut at a time.

    Saw it first hand. I was born in Cuba. Very familiar with all the topics and mental manipulation and mind games. Torture or a good beat down was used as an example to behave. The real manipulation was in dependance and mind games and here the human mind is at its best because after a few tricks – they become innoculated and see thru the manipulation. If you want to meet real skeptics check out any one that lived in Cuba or communism.

    So you don’t have that much to fear. You’ll learn to adapt and become a two face, skeptical animal. The real loser are to the Oligarchs, they think they will become owners, but they become owners of a sick killer Frankstein with AIDS.

    1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


      The one big difference between Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Ulbricht’s STASI in East Germany, and Castro’s Cuba is that the general population understood and knew that they were oppressed. None of these experiments was able to successfully convince the population otherwise. Coercion was an everyday event. There was a historical memory – a link to the past. Moreover, the examples cited are all instances of STATE TOTALITARIANISM/AUTHORITARIANISM – imposed from the top down.

      Here in the US we are convinced that we are still the “freest” people on the planet and live forever in the eternal present. The “police”, and law enforcement in general – the FBI, Homeland Security, etc – are here to protect US, to protect our freedom. Unlike your examples, the impetus for TOTALITARIANISM emanates from below, from institutions – religious, cultural, economic, media – rooted in civil society and singularly focused on the preservation and expansion of the MARKET into every facet of human existence – commodification from the womb to the tomb. In some instances, both the former and the latter are now for sale and depicted as further examples of “freedom”. How can so much freedom possibly be oppressive? PRIVATIZATION as opposed to NATIONALIZATION is the direction. Witness Wisconsin and Ohio…

      Repression is not overt and only deployed against the “lumpenproletariat” – the parasites working the system from below – who, by the way, deserve it because they threaten the American way of life. Even then it is not seen as repression but rather “law and order” by the vast majority of white Americans living in the suburbs. If you get hauled off by the authorities you must have done something wrong…

      Surely, you must see that there is another road to serfdom, not only that imposed from above by the state, but from the other direction. One which fails to see the danger from MARKET TOTALITARIANISM – the mistaken belief that the “market” can replace the “state” in all facets of human existence.

      1. Cynthia

        When Wall Street gets done tying us to the Whipping Post and taking all of our money, the Pentagon will step in and whip us into making false confessions, all for the sake of saving our Empire and everything that is self destructive about it. The Allman Brothers do a bang-up job capturing the essence of this self-destruction. Here they are performing “Whipping Post” at Fillmore East on 09/23/1970 (Parts 1&2):

        Speaking as a born and bred Southerner, I can say with unwavering confidence that Southern Rock peaked out upon the death of Duane Allman. But his younger brother, Gregg, deserves enormous credit for carrying on the Allman sound and building upon it.

        1. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio


          I still have the two record LP Record Album set, 8-track tape cassette, and now the CD of The Allman Brothers “Live at the Fillmore East.” It has to be one of the best, greatest live recorded performances of all time.

          “Whipping Post” has long been one of my favorites. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” ain’t bad either. But how ’bout Duane Allman with Bozz Scaggs’ “Loan Me a Dime”. Classics…every one of them.

  10. DownSouth

    Yves said:

    On another level, this revelation raises troubling questions about how programs like this relate to the coarsening of American society. Some readers will not doubt argue that trying to connect the dots between programs designed for use in combat settings and broad social trends is overreaching. Yet look at the themes Jessen stresses: control, dependency, compliance and cooperation.

    It is not overreaching at all.

    Two excellent documentary films that treat this subject and explain the methods of “scientific management” of the masses are:

    Human Resources


    1. monday1929

      Mr Prechter’s Socionomics not only explains but predicted the growing imagery of torture and its increased usage.
      First comes a “shared social mood” ( those who deny there is one do still use terms like “tenor of the times” and “zeitgeist”), then the actions in the real world.

      Then there is the pathology of most leaders- does anyone doubt that Dick Cheney masturbated while watching torture videos?

  11. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    Your point is very well made. The similarities are there and it’s pretty obvious that they are there, at least to me.

    It shouldn’t surprise us, though, as modern Western society is built around personalities that can be characterised as psychopaths. As a result we are living more an more in a psychopatic world, i.e. one that only a psychopath could strive to bring about.



