“They killed Habyarimana because they knew he was the only one who could stop the Hutus from killing Tutsis. That is why, every day, I say that: the genocide was not planned by Hutus, it was planned by Tutsis: it was planned by the RPF. Even after the Interahamwe killed my wife, even after all the horrible things that have happened to me, I believe the Tutsis created the genocide. And for me it was a war between brothers: the Hutus had an army and the Tutsis had an army and there was fighting at every level.”i
Rwanda has a special place in genocide scholarship as one of only three acknowledged paradigmatic examples (the others being the Shoah and the Armenian holocaust). Vahakn Dadrian refers to ‘the three principle genocides’;ii Jones refers to three ‘“classic” genocides’;iii Levene calls them the ‘prototypical examples’.ivYet one would not normally expect a survivor of a ‘classic’ and ‘prototypical’ genocide to say that the planners of the genocide were the enemies of those who actually carried out the genocide. In what other case would a victim make that claim?
The narrative known by most Westerners is deliberately and pointedly distorted. Every fatuous overprivileged liberal hack will, as if by compulsion cite the racial slur inyenzi (cockroaches). The infamous Radio Mille Collines told people to kill the inyenzi. But somehow everyone neglects to mention that this was the name adopted by Tutsi guerillas for themselves in the 1960s. They called themselves cockroaches in reference to their own ineradicability. So this idea that this radio station simply called Tutsi vermin is actually a lie. That summarises their approach quite well. They try to shape the events into something as closely resembling the Shoah as possible by elision and miscontextualisation while attacking those who overstep the line as deniers. I am not going to excuse the actions of mass murderers or of propagandists at Radio Milles Collines who fomented violence against innocents, but the fears and instability without which these crimes would not have occurred were themselves fomented by Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and his Western backers. The violence of the “100 Days” was preceded by violence and it was followed by violence and further genocide.
We are meant to believe that some unexplained racial hatred simply exploded as if randomly, but the hatred and fear were the results of actual events not primitive tribalism. After the RPA invasion Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana, who had many Tutsi friends and had appointed many as colleagues, increased racial tension as a way of using the threat of massacres as a bargaining chip with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).v As will be shown this was as tragic as it was ruthless, because the equally, or more, ruthless RPF knew that their only path to power lay over a mountain of corpses of their fellow Tutsivi – showing that the chauvinist Tutsi ideology which many of their number openly espousedvii was equally contingent. Ultimately, as with other genocides, the victims of this genocide were not victims of blind hatred, but victims of political machinations which fostered and harnessed hatred, and much of that was emanating from Washington DC.
As Hitler analogies and Munich analogies wear out from overuse, ‘genocide’ has become the keystone accusation in a new discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’. A ‘Rwanda analogy’ on the dangers of inaction has replaced the ‘Munich analogy’ on appeasement. Of course, many historians will point out that, against the wills of their own peoples, the US and UK governments did a great deal more than to merely ‘appease’ Hitler,viii and similarly it is not US inaction, but rather the fact that the Clinton administration enforced inaction on others which became their most noted contribution to slaughter which occurred in Rwanda.ix So having prevented others from intervening to stop one of the greatest slaughters in history, the US begins an elaborate hand-wringing exercise in order to give itself license to intervene wherever else it likes. The resulting discourse of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘responsibility to protect’ (or ‘R2P’x) is a direct attack on norms of state sovereignty which offer some protection for weak states against strong states.
The Rwanda genocide was significant and dramatic. In terms of human suffering it should rightly be remembered as one of the most horrific events of its time. But like the Democratic Kampuchea autogenocide before it, it was so unusual as to be patently useless as any form of paradigmatic model. In fact, it is probably no coincidence that atypical genocides are such a focus, and that it is they that have become fodder for the Hollywood vision of genocide. What happened in Rwanda has no parallels. The Shoah has been described as a “uniquely unique genocide” but it can be understood as having typical characteristics taken to atypical extremes, but the Rwanda genocide not in ferocity but in complexity and confusion. The Anglophone world has created a mythological Rwandan Holocaust with cartoon villains, victims and heroes. The US, in particular, wrings its hands over its inaction, but deliberate US actions played a significant role in causing the violence that took so many lives.
Of late the orthodox or as genocide scholar René Lemarchand would have it, the ‘politically correct’) interpretation Rwandan history has been brought into question in broader circles than previously. Recent elections have highlighted the questionable use of the criminal charges of genocide denial, most notably when leading opposition figure Victoire Ingabire was charged with ‘association with a terrorist group; propagating genocide ideology; negationism and ethnic divisionism.’ A month later, the lawyer who flew from the US to defend her was arrested and later proffered charges which included ‘denying and downplaying genocide through his publications and conferences,’ and ‘spreading rumours that are capable of threatening the security of the Rwandan people.’xi Late last year she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A leaked draft of a UN report claims that if proven in court, actions testified to by victims of Rwandan forces in Congo/Zaire would constitute genocide.xii And perhaps most telling of all, Tony Blair has posted an opinion piece in the Guardian praising Rwanda as a “beacon of hope”. I am not being flippant when I say that praise from Blair, a personal associate of fellow war criminal Paul Kagame, should be read as an admission of oppression and injustice.
There is some acknowledgement in the literature that Rwanda was an unusual case of genocide in that there was genuine fear amongst the perpetrators. There is even a significant article in the Journal of Genocide Research supporting the survivor testimony above to the effect that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) provoked genocide.xiii In another article René Lemarchand writes: ‘To put it baldly: Jews did not invade Germany with the massive military and logistical support of a neighboring state….’xiv But to extend the analogy, this was a genocide in which Jews were massacring Germans, in which Himmler was born a Jew, in which Hitler had Jews in his cabinet and as close friends, and in which the most celebrated rescue of Jews was carried out, in part, by the Wehrmacht. All of these factors tend to be elided in the orthodox literature, and the only reasonably contextualised narrative is found in the writings of those who are, more or less, deniers of genocide. I don’t agree with the genocide deniers, to me they are ignoring the elephant in the room, which is to say the ample evidence that there was a dramatic mass-murder of Tutsi as such in Rwanda which constitutes one of the most deadly genocides of history. Those who support the orthodox interpretation, on the other hand, deny the existence of any sort of room and call the elephant a camel.
The Genocide: Some Questions and Answers.
Former UN special rapporteur on genocide Keith Harmon Snow, in an article that won him the a Project Censored award for suppressed is news, writes, ‘Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, that’s clear. There was large-scale butchery of Tutsis. And Hutus. Children and old women were killed. There was mass rape. There were many acts of genocide. But was it genocide or civil war?’xv There are two things to consider here: First, should the events of 1994 be referred to as a genocide or as a civil war in which a genocide occurred? Second, were there mutual genocides of Hutu and Tutsi in 1994, in short a ‘double genocide’?
In the first instance, I believe any given set of events should only be characterised as a genocide if the majority of victims are victims of genocide. In this case, there are simply no trustworthy sources available to make that determination. For example, in ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Philip Verwimp finds from household sampling that 79 of 138 deaths in 1994 (57.2%) were Tutsi.xvi Given that Tutsi represented only 8.4% of the sample (which, interestingly enough, is exactly the percentage of Tutsi in the 1991 census),xvii this certainly proves genocide. The problems with this are that the sampling is from central and southern Rwanda and that it avoids any killing before 1994. Verwimp admits on both counts that this avoids counting the victims of RPF massacres, but explains that ‘very few scholars will use the word genocide to describe the killings committed by the RPF before, during, and after 1994.’xviii So far from actually ‘testing the double genocide thesis’ Verwimp actually makes an a priori exclusion of the possibility. In terms of the problem of whether the bulk of those killed in the period were Tutsi we are left with no answers except that, given that there is such an evident bias in sampling, one might tentatively infer that the bulk of victims were not Tutsi. According to Harmon Snow: ‘Professors Christian Davenport (U. Maryland) and Allan Stam (Dartmouth) published research in 2004 that showed that the killings began with a small, dedicated cadre of Hutu militiamen, but quickly cascaded in an ever-widening circle, with Hutu and Tutsi playing the roles of both attackers and victims. Their team of researchers also found that only 250,000 people were killed, not the 800,000 plus advanced by the RPF, and that for every Tutsi killed two Hutus were killed. The research unleashed a firestorm: the media jumped on them for denying genocide.’xixShould it then be considered a civil war? That too is problematic due to the fact that only a minuscule percentage of those killed were combatants.
As for the double genocide thesis, this is nearly as difficult. Certainly before April 1994 there are good reasons to believe that RPF massacres were indiscriminate in the matter of ethnicity. Largely this seems to be because they were primarily interested in ‘refugee generation.’ According to Harmon Snow ‘The RPF practiced a scorched earth policy: they did not want to have to administer a territory or deal with local populations. The RPF displaced people, shelled the IDP camps, and marched on. They killed some captives, buried them in mass graves or burned corpses, and used survivors as porters to transport ammunition, dig trenches or cook their meals.’xx Sometimes this involved the massacre of Tutsis, as Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero report: ‘In some regions there were attacks and killings directed against the Tutsi population. Principal amongst these were those against the Bagogwe, a Tutsi sub-group from the north, in January 1991, and against the Tutsis of Bugesera in March of 1992.’xxi Other reports, particularly from the ‘100 days’ period in which enormous numbers of Tutsis were being massacred, suggest that RPF massacres were directed against Hutu, which may well be true but might equally be a presumption. On the whole, however, the ‘double genocide thesis’ is somewhat of a red herring. Structurally, as I will show, it was more the case that having ‘provoked’ the Tutsi genocide, Rwanda’s RPF controlled Government of National Unity (GNU) exploited the initial genocide to launch a subsequent genocide of Hutu.
The initial RPA invasion of Rwanda was in effect an invasion by the Ugandan military with US backing. RPA forces were uniformed Ugandan military using Ugandan arms which were supplied throughout the civil war thanks to an increase of US and UK military aid after the invasion.xxii At this time Tutsi refugees enjoyed a stable privileged position in Ugandaxxiii while those who remained in Rwanda, or had subsequently returned, formed the ‘majority of economic operators’.xxiv The RPF attack intentionally pre-empted Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s moves towards allowing the peaceful return of all Tutsi refugees, because the RPF felt that this would be of detriment to their plan to take control of Rwanda.xxv Uganda’s military dictator, Yoweri Museveni (whom Madeleine Albright spoke as ‘a beacon of hope for Africa’),xxvi feigned shock and surprise that a massive proportion of his military forces had mutinied, but continued supplying them with arms supplied to him mainly by the US. The orthodox explanation, ascribed to even by Kuperman, is that he was going to disarm the RPA but had his feelings hurt when Habyarimana publicly accused him of involvement.xxvii In fact Museveni was deeply complicit. He even gave a speech to his military officers which, in Philpot’s words, ‘reads like a blueprint for the invasion and war that some of his officers were soon to conduct in Rwanda….’xxviii In it he said:
We had to reject the concept of ‘a small but efficient’ army…. This notion is nothing but suicidal. Insurgents do not have to do much, but they will have succeeded in their devices if they simply terrorize the population, stop them from producing wealth for the country, dismantle the network of civil administration and block communications. Once the state does not stop insurgents from doing this on a large scale, the country will rapidly lose income and find it impossible to support the army… Insurgents will be in a position to create a situation of strategic stalemate or even to launch a strategic counteroffensive to seize state power.xxix
This is a far cry from normal asymmetrical guerrilla warfare, instead it is a way for a small force (but not a noticeably inferior one) to effect an invasion and occupation of a country with a hostile population in a manner that would normally take a large superiority of forces. The FAR was a government force vulnerable to the degradation of the Rwandan state, while the RPA was superior in arms and had invulnerable external supply and a safe rear area in Uganda. Accordingly they depopulated Rwanda’s most productive agricultural region.
