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Are We in 1971, or Is This Just a Nightmare?

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Torture in 1971

On April 14, 1971, 1st Lt. Michael Uhl, an intelligence officer with the America Division from 1968-69, testified before a congressional committee with regard to standard “interrogation techniques” (i.e. torture) in Vietnam, as applied to military and civilian prisoners captured by U.S. forces in Vietnam.

His testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Operations revealed not only a pattern of endemic beatings, but also rapes and similar “sexual” atrocities, electric shock, and water torture. He also testified to the use of summary executions as a regular occurrence.

In 2004, while commenting on Abu Ghraib, Uhl wrote the following for Antiwar.com:

“Some of the parallels between what I witnessed in Vietnam as leader of a small military intelligence team, and the details reported by [Seymour] Hersh about Abu Ghraib, reflect, in my view, disturbing patterns of American military practice over decades that the American public would prefer not to know about. As one of Hersh’s informants puts it, “The process is unpleasant. It’s like making sausage. You like the results, but you don’t want to know how it’s made.” The more serious of these wartime parallels have grievous consequences for both victims (typically civilian non-combatants) and perpetrators, who in time reenter the U.S. population as damaged veterans.” (Emphasis added.)

White Phosphorus and Napalm in 1971

On April 16, 1971, a reporter named Fred Branfman, who had spent the period of March 1967 through February 1971 in neutral Laos, testified before a congressional committee, unmasking a “secret” US policy of saturation bombing over Laos– using white phosphorus and napalm. Branfman later wrote:

“Village after village was leveled, countless people buried alive by high explosives, or burnt alive by napalm and white phosphorous, or riddled by anti-personnel bomb pellets”

Later, a Senate report concluded that:

“…throughout all this there has been a policy of subterfuge and secrecy through such things as saturation bombing and the forced evacuation of population from enemy held or threatened areas-we have helped to create untold agony for hundreds of thousands of villagers.”

As I blogged a few days ago, it has been reported that white phosphorus and a napalm-like substance have been used to again decimate civilians in Fallujah. Yesterday, it was uncovered by The Daily Kos that the US Army’s March edition (PDF file) of Field Artillery Magazine even admits to the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah:

“WP [i.e., white-phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.”

Branfman and Uhl testified within two days of each other. Here we are, 34 years later, and we apparently haven’t learned one damn thing. Once again, we are talking about torture, white phosphourus, and napalm.

Wake me up from this bad dream…PLEASE!

Edited: nd

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  • Eric Olsen

    nice job on important information BM, thanks! I would distinguish between “non-tradtional” weaponry and torture, however. They aren’t the same thing: I think that torture degrades the torturer along with the victim and is therefore counterproductive, whereas the line is much fuzzier of what is and what is not an “acceptable” weapon. There is also the question of who is and who is not a “civilian” under these insurgency conditions.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com alienboy

    I’m not quite sure what the term “non-traditional weaponry” would cover, or is that obscure? I think the definition of torture should be as broad as possible in general terms and never decided by a potential perpetrator.

    Is there not also a larger issue of whether a country ought to be held to its commitments under the Geneva convention and other similar international treaties, rather than being able to act pre-emptively?

    I would imagine from the Vietnamese or Iraqi point of view that at the time they were thinking in terms of “invader”, not “civilian or military”.