Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Are You Threatening Me?

Three years ago, the US government warned that Iraq was an imminent and serious threat to the security of the Middle East and the wider world. For many people this was not entirely unexpected, the history of US foreign policy is littered with such warnings. In 1961, for example, JFK attempted to construct a "coalition of the willing" to deal with the threat posed by Cuba, prompting the Mexican Ambassador to warn that "if we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing" (cited by Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Ch 4). To this day, US policy with regard to Cuba is hard for an outsider to understand.

US policy towards Nicaragua during the 1980's is another example, and this one really has it all.
If there is one situation which perfectly illustrates the phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter", Reagan's attitude towards Nicagargua is it. Here's Noam Chomsky on that subject. I was going to lift a quote from that article but I'd recommend reading it all.

The US government supported the various insurgent groups known as the contras, who were seeking to over throw the leftist regime in the country. It was portrayed as a battle agaist the Soviet menace, part of the Cold War. In reality, the Sandinistas, while certainly no angels, were making a decent job of running the country, and weren't particulary interested in forming an alliance with the Soviets.

According to the Reagan administration, the Sandinistas posed a serious threat to the US national interest and had to be stopped at all costs. And so, the US govt. supplied weapons and training to the contras. After all, the contras were freedom fighters struggling to free the people from their evil oppressors. That's not quite the view taken by the State Department in 1982 though:
In 1982, under pressure from Congress, the U.S. State Department declared Contra activities terrorism. The Congressional intelligence committee confirmed reports of Contra atrocities such as rape, torture, summary executions, and indiscriminate killings.
That seems a reasonable assessment. The listed offences would surely qualify under any definition of terrorism which comes close to the mark. But the Reagan administration was unconvinced.
After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channelling the proceeds to the Contras (The Iran-Contra affair.)
The Iran-Contra affair: the secret arrangement through which the US government sold weapons to an Islamic fundamentalist government in order to fund the activities of violent terrorists (according to Congress) or courageous freedom fighters (according to the administration). And the administration remained convinced that the contras were freedom fighters even after the elections in 1984 confirmed that the Sandinista government had a mandate from the people.

The result of all this was that the economy of Nicaragua was basically destroyed. It was destroyed by freedom fighters, freedom fighters who raped, tortured, and killed indiscriminately, but, and this is important, who operated with the support of the US government. The contras could not possible be terrorists in the eyes of the Reagan administration, however horrendous their crimes. The contras were on "our side". By definition, they were not terrorists.

BTW, while I was searching the interwebs I found a CIA Manual written for the contras. Click Permalink if you'd like to see what sort of advice the CIA handed out.

This is on the CNN website so I'm assuming it's been verified as authentic. I'll just pick out a few quotations.

CIA Manual: Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare

Honest Recruitment

Established citizens -- doctors, lawyers, businessmen, teachers, etc., -- will be recruited initially as "Social Crusaders" in typically "innocuous" movements in the area of operations. When their "involvement" with the clandestine organization is revealed to them, this supplies the psychological pressure to use them as "inside cadres" in groups to which they already belong or of which they can be members.
Lie then blackmail, very democratic.

Demonstrating Popular Support
Through a small group of guerrillas infiltrated within the masses this can be carried out; they will have the mission of agitating by giving the impression that there are many of them and that they have a large popular backing. Using the tactics of a force of 200-300 agitators, a demonstration can be created in which 10,000-20,000 persons take part.
"Agitate", (whatever that means) then lie. Nice.

What to do if you "accidentally" shoot someone
If, for example, it should be necessary for one of the advanced posts to have to fire on a citizen who was trying to leave the town or city in which the guerrillas are carrying out armed propaganda or political proselytism, the following is recommended:
Explain that if that citizen had managed to escape, he would have alerted the enemy that is near the town or city, and they would carry out acts of reprisal such as rapes, pillage, destruction, captures, etc., in this way terrorizing the inhabitants of the place for having given attention and hospitalities to the guerrillas of the town....
Attribute your crimes to your enemy. Clever. The CIA have quite a few more pieces of advise about what the contras should do if they "accidentally" shoot someone. It's almost as if they expected it to happen often.

Shoot Important People

It is possible to neutralize carefully selected and planned targets, such as court judges, mesta judges, police and State Security officials, CDS chiefs, etc.
Shoot non-combatants. Very sporting. To be fair, the CIA does warn that the contras should really only do this if they can be sure of installing a suitable puppet or insurgent sympathiser to replace the "neutralised" official. So that's alright then.

If you read the linked document, why not replace the word "guerilla" with the word "terrorist" as you read, just as a wee thought experiment. Hands up anyone who'd be surprised if this document isn't very, very similar to some of those infamous Al-Qaida training manuals we keep hearing about?
[Fade to flashback...]
Here you are Mr Fundamentalist, here's a handy manual to help you fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Remember, you'll have to give it back once you've finished with it.... OK, thanks, well done, now give us the book back. What? What do you mean, you're not gonna? That's not fair...

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