Category Archives: Italy

No retreat from austerity in Italy

By Chris Marsden 
2 May 2013
It took just one day and a visit to Berlin for newly installed Italian prime minister Enrico Letta’s pledges to shift from policies of austerity to economic growth to be exposed as a mixture of false promises, evasions and flat-out lies.
Letta, of the Democratic Party (PD), heads a grand coalition that includes media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty (PdL). It was formed at the behest of President Giorgio Napolitano, an ageing Stalinist, aiming to continue the savage austerity measures imposed by the previous unelected technocratic administration of Mario Monti.
Achieving this is no easy task, given the extraordinary crisis facing Italian capitalism.
Italy’s national debt will rise to 130.4 percent of gross domestic product this year, despite the austerity measures imposed. Since 2008, its gross domestic product has shrunk by 5 percent and industrial output has declined by a quarter. The Bank of Italy’s latest financial stability report shows that 7.2 percent of all corporate loans are now in arrears, led by the building industry, and a further deterioration is taking place.
Even if Italy could continue borrowing at 4 percent interest rates, its economy would need to grow by 5 percent for its debts not to rise. Instead, the economy will in fact shrink by 1.3 percent this year, by the government’s own calculations, and borrowing costs will rise.
More important still, the ruling class and the political elite must contend with massive anger in the working class over growing hardship and rising unemployment, which stands at 11.6 percent and affects one third of young people. This anger has found little organised expression as yet, because Italy’s trade unions are suppressing opposition to the employers and government austerity programmes. But this situation cannot be sustained indefinitely, especially amid a sharp deterioration in the economic fortunes of European capitalism.
A stark expression of social misery that is developing in Italy was provided by the shooting of two police officers, one seriously wounded, by Luigi Preiti, 49, motivated by anger at the loss of his job and the ending of his marriage.
In parliament Monday, the nominal left lower house speaker, Laura Boldrini, warned, “There’s a social emergency that needs answers and our politicians have to start giving them.”
But Letta, whose party is already in a shambles, could only offer a speech filled with contradictory promises—pledging to honour Italy’s promises to the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to impose cuts, while stimulating the economy and coming to the aid of the most beleaguered.
“We will die of fiscal consolidation alone, growth policies cannot wait any longer,” he declared, adding that Italy’s €2 trillion debt “weighs heavily” on ordinary Italians. As a result, Europe was suffering from “a crisis of legitimacy.”
The political class must respond to growing anti-establishment sentiment, he warned.
Letta pledged to reduce taxes on workers and young people to stimulate economic growth, to work with Italy’s unions to bring down unemployment, and to champion a “welfare system which is more universal, more focused on young people and women, extending it to those who are not covered, especially temporary workers.”
However, when it came to concrete measures, Letta offered little. Instead of abandoning the widely unpopular housing tax, in line with a PdL campaign pledge, it will be suspended in June and reviewed. Only plans to increase Italy’s VAT rate by 1 percent to 22 percent were abandoned.
Abandoning the housing tax will cost €8 billion in state revenues , and not collecting it in June will leave a €2 billion shortfall. Letta made no attempt to show how doing this was compatible with the dec l aration by his foreign minister Emma Bonino that Italy cannot change the fiscal commitments made with the EU and IMF for this year.
“Italy cannot re-negotiate the 2.9 percent,” Emma Bonino told reporters in parliament. This implies that Letta was pinning his hopes on renegotiating terms of debt repayments as demanded Monday by Berlusconi and echoed by PD industry minister Flavio Zanonato.
Such demands offer nothing for working people. According to Zanonato, they centre on suggestions to “pursue a credible economic policy to maintain its reputation in Europe and keep the spread between Italian and German bond yields low”, while excluding investment spending from the European Stability Pact.
For his part, the minister of economy and finance, the former deputy governor of the Bank of Italy, Fabrizio Saccomanni, spoke of restructuring the state budget and cutting public spending—indicating that the axe will merely fall elsewhere.
Even prior to Letta’s departure for Berlin for discussions with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the rating agency Standard & Poor’s gave a negative verdict on Letta’s pledges to restore growth. Echoing Moody’s, it kept Italy’s sovereign debt rating at “BBB+”—just two notches above junk grade and with a negative outlook.
Things only got worse for Letta later that day. At a joint press conference with Merkel, Letta spoke cryptically of the need to reach a synthesis between reform and growth measures and of Europe, showing “the same determination to pursue growth as it does to maintain sound public finances.”
But Merkel gave him short shrift, stating that she saw no contradiction between budgetary discipline and the goal of economic growth.
“For us in Germany, budgetary consolidation and growth are not at cross-purposes but have to go hand in hand to lead to greater competitiveness and therefore more jobs,” she said. “We want to ensure Europe emerges from this crisis stronger than it went into it. As part of that, every country must do its part.”
Her caveat that “Italy has taken considerable steps in this regard” only indicates that further steps are considered necessary.
“Growth allows solid finances, solid financing creates the prerequisites for growth,” she added. “But it is important that we don’t see growth as something where we spend public money, but where companies feel able to invest and create jobs. That’s why we need structural reforms and less bureaucracy.”
Letta responded with a promise to honour all reform commitments of the previous Monti government and pledged to fill the €8 billion funding gap left by abandoning the housing tax—i.e., by pledging further austerity measures.
Letta met with French president François Hollande in Paris yesterday, before departing for Brussels for talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. But whatever additional rhetoric emerges from discussions with these ostensibly more sympathetic ears, nothing can be expected by working people in Italy or the rest of Europe from any section of the bourgeoisie to alleviate the terrible social hardship they face.
The Letta government as well as governments in other countries hardest hit by the debt crisis, such as Greece and Spain, may ask for some leeway from the German government. However, they all agree that the working class must continue to foot the bill for the crisis. Moreover, in the name of “restructuring”, they offer as an alternative to an exclusive emphasis on budget cuts measures to step up the rate of exploitation of the working class through speed-ups, wage cuts, rationalisations and privatising of public assets.
Such calls for a shift in strategy—which would amount only to inflicting pain and austerity through other means—have repeatedly foundered on the conflicting national interests of the European powers.

