Torture and Salvaging as Part of State’s Security Apparatus!

Photo from: Karapatan.Org Website

Today, August 30, is the International Day of the Desaparecidos.   This is the day to reminisce the fate of those who disappeared because the state has considered them  threats to its security.  During the martial law era, high profile “enemies” of the state suffered tragic death and were paraded to the public to serve as a warning for others of the capacity of the state for vicious violence, but those who covertly work for their political agenda would simply disappear and never to be seen again by their relatives.  Even after Mr. Marcos was gone, the state method of dealing with its enemies continues.

The state has no interest in availing itself of its resources like the courts and its  various prosecutorial agencies and bring its “enemies” to justice; afraid that these public trials could provide its “enemies” a forum for their political belief that is far ideal than what the state represents, or for the simple reason that the state itself does not believe in its own machinery that is expected to render justice to those who violate its laws, but would rather  rely in its repressive apparatus to deal with the problem.  Whichever reason, provides the political framework for “torture” “salvaging” and the “forced disappearance” of not quite a few the state has classified “in its first order of battle.”

But before the state or its apparatus enforced its gangland-style  execution of its enemies, the victims  suffered tremendous torture first in an attempt to get information from them. To deny that these extra-legal measures are not sanctioned by the state is to be naïve about them.

I would support the above position with a historical footnote from my favorite historian, Alfred W. McCoy, (A Question of Torture).

 “The Philippines provides the most poignant lesson about the consequences of CIA psychological torture, particularly its violent post-Phoenix variant.  From 1972 to 1986, torture was a key instrument in President Ferdinand Marcos’s martial-law rule, creating a cohort of young officers who demonstrated, more than any, the corrosive effects of torture training on a nation’s military.  In a sense, these Filipino interrogators carried the agency’s paradigm to its ultimate level, combining an expansive psychological theatrically with a lurid physical brutality to terrorize, not just their victims, but an entire society.  As they probed human consciousness in the ad hoc laboratory of thousands of torture sessions over a span of fourteen years, these officers discovered the capacity of sexual humiliation to damage the psyche. As They stretched the CIA’s method into a latter-day Theatre du Grand-Guignol of psychological torture, they revealed the extraordinary power of this paradigm to damage military discipline and destabilize the very regime the officers were supposed to uphold.

 Among the authoritarian regimes of the 1970, the Marcos government was exceptionally lethal.  Films such as Missing State of Siege and Kiss of the Spider Woman lend an aura of ruthlessness to Latin American dictatorships that overshadows the Philippines.  But statistics tell another story.  Marcos’s tally of 3,257 killed exceeds, for example, the 266 dead and missing during the Brazilian junta’s most brutal period (1965-79) and even the 2,115 extrajudicial deaths under General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973-90). Under Marcos, moreover, military murder was the apex of a pyramid of terror – in addition to the 3,257 killed, an estimated 35,000 were tortured.  In a distinctive twist, some 2,520 victims, an overwhelming 77 percent of the Filipinos killed were “salvaged” — that is tortured, murdered, and their remains dumped for display.

 The torture cell thus became a play within the larger play. Inside the safe house, Filipino interrogators acted out their script before the victim, an audience of one.  If the plot, through various turns, ended with a victim’s death, then interrogators discarded the mangled corpse in a public place, a roadside or busy intersection, to be seen by passersby.  Every road or plaza, indeed all public space, then became a proscenium of psychological terror.  Indeed, this practice had such a disturbing resonance within the country’s collective consciousness that the Filipino-English dialect coined the neologism “salvaging” to capture its aura of terror.  Seeing the marks on the victim’s body, or simply hearing them, Filipinos could read, in an instant, the entire drama acted out inside the safe house.

