The Legacy of USA 1962 Torture Document

The KUBARK Manual Legacy

As the sun sets on another beautiful, albeit windy, day in the United States’ greatIris 2
Southwest, I find myself reflecting on the many tensions in today’s world. How many people will die in fear and pain tonight as a result of torture? Given the incredible political and philosophical rifts that have torn the global geopolitical puzzle asunder as we approach the midpoint of the second decade of the new millennium coupled with the big money stakes and human nature, I suspect many. There is no peace to be had for my soul tonight. The beauty of the spring desert, the chattering of families of quail keeping track of their young and the emergence of the night creatures with their unique sounds do not bring the expected serenity. I am beset by the 1963KUBARK[1] Manual filled with the CIA’s torture recipes and dealing with the anger at the betrayal by my country.

KUBARK_Cover_FrontThe first release of the redacted version of the 1963KUBARK Manual[2] in 1997 through the efforts of the Baltimore Sun still allowed the maintenance of illusions and self-deception. For a moment in my extreme youth, I believed my country, my republic, did not sink to the level of torture. I believed that the military and intelligence leadership was smarter and better than that. It was a nice moment, but it passed quickly. Reality set in.

Individually, torture is a component of some types of psychoses, which means there is an element in the human psyche that allows it. In wartime torture is omnipresent and otherwise good people cross the line. There are many good studies on torture, its effects, and whether or not it works; The controlled study of torture victims. Epidemiological considerations and some future aspects, Interrogational torture: Effective or purely sadistic?, and The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate are but a few. For the United States, the Cold War provided the perfect vehicle to codify its techniques and use.

Before the Cold War, the U.S. engaged in many wars and all held their history of torture by friends and foes alike. The difference was the timelines. Before the Cold War, the U.S. went to war then soldiers returned to their culture and a values reorientation. Therefore, each time a war occurred the idea of torture had to be reinvented together with the psychological motivations to overcome the individual’s value structure. The Cold War heralded in a sustained period of conflicts neither won nor lost and the ability of the military and intelligence bureaucracies to inculcate torture as ‘just’ another tool in the war toolbox. Today we pay a price for those choices.

The Cold War’s early birth of the National Security Act of 1947, and its subsequent revisions and reauthorizations, is directly responsible for the 1963 KUBARK Manual as well as the police state in which we live today. The police are trained to use aspects of the KUBARK Manual for interrogation and so this Cold War legacy has come home to roost. Of course the training manuals do not call it ‘KUBARK Manual Training’, but it is. Think about it. What is all that police yelling and misinformation all about? Intimidation, perhaps? What about the shows of excessive force and brutality all of which is protected by the police hierarchy and politicians?

Consider for a moment the KUBARK Manual’s Chapter IX. THE COERCIVE


CIA torture victim.

in with a process to ensure NO ONE can be held accountable. “For both ethical and pragmatic reasons no interrogator may take upon himself the unilateral responsibility for using coercive methods. Concealing from the interrogator’s supervisors an intent to resort to coercion, or its unapproved employment, does not protect them. It places them, and KUBARK, in unconsidered jeopardy.” Listen or read the headlines regarding how the police are now handling situations carefully. They would not handle those same situations the same way if the bosses were not on board. All governmental forces are brought to bear to protect the coercive force being used.

A domestic torture victim. Photograph of Kelly Thomas' injuries inflicted by Fullerton California police. The photograph was taken by Ron Thomas, the victim's father, on July 6, 2011 at UC Irvine Medical Center.

In that same Chapter, Section B,The theory of Coercion, states that “Coercive procedures are designed not only to exploit the resistant source’s internal conflicts and induce him to wrestle with himself but also to bring a superior outside force to bear upon the subject’s resistance.” Do not forget you can easily become the ‘resistant source’. Remember thefirefighter working on a patient that was handcuffed for not moving his truck, or the man threatened for taking video footage of an arrest,the poor guy in Orange County pleading for his life while being beaten to death, or the hapless, homeless camper shot to death in New Mexico? They were all just folks until they became ‘resistant sources’.  Note that two or more of the following coercion techniques were always used in these incidents:

1963 KUBARK Manual Chapter IX, Section L, Conclusion

“ A brief summary of the foregoing may help to pull the major concepts of coercive interrogation together:

  1. The principal coercive techniques are arrest, detention, the deprivation of sensory stimuli, threats, fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility, and hypnosis, and drugs.
  2. If a coercive technique is to be used, or if two or more are to be employed jointly, they should be chosen for their effect upon the individual and carefully selected to match his personality.
  3. The usual effect of coercion is regression. The interrogatee’s mature defenses crumble as he becomes more childlike. During the process of regression the subject may experience feelings of guilt, and it is usually useful to intensify these.
  4. When regression has proceeded far enough so that the subject’s desire to yield begins to overbalance his resistance, the interrogator should supply a face-saving rationalization. Like the coercive technique, the rationalization must be carefully chosen to fit the subject’s personality.
  5. The pressures of duress should be slackened or lifted after compliance has been obtained, so that the interrogatee’s voluntary cooperation will not be impeded….”

George Washington University’s Blog Unredacted, the national security archive, unedited and uncensored is a terrific site. These folks do yeoman’s work in obtaining classified information through FOIA then releasing it to the public. On April 15, 2014, Lauren Harper, wrote The CIA’s Declassified Torture Handbook: How to Create a “World of Fear, Terror, Anxiety, Dread.” which placed the 1963 KUBARK Manual in its historical context. It is an excellent read. Harper concludes that “Even though Feinstein’s report does not recommend any further inquiries into the CIA’s interrogation practices, I hope it will generate more resistance to torture than the CIA’s own secret 1985 handwritten changes have.” It is up to us, the citizens of the United Sates and the citizens of the world to increase that resistance by vocally opposing the use of torture.

The 1963 KUBARK Manual is an important Cold War legacy and it keeps on giving. The wages of having tolerated the torture of others is having it visited upon us. The police behavior is not the odd policeman out of yesteryear. The behavior and aggression is new and frequent. The police and myriad federal law enforcement agencies have only just begun its applications within the boundaries of the U.S. If the people who live, work and believe in this country do not act to reverse this trend, one only needs to visit the national security archives records for the result. Pay attention! the next one subjected to this class of torture may be someone you know or love. If they are lucky, they may live.


[1] KUBARK is a cryptonym or code words used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to refer to projects, operations, persons, agencies, etc. KU means part of the CIAand BARK means Headquarters, Langley.

[2] Muckrock, 1963 KUBARK Manual,

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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