The Cardinal and the History of Torture

The following paragraphs are from a recent story by Rebecca Lemov in Slate. You may or may not want to read the whole thing:

In 1949, Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty appeared before the world’s cameras to mumble his confession to treasonous crimes against the Hungarian church and state. For resisting communism, the World War II hero had been subjected for 39 days to sleep deprivation and humiliation, alternating with long hours of interrogation, by Russian-trained Hungarian police. His staged confession riveted the Central Intelligence Agency, which theorized in a security memorandum that Soviet-trained experts were controlling Mindszenty by “some unknown force.” If the Communists had interrogation weapons that were evidently more subtle and effective than brute physical torture, the CIA decided, then it needed such weapons, too.

Months later, the agency began a program to explore “avenues to the control of human behavior.” During the next decade and a half, CIA experts honed the use of “chemical and biological materials capable of producing human behavioral and physiological changes” according to a retrospective CIA catalog written in 1963. And thus soft torture in the United States was born.

In short order, CIA experts attempted to induce Mindszenty-like effects. An interrogation team consisting of a psychiatrist, a lie-detector expert, and a hypnotist went to work using combinations of the depressant Sodium Amytal and certain stimulants. Tests on four suspected double agents in Tokyo in July 1950 and on 25 North Korean prisoners of war three months later yielded more noteworthy results. (Relevant CIA documents do not specify exactly what, but reports later claimed that the special interrogation teams could hold a subject in a “controlled state” for a long period.) Meanwhile, the CIA opened the door to pre-emptive psychosurgery: In a doctor’s office in Washington, D.C., one unfortunate man, his name deleted from documents, was lobotomized against his will during an interrogation. By the mid-to-late 1950s, experiments using “black techniques,” as the agency called them, moved to prisons, hospitals, and other field-testing sites with funding and encouragement from the CIA’s Technology and Science Directorate. …


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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