United States and state-sponsored terrorism

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This article is about terrorism sponsored by the United States. For allegations of American State terrorism, see United States and state terrorism.

The United States of America has at various times in recent history provided support to terrorist and paramilitary organizations across the world. It has also provided assistance to numerous authoritarian regimes that have used terror as a tool of repression.[1][2]

United States support to non-state terrorists has been prominent in Latin America, the Middle-East, and Southern Africa.[1] From 1981 to 1991, the United States provided weapons, training, and extensive financial and logistical support to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, who used terror tactics in their fight against the Nicaraguan government.[3] At various points the United States also provided training, arms, and funds to terrorists among the Cuban exiles, such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles.

Various reasons have been provided to justify such support. These including destabilizing political movements that might have aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, including popular democratic and socialist movements.[4] Such support has also formed a part of the war on drugs.[2] Support was also geared toward ensuring a conducive environment for American corporate interests abroad, especially when these interests came under threat from democratic regimes.[4][5]

Latin America[edit]

The Contras[edit]

From 1979 to 1990, the United States provided financial, logistical and military support to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, who used terrorist tactics in their war against the Nicaraguan government.[3][6][7][8][9] This support persisted despite widespread knowledge of the human rights violations committed by the Contras.[9]

Background[edit]

Alt
Contra militants in 1987

In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew the dictatorial regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and established a revolutionary government in Nicaragua.[10] The Somoza dynasty had been receiving military and financial assistance from the United States since 1936.[11] Following their seizure of power, the Sandinistas ruled the country first as part of a Junta of National Reconstruction, and later as a democratic government following free and fair elections in 1984.[12]

The Sandinistas did not attempt to create a communist economic system; instead, their policy advocated a social democracy and a mixed economy.[13][14][15][16][17][18] However, the U.S. government viewed the leftist Sandinista government as undemocratic and opposed its ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union.[19] The U.S. also was concerned that the fall of Somoza and the success of Sandinista reforms would inspire leftist revolutionary movements and uprisings within other U.S. dependencies across Latin America.[20][21][22][23] The hawkish faction of the U.S. government also wished to "rollback" leftist revolution, regardless of its cost.[9]

As a result, Washington turned to covert action as a means of "retaining its credibility."[24][25] The U.S. government explicitly planned to back the Contras, various rebel groups collectively that were formed in response to the rise of the Sandinistas, as a means to damage the Nicaraguan economy and force the Sandinista government to divert its scarce resources toward the army and away from social and economic programs.[26]

Covert operations[edit]

The United States began to support Contra activities against the Sandinista government by December 1981, with the CIA at the forefront of operations.[27] The CIA provided the militants with weapons, food, and training, in what was described as the "most ambitious" covert operation in more than a decade.[27] One of the purposes the CIA hoped to achieve by these operations was an aggressive and violent response from the Sandinista government which in turn could be used as a pretext for proper military actions.

The Contra campaign against the government included frequent and widespread acts of terror.[3][28][29][30] The economic and social reforms enacted by the government enjoyed some popularity; as a result, the Contras attempted to disrupt these programs.[28] This campaign included the destruction of health centers and hospitals that the Sandinista government had established, in order to disrupt their control over the populace.[28][29] Schools were also destroyed, as the literacy campaign conducted by the government was an important part of its policy.[28] The Contras also committed widespread kidnappings, murder, and rape; several thousand people, mostly civilians, were killed, and many more were "disappeared."[29][30] The kidnappings and murder were a product of the "Low-Intensity Warfare" that the Reagan Doctrine prescribed as a way to disrupt social structures and gain control over the population.[29] In some cases, more indiscriminate killing and destruction also took place.[29][30] The Contras also carried out a campaign of economic sabotage, and disrupted shipping by planting underwater mines in Nicaragua's Port of Corinto.[31][32][33][34][35] The Reagan administration supported this by imposing a full trade embargo.[36]

A mug shot of Oliver North, who conducted covert operations in support of the Contras

