Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counterinsurgency, and Counterterrorism, 1940-1990

The Carter Years

In 1977, the Carter administration set out to make human rights a centerpiece of U. S. foreign policy—to show the world that America could stick to its guns on the moral plane as well as the military. The election of Jimmy Carter responded to an American yearning for a simpler world and some old-fashioned virtue in government. The debacle of Watergate and the unravelling of many of the country’s cherished shibboleths during the Vietnam War had been deeply hurtful.

The post-Vietnam disillusionment was felt both by those Americans who rejected the withdrawal as an unwarranted loss of nerve and resolution and by those who believed that the country had been duped into waging an immoral war. The common denominator was uncertainty over the United States’ future direction. The majority of the American people were neither humiliated by defeat nor ashamed for having fought the wrong war; but they were shaken out of their complacent belief that their leaders and their armed forces would only do the right thing by America and the world. The post-Vietnam years were marked by a loss of confidence that had to be met by a new look at American policy and a reaffirmation, not of hollow self-confidence but of the strengths on which American confidence had been founded. Jimmy Carter himself referred to the malaise as “a crisis of confidence made even more grave by the covert pessimism of some of our own leaders.”1 A first step toward rebuilding American self-respect (and confidence) was to reaffirm American virtue.

At the United Nations General Assembly in March 1977, Jimmy Carter announced to the world that henceforth the United States would put the promotion and protection of human rights in the forefront of its foreign policy. His U.N. speech was important because it notified both the more atrocious of America’s allies and the American establishment itself that human rights was henceforth to be a real counter in the game of world affairs. As every signatory of the U.N. Charter was pledged “to observe and to respect basic human rights,” said the new president, member nations could no longer “claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business. Equally, no member can avoid its responsibility to review and to speak when torture or unwarranted deprivation occurs in any part of the world.”2 In the event, deeds did not really match words. The spirit and energy of Carter’s stated intentions were not consistently reflected in the policies and practices of the government he led—or, to be perhaps more accurate, the government whose entrenched bureaucracy and foreign-policy establishment the outsider president could never fully grasp and so never fully change, much less control.

While the Carter administration may have brought a refreshing wholesomeness to Washington and to foreign policy, the world was, if anything, more complex and no less dangerous than in the years of the Vietnam War. Carter eventually found he had less than complete control over the means to put ideals into practice: The White House depended on the great bureaucracies of the state for information and guidance and for the implementation of policy. The human rights advocates Carter brought into the State Department came up against the reluctance of the foreign-policy and defense establishment to undertake fundamental changes in the conduct of foreign relations.

Turning a Blind Eye

The efforts of Carter administration human rights advocates ran up against many of the same institutional constraints that had faced like-minded bureaucrats in previous years. Although State Department researchers were denied access to CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) reports not tailored for their use, concealment of government sponsorship of state terrorism in the counterinsurgency states had never been completely effective. Efforts by State Department insiders to blow the whistle on gross human rights abuse, however, had long been overwhelmed by the concerted opposition of the activist agencies—and undermined by the inadequacy of their own intelligence resources. The policies and attitudes of the foreign-policy establishment before Carter would become apparent at the height of the efforts to build a vigorous human rights policy.

The levels of awareness of the theory and practice of counterterror among the civilian bureaucrats who shape and monitor the larger policies of foreign affairs have differed dramatically. There is some evidence that the level and programmatic nature of counterterror in the counterinsurgency states, from Guatemala to Vietnam, were never brought home to most of those not directly involved in its administration. The civilians who were aware of the counterterror operations, in turn, appear to have made no particular effort to keep abreast of the gory details or their consequences. This willful ignorance was facilitated by the constitutionally covert nature of counterterror.

Agencies engaged in counterterror assistance would invoke the same norms of secrecy applied to the episodic covert action for which the CIA is better known—so-called one-off special operations using cut-outs, proxies, and smokescreens. One-off operations, however, were subject to oversight procedures—from the NSC to Congress—which considered each episode on its own merits. Each operation was distinct and more or less finite in the resources required, the objectives defined, and the political (and other) costs anticipated. By contrast, the counterterror concept in counterinsurgency was programmatic and open-ended. CIA and Defense were to introduce the concept to foreign counterparts and facilitate its implementation. Because it was both covert and open-ended—and above all because it was largely implemented at one remove through host country forces—oversight failed: Intelligence oversight considered operations and general policy, while defense oversight focused on the larger issue of defense planning, spending, and geopolitics.

The greatest barrier to the whistle-blower inside the foreign-policy establishment was the CIA and military stranglehold on information on the covert aspects of counterinsurgency. There was a conscientious effort by the operational agencies, from CIA to DIA and the Pentagon’s military assistance programs, to shield host country counterterror programs from unwanted attention. Embassy and State Department officials who independently stumbled 011 to the reality of counterterror programs came up against determined efforts by CIA and Defense to dispute and neutralize their evidence—often by impugning civilian information sources while claiming their own information was simply insufficient to confirm allegations. The record of interdepartmental discussions on Guatemala from 1967 to 1972—the years counterterror became entrenched there—exemplifies the tension between U. S. counterterrorists and professionals concerned with its counterproductive aspects (if not necessarily its moral dimension).

The obfuscation and perpetuation of counterterror was not solely a product of the covert instincts of the specialists. Civilian policymakers at the top of the policy pyramid, including those of the Department of State, cynically dismissed reports of coresponsibility in counterterror and dissuaded whistle-blowing subordinates from making waves. Counterterror complaints were viewed as annoying and inconsequential human rights concerns, and as such significant only in terms of public relations. The occasional embassy reports attacking counterterror moreover, reflected the isolation of the embassies’ diplomatic staff from independent information sources. Most of the diplomatic staff may well have been outside the “need to know” circle involved in the unconventional aspects of U.S. security assistance; those within the circle were bound by the norms of secrecy and pledged to implement U. S. policy, however disturbing.

However strong the signal that something had gone badly wrong, that selective counterterror had become mass counterterror, the efforts from within to oppose mass killings were stymied by the covert information monopoly and the confidence of the defense establishment in its long-standing doctrine. Even if the 1980s U.S. ambassadors to El Salvador had gone renegade and protested the Salvadoran counterterror to Congress, they would still have been hampered by their weak information. The declassified records from the U.S. embassy at the height of the terror in the early 1980s, including the weekly “Grim-Gram” statistics on political killings, offer little in the way of sensitive information on the Salvadoran army’s role in the slaughter, and indeed little 011 the U. S. military and intelligence operations there beyond the budget figures of overt military assistance. The frankness of former ambassadors on the United States’ role in the terror was further tempered by the record of their own past statements in defense of El Salvador’s human rights record and U. S. policy.

In the event, the U.S. ambassadors to Guatemala and El Salvador during the worst years of state terror have never publicly acknowledged that provision for counterterror terrorism had formed a part of the doctrine that had been exported to these allies. Although some top officials, notably former Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White, broke ranks to denounce the Salvadoran armed forces for mass political killings, none have gone so far as to publicly elaborate the extent to which such practices drew upon U. S. military doctrine and assistance. The focus of the outrage has been on the United States’ misguided association with unsavory personalities (like Salvador’s Roberto d’Aubuisson, whom White described as a pathological killer) or, at best, groups of army officers deemed corrupt and vicious at the head of an otherwise responsible military establishment. The options posed by White and other insider critics of such unsavory allies have generally been limited to the use of aid as a weapon to bring military institutions into line.