    “Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, the selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret. Their bewildered victims desperately ask, ‘Who are these people?’ ‘What makes them they way they are?’ ‘How can we protect ourselves?’ ” (Hare, xi)

    “Psychopaths have what it takes to defraud and bilk others: They are fast-talking, charming, self-assured, at ease in social situations, cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless.” (Hare 121)

    “Psychopaths are generally well satisfied with themselves and with their inner landscape, bleak as it may seem to outside observers. They see nothing wrong with themselves, experience little personal distress, and find their behavior rational, rewarding, and satisfying; they never look back with regret or forward with concern. They perceive themselves as superior beings in a hostile, dog-eat-dog world in which others are competitors for power and resources. Psychopaths feel it is legitimate to manipulate and deceive others in order to obtain their “rights,” and their social interactions are planned to outmaneuver the malevolence they see in others.” (Hare, 195)

    If this sounds a lot like your boss, then this might be because he/she was one. Psychopath typically strive for influence over and control of others so one shouldn’t be surprised to find them at the helm of many essential institutions and corporations.

    1. Francois T

      You can safely skip the first 9 minutes of the presentation. Glenn comes on stage at 9:02

    2. Francois T

      To get a little idea of how pernicious to civil liberties and basic freedoms government secrecy and lack of accountability is, listen to the segment starting at 25:00 minutes onward.

      1. toodance

        Hey there, thanks for the related link.
        Mainstream-ish “Glenzilla” new to me (not bad for a lawyer, heh).

        Yep, he’s dead on about intimidation tactics related to donating/supporting/looking at Wikileaks (any dissenting info, for that matter).

        Subsequently, Yves Smith essay was written with remarkable acuity and I think it took courage to publish.

  12. perfect stranger

    Maybe off topic, still related.

    I thought I would never read anything that’s coming from CATO, but…never say never.

    The culmination of the neoconservatives’ political philosophy is their call for a “national-greatness conservatism.” Following Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss, David Brooks, William Kristol, and a new generation of neocons proclaimed the “nation” as the fundamental unit of political reality, “nationalism” as the rallying cry for a new public morality, and the “national interest” as the moral standard of political decisionmaking. This new nationalism, according to Brooks, “marries community goodness with national greatness.”

    The moral purpose of national-greatness conservatism, according to David Brooks, is to energize the American spirit; to fire the imagination with something majestic; to advance a “unifying American creed”; and to inspire Americans to look beyond their narrow self-interest to some larger national mission—to some mystically Hegelian “national destiny.” The new American citizen must be animated by “nationalist virtues” such as “duty, loyalty, honesty, discretion, and self-sacrifice.” The neocons’ basic moral-political principle is clear and simple: the subordination and sacrifice of the individual to the nation-state.

    Sounds very Nazi.

    The author concludes:

    My deepest fear is that the neoconservatives are preparing this nation philosophically for a soft, American-style fascism—a fascism purged of its ugliest features and gussied up for an American audience. This is a serious charge and not one I take lightly. The neocons are not fascists, but I do argue they share some common features with fascism. Consider the evidence:

    The article is dated: March 7th, 2011.

    But, I wouldn’t say this is limited to the neocons – Republican party, the whole governing apparatus is working in this way, nor this is limited to the recent time frame as it’s presented here.

    Daniel Ellsberg – Arrested

    1. kevin de bruxelles

      I’m not sure what the alternative creed is, National Mediocrity? I think ever nation should aspire to be great just as each individual should aspire to be the best they can be.

      A true National Greatness program should include among many other things full employment, a national health care system that puts America on the top of all the international health charts, a low crime and safe environment. The part about duty, loyalty, honesty, discretion, and self-sacrifice is already part of many average American’s daily life. And these are exactly the characteristics that now need to be imposed on America’s wealthy elite.

      1. Anonymous Jones

        Isn’t the alternative de-emphasizing the nation as a unit? Why focus on the collective greatness? Focus on the collection of individual greatness.

        I, for one, am always confused why I should care so much less about the poverty and suffering just a little south of me in Tijuana just because someone drew a line near there. Yes, governance and other concerns make this not so simple. At the same time, on the scale of continuity, I’m going to focus more on individuals and less on collective units like a nation.

        Seems like misdirection to imply someone else is in favor of mediocrity.

