Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Salvadoran Option Update

Matthew Rothschild, January 2005:

When all the other rationales for this crazy war in Iraq had evaporated, when it had become clear that Saddam didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was not working with Osama bin Laden, the Bush Administration seized upon the justification that it was installing democracy in Iraq.

But nothing could be further from installing democracy than installing death squads. And that’s what Rumsfeld is planning over at the Pentagon, according to Newsweek.

It’s called the Salvador option, named after the brutal repression that the U.S. government oversaw in that country in the 1980s, when the CIA financed, trained, and armed death squads that killed and tortured tens of thousands of people.

This should not come as a total surprise, as Cheney and Rumsfeld in the last several months have both held up El Salvador in the 1980s as a model for Iraq today. But it is astonishing to see government officials speaking openly about the desirability of death squads. (Also noteworthy is the confession, in the Newsweek story, that supporting death squads was part of a “still-secret strategy in the Reagan Administration’s battle against the leftist guerilla insurgency.”)

According to Newsweek, “one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support, and possibly train Iraqi squads . . . to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” By going into Syria, the Pentagon would be regionalizing this war—shades of the Cambodia raids during the Vietnam War.

Democracy Now, Nov 30 2005:

ARUN GUPTA: What you're seeing is, I think, really the fruition of U.S. strategy in Iraq. The Pentagon has spent over $10 billion to try to stand up Iraqi military forces, and it's been a complete disaster. So what they're trying to do is they’re turning to death squads to fight the insurgency. The Iraqi forces, the military forces, the army, they really don't stand and fight; and even when they do, they depend on tremendous U.S. logistical support to carry out any operation. So, they really can't operate on their own.

But there are these militias that Donald Rumsfeld was talking about; but, of course, what he doesn’t want to talk about is that the U.S. set up these militias. They funded them. They armed them. They trained them. And a lot of this came out in the Pentagon's own reports, Pentagon’s generals talking about how great they were over a year ago, how they really took the fight to the resistance. And so, what's been going on is that the U.S. has set these up.

And there's been a certain conflict. In April, when the Shiite government took control, they started firing a lot of the commanders who were basically ex-Baathists, and they started bringing in their own guys, especially from the Badr Brigade. And a lot of these are concentrated in what's known as special police commandos, and they have all sorts of various brigades, one called the Wolf Brigade, the Scorpion Brigade, the Lion Brigade, another called the Fearless Warriors. And they sound like death squads. And they are death squads. They go around with masks. They're conducting these raids, especially throughout Baghdad.

And the U.S. is saying, ‘Well, you know, who knows who's doing this?’ But when twenty vehicles pull up with a hundred troops in them, and reporters are recounting -- the New York Times article also recounts this -- they're showing up with sophisticated communications equipment. They're showing up with these expensive Glocks, nine-millimeter Glocks that were supplied by the U.S. government. They have the insignia, the uniforms of the special police commandos. And these -- In Baghdad there's a very strict curfew that’s in place every single night. Yet how can these large convoys of vehicles be going around?

And so, they conduct these roundups, and in many areas it's largely Sunni Arab males. And then they're disappeared. They're taking them to this network of secret prisons. One of the things that’s come out is that there's this absolutely vast network of prisons throughout Iraq. In a nation of 27 million, the Iraqi government has 1,100 prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: Outside the U.S. prisons?

ARUN GUPTA: And this is – Yes, this is in addition to the U.S. prisons. Officially, the Iraqi government says they only have about 12-13,000 detainees. But that really strains credibility. That's only 11 prisoners per facility, whereas the -- what really set this all off was the uncovering of a secret detention center within an interior ministry building where they found approximately 170 men. Another Iraqi male spoke extensively to Reuters where he was kept in a building with 800 men. The BBC just published a report and photographs of another prison that they were allowed to enter, which showed a room so crowded that the prisoners could barely sit down. So nobody knows even really how many prisoners are being held by the Iraqi government.

And what's been happening is that they're being -- you're finding all these men being seized, primarily it looks like Sunni Arab males who are though to form the core of the armed resistance, and then bodies are turning up weeks, months later, often two or three governances away. So they’re seized in Baghdad, for instance, and then these 20-30 bodies will turn up on the Iranian border. And that part of the area is completely controlled by Shiite militias. The Sunni resistance has very little presence down there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you mentioned these death squads, you mentioned the Badr Brigades. Now, Moqtada al-Sadr has been an opponent of the U.S. occupation --


JUAN GONZALEZ: And he’s been hunted at several times by U.S. forces. Are you saying that there’s at the same time ongoing cooperation by some of his people with --?

ARUN GUPTA: Well, the Badr Brigade is linked to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq which is based in -- which was based in Iran. Al-Sadr's forces are distinct: the Mahdi Army. And in the words of one high-ranking U.S. official who spoke to the L.A. Times, he said that the Badr Brigade has special commandos and the Mahdi Army has the police at Baghdad. And he said, quote: “Everybody's got their own death squads.” Now, this is a high-ranking U.S. military official, and this is admitted by also Iraqi officials.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute to go, Arun. But the issue of U.S. military advisors to these death squads?

ARUN GUPTA: Yes. There are two advisors, in particular. One is named Steve Castillo. He was a high-ranking intelligence officer with the Drug Enforcement Agency throughout Latin America, and he was actually in charge of the interior ministry until the handover of sovereignty on June 20, 2004. And the other is Jim Steele who was in charge of Special Forces, a team of 55 Special Forces in El Salvador during that brutal counter-insurgency war, where they trained El Salvadoran forces and oversaw a very brutal counterinsurgency war, where tens of thousands were killed by death squads. And both of these are operating in the interior ministry. So the idea that this is going on without U.S. knowledge, it's really -- it's just -- it's plausible deniability is what they’re trying to do.

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