What little criticism of the United States’ own policy did go forward largely did so internally, outside the purview of the public, through the dissent channels of the foreign-policy establishment itself. Diplomatic personnel who were aware of, and appalled by, counterterror tended to accept it as a given in the counterinsurgency equation. They generally either acquiesced wholeheartedly, vicariously sympathetic to the robustly primeval side of “tit for tat” terrorism, or, if critical, they urged adherence only to the letter of U. S. doctrine—that is, that counterterror remained legitimate only if used selectively on a limited basis. Declassified reports that acknowledge the introduction of counterterror also tend to conclude that while disagreeable, it seemed an effective solution to insurgency; it could be lived with until a more wholesome alternative turned up.

Retired U. S. Ambassador C. Allan Stewart’s secret survey report on “Public Safety” in Central America in the fall of 1967 provides one mildly critical overview.3 Stewart saw a certain rough justice in the Guatemalan counterterror, finding it “patterned after US far west frontier justice of the days when courtrooms were few and far between.” Informed sources, observes Stewart, believe “guerrillas . . . were captured, summarily executed, their bodies removed from the immediate area and left to be discovered by the peasants.” Stewart concedes that the tactics “present a problem to democratic government, especially if there turn out to be innocent victims,” but terror tactics against actual subversives appear to meet his approval. He cites the frequent discovery of bullet-riddled bodies “in areas where guerrillas were said to be operating” as an indicator of the effectiveness of the methodology—as both a crime-fighting technique and for its prophylactic effect.4 Ambassador Stewart might have been authentically appalled had he reamed the full extent of the Guatemalan counterterror—or of the U.S. military and CIA involvement in organizing and launching counterterror in Guatemala—but he clearly agreed with the Guatemalans’ immediate objective (eradication of the subversives) and was not overly fastidious about their ethics.

As noted earlier, the law enforcement advisory programs of the Office of Public Safety often provided cover for assistance to host countries’ political police and counterterrorists (see chapter 7). Nominal police training programs focused, for the most part, on the doctrine and techniques of political repression, of defeating the communist threat. Military and CIA technicians posing as Public Safety advisers worked with their counterparts in the esoterica of torture, bomb-making, and selective assassination. The Public Safety problem was part of a larger dilemma which is perhaps still present in the foreign assistance equation. The managers of the diverse aspects of the foreign assistance program seem to have been congenitally incapable of fencing off their programs from the unconventional programs of the covert agencies. Many ostensibly Innocuous programs ended up incorporating an unconventional warfare dimension, which dramatically distorted their overall impact. While counterinsurgency programs were reasonably predicated on a full-spectrum approach, the net result was that every aspect of U.S. assistance was also touched by the covert, unconventional side of a secret war. Whether, like Public Safety, a program provided personnel places for covert unconventional warriors, or, like USIS, it provided a propaganda shield against inquisitive and critical outsiders, all agencies played a part in the covert side of the counterinsurgency offensive.

However distressed the civilian specialists of the foreign-policy establishment may have become as they sniffed out the details of counterterrorism, their higher allegiance tended to be to the policies of their respective agencies. High-level institutional priorities required straight-faced defense of client armies (let alone the United States’ own programs), and these took precedence over matters of ethics. The critical insiders’ approach to counterterror, then, was by necessity an oblique one, a critique of the consequences, the body count, and the potential repercussions in Congress. Perhaps the greatest handicap was posed by the inability to speak of counterterror in blunt language—because the very notion of counterterror as terrorism was forbidden, while circumlocution was the norm. Insider critics could not attack head on the legitimacy of the counterterror concept without going the whole hog and revealing the substance—and sequelae—of past counterterror policies. And while considerable information could be gleaned by studious observation, the hard details of these covert programs were held closely by the CIA and the Defense Department.

Where the level of terror became too enormous to shrug off, embassy critiques deflected the blame to the local civilian sectors—as in El Salvador—that most enthusiastically supported counterterror. There could be no reference to the views of CIA and military unconventional warriors on the legitimacy of counterterror. Investigation of the matter was stalled by larger policy issues and institutional inertia. Bringing human rights into the foreign policy equation bruised the interests of too many more powerful departments and challenged the viability of larger lines of policy. The whistle-blowers found, moreover, that the larger the interdepartmental forum and the higher its level, the greater the apparent inertia behind existing policy, however mismatched. Its concept and implementation. To challenge its basic premises—that security assistance moderated foreign governments’ tendencies to abuse rights, that influence with foreign armies was an end in itself, that counterinsurgency was compatible with democratic values—was almost unthinkable.

The Department of State was aware of the reliance on illegal methods of counterterrorism in the unconventional war and was not openly opposed to these measures per se. State’s concern then as now focused on the use of these methods in generalized repression—outside the legitimate war against terrorists. State, if no other agency, was concerned with the letter of the doctrine as a practical matter. As the agency responsible for U.S. foreign policy, it was concerned that if approved doctrine entailed counterterror, it must be done selectively and covertly. To the policymakers at the top, counterterror was intended to be a program solely for use against highly select and clearly defined targets.

A 1972 Public Safety memorandum on Guatemala posed the dilemma as the number-one issue facing the assistance program. “How can the USG[overnment] best assist the GOG[uatemala] to keep insurgency in check, while at the same time encouraging it to minimize use of illegal methods and use of repression against non-insurgents?”5 There was no resolution and could be no resolution to the dilemma so long as terrorism remained a prescribed remedy for dealing with insurgency in any of its aspects. The CIA and the unconventional warriors of the U. S. Military Group, in contrast, never saw a dilemma at all—that is, beyond the defense of their prerogatives for achieving the prime objective: eradicating the subversives.

To the diplomats, then, there was a very real danger inherent in the proliferation of counterterrorism—whether state-sponsored or not wholly or partially. Shortly before Guatemala’s arch-counterterrorist General Carlos Arana Osorio took office, in a June 1970 memorandum the State Department’s desk officer characterized Guatemala’s internal security situation as being “threatened by insurgency and counter terrorism.”6 The U.S. ambassador’s March 1972 overview of the security situation reiterated this warning, although the threat of “counterrorism” is defined in terms of its adoption by the “extreme right.”7 The consistent refusal to recognize any direct governmental responsibility for counterterror would provide the baseline from which the U.S. establishment dodged congressional criticism of the Guatemalan situation on into the 1980s—and evaded its own accountability.

