Tuesday, July 20, 2004

River of Painted Birds 

Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country. ~ George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2004

I doubt very much that George W. Bush recognized the ironic idiocy contained within his own statement above. Nuance, afterall, is not his thang. Not that I'm surprised. The existence of the entire Bush diktat seems to rely soley upon ironic ideological idiocies and the kindness of some collective disengagement from tangible reality. All frosted over with romanticized Pollyannaesque notions of our national self as a flawless example of eternal goodness and light and liberty for one and for all and for evermore. As if we as Americans were some kind of grande luxe preternatural marvel. Some boundless corpus sanctum hovering above an enormous swamp. America as divinity. All despite our own frequent complicity in tangible substratum historical imbecilities, cruelties, thieving, and national folly.

Our mainstream broadcast media certainly feeds these ongoing Panglossian fantasies. The bogus rationale for war in Iraq and the disclosure of the realities inside Abu Ghraib prison brought forth no end to the lofty pronouncements that Americans are not really like that and America's governing princes would never knowingly sanction such torturous horrors or march the nation to war across a slippery rope-bridge of braided lies and so much woven fribble. Oh no, of course not. But, even if we did, forget it, lets look on the bright side and put all that uncomfortable naysayer negativity behind us. Hey, let's go shopping for designer pharmecuticals!

Which brings me back round to Xan and Lambert's earlier compares to "schools" for "interrogation", torture, cruelties, denials, lies, reality disconnects, and past US state sponsored handicraft south of the border. All of which reminded me of the following:

On August 29, 1970 in Richmond, Indiana Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis held a benefit concert "for the family of", and as a tribute to, an American named Dan Mitrione.

Dan Mitrione was a policeman in Richmond, Indiana from 1945 to 1957. In 1959 he would join the FBI. Eleven years later, in August of 1970, Mitrione was kidnapped, held for ransom, and eventually executed by Tupamaros guerrillas (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional) in Uruguay; sparking an international incident. News organizations in the US made the most of Mitrione's death and funeral, which was attended by David Eisenhower and Nixon Administration Secretary of State William Rogers, all who bewailed the terrible murder of a man the Nixon White House characterized as a "defenseless human being." Ron Ziegler (then Nixon White House spokesperson) praised Mitrione by declaring: "Mr. Mitrione's devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.'' [1]

What most American's learned in the late summer of August 1970 was that Dan Mitrione was a "public safety" officer, and, as his daughter Linda exclaimed, "a great humanitarian." For surely, Dan Mitrione was abducted by ruthless evil doers in Uruguay and murdered in cold blood while perfoming an honest days work on behalf of, well, you know, "peaceful progress in an orderly world." After all, character matters.

What most American's didn't know at that time, and their government and media were not exactly falling over themselves to tell them, was that Dan Mitrione, when he was living large, was a walking breathing nightmare factory. A sadistic homicidal missionary of precision pain crafted aloft upon a terrible black state sponsored operational wind. An abattoir butcher. A modern day star spangled battue Diabolous. The madman of Montevideo.

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just twirlin’ her baton. Me and her went for a ride sir, and ten innocent people died. ~ Bruce Springsteen, from "Nebraska"

Alter "ten" to read "then", in the lyric above, and you are on your way to Brazil with Dan Mitrione and his twirling red white and blue winged seraph, pro bono publico.

In 1960, assigned to the State Department's International Cooperation Administration, Mitrione shipped off to South America to train law enforcement officers in "advanced counterinsurgency techniques."

From 1960 to 1967 Mitrione would make his contributions to greater "humanitarian"-ism, "peaceful progress", and "public safety", by preaching and teaching the finer applications of torture and psychological terror to Brazilian police.

Tortures range from simple but brutal blows from a truncheon to electric shocks. Often the torture is more refined: the end of a reed is placed in the anus of a naked man hanging suspended downwards on the pau de arara [parrot's perch] and a piece of cotton soaked in petrol is lit at the other end of the reed. Pregnant women have been forced to watch their husbands being tortured. Other wives have been hung naked beside their husbands and given electric shocks on the sexual parts of their body, while subjected to the worst kind of obscenities. Children have been tortured before their parents and vice versa. The length of sessions depends upon the resistance capacity of the victims and have sometimes continued for days at a time. (Amnesty International report on torture in Brazil during 1960's while under ooperational control of military and US-Office of Public Safety)

"During his 7 "Public Safety" years in Brazil, the use of torture against opponents of the military regime became virtually routine. In addition, the Brazilian police, many of whom were trained by Mitrione, formed a vigilante "Death Squad" which disposed of over 100 "undesirables" without arrest or trial. [2]

1967: Betweem 100,000 and 400,000 Americans march in New York City in opposition to the war in Vietnam. General Hershey (Selective Service chief) announces that students arrested during anti-war demonstrations will have their draft deferments revoked.[2]

In 1967 Dan Mitrione would return to the United States to share his Latin American "expertise", techniques, and knowledge of "counterguerrilla warfare" with foreign service workers training at the AID-Public Safety Police Academy in Washington, D.C. (AID - Agency for International Development).

