Monday, January 10, 2005

A "Gentleman's War", part 2

As the Pentagon moves towards the Salvador option, let's take a moment and recall just what our involvement in El Salvador led to.
...the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers...
Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria...

As Kos said: "Man, when they put Negroponte in charge of Iraq, I never thought he'd be able to use his experience this well."
The Rude Pundit has a predictably more entertaining take on it all. Kevin Drum, meanwhile, defangs some of the more nitpicky criticism Newsweek's aroused.


Blogger Management said...

‘The Salvador Option’
The Pentagon may put Special-Forces-led assassination or kidnapping teams in Iraq
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry
Updated: 5:27 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2005

Jan. 8 - What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras. There is no evidence, however, that Negroponte knew anything about the Salvadoran death squads or the Iran-Contra scandal at the time. The Iraq ambassador, in a phone call to NEWSWEEK on Jan. 10, said he was not involved in military strategy in Iraq. He called the insertion of his name into this report "utterly gratuitous.")
Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.
Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government—the Defense department or CIA—would take responsibility for such an operation. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon has aggressively sought to build up its own intelligence-gathering and clandestine capability with an operation run by Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone. But since the Abu Ghraib interrogations scandal, some military officials are ultra-wary of any operations that could run afoul of the ethics codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That, they argue, is the reason why such covert operations have always been run by the CIA and authorized by a special presidential finding. (In "covert" activity, U.S. personnel operate under cover and the U.S. government will not confirm that it instigated or ordered them into action if they are captured or killed.)
Meanwhile, intensive discussions are taking place inside the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Defense department’s efforts to expand the involvement of U.S. Special Forces personnel in intelligence-gathering missions. Historically, Special Forces’ intelligence gathering has been limited to objectives directly related to upcoming military operations—"preparation of the battlefield," in military lingo. But, according to intelligence and defense officials, some Pentagon civilians for years have sought to expand the use of Special Forces for other intelligence missions.

Pentagon civilians and some Special Forces personnel believe CIA civilian managers have traditionally been too conservative in planning and executing the kind of undercover missions that Special Forces soldiers believe they can effectively conduct. CIA traditionalists are believed to be adamantly opposed to ceding any authority to the Pentagon. Until now, Pentagon proposals for a capability to send soldiers out on intelligence missions without direct CIA approval or participation have been shot down. But counter-terrorist strike squads, even operating covertly, could be deemed to fall within the Defense department’s orbit.
The interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option. Maj. Gen.Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service, may have been laying the groundwork for the idea with a series of interviews during the past ten days. Shahwani told the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat that the insurgent leadership—he named three former senior figures in the Saddam regime, including Saddam Hussein’s half-brother—were essentially safe across the border in a Syrian sanctuary. "We are certain that they are in Syria and move easily between Syrian and Iraqi territories," he said, adding that efforts to extradite them "have not borne fruit so far."
Shahwani also 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." He said most Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won’t turn them in. 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."

Pentagon sources emphasize there has been no decision yet to launch the Salvador option. Last week, Rumsfeld decided to send a retired four-star general, Gary Luck, to Iraq on an open-ended mission to review the entire military strategy there. But with the U.S. Army strained to the breaking point, military strategists note that a dramatic new approach might be needed—perhaps one as potentially explosive as the Salvador option.

With Mark Hosenball

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report, initially published on Jan. 8, was updated on Jan. 10 to include Negroponte's comments to NEWSWEEK

8:35 PM  
Blogger Management said...

The Horror of History:
It's been a while, but this morning, the Rude Pundit awoke on the floor in his underwear in a pool of vomit. He had a simple hope: that the vomit was his own. He gave simple thanks that he still had his boxer briefs on. Vague half-remembrances of the night before slapped him around like a corner dealer he had shorted on cash for blow. He knew there was something about a bottle of vodka, Polish vodka, the kind you could only get in Kracow just before Lech Walesa was elected, and the Rude Pundit was sure that someone else had been with him. He thought he remembered calling an escort service and demanding a hooker who looked like Helen Thomas, but that could be a vodka fantasy. He did not know. In fact, he had chills when he thought about if it was true. But that could be delirium tremens.

What the Rude Pundit did know was what had sent him into this alcoholic spiral was this article from Newsweek, in which it is revealed that the Pentagon (read: Rumsfeld) is giving serious consideration to "the Salvador option" in Iraq. That's Salvador with a "v" and that rhymes with "d" and that stands for "death squads." Yup, we're "giving consideration" (read: already doing) to setting up hit teams of Iraqi Kurds and Shi'a to capture or kill "insurgents." This'd include operations inside Syria by U.S. Special Ops, and, most chillingly, the murder of "sympathizers" of the insurgents. But, hey, at least Saddam won't be doing the killing and torture, right?