The declassified record on Guatemala also illustrates the rather different analyses of terror there—and security needs—by CIA and State. Interdepartmental discussions on the future of Guatemalan security assistance, held in the spring of 1971, considered the record of counterterrorism in the context of proposed assistance programs. State’s May 1971 independent survey of “Repressive Counter-Terrorism” by government security forces was on the table, and the principal issue was to measure Guatemala against criteria that would “trigger reduction of U.S. security assistance or supporting any regime that reaches a point of international infamy.”8

State’s 1971 efforts to quantify and assess governmental terror were however, roundly derided as insubstantial by CIA and other agencies. There was no documentation, no proof of governmental involvement was the CIA rejoinder. The same arguments would emerge in the 1980s, regarding Central American and Philippines “death squad” campaigns: that is, the information was insufficient to draw conclusions to that effect, autonomous paramilitary groups were responsible for the bulk of the violence, and the government itself exercised scant control over the country. The CIA/Office of Public Safety apologists for Guatemala argued that government “should not be held wholly accountable” for the killings and “missing persons” cited in the survey without far more detailed evidence, and that there was “not yet enough good evidence to confront the government of Guatemala and point out their excesses.””

The CIA made more emphatic arguments—which would later be picked up by the Reagan administration—against suspension of assistance, regardless of the atrocities. Withdrawal of personnel from the country would result in “loss of leverage and would incur serious loss of major interests.”10 Termination of assistance would be “an admittance that we have failed and would cause more severe repercussions.”11 Indeed, any backtracking from the prime objective—combating subversion—was seen as a signal that would destroy the United States’ credibility and influence. State Department official Robert Hurwitch argued that

if the US Government were to withdraw or reduce assistance . . . [the guerrillas] would probably read this as having the GOG on the run and that the US was not supporting GOG efforts in suppressing terrorism. This would result in serious political consequences . . . and erode any political influence we have in the country.

Cuts in security assistance would come only “after Congressional pressures were raised to a point where we had to react” or if assistance was deemed counterproductive to the security objective itself.12

Human Rights and the Law

The systematic monitoring of human rights observance was a necessary step in Carter’s human rights agenda. Human rights had been the object of occasional congressional hearings on foreign affairs since the turn of the century; congressional hearings and new legislation on human rights had proliferated in the dog days of the Vietnam War.13 In 1974, two amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 provided the foundation for regular monitoring reports to be made as a requisite for foreign assistance. Section 502B, concerning security assistance, stipulated that “except in extraordinary circumstances,” the president was to substantially reduce or terminate aid to any government “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” In order to exempt nations from this stipulation, the president was obliged to advise Congress of the “extraordinary circumstances” requiring continued aid. Section 116(d)(1) introduced a similar human rights component, with rather broader exemptions, into bilateral economic assistance.

The language of the law was later toughened, although the loopholes remained. After 1976, Section 502B stipulated that “no assistance” was to be provided countries whose governments grossly violated human rights, and it elaborated upon the means through which exceptions were to be explained to Congress. Later amendments required the president to certify the reasons for which human rights provisions would be waived (1987), while allowing presidential certification of improvement in the human rights record to justify renewal or continuation of assistance (1979).14 The first paragraph, as restated in 1978, reinforced the legal foundations of the Carter administration’s human rights plank:

The United States shall, in accordance with its international obligations . . . and in keeping with the constitutional heritage and traditions of the United States, promote and encourage increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the world.... Accordingly, a principal goal of the foreign policy of the United States shall be to promote the increased observance of internationally recognized human rights by all countries.15

Fine words aside, the most positive contributions of Sections 116(d) (1) and 502B were to set out a firm legal basis for curtailing assistance to tyrants, and to require structured reporting through which an administration’s compliance with human rights restrictions could be measured. Section 116(d)(1) required the Secretary of State to provide Congress each year with “a full and complete report” on “the status of internationally recognized human rights” in countries receiving bilateral economic assistance; it was to take into account, among other things, the “relevant findings of appropriate international organizations, including nongovernmental organizations . . . [and] the extent of cooperation by such government in permitting an unimpeded investigation by any such organization of alleged violations.”16

The first annual report of the Department of State to Congress was published in 1977. Its quality was so abysmal that a congressional subcommittee prepared a critique based on its own country reports (commissioned from the Congressional Research Service). The result was both scathing and constructive: The congressional report considered the “adequacy and usefulness” of the submissions, examined the larger issues involved in executive reporting on human rights, and set out an analytical framework of criteria to improve human rights reporting.17 Congressional attention would be sustained into the 1980s, with oversight hearings held each year on the State Department’s preparation of the reports.

Now entitled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” the reports, which are published each February, force the administration to put on the record an assessment of the human rights practices of its clients. Although the quality and bias of the reports varies in accordance with the politics—and significance—of the government in question, the reports have been important. Executive policymakers are obliged to go on record accounting for a long list of human rights criteria, in a manner facilitating informed criticism and congressional review. At worst, official reports attempting to whitewash or conceal violations, when contrasted with independent reporting, provide an insight into the policies of deception governing relations with that country.

The principal testing place for Carter’s human rights campaign was Central and South America. The scene had been set for a showdown in Central America during the Ford administration, with congressional hearings in June 1976 on human rights in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Hewson A. Ryan’s response to the compelling testimony on gross human rights was an intransigent denial: “[A] review of all hard evidence . . . did not yield that there had emerged a consistent pattern of gross violation of human rights.”18 The June 1976 hearings were perhaps most significant insofar as they provided an early opportunity for congressmen to press the administration on its implementation of the new statutory obligations to bring human rights considerations into the foreign assistance process. Assistant Secretary Ryan’s testimony provided compelling evidence only that the Department of State was working hard to evade the human rights provisions. In response to questioning, Ryan answered that he was unaware of interviews of alleged victims by U.S. missions and provided a variety of excuses for this apparent negligence:

“Our political sections are, as you know, very limited. We have one officer who is assigned as a political officer....”

“We try to ascertain these allegations, but we have rarely found peop who are willing to talk.”

“We have limited ability to go out. We have no authority under intemational law to go into an investigatory phase, of course.”

“We cannot conduct investigations in a foreign country. This is sovereign country....”19

The most trenchant critique of Ryan’s testimony was leveled by Donald Fraser, chairman of the Subcommittee on International Organizations, who told him: “You have been unable to ascertain the statutory foundation for the continuation of aid to these three countries. You speak of charges and countercharges canceling out each other. You state that you are understaffed, and that you have no authority to investigate. You ought to just quit.”20 Had Congress not pursued the issue, end Jimmy Carter not come into the White House in January 1977, it is likely that the State Department’s posture on human rights abuse in client states would have remained much the same, whatever the letter of the law. In 1976 alone, however, tough congressional hearings were held into human rights in Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, the U. S. S. R., and on human rights issues germane to the annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States.21 As a consequence, the congressional foreign affairs committees were equipped with the information necessary to challenge the Ford administration’s whitewashes and to press for implementation of the law. Carter’s election provided the added political clout required to oblige even nominal compliance with the law by the foreign policy establishment.

The Carter administration immediately began to shore up basic institutional mechanisms to meet the human rights requirements. The State Department officer responsible for human rights, including the preparation of the reports required by Sections 116(d)(1) and 502B, was upgraded from Coordinator to Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. State also created an independent Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in 1977.22 Patricia Derian whose reputation was made as a civil rights worker in Mississippi, was appointed to head the bureau as Assistant Secretary. The formal rank was important, as it ostensibly put the new human rights supremo on an equal footing with the department’s regional bureau chiefs, with access to top- level cable traffic, a chair at high-level meetings, and a direct line to the Secretary of State.23

Carter also required the appointment of human rights officers in each overseas mission (although these officers also wore other hats) and the development of a bureaucratic procedure for the preparation of annual reports under Sections 116(d)(1) and 502B. The embarrassment of the April 1977 report on human rights practices surely reinforced efforts by the Carter appointees to bring reporting into line with statutory requirements over the next year. The appointment of human rights advocates to the new top posts at State, and the new machinery for human rights monitoring at least went some way toward putting human rights on the policy agenda. But the monitoring process and the linkage of rights to foreign assistance was still subject to the exceptions, qualifications, and the opportunities for dissimulation (through certification) built into the law, and the influence of the human rights advocates within the system, as outsiders, was limited.

The actual suspension of assistance on human rights grounds, also found prompt, if limited, application. Security assistance to Chile, Ethiopia, and Uruguay was cut off, although without formally declaring that their governments were guilty of gross and persistent patterns of human rights abuse. The Secretary of State announced, however, that South Korea and the Philippines would be exempted from cuts in assistance on the grounds of national security.24 The surprise development, following the publication of the April 1977 report, was the unilateral “renunciation” of security assistance by the governments of Brazil and Argentina—on the grounds that the publication was an affront to national sovereignty. The aid renounced, however, was by 1976 already at a relatively low level; and, as with Chile and Uruguay, intermilitary relations (and economic aid) would continue. El Salvador and Guatemala, which were relatively unscathed by the 1977 report, rapidly followed suit in renouncing security assistance.25

Assistance to Guatemala and El Salvador would, in fact, continue on a gradually diminishing basis for several years as previously earmarked funds were disbursed. U. S. military missions remained in the two countries, behind the scenes, throughout the Carter years. Intermilitary relations continued on a discreet professional basis seemingly designed to evade congressional oversight, and guaranteed to telegraph to the U.S. officers’ counterparts unconditional, unlimited support from the United States however outrageous their internal affairs. This notwithstanding, even symbolic aid cuts served a political purpose at home, sending a misleading (but reassuring) signal to the American people, that they, through their government, would not be drawn in to fuel distant holocausts.

The CIA and the “Halloween Massacre”

The Carter efforts to shake up and “moralize” foreign policy (and the State Department) were paralleled by efforts to clean up the CIA. Responsibility for the latter task fell largely to a fellow navy man, Admiral Stansfield Turner. President Ford had already made a step toward requiring greater CIA accountability in February 1976, by limiting the function of intelligence in Executive Order (EO) 11905. Ford’s order was best known for its ban on assassinations—a direct response to the Senate’s hearings on the subject.26 An August 1976 CIA briefing for candidate and then-Governor Carter stressed that EO 11905 spelled out guidelines for “the conduct of intelligence operations within Constitutional limits,” while creating the “Operations Advisory Group” to replace “the NSC subcommittee known under various Administrations as 54/12, 303, and 40 (taken from the numbers of the presidential directives).”27 Carter restated the prohibition on assassinations in the 1978 EO 12036 and exercised greater prudence authorizing major covert action initiatives overseas. The NSC covert action group under Carter remained largely unchanged but was renamed the Special Coordinating Committee.

The new order at CIA under Turner was best known for what the clandestine services would call the “Halloween Massacre” of 1977, a purge attributed in part to budget cuts, but which also reflected a change of emphasis from paramilitary action to intelligence collection and analysis. Former CIA covert action chief Theodore Shackley has claimed that over 2,800 intelligence officers, many of them paramilitary specialists were fired or forced out of the CIA.28 Turner himself has given a figure of 820 staff positions cut from the clandestine service, but maintained that the tightening up of personnel policies had actually improved both human and technical intelligence collection capabilities.29 Turner’s critics also tended to be vociferous about the relative decline in the strength and status of the army Special Forces—the CIA’s partner in paramilitary action—which in fact began during the Nixon administration. Special Forces had diminished in number since their withdrawal from Vietnam in 1971, from a peak of 9,000 to about 2,000 in the late 1970s.30 The paramilitary side of covert action was indeed curtailed, if not to the extent suggested by Shackley and other ax-operatives.

Despite the purge at the CIA’s Langley headquarters, the covert side of security assistance continued, through the CIA and the various mechanisms by means of which covert personnel could be drafted in from the military. At the same time, Israel and Argentina stepped in to fill overt advisory and materiel requirements that could not be met by the United States as long as the formal estrangements over human rights persisted. At the height of President Carter’s human rights offensive, Latin American armies exercised a form of “import substitution,” replacing U.S. automatic weapons with Israeli Galil and Uzi submachine guns and assault rifles, and World War II-vintage American aircraft with state-of-the-art Israeli STOL [short take-offend landing] aircraft, tailor made for counterinsurgency.!’ Argentine and Israeli advisers, in turn, provided field assistance in intelligence and unconventional warfare to the Central American armies whose U.S. military trainers were overstretched or withdrawn. Neither arrangement could have gone forward without a green light from Washington. Even as U. S. security assistance to the Somoza dynasty was curtailed in 1978, when the regime turned to the destruction of Nicaragua’s cities to save itself, shiploads of Israeli arms, ammunition, and aircraft arrived to ensure there would be no interruption of supplies to Somoza’s National Guard.

There is some evidence that the civilian policymakers, and notably the president, were not kept fully informed of the ongoing assistance to governments that were nominally on the United States’ list of villains. The flood of arms and the backdoor training in special warfare seems too patently a mockery of his foreign policy for the president to have been aware of it. But the level of covert training and arms procurement going on at the height of Carter’s human rights offensive was too extensive to have continued without a go-ahead at high levels at the Pentagon and from CIA headquarters in Langley. The Reagan administration would later reveal, if unwillingly, some of the ways through which legislative prohibition of covert action could be circumvented through clandestine action orchestrated from within the White House itself. The contra supply operation of the 1980s would be insulated from the CIA’s conventional mechanisms of covert action, albeit imperfectly, by calling in contract personnel like General John K. Singlaub and by handling procurement and logistics through second governments and the same human and commercial “proprietaries” more commonly under direct CIA supervision and control.

The supplementary measures to the aid cuts, whether involving further sanctions or positive inducements to promote human rights, largely failed to materialize. In this the human rights advocates in the administration were, in the final analysis, little more empowered than were their counterparts of previous years in Congress. Even before January 1977, congressional committees had the power to stop military assistance on human rights grounds, and had indeed taken steps to do so. The human rights officers, like their congressional colleagues, found their role limited to opposing bad policy. There was no proven machinery or precedent through which to remedy past mistakes and to implement the alternatives that could preempt future atrocities. The distant holocausts continued unchecked, from Central America to East Timor.

It was perhaps a reflection of the active subversion of the Carter human rights policy by the foreign policy and defense establishments that, during the Carter years, human rights abuse reached its peak in Argentina and Nicaragua, and reached new and unprecedented levels (to be exceeded only in the Reagan years) in Guatemala and El Salvador. The United States’ response to the pogroms and death camps of Argentina, the creeping demolition of Nicaragua, and the rustic genocide in Guatemala was largely one of silence, smoke screens, quiet diplomacy, and business as usual.32 The U.S. government, on balance, did nothing to stop mass murder by its allies. But the nominal aid cuts provided an effective alibi, while a significant part of the United States’ apparatus without question contributed directly to the slaughter through military aid, advice, and the global screen of diplomatic defense against impolitic criticism.