Two and a half years after the invasion, only 1800 people lived in an area of northern Rwanda that previously had a population of 800,000. As the “liberators” advanced, the Hutu peasants fled. By April 1993, Rwanda had more than one million internal refugees. That means one million farmers (one seventh of the total population) who are no longer producing on the most fertile lands in the country. It also means one million people to house and feed, and hundreds of thousands of children absent from school which caused great anxiety among parents.
The Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, Husbandry and Forests in 1992, James Gasana, described the situation in the war torn Byumba prefecture north of Kigali in a book published in 2002. “A prefecture that had been the country’s breadbasket now had the largest population in need of welfare and the highest mortality rate due to malnutrition.”xxx
In Kigali and elsewhere large numbers of clandestine RPF cells operated, often using ‘human rights’ NGOs as cover.xxxi They carried out sabotage, bombings of public places, and an eliticidal assassination campaign in order to terrorise the population and destabilise the government.xxxii At the same time the Rwandan government was also destabilised by what amounted to an attack by the US dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the ‘donor institutions’ of the West, who demanded that, in the midst of civil war, Rwanda must dismantle its interventionist state apparatus.xxxiii During this time the RPF avoided a peaceful settlement, despite increasingly large and clearly desperate concessions by Habyarimana and despite the fact that they knew that Tutsi massacres were an almost inevitable outcome of the growing chaos and fear.xxxiv According to testimony obtained by French prosecutor Jean-Louis Bruguiere, RPF leader Paul Kagame was consistent in telling RPA troops that he had no intention of honouring peace accords.xxxv
Then, in what one RPF defector described as ‘a macabre plan to drive the country into chaos’ the RPF assassinated Habyarimana.xxxvi A UN report describes the assassination merely as ‘a plane crash’.xxxvii Similarly Adam Jones notes only that the plane ‘was shot down’ without addressing the impolitic issue of who exactly shot it down.xxxviii Kuperman merely notes that ‘Hutu extremists’ blamed the RPF.xxxix For Lemarchand, writing in 2002, ‘responsibility remains a mystery’.xl Even for the earlier pieces this is an act of willful blindness. In 1997 an ICTR team recommended that RPF leaders be prosecuted (although the report was quashed and the lead investigator told to burn his notes, it survived and is now part of the ICTR record).xli In 2003 the ICTR itself announced plans to indict RPF leaders, but the US and UK had the chief prosecutor, who announced these plans, replaced. By 2005 a Spanish court which indicted 40 members of the RPF/GNU leadership for war crimes and crimes against humanity cited RPF responsibility for the assassination.xlii Finally, in France, Bruguiere issued a detailed indictment of 9 RPF leaders in 2006.xliii
The RPF decision to pursue violent means was not surprising. By 1993 their strategy of terror and massacre had driven away the support they initially received from Rwandan opposition partiesxliv and they had been handed a resounding defeat in election in September of 1992, showing that they could not hope to gain control of Rwanda by democratic means.xlv
What ensued definitely involved a massive genocidal slaughter of Tutsis, primarily by the Interahamwe and other militias. However, the fact that the Interahamwe leader was a Tutsi/former Tutsi, and other members were Tutsi including a district president, should be a source of considerable interest for scholars, but it is seldom remarked. Levene does mention it in his introductory volume, but only to stress its lack of import.xlvi
Beyond the fact that there were large scale massacres, little is said that is credible. Consider that there were only 650,000-800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda.xlvii Most accounts would have it that the vast majority (around 80%) were killed. This is not inconceivable, but it seems highly unusual for a 100 day period of largely civilian orchestrated massacres – especially considering that through that time the Tutsi-led RPF controlled ever more of the country. Naturally, the number of Tutsi brings into question some of the high-end estimates of total mortality. For example, Adam Jones gives the following interesting snippet:
About 80 percent of victims died in a “hurricane of death . . . between the second week of April and the third week of May,” noted Gérard Prunier. “If we consider that probably around 800,000 people were slaughtered during that short period . . . the daily killing rate was at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.”xlviii
Further, ‘[o]n April 20, at the parish of Karama in Butare prefecture, “between thirty-five and forty-three thousand people died in less than six hours.”‘xlix For someone like Jones who, no doubt, has read many accounts of mass killing, it should be obvious that ill-equipped militia led civilians could not round up such a number and could not physically kill so many in such a short space of time using small arms and machetes. Nor does anyone explain how this occurred without the same sort of compunction and reticence which people ordinarily feel on some level when it comes to taking human life – especially when in close proximity, especially for non-military, and especially when it is someone who has not killed before.l Although some writers do delve into the factors that caused 175,000 to 210,000 to participate in murder,li I can’t help but feel that such uncritical acceptance of hyperbole indicates in many a racially informed vision of orgiastic bloodletting. As for Jones’s source, it is an organisation called African Rights. According to Philpot they were involved in financing the RPF,lii and, he later quotes, Professor Filip Reyntjens: “As for African Rights, the political and historical analyses made by that group have a flagrant pro-RPF bias that is incompatible with the mission and code of conduct of any serious association devoted to promoting human rights.”liii
As surely as there were massacres of Tutsi by the Interahamwe and others, there were also massacres by the RPA during the ‘100 days’, the extent of which are likewise impossible to determine at this stage. Even Roméo Dallaire did not deny this, and originally denied any co-ordinated genocide:
On September 14, 1994, on CBC’s French language magazine, Le Point, General Roméo Dallaire answered the following question from a Rwandan who lived in Quebec City: “In your opinion, was there a genocide in Rwanda, that is the carrying out of a plan to eliminate ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda?”
“I would say there was a national genocide, a genocide based on a political basis, not only ethnic,” replied Roméo Dallaire. “Many Hutus and many Tutsis were killed… I think that the explosion we saw could not have been planned. I don’t think that anybody could ever have planned an explosion of that magnitude.”liv
Bear in mind that Dallaire was anything but neutral:
“Romeo Dallaire was very close to the RPF”, says Gilbert Ngijol, political assistant to Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. “He let the RPF get arms. He allowed UNAMIR troops to train RPF soldiers. United Nations troops provided the logistics for the RPF. They even fed them.”
The [UN] Secretary General’s Special Representative to Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh confirmed this when he broke 10 years of silence regarding Rwanda in an interview published in Africa International. “In the field, he abandoned his work as military commander and got involved in politics; he violated the principle of UNAMIR’s neutrality and became the objective ally of one of the parties in the conflict.”lv
There are also suggestions that RPF massacres have wrongly been blamed on Interahamwe:
The Belgian Marcel Gerin concluded … that in 1994 he and his wife were left trapped by the Rwandan war. They were witnesses to the indiscriminate killings in the area they lived in and they were able to confirm, through the fact of having been held prisoners, how those who apparently seemed to be Interahamwe militia were no more than mercenaries in the pay of the Tutsi army. … Although they state that in their residential zone the Interahamwes killed a thousand people in the church, the majority of the massacres were carried out with the arrival of those mercenaries who killed whoever they met without any ethnic discrimination, in a clear operation of whole-territory cleansing. Whatever images of the situation emerged gave one to believe that the authors were the Hutu Interahamwe militia. Santos Ganuza, a Navarrese missionary, was the rector of the Kiziguro parish, also in the east of the country. He says:
“For many years I was the parish rector in the east of the country. In 1994 the Interahamwearrived and killed some 1,000 Tutsis who had taken refuge in the church without my being able to do anything to prevent it. A few days later, the Tutsi military arrived and killed 10,000 Hutus. The Western world’s televisions broadcast pictures of these Hutus assassinated in my parish, identifying them as Tutsis”.lvi
Deniers, Distorters and Hypocrites
Among those who are ‘more or less’ deniers of genocide are Edward Herman and David Peterson. In The Politics of Genocide the 18 pages which they devote to events in Rwanda and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo have provoked considerable criticism.lvii The problem I have is that Herman and Peterson never actually come out and say that there was never a genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi. Instead they imply as much with statements to the effect that the orthodox ‘propaganda line on Rwanda … turned victim and perpetrator upside down.’lviii Perhaps I read too much into this lack of a positive stance because the authors themselves do not counter allegations of genocide denial in responding to Caplan and to a short piece by Adam Jones.lix On the other hand, they quote with approval a study which found that 300,000 Tutsi were killed, around 50% of the population.lx How that could have happened in a matter of 100 days and not constitute genocide is rather hard to fathom
It is also the Rwanda/DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) section of the book which I find most problematic. The authors have no problem in levelling very accurate criticisms of the orthodox narrative. On the other hand they often overstep the mark. For example, all of the complexities of Ugandan and Anglo-US support for Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, which are detailed below, are reduced to the statement that the RPF was ‘a wing of the Ugandan army’.lxi Perhaps it is unfortunate that one cannot make such a statement baldly when it probably gives a perfectly accurate understanding of the underlying situation, but it is nevertheless a prima facie falsehood. This leaves the authors open to critiques like that of Gerald Caplan who uses this to mock the very idea that the RPF was effectively a proxy force for the US.lxii Interestingly, Herman and Peterson are able to refute this by citing Caplan’s own earlier work,lxiii but that still does not make the RPF a literal and overt ‘wing’ of the Ugandan army. In fact, authors undermining their own arguments is a very minor matter. More important is the fact that it is symptomatic of a narrative of events which is the mirror-image of that which it opposes. The authors over-simplify in this matter and others because they, as much as their opponents, seem driven to produce a childish vision of simplistic moral significance.
The whole polarised debate over Rwanda reveals something very rotten pervading the discourse of genocide and genocide denial. There is an intellectual reason for avoiding the attachment of a particular moral weight to the concept of genocide in that it can only confuse analysis. There is also, however, a psychological reason. The moral weight given to genocide also seems to produce what can only be described as an atavistic or childish manichaean narrative of victim and perpetrator populations as essences of good and evil. The dangers of this can be seen in the strikingly similar, but diametrically opposed, narratives produced by Adam Jones with regard to RPF killings of Hutu, and that of Herman and Peterson with regard to Interahamwe and/or Forces Armées Rwandaise (FAR) killings of Tutsi.
