As President Obama grapples with accusations of torture by U.S. agents, I suggest he consult the former Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle.
I first contacted Daschle in 1975, when he was an aide to Sen. James Abourezk of South Dakota, who was leading a somewhat lonely campaign against CIA abuses.
At the time, I was researching a book on the United States’ role in the spread of military dictatorships throughout Latin America. Daschle arranged for me to inspect the senator’s files, and I spent an evening reading accounts of U.S. complicity in torture. The stories came from Iran, Taiwan, Greece and, for the preceding 10 years, from Brazil and the rest of the continent’s Southern Cone.
Despite my past reporting from South Vietnam, I had been naive enough to be at first surprised and then appalled by the degree to which our country had helped to overthrow elected governments in Latin America.
Our interference, which went on for decades, was not limited to one political party. The meddling in Brazil began in earnest during the early 1960s under a Democratic administration. At that time, Washington’s alarm over Cuba was much like the more recent panic after 9/11. The Kennedy White House was determined to prevent another communist regime in the hemisphere, and Robert Kennedy, as attorney general, was taking a strong interest in several anti-communist approaches, including the Office of Public Safety.