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Democratic Party’s Enrico Letta will try to form Italian government

By Alex Lantier 
25 April 2013
After the Italian parliament reelected the Democratic Party’s (PD) Giorgio Napolitano to an unprecedented second term as president on Saturday, Napolitano named Enrico Letta as prime minister-designate yesterday. Letta, the PD’s second-in-command until the mass resignation of the PD national leadership this weekend, will now attempt to form a government.
Italy has been without a government since February elections produced a hung parliament. The vote was a resounding rejection of the austerity policies that technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti has carried out with the European Union’s (EU) support. In the Italian Senate, the PD won 119 seats, the People of Freedom (PdL) party of Silvio Berlusconi won 117, populist comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement (M5S) won 54, and Monti’s Civic Choice Movement (SC) won only 18.
Upon leaving the presidential palace, Letta called for talks with all of Italy’s major parties and said he faced a “complicated and difficult attempt” to build a coalition government. He called the responsibility involved “heavier than what my shoulders can bear.”
Government talks are expected to begin tomorrow. If Letta succeeds in forming a government, a proposed cabinet could be submitted to parliament for a confidence vote by next week.
After Letta’s nomination, Italy’s major political parties are trying to assemble a parliamentary dictatorship to keep imposing social cuts overwhelmingly opposed by the working class.
The 87-year-old Napolitano, who began his career in the Stalinist Italian Communist Party (PCI), has threatened to resign if the parties do not unite behind continued economic “reforms.” The PD, Berlusconi’s PdL and Monti’s SC have all indicated they would cooperate with a prime minister-designate chosen by Napolitano.
Letta is reportedly considering Bank of Italy Director-General Fabrizio Saccomanni as economy minister, the Italian statistics agency ISTAT’s chief Enrico Giovannini as industry minister, and Monti himself as foreign minister.
Letta tepidly criticized EU austerity policies that have devastated Italy, Greece, and other countries, saying, “Europe’s policy of austerity is no longer sufficient.” Letta’s entire career shows, however, that even if he were to adjust Monti’s policies, he would continue the assault on the working class.
The nephew of top Berlusconi advisor Gianni Letta, Letta began his career as a member of the Christian Democracy and the Italian Popular Party (PPI) in the 1990s. He was a top Treasury official in the 1996-2001 Olive Tree coalition government, which brought together the PPI and the Democratic Left Party (PDS), the largest party to emerge from the collapse of the PCI.
Letta helped formulate the Olive Tree government’s policies for Italy to meet financial guidelines to participate in the euro, which was launched in 2002. These policies prominently included the 1997 pension cuts, designed to limit public spending.
Since the Olive Tree government collapsed in 2001, Letta has occupied various high-ranking posts—in think tanks, as an aide and state secretary to Prime Minister Romano Prodi in 2006, and then in the PD, which formed in 2007 when the PDS and PPI merged.
Letta himself praised the technocratic Monti government when it was installed in November 2011 for “getting off on the right foot,” including women, and promoting “growth.” In the event, the Italian economy shrank by 2.4 percent last year under the impact of Monti’s cuts, with industrial new orders falling 7.9 percent in the year starting in February 2012.
The financial markets reacted positively to Napolitano’s selection of Letta, lowering the interest rates charged on Italian state debt. French business daily Les Echos said of Letta, “A man of the shadows, he is considered one of the PD’s best brains… He is a convinced European whose career inspires confidence.”
Monti himself applauded Napolitano’s selection of Letta. He added, “Thanks to his proven and significant experience in the political, cultural, and social fields, despite his youth, Letta will know how to efficiently guide Italy through the challenging path of necessary institutional and cultural reforms, and to consolidate Italy’s credibility on the international stage.”
The maneuvers of Napolitano and Letta are yet another indication of the bankruptcy of the Italian political establishment. Under Monti, the PD and the PdL tried to hide their parliamentary support for Monti’s cuts behind claims that Monti’s was a “technocratic” government, and not a government of political parties. Rising opposition to austerity in the working class and Monti’s defeat in the polls are coming together to explode this cynical pretense that the PD and PdL did not support Monti’s agenda.
Significantly, it is the PD—Italy’s main bourgeois “left” party—that is leading efforts to form another pro-austerity government. The resignation of the PD’s ex-Stalinist leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Friday, followed by that of the entire PD leadership, marks the collapse of attempts to organize a PD government excluding Berlusconi’s PdL. Now the PD is handing over power to its Christian-Democratic elements, for them to organize a government resting also on Berlusconi.
This exposes more than just the empty hypocrisy of the Italian bourgeois “left” parties’ attempts to shore up their dwindling support by making moral appeals to voters’ disgust at Berlusconi’s corrupt career and mafia ties.
From the standpoint of economic questions, there is increasingly little difference between the “right” and “left” in Italian capitalist politics. Having completely lost the PCI’s working-class base since the collapse of the USSR, the various parties on the Italian “left” that emerged from the PCI’s collapse have become pro-business parties. (See: “In the Italian elections, Rifondazione Comunista emerges as a bourgeois party”). Since the outbreak of the 2008 economic crisis, they have waged unrelenting war on the working class.
The central features of the present situation are the complete political disenfranchisement of the working class and, amid rising popular discontent, the increasing likelihood that it will emerge in open struggle against the entire political establishment.
Broad sections of the ruling class fear such a development—including M5S’s celebrity populist Beppe Grillo, who has criticized the major parties and, until now, refused to openly sign alliances with them. (See: “The political significance of Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement”)
He initially denounced Napolitano’s reinstallation as a “coup” and called for the population to refuse to recognize it. However, he subsequently pulled back, fearing protests against the government.

