Monday, January 17, 2005

More on state terror and counterinsurgency

Dean Brackley, S.J., from the UCA here in El Salvador wrote in with some comments and reflections on recent posts here, emphasizing --irrespective of what we can prove or not about US involvement with the death squads-- the moral bankruptcy of the counterinsurgency strategy (including state terror) employed in El Salvador.

He also notes "that a strategy of killing or 'snatching' key insurgents would not be something new (although a major effort to train Iraquis to do that might be, and if that's a Salvadoran parallel, it would be an interesting revelation.)" Read on:

A couple of brief thoughts, in two parts: an Iraq part and a Salvador part. First the Iraq part. According to the the first Newsweek article the kill and snatch strategy pushes the human-rights envelope: Some cautious "military officials [who resist involving the Pentagon in this strategy] are ultra-wary of any operations that could run afoul of the ethics codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice." Sounds to me like Abu Ghraib and Alberto Gonzalez stuff. The remarks attributed to the Iraqi Intelligence Minister and a U.S. military officer are also chilling and sound to me like the thinking of the death-squad right (hardline military + civilians) of El Salvador. Newsweek:
“Maj. Gen.Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service . . . [recently] said that the U.S. occupation has failed to crack the problem of broad support for the insurgency. The insurgents, he said, ‘are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them.’ . . . One military source involved in the Pentagon debate agrees that this is the crux of the problem, and he suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. 'The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists,' he said. 'From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.'"
You have to create fear in this population. How do you do that? You threaten them with no less than torture and death. That is, of course, terrorism, and it was practiced in the bombing of Falluja twice.

Back to El Salvador. Whatever the active role played by the U.S. in developing and aiding El Salvador's death squads, it seems to me without question that state terror, greatly reduced after 1983, was not only integral to counter-insurgency strategy, and without it the FMLN would have won the war (or forced a direct U.S. intervention). That said, the U.S. knew this very well and at the very least turned a blind eye to the more discreet operations of the death squads during the entire war.

There are more than 25,000 names on the monument in Parque Cuscatlán to civilian victims of the war here (many of those victims actively supported the FMLN, but did not take up arms) and 8,000 to 10,000 more names are being readied for the monument. Most are victims of state terrorism, aided and abetted by U.S. collaboration. I believe you are right that Pentagon officers, generally, and conservatives in the U.S. consider El Salvador a "success." State terror, torture and 30,000 innocent lives was an acceptable price to pay to maintain the basic social and economic structure of the country. That was the key goal, as you have said. I would say that what Geo. Bush, Sr. did in 1983 was oblige the Salvadoran government and military to reduce state terror to a level that would be tolerable for the U.S. Congress, that would allow the Congress to continue funding the war without great embarrassment.
Meanwhile, young whipper snapper Matthew Yglesias, who's far too smart for his age (24 or 25), approvingly references two posts from the Belgravia Dispatch blog, and offers up a more pragmatic (perhaps mainstream liberal?) perspective on counterinsurgency. Note his reminder to us about Kerry's position on the matter:
We're looking at missions that involve few forces and combine efforts at humanitarian work, building the capacities of local states, perhaps hunting down some bad actors, and generally trying to make American power be seen as a force for good rather than foreign domination. I don't agree with everything said in either piece, but the general spirit I'll happily endorse. Not to refight the election, but I note that John Kerry's campaign proposed an expansion in the quantity of special operations forces and Army civil affairs units. This is a decent, basically non-ideological proposal, that I think members of either political party would do well to embrace. Transforming the military into something better-suited to 21st century needs is going to take some time under the best of circumstances, but there's no time like the present.
P.S. Since I've been warned recently that I should be more clear about where I stand on different issues, let me say that, with respect to Yglesias, I don't believe in signing off on policies I would not personally be willing to implement. Needless to say, as a firm believer in nonviolence, I don't believe that increased funding for special forces is any kind of real solution to the world's problems. Stay tuned.

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