        1. kevin de bruxelles

          This is exactly what I was afraid of. De-emphasizing the nation-state is goal Number 1 in the neo-Liberal playbook. There is no question that for people of a certain wealth, getting rid of the nation-state would be a good thing. There are able to provide for their own needs and paying taxes can be such a drag.

          But for working class people, especially those living in wealthy countries, the only thing standing between them and a third world lifestyle is the border of the nation-state. For thirty years now the advocates of globalization and open borders have eaten away at the quality of life for normal Americans. Get rid of that border down at Tijuana and in a generation you will wipe out what is left of the middle class in the US.

          That is not to say that the size or extent of the nation-state cannot be adjusted. We see this process in Europe and sometimes people mention splitting the US into smaller pieces. To me both these processes are valid and could potentially improve the quality of life for their inhabitants.

          But to continue on the path of de-emphasizing the nation-state will only lead to a new form of feudalism where the less fortunate will be unable to protect themselves and be forced to seek protection from of local big man or corporation.

          Collective greatness and individual greatness are two sides of the same coin and are in no way in opposition. If anything it is the opposite and they depend on each other. There is certainly no increase in individual greatness where the state does not exist as in a basket case like Somalia. In contrast, there is much individual greatness in powerful collective societies like the US and Europe.

          So I think my comment was fair. It is vital that people not look at just who is saying something and then like Pavlov’s dog automatically react against it if it ends up some right winger said it. It is the wealthy who are trying to tear down the nation-state so that they can serve in the role of local big man / lord. And it is the working / middle classes in the wealthy countries who have to most to lose if this process continues much further.

        2. DownSouth

          Patriotism is a devotion to a certain place and people, contrary to nationalism which is inseparable from lust for power.
          ▬George Orwell

          For a historical synopsis of how patriotism was perverted into nationalism and militarism, there’s this video, Psywar.

          The part that treats with the propaganda blitz to instill nationalism and militarism in the U.S. population begins at minute 00:26:45 and continues through about minute 00:48:00.

          The mass mobilization for war not only includes the propaganda blitz, but a campaign of brutal internal repression as well.

        3. DownSouth

          Another absolute must see in on this topic is Adam Curtis’ documentary film The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear, which can be viewed on the internet here.

          Here’s Wikipedia’s review of the film:

          …a group of disillusioned liberals, including Irving Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, look to the political thinking of Leo Strauss after the perceived failure of President Johnson’s “Great Society”. They come to the conclusion that the emphasis on individual liberty was the undoing of the plan. They envisioned restructuring America by uniting the American people against a common evil, and set about creating a mythical enemy. These factions, the Neo-Conservatives, came to power under the Reagan administration, with their allies Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and work to unite the United States in fear of the Soviet Union. The Neo-Conservatives allege the Soviet Union is not following the terms of disarmament between the two countries, and, with the investigation of “Team B”, they accumulate a case to prove this with dubious evidence and methods. President Reagan is convinced nonetheless.[1]


          In America, the Neo-Conservatives’ aspirations to use the United States military power for further destruction of evil are thrown off track by the ascent of George H. W. Bush to the presidency, followed by the 1992 election of Bill Clinton leaving them out of power. The Neo-Conservatives, with their conservative Christian allies, attempt to demonise Clinton throughout his presidency with various real and fabricated stories of corruption and immorality. To their disappointment, however, the American people do not turn against Clinton. The Islamist attempts at revolution end in massive bloodshed, leaving the Islamists without popular support. Zawahiri and bin Laden flee to the sufficiently safe Afghanistan and declare a new strategy; to fight Western-inspired moral decay they must deal a blow to its source: the United States.[2]


          With the September 11th attacks, Neo-Conservatives in the new Republican government of George W. Bush use this created concept of an organisation to justify another crusade against a new evil enemy, leading to the launch of the War on Terrorism.

          After the American invasion of Afghanistan fails to uproot the alleged terrorist network, the Neo-Conservatives focus inwards, searching unsuccessfully for terrorist sleeper cells in America. They then extend the war on “terror” to a war against general perceived evils with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The ideas and tactics also spread to the United Kingdom where Tony Blair uses the threat of terrorism to give him a new moral authority. The repercussions of the Neo-Conservative strategy are also explored with an investigation of indefinitely-detained terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, many allegedly taken on the word of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance without actual investigation on the part of the United States military, and other forms of “preemption” against non-existent and unlikely threats made simply on the grounds that the parties involved could later become a threat. Curtis also makes a specific attempt to allay fears of a dirty bomb attack, and concludes by reassuring viewers that politicians will eventually have to concede that some threats are exaggerated and others altogether devoid of reality.[3] “In an age when all the grand ideas have lost credibility, fear of a phantom enemy is all the politicians have left to maintain their power.”

