Bush's Death Squads [Iraq]
by Robert Parry
In These Times magazine, February
Refusing to admit personal misjudgments
on Iraq, George W. Bush instead is pushing the United States toward
becoming what might be called a permanent "counter-terrorist"
state, which uses torture, cross-border death squads, and even
collective punishments to defeat perceived enemies in Iraq and
around the world.
Since securing a second term, Bush has
pressed ahead with this hard-line strategy, in part by removing
dissidents inside his administration while retaining or promoting
As a centerpiece of this tougher strategy
to pacify Iraq, Bush is contemplating the adoption of the brutal
practices that were used to suppress leftist peasant uprisings
in Central America in the '80s. The Pentagon is "intensively
debating" a new policy for Iraq called the "Salvador
option:' Newsweek magazine reported on January 9.
The strategy is named after the Reagan-Bush
administration's "still-secret strategy" of supporting
El Salvador's right-wing security forces, which operated clandestine
"death squads" to eliminate both leftist guerrillas
and their civilian sympathizers, Newsweek reported. "Many
U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success-despite
the deaths of innocent civilians:' Newsweek wrote.
The magazine also noted that a number
of Bush administration officials were leading figures in the Central
American operations of the '80s, such as John Negroponte, who
was then U.S. ambassador to Honduras and is now US. ambassador
Other current officials who played key
roles in Central America include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central
American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle
East adviser on Bush's National Security Council staff, and Vice
President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central
American policies while a member of the House of Representatives.
The insurgencies in El Salvador and Guatemala
were crushed through the slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians.
In Guatemala, about 200,000 people perished, including what a
truth commission later termed a genocide against Mayan Indians
in the Guatemalan highlands. In El Salvador, about 70,000 died
including massacres of whole villages, such as the slaughter carried
out by a U.S.-trained battalion against hundreds of men, women
and children in and around the town of El Mozote in 1981.
The Reagan-Bush strategy also had a domestic
component, the so-called "perception management" operation.
Administration propaganda justified US. actions in Central America
by portraying the popular uprisings as an attempt by the Soviet
Union to establish a beachhead in the Americas to threaten the
US. southern border.
By employing the "Salvador option"
in Iraq, the US. military would crank up the pain, especially
in Sunni Muslim areas where resistance to the US. occupation of
Iraq has been strongest. In effect, Bush would assign other Iraqi
ethnic groups the job of leading the "death squad" campaign
against the Sunnis.
"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 discussions:' Newsweek reported.
Newsweek quoted one military source as
saying, "The Sunni population is paying no price for the
support it is giving to the terrorists . ... From their point
of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation:'
The conditions in Central America and
Iraq are not parallel, however.
In Central America, powerful oligarchies
had long surrounded themselves with ruthless security forces and
armies. So, when uprisings swept across the region in the early
'80s, the Reagan-Bush administration had ready-made-though unsavory-allies
who could do the dirty work with help from Washington.
A different dynamic exists in Iraq, because
the Bush administration chose to disband rather than co-opt the
Iraqi army. That left U.S. forces with few reliable local allies
and put the onus for carrying out counterinsurgency operations
on American soldiers who were unfamiliar with the land, the culture
and the language.
Those problems, in turn, contributed to
a series of counterproductive tactics, including the heavy-handed
roundups of Iraqi suspects, the torturing of prisoners at Abu
Ghraib and the killing of innocent civilians by jittery U.S. troops
fearful of suicide bombings. The blame for these medieval tactics
continues to climb the chain of command toward the Oval Office.
Bush finds himself facing a narrowing
list of very tough choices. He could acknowledge his mistakes
and seek international help in extricating US. forces from Iraq.
But he abhors admitting errors, even small ones.
Instead Bush appears to be upping the
ante, expanding the war by having Iraqi Kurds and Shiites kill
Sunnis. This is a prescription for civil war or genocide.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the '80s for the Associated Press and Newsweek His
new book Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com.
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