The Question of Leverage

The argument that the cuts in aid had reduced U. S. leverage to halt the slaughter, moreover, was specious and self-serving. To suggest leverage was lost was to suggest it had previously been used to good effect. But there was abundant evidence that U. S. assistance had previously contributed directly to just the kind of abuse the Carter administration was committed to oppose. If assistance could not be shown to have caused a particular pattern of abuse, it was eminently clear that it was often a party to it, having provided the means (from arms to computer systems) the motive (the global war against communism), and the medium (the organization and tactical software of U. S. military doctrine). If assistance had provided leverage with the recipients, given the record of the counterinsurgency states in the previous twenty years, it was largely pernicious. Where were the democratic institutions and the freedom from fear OIIC’ might have hoped for? One cannot find a single example of U. S. military assistance used as an effective lever to rein in human rights abuse.

The question, then, was: How would maintaining the status quo of military assistance—which had been shown to have contributed directly to gross human rights abuse in the counterinsurgency states—conceivably be seen as a means to cheek human rights abuse? To suggest that military assistance should remain untouchable was, perhaps, to concede that, m cultivating the counterinsurgency state, the United States’ relations with such states had become a preeminently military affair. The broad spectrum of foreign relations with ordinary nations had, in policy terms, been severely circumscribed in dealing with the counterinsurgency state. Because the power of the counterinsurgency states lay with their armies—however comprehensively their leaders had embellished their stature with the trappings of political office, periodic elections, and sophisticated diplomatic representation abroad—the entree to dealings with these states was not the province of the U. S. diplomatic corps, but the highly developed structures of the U.S. military missions, training programs, and the primary medium of interservice accommodation, military assistance.

Curtailing military assistance for reasons of principle challenged the United States’ military itself in much the same way as had the Department of State’s postwar battles to regain its foreign affairs prerogatives from the War Department. The development of close intermilitary relations, particularly in the Americas, had been a feature of postwar relations that was largely parallel to, and independent of, the established structures of diplomacy.33 These relations had been further cemented and strengthened since the counterinsurgency era of the 1960s through massive training and assistance programs, the large military assistance advisory groups installed in the counterinsurgency states, and the generalized adoption and adaptation of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine within the United States’ sphere. The threat of a rift or a drastic limitation of the U. S. military’s contact with its ideological brothers in arms threatened to undo their decades-long efforts to mold the counterinsurgency states.

The close association of the United States’ defense establishment with the armies ruling those counterinsurgency states might well have forged ties of equal strength even had the military missions not sweetened the relationship with the material largesse. There was an ideological as well as a professional affinity between the counterparts. Above all, the U. S. military and intelligence establishment were accepted as brothers who made common cause in the fight against communist subversion.

The crux of the leverage conundrum was that the principles in question, these matters of human rights, were peripheral, when not wholly contrary, to the primary objective of U.S. military policy: to confront and suppress international communism by means fair and foul. And so the human rights policy could indeed have short-circuited the dynamics of the foreign policy process if it had been sufficiently muscular, although the real leverage lost by the U.S. military would have gone to other governmental sectors. The only leverage exercised was that of the military establishment on the foreign policy establishment itself, not on the military’s foreign counterparts. By curtailing military assistance, the Carter administration, perhaps unknowingly, set in train a policy which if pursued comprehensively might well have undermined the military and intelligence establishment’s hold on relations with the counterinsurgency states since the Vietnam era.

The armies of the counterinsurgency states that reacted angrily to Washington’s human rights pontification did so in part because of its hypocrisy. The counterinsurgency practices at the root of the human rights uproar were, after all, hardly unknown to their U. S. counterparts, counsellors, and accomplices who had long worked with them—and there is no evidence they were ever disowned by them. The tone of the reactions of the Latin Americans who either were the object of aid cuts or renounced overt aid may have been one of indignation, but the real venom directed at the human rights policy came from within the United States’ defense establishment. Military materiel could be got, in any case (and seemingly still subsidized by U.S. funds), but the defense establishment itself found the new policy a profound challenge to its dominant position as diplomat abroad and power broker at home.

On Resolution and Counterrevolution

Although the spirit was there, the available means to enforce the human rights policy went largely untapped, and the Carter administration’s commitment to it flagged in the crunch. Jimmy Carter’s apology for the Shah of Iran, far more than his refusal to send in the Marines (or to authorize an all- out covert action) to save the Shah, spelled both the end of the line in Iran and the bankruptcy of a decent and potentially world-shaking experiment in the use of U. S. power.

The counterinsurgency states in Latin America remained in the United States’ sphere of influence and on intimate relations with the rest of the inter-American military and intelligence fraternity, which the United States continued to dominate. Indeed, the U.S. defense establishment was given increased freedom of action to the extent that the human rights policy absolved the United States of responsibility for the actions of its proteges. The record of mayhem and murder in the American sphere during the Carter years was perfunctorily noted in the annual 50213 reports, which led to some reduction in assistance; but there was little in the way of a “proactive” policy to bring allied counterterror atrocities to a halt. The outstanding examples of counterinsurgent atrocity can be found in Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

In Argentina, a nationwide campaign of torture and abduction, “disappearance” and murder by the March 1976 junta was well under way when the Carter government came into office. The murders and the terror continued throughout the Carter years, tapering off on the eve of the November 1982 war with the United Kingdom. The campaign that the generals dubbed “the dirty war” formally ended in April 1983, when the junta published its Final Document of the Military Junta on the War against Subversion and Terrorism, which concluded that among other things, the 15,000 or so who “disappeared” over the previous eight years should be considered dead “for administrative reasons.”34 After the collapse of the Somoza regime, Argentine advisers were invited to teach the skills of the “dirty war” in Central America, working with U.S. intelligence officers in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and in the unconventional war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

In Nicaragua, traditional measures of large-scale political imprisonment and enforced exile had already been largely replaced by mass killing and “disappearance” in 1975. The deaths were in the hundreds until armed opposition flowered in October 1977. Open revolt after the assassination of opposition leader Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in January 1978 was followed by the murder of thousands. The Carter administration has been credited by some and damned by others for not sending in the Marines or taking similar action in crushing the revolution. That the administration might have taken a direct role in stopping the prior slaughter and the resupplying of the Somoza regime was unthinkable.

In Honduras, efforts began in mid-1979 to build a U.S. military and intelligence infrastructure from which to run the unconventional war against post-Somoza Nicaragua and stiffen the U.S.- backed counterinsurgency effort in El Salvador. Military assistance to Honduras was tripled in 1980.35 In Guatemala, tens of thousands had died in army “counterterror” operations from 1967 to 1977. The government of General Romeo Lucas García, who took office in duly 1978, took the killing to new heights. Although nominally on the United States’ human rights blacklist, annual 502B reports continued to suggest that the bulk of the killing was a product of extreme leftists slugging it out with extreme rightists, as a passive army looked on. Guatemala still enjoyed backdoor security assistance, the diplomatic shield of the State Department, and the presence of a strong contingent of covert U.S. intelligence officers whose brief had little to do with enforcing Jimmy Carter’s human rights agenda.36

In El Salvador, mass killings began around the time of Carter’s inauguration, although there was no violent opposition to speak of at the time. The yearly death toll remained in the hundreds, however, until the Carter administration engineered the departure of President Carlos Humberto Romero and his replacement by a handpicked civil-military junta in October 1979. Nearly a thousand died at the hands of the armed forces in 1979, most of them peaceful demonstrators shot down in the street in the last quarter of the year. But the pattern of the next decade was set in 1980, when the Salvadorans lost an archbishop, four American church workers, and more than 8,000 others to counterterror at the hands of army “death squads. “ The public outcry of the Carter administration’s human rights advocates was more than neutralized by the imperative of containing communist insurgency in the region.

