There is …no human right, natural or Constitutional, that we have not seen nullified by the United States Government.
Of all the crimes that are committed for gain or revenge, there is not one that we have not seen it commit — murder, mayhem, arson, robbery, fraud, criminal collusion and connivance.
~ Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, the State
“If you ever f**k with me, you know who we are,” arms dealer Nicholas Bickle told an associate during a drive in the Nevada desert. “We’re the government, we’ll catch you.”
Prior to his arrest in October, Bickle was a Navy SEAL who allegedly ran a small arms smuggling ring, importing at least 80 AK-47s from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the machine guns — which were manufactured in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Iraq — were embossed with the letter “j,” an abbreviation of the Arabic word “jaesh,” which refers to the military. The ATF has charged Bickle and two of his colleagues — Andrew Kaufman, Jr. and Richard Paul — with violations of federal firearms registration laws.
Apparently, selling firearms without government permission is a far more serious offense than murdering people abroad on the government’s orders.
“There’s still Iraqi sand in this sh*t,” Paul boasted to a supposed buyer who was actually a federal informant. The task of importing the untraceable weapons was simplified by the fact that SEALs don’t have to submit their personal effects for inspection when they fly into the country. In addition to the machine guns, Bickle’s little group also sold American-made, military-issue handguns. A search of Paul’s home in Colorado turned up night-vision goggles and a small stash of C-4. At least some of the weaponry was reportedly destined for Mexico.
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Bickle’s little business was busted in familiar fashion: One of his customers was a “Cooperating Informant” on the ATF’s payroll. A fourth member of Bickle’s organization, a convicted drug trafficker facing charges of domestic violence and robbery in Nevada and referred to as “Co-Conspirator A” in the indictment, also cooperated with the ATF.
The whole affair seems like the plot of a bad episode of NCIS (as if there were any other kind). The showbiz vibe is enhanced by the odd but somehow appropriate fact that Bickle conducted some of his sales meetings by cell phone while in Chicago working on the set of Transformers III (alas, Bickle’s arrest won’t prevent Michael Bay’s impending cinematic atrocity).
As is so often the case with the disposable diversions peddled by Hollywood, the most interesting aspects of this melodrama — the backstory, as it were — is being left on the cutting-room floor. It’s entirely possible that the smuggled weapons could have eventually found their way into the hands of criminal gangs here or in Mexico. But there’s a much stronger possibility that they’ve already been used by U.S.-created death squads overseas.
Five years ago, as resistance to the U.S. occupation coalesced within Iraq, the Bush Junta began discussing what it blatantly called the “El Salvador Option”: The creation of U.S.-equipped sectarian death squads that would do the filthy work of beating down Sunni insurgents.
To that end, Special Forces teams — acting under the orders of the Sainted General David Petraeus — trained and equipped Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shi’ite guerrillas, and unleashed them to slaughter, torture, and terrorize Sunni villages and neighborhoods. The most notorious of those death squads, the “Wolf Brigade,” acquired such a fearsome reputation that American interrogators were able to break recalcitrant prisoners with the mere suggestion that they would be delivered into the hands of the Iraqi unit.
Organized in October 2004, the Wolf Brigade was commanded by a Shia general known by the nom de guerre Abu Walled. The unit was filled with vengeful Shias recruited from the slums of Sadr City. Like the Badr Corps, the Wolf Brigade was aligned with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose leader, the Ayatollah Muhammad Bark al-Hakim, returned from Iranian exile in May 2003.
Elements of the 2,000-man Wolf Brigade were frequently seen patrolling alongside U.S. troops in Baghdad and Mosul, where they were given free rein to kill anyone who “needed killing.”
“We were at home [the night of June 25, 2005],” recalls Omar Salem Shehab, a resident of Baghdad’s Dora enclave whose home was visited by the Wolf Brigade. “We were three brothers sleeping above my ice-cream shop. We were woken by soldiers entering our house by force. They came with Americans. They said we were wanted and produced a document. The Americans took our pictures, then the soldiers we now knew were the Wolf Brigade took us to the Seventh Division camp [of the Iraqi army].”