When it comes to the RPF led slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Hutu, Jones is very keen on emphasising the agency of the ‘Hutugénocidaires‘ who had, in his interesting turn of phrase, ‘staged a mass evacuation’. Translated, this means that millions fled in the face of the RPF takeover of Rwanda. When the RPF led an invasion of Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of Congo) it was because the génocidaires had ‘reconstituted themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.’ They invaded again because the man they themselves had put into power in Kinshasa ‘fell under the sway of Hutu representatives in Kinshasa, supporting renewed cross-border killing operations in Rwanda.’ Jones writes this even though he acknowledges that both Rwanda and Uganda ‘have experienced miraculous leaps in their export of key commodities – diamonds, gold, timber, and coltan (an ore used in computer chips and cell phones) – at levels that exceed total domestic production, providing vivid evidence of the pillaging.’ Jones uses génocidaire to mean anyone who was in a position of power in Rwanda before the RPF takeover. More than that he means the ‘double-plus bad’ people. He doesn’t concern himself with issues like which among them actually were guilty of committing genocide. The impression he gives is that it is the evil génocidaires who are ultimately responsible for the RPF having entered Zaire/DRC and having massacred hundreds of thousands while Rwandan sponsored Congolese rebels, according to Jones himself (citing a 1999 UN report) were “running torture centers that amounted to ‘extermination’ sites.”lxiv Much of his contextualisation of Rwandan aggression and genocide is exactly that given by the Rwandan government. Thus it is deeply ironic when Jones writes of Herman and Peterson: “Herman and Peterson none-too-subtly adopt Hutu Power’s justification for slaughtering Tutsi civilians: that they constituted a ‘fifth column,’ indistinguishable from the invading RPF. This casual parroting of the most virulent Hutu-extremist propaganda effectively blames Rwanda’s Tutsis for their own extermination. It is a disgraceful ploy, and by itself it casts Herman and Peterson’s ‘analysis into utter disrepute.”lxv
Herman and Peterson are more blatantly partisan than Jones. Despite apparently believing that hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were slaughtered, as mentioned above, they create a simple narrative of good Hutus and bad Tutsis. It is worth quoting Jones at length:
“Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one? Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’ at the same time.”
Of course, no mainstream authority has ever claimed that the Tutsi “victims of genocide” in Rwanda in 1994 were drawn from “Kagame’s Tutsi forces.” The latter were invading from Uganda, as Herman and Peterson themselves emphasize. They were outsiders with no connection to, and apparently no particular sympathy for, the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda. It was the Rwandan Tutsi population which, by all serious accounts, bore the overwhelming brunt of the Hutu Power genocide.
So Herman and Peterson’s mocking reference to the “minority Tutsi” population supposedly bearing the brunt of the massacres, then assuming “complete control” of Rwanda, is pure sleight-of-hand. To repeat the indisputable: it was the foreign-based RPF that took “complete control” in July 1994 and “wiped the territory clean of its ‘genocidaires’”….lxvi
It seems likely that the understandable anger that Herman and Peterson feel at the misuse of accusations of atrocities, fuelling far greater atrocities, causes an over-identification with the villainised attacked in Western propaganda. However, this should not be a reason for excusing the crimes committed by members of a denigrated group against members of another group, even if that group has members who are even greater perpetrators of atrocities. Caplan evinces great indignation that Herman and Peterson should call him a ‘genocide facilitator’ when he has ‘spent the past decade immersed in genocide prevention,’lxvii but the description aptly fits Caplan and many others who may genuinely believe that they are working to prevent genocide. Even Jones, who tries very hard to avoid siding with the predominant discourse of apologism and denial of Western crimes, is pulled by emotionality and the very weight of the orthodoxy into the position of minimising the most deadly genocides perpetrated by recidivists who are still very powerful and emphasising the crimes of official enemies of the West who no longer pose a threat to anyone. As Herman and Peterson write regarding Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction:
Jones’s chapter on Bosnia and Kosovo also flies in the face of his claim that he “adopt[s] a comparative approach that does not elevate particular genocides over others, except to the extent that scale and intensity warrant special attention.” Measured by “scale and intensity,” the civil wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo were not remotely in the same league as the U.S. assault on Vietnam, the killings in Indonesia (in the mid-1960s, during and after the overthrow of Sukarno), the two phases of the Iraq genocide (the sanctions era and then war of aggression-occupation), or the still ongoing invasion-occupation of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furthermore, his treatment of numbers in Bosnia is deceptive. Jones asserts that “a quarter of a million people died in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in the years up to the Dayton accords in late 1995. But by the time Jones wrote this, two important establishment studies had shown that the total number of war-related deaths on all sides, soldiers as well as civilians, totalled approximately 100,000. Of these deaths, some 40,233 are now reported as non-soldiers (39,199 civilians, and 1,035 policemen). So Jones suppresses information that would show the earlier standard claim of 250,000 deaths to have been an inflation of wartime propaganda.lxviii
Simply glancing at the contents page of Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction confirms that Jones comes nowhere close to basing his emphasis on ‘scale and intensity’. A chapter is dedicated to Bosnia and Kosovo, while none of the larger genocides mentioned above get similar treatment.
With regard to Rwanda, there is no question, however, that killings occurred on a scale warranting considerable attention, the problem is rather, as I have written the creation of a highly politicised mythological narrative of the genocidal killing of Tutsi which is problematic. Here, once again, Jones is merely one of the better of an extremely bad lot. The ‘Rwandan holocaust’ is rather like the mythic and equally political creation based on the Shoah which Norman Finkelstein calls ‘The Holocaust’: ‘Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality.’lxixFinkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust’ has its origins in imperial geopolitics: ‘Impressed by Israel’s overwhelming display of force, the United States moved to incorporate it as a strategic asset. (Already before the June war the United States had cautiously tilted toward Israel as the Egyptian and Syrian regimes charted an increasingly independent course in the mid-1960s.) Military and economic assistance began to pour in as Israel turned into a proxy for US power in the Middle East.’lxx In Rwanda the geopolitical imperatives existed before the genocide actually took place, and the resulting myth, which would have it that what happened in Rwanda was very similar to the Shoah, has a far more tenuous connection with reality than the mythical ‘Holocaust’.
Kagame’s “Beacon of Hope”
After the RPF takeover the Tutsi genocide was exploited to create what ‘even Britain’s Economist has called “the most repressive in Africa.”‘lxxi This has been recognised by some in the genocide field including Kasaija Phillip Apuuli,lxxii and Lars Waldorf.lxxiii The GNU claimed that it governed a ‘criminal population’.lxxiv According to the GNU themselves, there were 109,499 imprisoned by 2000 awaiting genocide charges.lxxv They widely accused any political opponents of being génocidaires and when that label ceased its usefulness, switched to accusing people of ‘divisionism’, ‘negationism’ and ‘genocide ideology.’lxxvi The latter, of which the GNU accuses those such as the famed rescuer Paul Rusesabagina for having denounced RPF atrocities and two of their own government’s former Prime Ministers, now attracts a 10 to 50 year prison sentence in Rwanda.lxxvii
Though many thousands suffer terribly due to this form of genocide exploitation, this pales in comparison with the hundreds of thousands who died when the RPF used the Tutsi genocide to launch their own genocide. One might think that this would be of considerable interest to genocide scholars, but apparently it is not. When the RPF took over Rwanda 2 million people fled, 1.2 million of them into Zaire.lxxviii Meanwhile, the US was advancing certain plans:
At the very moment the tragic refugee operation was underway, French journalist Jean Daniel was meeting the assistant Secretary of State, John Kornblum, in his Washington office. His account of that meeting is hair-raising.
“France? We want to get along with France. Chirac? A man of good will. We like him. But: (1) no question of keeping Boutros-Ghali; (2) no question of keeping Mobutu in power… … Let’s get together again in six months time. We’ll see if I am mistaken. Watch out for Africa: France has it all wrong. The strong man is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa.”
In his own words, Jean Daniel left that meeting “dumbfounded by the cynical detailing of events to come, and the arrogance of the vocabulary used”lxxix
Kornblum was prophetic. To revisit Jones’s orthodox rendition:
Hutu génocidaires staged a mass evacuation of populations under their control, across the Congolese border to the city of Goma. Ironically, it was this humanitarian crisis that galvanized the world, not the genocide against Tutsis. Ironically, too, the outside aid that flooded in was instrumental in permitting the génocidaires to reconstitute themselves as a terrorist force, brutally controlling the refugee population and launching attacks against Tutsis in both Congo and Rwanda.
In the face of this threat, in 1997 Rwanda assisted the overthrow of the Mobutu regime by Laurent Désiré Kabila….lxxx
Jones doesn’t bother with details such as how or why a campaign against some guerillas turned into the invasion of the massive country the DRC – then known as Zaire.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees were killed or starved to death with 50% of the victims being under 15 years of age.lxxxi A UN report on the genocide mysteriously dropped the use of the word in its final draft. ‘In the UN it is explained that ‘following deep discussions’ in New York the report’s authors ‘themselves’ decided to retract the term ‘genocide’.’lxxxii It is reasonable to expect that the more recently leaked draft UN report on the genocide was leaked because it too was unlikely to be released in unadulterated form. As of the time of this writing it seems that the report may never be released in any form. Meanwhile, Western interests were amply served. As Philpot puts it:
It has been said that the invasion of Rwanda by Ugandan troops in 1990 was aimed at Kinshasa not Kigali. The war that has followed in the Congo and the scramble by Western corporations for control of the vast Congolese natural resources makes that interpretation very plausible. …
Since the war began in the Congo in 1996, the rush of American, Belgian, Canadian, British and French corporations for diamonds and gold and other natural resources in the region has been widely documented and denounced.lxxxiii
Despite the space I have devoted to it, this is by no means a full account of just how problematic the Tutsi genocide/’Rwandan genocide’ is as a paradigmatic exemplar of genocide, less still of the role of Western complicity and of hegemonic distortion of unwanted truth. My point is that, for all of their seeming ignorance, genocide scholars know enough to know that the events of 1994 in Rwanda do not warrant inclusion as one of the three main genocides of the 20th century, yet somehow none challenges that. Jones even as much as accuses François Mitterand of genocide denial:
The president (François Mitterrand) of the same French state that prosecuted Robert Faurisson not only actively supported Rwanda’s génocidaires – before, during, and after the 1994 catastrophe – but when asked later about the genocide, responded: “The genocide or the genocides? I don’t know what one should say!” As Gérard Prunier notes, “this public accolade for the so-called ‘theory of the double genocide’ [i.e., by Tutsis against France’s Hutu allies, as well as by Hutus against Tutsis] was an absolute shame.” It advanced a key thesis of genocide deniers: that the violence was mutual or defensive in nature.lxxxiv
But though Jones equates Mitterand’s failure to unequivocally toe the line with denial, he himself makes the observation that in the former Yugoslavia genocidal acts were ‘implemented in systematic fashion – primarily, but not only, by Serb military and paramilitary forces.’lxxxv The mythical ‘Rwandan holocaust’ must be defended stridently, not so much because the construction of the genocidal mass-murder of Tutsi is tenuous (I think there is considerable uncertainty about that issue) but because even if the central events of the myth are all portrayed accurately, the events surrounding them cannot be mentioned. Why? Because the RPF were acting as agents of the US and they ‘provoked’ one genocide and committed another, bringing death to anything between 450,000 and 1.5 million people. Along with Uganda they committed 3 acts of aggression, described at Nuremberg as ‘the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’lxxxvi Those acts of aggression have brought about 10 million deaths or more. This makes it even more imperative that we view the RPF as heroic leaders of a victimised people – the ‘Jews of Africa’. Why? Because if it is admitted that Museveni and Kagame are war criminals then we are brought one step closer to having to admit that Albright, Clinton, Bush and Blair (to name a few) are guilty of crimes far beyond the scale of which Jean-Paul Akayesu or those in Rwanda have been convicted.
