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As Americans learned about the deeply disturbing tactics of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program this week, the government in Brazil released a report filled with its own history of systemic abuses. The nearly-2,000-page report by Brazil's National Truth Commission detailed a pattern of killings and torture during a period of military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
The report not only shed light on the brutal methods of Brazilian interrogators, but also showed that the United States and the United Kingdom had trained some of the perpetrators in torture techniques.
An emotional Dilma Rousseff, the country's president now and a victim of torture herself in the 1970s, delivered the findings on Tuesday at a ceremony in the capital, Brasilia.
The truth commission was established by Rousseff in 2012, a move that was welcomed by the United Nations' leading human rights official. Rousseff said at the time that the purpose was not to seek revenge, but rather to bring greater transparency to these events. The Obama administration actively cooperated with the Brazilian government and the truth commission in the investigation, with Vice President Joe Biden personally bringing documents to Rousseff last June.
The military regime that engaged in this campaign of killings and torture had come to power in a 1964 coup. It set out to repress anti-government groups amid fears of a communist uprising. Its targets included leftist and Marxist guerrilla organizations, as well as members of society who were simply deemed subversive, such as gay people, labor unions and indigenous tribes.
The security forces' methods included killings, disappearances, sexual violence and other forms of torture, as The Washington Post notes. There were such horrific violations as "the introduction of insects into victims' bodies," according to Newsweek.
The truth commission identified 377 perpetrators from all levels of the Brazilian state. Many of the accused had received training from the U.S. and U.K. in interrogation tactics that, according to The Guardian, violated human rights.
Buzzfeed writes that a large part of that education occurred at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas. This facility, located in Panama until the mid-1980s, acted as a training ground for military members from many Latin American countries. It has since been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and is now run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia.
Ethical concerns arose over the School of the Americas' curriculum in the mid-1990s, when declassified U.S. training manuals revealed the nature of the lessons being taught. According to an Amnesty International report, those manuals advocated the use of "torture, extortion, kidnapping and execution" of a regime's foes. Newsweek cites a report by Brazil's O Globo newspaper that says more than 300 Brazilian officers trained at the School of the Americas.
As for British involvement, The Guardian writes that Brazilian officers were flown to London in the 1970s to learn methods of interrogation that included elaborate psychological abuses.
Brazil's report found that 434 deaths -- that's 191 individuals killed and 243 "disappeared" -- and thousands of acts of torture were attributable to the military dictatorship during its two-decade reign. The report also cautioned that the numbers could be higher, for these were only the incidents that could be proved.
Prosecution of those named by the truth commission is unlikely. A controversial 1979 amnesty law, passed as Brazil was moving slowly toward democracy, covers both regime and dissident figures. The current government has also shown no real desire to pursue these cases.
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