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Maybe No Death Squads After All

I'm not quite sure I understand why Greg Djerjian thinks it's so preposterous to believe that a group of men including many veterans of the early-80s Reagan Central America policy would implement a similar policy in a country to which the current US ambassador is a man who was deeply involved in said policy. That said, the Rumsfeld dialogue to which Greg links contains some pretty heavy denying of the Newsweek death squad story without much in the way of weasel words or the sort of "maybe death squads aren't such a bad thing after all" talk we've heard from many of the hawkish blogs. Since I really don't think the Bush administration would pay a political price if it could be proven that they were being overly-brutal in their Arab-killing ventures, this makes me inclined to believe that Rumsfeld is denying the story because the story isn't true. It's certainly the case in my experience that the US security establishment breeds all manner of plans for this-and-that somewhere in its bowels and that these plans often bare no reality to anything anyone in a policymaking position intends to do. Most people have no real sense of what a vast apparatus we're talking about. At any rate, as longtime readers know, I've been concerned about the Negroponte/death squad issue longer than most and will certainly keep my eyes peeled.

January 12, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Let us hope.

Hail Caesar, btw

Posted by: 2shoes | Jan 12, 2005 1:02:24 AM

Help! The site is not rendering in Netscape 7.1.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 12, 2005 1:04:41 AM

without much in the way of weasel words or the sort of "maybe death squads aren't such a bad thing after all" talk we've heard from many of the hawkish blogs

I interpret "I haven't read the article in question" to be pretty weasely. Like he didn't think he would be asked about this? That's mostly what he says in the whole exchange.

In any case, of course he's going to deny a statement like "Yes, we plan to train death squads" (which is what was explicitly charged in the article). Instead, he would say that they plan to train security forces, or freedom fighters, or whatever bullshit term they typically use in the School of Americas.

Posted by: ScrewyRabbit | Jan 12, 2005 1:20:29 AM

Heavens to Betsy, there are known knowns, there are known unknowns, and then there are discussions about magazine articles that I SAID I hadn't read!

Like duh!

Posted by: jerry | Jan 12, 2005 1:23:23 AM

I think you a good writer but a bit uptight. why don't you try
www.saddamhusseinkilledlacipeterson.com

Posted by: peter | Jan 12, 2005 1:36:53 AM

Who the hell cares what Rummy thinks? I'm still running this show, and I think death squads are a fine idea.

Posted by: Dick Cheney | Jan 12, 2005 1:52:50 AM

Hey Matt,

Be careful with this one. Rummy said "the Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story."

Fine. But that leaves all kinds of other agencies, not to mention non-US actors acting with our assistance. My take on it was that it was a very clever denial, exactly the sort you'd have seen delivered by the U.S. during the Cold War.

Keep up the great work - and nice redesign.

Posted by: alex | Jan 12, 2005 2:06:32 AM

Man, it's nice to load this site and get a view of the Rachel Leigh Cook type on the right.

And Rumsfeld is always doing the opposite of what you think he is doing. "Unknown unknowns etc, and dynamic, ambiguous, and virtual unknowns." He didn't tell you about those.

Of course there are death squads. We are gonna need them in Iran, to motivate the villagers to popular revolt.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 12, 2005 3:04:04 AM

"Since I really don't think the Bush administration would pay a political price if it could be proven that they were being overly-brutal in their Arab-killing ventures..." -- Matt


They didn't pay a political price for torturing prisoners, but they still deny they encouraged -- or even condoned -- such activity. C'mon Matt, this is a guy who tried denying that there was a guerilla war in Iraq, denied that he ever said the Iraq threat was imminent, and -- when confronted with the Abu Ghraib photos -- classified it as abuse, and not torture. How many times does he have to lie to us before we stop accepting his word as evidence?


Reporters would tell me how ‘open’ my boss was, compared with others they ran into, this after I had listened to an hour of whoppers. It became clear to me that journalists had no idea, no clue, even the best of them, just how often and how egregiously they were lied to.

--Daniel Ellsberg, "Secrets"

Posted by: Cal | Jan 12, 2005 5:07:09 AM

Let me get this straight, there are STILL people on this planet who believe what Donald Rumsfeld says ???

