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Newsweek reports that the US government is debating the "Salvador option" in Iraq: creating death squads in the style of El Salvador and other US client states in Latin America. This would be a logical development. The occupation is failing ever more rapidly, and at this point it seems unlikely that conventional military force can defeat the Iraqi resistance. The great foreign policy successes of the US have not been in colonial war as in Vietnam, but in neo-colonial state terror as in Latin America. Death squads, paramilitary units formed from the local population, are an ideal tool for state terrorism as they can target the entire population much more effectively than conventional military forces. In El Salvador in the 1980s, the death squads were a great success, managing to terrorise the people into submission and the business climate favourable to US corporations, by killing something like 75 000 people. Newsweek, like other US corporate media, presents the death squads (in defiance of all evidence) as targeting guerrillas, though the very reason for their use is to target the non-combatant population. That they would be deployed for such state terrorism in Iraq is clear even from the Newsweek report: [M]ost Iraqi people do not actively support the insurgents or provide them with material or logistical help, but at the same time they won't turn them in. One military source involved in the Pentagon debate agrees that this is the crux of the problem, and he suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. "The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists," he said. "From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation." To give some idea of what sort of "costs" would be raised to "change the equation", recall that in Latin America, the death squads killed 75 000 in El Salvador alone, committed multiple genocides, tortured tens of thousands. But this is so abstract. To make a little more concrete what the "Saldavor option" involves, let's turn to Rev. Santiago's account (quoted by Noam Chomsky ): He tells of a peasant woman who returned home one day to find her three children, her mother and her sister sitting around a table, each with its own decapitated head placed carefully on the table in front of the body, the hands arranged on top "as if each body was stroking its own head". The assassins, from the Salvadoran National Guard, had found it hard to keep the head of an 18-month-old baby in place, so they nailed the hands onto it. A large plastic bowl filled with blood was tastefully displayed in the center of the table. [...] "People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador - they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch." Just as it's misleading to concentrate on the low-level perpetrators of policies of torture and murder at the expense of those at the top, it's misleading to concentrate on the specific persons at the top at the expense of the institutions involved and their long-standing policies. The horrors the US government has brought to Iraq and those it is preparing to unleash are not new, and not specific to the Bush regime. Since John F. Kennedy, US has been the major exporter of torture, terrorism and genocide. Indeed, such paramilitary operations were first called in the US Special Forces manuals simply "terror operations", then glossed to "counterterror" and now to "counterinsurgency". All these things about death squads are true, tried and quintessentially American. However, I think there is a new moral low involved: the merits of death squads and "mistakes" in their use are now discussed calmly and openly in the US mainstream media (under the apologetic pretense that death squads do not intentionally target civilians, but discussed nonetheless). During the 1980s, the corporate media simply kept the US population in ignorance that their government was controlling death squads.
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