Dictator Removal Service?

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

In a January 29, 2003 "News Analysis" in the New York Times, Todd S. Purdum wrote:

.....President Bush's State of the Union address was shot through with a quality that has come to mark his presidency: an unblinking brand of public moralism that most politicians would shrink from in a largely secular age.

And Purdum quoted some of the President's rhetoric:

We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, [and] equal justice....

Remarkably, in a fifteen paragraph piece, Purdum never raises the possibility that the President's words were empty and hypocritical. The article, like the Times itself, like the mainstream media, buys the premise that the President is sincere in his moral crusade against the "axis of evil"--that the coming war, whether well-considered or not, is a sincere exercise in the public good--a dictator removal service engaged in as a gift to the world.

So here is a little corrective history. (For information not otherwise attributed, see Spooner, Soldiers in a Narrow Land, University of California Press (1994).)

In 1970, Socialist candidate Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, a country which had had a stable democratic system for decades. Richard Nixon, the worst gangster ever elected to the U.S. presidency, regarded Allende as a threat and feared Chile would tip to the Communists. Henry Kissinger, then National Security Adviser, at first derided the country's importance --he jokingly called it "a dagger pointed at the heart of Antartica"-- but soon fell into line and began working to destabilize Chile. (In fairness, Nixon was not the first American president to do so; the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had already pumped CIA money into Chile to support Allende's electoral opponents in 1964.)

The CIA reached out to Chilean military forces eager to overthrow Allende and bring an end to nearly two generations of stable democratic government. Their first obstacle was General Rene Schneider, who commanded the army; Schneider was a determined constitutionalist who would not countenance a coup. The CIA provided machine guns and tear gas grenades to a military group which supposedly would abduct Schneider without harming him, make it look like a leftist conspiracy, and then use the staged provocation as an excuse for a coup. Of course, in the event, Schneider was simply assassinated with the CIA-provided guns. An internal CIA audit later confirmed the agency's involvement. As the official story went, the CIA had pulled out of the plan, which went ahead anyway; however, the agency paid about $50,000 to the conspirators shortly after the murder of Schneider.(Source: the BBC).

On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military rose up against Allende, who committed suicide in the presidential residence. Though the U.S. had done much, including providing more funding, to support the overthrow and to signal its approval, the degree of U.S. involvement in the details of the actual coup is not yet known. The U.S. navy, by coincidence, was engaged in joint exercises with the Chilean navy in coastal waters that day. A young American, Charles Horman, whose story is told in the Costa-Gavras movie Missing, was shot to death by the Chilean military, possibly because he had met and spoken to some indiscreet American agents who had acknowledged their role in the day's events.

The rounding up, torture and murder of suspected leftists began immediately. Apropos of "the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state...[and] equal justice", the DINA, the Chilean secret police, tortured

Marta Lidia Ugarte Roman, by suspending her from a pole in a pit; pulling out her finger nails and toe nails, and burning her;

Meduardo Paredes Barrientos, by systematically breaking his wrists, pelvis, ribs and skull; burning him with a blowtorch or flamethrower;

Adriana Luz Pino Vidal, a pregnant woman, by applying electric shocks to her vagina, ears, hands, feet and mouth, and stubbing out cigarettes on her stomach;

Antonio Llido Mengual, a priest born in Valencia, Spain, by applying electric current to his genitals and repeatedly beating his whole body....

Or, speaking as we were, of "respect for women," consider the following:

Some forms of torture included the employment of a man with visible open syphilitic sores on his body, to rape female captives and to use on them a dog trained in sexual practices with human beings.
(Source for the above accounts of torture: Amnesty International.)

And, apropos of "free speech", the remaining category from Bush's litany, soldiers murdered beloved Chilean folksinger Victor Jara, breaking his hands first and then ordering him to sing one of his songs.

Some captives were thrown alive from helicopters into the sea or rivers. At least three thousand people were murdered in the weeks after the coup, typically on the barest information from an informer, without any semblance of trial. Rival intelligence services were at work; one military officer, who had travelled around the country arbitrarily sentencing political prisoners to prison terms, was shocked to discover that another group had followed his tracks, killing the people he had sentenced.

Of President Bush's long list of the American values we plan to encourage everywhere, the only one not called into question by American-supported action in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America is, of course, "private property". A U.S.-orchestrated campaign in the Allende years had cut Chile off from international credit sources; now, with the help of the "Chicago boys," young Chileans who had trained with the conservative staff of the University of Chicago, Chile began to re-establish its relations with public and private international banks. The Chilean "economic miracle" of the following years, accompanied by the continuing murder of perceived opponents at home and abroad, stands as a leading example of the proposition that (to put it mildly) capitalism and democracy are not closely-related concepts.

In 1976, Kissinger, then secretary of state, had a secret meeting with the Chilean dictator, Auguste Pinochet, at a meeting of the Organization of American States. As related in a diplomatic cable which was recently declassified, Kissinger told Pinochet that, in his opinion, everything he had done was pursuant to the fight against Communism and that he and President Ford were behind him. Kissinger cautioned him that in his speech the next day he had no choice but to make a passing reference to human rights issues in Chile, but that he was planning to make it as generic and fleeting as possible. And he kept that promise. (Source: The Guardian.)