  13. doom

    All of which makes this treaty we signed one of the most subversive documents in the world, more threatening than anything bin Laden ever wrote. There’s a reason why it never, ever comes up here at home. It attacks our preferred means of social control. Where would we be if everybody demanded their right to the means of life: Where’s my housing? Where’s my livelihood? Where’s my security? Where is my environmental hygiene? Lay off my dignity! When are you going to fulfill YOUR obligations as a state? This has been called the real revolutionary movement of the twentieth century, and the US is one of the last holdouts against it. It could focus a lot of free-floating popular outrage. Beats begging for state-defined scraps.

    1. Francois T

      Is it any wonder the American Right never cease to demonize the UN? They do not want people to understand that Exceptionalism is a myth.

  14. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Thoughtful comments.
    I’ve wondered about the cultural and political factors that are manifesting as a kind of rabidly individualist libertarianism. This:

    Although there was no single architect like Jessen for the various elements of our current economic paradigm, they do seem to work to weaken, and perhaps in some cases, to break the will of ordinary citizens to stand up to their tormentors large and small. A policy preference for higher levels of unemployment (to keep inflation down and workers in their place) have reduced many if not most individuals’ sense of control of their own destiny and increased their sense of dependence. When job tenures are short and replacement work at the same level of pay can be hard to get, that alone produces a good deal of the sough-after state, compliance.

    Libertarianism, which I tend to see as a response to a society in which individuals feel less power over their personal lives, and as a reaction seem to want to break down the political and cultural conditions that make them feel powerless, seems to be on the rise. Whether it takes the form of Tea Partyism, or another variant of libertarianism, it seems to boil down to a desperate desire to believe that one has — or can have — more power over one’s own life.

    The use of information technologies to elicit social compliance and social control will have grim economic consequences, I fear. I happen to agree with Tony Montana that in the long run, they are economically disabling, largely for the reasons s/he lays out.

    People who feel oppressed and surveilled do not tend to be the innovators and creators of anything other than screwing the people who seek to screw them; it’s a terrible business model, and an economic Frankenstein.

  15. Dan Duncan

    Yves, you are trying to explain way too much, way too fast.
    You are underestimating complexities. It’s Greedy Reductionism of the worst kind.

    This post is written as if you are simply giving your audience a Big Red Idiot Button with “TORTURE” written on it. And like reflexive, unthinking, hopelessly addicted lab rats, hoping for a little Libbo Fix to start the day, the usual Methomaniacs are out, wantonly pressing away to feed their Bush-Cheney-Crank dependence….

    And now,

    TORTURE!: “This is why ‘they hate us so’!”

    Gives way to

    TORTURE!: “This explains our current economic paradigm!”

    The post is downright slothful. Yves isn’t even trying to provide a causal link to bridge this gap. Instead, she’s just putting out an all too obvious, convenient and well-worn provoking mechanism that can be used to instantaneously jump to whatever conclusion she happens to desire on this day. It’s Quantum Sloth.

    In fact, Yves’ post goes beyond Greedy Reductionism….

    Piggish Minimization.
    Gluttonous Devaluation.
    Carnivorous Contraction.

    1. Kathleen4

      Great post. Yves is not using slothful reductionism, she is elaborating on inforced psychological malaise without diminishing torture relativistically.

      Thank you readers for giving a shit and shining a bright light on people with morals.

      Yves I appreciate your putting your disgust with these practices in a separate post for your humble bloggers.

    2. DownSouth

      Dan, Dan, Dan.

      Why do you always show up at a gun battle with a penknife?

      This is not where mindless appeals like Give Bradley Manning His Pillow and Blankie Back can gain credence.

      Sorry Dan, but while your rants may resonate with the RedState crowd, with the NC audience you’re going to have to marshal a little bit more than rhetoric and emotion. A dash of logic or rationality would be helpful, but more than anything you’re going to have to come up with some evidence.

