Encyclopedia of Horrors

State Terrorism and the United States

In his book, State Terrorism and the United States: From Counterinsurgency to the War on Terrorism, former Florida State University professor Frederick H. Gareau has produced a compelling indictment against the United States as the foremost perpetrator of global terrorism. State Terrorism and the United States is based on the reports from truth commissions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. Gareau included a chapter on the three Indonesian massacres to incorporate Asia into the globality of state terrorism, of which the US is the major proponent.

Gareau explains that US terrorism is ideologically based in the Root Doctrine of 1921, which aligns the US with right wing juntas and dictatorships (although not exclusively as the US alliance with the Khmer Rouge illustrates) to fight communism. As part of this fight, the US established the School of the Americas, which trained/indoctrinated recruits from many countries in counterinsurgency techniques (i.e., terrorism), techniques that serve US plutocratic interests. Thus, it was not surprising that many of the leaders of right wing groups and regimes that terrorized the civilian populace in Central and South Ixachilan (colonially known as Central and South America)1 were alumnae of the School of the Americas.

The crimes of the state terrorist agents run the gamut from rape to torture to disappearances (the latter being murder which deprives the victims’ family and friends of closure). In some cases the terrorism was so full blown that it was genocidal, as with the spree of massacres against the Mayan people of Guatemala and communists in Indonesia. The scorched earth campaign in Guatemala forced the Mayan peasants to remain continually on the move to evade the state’s killers.

In South Africa, racism and apartheid were prominent societal features supported by state terrorism.

The commonality among the terrorism wreaked in South Africa and Central and South Ixachilan countries is that state terrorism was wreaked by the ancestors and progeny of European colonialists. The deeply involved guiding force/partner in these evil enterprises was the colonially spawned US.

The truth commissions evidenced state terrorism against its own citizens. As Gareau details, the terrorism was waged overwhelmingly by right-wing groups and the victims were overwhelmingly Original Peoples, the poor, and left-wing groups. The commissions were designed to elicit the truth of what had happened and achieve closure over a dark chapter in the national history.

But the US “national interest” went beyond colluding with ex-pat Europeans amenable to Washington’s will. Gareau describes the three massacres that occurred within the Indonesian archipelago. The first massacre was genocidal in that it attempted to wipe out the entirety of one group in society: those identified as communists and their sympathizers. Also genocidal in intent, the second and third massacres were directed against the East Timorese people. Gareau claims there was an “obvious parallel between the crimes committed by the Indonesian army in East Timor and those committed by Serbs in Kosovo,”2 yet Washington’s reaction was decidedly different, as would be expected by the Root doctrine.

US support for state terrorism was demonstrated by increased aid, particularly military aid (insofar as one can apply the word aid to military goods and services) and supply of armaments. Gareau points to how US “aid” helped apartheid South African regimes develop a nuclear bomb and it had a muted response to the Israeli nuclear weapons program. This is US “aid” directed to genocidal regimes engaged in multiple human rights violations. Gareau points out that when a foreign government was not to US government (there was only a difference in degree of support for state terrorism abroad by Democratic or Republican administrations, not in policy) liking, the US attempted to strangle the economy, as was done against the Salvador Allende government in Chile.

Gareau helps define terrorism. He exposes a contradiction in the “similarity between the doctrine or philosophy of counterinsurgency and that of counter-terrorism as embraced by the Bush administration … Both rationalize the use by ‘our side’ of what are said to be the terrorist tactics of the adversary.”

He, also, reveals a paradox for those who wage a counterinsurgency, e.g., American troops in the “war on terrorism”: the use of guerrilla tactics by counterinsurgents “could make them heroes in the double sense that they not only risked their lives to save the values for which their country purportedly stood, but that they sacrificed their own integrity for doing so.”

The US role in state terrorism has become more direct. In its “war on terrorism” (in fact, a war of terrorism), the US has defined Islamic terrorists as enemy number one, supplanting the communists of the Cold War period. Pre-emption (or prevention) has become a US policy, where the US regime can decide to attack an “enemy” that it determines to be a threat. Gareau points out that this constitutes the international crime of aggression. In promoting the “war on terrorism,” the US military industrial complex continues to run at full throttle despite the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

What or who is a terrorist? Obviously, it is a person or organization that commits terrorism. This label should be applied equally to all who commit terrorism. While, by the preponderance of evidence detailed, the US is clearly the world’s major proponent of state terrorism (the most lethal form of terrorism, as Gareau states), Gareau never refers to the US as a “terrorist state,” nor does he prefix the US government as “terrorist.” Gareau deals with the gruesomeness and immorality of terrorism in a scholarly, dispassionate fashion. If he had maintained such dispassion equitably throughout his book for all terrorists, it would have been of little consequence, but Gareau refers to al Qaeda as a “terrorist group,” even though it practices a much less lethal form of retail terrorism. While not detracting from the value of State Terrorism and the United States, this does inject a bias into an otherwise excellent work.

Gareau concludes splendidly by calling upon a truth commission for Washington, to cast light on the dark secrets hidden by corporate media collusion in the crimes of the US state. The American people need to know about their government’s encyclopedia of horrors.

  1. If one supports the rights of Original Peoples and opposes colonialism and imperialism, then it seems only logical for progressives to refuse the language of colonialism and imperialism. []
  2. As a truth commission would likeliest reveal, the commission of crimes in Serbia was preponderantly caused by US state terrorism in Serbia. See Media Lens, “Disappearing Genocide: The Media and the Death Of Slobodan Milosevic,” Dissident Voice, 21 March 2006 and Dru Oja Jay, “Peace from Above,” The Dominion, 22 March 2006. []
Kim Petersen is an independent writer and former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mesen hotep said on May 17th, 2007 at 6:55am #

    Dear DV,

    This article State Terrorist and the US is more than enlightening…is shocking to say the least. But not surprising one bit. This just goes to show that with all this knowledge of US “lies and atrocities” commited over the decades, one wonders what will the present government think of next. But tell me, what can be done about it?. I will tell you…NOTHING! When a doctrine of this kind is adopted by a government like the US, the forces which drive this kind of insanity are extremely difficult to alter and the humanistic element is absent this means that the belief in the great doctrine which set up this country is not being abided by those who seek and have status as a leader of the so-called free world. It is beyond astonishing and disbelief. All of these corrupt minded persons do not think of preservation of lives not even an iota. We the people……must change this negative perception of Americans world wide by showing the world that the we holds these truths self evidence for all peoples and punish the ALL persons involve with vilations of these truths of the original statues as intended. NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW! not even presidents. MNH

  2. Roger Lippman said on May 17th, 2007 at 10:18pm #

    Thanks for your review of Gareau’s interesting book. But you undercut one of his important points in your footnote 2 on the Kosovo war. It is odd that you cite the Media Lens article, which, aside from being not at all on the point, is filled with error and misinterpretation. You and your readers might find helpful my extensive rebuttal of that article, posted on the Media Lens website at http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=5593 .

    And your other reference in that footnote, the Dominion article on Kosovo, selectively sources a number of defenders, deniers, and apologists for the Serbian attempted destruction of the Albanian population. The author is entitled to his opinion, but a more honest investigation would at least acknowledge the extent of Serbian criminality, and would recognize the Left perspective that offers solidarity with the victims of Milosevic’s regime.

    Surely the Western powers are not innocent in all this, but the most important criticism of them is that they played along with Milosevic for so long, not acting to stop the genocide until it was well underway.

    Roger Lippman
    Editor, Balkan Witness

  3. Root Doctrine « Friends of Spartacus said on May 18th, 2007 at 9:29am #

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