March 19, 2009
The Chicago Boys Go to Iraq

In the 1970s and 1980s the tiny country of Uruguay was a military dictatorship ruled by sadists and murderers. Dissenters were tortured for years in military jails. Those who survived were next sent to a nightmare of a prison called Libertad, or Liberty.

The name was not a joke. Liberty Prison was a lab experiment in which words might mean their opposite, clocks kept different and constantly changing time, calendars were inaccurate, lights were manipulated so that days would shorten or lengthen unaccountably, meals would arrive at odd intervals or not at all, and behavior that was punished on Tuesday would be rewarded on Wednesday. If indeed it had been a Tuesday or a Wednesday.

This house of mirrors had been designed by behavioral psychologists, and was carried out under their direction. And the meaninglessness had meaning. From Lawrence Wechsler’s 1998 book, A Miracle, a Universe:

Major A. Maciel, who was a director of Libertad, observed at one point, regarding the prisoners under his charge, “We didn’t get rid of them when we had the chance, and one day we’ll have to let them go, so we’ll have to take advantage of the time we have left to drive them mad.”

No matter what creatures like Cheney and Rumsfeld and Yoo and Addington may say or even believe, the goal of torture is only incidentally to elicit information. What, then were the masters of Uruguay really after with their physical and psychological tortures? Lawrence Wechsler, again, writing in the New Yorker 20 years ago:

Eduardo Galeano, the noted Uruguayan writer, provided me with a characteristically terse, aphoristic reply: “In Uruguay, people were in prison so prices could be free.”

Several other people I spoke with in Montevideo concurred, explaining that one of the main reasons for the military’s repression was to enable the generals to hand the country’s economy over to their “Chicago boys” — neoliberal economic technocrats, many of them trained at the University of Chicago under the monetarist influence of Milton Friedman, who prescribe an unfettered marketplace, with a minimum of government interference, as the cure for most of the world’s economic ills.

These economists generally oppose protective tariffs, social entitlements, minimum-wage standards, government safety-and-health regulations — the kind of things on behalf of which unions, for example, might be expected to struggle.

So what were our own torturers and psychologists in Guantánamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib really after? Are there parallels? Divergences? What economic philosophy has been forced on Iraq, with what results? What is the point of “mosaic intelligence” as opposed to “actionable intelligence” of the Jack Bauer variety?

Contrast and compare.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at March 19, 2009 06:13 PM
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This just makes me ill, I want to see these bastards (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield and their enablers Woo, Addington and others) on trial and in jail where they belong. I might consider believing in a God when that happens.

Posted by: knowdoubt on March 20, 2009 6:30 AM
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