Is there a torture manual?

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Josh Clark: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark, a staff writer here at With me is my fellow staff writer, Charles W. Bryant. How are you, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: I'm doing well, Josh. You seem not yourself today. I have a feeling it may have something to do with our subject matter today.

Josh Clark: The subject matter, exactly.

Chuck Bryant: Torture, which is not fun.

Josh Clark: You know at first, torture, before I wrote this article, torture, it seemed like this kind of amorphous blob that happened to poor saps in other countries. The more I started researching, "Is there a torture manual," I did actually several articles on torture. It became very real. And it is a really serious, somber subject. It happens to a lot of people, actually, sadly, still today.

Chuck Bryant: It is. But you have to do your research. It's not the kind of thing that -

Josh Clark: It's not talked about.

Chuck Bryant: No, you don't want it all over the evening news.

Josh Clark: No, definitely not. It doesn't go well with dinner, at all. But it does happen. And the things that do happen are very serious. IN the introduction, I mentioned May 2007 raid on a Baghdad house. And it looked like a normal house from the outside. Inside, they found a Al Qaeda torture manual. And it had these, basically, how to drawings of how to remove an eyeball with a drill.

Chuck Bryant: That's crazy.

Josh Clark: How to squeeze a person to death by putting their head in a vice. Using a hot clothes iron on the chest!

Chuck Bryant: Right and they also found the instruments of torture, like a house of horrors, blow torches and drills.

Josh Clark: All the stuff you needed to carry out these things.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's pretty scary.

Josh Clark: So it really kind of raised our eyebrows around here when that story broke and kind of got us looking into this. And from some research, we found out that torture manuals are not all that uncommon in the world, scarily enough. And there's two, pretty much the two seminal manuals on torture were both written by the American CIA. Do you know about this?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a little bit. They did most of this, in fairness, in the 1950s, right, the research into torture.

Josh Clark: I think the initial research, yeah. They basically were trying to figure out what worked and what didn't.

Chuck Bryant: Right. And I think what they found and what's kind of roundly accepted in the torture community is that psychological torture is really what gets people talking, right?

Josh Clark: Physical torture doesn't work.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Because if you're physically torturing someone, they'll say anything just to keep the clamps off of their nipples!

Josh Clark: Exactly. It produces unreliable data. You come at somebody with a car battery; they're going to tell you whatever that you want to hear.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: but yeah, the first edition came out in 1963, after at least a decade of the CIA spiking one another's drinks with LSD at parties.

Chuck Bryant: Right, which was -

Josh Clark: Yeah, isn't it nuts? They also, apparently used to experiment on unsuspecting John's in San Francisco brothels.

Chuck Bryant: Right, the good old days.

Josh Clark: Yeah, pretty much when the CIA could do absolutely anything it wanted. So they did all these tests. They tested on civilians. They tested on our own military. They tested on people who were captured and took all this experience and actually wrote it down and you had the KUBARK manual.

Chuck Bryant: Right, which is a torture manual?

Josh Clark: It is. That's exactly right. It tells you what to do, what not to do, why you shouldn't do it, why you should do it. And KUBARK is the code word for the CIA in Vietnam.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. I was going to ask you if that was someone's name.

Josh Clark: It was the code name used for the CIA in Vietnam. And that's pretty much when it first came into use. That was the first edition. The second edition was pretty much the culmination of 20 years of using KUBARK and finding -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Tweaking the original material.

Chuck Bryant: Based on results from what they get from the prisoners, the information, I would assume.

Josh Clark: Exactly. You can test and test and test, but when you use something in the field, you're going to really find out what works and what doesn't.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So that culminated in the human resource exploitation manual.

Chuck Bryant: That's a fun read.

Josh Clark: That one was from 1983; 20 years after KUBARK came out. And it's very much based along the same lines. Basically the rule of thumb is well you don't turn the screws on thumbs. Physical torture is not good. Psychological works.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Which means maybe cranking heavy metal music really loud 24/7?

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Blindfolding. I know water boarding was an issue not too long ago.

Josh Clark: And still is, apparently. I know Congress finds water boarding very distasteful. In researching this, I found that time and time gain, Congress gets wind of some scandal and holds hearings and outlaws torture. And then the CIA goes okay, we're not going to do it, except for these 14 guys, who we've given special -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And right now, there's 14 people who are authorized in the CIA to use water boarding as an interrogation technique.

Chuck Bryant: So they'll say that we don't want to torture any more, but we really want to torture these guys.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Before we outlaw it.

Josh Clark: Right. Part of me sees the value in using torture. I'm a utilitarian in many ways where killing one person to save 1,000 just makes sense. But at the same time, there's a real gray area. Like when you start, it's tough to stop it. Where do you draw the line?

Chuck Bryant: Right. And how do you separate yourself from the enemy and cast stones yourself.

Josh Clark: And as a democracy, we kind of have to set an example for everybody else, right?

Chuck Bryant: I believe that's true.

Josh Clark: Well we just barely scratched the surface. There's several torture articles. But the one we're talking about is "Is there a torture manual." And you can read all of them on For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit