Sunday, November 22, 2009

The reality of US counter-insurgency so far : death squads, torture, murder, disappearances

McChrystal’s “Counterinsurgency” plan sounds good on paper – and might be that way in practice, but the reality of counterinsurgency operations so far has been death squads, murder, torture and disappearances

General Stanley McChrystal’s plan for Afghanistan says the focus should be on troops on the ground fighting a “counter-insurgency” war to “protect Afghans” and reduce civilian casualties by avoiding airstrikes. It also makes intelligent suggestions such as having troops actually leave vehicles to protect villagers ;and providing jobs to potential defectors from the insurgents. However unless it’s very different to past US and US-trained counter-insurgency operations in Vietnam and El Salvador and Afghanistan (and General McChrystals previous command in Iraq) and current ones in Iraq, Colombia and Pakistan  - it’s likely to involve death squads murdering, torturing and disappearing civilians and insurgents alike on suspicion if it goes ahead.

‘the expertise and mindset required of a “special” force if it is to be effective at counter-terrorism obliges it to function as a unit of “terrorists in uniform”’, Colin Gray, 'Modern Strategy' Oxford University Press. 1999, page 6

We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo lighters...Why were we torching houses and destroying crops?  Ho Chi Minh had said the people were like the sea in which his guerrillas swam. ... We tried to solve the problem by making the whole sea uninhabitable. In the hard logic of war, what difference did it make if you shot your enemy or starved him to death?”  Colin Powell’s autobiography ‘My American Journey’ quoted by Robert Parry and Norman Solomon (1)

A mother and her two sons hacked to death in their beds...the unidentified body of a young, man strangled, found on the shoulder of a road...the unidentified bodies of three young men, found on another road, their faces partially destroyed by bayonets, one face carved to represent a cross...bodies turn up in the brush of vacant lots, in the garbage thrown down public rest rooms, in bus stations...some are dropped in Lake Ilopango...and wash up near the lakeside cottages and clubs.” Joan Didion, Salvador (2)

Photo: An archbishop in El Salvador shows journalists the bodies of six jesuits, including the 15 year old daughter of one of them and their two housekeepers, murdered by the US backed Salvadoran military in 1989 ; photo by Father Michael Czerny

“One of the more shadowy the death squad...Membership is uncertain, but in addition to civilians we believe that both on and off duty members of the security forces are participants. This was unofficially confirmed by right-wing spokesman Major Roberto D’Aubuisson who stated in an interview in early 1981 that security forces utilize the guize of the death-squad when a potentially embarrassing or odious task needs to be performed.” US State Department Memo 15 Jan 1982 (3)

In...1981...The hamlet of Mozote was completely wiped out...the several massacres which occurred in the same area... are collectively known as the Mozote massacres. The ...sole survivor...Rufina Amaya...escaped by hiding behind trees...She testified that on Friday, December 11, troops arrived and began taking people from their homes at 5 in the morning...At noon the men were blindfolded and killed...the young women... were raped, then killed...the old women were taken next and shot...Among the children murdered were three of Amaya’s, all under ten years oldJuly 20th 1982 supplement to the Report on Human Rights in El Salvador of the Americas Watch Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union (4)

Photo: El Salvador, 1992 : Investigators excavate the skeletons of some of the people murdered in the Mozote massacre ; photo from US National Library of Medicine

‘Andrew Krepinovich, a respected strategic analyst who advises the Pentagon on Iraq, said yesterday that the El Salvador model was being actively discussed’ Guardian 17th May 2005 (5)

General Adnan, as he is known, is the leader of Iraq's most fearsome counterinsurgency force. It is called the Special Police Commandos and consists of about 5,000 troops... there were several American advisers in the room, including James Steele, one of the United States military's top experts on counterinsurgency. Steele honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country's brutal civil war in the 1980's... I saw about 100 detainees squatting on the floor, hands bound behind their backs; most were blindfolded. To my right, outside the doors, a leather-jacketed security official was slapping and kicking a detainee who was sitting on the ground... a detainee was led out with fresh blood around his nose. The room had enough space for a couple of desks and chairs; one desk had bloodstains running down its side.. a man began screaming in the main hall... through the window behind me, I could hear the sounds of someone vomiting...’ Peter Maas , New York Times Magazine 1st May 2005 (6)

General Adnan Thabit and James Steele

The families of 15 Iraqi Sunnis found in a mass grave north of Baghdad earlier this month...The men were arrested on May 5 when Iraqi security forces raided a vegetable market at Hayy Jameela..A shallow mass grave was discovered in an industrial neighbourhood called Kasra-Wa-Atash, not far from where they were arrested, according to the lawyers. The bodies were blindfolded and revealed such torture marks as broken skulls, burning, beatings, and right eyeballs removed.’ Guardian 20 May 2005 (7)

Photo - Bodies at a morgue in Baqouba Iraq ; photo from Morton S. Skorodin

‘I sat with him watching TV....The program we were watching was Adnan's brainchild, and in just a few months it had proved to be one of the most effective psychological operations of the war. It is reality TV of sorts, a show called ''Terrorism in the Grip of Justice... Those being interrogated on the program...tremble on camera, stumble over their words and look at the ground as they confess to everything from contract murders to sodomy’ Peter Maas, May 2005, (8)

‘ police in Mosul uncovered a mass grave containing 31 bodies... The bodies were discovered in a common grave at the Wadi Egab Cemetery, according to an Iraqi police general who commands a special antiterrorism unit called al-Theeb, or "the wolf." He said police were led to the grave by a former police lieutenant, Shoqayer Fareed Sheet, who confessed on Iraqi television Wednesday night to killing 113 people.’ Washington Post 11 March 2005,(9)

'Days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28, the bodies of Sunni Muslim men began turning up at the capital's central morgue after the men had been detained by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms....Their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, their eyes were blindfolded and they appeared to have been tortured.... eyewitnesses said that many of the dead were apprehended by large groups of men driving white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings. The men were wearing police commando uniforms and bulletproof vests, carrying expensive 9-millimeter Glock pistols and using sophisticated radios, the witnesses said....The Toyotas, which cost more than $55,000 apiece, and Glocks, at about $500 each, are hard to come by in Iraq, and they're rarely used by anyone other than Western contractors and Iraqi security forces...... Jassim's family said he was taken by a large group of men dressed and equipped like police commandos..... The man in charge of the Yarmuk morgue, who gave his name as Abu Amir, said he remembers the day the commandos brought Jassim's corpse."The commandos told me to keep the body outside of the refrigerator so that the dogs could eat it because he's a terrorist and he deserves it," Abu Amir said.' Tom Lasseter and Yasser Salihee / Knight Ridder, 28th June 2005

'Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi special correspondent for Knight Ridder, was shot to death in Baghdad last Friday.The shot appears to have been fired by a U.S. military sniper...Salihee...was driving alone near his home in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amariyah when a single bullet pierced his windshield and then his skull.' Tom Lasseter/Knight Ridder 29 Jun 2005

“[We are] very proud of what was done in El Salvador”,  General Trombitas, US military, Iraq National Counter-Terror Transition Team, 2009 (served in El Salvador 1989-90, Colombia 2003-2005). Trombitas also told the Pentagon the training methods used in Latin America were “extremely transferable” to Iraq and other countries.( , Shane Bauer, The Nation ,3rd June 2009 ,(10)

Photo: General Simeon Trombitas, Iraq, 2009

Baghdad...He walks over to his three-foot-tall daughter ..."They took the blindfold off me, pointed the gun at her head ...saying, 'Either you tell us where al-Zaydawi is, or we kill your daughter... The men...looked and spoke like [Iraqis]but they were wearing American-style uniforms and carrying American weapons with night-vision scopes ... “We are the Special Forces. The dirty brigade”, Hassan recalls them saying.... On the same night Hassan Mahsan's house was raided, 26-year-old Haidar al-Aibi was killed... Fathil al-Aibi says the family was awakened around midnight by a nearby explosion. His brother Haidar ran up to the roof to see what had happened and was immediately shot from a nearby rooftop. When Fathil, his brother Hussein and his father, Abbas, tried to bring Haidar downstairs, they were shot at, too. For about two hours he lay lifeless on the roof while his family panicked as red laser beams from rifle scopes danced on their windows... around the same time that night, police commando Ahmed Shibli says he was also being fired on. ..The men who busted open his front door called themselves the dirty brigade, he says, and they were carrying American weapons, not the AK-47s or PKCs the National Police use. When they entered, they fired immediately. "It wasn't a warning shot...”... They fired again... fatally shooting his...63-year-old father... The effective head of the American ISOF project is General Trombitas of the Iraq National Counter-Terror Transition Team.Shane Bauer, The Nation ,3rd June 2009 , (11)

'Units of the Colombian military continue to tolerate, support, and commit abuses in collaboration with members of paramilitary groups. In 2005, there continued to be reports of abuses by members of the Army's 17th Brigade as well as by members of the armed forces operating in the region of Chocó.....In February 2005, eight residents of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartadó, including four minors, were brutally killed. The government's immediate reaction to the massacre, prior to any investigation, was to blame it on guerrillas and deny any military presence in the area. Yet members of the community have alleged that military and possibly paramilitary groups were involved, and there is evidence pointing to military movements near the location of the massacre.', Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 (12)

Photo: A peace march and symbolic funeral at San Jose de apartado, Colombia, 2008. (See Internacional Resistentes a la guerra for more on the peace community there)

Steven Casteel, who was in charge of establishing Iraq's police commandos - and who previously trained government forces in El Salvador and Colombia on behalf of the US government. Colombia's President Uribe is a known drug trafficker and linked to paramilitary death-squads funded via US military aid.

'Two months after the Pakistani Army wrested control of the Swat Valley from Taliban militants, a new campaign of fear has taken hold, with scores, perhaps hundreds, of bodies dumped on the streets in what human rights advocates and local residents say is the work of the military..........Bodies, some with torture marks and some with limbs tied and a bullet in the neck or head, have been found on the roads of Mingora and in rural areas that were militant strongholds.......The exact number of alleged killings was impossible to calculate because the presence of human rights monitors was limited by the authorities, the commission said. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which investigates illegal killings, was ordered by the military to leave Swat last month over matters unrelated to the killings, a senior Pakistani government official and the Red Cross said.........In one case, a family filed a petition with the army command last week describing the alleged killing of their son while in military custody. ..The family of the man, Akhtar Ali, 28, said he was arrested at his electrical shop in Mingora in the early evening of Sept. 1 by a group of soldiers. Four days later, Mr. Ali’s body was returned to the family home “tortured to death,” a petition signed by his mother, Jehan Sultana, said.' New York Times 14th Sep 2009, (13)

Photo - Swat valley, Pakistan : A dancing girl murdered by the Taliban for being 'un-Islamic' - Pakistan's army and militias backed by it have been dealing out similar "justice" to hundreds of known and suspected Taliban, but have made sure no photos can be taken of the bodies; photo by Rashid Iqbal , European PressPhoto Agency

What do US counter-insurgency and counter- terrorism operations involve in practice?

Some believe that guerrillas or “insurgents” like the Taliban and NATO’s other opponents in Afghanistan can be defeated by ‘counter-insurgency’ tactics. This is often called the ‘El Salvador option’ by current and former members of the US military and Pentagon advisers (14) – (18). It’s often euphemistically (and simplistically) described as training indigenous forces to “take out the bad guys”. General Stanley McChrystal suggests it as an alternative to the reliance on big offensives and air-strikes which has led to high civilian casualties and to most Afghans disliking foreign forces as most of them hate the Taliban. Vice President Joe Biden’s plan to use small numbers of Special Forces along with missile strikes from unmanned drones would reduce the numbers of deaths involved on both sides – and of civilians - but it’s hard to see how it could reduce the proportion of civilians killed mistakenly by either the drones or the special forces.
'Counter insurgency' and 'counter terrorism' operations by militaries only really differ in scale.

Let’s be clear about what “counter-insurgency” or “counter-terrorism” actually involves. It involves death squads torturing and ‘disappearing’ (i.e murdering) anyone suspected of opposing the government the US government backs. It was used across Latin America by the US and its client regimes in the 1960s through to the 1980s, involving the virtual genocide of native Indians in Guatemala as they were killed by the hundreds of thousands and eventually millions. In El Salvador people critical of the government or the US government backing it were found as corpses dumped in rubbish tips or shallow graves or on the street, their bodies bearing the marks of torture – much like many of those in Iraq in the last 6 years or the Swat valley in Pakistan today. The US National Security Archives, historians and many other sources show the US government knew of all this and continued providing CIA and US military aid, arms and training – and often US ‘advisors’ and ‘trainers’ were present during torture and murder (19) – (22).

As the quotes above show, the American officer in charge of training the latest ‘counter-terrorism’ force in Iraq - General Trombitas - was involved in doing the same in El Salvador and says he’s “very proud of what we achieved in that country” (23). Salvadoran troops were also sent to Iraq, making Rumsfeld misty eyed for the good old days (24) – (25). John Negroponte, still an adviser to Hillary Clinton, was the US ambassador to Honduras at the height of the US-trained wave of death squads across Latin America (which has never entirely ended) (26) – (29).

The US backed government of El Salvador employed death squads to murder anyone suspected of having any connection to or sympathy for left-wing rebels. This included four American citizens - three nuns and one lay worker with a christian order - who were raped and murdered on the orders of senior Salvadoran military officers. Rather than demand justice the Reagan administration made up excuses for the murderers (who were US trained and funded and had US government political backing). Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested that perhaps the nuns had approached a checkpoint in their car without stopping, leading the Salvadoran military to think they were rebels, though he provided not a shred of evidence for this claim. When the four soldiers responsible testified to a Truth Commission that they had acted on the orders of their superiors in 1993 Haig's successor - James Rubin of the Clinton administration said We are unclear about their veracity or the possible motivations behind them." Far from bringing those responsible to justice the US government let the Generals who are the main suspects for giving the orders retire in Florida. Robert White, who was the American ambassador to El Salvador at the time of the murders later wrote that he knew that "the CIA station had on its payroll agents intimately linked to the death-squad violence", but that the CIA refused his demands that it provide intelligence on who was responsible for death squad murders (29a) - (29b).

Photo : Nuns pray over the bodies of three American nuns and an American volunteer charity worker who were raped and murdered by the military of El Salvador in 1980, during US backing for a government that ran military death squads

One of the most useful aspects of the “El Salvador option” for governments operating the ‘training native forces to carry out the torture and death squad killings is that they have plausible deniability and can blame everything on their supposedly less civilised allies.This may or may not be part of the model General McChrystal has for ‘counter insurgency’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What's undeniably a fact is that a unit he commanded in Iraq – Task Force 6-26 were found to have systematically tortured Iraqis by beatings – including kicking prisoners in the spine till they passed out from pain, punching them in the stomach till they were sick, burning them and dousing them in cold water to induce hypothermia at night. A former member of the unit said he was told that McChrystal had guaranteed that the International Red Cross would not have access to the camp or the prisoners held there (30) – (32) .

While most people accepted without question or requests for evidence that all the bodies found in Iraq with torture marks and bullet wounds in the backs of their heads were the victims of Iraqi militias many of them may have been the victims of the Pentagon’s ‘El Salvador Option’ and ‘Phoenix Programme’ in Iraq. Many were seen being taken away by US-trained Iraqi police commandos before their deaths. (For more on this see Max Fuller's 'For Iraq the Salvador Option becomes Reality' , Crying Wolf, Nicola Davies' 'What is the US role in Iraq's dirty war', this article, historian Professor Greg Grandin's article on US-backed death squads from Latin America to Iraq and the sources on this link ) (33) – (34) .

(This was in 2003-2005, when the Pentagon’s focus was on targeting Sunnis on the theory that all the insurgents were just the last fewsupporters of Saddam - and before their ‘re-direction’ to target Shia in order to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq. In other cases the victims were soldiers who were operating alongside US forces – so more likely to have been killed by militias or insurgents, though Pentagon led purging of suspected insurgent infiltrators of US-allied units can’t be ruled out)

A “counter-insurgency” model resurrected in Iraq before the Iraqi Salvador Option was even discussed was ‘Operation Phoenix’, a plan first used in Vietnam – which was similar to the methods later used by the CIA and US military intelligence in Latin America – i.e torturing school teachers and other suspected “Communist fellow travellers” into becoming double agents – and killing them if they refused to change sides – failed. Professor Marilyn B. Young’s history of the Vietnam wars recounts that methods used by the CIA and US military intelligence included shutting a Vietnamese woman school teacher suspected of being a Communist sympathiser into a tiny cage and starving her; pulling out prisoners' finger nails and subjecting them to electric shocks (35).

The US lost the Vietnam War anyway, because it offered the majority of Vietnamese nothing but torture, death or poverty in concentration camps euphemistically described as “village-isation” to “protect the population”. Officers like Colin Powell, reading Mao Tse Tung’s guerrilla guide on the people being like water and the guerrillas like fish decided they would drain the water (36). It didn’t work. This didn’t stop the Pentagon organising what they called a new ‘Operation Phoenix’ in Iraq under Bush, employing many of the same secret police and torturers who had worked for Saddam (37).

So we should be under no illusions about  what “counter-terrorism” might mean in Pakistan and Afghanistan – it might mean torture, massacres, summary execution on mere suspicion without trial, the killing of people merely critical of the US and Afghan and Pakistan government, including school teachers, trade unionists and human rights activists. We already know for a fact that Pakistan military forces have tortured and killed Taliban militants and people merely suspected of being Taliban in the Swat valley. Disappearances in Pakistan have increased according to human rights groups, largely due to continuing “extraorindary rendition” (or kidnapping) in the war on terror. This is another parallel with Latin America under US-backed regimes. Many thousands were “disappeared”, most having been tortured, then killed. The largest number of disappearance have been in the province of Balochistan in Pakistan, which , co-incidentally, is the same province that most of the Pakistani part of a proposed oil and gas pipeline from former Soviet republics via Afghanistan to the ports of Pakistan (with another branch to India) would go through (38) - (45).

A woman in Balochistan at a demonstration for the disappeared

Map of proposed pipeline routes - for larger image see The Heritage Foundation

If the typical US counter-insurgency model of disappearances, torture and murder is part of McChrystal’s plan then many Afghans and Pakistanis would suffer as much as under Taliban rule - and as under the Taliban, many would pay with their lives. Under the Taliban almost anything can qualify as being 'un-Islamic', while in US led counter-insurgency almost anything can be seen as evidence of being an 'insurgent' or 'sympathiser' .

Some will object that the evidence so far in Pakistan is of Pakistan military forces involvement in torture, not American. However according to investigations by Human Rights Watch there was torture from the beginning in Afghanistan by US forces in ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ (46). In 2005 it was revealed that an Afghan taxi driver not thought to be linked to terrorism – Dilan Dilawar – and another prisoner died after torture by stress positions, beatings and in some cases being chained to the roof of their cells by their arms. This took place at the US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan (47).We know from Colonel Lawrence Fishback’s testimony that breaking prisoners’ arms and legs with baseball bats was common in Iraq and Afghanistan (48). Despite Obama’s formal ban on torture, there is no guarantee it has ended in reality. Holding prisoners from anywhere in the world indefinitely without trial at Bagram remains a policy defended in court by the Obama administration’s lawyers (49) - (51).

Nor has Obama’s ban on torture ended torture by US or allied Afghan forces in Afghanistan. In fact Obama’s ban, by approving ‘interrogation techniques’ approved in the US army’s field manual, allows the use of sleep deprivation and psychological torture, both of which can lead to life-long mental health problems (52) – (53). The new head of the CIA, Ray Panetta, said the CIA might request Presidential authorisation for “harsher interrogation techniques” and a man kidnapped under “extra-ordinary rendition” under Obama says he was tortured using sleep deprivation, extreme cold and hooding (54) – (55). Prisoners in Afghanistan may also be handed over to Afghan army, police and warlord forces – who definitely have no interest in restrictions on torture methods (56).

Nor is a formal ban any guarantee that US and allied forces are no longer involved in other torture methods. Hooding and sensory deprivation were banned as “interrogation methods” for British forces in 1972 – they were still using them along with severe beatings and sleep deprivation of the kind that killed Baha Mousa in Iraq in 2003. Similarly the use of torture methods approved  by the notorious Gonzalez memos began before they became official policy – leaving the risk that they may continue even now they’re not official policy, just as they did for many thousands of Latin Americans tortured under the guidance of CIA officers in the 1980s.  Jennifer Harbury, whose Guatemalan husband was tortured to death under CIA supervision as part of a US backed “counter insurgency” campaign there, points out that “If CIA and US Special forces have been secretly and illegally practising torture for decades, then a mere electoral change will change nothing at all”. Her book ‘Truth, Torture and the American Way’ cites plenty of evidence that this is exactly what has been happening for decades. This is confirmed by people like former US ambassador Robert White, mentioned earlier (57).

The point Harbury makes holds not just for torture but for all kinds of war crimes – death squads torturing and summarily executing people on suspicion of being or sympathising with “insurgents” or “terrorists”, murders, rapes, massacres. These have been going on for decades in wars led by the US, just as in wars by other countries, no matter what army field manuals, laws and constitutions supposedly prevent.

Apart from how morally wrong “counter-insurgency” campaigns become in practice, the idea that they can succeed in Afghanistan also ignores a difference between insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Latin American revolutionary movements in the 1980s. Al Qaeda are an international ideological movement and have plenty of people trained by the US and Pakistan military and decades of experience of guerrilla warfare. US intelligence reports show 90% of the people they’re fighting in Afghanistan are local tribes who are neither Taliban nor even religious extremists, but just see themselves as resisting another foreign invader, like the Soviet invaders in the 1980s (58). (This should ring alarm bells on what NATO’s real motives for being in Afghanistan are). The 10% of Afghan insurgents who are Taliban are somewhere between an Afghan religious nationalist movement (mostly Pashtuns in culture) and an international ideological movement.

The Latin American Sandinistas in Nicaragua and their counterparts elsewhere were accused of being puppets of the Soviets. They were not. They were national liberation movements. They were national, not international (unlike the contras trained in Honduras by the US for attacks in Nicaragua) – and they had little training and little experience. So even if the Obama administration was gulled by euphemistic language into supporting the “El Salvador option” for “Af-Pak” there is no guarantee it would work.

British generals are fond of citing Burma as an example of success in counter-insurgency through ‘villagisation’, yet this was an exception to the rule. The Communist resistance were almost entirely from an ethnic Chinese minority and so couldn’t get the support of the majority of the population. The fact that they can’t cite any other success just underlines the fact. They may point to Northern Ireland – but the fact is that Diplock courts, torture, summary executions, the ‘El Salvador option’ of collaborating with Unionist terrorists against Republican ones and ‘suspected sympathisers’ and firing into crowds failed there over decades; only when the Blair government decided to open unconditional negotiations was any headway made.

Some will point, much too quickly, to Sri Lanka, where the military simply herded the entire population of Tamil tiger areas ahead of them using artillery barrages, airstrikes and assaults and summarily executed thousands dragged from concentration camps . As in every other situation in which these methods have been used it will just result in another generation of terrorists seeking revenge. The Tamil Tigers may currently be defeated – another generation seeking revenge through new groups is sadly not far off though. The reality of indiscriminate fire on civilians and suspects being dragged away, shot and buried in mass graves has now come out. The fact that journalists and aid workers have been banned from South Waziristan during the Pakistan military offensive, just as they were from the Swat valley, Tamil Sri Lanka, Gaza during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ and Fallujah during the 2004 offensives is likely to indicate something similar is going on now. In all of these cases civilians were indiscriminately fired on or actively targeted (59) – (70).

Maybe, if NATO does go for an ‘El Salvador option’ in Afghanistan they would be able to break the resistance of Afghans and maybe not – but if they do adopt those methods you can forget promoting anyone’s human rights or democracy or ending “brutality”.

McChrystal has made no mention of Phoenix, the El Salvador option or any of the methods involved in his report to Obama and makes many positive suggestions about actually protecting Afghans by having troops patrol villages and leave their armoured vehicles – and providing jobs for insurgents who are willing to go over to the government side for instance. However public statements and reports during the El Salvador and Nicaragua death squad campaigns in the 80s didn't mention the real methods being used, nor have statements on Iraq, so there's no reason to think similar plans would be revealed to the public today.(71)

Maybe McChrystal’s plans for Afghanistan don’t involve this and he really means what he says – or maybe the Obama administration has just returned to the better public relations of the Clinton administration for methods that in reality aren’t much different from the Bush, Reagan or Nixon administrations. Certainly if counter-insurgency in Afghanistan doesn’t keep using ‘El Salvador’ style methods it will be a break from almost the entire history of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism – including McChrystal’s recent history in Iraq. I hope that if McChrystal's plan is carried out it will be completely different.

How likely is that though? ; and even if McChrystal’s plans involve avoiding torture how long will it be before the spread of incidents like that that led to the death of Baha Mousa under torture by British forces in Iraq, which was both the result not only of “standard operating procedure” (which in theory could be changed) but also of troops seeking revenge for one of their unit who was killed by an improvised explosive device set by an Iraqi insurgent – who may well have been seeking revenge for people he knew and cared for who were killed by Coalition forces? (72).

Even Rumsfeld in Iraq ended up wondering if the use of military force wasn’t creating more insurgents than it was killing. There is no reason to expect that to be different in Afghanistan or Pakistan, whatever strategy or plan is made on paper. The Taliban are just as brutal, in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, but our aim is meant to be to provide something better, by decent methods.

The latest news from Afghanistan is that McChrystal's new counter-insurgency strategy involves embedding US Special Forces with local Afghan militias. For some reason McChrystal has made this a purely US operation, with ISAF and NATO having no part in it and being given little information on it. Is this an El Salvador option for Afghanistan like the one Bush inflicted on Iraqis and Obama hasn't seemed to end? Let's hope not.(73)


(1) =  Colin Powell and Joseph E. Persico (2006) ‘My American Journey : an autobiography’ , Ballantine Books, 1996; quoted by Robert Parry & Norman Solomon ‘Behind Colin Powell’,

(2) = Joan Didion (1983)‘Salvador’ Granta Books, London, 2006, pages 15-17

(2a) = New York Times 03 Apr 1998 '4 Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of Military',

(3) = Joan Didion (1983)‘Salvador’ Granta Books, London, 2006, page 18

(4) = Joan Didion (1983)‘Salvador’ Granta Books, London, 2006, page 38

(5) = Guardian 13 Mar 2007 ‘Pessimistic Pentagon studies fallback options in Iraq’,

(6) = New York Times Magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(7) = Guardian 20 May 2005 ‘British lawyers to pursue Iraqi security forces over killings’,