      If you want to engage in these penknife battles, you’d be a lot better off at where your efforts will be appreciated.

      1. mcgee

        Dan does a service here at NC by reminding the readers of the superficial, ideology trumps reason, approach of the opposite side of the aisle. Dan should be awarded points for being consistent in his attacks. He is also gaining skill in his descriptions of those of us he sees through a red haze of dark emotions. I actually smiled at this passage:
        “This post is written as if you are simply giving your audience a Big Red Idiot Button with “TORTURE” written on it. And like reflexive, unthinking, hopelessly addicted lab rats, hoping for a little Libbo Fix to start the day, the usual Methomaniacs are out, wantonly pressing away to feed their Bush-Cheney-Crank dependence….”
        Though his thoughts as written leave little impact this is pure entertainment. Thank you Dan. You did manage to contribute to this discussion in a small way. As did I. Maybe.

    3. toodance

      Comparative essays are characterized by analogies (torture) and the basis of comparison in this case: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION.

      Imho, the thesis merely offers thoughtful insight into “why are people so apathetic in the wake of widespread abuses by banks, first the extortions that took place during the bailouts, and now the continued flouting of the law in mortgage servicing and foreclosures”.

      Greedy, Carnivorous, Piggish, Gluttonous, would be the appropriate attributes of said banks, lol.
      and I think sloths are adorable..

  16. rps

    How the US got into the torture business is the second born twin. The first born is the US Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). The USA has the largest prison population in the world. Why?, are we more violent or has city, state, and federal public legislative servants enacted non-violent laws to coerce the population into submission? these laws have more to do with politics than criminology. Subversive laws created not for the public’s best interest but in the interests of empowering corporate/banks/government. Laws that incriminate to subdue/eradicate protests and quell the voice of the populace, promote egregious wealth, and demonize the robbed; the poor. Cross the protest barriers and you are a criminal. Today, there are more private prisons built than schools.

    How does the biggest prison strike in American history go unnoticed? by Mark Anthony Neal
    Excerpt: Prisons are big business in the U.S., which has the largest prison population in the world, as Boyce Watkins recently noted. Mirroring the convict leasing programs of the late 19th and early 20th century, where prisoners were leased as laborers to third parties, the Prison Industrial Complex is simple a new term for old practices…..Currently American prisoners are used as laborers to do jobs ranging from cleaning highways, to making furniture for federal agencies, moving library books at state universities to any number of jobs that generate profits for other institutions, while paying the inmates on average 40 cents a day, if they are paid at all. Even better than hiring temporary employees, the Prison Industrial Complex allows companies the opportunity to “hire” workers on the lowest end of the wage scale…

    In the backdrop of these practices is the fact that the building and privatization of prisons is one of the country’s biggest growth industries…course you can only have prison growth by having an increase of prisoners — according to the Sentencing Project there has been a 500% percent increase in the number of Americans incarcerated since 1980 — and that was achieved in New York State via the Rockefeller Drug Laws, named after the same governor responsible for the bloodshed at Attica, which increased the prison population with non-violent drug offenders. “Three Strikes” offenses had the same impact nationally…”

    The Government/Corporate Complex uses spiffy slogans; “War on Drugs” and “War on Terror.” The truth– the government/corporate symbiotic relationship have been waging a psych-ops war; “War on Americans.”

    “It’s power. I don’t think that people in power can be convinced by words or articles. They will never give it up by choice….power has to be taken with power. Mubarak resigned because the people showed their power… You can’t eradicate power with weakness. Knowledge and unity—these were power in the hands of the people.” Nawal El Saadawi

    1. DownSouth


      I think an examination of the pathologies that have crippled the Mexican criminal justice system provides significant insight into the pathologies that afflict the U.S. criminal justice system. The U.S. and Mexican criminal justice systems are infected with common pathogens and thus suffer a common disease: Untold resources are squandered on prosecuting petty offenders or the innocent, while the real criminals operate with impunity.

      Here’s the link to a video documentary in three parts (the first part has English bylines) which gives a pretty good snapshot of the Mexican criminal justice system:

      I think you might agree that the culture of the Mexican criminal justice system, although more acutely pathological than that of the U.S., is in many aspects not very different.