The discourse of the ‘Rwanda holocaust’ suffers from exactly the same selective failure to ask or answer the obvious questions that afflicts the scholarly discourse about US genocides. As Orwell has his character Syme (who ‘sees too clearly and speaks too plainly’) say: ‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’lxxxvii
i Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-
135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 23.
ii Vahakn N. Dadrian, “Patterns of twentieth century genocides: the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan cases,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(4), December, p 487.
iii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, p 48.
iv Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume I: The Meaning of Genocide
, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 67.
v Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 74.
viii One rather unrelenting summary, which omits the usual polite disclaimers, reads:
‘…one wonders what the other powers were doing while Hitler was rearming. And the answer is that they – Britain, the USSR, and the United States – did all they could to facilitate his task. They provided the Nazis with resources, military know-how, patents, money, and weapons – in very large quantities. Why? To set the Nazis up, lead them on, and finally destroy them, and take Germany into the bargain at war’s end. Throughout the 1930s, the United States acted as a mere supplier to the Nazis in the shadow of Britain, who produced the entire show. This show had to end with Britain’s participation in a worldwide conflict as the leader of the coalition of Allied forces against Nazi Germany. But the Hitlerites had to be duped into going to war against Russia with the guarantee that Britain, and thus America, would remain neutral: Hitler would not want to repeat the errors of World War I. Therefore Britain had to ‘double’ herself, so to speak, into a pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi faction – both of which, of course, were components of one and the same fakery. The complex and rather grotesque whole of Britain’s foreign policy in the 1930s was indeed the result of these ghastly theatrical diversions with which the Hitlerites were made to believe that at any time the colorful Nazi-phile camp would overthrow the hawks of the War Party, led by Winston Churchill, and sign a separate peace with the Third Reich. The secret goal of this unbelievable mummery was to drive Hitler away from the Mediterranean in 1941, and into the Soviet marshes, which the British would in fact allow him to ‘cleanse’ for three years, until the time would arrive to hem the Nazis in and finally crush them.’ Guido Giacomo Preparata, Conjuring Hitler: How Britain and America Made the Third Reich
, London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2005, p 204. Preparata goes into detail over the next 50 pages or so including considerable detail regarding the complex masquerade which was played out by the British. For Preparata Britain’s rulers were ‘monolithic’, and indeed he reveals a very surprisingly complex and co-ordinated deception of public diplomacy lasting for a decade. At the end of the next chapter I will deal with the issue of whether some monolithic conspirational group determines US foreign policy, or rather why, assuming that there is no such group, that US foreign policy itself
x I don’t want to overdo the references to 1984
, but it is worth mentioning that if the point of the contractions so beloved by Orwell’s Party was to rename institutions in ways which were both slick and at the same time effaced meaning, then ‘R2P’ may well be the ultimate exemplar, although who can tell what the future might bring?
xi Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Peter Erlinder Jailed by One of the Major Genocidaires of Our Era – Update,” MR Zine
, 17 July 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/
xiii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, pp 61–84.
xiv René Lemarchand, “Disconnecting the threads: Rwanda and the Holocaust reconsidered,” Journal of Genocide Research (2002), 4(4), p 500.
xv Keith Harmon Snow, “Hotel Rwanda: Hollywood and the Holocaust in Central Africa.” Retrieved 3 April 2009 from http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/pdf-
135Hotel%20Rwanda%20Corrected%20Final%201%20Nov%2007.pdf, p 2.
xvi Philip Verwimp, “Testing the Double-Genocide Thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda,” Journal of Conflict Resolution
2003; 47, p 430.
xvii Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 96.
xviii Philip Verwimp, “Testing the Double-Genocide Thesis for Central and Southern Rwanda,” Journal of Conflict Resolution
2003; 47, p 425.
xxi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death
, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 7.
xxii Peter Erlinder, “Bush and Other War Criminals Meet in Rwanda: The Great ‘Rwanda Genocide’ Coverup,” GlobalResearch
, 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2009 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8137
. Prof. Erlinder is former President of the National Lawyers Guild and is Lead Defence Counsel for former Major Aloys Ntabakuze in the Military 1 Trial at the ICTR, the central case in the Tribunal. His article is based on the documents and testimony entered in the court record of the ICTR.
xxiii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 65.
xxiv Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death
, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 7.
xxv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 68.
xxvii Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, pp 70-1.
xxxiv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, pp 72-3.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Issuance of International Arrest Warrants: PI06-0046 (E) (“Bruguiere Report”) 17th November 2006.
xxxvi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death
, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 8.
xxxviii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, p 238.
xxxix Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 78.
xl René Lemarchand, “Disconnecting the threads: Rwanda and the Holocaust reconsidered,” Journal of Genocide Research (2002), 4(4), p 512.
xliii Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Issuance of International Arrest Warrants: PI06-0046 (E) (“Bruguiere Report”) 17th November 2006.
xliv Alan J. Kuperman, “Provoking genocide: a revised history of the Rwandan Patriotic Front,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2004), 6(1),March, p 74.
xlvi Mark Levene, Genocide in the Age of the Nation-State, Volume I: The Meaning of Genocide
, London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2005, p 99.
xlvii The 1991 census put the number at 596,400, although some believe that their numbers were under-reported, the proportion (8.4%) would not be that inconsistent with what would be expected after the exodus of Tutsi after 1959. Marijke Verpoorten estimates that there were between 717,300 and 837,100 Tutsi in Rwanda (“The Death Toll of the Rwandan Genocide: A Detailed Analysis for Gikongoro Province ,” Population (English ed.)
, 60(4), 2005.) Verpoorten, extrapolating from a south-western province, estimates 600,000 to 800,000 Tutsi killed. The methodology, however, is based on current population adjusted for population growth, death and various forms of migration. It involves a large number of variables and necessary assumptions and I believe that this is an issue that is far, far from settled.
xlviii Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, p 232.
l See Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
. New York, Boston: Back Bay Books, 1995.
li Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 93.
lii Robin Philpot, Rwanda, 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard
, Translation of Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali
, Quebec: Les Intouchables, 2004. Retrieved 13 October 2009 fromhttp://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/index.php?id=ch4
lvi Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death
, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, pp 9-10.
A significant exchange was initiated when Gerald Caplan published a highly critical review [“The politics of denialism: The strange case of Rwanda: Review of ‘The Politics of Genocide’,” Pambazuka
, 17 June 2010, issue 486. Retrieved 7 September 2010 from http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65265%5D
. The review is replete with criticisms which are unerringly far short or far wide of the mark. It seems almost certain that to the author and, no doubt, to a substantial proportion of the readers, the very act of denying one of the most horrific mass-slaughters of human history puts Herman and Peterson firmly into the camp of the irrational, if not insane, deniers of the Shoah/Holocaust.
lviii Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics Of Genocide
, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010, p 51.
lx Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply ,” MR Zine, 14 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html.
lxi Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics Of Genocide
, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010, p 53.
lxiv Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, pp 250-2.
Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Adam Jones on Rwanda and Genocide: A Reply ,” MR Zine, 14 August 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010 from http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp170610.html. The citations given by the authors read as follows: Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak, “War-related Deaths in the 1992–1995 Armed Conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Critique of Previous Estimates and Recent Results,” European Journal of Population, Vol. 21, June, 2005, pp. 187-215. In section 3.3, “Overall Numbers” (pp. 205-207), they estimated 102,622 total war-related deaths on all sides, of which 55,261 (54%) were civilians at the time of death, and 47,360 (46%) were military or combatants (p. 207).
For the later of the two studies, see Patrick Ball et al
., Bosnian Book of the Dead: Assessment of the Database
, Research and Documentation Center, Sarajevo, June, 2007, Table 23a, “Victims Reported in BBD by Status in War,” p. 30. At the time this study was released, Ball et al
. estimated 96,895 total war-related deaths, of which 56,662 were soldiers at the time of death (58.5%), and 40,233 were civilians or policemen (41.6%). Here we’d like to emphasize that earlier drafts of this work were in circulation since 2005 (see, e.g., “Research Halves Bosnia War Death Toll to 100,000,” Reuters, November 23, 2005); in citing the June 2007 draft, we do not imply that Adam Jones could have cited it in his 2006 textbook.
lxxii Kasaija Phillip Apuuli, “Procedural due process and the prosecution of genocide suspects in Rwanda,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2009), 11(1),March, p 22.
lxxiii Lars Waldorf, “Revisiting Hotel Rwanda
: genocide ideology, reconciliation, and rescuers,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2009), 11(1),March, pp 105-112.
lxxiv Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 94.
lxxvi Lars Waldorf, “Revisiting Hotel Rwanda
: genocide ideology, reconciliation, and rescuers,” Journal of Genocide Research
(2009), 11(1),March, p 110.
lxxviii Scott Strauss, “How many perpetrators were therein the Rwandan genocide? An estimate,” Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6(1),March, p 97.
lxxx Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, p 250.
lxxxii Joan Casòliva and Joan Carrero, The African Great Lakes: ten years of suffering, destruction and death
, Barcelona: Cristianisme i Justícia, 2000, p 16.
lxxxiv Adam Jones, Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction
, London: Routledge, 2006, p 357.
lxxxvi Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (3rd ed.)
, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p 109.
lxxxvii George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Penguin, 1983, p 26.
Further to my last post, producer/writer Maggie O’Kane has appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq”. Democracy Now! is not really a mainstream media product with a mainstream audience and it appears that some things are slightly altered for such an audience, but not all. One thing that is interesting is that DN! shows a preference for referring to “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq” as “Searching for Steele”. Whose choice that was, I don’t know. It may have been felt that to original title was too unsubtle in emphasising Steele, or it may have been too reminiscent of Austin Powers, or both. It is a good reminder, however, that choosing to emphasise Steele in the title is an editorial decision taken at the expense of both credibility and sensation – something that should in theory be total anathema.
- Now O’Kane makes explicit the link that the film was so pointedly coy about – Steele was sent by Rumsfeld in order to create a torture programme (she still avoids that he was sent to create a death squad programme as such). Now we have three US officials inculpated – Steele, Rumsfeld and Coffman – while the carefully constructed question mark remains over Petraeus. Still no mention of Negroponte and Casteel, nor any mention of the innumerable officers and officials in the military, the DoD and the State Dept. who knew exactly what the “Salvador Option” meant and who were all actively or passively complicit. Instead we have a little potted narrative (O’Kane doesn’t have time to read the full script) about how all the grunts that witnessed the horrors in Samarra were too scared to talk to the Guardian because of Bradley Manning’s fate (why?) apart from one brave soul, Neil Smith, who was 21 at the time (20 according to the Guardian article), lives in Detroit and is a born again Christian. O’Kane was quite eager to provide the colour of the biographical detail – a standard journalistic practice, but nevertheless a propaganda technique.
- Thanks in part to the real journalism of Allan Nairn (discussing El Salvador) O’Kane is forced to follow Goodman’s lead in acknowledging that the main victims were civilians. However, despite the obvious contradiction, she clings throughout to the “counterinsurgency” and “human intelligence” claims. You can’t get “human intelligence” (“humint”) for use in “counterinsurgency” (“COIN”) by torturing civilians. I’ve already detailed this, but it is worth watching the way O’Kane goes to some effort to apply the “counterinsurgency” frame. She summarises the official punchline at the end of the interview. She takes the very well trodden path of pretending to be almost caught off-guard by being asked to give an editorialised summary. This too is pretty standard for journalists, but is a propaganda or rhetorical technique. A long segment on DN! such as this always ends with Goodman inviting a summary. Obviously O’Kane expects it, but she pretends to do the whole “well, if I was forced to summarise, I’d have to say…” technique which BBC always uses to allow its reporters in the field to tell the audience what to think. Using that platform she tells us torturing 14 year old boys is just what war is all about “…and that’s called counterinsurgency.”
- Once again, nothing new is revealed. We are told again that the Wikileaks revelations of FRAGO 242 in 2011 are inexplicably more important than the hundreds of eyewitness accounts, and thousands of mutilated corpses, and stunningly frank official admission that happened 7 or 8 years ago. (For me, this is particularly fascinating. I sometimes analyse propaganda as a necessary adjunct to doing other stuff, but this is the first time that I have become aware that there is a specific alternative dialect of Newspeak. In this case “Wikileaks” means “double-plus good” on DN! in exactly the same way that “patriot” means “double-plus good” on Fox. Whether employed by instinct or by calculation, there is a different idiom or register that is used in exactly the same way as mainstream Newspeak to exactly the same effect. This excites me quite a bit because I think this will give me a much better insight into the likes of the Guardian and also alternative media such as Democracy Now! I may start compiling mainstream and alternative Newspeak dictionaries – reader submissions welcome). O’Kane’s explanation for rehashing old material is that, apparently, no one ever put two and two together before. Once again, these universalising claims are a very standard part of British propaganda. Every time the media colludes with power to lie to people in Britain, they later use phrases like, “nobody could have predicted…”, “everybody felt…”, “we all believed…” “no-one doubted…”. It is a natural outgrowth of a very standard British rhetoric/propaganda technique. If someone on the BBC wants to tell you what to believe they don’t say that to believe otherwise is unpatriotic, or wimpy and effeminate, or evil and against motherhood – they tell you that everyone already believes it “without doubt”. This is much more effective if you have the gravitas to pull it off. So when O’Kane tells us that no-one really put it together before, what she means is that people like herself, and organs like the Guardian, studiously ignored the blindingly obvious and now she feels compelled to point out that “everybody” did.
- Far from providing anything new, O’Kane re-restates the orthodox line restated in the “James Steele: America’s Mystery Man in Iraq” (“JS:AMMI”) that was the normal journalistic “wisdom” from 2005 onwards, but she elaborates a little on what the documentary restates. The US started a brutal, torturing interrogation programme to get “humint” for “COIN”, but the nasty Shia militias took over and turned it into a death squad programme. Again, I’ve covered this already – the problems are that this ignores the evidence that the US deliberated sowed the sectarian strife and ignores the indications that the Western media wilfully pushed the sectarian aspect of the death squad programme while suppressing evidence of US co-ordination. This line also relies on a touch of cognitive dissonance on the part of viewers, made easier by the avoidance of facts in “JS:AMMI”. In over 50 minutes there is a lot of “colour” and emotive content in “JS:AMMI”, but some fairly basic facts are left out. Along with the aforementioned restriction of named conspirators, there are very important details left out. One of which is the tactical similarities in the way terror was systematically used by the death squads under Steele in El Salvador, and the way terror was systematically used by the death squads under Steele in Iraq. When one considers that they targeted the same sorts of civilians, disappeared them in the same way, and dumped their mutilated corpses in the same way, it seems a little odd to claim that there was a counterinsurgency programme committing torture, but the widespread death squad violence just arose when Shia militias took over. Is this insulting to the audience intelligence? Maybe, but they have actually managed to split the audience attention, as if they were dealing with two separate stories, and thus people don’t notice that they actually contradict their own apologism. That too, is a known rhetorical/propaganda trick, most famously exploited by O’Kane’s namesake Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher would never deceptively answer a potentially delicate question with first misdirecting the audience into simultaneously thinking about something else so that they would no notice whatever critical falsehood she slipped in in order to advance the false narrative.
In what to many must seem a shocking exposé, the Guardian and BBC, after a 15 month investigation have produced a dramatic full-length documentary about US involvement in the formation and running of death squads in Iraq. One journalist describes the result as a “staggering… blockbuster”. But, by creating a false context, by omission, by deceptive emphasis and by specious analysis the Guardian and BBC have create a false and toothless critique. Indeed, though the authors would probably deny it vehemently, the impression given in this documentary is not inconsistent with the villain of the piece, James Steele, being a rogue Kurtz-like figure, with Col. James Coffman cast in the role of faithful sidekick. Other links to the established death squad practices are conspicuously absent – links such as John Negroponte’s appointment as Ambassador to Iraq and Steven Casteel’s role in forming the Police Commando units which functioned as death squads (not to mention ordering the Oregon National Guard to return rescued prisoners to their torturers). Even at the most basic level, the fundamental context was obscured, including one fact that the widespread use of death squads confirmed – the US-led “counterinsurgency” was not war, it was genocide.
Perhaps the most striking thing of all is that, after 15 months of investigation and nearly ten years after US officials set in motion the “Salvador option” in Iraq, this documentary reveals much less of substance than was being reported in 2005. In fact, it is a triumph of style over substance which packs an emotive punch, but disarms watchers by its lack of informational revelation. In January of 2005 it became public knowledge that the US was pursuing a death squad programme. In May 2005 the New York Times published the story showing Steele’s involvement in torture. In the intervening years people like Dahr Jamail continued to report on the US orchestration of death squad activity. And Max Fuller spent years and numerous articles (not to mention a website and the book Crying Wolf: Selling Counterinsurgency as Sectarian Civil War) documenting the death squad programme as well as revealing a deliberate ploy to misrepresent US-run death squads as sectarian murder.
Here is what I found wrong with James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq:
1) Mortality Data
One of the key distortions here is something very basic, the use of “more than 120,000” as a mortality figure. Some may argue that given the controversy over the mortality, it is only sensible to be conservative. But these figures are more than simply abstract numbers. When some people, most notoriously David Irving, put the case that only one million European Jews died during World War II, the media didn’t suddenly adopt the more conservative figure. In fact, Irving was thrown in prison. Irving’s casualty figure was crucial to his genocide denial, and the same is true of the lower figure used in “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. A mortality of 120,000 immediately colours the way in which we perceive US actions in Iraq.
While many simply accept such figures on the basis of faith, the origins of the lowee estimates lie entirely in the work of scoundrels and fools. The figures produced by the two Lancet (“L1” and “L2”)surveys indicate a far higher level of mortality and have been reinforced by sources such as the ORB poll. The nail in the coffin of these lower estimates (based on adding the Iraq Body Count figure to those in the Iraq War Logs) came when Les Roberts and students at Columbia subjected the two data sets to analysis, by pains-taking cross-referencing, showed that the two sets of data should be extrapolated to indicate a figure of a similar order, though slightly lower, than the ORB survey suggested. IBC claim that they have a different analysis of the correspondence between IWL and IBC wherein the vast majority of the IWL fatalities are in the IBC count (81%). They also claim, completely speciously, that they can distinguish combatant and non-combatant casualties. However, IWL is thought to cover only about 50% of US military reports (omitting special forces actions, for example, not to mention the incident shown in the footage released as Collateral Murder). Also remember that, as with the “mere gook rule” in Vietnam,1 US forces regularly report civilian deaths at their own hands, such as those in Collateral Murder, as being combatant deaths as a matter of policy.2 You can either conclude that IBC made an honest mistake, trust them on their analysis, and simply add another 15,000 deaths whilst also conveniently ignoring the undisputed fact that the US systematically mischaracterised non-combatant deaths as combatant deaths, or you might think that maybe IBC are not to be trusted. After all, they swore blind in defence of their figure before IWL came out, and barely skipped a beat when the figure jumped over 10% overnight.
We can also use our own brains on this topic. In 2006, the Baghdad morgue received 16,000 bodies of whom 80-85% were victims of violence. In 2005 Robert Fisk wrote: “…in July 2003 – three months after the invasion – 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this rose to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 – 764 of them male, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.” We are really talking about an average of (if you will excuse some arguable rounding up) 1000 per month violent deaths until at least the end of 2007 (with the “surge” being the most violent time of the entire occupation). That gives a figure of 59,000 violent deaths. Let’s be conservative and say that right through to the withdrawal of US troops 50,000 people killed by violence ended up in the Baghdad morgue. What percentage of Iraq’s fatalities does it seem likely to you will have passed through the morgue of Baghdad? Just over 20% of Iraq’s population live in Baghdad, and many who died in Baghdad would not have been taken to the morgue. I think that estimating the Baghdad morgue data as representing any more than 10-15% of Iraqi mortality would be an offence against basic rationality and numeracy, so that too indicates that the figure of 120,000 is a massive underestimate, possibly of entirely the wrong order of magnitude. Another simple and universal yardstick is the number of orphans. The Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs estimates that there are 4.5 million orphans (presumably those who have lost at least on parent) of whom 70% have lost parents since 2003. Is it possible that the 120,000 (which includes children) could have an average of 26.25 offspring? What about the number of widows in Iraq. One estimate is that 2.5 million Iraqi women have been widowed by the war. That seems inexplicably high, and in fact estimates range from 1 million to 3 million total Iraqi widows, but it is another indication that 120,000 is simply untenable and far below an actual conservative figure.
2) US War Aims
One of the central lies of the Iraq occupation, one of the greatest frauds ever perpetrated perhaps, is not just that the US sought some sort of peaceful independent democratic Iraq, but that it sought to impose any sort of stable unified regime at all. No doubt many US personnel were genuinely engaged in attempting to create stability, but from the beginning decisions made at cabinet level and later those emanating from the CPA, very effectively and systematically continued the work that began in 1990, and continued through years of bombing and sanctions and military action. That work was to inflict maximum damage on the fabric of Iraq’s society through attacks on social, political, intellectual, religious and economic health, and through the direct killing and immiseration of the Iraqi people. That process is called genocide.
The only evidence that the US ever sought stability is their own say so, and this is hardly surprising if you consider how unlikely it would be for them to admit instead to a desire to destabilise, weaken and fracture Iraq even further than they already had. The reader may recall that famously Gen. Eric Shinseki was over-ruled on the required number of troops for an effective occupation, and only one third of that number was committed. Some readers may be aware that State Department planning for a successful post-invasion occupation (the “Future of Iraq” project) was systematically sabotaged and subverted. Then the original occupying authority, ORHA (Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) was fatally undermined by understaffing, lack of resources, and lack of standing within a chain of command. It was a joke, the only real resources and agency in the country were US military, which ORHA could not exert authority over, or the extant Iraqi institutions, which the US repudiated. After 61 days ORHA was replaced with the next seemingly Joseph Heller inspired spoof of governance – Bremer’s “Coalition Provisional Authority” (CPA).
With the CPA nominally in charge, actual power devolved to a confusing patchwork of military authorities whose only focus was security. Those who have read Imperial Life in the Emerald City know that there was systematic waste, fraud and mismanagement which ensured that reconstruction money belonging to the peoples of Iraq and the US was never successfully used for reconstruction. Everything was undermined. Even James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq showed that a mere 6 senior civilian police were supposed to train 30,000 police in 18 months. This sort of thing happened in every imaginable area of governance. So strong is the pattern that explanations of coincidence or incompetence cannot be borne, nor can explanations of systemic failure due to virulent partisan ideology (such as Rajiv Chandrasekaran puts forward).
In the meantime, abetted by the CPA, the US military was actually generating the very insurgency that this documentary would have us believe that the US sought desperately to avoid. As David Keen, author of Endless War, discusses here a function of the “war on terror” is to generate the very enemies which the US can use to justify its “war”. I myself have written about a prior instance of this pattern of US behaviour, the Second Indochina War, wherein the US acted to create recruit, arm and finance its insurgent opposition in order to effectuate genocide against the peoples of Indochina.
