The Lubyanka Prison's heavy oak main door swung open. I went in, the first western journalist to enter the KGB's notorious Moscow headquarters -- a place so dreaded Russians dared not utter its name. When they referred to it at all, they called it "Detsky Mir," after a nearby toy store.
After interviewing two senior KGB generals, I explored the fascinating museum of Soviet intelligence and was briefed on special poisons and assassination weapons that left no traces. I sat transfixed at the desk used by all the directors of Stalin's secret police, on which the orders were signed to murder 30 million people.
Descending dimly lit stairs, I saw some of the KGB's execution and torture cellars, and special "cold rooms" where naked prisoners were beaten, then doused with ice water and slowly frozen.
Other favored Lubyanka tortures: Psychological terror, psychotropic drugs, prolonged sleep deprivation, dazzling lights, intense noise, days in pitch blackness, isolation, humiliation, constant threats, savage beatings, attacks by guard dogs, near drowning.
Nightmares from the past -- but the past has returned.
According to a report leaked to the New York Times, the Swiss-based International Red Cross has accused the Bush administration for a second time of employing systematic, medically supervised torture against suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, and at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The second Red Cross report was delivered to the White House last summer while it was trying to dismiss the Abu Ghraib prison torture horrors as the crimes of a few rogue jailers.
According to the report's allegations, many tortures perfected by the Cheka (Soviet secret police) -- notably beating, freezing, sensory disorientation, and sleep deprivation -- are now routinely being used by U.S. interrogators.
The Chekisti, however, did not usually inflict sexual humiliation. That technique, and hooding, were developed by Israeli psychologists to break resistance of Palestinian prisoners. Photos of sexual humiliation were used by Israeli security, and then by U.S. interrogators at Abu Ghraib, to blackmail Muslim prisoners into becoming informers.
All of these practices flagrantly violate the Geneva Conventions, international, and American law. The Pentagon and CIA gulags in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan have become a sort of Enron-style, off-the-books operation, immune from American law or Congressional oversight.
Suspects reportedly disappear into a black hole, recalling Latin America's torture camps and "disappearings" of the 1970s and '80s, or the Arab world's sinister secret police prisons.
The U.S. has been sending high-level anti-American suspects to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and, reportedly, Pakistan, where it's alleged they are brutally tortured with violent electric shocks, savage beatings, drowning, acid baths, and blowtorching -- the same tortures, ironically, ascribed to Saddam Hussein.
Protests over this by members of Congress, respected human rights groups, and the public have been ignored. President George W. Bush just named Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general, his nation's highest law officer. As White House counsel, Gonzales wrote briefs justifying torture and advised the White House on ways to evade or ignore the Geneva Conventions.
Grossly violating the Geneva Conventions undermines international law and endangers U.S. troops abroad. Anyone who has served in the U.S. armed forces, as I have, should be outraged that this painfully won tenet of international law and civilized behavior is being trashed by members of the Bush administration.
If, as Bush asserts, terrorism suspects, Taliban, and Muslim mujahedeen fighters not in uniform deserve no protection under the laws of war and may be jailed and tortured at presidential whim, then what law protects from abuse or torture all the un-uniformed U.S. Special Forces, CIA field teams, and those 40,000 or more U.S. and British mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan euphemistically called "civilian contractors"?
Behaving like the 1930s Soviet secret police will not make America safer. Such illegal, immoral and totally un-American behavior corrupts democracy and makes them no better than the criminals they detest.
The 20th century has shown repeatedly that when security forces use torture abroad, they soon begin using it at home, first on suspected "terrorists," then dissidents, then on ordinary suspects.
It's time for Congress and the courts to wake up and end this shameful and dangerous episode in America's history.
© Copyright 2004, Toronto Sun