Human rights advocacy proved a poor second best to counterrevolution. Ideally, the administration wanted a humanely and decently conducted counterrevolutionary warfare. But in this respect they displayed their ignorance of the United States’ own military doctrine; by sending the special warfare experts (Special Forces and CIA) to assume primary responsibility for training and advising allies in the counterrevolutionary crusade, they demonstrated a lamentable naivete as well.

Six Crises

By the second year of the Carter presidency, the movement to restrict assistance on human rights grounds and to limit covert action was reversed, as hot spots in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran, and Afghanistan came to a boil. U.S.-backed tyrants fell in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Iran in July, October, and November 1979.37 Marxist tyrant Hafizullah Amin fell in Afghanistan in December to a coup backed by a Soviet invasion.38 The five countries were each the object of covert U.S. initiatives under Carter—and of far more intense efforts during the Reagan administration. Only in El Salvador, where a tyrant was neatly replaced by a U.S.-backed junta, was the crisis efficiently managed. The stage was set for the overt reassertion of American faith in the counterinsurgency state.

A sixth political upheaval went largely unremarked during the pivotal year 1979: another intervention by a Marxist state which, as in Afghanistan, set out to deal with a renegade Marxist regime. In January 1979, Vietnamese troops marched into Phnom Penh and ousted Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime—then, like the Soviets in Afghanistan, settled in for a long stay. The United States’ subsequent covert, paramilitary policies on Cambodia, like those on Afghanistan, involved unconventional warfare in concert with native allies who might otherwise have been deadly enemies. The war in Afghanistan put the United States in a nominal alliance with a wide range of sometimes mutually antagonistic mujahedeen groups, including fundamentalists in ideological concord with the more extreme of the Shiite mullahs of Iran. The war against the Vietnamese-backed regime in Cambodia placed the United States in a bizarre alliance with the Khmer Rouge and the former king, Norodom Sihanouk (the diplomatic posture was to back continued United Nations recognition of Pol Pot’s Government of Democratic Kampuchea and to isolate the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh). Ten years later, after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Vietnamese from Cambodia, American support for unconventional warfare against the standing governments continued.

The foundations of American involvement in Afghanistan were laid in the six months preceding the Soviet invasion. After December 1979, when an already considerable Soviet presence snowballed with entire Soviet armies on the move, a paramilitary program to assist Afghan resistance movements went into high gear. Afghanistan, of course, provided a situation for waging unconventional warfare in its classic sense. The scenario was one of resistance in an occupied country—this time not only “occupied” by an undesirable native regime but by actual enemy aliens.39

In Afghanistan, tactics and, to a degree, expectations drawn from precedents set in World War II held true. The Soviet occupiers and their Afghan allies were guilty of all of the excesses common to an expeditionary force, from reprisal killings and torture to the wholesale destruction of villages, whatever their original intentions. Reliance on firepower and “death from the air,” too, often predominated when lesser priority programs to win hearts and minds faltered. Reform and development programs proved awkward in the short term, particularly in the context of what rapidly assumed the characteristics of a holy war.

President Carter’s initiatives would be taken up enthusiastically by the Reagan administration. The less than covert assistance programs for the diverse forces fighting in Afghanistan would reach enormous levels during Reagan’s two terms. John Prados has estimated that the Carter administration provided some $30 million to the resistance in 1980, and that funding levels increased under Reagan beginning in 1981, up to $625 million by 1984, $280 million in 1985, $470 million in 1986, and $630 million in 1987.40 Added to third-country contributions and American aid to refugees in Pakistan, the expenditure of about $2.5 billion made Afghanistan “the most expensive secret war ever waged.”41

The mechanics and materials of the American role in Afghanistan would be revealed gradually over the nearly ten years of the Soviet occupation. Afghanistan would increasingly be presented as the Reagan administration’s undercover success story—and Carter too would take pride in having started the ball rolling.42 The feting of mujahedeen would be the order of the day in special operations circles throughout the 1980s although by 1989 some concern would be expressed over what was to come after the Soviet withdrawal. The details of American assistance are available in the press and in specialist journals (including Soldier of Fortune) and are not discussed here. Over the next decade, however Afghanistan should provide the basis for an assessment of waging unconventional warfare in a postinvasion scenario. The lessons of Afghanistan will almost certainly also be used to make a case for unconventional warfare in rather different scenarios, just as the lessons learned in World War II were incessantly misapplied to the ideological framework of the Cold War.

The emerging war in Afghanistan was the most successful Carter covert action initiative. The decline and fall of the Shah of Iran and the debacle of the American hostages would be the administration’s downfall and serve as the rallying cry for a renewed reliance on covert action and open intervention under the Reagan administration.

Carter and the Special Operations Elite

A renaissance of the elite forces of special warfare—army, navy, air force, and CIA—and the proliferation of ever-more specialized forces began in the wake of the failed 1980 mission to rescue the Iranian-held American hostages; it went into high gear with the election of Ronald Reagan. The turnaround, pushed by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, began in 1977 under the Carter administration, first as a response to rising international terrorism—for which Army’s Delta and Blue Light commandos were activated—and then to the Iranian Revolution.43

The regearing for low-intensity conflict in the 1980s also followed a second track quite distinct from the build-up for special operations. The more conventional innovation was to develop light infantry suitable for rapid deployment to overseas trouble spots—forces of which special operations components formed only a small part.44 A post-Vietnam strategy, already crystallized in 1977, envisioned the use of general purpose forces outside the NATO framework to provide the capability for a fast and flexible response to overseas crises. The concept, outlined by the Department of Defense in a classified Presidential Review Memorandum, was to develop forces that could operate independently, with neither forward bases nor the facilities of friendly nations; geographical areas cited as requiring such cover included Korea, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.45 Implementation of the strategy was under way in January 1979, when the fall of the Shah of Iran lit a fire under the planners. The assignment of units to a combined services force was reportedly concluded by mid-1979; President Carter announced that he had ordered the formation of the first Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) on 1 October 1979. The initial operational plans responded to the crises of the moment, in Iran and Central America; preparations for deployment (with some foresight) centered on the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean.46 The command structure of the new forces was in place by March 1980: a Marine Brigadier General, P. X. Kelley, was appointed to command the first of the RDFs, with a general headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.47

The RDF’s combination of army, air force, navy, and Marine Corps forces was innovative insofar as it required tight interservice cooperation and a streamlined command structure. The concept provided for joint task forces to be brought rapidly together when required, not to remain on permanent standby. Available forces included most of the Marines’ amphibious forces (some 50,000 men), three navy carrier groups, and a range of air force units. The exception, the RDF nucleus that was in fact on a permanent standby, was the 15,000 man 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, with three infantry brigades at a permanently high state of readiness for rapid deployment.

