Thursday, 6 October 2011


On 15 March 2011, Gen. David Petraeus  had a difficult time explaining to a skeptical congress why the US war in Afghanistan merits more support; a plea reminiscent of generals during the Vietnam War that the US also lost. According to the latest public opinion poll, two-third of the American people oppose the war, and most of them are hardly aware that this is a war carried out by death squads.

On 27 January 2011, CIA contractor Raymond Davis murdered two Pakistanis in Lahore. Davis insists it was in self-defense, but the Pakistani courts see it as murder. The US immediately claimed diplomatic immunity for the assassin. The Lahore High Court has ruled that the case must go to trial in Pakistan. If convicted by a criminal court, Davis could be executed, something that would only cause greater tension in already strained US and Pakistan relations. To secure Davis' release, the US paid $2.34 million to 19 relatives of the assassinated men, as long as the relative would not raise objections 'if the court acquitted ' Davis.

Many Pakistanis are well aware that the US has employed contractors who engage in 'death squad' operations as much in Pakistan as in Afghanistan in the past ten years. According to Wikileaks, in June 2007, the US Special Forces created Task Force 373 to carry out what would be 'war crimes' under the Geneva Convention; that is, death squad killings of about 2000 Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives. In March 2010, five US soldiers went on trial for assassinations and dismemberment of innocent Afghan villagers randomly hit.
 What is a "Death Squad" and how has it been used as part of  US 'counterinsurgency' operations? Although the term was first used during the Battle of Algiers in the late 1950s during the indigenous revolt against the French colonists, the history of death squads goes back to the Western colonial era when European and US soldiers were using natives for target shooting. Intended to avoid accountability and linked with an agency like intelligence or defense, "Death Squad" includes paramilitary, police, or special contractor operation intended to covertly kidnap, torture, and/or assassinate outside the legal perimeters of 'war declaration' by one nation against another sovereign nation.

Death squad targets are usually political figures, trade unionists, social dissidents or rebels, but they also involve innocent civilians either intentionally as part of a terror campaign or as 'collateral damage'. Because death squads commit war crimes, they are highly controversial politically, although used by a number of Third World dictatorships as well as the US.

The history of US counterinsurgency operations started during the Spanish-American War and continues to this day in a number of countries, most notoriously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. Philippines was the first testing ground for open combat counterinsurgency operations that the marines carried out when the native population resisted US military intervention during the Spanish-American War of 1898, a war that place the Philippines under US colonial control and resulted in many casualties from 1899 until 1902.

Counterinsurgency operations were tested successfully in Greece during the Civil War of 1946-1949 that coincided with the Chinese revolution. In both cases the US intervened but only succeeded in Greece where it tested counterinsurgency tactics that were applied in other parts of the world during the Cold War, including Indochina where an estimated 26,000 civilians were killed by death squads.

The most infamous death squads that the CIA organized, with the aid of the Argentinian dictatorship, were the contras in the aftermath of the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979. Although the Reagan administration defended the contra assassins as freedom fighters motivated by patriotism and ideals of freedom and democracy, history has shown that they were paid assassins motivated by money they received to destabilize the duly-elected Sadinista regime. Death squads also operated in El Salvador and Guatemala were the US backed dictatorships that represented a tiny minority of oligarchs against the vast majority of peasants, workers, and a small middle class that demanded observance of human rights and social justice.

US foreign policy by death squad in Afghanistan has its origin in the 1970s when the CIA backed Islamic rebels against the pro-Soviet regime. Once the Soviet regime collapsed with US support, the CIA organized anti-Taliban elements in the 1990s. The Bagram Air Force Base near the capital Kabul was the base of counterinsurgency operations and death squad organizing activity. When the media exposed death squad activity in Iraq in 2005 in connection with Abu Ghraib prison, it was revealed that orders were to assassinate 'all suspects' of US occupation; a policy in effect both in Iraq and Afghanistan and modeled after the death squads of Central America in the 1980s.

In addition to assassins carrying out work in the field, the CIA also uses the DRONE, an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by remote control that selects targets and takes them out. This is the high-tech version of old-fashioned death squads. But given the ten-year history of death squad diplomacy, what has the US gained from the war in Afghanistan and why has it decided to withdraw within the next three years? Who has profited?  Coca Cola providing water to the troops at a reasonable $10 per bottle, Deloitte Consulting whose contract was suspended because it has failed to identify corruption costing $900 million in losses to Afghanistan's central bank, and of course all suppliers from weapons companies to outfitter companies and mercenaries killing Afghan people in order to save the country.

The irony of US 'Death Squad diplomacy' is that it was carried out in the name of freedom and democracy, supposedly intended to 'liberate' the people, while killing many of them in the process. In reality, death squad diplomacy has been carried out as a desperate measure owing to the failure of conventional warfare in the face of native resistance against foreign military intervention. The question remains about US accountability for crimes against humanity.

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