"Uruguay's Total Penetration"

1969 Richard Nixon is sworn in as 37th President of the United States. Nixon's Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, "calls for the repression of 'ideological criminals'", and declares the anti-war movement an "epidemic" of "national subversive activity". [2]

Kleindienst: "When you see an epidemic like this cropping up all over the country-the same kind of people saying the same kinds of things-you begin to get the picture that it is a national subversive activity." [2]

In July of 1969, only a handful of days before half a million American's would gather together on a Catskill farm in upstate New York to celebrate four days of peace and music and love, Dan Mitrone would again leave for South America. This time for Uruguay on behalf of AID where he would oversee the OPS (Office of Public Safety) in Montevideo. pro bono publico

He was the leader of a 4 man team of Public Safety advisors that trained 1,000 Uruguayan police in police management, patrolling, use of scientific and technical aids, antiguerrilla operations and border control. (from a NARMIC/American Friends Service Committee research report.)[2]

The phrase above, "Uruguay's total penetration" was employed by Mitrione to describe his mission in Uruguay, and would come to be defined by, among other tactics and practices, the creation of:

A network of spies and infiltratiors in high schools and universities. Hidden cameras in terminals, etc., to photograph all persons traveling to socialist countries. An increase in the size of the city militia from 600 to 1,000 men. New gases, new .45 caliber machine guns, an increase in the use of shotguns. Inspection of all mail and publications coming from socialist countries. Inaugeration of police training courses in the recruitment of informers, interrogation techniques, use of explosives, etc. (from "State of Siege" by Costa-Garvas and Franco Solinas)[2]

Any of that sound eerily familiar?

The OPS, since 1965, and in cooperation with the CIA, had been providing the Uruguayan police with arms and training assistance. By the time Mitrione showed up in July of '69 Uruguay was looking for additional assistance dealing with a failing economy, labor strikes, student activism, and the Tupamaros urban guerrillas who had become a sophisticated and formidable opposition to the ruling elite in Uruguay and the powers that be in Washington, DC.

The dissident Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, summed up his country's era of dictatorship thusly: "People were in prison so that prices could be free."' [1]

Among the powers that be, stationed in Uruguay at the time, was Dan Cantrell the CIA's Montevideo operations officer, who, helped establish and refine the Department of Information and Intelligence (DII) torture apparatus and provide Mitrione with a comfortable station to perfect his vocation.

"The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect." ~ Dan Mitrione [1]

Dan was the man who would take the battle to the next level. As William Blum, author of Killing Hope, explains:

Dan Mitrione did not introduce the practice of torturing political prisoners to Uruguay. It had been perpetrated by the police at times from at least the early 1960s. However, in surprising interview given to a leading Brazilian newspaper in 1970, the former Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence, Alejandro Otero, declared that US advisers, and in particular Mitrione, had instituted torture as a more routine measure; to the means of inflicting pain they had added scientific refinement; and to that a psychology to create despair, such as playing a tape in the next room of women and children screaming and telling the prisoners that it was his family being tortured.

"The violent methods which were beginning to be employed," said Otero, "caused an escalation in Tupamaro activity. Before then their attitude showed that they would use violence only as a last resort." [1]

One of Mitrione's favorite precision pain delivery stratagems included a novelty item that can be described as a kind of electrical dental floss. A thin wire placed between the teeth and pressed to the gums where it would deliver an electrical shock to it's captured audience. Dan Mitrione had discovered dentistry! All thanks to the CIA's Technical Services Division whose task it was to devise and deliver such clever new innovations. Hip hip hooray for American know-how. Pro bono publicus.

Mitrione in fact, "great humanitarian" and enemy of bacterial plaque that he was, would become a kind of Baskin Robbins of innovative torture delivery stratagems, techniques, and psychological horrors aimed at political subversives and pretty much anyone else who happened to become a means to his terrible ends.

A Cuban named Manuel Hevia Cosculluela, who worked with the CIA and Mitrione at the time, recalled how Mitrione would abduct "beggars" from Montevideo's streets and women from the "frontier area" of Brazil, subjecting them to a combination of vomit inducing drugs and electrical voltage experiments applied to different parts of the anatomy, in order to gauge the effects such abuse would have on the body and nervous system. Cosculluela would later state that Mitrione "personally tortured four beggars to death with electric shocks'. Mitrione also had a soundproof room constructed in his Montevideo home where he would demonstrate such wonders of American entreprendre spirit to Uruguayan police and visiting CIA spooks. [1]

In addition, According to the American Friends Service Committee:

Mitrione himself, during his year-long stay [in Uruguay], trained personnel in transportation techniques, established a police training facility and a radio network for Montevideo police, and set up a joint operations center of communications to facilitate cooperation between the police and the army. [2]

Dan was a busy bee.

