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Monday, January 10, 2005

Spoons for Iraq 

How distressing is the news about our military planners' sudden nostalgia for the so-called "Salvador Option"? Let's just say it is no mean feat to flush our revered colleague Billmon out of his reinforced bunker in Harlingen, Texas, but after the latest from Iraq he has returned -- bringing with him, as a public service to the young, the ignorant, and the amnesiac, a partial inventory of the "options" your tax dollar bought under the late, sainted R. Reagan:

On the Afternoon of 10 December 1981, units of the Atlacal Rapid Deployment Infantry Battalion (BIRI) arrived in the village of El Mozote, Department of Morazan, after a clash with the guerrillas in the vicinity . . .

Early next morning, 11 December, the soldiers reassembled the entire population in the square. They separated the men from the women and children and locked everyone up in different groups in the church, the convent and various houses.

During the morning, they proceeded to interrogate, torture and execute the men in various locations. Around noon, they began taking the women in groups, separating them from their children and machine-gunning them. Finally, they killed the children. A group of children who had been locked in the convent were machine-gunned through the windows. After exterminating the entire population, the soldiers set fire to the buildings.

-- UN Truth Commission on El Salvador
The El Mozote Massacre (April 1, 1993)

One [Salvadoran] death squad member, when asked about the types of tortures used, replied: "Uh, well, the same things you did in Vietnam. We learned from you. We learned from you the means, like blowtorches in the armpits, shots in the balls. But for the "toughest ones" — that is, those who resist these other tortures — "we have to pop their eyes out with a spoon. You have to film it to believe it, but boy, they sure sing."

-- Raymond Bonner
Weakness and Deceit, June, 1984

Elsewhere, David Holiday of Central America and Beyond has posted in its entirety a Wall Street Journal article about the 1982 election in El Salvador that is now being touted, by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others, as a model for what they hope to accomplish this month in Iraq. Holiday (who worked extensively with Americas Watch, now Human Rights Watch) also revisits the Reagan administration's longstanding claim that the death squads were "rogue outfits" unaffiliated with our proxies in the Salvadoran military. He is mildly shocked by the current administration's willingness to admit what the world has suspected all along:
But now it seems that the U.S. military (or the CIA?) is finally and rather brazenly owning up to its role in the Salvadoran conflict . . . .

Quan provided just one more piece of evidence that the Salvadoran military had a highly developed capacity for targeting clandestine FMLN members. Tom Gibb, who reported for the BBC during the war, has an unpublished manuscript in which he credited the Salvadoran military with a very strong capacity for infilitrating FMLN organizations (the RN, in particular).

So, given all of this, it seems to me that, years later, the U.S. finally wants to take some credit for this strategy. It turned out to be quite effective in military terms in El Salvador, but it's also a morally abhorrent one.

In addition, such a strategy ultimately depends on the intelligence ability of the host country's military. Thus far, it seems to me that insurgents have done a far better job of infiltrating the Iraqi military, than the other way around.
(Thanks again to our distinguished colleagues at Cursor for the link.)

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