Friday, January 14, 2005

"Salvador option" clarification in Newsweek

I was so busy last Wednesday night trying to make my argument that, surely, the Newsweek reporters were sloppy in their reporting, because no one in the U.S. military refers to the "Salvador option" as the same thing as training death squads, that I failed to note a disclaimer by Christopher Dickey, published online Tuesday night by Newsweek, but somewhat buried down from the lede. Dickey was a stellar correspondent in Central America for the Washington Post in the early 1980s. He softens the blow (to the sloppy writing of his fellow Newsweek reporters) by noting that talk of a Salvador option

... seems to imply “death squads” (as the murderers were called in El Salvador and Guatemala) or “hit teams” (as they’ve been called in Israel)... When I hear talk of a Salvador Option, I can’t help but think about El Playón, a wasteland of volcanic rock that was one of the killers’ favorite dumping grounds.
So any reasonable person could have read the article that way. But, then, he notes:
...what’s been written about the NEWSWEEK report by Michael Hirsh and John Barry goes far beyond what the story says. It doesn’t suggest for a minute, as the BBC reported, that the Pentagon is looking to create “paramilitary” death squads. It’s about the possible training of elite units to snatch or kill very specific insurgent leaders.

In fact, the policy could be a formalization of what's already taking place. “We are, of course, already targeting enemy cadres for elimination whether by capture or death in various places including Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Patrick Lang, former chief of Middle East analysis for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. According to Lang, so many people in the Special Operations Forces have been caught up in efforts to do just that, there’s actually a shortage of Green Berets to do what they’re most needed for: training regular Iraqi troops. “Surely,” says Lang, “no one except the Jihadis thinks that we should not be hunting enemy leaders and key personnel.”
Now we can debate the morality of these operations all we want, but Dickey's article seems to be Newsweek's way of clarifying a badly written story, without having to print a formal clarification.

Nevertheless, this whole issue has raised the issue of death squads once again, and the degree of U.S. culpability with respect to them in El Salvador. I'll be posting something longer on that issue sometime this weekend.

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