      The reason for this is that the philosophies and priorities that the Mexican criminal justice system operates under were imported from the U.S. Perhaps the most high profile instance of this was in 2003 when Mexico City hired Rudolph Giuliani as a consultant to recommend solutions to its burgeoning crime problem.

      Using the political-economic theory delineated by Adam Curtis in his documentary The Trap*, a compensation schedule was worked out whereby police officers were paid a reward for each suspect they apprehended. Furthermore, recognition, honors and promotions were based upon the number of arrests each officer made.

      Needless to say, this, combined with Giuliani’s theory that little offences lead to big offences, proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Police officers focused all their efforts on the easiest to apprehend suspects. The severity of the crime committed ceased to be a factor. Thousands were apprehended on the most trivial of charges and upon the flimsiest of evidence. I knew several persons who went to prison for stealing less than $100 usd, one for stealing a sandwich (torta). I knew an 18-year-old boy who was arrested and sent to prison for ducking under the tollbooth to the subway, an offence that involved 2 pesos–about $0.15 usd. Any person who was accused was immediately arrested, regardless of how outrageous or farfetched the accusations leveled against him were. If there was a major crime, innocent bystanders were snatched off the street, regardless of guilt—the only important thing that mattered was that there were lots of arrests. And in the end even all that proved insufficient for some police officers. Some resorted to framing innocent people, just to collect the reward and enhance their career opportunities. Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that the truly tough criminals, those who were difficult to apprehend, were no longer even pursued, or if they were, they were immediately released because they had the financial wherewithal to bribe the police, prosecutors and judges. All prosecutorial attention was therefore focused on quick and easy, and poor, targets. It was criminal justice by the numbers—-the only thing that mattered was quantity, quality counted for nothing.

      Another pathology that U.S. criminal justice certainly has in common with Mexico is the grotesque double standard between those with political or economic power and those without. This double standard exists in spades in Mexico, just as it does in the U.S., as is discussed in this post on Naked Capitalism:

      In Mexico both white and blue collar criminals can pay-to-play, where in the U.S. it’s pretty much limited to white collar criminals, and the entry fee is substantially higher. But on both sides of the border, it’s justice for sale.

      A third pathology that U.S. criminal justice has in common with Mexico is the use of the criminal justice system to punish political dissent. I don’t have any references at my fingertips to illustrate how this works in Mexico (there have been some very prominent cases), but Glenn Greenwald has done significant work on how widespread this practice has become in the United States. Here’s a link to just one of many articles he has written on this subject:

      Using the criminal justice system to punish political dissent corrupts its very raison d’être. Also, in order to put the criminal justice system to such uses, it has to be able to operate with impunity, free of any civil or constitutional rights or protections for the accused.

      A fourth and closely related pathology is when the traditional goals of criminal justice become subordinate to the highly politicized imperatives of the national security state. Here the politics of fear is used as a lever to secure political and economic power. U.S. politicians are old hats at this, what with their War on Communism, War on Drugs and War on Terror; and Mexican President Felipe Calderon has now joined the fray with his own War on Drugs.

      A fifth pathology the U.S. criminal justice has in common with that of Mexico is the transformation of the prison system into a huge for-profit industry. The business model is a little different, but the outcome is the same. In the U.S. it is the tax payers who are the mullets who fill the pockets of those who own and run the prisons, as is made clear in this recent case where a juvenile judge was convicted of receiving millions of dollars in bribes for sending thousands of young people to a privately owned juvenile detention facility:

      In Mexico, it is the prisoners and their families who are the victims of those who run the prisons, as is laid out in some detail in this video documentary:

      The combined result of the pathologies delineated above is that the real criminals, those who cause untold social and economic damage, operate with impunity. Law enforcement, meanwhile, is off on some bunny trail, squandering untold resources apprehending and prosecuting the innocent or those who stole a package of chewing gum.

      There’s a new film that just premiered here in Mexico this week that deals with the problem in much greater depth. The trailer with English bylines can be viewed here:

      Here’s an excerpt from a review of the film posted on open salon:

      When Antonio Zúñiga, known as Toño, raps at the end of the documentary film “Presumed Guilty” that it’s not safe to walk his streets in Mexico City, it’s not for fear of pickpockets, kidnappers, gunshots or gangs. It’s the police, he warns, who are making the streets unsafe for the innocent.