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The Italian election: A political watershed

28 February 2013
Last weekend’s Italian general election is a watershed event in the political development of Europe.
The point man for the European financial elite, Mario Monti, suffered a humiliating defeat and could not form a workable government with his ally, Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party. This is a major blow to the austerity policies of the European Union and the German government. Commentaries predict a new eruption of the euro crisis.
The problem for the ruling class is not so much Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi, who are now in a position to block any government decision in the Senate. While somewhat unpredictable, both men are bourgeois politicians who defend capitalism and are prepared to support brutal austerity measures. The problem is the opposition of the Italian people, who have decisively rejected a policy that brings them nothing but poverty and unemployment, while the financial elite enriches itself in a shameless fashion.
Italy is not the only country where such resistance is emerging. Across Europe, workers are exhibiting growing militancy, seeking to defend themselves against a social counterrevolution aimed at wiping out all of the social gains won over the previous 70 years. In Bulgaria, demonstrations against exorbitant electricity prices have brought down the government. In Greece and Spain, strikes and protests against the austerity measures of the European Union are assuming increasingly radical forms.
Over the past fifteen years, the European financial elite has mainly relied on the services of social democratic parties and the trade unions and their pseudo-left defenders to slash workers’ living standards and satisfy the financial markets’ hunger for profit.
Tony Blair in Britain, Gerhard Schröder in Germany and Lionel Jospin in France carried out austerity policies at the beginning of this period. After the 2008 financial crisis, José Zapatero in Spain, José Socrates in Portugal and George Papandreou in Greece continued and extended these policies. They carried out attacks against workers, pensioners and the unemployed that were unprecedented in Europe since the 1930s.
The trade unions collaborated in these social attacks, suppressing popular resistance and dissipating opposition by means of toothless protests. Pseudo-left groups criticized austerity measures in words, while in practice supporting the social democrats, and—in the case of Communist Refoundation in Italy and the Left Party in several German states—participating in their governments.
Social democratic leaders responsible for the social attacks were unseated due to the unpopularity of their policies. They handed over power to conservative governments that continued the social counterrevolution. When the latter faced mounting opposition, the social democrats returned to power to continue the same right-wing policies.
This was the game plan for the election in Italy last weekend, but it failed to come to fruition.
Monti ruled for thirteen months without any democratic legitimacy. Having been installed in power without the benefit of an election, he initiated unprecedented social attacks. He called early elections when polls predicted a clear majority for his own list and the social democratic camp led by Bersani. He hoped to achieve a stable parliamentary majority for his austerity policies.
The closer the election approached, however, the faster this majority melted away. The disastrous consequences of Monti’s policies became clearer by the day. The Italian economy is in a deep recession. It has become virtually impossible for young people to find a job. Pensioners are sinking into abject poverty. Low-income families are burdened by high taxes.
The bankruptcy of the official “left” enabled a right-wing demagogue such as Berlusconi and an unscrupulous pseudo-populist such as Grillo to profit from opposition to anti-working class austerity policies that were supported by and identified with the social democrats. But Berlusconi and Grillo have no answer to the social crisis. There are few illusions that Berlusconi is anything other than a right-winger, and time will soon dispel illusions that exist about Grillo.
The class struggle will increasingly assume more militant and open forms. European politicians have responded by publicly stating that they will not accept the electorate’s will as expressed in its vote against the austerity policies of the EU. The most blatant statement in this regard came from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Commenting on the Italian election, he declared: “The mistake now would be to cave in to populism. We must now ask the question: Should we define our economic policy on the basis of short-term electoral considerations or by what is required to lead Europe on the path of sustainable growth? For me the answer is clear. We should… not yield to immediate party political considerations.”
In other words, the people can vote however they choose, but it will have no impact on state policy. We will stick to the social counterrevolution. Similar statements were made by other politicians and media commentators.
European ruling circles will react to Monti’s electoral disaster by increasingly turning to authoritarian methods of rule and the forcible suppression of resistance to their reactionary policies.
Workers and young people must prepare by drawing the lessons of the bankruptcy of the social democrats, the trade unions and their pseudo-left defenders, and organize themselves independently. The pseudo-left groups such as Communist Refoundation in Italy, the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, SYRIZA in Greece and the International Socialist Organization in the US represent wealthy strata of the middle class whose income and social status are closely connected with the capitalist state. The more militant the resistance of the working class, the more they will move to the right.
The most urgent task now is to build a new revolutionary leadership of the working class to prepare for the coming struggles.
Social and democratic rights can be defended only by reorganizing society on a socialist basis. The major corporations and banks must be expropriated and placed under democratic control. Production must be organized according to the needs of society and not the greed for profit. At the heart of this perspective is the establishment of workers’ governments and the United Socialist States of Europe.
Peter Schwarz