In Iraq too, the US actually became the midwives and nurturers of the very insurgency they claimed to be combating. The most obvious example is that by attacking or mistreating civilians, the US acted to recruit survivors and the bereaved as their enemies. In addition, though, accounts from early on in the occupation, in amongst the chaos, US forces left massive amounts of ordnance unguarded in the middle of the desert.3 A wild goose chase for WMD that the administration knew did not exist kept US personnel from securing actual conventional ordnance.4 And in one instance the US Marines more or less simply handed 800 assault rifles, 27 pick-up trucks and 50 radios over to a newly formed Fallujan brigade which promptly and predictably continued in its established role of armed resistance to Coalition occupation in spite of this generosity.5
The US regime also subverted its own personnel’s attempts to secure Iraq’s borders from the arrival of money, arms and fighters. Luis Montalvan gives an extraordinary testimony of obfuscation over the installation of a system for tracking migration, concluding: “From 2007—from 2003 to 2007, no computer systems for tracking immigration or emigration installed—were installed along the Syrian-Iraqi border. This surely contributed to the instability of Iraq. Foreign fighters and criminals were free to move transnationally with little fear of apprehension. It is probable that significant numbers of Americans and Iraqis were wounded and killed as a result of this.”
And then there was the infamous CPA Executive Order Number 2. At a stroke it made 500,000 often armed Iraqi military personnel unemployed. Where there had been none, there was now an insurgency. It should also be noted that the first executive order droves tens of thousands of government employees out of work and inevitably the two together were a massive jump start to insurgency where no serious organised armed resistance had existed to that point.
Also, as will be discussed below, the documentary distinctly gives the impression that US backed death squad activities inadvertently helped fuel sectarian civil war. This relies on the fallacy that death squads are a “dirty war” technique of genuine counterinsurgency (which I will counter below) and ignores the evidence that the US deliberately acted to sow ethnic and sectarian division in Iraq.
3) The “Dirty War” Fallacy
The phrase “dirty war” is used in this documentary to connote that the death squads are a form of counterinsurgency, if perhaps a morally questionable one. But the phrase “dirty war” was first applied to the killings and disappearances in Argentina, not by the Junta’s critics, but by the Junta itself. It is an excuse and a rationalisation of political terror. The Argentine politicide was part of a plan of drastic, if not revolutionary, societal transformation, referred to as el Proceso. The Junta who seized power in 1976 sought a “sanitized, purified culture”.6 Under cover of fighting “terrorism” and insurgency, the Junta implemented a totalitarian anticommunist “free-market” regime by destroying any possible ideological opposition or potentially rival power structures. Feierstein writes: “All those targeted had in common not their political identity, but rather the fact that they participated in the social movements of that time.”7 Those targeted were unionists, leaders of agrarian leagues, and community workers working with the urban poor. This was done over a period of years under the guise of fighting the “dirty war” against “terrorist” guerrillas, despite the fact that Argentina’s Montonero guerrillas were a spent force within 6 months of the coup.8 Some social structures (principally the Church) were cleansed rather than disintegrated, becoming instruments of furthering authoritarian obedience.9 To further ensure unquestioning obedience, books were burned and banned, then a blanket law criminalised writing, publishing, printing, distributing or selling anything found to be “subversive” after the fact. This created a sense of uncertainty and fear. As Galeano puts it: “In this program for a society of deaf mutes, each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.”10
What stands out most in el Proceso is the disappearances. Argentina has the sad distinction of being the first place to nominalise “disappear” into “the disappeared”, just as Guatemala had earlier made its unhappy linguistic contribution with the transitive verb “to disappear [someone]”.11 To disappear someone, rather than to simply gun them down in the streets, is to bring about awful uncertainties about their fate – for the loved ones of the disappeared uncertainty prevents the grieving process and even hope becomes a torment, for everyone the imaginings of protracted torture, usually all too real, become a source of great terror. According to Antonius Robben: “Argentine society became terror-stricken. The terror was intended to debilitate people politically and emotionally without them ever fathoming the magnitude of the force that hit them.”12
I would argue that what distinguishes Argentina from “dirty wars” in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Afghanistan and Iraq is that the Argentine Junta, perhaps unwisely in the circumstances, defeated the actual guerillas rather than ensuring their continuance to provide better cover for their ongoing autogenocide. But the pretence of war is often rather thin, surviving only because it is never challenged. Moreover, certain tactics and certain weapons systems are not even suited for military conflict at all. Look, for example, at the armed unmanned aerial vehicles which are currently used by the US government for a “targeted killing” programme. A Predator drone may carry a very lethal payload and the Reaper (formerly “Predator-B”) may carry 4 Hellfire missiles and 2 500-lb bombs. They are not suited for “fighting” opponents with an opportunity to fight back. In fact, while Obama is set on expanding drone usage even further, the US military is set to cut back on drone production because drones are not suited to “contested airspace” and require “permissive” conditions. Reading between those lines you can see that “combat” drones are in fact nothing of the sort because they do not engage in actual combat. The “hunter-killer” appellation is more honest. Reapers and Predators are for use against those who cannot fight back – like aerial death squads.
Death squads, by nature, are not a military tactic whatever their “counterinsurgency” or “counterterror” pretensions. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, it is a universal trait for death squad programmes to seek to conflate combatant targets with non-combatant. This is not restricted to death squad activity itself, but it part of the belligerent political discourse of the putative counterinsurgent regime. During the Cold War, the enemies were the “communists” and deliberate efforts were made to create the impression that the ideological identification was equivalent to combatant status, at least in as much as legitimising killing. The same applies to the uses of the terms “Islamist” and “militant”. Part of this process is to divide the world up into two camps – as Bush Jr said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”.
But Bush wasn’t stating anything new. Early in the Cold War, in Guatemala the motto was “’For liberation or against it.’ From this Manichean vision sprung the paranoid anti-communist taxonomy that added to the list of enemies not only communists, but ‘philocommunists,’ ‘crypto-communists,’ ‘castro-communists,’ ‘archi-communists,’ ‘pro-communists,’ and finally the ‘useful fools.’”13 In 1962, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff defined “insurgency” as any illegal form of opposition to regime rule, thus including passive resistance, joining banned unions or strikes, or anything else deemed illegal by a given regime. At this time they openly embraced terror tactics, such as those conducted by death squads, as “counterterror”.14 In South Vietnam, before there was any armed insurgency, the Diem regime conducted an horrific terror (seemingly forgotten to history) thought to have cost 75,000 lives.15 Mobile guillotines travelled the countryside to execute those denounced as communists and the campaign came to a head in 1959 with the notorious Decree 10/59 under which all forms of political opposition were made treason and any act of sabotage was punishable by death. Local officials could label anyone they wished “communist” and thus secure summary sentences of death or life imprisonment.16 Then, the US deliberately created the term Viet Cong, to conflate political dissent with combatant status, and then, when their own personnel began to reinterpret VC as referring solely to combatants, the US military then came up with another term – ‘Viet Cong infrastructure’. Prados defines them as “a shadowy network of Viet Cong village authorities, informers, tax collectors, propaganda teams, officials of community groups, and the like, who collectively came to be called the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI).” “Sympathizers” were also counted.17 It was the “VCI” that were the main supposed targets of the “Phoenix Programme” – the US run dedicated death squad programme. Those targeted were usually tortured and/or killed,18 so the programme was a war crime in any respect, but when it was expanded throughout South Viet Nam, it was run in such a way that the vast majority of victims were not in any manner involved with the NLF. Instead of using specific intelligence to target people with at least some known connection to the NLF, lists of names were coerced from detainees physically. Cash incentives were also offered for informers, while President Thieu used the programme to kill political rivals.19 “Neutralizations” resulting from the programme were about 20,000 each year. In 1969, out of a US figure of 19,534 “neutralizations” less than 150 were believed to be senior NLF cadres and only 1 (one) had been specifically targeted.20
In Argentina most victims were not guerillas but union leaders, young students, journalists, pacifists, nuns, priests and friends of such people. 21% of victims were students; 10.7% were professionals and 5.7% were teachers or professors. 10% were Jews who were tortured in specific anti-Semitic ways. CIA noted at the time the use of “torture, battlefield ‘justice,’ a fuzzing of the distinction between active guerilla and civilian supporter…arbitrary arrest… death ‘squads’….” Generals increasingly come to understand the threats as being Peronism and unionism. “One Argentine general is quoted as having said that ‘in order to save 20 million Argentines from socialism, it may be necessary to sacrifice 50,000 lives.’”21 General Jorge Rafael Videla defined his “enemy” in the following terms: “a terrorist is not only someone with a weapon or a bomb, but anyone who spreads ideas which are contrary to our western and Christian civilization.”22
As you can see there is a crossover between main force military “counterinsurgency” activities and death squad activities. In El Salvador, by 1992 there were 6800 guerilla’s and they were faced with over 60,000 regular military and over 50,000 ORDEN paramilitaries (many acting as death squads). The UN found the government side responsible for 95% of deaths, concluding that the violence was not guerilla war, but rather repression. This was also true of the 35 year “guerilla war” in Guatemala. UN estimates over 200,000 were killed. 93% of torture, disappearance and execution committed by government forces; 3% by guerillas and 4% described as “private”. The army was involved in 90.52% of massacres, alone in 55% of cases, in collaboration for the others. “In a majority of the massacres committed by the state, especially by the army, the counterinsurgency strategy led to multiple acts of savagery such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls…; impaling the victims; amputating their limbs; burning them alive; extracting their viscera while still alive and in the presence of others… and opening the wombs of pregnant women.” A favoured way of torturing to death was to stab someone then throw them into a pit where they would be burnt to death. Specific deliberate raping torturing killing of women and children was a “counterinsurgency” tactic. “The murder of children was adopted by the army as terrorism – as a counterinsurgency tactic, part of a scorched earth operation.” It was a way of further attacking social cohesion – destroy the graves and the children and there are no ancestors or descendants. Rape was used as weapon to destroy social cohesion.23
The same blurring even applies to the current UAV “targeted killing” programme. The targets are “militants”, not combatants, and in the Israeli “targeted killing” programme (on which the US programme is apparently modelled), though Israeli courts use an “immanent threat” justification to legitimise the strikes,24in practice no victims pose an immanent threat and less than half are even wanted militants, while the rest are, once again, community leaders or political activists.25 If, like Israel and the US, “targeted killings” are carried out with missiles, then it is guaranteed that the majority of victims will not be those specifically targeted. Thus in 2002 when the US conducted a strike on an Afghan villager because he was tall (and therefore may have been Osama Bin Laden who was also tall and may have been in Afghanistan) they also killed two bystanders who were innocent of being tall.26 In the US case, they use “signature strikes”, where there is no known target, more often than “personality strikes”, which ensures that many innocents are killed. In addtion the US uses “double tap” strikes which are follow up attacks designed to kill those who come to help the wounded. It is estimated that about 50 civilians are killed for each known terrorist, but the US has a long standing habit of labelling anyone it murders a combatant by definition.27 William Westmoreland confidently proclaimed that no civilians had ever been killed in a free-fire zone, because people in free-fire zones, whether 9 weeks old or 90 years old, were not civilians by definition.28 Similarly the US government currently defines any “military age male” as a militant unless proven otherwise, and not only do they not investigate such matters, we have no evidence that the US even tries to ascertain whom it has killed other than “military age males”.