The officers who administered the torture were not impersonal cogs in a military machine, but actors who embodied the violent capacities of Marcos’s authoritarian rule. Whether through mass arrests or targeted reprisals, it was the armed forces, particularly younger officers, many of them recent graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, who carried out these orders.  Gradually, these experiences made Marcos’s military interrogators a destabilizing element within the Army, repeating patterns, seen earlier in France as well as in Brazil.  After a decade of harsh martial rule, ending in 1975, senior Brazilian military purged the tortures from its ranks, in the words of one observer “so as to save the Army”.  Torture was becoming “a sort of gangrene” as security agencies “working extralegally inevitably start behaving illegally as well,”  turning torturers into “smugglers, blackmailers, and extortionists” who represented an implicit challenge to the chain of command and threatened to split Brazilian military into warring factions. 

Through a similar dynamic, the Philippines suffered more coup attempts during the 1980s than any other country in the world.  After twelve years of Marcos’s authoritarian rule, a group of middle-echelon officers, hardened by their extralegal duties, formed a volatile clique, the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM.  With singular determination, these colonels spent a decade plotting to seize the state.  Led largely by officers experienced in torture, RAM attempted its first coup d’état against Marcos in 1986 and, failing to take power, launched five more against his successor, President Corazon Aquino. After the collapse of their largest coup attempt  in 1989, the RAM leaders then took their disaffected comrades underground for a revolt against civil authority that continued, with terror bombings and abortive coups, until rebels and government finally concluded peace in 1995. 

The RAM leaders had acquired an overweening will to power, gained largely through the omnipotent role they had played during the Marcos regime’s many torture sessions.  The theatrical variant of the practice seems wholly lifted from CIA interrogation manuals.  Indeed, the Philippine methods appear so similar to the agency’s that we must ask:  Did the CIA train Marcos’s interrogators?  The answer may well be yes.  During the Cold War’s final, bitter phase after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Washington intensified its counterinsurgency operations among Third World allies, stepping up its  dissemination  of CIA torture techniques. Much of this transmission was done through training.  In 1978, a Philippine human rights newsletter reported that the Marcos regime’s top torturer, Lieutenant Colonel Rolando Abadilla, was studying at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

A year later, another human rights group claimed that his understudy Lieutenant Rodolfo “Rudy” Aguinaldo, was on his way to the United States “for six months to one year for additional training under the Central Intelligence Agency.  Where the Filipino officers, like these from Latin America, given some secret training in their tactical interrogation or torture?  Because both have since been assassinated by Communist guerillas for their “heinous crimes against the people” – Abadilla in 1996 and Aguinaldo in 2001 – definite answers must await future release of classified American documents. 

These torture techniques were also spread by simply mailing out manuals.  Under “Project X.” the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School in Arizona sent thousands of counterinsurgency-training handbooks to all “nonresident foreign students” nominated by “Missions, Military Groups, Attaches, and other US Military agencies in the US advisory-training efforts in friendly foreign countries” – criteria that fit the Philippines perfectly and language that hints at CIA involvement as one of those “other US.. agencies.  As of 1977, the center’s curriculum for “Interrogation of Prisoners of War” included a publication, Handling of Sources, with instructions that, in the Pentagon’s words, included “beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.”  But there is no list of hundreds of foreign agencies and individuals who received these manuals over the twenty-six-year life of the mail-order program.  Even absent of such documentation, however, the Filipino interrogators seemed to rely on brutal methods detailed in manuals distributed throughout Latin America. 

A rural Filipino priest tortured by Marcos’s interrogators offers uncommon insight into the impact of these psychological tactics.  Arrested for subversion in October 1982, Father Edgardo Kangleon was subjected to two months of constant interrogation before succumbing.  In his confession, he admitted to being a communist agent and named fellow clergy as subversives – charges that the Marcos regime then seized on to harass the Roman Catholic Church.  Throughout his long confinement, the priest  suffered only limited physical abuse and was instead broken psychologically by his chief interrogator, Lieutenant Colonel Hernani Figueroa, a constabulary commander who later became chairman of RAM. (ibid, pp. 75-78).”

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