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Initial results indicate stalemate in Italian election

By Peter Schwarz 
26 February 2013
The result of the Italian parliamentary elections on Sunday and Monday was still unclear on Monday evening, even though the polls closed at 3:00 p.m. All indications were that the electorate had inflicted a resounding defeat on incumbent Prime Minister Mario Monti and repudiated his agenda of austerity measures demanded by the European Union (EU).
However, no party articulated the deep social opposition in the working class and every party running advanced right-wing policies. Under these conditions, no clear victor emerged.
In the Chamber of Deputies, the center-left coalition led by Pier Lugi Bersani reportedly had a very slender lead, coming first in the vote with just under 30 percent. Bersani’s coalition is made up of the Democratic Party, which emerged from the disbanding of the Communist Party in 1991, and the Left, Ecology, Freedom party (SEL) led by Nichi Vendola.
According to Italian electoral law, the party with the biggest share of the vote automatically receives 55 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house. This evidently leaves the 61-year Bersani with a secure parliamentary majority.
In the second chamber of parliament, the Senate, Bersani’s alliance is in a neck-and-neck contest with the center-right alliance led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which consists of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL), the Northern League, and two smaller right-wing parties. Seats in the Senate are awarded on the basis of the results in each of the 20 regions, rather than nationally.
If Bersani fails to obtain a majority in the Senate, a government of his coalition will likely be unable to get legislation through the upper chamber, creating a highly unstable political stalemate and in all probability setting the stage for a new election in the near future.
The Five-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, won far more votes than most polls had predicted. It is projected to have won 27 percent of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies, just behind the electoral lists of Bersani and Berlusconi. In Sicily, the movement emerged as the strongest party in the Senate elections, with 30 percent. Grillo ran against the EU and all the established parties, which he demonstratively attacked.
The alliance of incumbent Prime Minister Mario Monti and the Christian Democratic and Liberal Parties suffered a major defeat. Last night it was questionable whether the party would enter parliament, which has a minimum threshold for electoral lists of 10 percent. In the Senate this hurdle is even higher at 20 percent.
The Civil Revolution alliance led by the anti-Mafia prosecutor Antonio Ingraio, which includes the Communist Refoundation party, won just 2 percent of the vote and will not be represented in the new parliament.
The turnout was 75 percent, a fall of 6 percent compared to the last election in 2008.
The projections changed in the course of the evening, varying from one polling institute to another. This, in turn, led to extreme volatility in the financial markets.
When exit polls predicted a victory for Bersani at 3:00 p.m., the Milan stock index rose by 3 percent and the German DAX was up 2.3 percent. The euro rose against the dollar and the interest rate on Italian bonds dropped significantly. But when news emerged of a possible Berlusconi victory in the Senate, indexes turned negative.
During his election campaign Berlusconi slammed the EU, and especially the German government. He promised to reverse unpopular tax increases introduced by Monti.
Bersani, however, had committed himself to continue the austerity policies of Monti. He was therefore regarded by governments and business circles across Europe as a reliable advocate of further attacks on the working class.
Should the election end in a stalemate, it is expected that the financial markets will react violently, drawing not just Italy, but also the euro into renewed crisis. The Italian election result presages fierce social conflicts and political upheavals.
The poor performance by Monti demonstrates the extent of the popular hatred for the austerity measures dictated by the EU. In late 2011 and under pressure from the EU, the former EU commissioner Monti took over as head of a non-elected technocratic government and introduced drastic austerity measures. They have lowered the living standards of broad sections of the population, while youth unemployment has soared to more than 37 percent.
Monti was supported by the ruling classes throughout Europe and highly praised by the media. Italian voters did not share this enthusiasm, however, as the election result makes clear.
Bersani had long been regarded as the undisputed favorite to win the election. In the last polls published two weeks ago he was still well ahead of Berlusconi. As a result of his insistence on continuing Monti’s austerity measures, this lead evaporated quickly.
In the election campaign Berlusconi posed as an opponent of the EU, although as prime minister he had supported the austerity program of the European Union. He promised voters that immediately after the election he would repeal the property tax introduced by Monti, which particularly hits small property owners.
It was Beppe Grillo, however, who succeeded in winning most of the protest vote by constantly denouncing the political “caste”. His movement, however, has no answer to the growing social crisis. Grillo has avoided taking any clear stand on class issues and his eclectic program tends strongly to the right.
The fact that more than half of all those who went to the polls voted for the list of Berlusconi or Grillo’s Five-Star Movement, both of which conducted campaigns against the EU, indicates the growth of opposition to the European Union in a country traditionally regarded as pro-EU.
The anger against Monti and the European Union could be exploited by right-wing figures because they faced no opposition from the nominal “left”. In common with the Social Democrats in all other European countries, the Democratic Party in Italy fully supports the austerity policies of the EU.
The Communist Refoundation Party, which also emerged from the Communist Party, has been completely discredited by its repeated support for right-wing governments.

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Italy Sentences 23 CIA Agents in Rendition Case

Torture and Impunity

Obama Refuses to Prosecute Anyone for Torture

By Democracy Now!