Regrets, I've had a few; But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course; Each careful step along the byway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way. ~ Frank Sinatra

William Blum, author of Killing Hope, writes:

Things got so bad in Mitrione's time that the Uruguayan Senate was compelled to undertake an investigation. After a five-month study, the commission concluded unanimously that torture in Uruguay had become a "normal, frequent and habitual occurrence inflicted upon Tupamaros as well as others. Among the types of torture the commission's report made reference to were electric shocks to the genitals, electric needles under the fingernails, burning with cigarettes, the slow compression of the testicles, daily use of psychological torture ... "pregnant women were subjected to various brutalities and inhuman treatment" ... "certain women were imprisoned with their very young infants and subjected to the same treatment."

Eventually the DII came to serve as a cover for the Escuadron de la Muerte (Death Squad), composed, as elsewhere in Latin America, primarily of police officers, who bombed and strafed the homes of suspected Tupamaro sympathizers and engaged in assassination and kidnapping. The Death Squad received some of its special explosive material from the Technical Services Division and, in all likelihood, some of the skills employed by its members were acquired from instruction in the United States. Between 1969 and 1973, at least 16 Uruguayan police officers went through an eight-week course at CIA/OPS schools in Washington and Los Fresnos, Texas in the design, manufacture, and employment of bombs and incendiary devices. The official OPS explanation for these courses was that policemen needed such training in order to deal with bombs placed by terrorists. There was, however, no instruction in destroying bombs, only in making them; moreover, on at least one reported occasion, the students were not policemen, but members of a private right-wing organization in Chile. Another part of the curriculum which might also have proven to be of value to the Death Squad was the class on Assassination Weapons. [1]

They wanted to know why I did what I did. Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world. ~ Springsteen, Nebraska

I won't go on here any longer. The sentence above citing a "private right-wing organization in Chile" and classroom assistance on "Death Squad" assassination instruction branches down other paths. Operation Condor. Pinochet's Chile. Complex networks of resurgent former Nazi casta-a-ways and collaborators. Fascist "cocaine coups" in Boliva, Argentina's genocidal Generals, Iran-Contra and unconstitutional covert operations under the Reagan/Bush commision, Negroponte's, Rios Montt's and any number of perennial blooming dirty little wars.

AFSA Memorial Plaques - C Street Lobby, Truman Building, Washington D.C. - Honoring Americans Who Lost their Lives Under Heroic or other Inspirational Circumstances - Or otherwise In the Line of Duty - While Serving the U.S. Government and the American People Abroad in Foreign Affairs (Names are listed in the order that they were inscribed)

Dan Mitrione is among the many names appearing on the AFSA Memorial in Washington DC.

Uruguay is an Indian word meaning "River of Painted Birds".


The film "State of Siege" appeared in 1972. It centered around Mitrione and the Tupamaros and depicted a Uruguayan police officer receiving training at a secret bomb school in the United States, though the film strove more to provide a composite picture of the role played by the US in repression throughout Latin America. A scheduled premier showing of the film at the federally-funded John F. Kennedy Arts Center in Washington was canceled.

Brazil, 1979: Josef Mengele (Nazi Angel of Death) suffered a stroke and drowned while swimming in the ocean. He was 68 years old.

In 1981, at the Fourteenth Conference of American Armies, the Uruguayan Army offered a paper in which it defined subversion as "actions, violent or not, with ultimate purposes of a political nature, in all fields of human activity within the internal sphere of a state and whose aims are perceived as not convenient for the overall political system."

Previously, references to past "dirty war" tactics in Latin America as well as referrences to Fort Huachuca, the Army's school for interrogation, and it's relationship to the torture prisoner abuse crimes at Abu Ghraib have been discussed here. See earlier recent posts by Xan and Lambert:

1- Here: Bush dirty war: Fort Huachuca (Lambert)
2- Here: CACI Feelings Hurt (Xan)
3- Here: Bush torture policies: If you run the torture wing at Abu Ghraib,...(Lambert)

Foots - sources of info contained therein:

[1] From excerpts of William Blum's book Killing Hope.
[2] "The Peoples Almanac" - David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace. 1975

BACK to "River of Painted Birds" / Corrente - July 20, 2004


Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they'd heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang. Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? And if the dried and blackened shell of him is found among the sands by travelers to come yet who can discover the engine of his ruin? ~ Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian

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