The meeting probably emboldened Pinochet, who a few months later ordered the murder of another opponent, Orlando Letelier, via car bomb on the streets of Washington D.C. His American associate, Ronni Moffit, was also killed. American knowledge of the Chilean dictator's probable link to a murder in the U.S. capital still did not cause any loss of support; Ronald Reagan through-out the '80's was as good a friend to the Chilean junta as Nixon and Ford had been. Note that our arch-enemy, Saddam Hussein, has never been bold enough to kill anyone on U.S. soil.

Democracy has been restored in Chile, which is very painfully dealing with its past; Pinochet, after being imprisoned in Britain for some time, is again free and will avoid trial on medical grounds, though he continues to be functional enough to make appearances before crowds of supporters. So, you will say, what is the link between these old events and the putative morality of Bush's "dictator removal service" today?

The president himself has created the linkage, via three of his appointments: he named Henry Kissinger to lead the September 11 investigation, Admiral John Poindexter, a convicted Iran-Contra felon, to run the "Total Information Awareness" program investigating better ways of spying on all Americans; and Otto Reich was appointed first to a diplomatic job dealing with Latin America and later, became "Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere".

Poindexter was National Security Adviser under President Reagan and was intimately involved in Iran-contra, which involved the illegal and secret sale of arms to Iran (yes, the member of the "axis of evil") and the use of the proceeds to fund (again illegally) the murderous activity of rightist "contra" armies in Nicaragua. Poindexter personally deleted hundreds of emails he received from Colonel Oliver North (unaware that technical means existed to recover them anyway) and then lied to Congress about it. His conviction was later overturned on a technicality: his testimony had been granted immunity from prosecution by Congress prior to his indictment, meaning his own words could not be used against him. Though they were not used at his subsequent trial, a federal appeals court tortuously held that the witnesses at his trial might have been influenced in their accounts by Poindexter's own immunized testimony. His conviction was reversed, despite his clear and uncontroverted involvement in the illegal activities, destruction of evidence and lying to Congress. It was truly a remarkable decision on the president's part to appoint Poindexter today to a role where he can violate everyone's privacy by creating a massive database cross-referencing health, driver and credit information on all American citizens. (Source: Federation of American Scientists.)

Reich was a proponent of and apologist for the Contra activities paid for by the U.S. during the Reagan administration. He disbursed illegal Iran-Contra proceeds to pay for illegal propaganda activities. According to a 1988 report by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reich's group was "a domestic political and propaganda operation run through an obscure bureau in the Department of State which reported directly to the National Security Council rather than through the normal State Department channels.... . This network raised and funneled money to off-shore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands or to the secret Lake Resources bank account in Switzerland for disbursement at the direction of Oliver North. Almost all of these activities were hidden from public view..." (Source: National Security Archive.)

It is an interesting sidelight that the Kissinger and Poindexter appointments did not require Congressional approval. Reich's Latin American appointment would have, and opposition was already building, when Bush switched him to another role which would not need legislative consent.

Henry Kissinger is regarded in much of the world today as a war criminal; he has to be very careful where he travels, as attempts are routinely made to subpoena him to testify in trials in Chile and Spain and there is even some prospect he could be arrested, as Pinochet was for a time. Poindexter is a criminal under American law, though he never had to serve any time. And Reich carefully helped construct the cover story for American-sponsored crimes in Latin America.

These three men are not regarded as tainted players from a past, amoral era; they are regarded as loyal soldiers, valued resources who did what they had to in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and are willing to do so again. This proves, in effect, that the current president and his advisers do not believe that the goals advanced or the tactics used by earlier administrations in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America were wrong. This amorality, this "real-politik" maps very poorly to the President's ringing rhetoric of human dignity, the rule of law, etc.--unless one regards the list, not as the fundamental and simple building blocks of a better world, but as highly convenient, shifting, realpolitik concepts, to be taken out of the closet as needed and laid away again when they become inconvenient. In fact, I don't think the Bush administration understands anything, or cares in the slightest, about "human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women.....free speech [and] equal justice...."

All of the President's and Colin Powell's speechifying have given me a glimpse of a possible world, one in which the United Nations, acting by consensus, operates a dictator removal service. International norms exist, like the rule against torture, which are universal and therefore are even paid lip-service by the regimes which flout them. The Chilean constitution, before and during the Pinochet years, contained a prohibition of torture. An international force which moved in and removed regimes at the very extreme of human behavior, as Saddam is, and promoted democratic self-determination everywhere, would be a beautiful thing. Unilateral action by the United States based on a contingent, shifting set of perceived interests masked in the language of simple morality, is not. One common denominator between the overthrow of a democratically elected president in Chile, and the removal of a dictator in Iraq, is private property: the one nationalized the copper mines, and the other has oil. There are other motives which are apparent or waiting to be revealed; but the language of simple morality is nothing more than a mask.