In the fiscal year 1984, the U.S. Congress approved $24 million in contra aid.[27] However, the Reagan administration lost a lot of support for its Contra policy after CIA involvement in the mining of Nicaraguan ports became public knowledge, and a report of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research commissioned by the State Department found that Reagan had exaggerated claims about Soviet interference in Nicaragua.[27][37] Congress cut off all funds for the contras in 1985 by the third Boland Amendment.[27][38] As a result, the Reagan administration sought to provide funds through other sources.[39] Between 1984 and 1986, $34 million was routed through third countries and $2.7 million through private sources.[40] These funds were run through the National Security Council, by Lt. Col. Oliver North, who created an organization called "The Enterprise" which served as the secret arm of the NSC staff and had its own airplanes, pilots, airfield, ship, and operatives.[40] It also received assistance from other government agencies, especially from CIA personnel in Central America.[40] These efforts culminated in the Iran-Contra Affair of 1986–1987, which facilitated funding for the Contras through the proceeds of arms sales to Iran. Money was also raised for the Contras through drug trafficking, which the United States was aware of.[41] Senator John Kerry's 1988 Committee on Foreign Relations report on Contra drug links concluded that "senior U.S. policy makers were not immune to the idea that drug money was a perfect solution to the Contras' funding problems".[42]

Propaganda[edit]

Throughout the Nicaraguan civil war, the Reagan government conducted a campaign to shift public opinion in favor of support to the Contras, and to change the vote in Congress in favor of such support.[43] For this purpose, the National Security Council authorized the production and distribution of publications looking favorably at the Contras, also known as "white propaganda," written by paid consultants who did not disclose their connection to the administration.[43] It also arranged for speeches and press conferences conveying the same message.[43] The U.S. government continually discussed the Contras in highly favorable terms; Reagan called them the "moral equivalent of the founding fathers."[44] Another common theme the administration played on was the idea of returning Nicaragua to Democracy, which analysts characterized as "curious," because Nicaragua had been a U.S. supported dictatorship prior to the Sandinista revolution, and had never had a democracy.[45] There were also continued efforts to label the Sandinistas as undemocratic despite the 1984 Nicaraguan elections being generally declared fair by historians.[46] Commentators stated that this was all a part of an attempt to return Nicaragua to the state in which its Central American neighbors were; that is, where traditional social structures remained and U.S. "imperialist" ideas were not threatened.[47][48][49] The investigation into the Iran Contra affair revealed information that led to the operation being called a massive exercise in psychological warfare.[50][51][52]

International Court of Justice ruling[edit]

The International Court of Justice in session

In 1984 the Nicaraguan government filed a suit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States. Nicaragua stated that the contras were completely created and managed by the U.S.[53] Although this claim was rejected, the court found overwhelming and undeniable evidence of a very close relationship between the Contras and the United States.[53] The U.S. was found to have had a very large role in providing financial support, training, weapons, and other logistical support to the Contras over a lengthy period of time, and that this support was essential to the Contras.[53]

In 1984, the ICJ ordered that the United States should stop mining Nicaraguan harbors, and that the U.S. should respect Nicaraguan sovereignty.[54] A few months later the court ruled that it had jurisdiction in the case, contrary to what the U.S. had argued.[54] The ICJ found that the U.S. had encouraged violations of international humanitarian law by assisting paramilitary actions in Nicaragua. The court also criticized the production of a manual on psychological warfare by the U.S. and its dissemination of the Contras.[54] The manual, amongst other things, provided advice on rationalizing the killing of civilians, and on targeted murder. The manual also included an explicit description of the use of "implicit terror."[54]

Having initially argued that the ICJ lacked jurisdiction in the case, the United States withdrew from the proceedings in 1985.[54] The court eventually ruled in favor of Nicaragua, and judged that the United States was required to pay reparations for its violation of International law.[54] The U.S. used its veto on the United Nations Security Council to block the enforcement of the ICJ judgement, and thereby prevented Nicaragua from obtaining any compensation.[55]

Cuban Exiles[edit]

A memorial to Cubana Flight 455

The United States government provided support to several Cuban exiles after the success of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, especially under the administration of George H. W. Bush. Among the most prominent of these were Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, who were implicated in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane. Bosch was also held to be responsible for 30 other terrorist acts, while Carriles was a former CIA agent convicted of numerous terrorist acts committed while he was linked to the agency.[56][57][58][59] Other Cuban exiles involved in terrorist acts, Jose Dionisio Suarez and Virgilio Paz Romero, two other Cuban exiles who assassinated the Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier in Washington in 1976, were also released by the administration of George H.W. Bush.[60]

Orlando Bosch[edit]

Main article: Orlando Bosch

Bosch was a contemporary of Fidel Castro at the University of Havana, where he was involved with the student cells that eventually became a part of the Cuban revolution.[61] However, Bosch became disillusioned with Castro's regime, and participated in a failed rebellion in 1960.[61] He became the leader of the Insurrectional Movement of Revolutionary Recovery (MIRR), and also joined a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) effort to assassinate Castro, along with Luis Posada Carriles.[58] The CIA later confirmed that they had backed him as an operative.[62]