What the fuck is wrong with these people ???

Posted by: free patriot | Jan 12, 2005 5:12:06 AM

Since I really don't think the Bush administration would pay a political price if it could be proven that they were being overly-brutal in their Arab-killing ventures, this makes me inclined to believe that Rumsfeld is denying the story because the story isn't true.

It depends on the context and the venue. They will brag about their wholesale brutal Arab-killing and take credit for that and they will, of course, also brag about their goodness and compassion and take credit for that too.

In reality they'll be killing and torturing way more people than anyone of us can imagine.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 12, 2005 6:00:29 AM

You've got to be kidding me.

First, it strikes me that Rumsfeld rather pointedly denies the assertions of "some of the reporting on the story", without denying the Newsweek story itself, which he claims not to have read.

Second, he avoids specifics in issuing even these denials, but restricts himself to saying that the penatagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story, without saying which of those things he has in mind.

Djerjian notes some of these things, but rather naively attributes them to Rumsfeld's public relations incompetence, rather than deliberate avoidance:

But here's what gets me. Read Rumsfeld's jocular musings above again. It's the same breezy, press-baiting, cocksure crapola. He could have shot down the story--decisively--with purpose and gravitas. Instead, in the course of a single minute or so, he manages to do the following: 1) tell the assorted press corps he hasn't even read the Newsweek article (memo to Rummy: some articles just appear in the on-line editions--is his staff too incompetent to print a copy out for him--or can he simply not be bothered to request they do so before he goes before the press gaggles which seem to delight him so?); 2) as he hasn't read the story--his denials are not as firm and authoritative as, say, those that would have been forthcoming from real pros like Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger; and 3) by stating that the "Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story [emphasis added]" he likely keeps the story alive by causing people to wonder if the CIA is spearheading the effort instead (from the Newsweek article: "Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government—the Defense department or CIA—would take responsibility for such an operation.").

Rumsfeld does some similar dancing on the question of Syria:

Q With respect, sir, the story said that there was consideration of U.S. Special Forces going into Syria as an option to pursue insurgents. You say you're not -- you're not looking at anything in that --

SEC. RUMSFELD: We're not training people to do that, if that's what question is.

Q Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, we're not.

Q No, no. The question is U.S. Special Forces, not training Iraqis to do that.

SEC. RUMSFELD: U.S. Special Forces are not going into Syria.

Q And you're not considering it?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Why would I even talk about something like that? I mean...

So, we're not "going into Syria", although we may be considering it. We are also not "training people to go into Syria." This of course leaves open the possibility that we are training people specifically to attack Syria, but to attack camps of various kinds, and that the Iraqi government will then, acting on our advice, send them into Syria.

Here was Rumsfeld in June, 2004, speaking about Abu Ghraib, as reported in the Guardian:

There is no wiggle room in the president's mind or my mind about torture," he said.

"That is not something that's permitted under the Geneva Convention or the laws of the United States.

"That is not to say that somebody else couldn't characterise something in a way that would fit what I described," he added.

He noted that some have described the indefinite detention of suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a form of mental torture.

"Therefore, that word is used by some people in a way that is fair from their standpoint, but doesn't fit a dictionary definition of the word that one would normally accept," Mr Rumsfeld said.

We now know that the White House was given an opinion about torture from the Justice Department that definined torture in an exceedingly restrictive way. So Rumsfeld's words cash in this way: "You may thing that allowing dogs to attack and bite naked people, beating those people and forcing them to perform oral sex on each other are torture, and that's fair from your standpoint, but that doesn't count as torture according to the dictionary definition that "one" would ordinarily accept. The definition we accept says that as long as those things don't cause the kind of injury or pain associated with organ failure, they're not torture."