The army’s role in the Rapid Deployment Forces was performed largely through light infantry divisions, formations that had been phased out in 1944 but were revived for “their rapid deployability as a show of force.”48 The new units appeared to be designed both for a real flexing of U.S. muscle (a la Grenada) and as an ostentatious signal that a new era in overseas operations had begun. Army Chief of Staff General John A. Wickham described the rapid deployment of light infantry as a means to demonstrate the United States’ “resolve and capability,” particularly in scenarios where there are “low to mid-intensity conflict threats” and a U.S. presence may well “prevent the outbreak of war.” Wickham stressed both the strategic value and the “battlefield utility” of “highly deployable, hard hitting combat units.”49

The selling of the light infantry concept was in large part done through emphasis on its usefulness in “low-intensity conflict,” particularly in the contested areas of the Third World. RDFs were also designed to restore a semblance of the United States’ capability of decades past to operate militarily around the world, a need acutely felt in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution. The renewed projection of U.S. power at every level was a fundamental goal of the Reagan administration, and the RDFs would provide one means to this end. In practical terms, military strategists would view the light infantry primarily as a tool for in-and-out interventions along the lines of Grenada.

The RDFs formed just part of a military buildup on several levels designed to facilitate the projection of U.S. power overseas. In effect, the program seems to have been a compromise aimed at placating each of the military services as well as contending schools of thought regarding military options. Defense analyst Michael Klare summarized the expansion of forces for “insertion into overseas conflict zones” as having included, by 1988, “the acquisition of two new aircraft carrier battle groups; the formation of four new light infantry divisions; a significant increase in the Marine corps’ amphibious capacity; a 50 percent increase in long-range airlift capacity; and the revitalization of America’s Special Operations Forces.”50 Mexican military analyst Lilia Bermúdez considered the RDF in the terms of Clausewitz’s concepts of strategy:

[W]ith the RDF the necessary force was created for global intervention of a conventional nature, its distinctive characteristic the capacity to saturate the theatre of operations.... [I]n terms of time [the RDF] can be inserted rapidly and decisively to resolve the crisis with the greatest speed, in a space that is as limited as possible—which in Central America one supposes could be Nicaragua or El Salvador.51

Although the gurus of the new light infantry, such as Edward Luttwak, envisioned them performing a key role in long-tern] counterinsurgency efforts, this approach would gradually be scuttled. By 1986, army attitudes swung back toward “a more conventional, higher intensity role” for the light divisions.52 According to doctrine, the primary role in counterinsurgency—and, indeed, all aspects of low-intensity conflict—had been assigned to the special operations force in the 1981 field manual FM 100-20, Low Intensity Conflict; this would remain the case, with conventional forces on call for reinforcement (or shows of force) if needed. The ascendance of special operations forces in the 1980s would be clinched by way of international terrorism, the Iranian Revolution, and the ideological romanticism of Ronald Reagan and the New Right.

The army’s initial response to terrorism in the 1970s had been to eschew the special warfare solution in favor of more conventional formations with similar commando skills; the result was the creation of two Ranger battalions in 1974.53 (The success of the Rangers in the Grenada operation—in contrast to the dismal performance of the special warfare elites—would result in the creation of a third Ranger battalion.54)

A 1978 study of elite forces suggested that the Ranger model would, in effect, replace that of the Special Forces. The Ranger battalions, defense analyst Eliot Cohen observes, “fit the specialist model: they were relatively small forces trained for such missions as the rescue of hostages....”55 The Special Forces were, for a time, unfashionable for their tendency to proliferate, to circumvent the chain of command, to grandstand with romantic stunts, indiscipline, and autonomy, and, even worse, to threaten the apolitical foundations of the military. The Ranger battalions, in contrast, provided neat packages of skilled personnel with most of the desirable qualities of elite units and none of the liabilities. According to Cohen, the reactivation of the Rangers, in short, was an expression of “the Army’s intention not to repeat its unpleasant experiences with the Green Berets.”56 In fact, the prediction could hardly have been more inaccurate. Under the Carter administration, the revival of the Special Forces was already underway.

Delta Down in Desert One

The Carter administration reevaluated the Special Forces with an eye to rebuilding them for narrowly defined tasks; the aim was to develop highly mobile commando forces for emergencies, not to expand the whole panoply of such forces. The development of the military’s antiterrorist capabilities was based on the example of the German and Israeli strike forces which had proved their worth at Mogadishu and Entebbe; the organizational model was the British SAS (Special Air Services).57

The army’s First Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta— became operational in November 1977 as an elite antiterrorist force, organized by Colonel Charlie Beckwith, former commander of Vietnam’s Project DELTA detachment B-52. Beckwith was recruited by the Special Forces in 1958 and, in dune 1962, took part in an exchange program with the British 22d SAS Battalion, accompanying SAS to Malaya in January 1963.58 From his appointment as Commandant of the Army Special Forces School in 1974, Beckwith promoted the creation of an SAS-style “counterterrorist” unit; by August 1977, the climate was right, and Beckwith worked full time to set up a new Delta Force.59

An interim counterterrorism commando force, the Blue Light battalion, consisted of Special Forces personnel and was organized according to long-standing special operations lines. Delta was intended to be an elite, purpose-built force of about 200. Although manned largely by Special Forces veterans, it drew also on special operations forces from the other services. Based at Fort Bragg, Delta was organized in line with the SAS system of rigid selection criteria, tough training, and sixteen- man units. Selection criteria included exhaustive psychological testing to ensure that men with the necessary physical skills fit an equally exacting psychological profile of attitudes and motivation.

Although its personnel were perhaps ideally suited for the psychological strains of commando tasks, Delta Force was not particularly successful in its initial operations. Delta, unlike the SAS, remained dependent on other services for logistics and fit awkwardly into the military command structure. Both characteristics would contribute to its undoing in its first hostage-rescue endeavor, Operation EAGLE CLAW, the raid launched in April 1980 to rescue the American hostages in revolutionary Iran. A third element to which Delta’s initial failures were attributed by military critics was the presumption that daring, if not brash, leadership was appropriate for high-risk, sometimes strategic operations requiring enormous discretion and a cool head. Delta Force’s commander, Colonel Beckwith, was chosen on the basis of his past derring-do in special operations. Army strategist Colonel Harry Summers, in a blistering critique of Beckwith’s 1983 book on Delta Force (and his direction of the Iran raid), found in Beckwith’s account a reprehensible reinforcement of the image of Special Forces “as profane, knuckle-dragging louts.”’)’ Of particular concern to Summers was the contrast between Beckwith’s self-serving, tough-guy braggadocio (most of the book) with his account of the Iran raid at “the critical moment when the plans began to fall apart,” when his leadership at Desert One, the secret base in the Iranian desert, proved impulsive, emotional—and inadequate.’’

