image658983x.jpgI’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and it’s a remarkable work. She advances a theory of “disaster capitalism” moulded around the work of Milton Friedman, who advocated taking advantage of the “shock” suffered by a populace in the midst of disaster in order to get them to agree to things they ordinarily would organize and fight against.

She cites the land grab in southeast Asia after the tsunami that seized local fishing harbors for huge tourist resorts as well as the privatization of the public school system in New Orleans as prime examples of this. (BTW, she does not think that Hurricane Katrina was mismanaged due to either incompetence or cronyism, but rather by intent, in order to facilitate “orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events.”)

She traces the history of Friedman and the Chicago School economists who used Chile and Indonesia as their petri dishes, and maintains that there are three parts to the “shock” doctrine:

Chile’s coup, when it finally came, would feature three distinct forms of shock, a recipe that would be duplicated in neighboring countries and would reemerge, three decades later, in Iraq. The shock of the coup itself was immediately followed by two additional forms of shock. One was Milton Friedman’s capitalist “shock treatment,” a technique in which hundreds of Latin American economists had by now been trained at the University of Chicago and its various franchise institutions. The other was Ewen Cameron’s shock, drug and sensory deprivation research, now codified as torture techniques in the Kubark manual and disseminated through extensive CIA training programs for Latin America police and military.

These three forms of shock converged on the bodies of Latin Americans and the body politic of the region, creating an unstoppable hurricane of mutually reinforcing destruction and reconstruction, erasure and creation. The shock of the coup prepared the ground for economic shock therapy; the shock of the torture chamber terrorized anyone thinking of standing in the way of the economic shocks. Out of this live laboratory emerged the first Chicago School state, and the first victory in its global counterrevolution.

Ewen Cameron’s research in the 50s at McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute for the CIA involved the use of sensory deprivation, drugs and electroshock to “brainwash” his subjects and create a “clean slate” such that he could get people to agree to things they would normally fight against.

Sound familiar?

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian who was incarcerated there, has said that “Guantanamo Bay is an experiment…and what they experiment in is brainwashing.” Indeed, in the testimonies, reports and photographs that have come out of Guantanamo, it is as if the Allan Memorial Institute of the 1950s had been transported to Cuba. When first detained, prisoners are put into intense sensory deprivation, with hoods, blackout goggles and heavy headphones to block out all sound. They are left in isolation cells for months, taken out only to have their senses bombarded with barking dogs, strobe lights and endless tape loops of babies crying, music blaring and cats meowing.

For many prisoners, the effects of these techniques have been much the same as they were at the Allan in the fifties: total regression. One released prisoner, a British citizen, told his lawyers that there is now an entire section of the prison, Delta Block, reserved for “at least fifty” detainees who are in permanently delusional states.

Today, from the AP:

Attorneys for at least 40 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been barred from visiting or writing their clients because of a judge’s order dismissing legal challenges to the men’s confinement, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

A Justice Department lawyer informed the attorneys of the new restrictions in an e-mail that cited Thursday’s dismissal of their cases by District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina in Washington.

“In light of this development, counsel access (both legal mail and in-person visits) is no longer permitted,” Justice Department lawyer Andrew I. Warden said in the e-mail.

Torture isn’t the unfortunate result of “a few bad apples,” nor is it the byproduct of a George Bush personality disorder (though that probably doesn’t hurt).

It’s part of the program.

(Naomi Klein will be joining us for the FDL Book Salon on November 18. I highly recommend taking advantage of the time between now and then to get your hands on the book and read it, you’ll want to be part of this discussion. She’ll also be over at the HuffPo doing a live blog session with John Cusack tomorrow afternoon.)

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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