Posts filed under 'Uruguay'

1970: Dan Mitrione, an American torturer in Uruguay

Add comment August 10th, 2019 Headsman

United States torturer Dan Mitrione was executed on this date in 1970 by Uruguayan guerrillas.

A onetime Indiana beat cop, Dan Mitrione graduated to an agent of empire via a USAID program called the Office of Public Safety.

This organ headlined the putatively amicable mission of extending training to foreign police officers, both in their home countries and in the American capital. OPS’s real purpose, according to A.J. Langguth‘s Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America, was

allowing the CIA to plant men with the local police in sensitive places around the world; and after careful observation on their home territory, bringing to the United States prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees

The foreign policemen themselves understood why they were being sent to Washington. Even before the coup d’etat, in July 1963, one Brazilian officer described the academy program to the governor of Sao Paulo as “the latest methods in the field of dispersion of strikes and striking workers.” He would learn, he said, how to use dogs and clubs and “to modernize the mechanism of repression against agitators in Sao Paulo.”

Brazil is where Mitrione made his bones over the course of the 1960s, years when the CIA trained some 100,000 Brazilian cops. But his mission was as universal as the toenails he ripped off and by 1969 he’d been reassigned to neighboring Uruguay further to that state’s suppression of a growing leftist revolutionary movement, the Tupamaros.*

One recruit named Manuel Hevia Cosculluela — who notoriuosly gave Mitrione’s mission statement as “the precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect” — recalled the “trainings” these Uruguayan pupils received in his now-out-of-print 1978 book Pasaporte 11333: ocho aƱos con la CIA.

As subjects for the first testing, they took beggars, known in Uruguay as bichicones, from the outskirts of Montevideo, along with a woman from the border with Brazil. There was no interrogation, only a demonstration of the different voltages on the different parts of the human body, together with the uses of a drug to induce vomiting — I don’t know why or for what — and another chemical substance.

The four of them died.

(There’s a good deal more stomach-turning stuff about the Mitrione program in this pando.com article.)

Heightened repression also heightened the response of the Tupamaros, who had not previously shown themselves a particularly bloodthirsty bunch. The Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence Alejandro Otero gave an embarrassing-to-Washington interview to a Brazilian paper revealing Mitrione’s work, complaining that “The violent methods which were beginning to be employed, caused an escalation in Tupamaro activity. Before then their attitude showed that they would use violence only as a last resort.”

In their day the Tupamaros managed to take a pound of flesh from their persecutors by kidnapping Mitrione as a hostage to the release of 150 political prisoners. Mitrione was executed when Uruguay refused the exchange, although in later years Tupamaros founder Raul Sendic would reveal that the guerrillas had intended to hold Mitrione in indefinite captivity, but were spooked into conducting the execution when early-August police raids on revolutionary cadres broke the lines of communication between leadership and kidnappers ahead of a threatened drop-dead date: thus, “when the deadline came the group that was left with Mitrione did not know what to do. So they decided to carry out the threat.”** He was shot in the early hours of August 10 and his body deposited in a car for easy discovery.

Mitrione’s death met with great umbrage on his native soil; his VIP-rich funeral in his native Richmond, Ind. saw the Uruguayan ambassador vow that his killers would “reap the wrath of civilized people everywhere.” So civilized people “in the aftermath of Dan Mitrione’s death … unleashed the illegal death squads to hunt and kill insurgents.”

Costa-Gavras fictionalized the Mitrione story in the 1972 French classic State of Siege.

As for the OPS, that program wound down in 1974 as exposes made its work increasingly untenable … but the same project of barely-veiled anti-Communist suppression transitioned seamlessly to the Drug Enforcement Agency and a host of other alphabet-soup agencies around Washington.

* They were named for executed Andean revolutionary Tupac Amaru. The Tupamaros were violently suppressed over the course of the 1970s but when the dictatorship ended in 1984 its remaining prisoners were amnestied. The remnants of the movement eventually folded into the Frente Amplio center-left party, which is today Uruguay’s ruling party; Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, was a former Tupamaros guerrilla who served 13 years in prison.

** Sendic is obviously an interested party in the affair but there’s some corroboration to his account in that the movement held several other hostages whom it could not exchange for months, only to release them unharmed in the end. (e.g. American agronomist Claude Fly, British diplomat Geoffrey Jackson)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Shot,Torture,Uruguay

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