- Aug 19, 2003
- Reaction score
I wonder if anyone will face charges in the UK?
How the UK taught Brazil's dictators interrogation techniques
As the world focuses on the World Cup, which opens in Brazil in less than a fortnight, many Brazilians are wrestling with painful discoveries about the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985. The BBC has found evidence that the UK actively collaborated with the generals - and trained them in sophisticated interrogation techniques.
Brazil's 21-year dictatorship is less well known abroad than that of Argentina or Chile, but it was still brutal. Hundreds died and thousands were imprisoned and tortured.
One of those tortured was a left-wing guerrilla who is now the country's president, Dilma Rousseff. She set up a Truth Commission to unearth long-buried facts about the past.
By the early 1970s Brazil's rulers were engaged in a bitter struggle against left-wing guerrillas. Swept up in the oppression were union leaders, students, journalists and almost anyone who voiced opposition.
Alvaro Caldas belonged to a communist group when he was arrested in 1970. He was held inside the military police barracks in Rio for over two years.
The headquarters of the military police where Caldas was held
He was subjected to severe beatings, electric shocks and the notorious "parrot's perch", which meant being tied to a horizontal pole and hung upside down for hours.
On his release he gave up politics and was working as a sports journalist when, in 1973, he was re-arrested. He was brought back to the same building, but inside it had been completely transformed.
"This time the cell was clean and sterile with a nauseating, sickly smell. The air conditioning was very cold. The light was on permanently so I had no idea whether it was day or night. There were alternating very loud and then very soft sounds… I couldn't sleep at all."
Alvaro says his overriding emotion was fear. Periodically he would be hooded and taken out for questioning. He felt the aim was to destabilise his personality so he would confess to something he had not done. This was not physical torture but instead intense psychological pressure.
"Luckily I was only there a week, if I had been there for two weeks or a month I would have gone mad," he says.
This new kind of interrogation method came to be called the "English System". Evidence from the Truth Commission explains why.
One of the most feared torturers, Col Paulo Malhaes, gave 20 hours of testimony. He arrived in a wheelchair looking frail. He then confessed to killing and mutilating his victims. He also expressed great admiration for psychological torture which, he felt, was more effective than brute force, especially when it came to turning a left-wing militant into an infiltrator.
"Those prisons with closed doors, you can modify the heat, the light, everything inside the prison, that idea came from England," he said.
He admitted, privately, to the prosecutor, that he himself had gone to England to learn interrogation techniques that didn't leave physical marks. The prosecutor, Nadine Borges, revealed her conversation with him.
"The best thing for him was psychological torture. When a person was in a secret place, it was faster to obtain information. He also studied in other places but he said England was the best place to learn."
Malhaes was murdered in a burglary at his home shortly after giving evidence.
Prof Glaucio Soares interviewed more than a dozen of Brazil's top generals back in the 1990s. Several of them told him they sent officers to Germany, France, Panama and the US to learn about interrogation but they praised the UK as having the best method.
"The Americans teach, but the English are the masters in teaching how to wrench confessions under pressure, by torture, in all ways. England is the model of democracy. They give courses for their friends," he was told by Gen Ivan de Souza Mendes - an interview recounted in the book Years of Lead which he co-authored with two other Brazilian academics.
Gen Aoyr Fiuza de Castro said the British recommend interrogating a prisoner when he was naked as it left him anguished and depressed, "a state favourable to the interrogator".
The UK was apparently seen as having effective practices as it had faced a serious insurgency in Malaya up until 1960 and had latterly honed its techniques in Northern Ireland.
The method, using sensory deprivation coupled with high stress, has come to be known as the "Five Techniques". These were:
standing against a wall for hours
subjection to noise
very little food and drink.
Many argue the techniques amounted to torture and they were officially banned by Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1972, after a furore over their use on IRA internees.
But in Brazil, these psychological interrogation methods fulfilled the military's need. The regime's dismal human rights record was beginning to attract adverse publicity around the world and the old physical forms of torture were killing too many victims. A method that would leave no marks and was still effective to extract information from prisoners was exactly what the generals wanted. They could combine these techniques with knowledge gleaned elsewhere.
Apparently, not only did army officers go on courses in the UK, but British agents went to Brazil to teach. A former policeman, Claudio Guerra, says they gave courses inside Rio's military police headquarters in how to follow people, how to tap phones and how to use the new isolation cell. He saw these agents when he came to collect the bodies of those who had been tortured to death by interrogators using the old system of physical pressure. ...