Narco News '02
U.S. War of
is Legal Again
U.S. Military Doctrine
By Doug Stokes
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
the new presidency of Colombia's Alvaro Uribe Velez paramilitarism
is once again legal.
His new network of a million paid informants
essentially makes overt what has long been a joint covert US-Colombian
strategy of brutal counter-insurgent paramilitary warfare. Counter-insurgency
has long formed the primary means through which the US has exerted
its power via its proxies throughout Latin America. To fully
grasp the relationship between US military training and aid,
paramilitarism, and human rights abuses in Colombia today it
is necessary to examine the evolution of US counter-insurgency
Counter-insurgency was firmly wedded to
US foreign security policy goals with former US president Kennedy's
authorisation of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. This act sent
US aid to developing nations to increase bilateral ties and encourage
capitalist orientated economic development. It also encompassed
a wide ranging security dimension which aimed at:
improving the ability of friendly countries
and international organizations to deter or, if necessary, defeat
Communist or Communist-supported aggression, facilitating arrangements
for individual and collective security, assisting friendly countries
to maintain internal security and stability in the developing
friendly countries essential to their more rapid social, economic,
and political progress.
Latin America was to become the primary
area of US Cold War interventionism throughout the Cold War.
It was viewed as both the US's primary sphere of influence and
as fundamentally related to US security through its territorially
close proximity to US borders. The primary means for US assistance
in maintaining "internal security and stability" in
"developing friendly countries" became US led counter-insurgency
assistance. Recipient militaries were organised to police their
own populations and prevent internal social forces from challenging
a status-quo geared towards what were perceived to be core US
interests: the prevention of independence and the preservation
of countries open to US capital penetration.
In the last decade of the Cold War, then
US President Ronald Reagan continued to argue that "the
security of our own borders depends upon which type of society
prevails [in Central America], the imperfect democracy seeking
to improve, or the Communist dictatorship seeking to expand."
In preventing expansive "communist dictatorships"
US policy frequently led to the mass violation of human rights
and large-scale civilian death. The US was linked to these practices
not only through the installation and support of abusive governments,
but also through the very doctrines and practises passed on through
Counter-insurgency campaigns often relied
upon mass civilian displacement to deny guerrilla forces a civilian
base within which to work and the terrorisation of civil society.
A 1962 US Army Psychological Operations manual outlined that:
Civilians in the operational
area may be supporting their own government or collaborating
with an enemy occupation force. An isolation program designed
to instil doubt and fear may be carried out, and a positive political
action program designed to elicit active support of the guerrillas
also may be effected. If these programs fail, it may become necessary
to take more aggressive action in the form of harsh treatment
or even abductions. The abduction and harsh treatment of key
enemy civilians can weaken the collaborators' belief in the strength
and power of their military forces.
Counter-insurgency also frequently relied
upon clandestine paramilitary forces to carry out political assassinations,
disappearances and the terrorisation of those considered inimical
to state interests. This form of warfare was typically characterised
as a reactive form of counter-terror within US counter-insurgency
doctrine, and considered necessary to both create a plausible
deniability for state terror, and to install fear into target
populations. A 1962 special warfare manual outlined the training
program for the US's allied security forces. Training included
"guerrilla warfare, propaganda, subversion, intelligence
and counter-intelligence, terrorist activities, civic action,
and conventional combat operations".
Colombia was one of the largest recipients
of US counter-insurgency aid during the Cold War. General William
Yarborough headed the original US Special Forces team sent to
Colombia in 1962 to organise the Colombian military for counter-insurgency.
He argued that a "concerted country team effort should now
be made to select civilian and military personnel for clandestine
training in resistance operations in case they are needed".
These paramilitary teams were to be used to perform "counter-agent
and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary execute paramilitary,
sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist
proponents" and were to be "backed by the United States".
was also routinely practiced by US-backed counter-insurgency
states and was taught by US counter-insurgency
experts. The School of the Americas, the US's pre-eminent Latin
American military academy, used training materials which the
US's Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) argued "used instructional
materials to train Latin American officers, [between] 1982-1991,
that appeared to condone practices such as executions of guerrillas,
extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment".
During the US backed Contra insurgency in Nicaragua in the 1980s,
the CIA distributed an updated version of its 1963 KUBARK Counterintelligence
Interrogation manual. The manual was renamed the Human Resource
Exploitation Training Manual and included extensive guidelines
on the most effective means of torture including the use of drugs,
sleep deprivation, physical violence, and solitary confinement.
The manual was also used to train a number of other Latin American
The targeting of civil society also formed a cornerstone of US
counter-insurgency training and doctrine. Civil society required
extensive policing to prevent any form of unrest or subversion
against the prevailing order. A 1985 Tactical Intelligence manual
from US Southern Command (the US's Unified Command for Latin
America) explained that "'battlefield preparation' means
collecting information on civil society: who stands for what,
which groups or individuals can be mobilized for counterinsurgency
and which must be neutralized". Counter-insurgents must
watch for any "refusal of peasants to pay rent, taxes, or
loan payments or unusual difficulty in their collection,"
an increase "in the number of entertainers with a political
message," or the intensification of "religious unrest".
In a similar manual produced by the School of the Americas,
intelligence required identifying "the nature of the labour
organizations" the potential establishment of "legal
political organizations that serve as fronts" for insurgents.
Counter-insurgents must monitor the "system of public education,"
and the influence of "politics on teachers, texts, and students"
and "the relations between religious leaders (domestic or
missionaries), the established government and the insurgents."
In sum, the use of paramilitaries, mass
civilian displacement, counter-terror, physical coercion and
the targeting of civil society are all considered a necessary
component of US sponsored counter-insurgency. Civil society organisations,
especially those that seek to challenge prevailing socio-economic
conditions are viewed as subversive to the social and political
order, and in the context of counter-insurgency, become legitimate
targets. This security orientation has had devastating consequences
for Latin America with hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered
by US backed counter-insurgency states. With the ending of the
Cold War a rhetorical shift has occurred in US policy from anti-communism
to a war on drugs and now a war on terror. Whilst this rhetorical
shift continues to provide a PR framework for US policy, US objectives
have essentially remained the same; the prevention of a workable
hemispheric alternative that may challenge US hegemony, and the
continued suppression of civil society so as to raise the associated
physical and spiritual costs associated with open dissent.
The primary means for repression has been
the use of paramilitaries. In the last fifteen years in Colombia
an entire democratic leftist political party was eliminated by
right-wing paramilitaries; 4000 activists were murdered in the
1980s; 151 journalists have been shot; 300,000 Colombian civilians
have been killed; three out of four trade union activists murdered
worldwide are killed by the Colombian paramilitaries. According
to the UN, university lecturers and teachers are "among
the workers most often affected by killings, threats and violence-related
displacement." Paramilitary groups also regularly target
human rights activists, indigenous leaders, and community activists.
This repression serves to criminalize any form of civil society
resistance to US-led neo-liberal restructuring of Colombia's
economy and stifle political and economic challenges to the Colombian
status quo. Uribe's new legal death-squads both legitimises the
paramilitary option within his counter-insurgency war, and will
serve to further increase the repression in Colombia.
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