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After a day in the custody of the Iraqi army, the brothers were transferred to Baghdad’s main prison, where they endured a month of relentless torture.
“We were never investigated, just tortured,” Shehab recalls. After one of his brothers died — the official cause of death was “kidney failure,” rather than the unremitting abuse attested by the wounds mottling his body — Omar and another brother were released.
Muataz Salah Ahmed, who worked as a hotel manager in Mosul, had a similar experience in January 2005. Armed men dressed in red berets and balaclavas burst into the building and “arrested us all,” Ahmed recounts. “There was an Iranian officer, his name was Ali. Many other officers with him were proud to tell us they were not police, but Wolf Brigade. One officer threatened to rape my wife. He tore at her dress and four of my colleagues were killed in front of my eyes. They drilled holes in my legs and arms and did all many of things to me.”
These are just two of the thousands of incidents of summary arrest, torture, and murder covered up by U.S. military officials under “Frago 242,” a directive issued in June 2004. As the Guardian of London summarizes:
“A frago is a ‘fragmentary order’ which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, ‘only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ.'”
Thus were U.S.-equipped death squads such as the Wolf Brigade granted a plenary indulgence to do whatever they wanted to whomever they chose. It’s entirely possible that some of the weaponry smuggled into the United States by Nicholas Bickle had passed through the hands of Iraq mercenaries who carried out missions of that kind as the “El Salvador Option” was put into play.
The “El Salvador Option” was an exercise in ethnic cleansing-by-proxy, with U.S.-organized death squads clearing territory that was then occupied, in relative safety, by American forces who consolidated the “peace” by buying off a handful of influential Sunni leaders. This was the formula behind the much-extolled “surge” in Iraq.
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Petraeus and his comrades in the CIA are now applying a variation of El Salvador Option to Afghanistan. Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward’s most recent exercise in Pentagon stenography, reveals that the CIA has assembled a 3,000-man death squad based in Pakistan that is carrying out assassinations of suspected Taliban and guerrilla leaders in Afghanistan. Veteran war correspondent Eric Margolis, who has reported extensively from the region, describes that force as being composed of “Afghan Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara — all traditional enemies of the majority Pashtun — as well as renegades, common criminals, and mercenaries.”
While there certainly are continuities between the “El Salvador Option” (whether applied in Latin America or the Near East) and the CIA’s “Phoenix Program” in Vietnam, an even better parallel might be to the strategy Stalin employed in his conquest of Poland at the end of World War II: Stalin employed a “hired razor” — the German Wehrmacht — to cut down potential resistance.
“When the Red Army fought to within a few miles of Warsaw … the Soviets encouraged the Home Army in Warsaw to rise up against the Nazis, promising aid and implying that Soviet troops would then move to Warsaw,” recalls R.J. Rummel in his study Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917.
Stalin’s blandishments drew the Home Army into the open, where they were slaughtered by the Nazis while the Red Army prevented allied forces from coming to the aid of the Poles. “By a feat of masterly inactivity Stalin had allowed Hitler to perform the task of liquidating over 150,000 independent-minded Poles who he might otherwise have had to liquidate himself,” comments biographer Ronald Hingley. This removed all potential opposition to the “Lublin Gang,” an assortment of criminals, deviants, and Quislings that had been assembled by the Soviets and who were immediately recognized by Stalin as the “legitimate” government of Poland.
Washington has installed “Lublin Gang”-style regimes in both Baghdad and Kabul, and its approach to “reconciliation” in Afghanistan savors strongly of Stalin’s strategy in Poland.
“The US strategy seems to be to force the Taliban to the table through a fierce killing campaign,” observes Jeremy Scahill of The Nation in a detailed and infuriating on-scene report. “According to the US military, over a ninety-day period this past summer, US and coalition Special Operations Forces killed or captured more than 2,900 ‘insurgents,’ with an estimated dozen killed a day.”