In 1968, he was convicted of firing a bazooka at a Polish cargo ship bound for Havana that had been docked in Miami. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and released on parole in 1974. He immediately broke parole and traveled around Latin America.[58] He was eventually arrested in Venezuela for planning to bomb the Cuban embassy there. The Venezuelan government offered to extradite him to the United States, but the offer was declined. He was released quickly and moved to Chile, and according to the US government, spent two years attempting postal bombings of Cuban embassies in four countries.[58]

Bosch eventually ended up in the Dominican Republic, where he joined the CIA effort to consolidate Cuban exile groups into the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU). The CORU's operations included the failed assassination of the Cuban ambassador to Argentina, and the bombing of the Mexican Embassy in Guatemala City. Along with Posada, he worked with a CIA agent to plant the assassination of Letelier, which was carried out in September 1976.[58][60][62] He was also implicated in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane flying to Havana from Venezuela in which all 73 civilians on board were killed, although Posada and he were acquitted after a lengthy trial. Documents released subsequently showed that the CIA had advance knowledge of the bombing.[58][60][63] He returned to Miami, where he was arrested for violating parole. The Justice department recommended that he be deported. However, Bush overturned this recommendation, and had him released from custody with the stipulation that he "renounce" violence.[58]

Luis Posada Carriles[edit]

Luis Posada at Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S., 1962
Main article: Luis Posada Carriles

Luis Posada Carriles also came into contact with Castro during his student days, but fled Cuba after the 1959 revolution, and helped organize the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.[64] Following the invasion, Carriles was trained for a time at the Fort Benning station of the U.S. Army.[64][65] He then relocated to Venezuela, where he came into contact with Orlando Bosch.[66] Along with Orlando Bosch and others, he founded the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations, which has been described as an umbrella of anti-Castro terrorist groups.[67] In 1976, Cubana flight 455 was blown up in mid-air, killing all 78 people on board. Carriles was arrested for masterminding the operation, and later acquitted. However, a declassified CIA document linked him to the bombing and suggested that the CIA had advance knowledge of it.[56][68][69][70]

After a series of arrests and escapes, Carriles returned to the CIA fold in 1985 by joining their support operations to the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua. His job included dropping military supplied, for which he was paid a significant salary, and he was also linked to the Iran-Contra affair.[66][71] In 1997, a series of terrorist bombings occurred in Cuba, in which Carriles was implicated. They were said to be targeted at the growing tourism there. Carriles admitted that the lone convict in the case had been a mercenary under him, and also made a confession (later retracted) that he had planned the incident.[69] Human Rights Watch stated that although Carriles may have stopped receiving active assistance, he was benefited by the tolerant attitude that the U.S. government took.[72] In 2000, Carriles was arrested and convicted in Panama of attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro.[66]

In 2005, Posada was held by U.S. authorities in Texas on the charge of illegal presence on national territory before the charges were dismissed on May 8, 2007. On September 28, 2005 a U.S. immigration judge ruled that Posada cannot be deported, finding that he faces the threat of torture in Venezuela.[73] Likewise, the US government has refused to send Posada to Cuba, saying he might face torture. His release on bail on April 19, 2007 elicited angry reactions from the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.[74] The U.S. Justice Department had urged the court to keep him in jail because he was "an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks", a flight risk and a danger to the community. On September 9, 2008 the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the District Court's order dismissing the indictment and remanded the case to the District Court.[75] On April 8, 2009 the United States Attorney filed a superseding indictment in the case. Carriles' trial ended on April 8, 2011 with a jury acquitting him on all charges.[76] Peter Kornbluh described him as "one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history" and the "godfather of Cuban exile violence."[77]

Middle East[edit]

It has been alleged that the United States has provided support to Jundallah, a terrorist organization operating in Iran.[78]

Southern Africa[edit]

See also[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • LaFeber, Walter (1993). Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393309645. 
  • Latin American Studies Association (1984). The Electoral Process in Nicaragua: Domestic and International Influences. Latin American Studies Association. 
  • Grandin, Greg (2006). Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. Macmillan. ISBN 9781429959155. 
  • Hamilton, Lee H.; Inouye, Daniel K. (1995). Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 9780788126024. 
  • Carothers, Thomas (1993). In the Name of Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520082601. 

References[edit]

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