The Rude Pundit read this yesterday and some synapses fired off in his brain, sending him whirling into flashbacks of the Reagan era, when "sympathizers" in El Salvador included towns of peasants, as well as priests and nuns. The Rude Pundit remembered cornering a Democratic candidate for Congress and engaging in a heated discussion over death squads in El Salvador, getting the candidate (who would eventually win) to state clearly and unambiguously that he opposed Reagan's policies in Latin America. The Rude Pundit remembered protests, he remembered meeting Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch, and talking about all the motherfucking vicious sons of bitches trained by Americans in the United States to kill their El Salvadoran countrymen because they dared to oppose the U.S.-supported right-wing government. Goodly men, not quite the "moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers," like the murderous thugs in the Contras, but certainly valiant men like 1984 SOA graduate Colonel Dionosio Machuca, who had over 300 torture cases attriubuted to him. The victims were insurgents, we were assured. Oh, how it all came flooding, flooding back, the cackling figure of John Negroponte hovering over it all. Jesus fucking Christ, he thought, do we have to go through this again? Of course the Rude Pundit broke out the good vodka and started shooting. Of course he called for specialty hookers. What else would you do?

You wanna know what's about to happen in Iraq and Syria, kids? Listen: here's the shit from the U.N.'s Truth Commission Report on El Salvador. Check out page 142:
"Shortly after midday on 23 July 1980, a group of approximately 100 civilians arrived at El Bartolillo hamlet in Tehuicho canton. Their faces were painted and they were dressed as peasants. They were very well-armed and dispersed throughout the canton. Witnesses identified Miguel Lemus, who was a civil defence member at the time.

"They identified themselves as guerrillas and called a meeting on the football field, supposedly to distribute weapons. As the operation proceeded, they started to force people to assemble.

"The villagers congregated on the sports field, where they were blindfolded. The strangers then identified themselves as a 'death squad' and accused the villagers of having links with the guerrillas.

"They proceeded to make a selection. Apparently they had a list. 'Orejas' identified people on the list and singled out 14 of them, 12 men and 2 women. The men were taken to a ravine, the two women were taken elsewhere. Shots were heard. Some houses were looted and burned.

"The bodies of the women and the men were found in the course of the night. There was physical evidence that they had been tortured." Government troops did not allow the bodies to be buried for three days.

Check out page 148 for a look at the policy of executing mayors of towns where the population supported the leftist rebels. Check out the whole document for the catalog of horrors that were perpetrated with the full knowledge of the U.S. government.

The problem with death squads, besides, you know, their whole raison d'etre, is that when they're comprised of local citizens, they bear their local grudges with them. Imagine if your neighbor who thinks your dog shits on his lawn everyday was all of a sudden given the power to determine whether or not you were an enemy sympathizer. How fast would your ass be Gitmo-ized? You get it, kids?

After washing the vomit off his face and putting on a robe, for God's sake, the Rude Pundit clicked on the TV, just in time to watch Fox "News" early morning show. There, former Green Beret Lt. Gen. Gordon Cucullu was interviewed about the Salvador option, which he believed was a misnomer. See, said Cucullu, who belongs to the neocon Center for Strategic Policy along with such ratfucks like Frank Gaffney, Douglas Feith, and Little Dickie Perle, the U.S. actually started this kind of insurgency elimination project back in 'Nam, with the Phoenix Program of South Vietnamese soldiers, backed by the U.S., kidnapping, imprisoning, and/or killing what Cucullu (whose name is uncomfortably like the HP Lovecraft monster "Cthulhu")called "insurgents." Of course, Phoenix was used by the President of South Vietnam to eliminate political enemies, as well as justification for the destruction of villages, farms, etc. You'll start hearing the term "neutralization" more often now. Cucullu said Phoenix was "a good model" for what should be done in Iraq, although the good Lt. General thinks it's already going on there. As Cucullu said, the good of the nation demands that these squads capture and "interrogate" or, "if necessary," kill insurgents. Frankly, the Rude Pundit would have rather been still lying in a pool of cold vomit, whether it was his own or not. History is nothing if not a constant spiral of horrors.

Ahh, that's the thing about the Bush Administration, and with the Republicans of the last fifty years: one doesn't learn and move on. If a bad idea fails, be it trickle-down economics or the torture and murder of civilians, try, try again. See, the concept is more important than the execution, so to speak. Theory is more important than practice. And, as always, everything old is new again.

8:52 PM  

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