Alfred McCoy, professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation.
As a candidate four years ago, Obama unequivocally denounced torture and extraordinary rendition.
SENBARACK OBAMA: We have to be clear and unequivocal: we do not torture, period. We don’t torture. Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don’t farm out torture. We don’t subcontract torture.
Video Posted September 22, 2012
 
Part 2
TRANSCRIPT
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Madison, Wisconsin. We’ll be in Eau Claire at noon, and tonight we’ll be inHayward, Wisonsin, tomorrow in Minneapolis. I’ll talk about the details later in the broadcast.
But right now, to the news out of Italy’s high court, which has upheld the sentences of 23 CIA operatives convicted of kidnapping a Muslim cleric under the U.S. program called “extraordinary rendition.” The cleric, Abu Omar, was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. The Americans were all convicted in absentia after the United States refused to hand them over. The ruling marks the final appeal in the first trial anywhere in the world involving the CIA’s practice of rendering terror suspects to countries that allow torture. The Italian government will now be obliged to make a formal request for the extradition of the Americans; however, it’s all but assured the Obama administration will continue its rejection.
Human Rights Watch praised the Italian court move. Andrea Prasow said, quote, “Since the U.S. Justice Department appears entirely unwilling to investigate and prosecute these very serious crimes, other countries should move forward with their own cases against U.S. officials,” unquote.
So far, the Obama administration has refused to prosecute individuals involved in the U.S. torture and rendition program. But as a candidate four years ago, Obama unequivocally denounced torture and extraordinary rendition.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: We have to be clear and unequivocal: we do not torture, period. We don’t torture. Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don’t farm out torture. We don’t subcontract torture.
AMY GOODMAN: That was then-presidential candidate Obama in 2008 speaking at CNN’s Compassion Forum.
Well, according to our next guest, four years after Obama made those comments, impunity for torture has now become a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government. We’re now joined by Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s the author of several books, including, most recently, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation. His past books include A Question of Torture and Policing America’s Empire.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
ALFRED McCOY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be in your neighborhood here in Madison.
ALFRED McCOY: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, the title of your book, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, what is it?
ALFRED McCOY: The U.S. doctrine of coercive interrogation was developed during the Cold War. The CIA led the U.S. security establishment in a wide-ranging period of research that lasted about a decade, and they developed a new form of psychological torture—really the first revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, if not millennia. And it was essentially no-touch torture.
What they discovered through this research, a brilliant psychologist in Canada named Donald O. Hebb found that by putting student volunteers in cubicles with goggles, gloves and ear muffs through this process of sensory deprivation, they would suffer something akin to a psychotic breakdown. And that would also mean that deprived of sensory deprivation when interrogated, they would bond more readily with the interrogator.
The second discovery came through more CIA research into basically KGB Soviet techniques, which found that the—one of the most effective of KGB techniques was not beating the subject but simply making the subject stand immobile for days on an end, something we now call “stress positions.”
And these two techniques—sensory deprivation and stress positions—were articulated in a CIA manual, the “KUBARKCounterintelligence Interrogation” manual, in 1963 and disseminated throughout U.S. allies and U.S. security agencies. And that became a distinctive form of American psychological torture. That’s been the basic form we’ve used for the last 60 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Has it mattered whether there’s a Democratic or Republican president?
ALFRED McCOY: Yes, it has, actually, because that’s the sort of default position. This also created a contradiction between the U.S. public commitment to human rights at the U.N. and other international fora and this private doctrine of psychological torture, which seemed to contradict that commitment to human rights.
Under President George W. Bush, the United States resolved this contradiction. President Bush announced to his aides that—right after the 9/11 attacks, he said, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” He then authorized the CIA to create a fleet of two dozen chartered jets for rendition. And, more importantly, during the Cold War, the CIA trained allies in the use of torture, but we never did it ourselves: we outsourced it. We funded prisons. We harvested the intelligence. President Bush resolved this contradiction by authorizing the CIA to open eight black sites from Thailand to Poland, and therefore, American CIA agents actually engaged in waterboarding, wall slamming and forms of psychological torture under President Bush. We did it ourselves.
What’s happened under President Obama is we’ve gone back to that Cold War policy of outsourcing the abuse to our allies, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, by, first of all, turning a blind eye to the abuse of our allies, as we did in Iraq until the time we were there, and we’re doing now in Afghanistan. And then, simultaneously, President Obama authorized the CIA very quietly to conduct extraordinary rendition.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what extraordinary rendition is.
ALFRED McCOY: Under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, you’re not allowed to send somebody to a country where they will be subject to human rights abuse as defined by the Convention Against Torture. And rendition is the process of sending somebody to a country where they are likely to be tortured, in effect.
The contradiction between that segment you played and what Obama did is striking. In April of 2008, President Obama—unprompted—said, you know, “I will ban torture, and that includes rendition.” OK. But then, during his first days in office, when he signed that very dramatic order closing those same CIA black sites that we were just discussing, President Obama got—was under pressure from the CIA. The CIA counsel looked at that draft order and said, “If you issue this as drafted, you’ll put us out of the rendition business.” So, President Obama, being a skillful lawyer, added a footnote, and he defined a CIA prison in a way that exempted a prison for short-term transitory provisions. In other words, the CIAcould have holding facilities to effect the rendition of subjects from one country to another on their fleet of executive aircraft. And that’s in the footnote of that dramatic, highly publicized order closing CIA black sites—except allowing rendition. It’s right there in the footnote. It was in black and white, but nobody noticed it, until the New York Timesbrought it out a few months ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, I wanted to go to the first prime-time press conference that President Obama held after taking office. He was asked his opinion about a proposal put forward by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to start a comprehensive truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the conduct of the Bush administration over that past eight years. This is how President Obama responded.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, that we abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm. And I don’t think those are contradictory. I think they are potentially complementary. My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama, first prime-time news conference. Professor Alfred McCoy?