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According to official accounts, between July 4, when Gen. David Petraeus assumed command in Kabul, and early October, “US and Afghan Special Operations Forces killed more than 300 Taliban commanders and more than 900 foot soldiers in 1,500 raids,” Scahill observes.
While US Special Operations groups and their allies in local death squads are doing plenty of killing, most of it involves non-combatants or even Taliban leaders who have accepted official invitations to lay down their arms and negotiate. To illustrate, Scahill refers to the January 14 killing of Mullah Sahib Jan, a Taliban leader from Logar province.
On March 26, 2009, Jan “walked into the [Afghan government’s] reconciliation office [and] publicly announced that he and his Taliban colleagues had agreed to work with the government on a peace process,” Scahill continues. The Taliban cleric’s sole condition was that the Afghan government obtain assurances from U.S. and NATO military leaders that the murderous night raids would end. “If the killing and arrests of people were not stopped … we would withdraw our support to the government and the foreign forces,” Jan promised.
Jan abandoned his calling as a Mullah, joining the official reconciliation effort as an emissary to regions loyal to the Taliban. According to Mohamed Anwar, director of the reconciliation commission for Logar Province, Mullah Jan “was preaching to the Taliban, encouraging them to come to the government, telling the fighters there were a lot of benefits to laying down their arms.”
Jan was eager to bring an end to the war, but his strong independent streak apparently earned the fatal disapproval of occupation authorities. Accordingly, a Special Forces unit was sent to raid Jan’s home at about 1:30 in the morning last January 14.
“They broke down the doors of our house,” Jan’s 18-year-old son Haider told Scahill. “My father was in one room, and we were in another. We don’t know exactly when the US soldiers entered our house, we just know they took our father and killed him. They killed our father outside our house, a short ways away. We don’t know if they killed him from a helicopter or if commandos killed him.”
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One group of Washington’s heroic missionaries of global democracy made themselves busy murdering Sahib Jan. Others passed the time by terrorizing his sons and brutalizing his wife and daughters. Haider and his siblings were bound and abused for several hours. Finally, at about 6:00 a.m., an Afghan translator appeared with a photograph of Jan and announced to his sons: “This is the man we killed.”
U.S. military officials insisted that there was “no record” of the raid on Jan’s home, despite the fact that Scahill (who worked as an un-“embedded” correspondent) had no difficulty finding eyewitnesses. One of them, a man named Azmuddin who worked at a gas station next to the Jan residence, was seized by Special Forces operators and imprisoned at the Tor Prison (a classified “black site”) before being transferred to Bagram prison for four months.
It isn’t surprising to learn that most Afghans believe the Karzai government “exists only for facilitating the corruption of powerful warlords, drug dealers and war criminals,” as Scahill observes. Nor should we be surprised to learn — as we almost certainly will — that some of those given the task of arming and equipping Washington’s death squads abroad have gone into business for themselves.
As Albert J. Nock pointed out, those in charge of the State aren’t opposed to corruption; they simply seek to monopolize it. Thus the agents of official corruption focus on the unauthorized crimes of a Nicholas Bickle — or the soldiers accused of unsanctioned “thrill killings” in Afghanistan — with the same conspicuous sanctimony displayed by Shakespeare’s Henry V as he ordered that Bardolph be hanged for looting a church during the English invasion of France.
That was the same Henry, of course, who engaged in undisguised state terrorism to compel the village of Harfleur to surrender. As depicted by Shakespeare, Henry entreated Harfleur’s governor to exploit the invading English king’s mercy “whiles yet my soldiers are in my command”; otherwise, “the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart, in liberty of bloody hand shall rage,” and the English army would be permitted to rampage as an undisguised death squad:
“… in a moment, look to see the blind and bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; your fathers taken by the silver beards, and their most reverend head dash’d to the walls; your naked infants spitted upon pikes, whiles the mad mothers, with their howls confused, do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry at Herod’s bloody-handed slaughtermen.”