There are a lot of fancy phrases for saying that history has a bad habit of coming back to haunt one, particularly when you don’t pay attention to its lessons, or re-write it because its inconvenient: Being hoist on one’s own petard; nursing the pinion that impels the steel; what goes around, comes around. But in the end they all mean the same thing: This was a bad idea the first time, and really bad the second.
But there was Vice-President Dick Cheney on television last week talking about how “You’ve got to deal with some bad guys” in the fight against terrorism. And just in case you thought the Bush Administration was irony challenged, he delivered those words on Oliver North’s talk show. North, as you recall, was point man for the Reagan Administration’s covert operations in Nicaragua, where we did indeed deal with some “bad guys.”
Don’t take my word for it. Read who North and his colleagues (including Mr. Cheney) were bedding down with in the U.S.’s effort to overthrow the Sandinista government. In 1987, Edgar Chamorro, a leading member of the Directorate of the Nicaraguan Democratic Front, the so-called “Contras”, told the New York Times:
“During my four years as a ‘Contra’ Director, it was premeditated policy to terrorize civilian noncombatants to prevent them from cooperating with the government. Hundreds of civilian murders, mutilations, tortures and rapes were committed in pursuit of this policy, of which the ‘contra’ leaders and their CIA superiors were well aware.”
We also dealt with a lot of “bad guys” when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan back in 1979. The Reagan Administration, seeing an opportunity to score points in the Cold War, poured money, arms and resources into firing up a jihad. While the cover story was supporting democracy, as soon as the Soviets withdrew in 1989, the CIA dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato. In the words of Milt Bearden, CIA Station Chief in Islamabad, “We got the hell out of there.” What Afghanistan got was the Taliban, and what the world got was people we recruited and trained, like Osama bin Ladin, our government’s poster boy for terrorism.
Bearden made those remarks in last month’s massive New York Times series on terrorism, titled “Holy Warriors.” The pieces were suitable chilling, spotlighting bin Ladin as a sort of super-terrorist, attributing things to him that ranged from likely to silly. At one point the articles accursed bin Ladin of master minding the 1993 “ambush” that killed 18 American soldiers in Somalia. For a minute by minute analysis of that debacle I suggest a pager turner called “Black Hawk Down.” Suffice it to say that the operation was in not an “ambush,” but the attempted kidnapping of the Somalian leader Mohammad Adid by a gung-ho American commander (approved by then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell) that went tragically wrong for everyone involved. Besides the young U.S. Rangers, at least 500 Somalians died, and possibly as many as 1,000. Osama bin Ladin’s “tie” to the event was that a few Somalians had served in Afghanistan, a handful with bin Ladin’s organization, Al Qaeda.
The series linked virtually every terrorist attack since 1991 to bin Ladin and his organization. This is not only bad history, but a wrongheaded way of looking at how to confront the very real dangers of terrorism, ignoring the role that the U.S. played in nursing the pinion. The terrorism the Times writes about is not the result of some crazed mastermind or Islam as a religion. In almost every case, it is the consequence of people driven to the edge by grinding poverty, the horrors of war, or a government in which they have no voice. Knock off Osama bin Ladin, and it will have virtually no effect on the kind of terrorism the Times is going on about.
Focusing on the likes of bin Ladin diverts people’s attention from what the U.S. is up to in Colombia, which is exactly the same thing we were up to in Nicaragua, only it’s 2001, not 1987. Our “bad boys” this time around go by the name of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the right-wing “paramilitaries” allied with the Colombian Army in its war with two leftist guerilla groups. These are really bad guys. They walked into the town of Hato Nuevo Jan. 28 and murdered 10 people. A week earlier they hacked 26 villagers to death in Chengue.
As in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, the U.S. has decided to throw in with the Colombian Army and the paramilitaries in the name of “national security,” in this case suppressing the production of cocaine and heroin. Actually, 200 million barrels of untapped oil has more to do with it, but that is another column. While the Clinton and Bush administrations deny any links between the government forces and the paramilitaries, Human Rights Watch recently charged there is “abundant, detailed and continuing evidence of direct collaboration between the military and paramilitary groups; that many Army officers implicated in death squad killings remain on active duty; and that the Army will not serve arrest warrants on paramilitaries involved in murder. Indeed, the leader of the paramilitaries, Carlos Castano, has collected 22 such warrants. According to human rights organizations, 85 percent of the killings in Colombia are carried out by the paramilitaries.
“Bad guys,” but our bad guys, according to Cheney.
So once again, the U.S. is involved in recruiting, training and supporting terrorism. Once again, in the interests of “national security”, we will find ourselves allied with murderers, rapists and torturers. Once again we have nursed that tiny pinion gear to turn a great wheel. And once again, our media has so thoroughly re-written history, that most people will never know what we are brewing up in Colombia.