(8)= New York Times Magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(9) = Washington Post 11 Mar 2005 ‘Suicide Bomber Kills 47 in Mosul’ ; ‘Third Mass Grave Found; Police Official Ambushed in Baghdad’,

(10) = Shane Bauer ‘Iraq’s new death squad’ in The Nation 6th June 2009,

(11) = See (10) above

(12) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 – Colombia,,,HRW,ANNUALREPORT,COL,,43cfae9d20,0.html

(13) = New York Times 14 Sep 2009 ‘Pakistan Army Said to Be Linked to Swat Killings’,

(14) = BBC News 27 Jan 2005 ‘'Salvador Option' mooted for Iraq’,

(15) = Times 10 Jan 2005 ‘El Salvador-style 'death squads' to be deployed by US against Iraq militant’,

(16) = Guardian 13 Mar 2007 ‘Pessimistic Pentagon studies fallback options in Iraq’, , ‘Andrew Krepinovich, a respected strategic analyst who advises the Pentagon on Iraq, said yesterday that the El Salvador model was being actively discussed

(17) = Newsweek 11 Jan 2005 ‘Death-Squad Democracy’, By Christopher Dickey,

(18) = Foreign Affairs 05 Apr 2005 ‘Salvador in Iraq: Flash Back’,

(19) = US National Security Archive, George Washington University, ‘Latin America’,

(20) = Joan Didion (1983)‘Salvador’ Granta Books, London, 2006

(21) = Professor Greg Grandin (2007) ‘Empire’s Workshop : Latin America, the United States and the rise of Imperialism’ Holt Paperbacks, New York, 2006

(22) = Jennifer K. Harbury (2005) ‘Truth, Torture and the American Way’, Beacon Press, Boston, 2005

(23) = See (4) above

(24) = Washington Post 25 Mar 2009 ‘Salvadorans Ambushed By Memories in Iraq :U.S. Had Aided Soldiers in Civil War’,

(25) = US Dept. Of Defense - American Forces Press Service 12 Nov 2004 ‘Rumsfeld Honors Vets, Salvadoran Contributions to Terror War’,

(26)= New York Times 19 Jan 1988 ‘In Human Rights Court, Honduras Is First to Face Death Squad Trial’, ... %20&st=cse and (reports that some Honduran military death squad units CIA trained and on death squad murders of civilians)

(27) = Times 10 Jan 2005 ‘El Salvador-style 'death squads' to be deployed by US against Iraq militants’, ... 410491.ece (mentions John Negroponte being US ambassador to Honduras in 1980s, use of death squads by US backed govts in Americas in 1980s, training of Contras in Honduras)

(28) = Schroeder, Michael J. ‘ “To Induce a sense of terror” : Caudillo Politics and Political Violence’ in Campbell, Bruce B. & Brenner, Arthur D.(eds) (2000) ‘Death Squads in Global Perspective : Murder with Deniability’, Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2002, Chapter 2

(29) = Independent 19 Jun 2009 ‘Democracy hangs by a thread in Honduras’,

(29a) =
New York Times 03 Apr 1998 '4 Salvadorans Say They Killed U.S. Nuns on Orders of Military',

(29b) = Washington Post 06 Feb 1996 'Call off the spies',
(preview only unless pay) and (for full version free)

(30) = Sunday Times 04 Oct 2009 ‘PROFILE: Stanley McChrystal’,

(31) = NYT 16 Mar 2006 ‘Task Force 6-26: In Secret Unit's 'Black Room,' a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse’,

(32) = Esquire 21 Sep 2009 ‘Acts of Conscience’,

(33) = See (7)

(34) = See (8)

(35) = Professor Marilyn B. Young (1991), The Vietnam Wars , HarperCollins, New York , 1991 , pages 144-146 , 212-213,265

(36) = Colin Powell ‘My American Journey’, cited by

(37) = Telegraph 04 Jan 2004 ‘CIA plans new secret police to fight Iraq terrorism’,

(38) = See (13)

(39) = Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HCRP) 12 Aug 2009 ‘Serious concerns over mass graves, extrajudicial killings, IDPs’ plight in Swat: HRCP’, and

(40) = Pakistan Human Rights Commission 17 Aug 2009 ‘HRCP demands independent inquiry into extrajudicial killing in Swat’, and

(41) = The International News (Peshawar, Pakistan) 19 Oct 2009 ‘HRCP reports 30 new ‘forced disappearances’ in Balochistan’,

(42) = Amnesty International 25 Feb 2009 ‘Pakistan: Resolve hundreds of Baluch 'disappearances'’,

(43) = Amnesty International 20 Nov 2009 ‘Pakistan: Amnesty International welcomes Supreme Court move to hear disappearances cases’,

