The Brotherhood of Interrogators Inside the Mexican Government’s Counterinsurgency Torture Program in the 1970s

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Gladys I. McCormick, Syracuse University
This paper explores who were the torturers – how they were recruited and trained – from the various branches of the Mexican military in the 1970s. It tracks the actions of these individuals inside government-sanctioned clandestine prisons and analyzes their use of repressive techniques as part of counterinsurgency efforts against guerrilla groups throughout Mexico. In analyzing their training, the paper focuses on how senior officers instilled a culture of loyalty among their trainees as they taught hard and soft forms of coercive interrogation techniques. From inside the holding cells to the torture chamber itself, the paper follows the choreography of what is referred to as “depth” interrogation to discuss how the torturer broke down the victim through the manipulation of psychological techniques facilitated by such spaces. In doing so, it builds an analytical framework of intimate forms of domination which the officers controlled to explain why torturers did what they did. As the paper argues, the act of inflicting pain in the name of political expediency nurtured a culture of fear – feeling fear and instilling fear – among the ranks of military members that drew on and contributed to social interpretations of what was torture’s effectiveness. It concludes that the design of techniques employed inside clandestine prisons against so-called subversives left a lasting imprint on the culture of the military and marked the start of a diametrically different form of political repression than what was used before, one that continues to be observed today in the Drug War. The paper draws on a range of declassified intelligence reports in Mexico and the United States, human rights reports, as well as interviews with former political prisoners, their families, and government officials to present a clear-eyed view of such difficult topics.
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