ALFRED McCOY: That’s the third stage of impunity. The first stage—and it’s a universal process. It happens in countries emerging from authoritarianism that have had problems with torture. Step one is blame the bad apples. Donald Rumsfeld did that right after the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed in 2004.
Step two is saying that it was necessary for our national security—unfortunate, perhaps, but necessary to keep us all safe. That was done very articulately by former Vice President Cheney at the time, and he continues to make that argument. He claims that these “enhanced techniques,” as he calls them, i.e. CIA torture, saved thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives. OK?
The third step is the step we just witnessed in President Obama, saying that, well, whatever might have happened in the past, we need unity as a nation, we need to move forward together into the future. So, the past isn’t germane. We need to put it behind us, not investigate, not prosecute. And that was the position he was taking there.
The fourth stage is one that we’ve been going through for the past year. That’s been political attack by those implicated, under the Bush administration, in either conducting the torture or authorizing the torture. And that’s a political tack seeking not just exoneration, getting away with it, but seeking vindication, saying that not only, you know, was this legal, but it was necessary, it was imperative for our national security. And that’s an argument that the Bush administration made very forcefully when Osama bin Laden was killed in May of 2011. They argued that the enhanced interrogation under the Bush administration led the Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden. There’s no evidence for that, but they made that argument. And that put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the—most of the investigations of CIA abuse. And then, very recently, the two investigations of detainees who were killed in CIA custody have been dropped, as well.
The fifth and final stage is one that’s ongoing right to the present, and that’s rewriting the history, rewriting the past, ripping it apart, without respect to the truth of the matter, and reconstructing it in a way that justifies the torture. And that happened on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when Dick Cheney brought out his memoirs saying that the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah turned this hardened terrorist into—he called him “a fountain of information” that gave information that saved thousands of lives. OK? Well, you know, that was August 30th, 2011.
OK, on September 12th, 2011, former FBI interrogator, counterintelligence officer, Ali Soufan, came out with his memoirs. It turned out he was the American operative that conducted that interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. He was there in that safe house in Thailand, and there were two teams operating. And it turned out, in retrospect, when you look at what happened, it was the closest you can get to a scientific experiment into the relative effectiveness of empathetic FBIinterrogation techniques and CIA coercive interrogation, CIA torture. And through four successive rounds, what happened is, Ali Soufan went in—he’s an Arabic speaker—he established empathy with Abu Zubaydah, and he got the name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. George Tenet, CIA director, grew angry that the FBI, his rival agency, was getting all this information. He dispatched a team of tough CIA interrogators. They used these coercive techniques. The subject clamped up. No more information. The FBI was brought back in. More information from Abu Zubaydah based on non-coercive techniques.
And by the time this was done through four successive rounds, we established clearly, beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt, that empathetic FBI techniques, with a skilled interrogator speaking to a subject in his language, OK, gets accurate intelligence. And all these CIA techniques—the sensory deprivation, the temperature modification, the noise blasting, the stress positions—all of that is counterproductive, does not work. OK? And that, that fragile truth, has been kept from us, because if you look at Ali Soufan’s memoirs, there’s 181 pages of CIA excisions that turned those passages about that interrogation of Abu Zubaydah into a rat’s nest of black lines that no regular American reader can possibly understand.
AMY GOODMAN: You write that under President Obama, still we are getting intelligence extracted by surrogates in places like Somalia, in Afghanistan.
ALFRED McCOY: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean—through torture?
ALFRED McCOY: What it means is that’s part of the outsourcing of this, OK? We now know through the WikiLeaks that after the Abu Ghraib scandal we reduced the number of detainees being held by U.S. forces in Iraq, and we transferred the detainees to Iraqi authorities, where the detainees were tortured. There were orders by the U.S. command, OK, that American soldiers, if they came across our Iraqi allies engaged in human rights abuse, they were not to do anything. And we know that from 2004 to 2009 U.S. forces collected, I think, 1,365 reports of Iraqi human rights abuse about which they did nothing.
In Afghanistan, it’s the same policy. Right after 2004, we started turning over the detainees that needed to be interrogated to the National Directorate of Security. In 2011, the United Nations investigated the Afghan National Security Directorate and found a systematic pattern of absolutely extraordinary human rights abuse, brutal physical tortures. And the United States continues to turn over detainees to the Afghan authorities. Britain and Canada will no longer turn them over, because of their concerns about human rights abuse.
So, in other—and we’re doing the same thing in Somalia. Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter, did a superb report and found that in Mogadishu, the Somali authorities operate, in their security directorate, a prison called “the Hole” in the basement of their building. And the CIA engages in—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue the conversation and post it online at democracynow.org. Thank you so much, Professor Alfred McCoy. His book is called Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation . Go online to see the rest at democracynow.org and to see our Election 2012 Silenced Majority Tour. Today we’ll be in Eau Claire at noon; tonight in Hayward, Wisconsin; tomorrow, Minneapolis.
TRANSCRIPT – Part 2
AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined by Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s the author of several books, including, most recently, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation. His past books include A Question of Torture and Policing America’s Empire.
Talk about what was found in Somalia. And what is the kind of information that’s being used now?
ALFRED McCOY: Sure. The Somalia incident, I think, represents a continuity of rendition policy from President Bush to President Obama. Under President Bush, the CIA began funding the establishment of this prison inside the basement of Somalia security in Mogadishu. And they began snatching terror suspects from cities and slums across East Africa, where, as you know, al-Qaeda has been very active bombing U.S. embassies and the rest. And these suspects are flown to this prison, where they are under the custody of Somali authorities, but we pay the guards. The CIA pays the guards. And they have unlimited access to the prisoners and to the intelligence being harvested by the Somali guards’ interrogation of the detainees. This started under President Bush. It is continued under President Obama. And it is an example of rendition to a country where we cannot be certain that human rights are being observed, therefore it’s a clear violation of Article 3 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
So, when you add this up, when you combine this with our policy of turning over suspects to Afghan National Directorate of Security, where we’re absolutely certain, after the U.N. investigation, they’re being tortured, and our policy in Iraq right up ’til 2009 of turning over detainees to Iraqi authorities where we knew they were being tortured and having over a thousand incidents of U.S. authorities finding human rights abuse and then ignoring it, it’s a clear policy, OK, of outsourcing torture to our allies. And so, it represents, under the Obama administration, not a fulfillment of the international standard of human rights, but simply going back to that bipartisan Cold War policy with that contradiction of proclaiming our commitment to human rights publicly, but privately working with allies to outsource human rights abuse, to outsource torture, and to harvest the intelligence.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch revealed that U.S. officials, under President Bush, tortured a number of Libyan prisoners before being—sending them back to Libya for further abuse under the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The report’s author, Laura Pitter, said the Libyans suffered worse torture by U.S. officials than they did under Gaddafi.
LAURA PITTER: The U.S. and the U.K. had assisted and actually took part in their renditions. These were individuals who were head of an opposition group who had been opposed to Gaddafi for many years and had been trying to overthrow him from abroad, from various bases abroad. The treatment in Libya was very bad. They were subjected to more isolated incidents of abuse and beatings, and some received electric shocks and summary trials and solitary confinement. But it was, ironically, not as bad as what they received in U.S. custody.
AMY GOODMAN: Human Rights Watch also revealed that some of these prisoners were waterboarded.
ALFRED McCOY: Yes, indeed. I read the report and the press copies of the report. This is a consistent pattern. First of all, it adds to the number of people we knew that were waterboarded by the CIA. We thought it was only three of them. Now it apparently—there were more. And once you uncover more, that raises the possibility of many, many more. OK?
I’m not surprised that the treatment of these detainees under U.S. custody was worse than they might have confronted, let’s say, in Gaddafi’s prison. There were kind of two phases after 9/11 of CIA abuse. There was an initial phase in 2002 and 2003 when the CIA was opening up the black sites. The procedures were not well established. And we were rounding people up around the world, putting them in these facilities, without much in the way of effective oversight or established procedure. And according to the CIA inspector general report which came out in 2004, there was an extraordinary amount of abuse and treatment that was a clear violation even of U.S. law for the treatment of detainees and the conduct of interrogation. People were being threatened with the murder or sexual assault of female relatives. They were being slammed up against walls, guns put to the head, electrical drills put to the head—this sort of bizarre treatment. And the waterboarding got right out of control. We know that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in excess of a hundred times, way beyond the regulations.
Then, in a second phase, once the CIA inspector general investigated in 2004 and found this pattern of abuse, then they kind of bureaucratized it and regularized it and went to a fixed set of procedures, which, I think any human rights investigator would agree, constitute a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. But at least the extreme abuse, the kind of psychopathological abuse during the first phase, was controlled.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, in your book, you explore how the U.S. mass media has glamorized, has normalized acts of torture in shows like, for example, the famous show 24. Kiefer Sutherland, the star and the executive producer, he plays a character named Jack Bauer, who became the embodiment of the infamous ticking time bomb argument for torture. However, Kiefer Sutherland himself said he does not advocate torture or even keeping Guantánamo, the prison there, open. He was speaking on Charlie Rose, on the PBS broadcast, and this is how he justified the show’s depiction of torture.
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: The torture is a dramatic device to show you how desperate a situation is—
CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: —and how urgent and desperate these characters are to solve this one specific thing, and time is running out. And so, it is a dramatic device. It is not to be confused with what we think is right or wrong. And it’s a television show.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kiefer Sutherland. It’s a “dramatic device” in film.
ALFRED McCOY: It’s not just a dramatic device in film. What we went through in the five years after 9/11, from 2002 to about 2007, was that on screens large and small across America, we were awash in positive images of torture. Let’s just take television. Before 9/11, there were about 20 torture incidents a year shown on prime-time American television. These were all done by bad guys, Nazis, drug dealers, OK? After 9/11, American television shows, in sum, showed an average of 150 incidents of torture. And these were incidents done by the good guys, often American federal agents, defending the nation.
Not only was 24 showing torture, but there was also some very big box office films. Casino Royale has as its kind of dramatic center point a homoerotic torture scene of Daniel Craig, his body shaved of hair, stripped naked, being generously tortured by the evil Le Chiffre beating his genitalia with a knotted rope. The Passion of the Christ takes a dozen words in the gospels and transforms that into eight minutes of the most brutal, gruesome physical torture that turns the body of Christ into a suppurating mass of bleeding lesions. I mean, the World of Warcraft 2 came out, two million copies sold right out of the box, with a torture program built right into the game. You know, we were awash in it.
