Sunday, January 16, 2005

Comments on death squads

Before weighing in at greater length with further thoughts on death squads and the U.S. role, I thought I'd post a couple of comments from a couple of very esteemed readers. First, from Doug Farah, a comment he gave to my early Thursday morning post:

I agree with David that there was little or no direct U.S. involvement in establishing the death squads in El Salvador. The initial training, via cadres sent to Guatemala, was paid for by the World Anti-Communist League and involved first and briefly Israelis, then Argentines. D'Aubuisson's groups, along with other disperate groups at the time, were the beneficiaries, along with the Guatemalans. In fact, the U.S. shut its CIA station in El Salvador in 1977, assuming that nothing was going to happen there. (Note how astute the Agency was even then), and hence was not positioned to get things set up, even if they wanted to, until much later. And by that time, the death squads, with Hector Antonio Regalado, d'Aubuisson and others, were well under way. I think it was sloppy reporting, where the historic context and reality of El Salvador were ignored either by the source of the comments, the reporter, or both.
Second, from Bill Barnes, another Salvadorphile who's been researching and writing on Central America for a couple of decades:
I think you're too exculpatory of U.S. actors.... I have no idea what the people at the Pentagon that were the sources for the Newsweek piece mean to be referring to, but the historical record is complicated. That U.S. government agencies may not themselves literally have set up or run Salvadoran death squads doesn't mean much. As early as 1957, John Foster Dulles instructed the U.S. embassy in San Salvador to press the Salvadoran government to suppress "communists" and to encourage private citizens to organize anti-communist groups. This in a country with over 50 years of organized violent supression of suspected "communists." In 1962, USAID Office of Public Safety began police training and the Special Intelligence Agency was formed with U.S. assistance. In 1963 a Green Beret contingent assisted Medrano in organizing and training ORDEN and in developing the Special Intelligence Agency into ANSEAL (which trained D'Aubuisson). The World Anti-Communist League and the Political Warfare Cadres Academy in Taiwan, which D'Aubuisson and others became active in in the mid to late 1970s were supported by former U.S. military and intelligence officers, right wing Republicans, people from Jesse Helms' office (John Carbaugh), etc, and along with the Guatemalans, brought French OAS and Argentine dirty war experts into contact with D'Aubuisson et al. Such U.S. actors continued their active collaboration with and support for D'Aubuisson and colleagues long after everyone, including the CIA and Whitehouse, knew perfectly well that they were running death squads. CIA and military officers on the ground in El Salvador sometimes did some of the same -- they didn't just look the other way. And sophisticated surveillance technology provided or operated by U.S. agents was of key importance. [Circa 1987-88, IUDOP field directors were sometimes taken into military headquarters and shown files kept on them and their field supervisors and interviewers, and told "we're watching you," and shown pictures taken of them at "subversive" events; they were told that the pictures were supplied by U.S. intelligence.]

Of course it's also true that much of the State Department and some of the CIA and other U.S. actors (not to mention Congressional Democrats and elements of U.S. civil society) were, at least a lot of the time, strongly opposed to this kind of stuff and worked to limit and discourage it -- and at important points they were successful and that was very important.

You can't treat "the U.S." or even "the U.S. government" as a unitary actor, particularly not across time. The same is true re Iraq. And of course, neither can the "other side" be treated that way. There ain't no "us" and there ain't no "them". "Why do they hate us?" couldn't be more misleading, no matter who is saying it, where or when.
As I mentioned in my last post, I think the issue of whether U.S. military officers think of the Salvador option as one that involved supporting "death squads" is moot at this point (although I'm awaiting glitch in the system to be able to read a response from Jason Vest at Direland), but these comments get to the issue of U.S. culpability in the death squads, which deserves a longer response.

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