What gets me is how addicted the perpetually strung out Washington press corps is to these verbal excretions from the mouths of power. No matter how often their official sources lie and distort, they go back and go back and go back for more lies. Fair enough, since it is part of their job to report what these people say. But so many reporters seem ready, as their default position, to believe what these officials say, despite the overwhelming empirical evidence of the officials' untrustworthiness.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Jan 12, 2005 8:05:28 AM

Do we really need death squads? Until things really started going badly, the Army would make raids on homes and take the adult males to prison. There is evidence in news stories that these raids were done with only the slightest consideration as to the guilt of those people. There is little evidence that these people were ever freed, and many have died. Other than the fact that the abductors were wearing uniforms, there doesn't seem to be much difference from the death squads. No due process.
I doubt we have stopped doing this entirely.

Posted by: Eric | Jan 12, 2005 8:23:34 AM

And Rumsfeld has another way out. Part of the US military is opposed to involvement in death squads because of the UMCJ. That's why it is ordinarily done by US civilians. Idem for torture in Iraq. Many statements by the arrested Abu Ghraib soldiers refer to US civilians as the guilty party (the OGA people).

From Newsweek:

But since the Abu Ghraib interrogations scandal, some military officials are ultra-wary of any operations that could run afoul of the ethics codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That, they argue, is the reason why such covert operations have always been run by the CIA and authorized by a special presidential finding.

Posted by: Duh | Jan 12, 2005 9:14:50 AM

You guys are cute. Remember: even people with enemies can be paranoid.

Posted by: ostap | Jan 12, 2005 10:59:07 AM

They are probably already operating or they are trying to get them operating.

Remember when there was this sort of half ass theoretical conversation about maybe we should start getting a little physical in interogations while meanwhile we were beating people to death and the like?

My guess is they floated this out before someone could catch them at it.

Posted by: absynthe | Jan 12, 2005 10:59:38 AM

Whatever the Radical Right says it is not doing, it is doing.

Death squads are already in operation; count on it.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 12, 2005 11:08:28 AM

"Help! The site is not rendering in Netscape 7.1."

Get a new browser.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 12, 2005 11:16:55 AM

Rumsfeld said he didn't even read the article.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 12, 2005 11:22:58 AM

Whatever the Radical Right says it is not doing, it is doing.

Death squads are already in operation; count on it.

Let's try to remain reality based here folks.
Disbelieve Rumsfeld if you wish (I myself like to disbelieve atleast one thing he says by breakfast) but taking as evidence for 'X' the fact that the 'Radical Right' insists 'not X' is something of a leap too far don't you think?

Posted by: WillieStyle | Jan 12, 2005 11:34:59 AM

This mantra is probably even better suited to the question of where funding will come from for SS benefits in the year 2050:

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Posted by: CharleyCarp | Jan 12, 2005 11:51:47 AM

> but taking as evidence for 'X' the fact that
> the 'Radical Right' insists 'not X' is something
> of a leap too far don't you think?

When you are dealing with people who have spent 5 years (35 really) saying one thing with a straight face while doing the opposite (torture at Gitmo on the serious side; Bill Bennett moralizing/gambling on the lighter side), no, I don't think it is a leap too far. It is clearly part of Rove's tactical toolkit to deliberately lie and mislead, and I think many in the Radical Right enjoy doing that.

So no, I must disagree.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 12, 2005 11:55:04 AM

Hit squads might be quite preferrable to fleets of attack helicopters with rapid fire cannon, etc. However I don't think they can work. Murder outfits like those in Salvador, Honduras, Equador depended on an indigenous right-wing leadership class and culture to recruit and maintain loyalty. Where in hell are you going to find that in Iraq?

Posted by: dick mulliken | Jan 12, 2005 12:11:30 PM

"Where in hell are you going to find that in Iraq?"

Wherever there be found money, power, and guns a right-wing will exist or arise like mushrooms. Anyway, in Iraq Saddam didn't do everything by himself, and there exist people of privilege in all factions who wish to retain their position.

PS: The left arises from areas with girls, drugs, and bookstores.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 12, 2005 2:56:48 PM

Bare
to make or lay bare : uncover

Bear
3 a : to support the weight of : sustain
b : to put up with esp. without giving way
c : to call for as suitable or essential
d : to hold above, on top, or aloft
e : to admit of : allow
f : assume, accept
(C)1997, 1996 Zane Publishing, Inc.

Posted by: Can'tbearit | Jan 12, 2005 5:01:56 PM

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