As counterinsurgency death squad or targeted killing programmes can only be counterproductive in practical terms, not least because actual combatants are considerably harder to kill than civilians. These are much more efficient at eliminating political dissidents, activists and organisers, but at the same time inflicting terror on the general populace. We have already seen how this occurred in Argentina, but a recent report Living Under Dronesdevotes 30 pages to the non-lethal effects of social disintegration, mental trauma, economic and educational damage, health impacts, and cultural destruction. The constant presence of Reaper and Predator UAV’s audibly buzzing overhead and the constant threat of sudden incineration that accompanies the noise, creates constant grinding stress: “Drones are always on my mind. It makes it difficult to sleep. They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there”. This plays the same role that disappearances do, heightening terror and trauma through “a chronic state of intense uncertainty [while] the later reappearance of highly mutilated corpses instils fear of the unknown rather than the known.”29 Signs of torture and mutilation on the bodies of loved ones creates deep psychological scars, but also militates against compromise promotes armed resistance over unarmed resistance.
The result is what is referred to as the “culture of terror” (a phrase also used to describe the post-2001 interventionism of the US). It inflicts exactly that state earlier mentioned wherein “each citizen has to become his own Torquemada.” This “culture of terror” and, indeed, the very use of deaths squads as a tactic are symptomatic of genocide, in as much as genocide was coined to denote war against peoples rather than armies. The inventor of the term “genocide”, Raphäel Lemkin, put it this way: “Genocide is the antithesis of the Rousseau-Portalis Doctrine, which may be regarded as implicit in the Hague Regulations. This doctrine holds that war is directed against sovereigns and armies, not against subjects and civilians. In its modern application in civilized society, the doctrine means that war is conducted against states and armed forces and not against populations.” It is part of a “composite and manifold” set of behaviours that signify a “coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of a group”. The claim of those committing genocide that they are fighting “dirty wars” against insurgents has not merely been made in Argentina and Guatemala, but in every major act of genocide including the Herero genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda (usually known as the Rwanda Genocide), the subsequent genocide against the Hutu in Rwanda and Eastern Congo, and the Bangladesh Genocide (in what was then “East Pakistan”).
If you really want to give proper context to the US backed death squads in Iraq, it is essential to recognise them as a functional part of an ongoing genocide. It is increasingly difficult to seriously maintain that two decades of systematic destruction unleashed on Iraq by the US and allies were somehow unintended. And it is more evidently fatuous than ever to make the false distinction between the genocidal sanctions period and the occupation period which only saw an increase in the tempo of death and destruction. Each period saw a multiplicity of tactics and policies which worked together in exactly the manner originally described by Lemkin when he sought to explain the new concept which he called “genocide”. As Max Fuller wrote in 2006:
“Iraq’s ‘democratic opening’ was just as vital a fig leaf for all-out dirty war as Duarte’s civilian presidency was in El Salvador. At this moment all of the voices are telling us the same thing and that is that US-trained, armed and backed forces are committing yet another genocide. Islamofascism is just another cover for ruthless political, economic and social repression, with Shiite militiamen in Iraq no more needing to take their orders from Tehran than Guatemalan death squads needed to take theirs from the Vatican. The objective is not a mystery. It is total neo-colonial domination.”
4) Steele in the Heart of Darkness
One version of the Steele documentary opens with an ominous soundtrack and describes him: “…a shadowy figure, always in the background….” The impression given is that Steele was a radical and puissant figure, and there is a definite implication that he was a rogue (with the possibility left open to viewers that US officials turned a wilful blind eye). In terms of relationships with other US personnel, Steele is placed in a very short vertical chain. Top officials may have valued his knowledge and analysis, but the death squad activities are subject only to a lack of oversight by unnamed officials, with one very important exception. Steele’s sidekick, Colonel Coffman, reported to General David Petraeus, but as to how much Petraeus actually knew, we are left doubting. That is quite literally all of the interconnection shown in this documentary – it implicates two US personnel and leaves one with a question mark. The problem is that this is a completely specious, irrational and amnesiac image of the evolution of US founded death squad programmes in Iraq.
In October of 2003, Steven Casteel arrived in Iraq to become the senior US advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Fuller describes his background thus:
“Whilst Casteel’s background is said to be Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the operation against Escobar was a joint intelligence effort, involving the CIA, DEA, Delta Force and a top-secret military intelligence surveillance unit knows as Centra Spike (Marihemp, SpecWarNet). The operation had no impact on Colombia’s position as the world’s major source of cocaine… with the centre of gravity ultimately shifting to dozens of micro cartels (Houston Chronicle). However, the operation did lead to the formation of a death squad known as Los Pepes, which was to form the nucleus for Colombia’s present paramilitary death-squad umbrella organisation, the AUC, responsible for over 80 percent of the country’s most serious human-rights abuses (Colombia Journal). Whilst no official connection was ever admitted, Los Pepes relied on the intelligence data held in the fifth-floor steel vault at the US Embassy in Bogota that served as the operation’s nerve centre. Lists of the death squad’s victims rapidly came to mirror those of Escobar’s associates collated at the embassy headquarters (Cocaine.org, Cannabis News).
Casteel’s background is significant because this kind of intelligence-gathering support role and the production of death lists are characteristic of US involvement in counterinsurgency programs and constitute the underlying thread in what can appear to be random, disjointed killing sprees.”
In December of 2003 Robert Dreyfuss reported that money had been set aside to form a paramilitary militia which analysts immediately pegged as being a death squad programme akin to Phoenix. The programme would bring together both former exile group members and “senior Iraqi intelligence people” from the notorious Mukhabarat of the former regime. James Steele arrived early in 2004 to run the paramilitaries which Casteel was creating, Steele had been in and out of Iraq during 2003, but wasn’t actually assigned to the paramilitaries until after June 2004 when David Petraeus took charge of the newly created “Multi-National Security Transition Command” which trained and equipped Iraqi forces. Also in June 2004 John Negroponte began his tenure as US ambassador to Iraq. It is in no way possible for me to any justice here to the intimate association that Negroponte has to death squad activities, but his record in Latin America is highly enlightening reading. Here’s a taste of his records from Dahr Jamail:
“In Honduras he earned the distinction of being accused of widespread human rights violations by the Honduras Commission on Human Rights while he worked as “a tough cold warrior who enthusiastically carried out President Ronald Reagan’s strategy,” according to cables sent between Negroponte and Washington during his tenure there. The human rights violations carried out by Negroponte were described as “systematic.”
The violations Negroponte oversaw in Honduras were carried out by operatives trained by the CIA. Records document his “special intelligence units,” better known as “death squads,” comprised of CIA-trained Honduran armed units which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of people. Negroponte had full knowledge of these activities while making sure U.S. military aid to Honduras increased from $4 million to $77.4 million a year during his tenure. Under his watch civilian deaths sky-rocketed into the tens of thousands. Negroponte has been described as an “old fashioned imperialist” and got his start during the Vietnam War in the CIA’s Phoenix program….”
The first of the paramilitaries under Steele’s guidance was publicly acknowledged in September 2004. In charge of one of the first Brigades was General Rashid Flayih, a former Ba’athist General who played a key role in crushing the 1991 uprising in southern Iraq (itself often misleadingly described as sectarian in nature). Moreover, as Fuller writes: “Even more significantly than the continued tenure of General Rashid Flayih, is that of General Adnan Thabit. Adnan was instrumental in establishing the Police Commandos according to Maas and is currently [ in charge of all of the Interior Ministry’s extensive security forces. Adnan is a Sunni and was a Baathist intelligence officer. Like Rashid, Adnan has a history of collaboration with the CIA.” The original prime targets were not the “Sunni insurgents” but the Mehdi Army. This Shia militia is, in US media discourse, an implacable enemy of the Sunni “insurgents” despite the fact that the Mehdi army’s leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, gave such vocal and voluble support to Sunni resistance in Falluja – even sending aid and personnel to Fallujah. Just as today Sadr’s support of the “Sunni uprising” and its demands is an unmentionable sour note spoiling the self-serving Western discourse of ethnic and sectarian fragmentation and calls for partition (Peter Galbraith, a major and influential partition advocate, has been allowed to make hundreds of millions of dollars out of his Iraq dealings).
So the death squads were US planned and run and though the sectarian aspect was deliberately inbuilt, it was both Sunni and Shia. The documentary leaves intact the impression that infiltration by Shia militias was the driving force behind the sectarian tensions, and a probable force driving the brutal excesses, rather than a calculated deliberate aspect of the death squad programme as designed by the US. Fuller shows that the implementation of the “Salvador option” created sectarian division by design to further the push for partition. Scott Ritter predicted that “the Salvador option will serve as the impetus for all-out civil war. In the same manner that the CPA-backed assassination of Baathists prompted the restructuring and strengthening of the Sunni-led resistance, any effort by US-backed Kurdish and Shia assassination teams to target Sunni resistance leaders will remove all impediments for a general outbreak of ethnic and religious warfare in Iraq.”
Rather than enlighten viewers to the comprehensive and intentional nature of the US death squad policy, the documentary makes it seem as if the callous and scary Steele had, in his ruthless pursuit of counterinsurgency, unleashed sectarian hatreds and opened up the paramilitaries to Shia militia infiltration because their vicious hatefulness and violence, though morally unacceptable to we civilised Westerners, could be harnessed to suppressing the anti-occupation resistance.
There is the deliberate implication that Steele was valued for his ability to utilise “human intelligence” and in the alternative version he is even touted as an expert as getting “actionable intelligence”. Indeed the entire documentary barely mentions the key death squad trait associated with these Special Police Commandos (disappearing live people and producing mutilated corpses). Instead it concentrates on detentions and torture under interrogation. However, I believe that the reason that the “actionable intelligence” quote is dropped from the official version is that it cannot be reconciled with the reality of the death squad activity in Iraq. The documentary, in either version, insinuates that officials did not enquire too closely into Steele’s methods because he got results. But the implication that these results had something to do with counterinsurgency is patent nonsense. At the height of death squad activity hundreds of corpses were turning up each week with signs of torture, only someone seriously deluded would believe that this torture was all done as a way of gathering real intelligence about insurgent threats to the Occupation and the puppet regime. Torture is not a very effective way of getting reliable intelligence from detainee interrogations.
In a “culture of terror” obviously torture promotes terror as has been discussed, but in death squad terror systems torture may also serve other purposes. One already touched upon is the production of what might be called “actionable intelligence” if one acknowledges that “actionable” need not mean “truthful”. As mentioned, in the Phoenix programme, torture was used to generate lists of names simply to perpetuate a largely indiscriminate terror programme. Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, found that pro-democracy Uzbek activists were being tortured to produce “intelligence” about “terrorists” in other countries for the use by the US and UK: “The information may be untrue, but it is valuable because it feeds into the US agenda.” (Incidentally, the same Craig Murray said of the Salvador option: “The evidence that the US directly contributed to the creation of the current civil war in Iraq by its own secretive security strategy is compelling. Historically of course this is nothing new – divide and rule is a strategy for colonial powers that has stood the test of time.”) Murray testified to the “Bush Commission” to the effect that “they needed false intelligence from torture chambers” in order to justify the war on terror. Indeed, even the justification for the invasion of Iraq had an integral element gained by torturing false intelligence from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The intelligence produced allows some officials to claim innocence or honest error. Other functionaries are genuinely innocent, actually believing the falsehoods, while others maintain ignorance with varying degrees of wilfulness. This includes those in the media, who are as much a part of this system as CIA or Pentagon employees. So if Steele was actually valued for his “human intelligence” gathering (and I think that much less likely than that he was valued for his skill at repression, terror and genocide) then the “actionable intelligence” was known to be false.