What was the point of this? It served, in some, to normalize torture for Americans. Torture was not—was transformed from a crime, an aberration, an abomination, into something that was necessary—and even arousing, in a dark way. I mean, Kiefer Sutherland’s body was displayed, Daniel Craig’s body was displayed, in the conventions virtually of homoerotic pornography. This was, you know, appealing to the darkest recesses of the human mind.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, the significance of WikiLeaks and how it plays into all of this?
ALFRED McCOY: Well, WikiLeaks, first of all, has provided us with information, I think very importantly. In the release of the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, if you go through them, as people have done—I’ve done it, as well—what you can find is the U.S. using its extraordinary diplomatic power, first under Bush and now under Obama, to stifle those investigations, particularly in Spain, by Judge [Bartasar] Garzón. We placed enormous diplomatic pressure to end Spain’s exercise of universal jurisdiction to investigate top Bush administration officials—Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and others—for human rights abuse. You know, we leaned on the Spanish authorities very hard.
Germany is another area where progressive lawyers, the RAV, the Republic Lawyers Association, has tried on several occasions to file a case and get the German government to exercise its universal jurisdiction, under the European human rights convention and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to investigate and possibly indict American officials for their crimes of torture. The German government has twice, in part in response to U.S. diplomatic pressure, failed to do this, refused to do it. And the WikiLeaks cables provide us with the diplomatic evidence of the U.S. doing this. And I use those cables in my book, Torture and Impunity, to describe this process.
AMY GOODMAN: Bradley Manning, the person who’s accused of getting those documents to WikiLeaks, who is held now for three years and has yet to be tried?
ALFRED McCOY: Well, more disturbingly, the initial part of his incarceration, when he was first arrested, before he was transferred to a conventional military prison, was done under ways that aroused concern by the U.N. rapporteur for human rights, the U.N. rapporteur for torture. And he actually expressed concern to the United States government.
Bradley Manning was stripped naked. He was held round the clock in isolation. The combination of nudity and isolation are techniques that are a part of the U.S. doctrine of coercive psychological interrogation. It’s a form of torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Two last questions, one about the CIA agents who have been convicted in absentia. What about what you feel President Obama should be doing about this?
ALFRED McCOY: Well, President Obama has to act, OK? Look, through that five-stage process I described, the United States has perfected impunity. We have closed down any investigation of the CIA agents. We’ve rewritten the past to convince the American public that this was absolutely necessary for our national security. We’re done, OK? We’ve wrapped it up, OK. Nothing more will be done. But in the globalizing age, in the age of the International Criminal Court, of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, even the most perfect impunity inside one nation’s borders cannot stand, because of universal jurisdiction.
Now, one of the key elements in universal jurisdiction is the courts abroad, in Spain, in Germany, will not take the petition if a sovereign state is doing due diligence. Either they haven’t had enough time, or they haven’t completed their investigations. And so, Spain and Germany have turned back the universal jurisdiction petitions by activist human rights lawyers on the grounds that the United States hasn’t had time yet. Well, now the United States has had time, and the United States has definitively decided not to proceed. That means that these cases, like the Italian case, and other investigations can proceed. It’s not over. It may be over here in America, but the world is wide, and it knocks at our doors.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the assassination of Osama bin Laden?
ALFRED McCOY: The claims made by that a cappella chorus of Republican neoconservatives that the enhanced interrogation, CIA torture, led the Navy SEALs to the door of Osama bin Laden is absolutely specious. Senator John McCain was shown the evidence, and he announced publicly that there was no basis for that claim. But—
AMY GOODMAN: But the actual assassination of him?
ALFRED McCOY: The actual assassination—oh, the actual assassination of Osama bin Laden is part of a larger pattern of—a very unfortunate pattern of using drones inside Pakistan to kill roughly 2,400 people. Let’s look at the eerie parallel. During the Battle of Algiers back in 1957, ’58, French authorities used torture to break the National Liberation Front inside the Casbah, the old city of Algiers, and to avoid what one French general called clogging the machinery of justice. When they were done with these people, they couldn’t be brought before the courts, because their testimony would not have had any validity. So 3,000 people were killed and dumped in the desert in shallow graves. Well, that 3,000 figure of the French in Algiers has an eerie resonance with the 2,400 suspects that we’ve killed with drones in the Pakistan borderlands, and the parallel, an eerie parallel. At the same time, the Obama administration has added nobody new to Guantánamo. So, in effect, what we’re doing is what the French did. We’re not clogging the machinery of justice with these suspects; we’re simply killing them.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by, Professor McCoy, in your research for your book, Torture and Impunity?
ALFRED McCOY: What I was surprised by was the silence surrounding it. We’ve gone through this absolutely extraordinary decade in American political history, where the American state, in its majesty, adopted torture as one of the weapons in its awesome arsenal of power. And having debated that and argued about that and had that exposed, OK, we’ve reached this sort of ad hoc bipartisan compromise of impunity at home and rendition abroad. And the American people seem oblivious, seem absolutely unaware, that this is our bipartisan policy. And those two policies cannot stand in an era of universal jurisdiction and universal human rights. And so, we’ve reached a bipartisan compromise which satisfies the imperatives of American politics, but will not and cannot be sustained in the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: And how you write about psychological torture and public forgetting?
ALFRED McCOY: We’re now in an era where we are consigning this to the past, to our oblivion. But the world has not forgotten. And that’s one of the—I think, the signal lessons of that Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian sort of supreme court, ruling just this week, confirming the conviction of those 22 CIA operatives. The world is not going away, OK? This is not over.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Professor McCoy, author ofTorture and Impunity, professor of history here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
GUEST
Alfred McCoy, professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation.

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