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Thursday, March 24, 2005 07:51 pm

commentary 3-24-05

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Actor Martin Sheen and 3,800 others protest human-rights abuses allegedly committed by graduates of the Army's School of the Americas. A year after the 1999 protest, the school's name was changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperatio
PHOTO BY DAVID STEPHENSON/KRT

Over the last decade and a half, and especially since the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon has developed methods to intervene in other countries without resorting to direct military force. The military has adopted tactics usually reserved for the Central Intelligence Agency as a means of avoiding congressional oversight and curious journalists. As is generally the case with government agencies these days, the Pentagon is placing an emphasis on secrecy and the covering of trails.

The Joint Combined Exchange Training program, authorized by Congress in 1991, allows U.S. special forces to train with military units of other nations, with little regard for that country’s human-rights record, as long as the stated purpose of the exchange is the training of our soldiers, not theirs. This is, of course, a meaningless caveat that could be applied to any situation. The focus of JCET activities in many countries has been “foreign internal defense,” which is a euphemism for state terrorism against any element that threatens the pro-American, pro-business status quo. Targets of FID activities have included union organizers, landless peasants, and leaders of separatist movements. U.S. special forces have trained Turkish commandos who have killed thousands of Kurds in eastern Turkey.

In Colombia, a country whose military is so brutal and corrupt that it was decertified for military aid during the Clinton years, our military has trained soldiers in their war against the guerilla FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) movement. The Indonesian army, which has carried out genocidal campaigns in East Timor and Aceh province, was a favorite partner in the JCET program until Congress suspended cooperation in 1999. The Bush administration is reopening channels for cooperation with the Indonesian military.

Another tactic that has become especially popular since 9/11 is the privatization of American military activities. Much of the dirty work performed by these private mercenary armies is hidden, deemed “proprietary information” and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Citizens interested in U.S. misdeeds come to a dead end when they try to investigate these firms. In a 1998 essay for the Army War College, Col. Bruce Grant wrote, “Privatization is a way of going around Congress and not telling the public. Foreign policy is made by default by private military consultants motivated by bottom-line profits.” These private armies are largely staffed by retired U.S. military personnel. Three of the leading private armies include the Vinnell Corp., which trains the Saudi army; Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton; and DynCorp. DynCorp gained international notoriety in 2003 when several of the firm’s employees were discovered to be keeping sex slaves in Bosnia. The guilty parties were simply dismissed, and Congress took no action.

The School of the Americas (whose name was changed in 2000 to the less elegant Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) has been a key organization in the Pentagon’s efforts to crush opposition groups in Latin America. This school has trained an estimated 60,000 Latin American military and police officers, many of whom have been involved in torture, rape, and murder in their home countries. The aforementioned Colombian army is believed to have some 10,000 SOA graduates. In the 1980s, the SOA circulated a manual among Latin American military officers that taught methods for “neutralizing government officials, political leaders, and members of the infrastructure.” “Neutralizing,” of course, is another word for killing.

Recently there has been talk of duplicating in Iraq the anti-insurgency programs that were used in El Salvador in the 1980s. Thousands of people were killed in that program, and the end result was the bolstering of a classic banana republic, in which a hopelessly corrupt oligarchy, controlled by U.S. business interests, governs a desperately poor nation. The people of Iraq will likely find that their version of democracy is no different. If this is indeed the fate of Iraq, the fine patriots at the Pentagon and on Wall Street will surely congratulate themselves on yet another job well done.

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