'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Salvador Option 

David Holliday flags a recent Newsweek article that informs us that the Pentagon is seriously considering what it calls “The Salvador Option” in Iraq:

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. [ …]

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

Generally speaking the above is not exactly a new suggestion -- remember Wolfowitz’s “friendly militias” from a few months ago – but this is the first I’ve heard of this idea being applied specifically to Iraq. Note too that Newsweek says that they’re talking about siccing Shiites and Kurds on Sunnis which makes one wonder if US military planners still view civil war in Iraq as a bad thing.

But David Holliday sums up what is really alarming about this article:

Okay, so it's not US military officers who refer to Salvadoran military counterinsurgent operations as "death squad" activity, it's the authors of this article.

But still, what they describe as a potential strategy is in fact what the U.S. government supported in El Salvador, and many of the killings -- carried out by unidentified assailants -- were actually intelligence units of the Salvadoran military, not just in the early 1980s (as the Truth Commission rather timidly describes) but throughout the conflict.

At the time, the U.S. claimed that death squads were rogue operations, were funded by right-wingers in Miami, but had little to do with state policy (except for a period in 1983, which prompted a visit by then Vice-President George H.W. Bush to visit El Salvador and hand over a list of names of officers that should be transferred or cashiered).

But now it seems that the U.S. military (or the CIA?) is finally and rather brazenly owning up to its role in the Salvadoran conflict.

See Holliday’s blog for more on this story.

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