The U.S. Spent Decades Teaching Torture Techniques To Brazil

The Latin American country’s National Truth Commission just produced its own torture report, which among other things documents the way American teachers taught Brazilian officers the theory and methods of torture.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff receives the report from the National Truth Commission. Stringer/Brazil / Via Reuters

U.S. military officials spent years teaching torture techniques to Brazil’s military, including throughout the South American giant’s lengthy period of military dictatorship, according to a new report.

After more than two years of investigation, the panel charged with documenting the human rights abuses committed under Brazil’s military dictatorship released its final report on Wednesday. The Brazilian report comes just a day after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s own lengthy chronicle of the United States’ use of torture in prosecuting last decade’s War on Terror.

According to O Globo, the National Truth Commission (CNV) report documents how more than 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. While there, attendees “had theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil.”

“According to CNV, training of military cadres in the [School of the Americas] during the period of the dictatorship and the years before the coup was considered essential to national security,” O Globo reported. “According to the testimony of the military to the committee, the national troops were prepared only for conventional wars, not a revolutionary war, as they believed they faced in the country between the 1960s and 1980s. The revolutionary war doctrine adopted by the Brazilian armed forces included the systematic use of torture.”

During the two-decade-long military rule, the report concludes, more than 400 people were killed or disappeared by the state, with hundreds more arrested and tortured. Among those who were arrested is current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who spent her youth as a member of various Marxist guerrilla groups.

During the announcement of the report, Rousseff was unable to hold back tears when speaking of her experience.

Of the 377 people the CNV named as responsible for human rights abuses, around 100 are still alive. Those who are, the report argues, should be brought to trial, and the 1979 amnesty law passed to protect military officials should not apply.

The U.S. role in teaching harsh techniques to the pro-American, anti-Communist dictatorships that flourished in Latin America first came to light as the Cold War ended and those regimes began to crumble. A Pentagon manual from the 1980s revealed in 1996 showed that the American instructors “recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.” It was only through the U.S.’s release of such documents that the CNV was able to reach its conclusions as the “Army refused to cooperate and the Navy and the Air Force submitted incomplete responses” to their questions.

Now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the school continues to operate, but has removed torture from its curriculum and instead seeks to teach the importance of human rights to the officers who train there.

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Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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