On the subject of torture, it remains to be noted that in a process similar to that used to produce self-justifying “intelligence”, there is a psychology of confession and the reification of the victim as malefactor in the mind of the persecutor. Whether in Argentine torture camps, or in the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng, torturers force confessions not for external consumption, but to create a reality which justifies their cruelty even if that reality extends no further than the four walls of a single cell. In this instance, however, the US created a grotesque high-tech dystopian version, like Soviet show trials but with Hollywood pizazz. In a reality show called Terrorists in the Grip of Justice a “parade” of torture victims provided by the SPC Wolf Brigade, confessed to heinous crimes including the murders of people later revealed to be alive.
5) Reel Bad Arabs
One of the strongest distortions in this documentary is the way it isolates the Iraqi paramilitaries’ actions from those of US occupation forces. We are left with the impression that no matter what degree of knowledge US officials possessed, their crime was one of inaction – not putting a stop to things getting out of hand as their ruthless Kurtz built his private army of thugs, and as that very army was infiltrated by vengeful sectarian militias. But as with Indochina or Argentina or Guatemala or El Salvador, the existence of dedicated death squads, or paramilitaries that function as death squads does not preclude death squad type activities from regular forces. The “counterinsurgency” tactics used in South Vietnam, in El Salvador, and in Iraq essentially involve all military personnel in a campaign of terror, in which many, even if quite unwillingly, will find themselves in the role of death squad executioner.
Let us examine the realities of detention at the hands of US occupation forces in Iraq. Many men were detained in “house raids” which seemed almost invariably based on false or faulty intelligence. If that seems unlikely, consider that the US was using torture on detainees to gain information when the vast majority (estimated at 70%-90%) were innocent. Just like the paramilitary death squads, the US forces right from the beginning were torturing innocent people to get “actionable intelligence” on other innocent people. After just 6 months of US occupation, Abu Ghraib alone was crowded with 10,000 detainees. The US also gained intelligence by buying it, and replicated all of the venality and private vengeance that they cannot but have known (having gone down this road before) is an inevitable result of a denunciation system of bribery and coercion.
So within months of the invasion, terror spread to every Iraqi, because none was safe. Each night going to sleep brought the possibility of awakening suddenly to the violent invasion of a US house raid. “Military age” males were subject to detention. They were then “Persons Under Control” or PUCs. They would then pass through a chain of custody. Even before they reached the destination where interrogators were authorised to torture information out of them that they did not possess, the guards along the way might take the opportunity to “fuck a PUC” or “smoke a PUC”. The radically dehumanised process (wherein human beings labelled as “PUC”s) would make detainees inot nothing but anonymous living meat with bags on their heads in a factory-like process. Those who arrested them might understand that they are innocent of wrongdoing, they will have seen the humanity in their eyes, but, like so much else in this dystopian nightmare, all humanity was systematically effaced. So to the next tiers of people in the PUC production line, they are nothing more than a “bad guy”. Ricks even documents that some US personnel maliciously wrote “IED” on the bags of innocent detainees, just in order to prompt abuse which might easily prove fatal.30
Torture of detainees not an aberration for the US. According to Darius Rejali, contemporary US torture combines two distinct styles which he labels “French Modern” and “Anglo-Saxon Modern”.31 Key features include electrotorture, water torture, sleep deprivation and positional torture. These are what he labels “clean torture” techniques, meaning that they are physical tortures which, no matter how much agony they produce, leave no lasting scars: “Used by authoritarian states abroad, it is torture; but used at home, it is probably good policing.”32 Although Rejali emphasises on innumerable occasions that clean tortures occur in response to monitoring, I think that it is reasonable in this instance to take a more nuanced approach. The US doesn’t fear monitoring. Aside from the facts that a former President has happily admitted ordering torture and that Donald Rumsfeld is one of only very few high officials in modern times known to have ordered specific torture techniques to be used,33 systematic US torture is also well documented by NGOs, the UN, and many major news organisations outside of the US. In fact, the utility of “clean” torture is that it allows people, including torturers, to rationalise the effects as being primarily emotional or mental when they may, like water-boarding, cause excruciating physical pain. As Rejali points out even sleep deprivation causes physical pain.34 And yet these are widely understood to be psychological techniques, inducing fear and breaking down resistance.
Of course there is a great deal done by US personnel that is not among these “clean” tortures. Former interrogator Tony Lagouranis describes how “North Babel was probably the place where I saw the worst evidence of abuse. This was from August to October of 2004, so, it was well after the Abu Ghraib scandal. And we were no longer using any harsh tactics within the prison, but I was working with a marine unit, and they would go out and do a raid and stay in the detainee’s homes, and torture them there. They were far worse than anything that I ever saw in a prison. They were breaking bones. They were smashing people’s feet with the back of an axe head. They burned people. Yeah, they were doing some pretty harsh stuff.”
Somehow, however, these non-“clean”acts are erased when it comes to analysis. The entire world saw that attack dogs were made to bite naked restrained prisoners with photos such as these:
Yet whenever the use of dogs is mentioned something strange happens. For Rejali, the Nazis “set
dogs” on prisoners, but the US “threatens” with them.35 Alfred McCoy, another torture specialist
and strong critic of the US, takes the same approach, emphasising on multiple occasions the Arab
cultural sensitivities and fear of dogs. (Apparently Arabs are peculiarly sensitive to being bound
naked and blindfolded while military attack dogs savage them. Who would have thought?)
Our attitude seems to be that above all, though they might trick people into feeling fear or trick them into a “simulation” of drowning, US terror is somehow fake and unthreatening. But, for the loved ones of those taken by the US military, they were disappeared as effectively as if they had been taken by a Guatemalan death squad. Relatives would have no way of knowing where they were or even whether they were still alive for days, but often that might turn into weeks or even months. These were carceral disappearances with most victims entering a Kafkaesque realm of capricious abuse and arbitrary treatment within a characteristically massive and inhuman prison machinery. The prospect of dying in custody was also very real.
The terror inflicted through these indiscriminate detention policies as not the only way in which the US (and to a lesser degree Coalition partners) created a “culture of terror” which was part of their genocide in Iraq. US forces used ordnance guaranteed to kill civilians, such as white phosphorous, depleted uranium, cluster munitions, and large explosive munitions such as 1000lb and 2000lb JDAMs:
In addition, US forces were more intimately killing. As I have written previously:
“…in excess of 100,000, civilians have been killed in a very atomised and geographically dispersed pattern with small arms by coalition forces. The closest parallel to this would be something like the Herero genocide, an early 20th Century colonial genocide.
In a work based on veteran testimony, Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian explain that US personnel have gone“from killing – the shooting of someone who [can] harm you – to murder. The war in Iraq is primarily about murder. There is very little killing.”36 They are talking about the systematic murder of civilians in small increments multiplied many times over. This is the result of a disproportionate fear and lack of security induced within US personnel as well as such policies and tactics as: force protection; reactive firing; suppressive fire; reconnaissance by fire. These are of relevance during convoy operations, house raids and at checkpoints and I am quite confident that each of these situations has been shaped by US policy in such a way as to maximise civilian deaths, often putting US personnel in the situation of being unwilling murderers. Joshua Key describes, from early in the occupation, having to build a “corpse shack” where Iraqis could go to collect the bodies of relatives killed by his company. It was “near our front gate, so relatives could retrieve their loved ones without entering our compound.”37
And then there are also those instances when, given legitimacy by rules of engagement, US personnel quite eagerly commit murder. International Humanitarian Law and even US Field Manuals forbid the killing of non-combatants, but if the ROE redefines a civilian as a combatant, because they stopped to help a wounded person, or carry a shovel, or do something suspicious, then considerable eagerness to kill people may take over. “Delightful bloodlust” as Bradley Manning terms it. This bloodlust is systematically induced in personnel subjected to intense military indoctrination using psychologically sophisticated techniques.
The same fundamental rules of representation and discourse apply to all mainstream Western media products, including both Hollywood blockbusters and “James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq”. Above all, the average US person, including their heavily armed military personnel, can never be shown as a threat to the innocent. For Arabs (as for Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Africans etc. etc.), one is allowed to say that violence is part of their culture, but only the bad apples of the US commit abuses. Above all, one can never suggest that civilians might fear US personnel.
Kieran Kelly blogs at On Genocide.
1 Jeffrey Record, “How America“s Own Military Performance in Vietnam Abetted the “North“s” Victory“ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War, New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 125.
2 Stjepan Gabriel Meštrović, Rules of engagement?: a social anatomy of an American war crime – Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq, New York: Algora, 2008, p 171.
3 Joshua Key writes of loading 1000 rpg and mortar rounds on to a truck, driving it into the middle of the desert and just leaving it. (Joshua Key and Lawrence Hill, The Deserter’s Tale: Why I Walked Away from the War in Iraq, Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2007, pp 78-9.)
4 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, London: Penguin, 2007, p 156.
5 Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007, p 142.
6 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, New York: Henry Holt, 2007, p 105.
7 Daniel Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina and its genocidal characteristics,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2),June, p 150.
8 Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp 107-9.
9 Ibid, p 110.
10 Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America (1973), New York: Monthly Review Press, 1997, p 282.
11 Frank M. Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects of State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Case of Guatemala”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, pp 116.
12 Antonius C. G. M. Robben, “Disappearance and Reburial in Argentina”, in Jeffrey A. Sluka (ed.), Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000, p 96.
13 Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, “The culture of terror and Cold War in Guatemala,” Journal of Genocide Research (2006), 8(2), June, p 198.
14 Frederick H. Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terror, Atlanta and London: Clarity Press and Zed Books, 2004, pp 29-30.
15 William S. Turley, The Second Indochina War. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1986, p 32 n 6.
16 David W. P. Elliott, The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta 1930-1975, Volume 1. London and Armonk, NY: East Gate, 2003, p 195-6.
17 John Prados, The Hidden History of the Vietnam War, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1995, pp 204-5, 210.
18 Tucker gives figures which suggest that just less than one third: “Between 1968 and 1972 it accounted for the deaths of 26,369 people; another 33,358 were captured and 22,013 surrendered,” (Spencer C. Tucker, Vietnam, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999, p 151). These overly precise figures, however, should in themselves arouse suspicion, and accounts of the functioning of the programme make it seem unlikely that any accurate count of those killed was kept, although sometimes, in the words of an officer who helped oversee the programme, “they’d come back to camp with ears to prove they’d killed people,” (Christian Appy, Vietnam: The Definitive Oral History Told from all Sides. London: Ebury Press/Random House, 2006 (2003), p 361).
19 Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War. New York: The New Press, 2003, p 116.
20 John Prados, ‘Impatience, Illusion and Assymetry’ in Marc Jason Gilbert (ed), Why the North Won the Vietnam War. New York: Palgrave, 2002, p 142.
21 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 96-8
22 Feierstein, “Political violence in Argentina…” p 153.
23 Gareau, State Terrorism and the United States, pp 41-9.
24 Michael L. Gross, “Killing civilians intentionally: double effect, reprisal, and necessity in the Middle East”, Political Science Quarterly, 120.4 (Winter 2005), p569.
25 Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, London: Verso, 2005, p 132.
26 Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, London, Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2004, p 29.
27 See above n 1 and n 2.
28 James William Gibson, The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000 (1986), p 135.
29 Afflito, “The Homogenizing effects…”, p 118.
30 Ricks, Fiasco, p 271.
31 Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp 20; 420.
32 Ibid, p 255.
33 Ibid, p 412.
34 Ibid, p 290.
35 Ibid, p 433.
36 Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians, New York: Nation Books, 2008, p xiii.
37 Key, Deserter’s Tale, p 84.