      *The documentary film The Trap can be viewed online and can be found here:

      The portion that explores the origins of the political-economic theory that Giuliani urged upon Mexico in 2003, which had been put into practice in the U.S. and Great Britain beginning in the early 1990s, is found in Part Two: “The Lonely Robot”. This segment of the documentary is an hour long, but I think you will find it worth the time since you have to deal with the perversities committed by these misguided and mismanaged bureaucrats every day.

      If you only have a few minutes, the most germane part is the ten minutes beginning at minute 36:00 and ending at about minute 46:00

      The perverse outcomes should come as no surprise, because they are essentially a repeat of the Viet Nam War experience. Providing public services by-the-numbers works no better than waging war by-the-numbers. The Pentagon Papers revealed the extent to which lying proliferated throughout the ranks of all governmental services–military and civilian–the phony body counts of the “search and destroy” missions, the doctored after-damage reports of the air force, the “progress” reports to Washington from the field written by subordinates who knew that their performance would be evaluated by their own reports, and so forth.

  17. Francois T

    Speaking of torture programs, admire the extreme euphemism (George Orwell would be proud of this feat in Newspeak) called Communications Management Units created by the Bureau Of Prisons.

    Totally experimental with human subjects unable to give free and non-coerced consent.

    Note that the themes underlying the rationale for these CMUs are eerily similar to the work of Bruce Jenssen.

    As a matter of fact, it looks like they read his work and modified it a bit.

    History will come to accept the obvious: Bruce Jenssen is the American Mengele

  18. solo

    Helpful article, but historically flawed: The USA got into the torture business even before independence as the USA. I refer to the torture endemic to, and historically demonstrated by, imperialism of every stripe, including European imperialism in the Americas. Do a bit of research on European treatment of Africans and aboriginal Americans. Then ponder the torture visited upon GW Bush’s “favorite philosopher,” one Jesus the Christ (of biblical fame), by the Roman empire. Oh, well, Gore Vidal did label us The United States of Amnesia. Prediction: As long as the USA is in the imperialism business, torture will be among its standard operating procedures–and the public will be treated to periodic breathless (but ahistorical) articles explaining the latest outrage upon humanity by Uncle Sham. And the readership will be expected to go, “Ooh, ahh, how shocking,” and so on. Tiresome stuff . . . .

    1. skippy

      Ahhh…you wet my mental palate…finally, for one can become victim of their own life experience…SERE+ grad.

      Dehumanization has many names, excuses, but, *its function* remains the same, too resolve emotionalism’s (cough…empathy) conflict[s aka how does one diminish another and reconcile with biological hard wiring present in the majority of our species.

      Not unlike teaching the killing reflex in children, it has to be_done in order_to survive, put meat on the table. It starts with small things, ants on a mound, small birds / animals, to feed protective domesticated animals dogs / cats, to euthanize sick or unwanted domesticated animals (funny that most outdoor types will by pass a sick animal in the wild…ewww infection, let nature take its course, yet man up for the kill of a domesticated animal…put it out of its misery or ours {empathic resolution}[?]). This conditioning is necessary up to a point in our species, environmental aspect (if respect is shown too it…life begets life, cooperative), yet to date we diminish this fact with megalomaniac visions of our greatness (as individuals and groups…ideology see: mono-mysticism, Spencer Hebert, eugenics, self anointment, et al).

      Know wonder it is the ultimate punishment (death is an end to suffering…sick domesticated beast) for not conforming to whom applies it (public example), its *self gifted authority*…*belief* supported perceived superiority (Master Race stuff…cough no such animal as race…one species…duh), with in the play ground it provides…father to it all, yet he weeps for non compliance…GMAFB.

      Skippy…will we be the first species with the non de plume of death and admonishment by our own *self preconceived greatness*…we have…NO BASELINE…to work off…model that!

      PS. solo where can I find you.

      1. skippy

        @solo… ..its a bad game…a species that has the ability to paper over its evolutionary failings…and see it as success! ROFLOL!


        @ Dan D to the woods and let the chips fall where they may…eh …old school…wana play?

        @ the rest of the NC crowd me digress

        Dan Duncan let us sing eh…me thinks we forget to avail our selves of responsibility by proximity…sigh..,I am defective for Me is the old man that will not join in the occasion of some select greatness, for have seen its rewards…sigh…fascist-ism is were everyone is right and every one else is dead.

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