Hidden News: The Return of the Death Squads

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The elevators
in the New York Hilton played CNN on a small screen you could not
avoid watching. Iraq was top of the news; pronouncements about a
"civil war" and "sectarian violence" were repeated
incessantly. It was as if the US invasion had never happened and
the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Americans was
a surreal fiction. The Iraqis were mindless Arabs, haunted by religion,
ethnic strife and the need to blow themselves up. Unctuous puppet
politicians were paraded with no hint that their exercise yard was
inside an American fortress.

And when you
left the lift, this followed you to your room, to the hotel gym,
the airport, the next airport and the next country. Such is the
power of America’s corporate propaganda, which, as Edward Said pointed
out in Culture
and Imperialism
, "penetrates electronically" with
its equivalent of a party line.

The party line
changed the other day. For almost three years it was that al-Qaeda
was the driving force behind the "insurgency," led by
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a bloodthirsty Jordanian who was clearly being
groomed for the kind of infamy Saddam Hussein enjoys. It mattered
not that al-Zarqawi had never been seen alive and that only a fraction
of the "insurgents" followed al-Qaeda. For the Americans,
Zarqawi’s role was to distract attention from the thing that almost
all Iraqis oppose: the brutal Anglo-American occupation of their

Now that al-Zarqawi
has been replaced by "sectarian violence" and "civil
war," the big news is the attacks by Sunnis on Shia mosques
and bazaars. The real news, which is not reported in the CNN "mainstream,"
is that the Salvador Option has been invoked in Iraq. This is the
campaign of terror by death squads armed and trained by the US,
which attack Sunnis and Shias alike. The goal is the incitement
of a real civil war and the breakup of Iraq, the original war aim
of Bush’s administration.

The ministry
of the interior in Baghdad, which is run by the CIA, directs the
principal death squads. Their members are not exclusively Shia,
as the myth goes. The most brutal are the Sunni-led Special Police
Commandos, headed by former senior officers in Saddam’s Ba’ath Party.
This was formed and trained by CIA "counterinsurgency"
experts, including veterans of the CIA’s terror operations in central
America in the 1980s, notably El Salvador. In his new book, Empire’s
(Metropolitan Books), the American historian Greg
Grandin describes the Salvador Option thus: "Once in office,
[President] Reagan came down hard on central America, in effect
letting his administration’s most committed militarists set and
execute policy. In El Salvador, they provided more than a million
dollars a day to fund a lethal counterinsurgency campaign . . .
All told, US allies in central America during Reagan’s two terms
killed over 300,000 people, tortured hundreds of thousands and drove
millions into exile."

Although the
Reagan administration spawned the current Bushites, or "neo-cons,"
the pattern was set earlier. In Vietnam, death squads trained, armed
and directed by the CIA murdered up to 50,000 people in Operation
Phoenix. In the mid-1960s, in Indonesia, CIA officers compiled "death
lists" for General Suharto’s killing spree during his seizure
of power. After the 2003 invasion, it was only a matter of time
before this venerable "policy" was applied in Iraq.

According to
the investigative writer Max Fuller (National Review Online), the
key CIA manager of the interior ministry death squads "cut
his teeth in Vietnam before moving on to direct the US military
mission in El Salvador." Professor Grandin names another central
America veteran whose job now is to "train a ruthless counterinsurgent
force made up of ex-Ba’athist thugs." Another, says Fuller,
is well-known for his "production of death lists." A secret
militia run by the Americans is the Facilities Protection Service,
which has been responsible for bombings. "The British and US
Special Forces," concludes Fuller, "in conjunction with
the [US-created] intelligence services at the Iraqi defense ministry,
are fabricating insurgent bombings of Shias."

On 16 March,
Reuters reported the arrest of an American "security contractor,"
who was found with weapons and explosives in his car. Last year,
two Britons disguised as Arabs were caught with a car full of weapons
and explosives; British forces bulldozed the Basra prison to rescue
them. The Boston Globe recently reported: "The FBI’s counter-terrorism
unit has launched a broad investigation of US-based theft rings
after discovering that some of the vehicles used in deadly car bombings
in Iraq, including attacks that killed US troops and Iraqi civilians,
were probably stolen in the United States, according to senior government

As I say, all
this has been tried before — just as the preparation of the American
public for an atrocious attack on Iran is similar to the WMD fabrications
in Iraq. If that attack comes, there will be no warning, no declaration
of war, no truth. Imprisoned in the Hilton elevator, staring at
CNN, my fellow passengers could be excused for not making sense
of the Middle East, or Latin America, or anywhere. They are isolated.
Nothing is explained. Congress is silent. The Democrats are moribund.
And the freest media on earth insult the public every day. As Voltaire
put it: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make
you commit atrocities."

5, 2006

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2006

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