(44) = Human Rights Watch June 2007 ‘Off the Record  : U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the “War on Terror”’,

(45) = Human Rights Watch World Report 2009 – Pakistan ,

(46) = Human Rights Watch 07 Mar 2004 ‘"Enduring Freedom" : Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan’,

(47) = NYT 20 May 2005 ‘In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths’,

(48) = Washington Post Wednesday, September 28, 2005; A21,‘ A Matter of Honor’,

(49) = Amnesty International 16 Sep 2009 ‘USA must grant Bagram detainees access to US courts’,

(50) = Amnesty International 16 Sep 2009 ‘USA: Government opposes habeas corpus review for any Bagram detainees; reveals ‘enhanced’ administrative review procedures’,

(51) = Spiegel (Germany) 21 Sep 2009 ‘Human Rights Lawyer on Bagram Prison

'The Obama Administration Has Completely Failed',,1518,650324,00.html

(52) = CounterPunch 07 May 2009 ‘Mixed Messages on Torture’,

(53) = John McGuffin (1974) ‘The Guinea Pigs’ (a book on the torture of suspected Republicans in Northern Ireland in the 1970s by the British military using beating, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation - many were mentally ill for the rest of their lives as a result)

(54) = Panetta Open to Tougher Methods in Some C.I.A. Interrogation,

(55) = Huffington Post 11 Aug 2009 ‘Target Of Obama-Era Rendition Alleges Torture’,

(56) = National Post (Canada) 18 Nov 2009 ‘Canadians handed over Afghan prisoners to be tortured: diplomat’,

(57) = Jennifer K. Harbury (2005) ‘Truth, Torture and the American Way’, Beacon Press, Boston, 2005, especially page 26 ; also see (53) above and Panorama programme transcript BBC One 13 Mar 2007 - ‘A Good Kicking ' -

(58) = Boston Globe 09 Oct 2009 ‘Taliban not main Afghan enemy : Few militants driven by religion, reports say’/ ‘Most insurgents in Afghanistan not religiously motivated, military reports say’,

(59) = Bloomberg 19 Oct 2009 ‘Pakistan Army Targets Hometown of Taliban Suicide-Bomb Trainer’,

(60) = Amnesty International 29 May 2009 Sri Lanka: UN must publicize civilian casualty figures’,

(61) = ITN 29 May 2009 ‘Sri Lanka denies 20,000 deaths claim’,

(62) = Amnesty International 14 Aug 2009 ‘Sri Lanka: attacks on free media put displaced civilians at risk’,

(63) = Channel 4 News 26 Aug 2009 ‘Sri Lanka calls 'war crimes' video a fake’,

(64) = Channel 4 News 11 Sep 2009 ‘Sri Lanka steps up death video rebuttal’,

(65) = Jerusalem Post 18 Jan 2009 ‘Pool of 8 foreign journalists allowed into Gaza’, (only 8 foreign journalists allowed into Gaza – and only towards the end of the Israeli ‘Operation Cast Lead’ offensive)

(66) = Amnesty International 15 Sep 2009 ‘Israel-Gaza: Implementation of UN Fact finding mission recommendations crucial for justice’, (includes key points of Goldstone report on Israeli and Hamas war crimes in Gaza including Israeli military targeting of civilians, torture of civilians and use of civilians as human shields)

(67) = 09 Nov 2004 ‘Western journalists quit Falluja’,

(68) = Guardian 17 Apr 2004 ‘'Getting aid past US snipers is impossible',

(69) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Falluja siege’,

(70) = Iraq Body Count 26 Oct 2004 ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’,

(71) = COMISAF’s Initial Assessment – Lt. General William McChrystal 30 Aug 2009, ,

e.g  Pages 20-21  or sections/paras 2-12 to 2-13 “ISAF cannot succeed if it is not willing to share the risk, at least equally, with the people. In fact, once the risk is shared, effective force protection will come from the people.

Pages 21 or section 2 paragraph 13 “Insurgencies of this nature typically conclude through...some degree of host-nation reconciliation with elements of the insurgency...reconciliation may involve GiroA[Afghan government] –led high-level political settlements.

reintegration is...different from reconciliation...As coalition operations proceed insurgents will have three choices : fight, flee or reintegrate. [To get] “mid to low-level insurgent fighters into normal offer incentives...possibly including the provision of employment and protection

(72) = Independent 17 Nov 2009 'We did it to avenge our fallen comrades : Former Army corporal breaks ranks in evidence to Baha Mousa inquiry',

(73) = Guardian 22 Nov 2009 'US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan',

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