Summers concludes that the identification of the required qualities of command had in itself been faulty—in Delta’s case, daring and valor had been confused with the classic virtues of leadership:

The problem is that the Army was looking for boldness.... Beckwith seemed a logical choice. Forgotten was Clausewitz’s warning that: “The higher up the chain of command the greater is the need for boldness to be supported by a reflective mind, so that boldness does not degenerate into purposeless bursts of blind passion. Command becomes progressively less a matter of personal sacrifice and increasingly concerned for the safety of others and for the common purpose.”62

In fact, the career prospects of special operations officers are, as a rule, truncated outside their special calling. A kind of vicious circle obtains: Advocates of greater resources and respect for special operations “complain that soldiers attracted to unconventional combat are passed over for promotion because the regular military believes they make poor staff officers,”63 while those with the potential to be good staff officers, in turn, are perhaps not attracted to special operations forces because of the cliquish, secretive, and unconventional character of the discipline. There appears to be no provision for young officers to be rotated through brief tours in Special Forces, either because the army does not want them “spoiled” by exposure to secret warfare or because the special operations community feels it can ill-afford to train and work with officers who intend only a brief stay before returning to more conventional units.

The End of Ideals

The Carter administration’s preoccupation with human rights had by mid-term been largely overwhelmed by the inertia of the foreign policy establishment and by demands for a traditional response to the unforeseen events overseas. The Cold War chorus at home shrilly attributed the collapse of stalwart anticommunist regimes in Nicaragua and Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the administration’s lack of resolve. The administration responded with new resources for special operations forces and with open-ended military engagements in the secret wars of Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Central America.

The exhaustion (although not the reversal) of the human rights policy was almost complete. The administration’s response to the bloodbath in El Salvador was to pour in military aid and plug into the situation its own unconventional warriors. This, and the commitment to a range of new secret wars, reflected the very policies whose sequelae of atrocity Jimmy Carter had most vigorously opposed. The renewed commitment to unconventional warfare paved the way for the open-eyed amorality of the next administration.

As the Carter administration staggered to an end, its commitment to place the defense of human rights in the forefront of foreign affairs lay in tatters. A new era, in which Cold War ideology would inform U.S. policy without dissimulation, was about to begin. The great hope offered by Carter’s idealism was ultimately finished off by Islamic fundamentalism, Central American revolution, and international terrorism, but it had long since been stymied by institutional resistance to the fundamental changes that Carter envisioned. The Reagan administration, in contrast, would find the great bureaucracies of the state ready and willing to return to the pre-Carter status quo and to relaunch the Cold War on the periphery.

  1. Jimmy Carter, “Humane Purposes in Foreign Policy,” commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame, 22 May 1977, itl 13arry M. Rubin and Elizabeth P. Spiro, eds. Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1977), p. 227.
  2. Cited in Cyrus R. Vance, “Human Rights Policy,” in ibid, pp. 218-19.
  3. United States, Office of Public Safety, “Report on Visit to Central America and Panama to Study AID Public Safety Programs, May 18-June 14, 1967.” Ambassador C. Allan Stewart (ret.). Classified Secret, declassified 2 April 1980 through FOIA request. Cited in Michael McClintock, The American Connection 2, State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala (London: Zed, 1985), pp. 93-94.
  4. Stewart, “Report on Visit to Central America and Panama, “ May 18-June 14, 1967. Stewart also expresses concern at the potential carrying out of “personal vengeancc . . . in the guise of ridding the country of anti-government fighters”: but he seems to have been convinced of counterterror’s effectiveness. “[O]n the other hand, while I was in Guatemala . . . it was reported that numerous students of university and high school age had returned to their homes from the hills, convinced that the glamorous life of a guerrilla was becoming too risky to continue.”
  5. United States, Memorandum, From OPS/LA, John H. Caldwell, Subject: Guatemala CASP, FY 73-74, Secret, 9 March 1972 (on file at National Security Archive).
  6. United States, Action Memorandum for the Acting Deputy US Coordinator, From: ARA/LA/CEN, John R. Breen, undated (in National Security Archive).
  7. United States, Office of Public Safety, Memorandum for the Record, From: OPS/ LA John H. Caldwell, Subject: Guatemala CASP, FY 73-74, 9 March 1972 (National Security Archive).
  8. United States, Memorandum for the Record, From: OPS/LA, Caesar P. Bernal, Subject: Second Pre-lG Meeting to Review Guatemala CASP 11 for FY 73, Secret, 14 May 1971.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. United States, Memorandum for the Record, 4 June 1971, Statement of Robert A. Hurwitch, chairman of the Guatemala IG meeting.
  13. A series of hearings had been held in 1973 and 1974 on the international protection of human rights. Hearings explicitly assessing human rights in the context of United States bilateral assistance were held on Chile (December 1973 and November 1974) on Africa (June 1974), on “Torture and Oppression in Brazil” (December 1974) and on South Korea (July, August, and December 1974).
  14. U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Legislation on Foreign Relations Through 1986, Current Legislation and Related Executive Orders, vol. I (Washington: GPO, March 1987), pp. 4143, 134-39.
  15. Section 502B(a)(1), as amended and restated by section 6(a) of the International Security Assistance Act of 1978, in ibid., p. 136.
  16. Section 502B(b) in ibid., p. 137.
  17. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights Conditions in Selected Countries and the U.S. Response (Washington, D.C.: GPO,July 1978).
  18. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, Hearings June 8 and 9, 1976, Human Rights in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador: Implications for U.S. Policy, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1976), p. 112.
  19. Ibid., pp. 113-14.
  20. Ibid., p. 115.
  21. In 1975, human rights hearings had considered the situation in Chile (December), South Korea and the Philippines (May and June), and Haiti (November).
  22. The administration had supported the legislation (Public Law 95-105, Section 109) creating the position. See U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Subcommittee on International Organizations of the Committee on International Relations, Hearings, Foreign Assistance Legislation for Fiscal Year 1979 (Part 4), “U.S. Policy on Human Rights and Military Assistance in Indonesia Nicaragua, Philippines, Thailand and Iran,” Appendix 1, pp. 531-52.
  23. Barry M. Rubin, “Carter, Human Rights, and U.S. Allies,” in Rubin and Spiro, eds. Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Policy, pp. 115-16. On the importance of access to cable traffic, see the testimony of Patricia M. Derian in U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hearings, 14, 30 July; 17 September 1981, Implementation of Congressionally Mandated Human Rights Provisions (Washington, D. C.: GPO, 1982), p. 5 I . However, examination of a great body of declassified cable traffic from the Carter years on El Salvador—much of which would have gone to the human rights bureau—suggests a hypothesis requiring further research: that an increasing amount of top-level communications from the U.S. Country Teams overseas, in particular its CIA and Defense components, goes through back channels to which the less than trusted human rights officers have no access, whether or not he or she holds the exalted rank of Assistant Secretary. Much of the declassified record of State Department cables on El Salvador since 1979 appears to have been prepared on the presumption that it would promptly be on the public record.
  24. Donald M. Fraser, “Human Rights and United States Foreign Policy: The Congressional Perspective, “ in Rubin and Spiro, eds., Human Rights and U. S. Foreign Policy, p. 96.
  25. The 1977 report had taken the line that Guatemala’s mass murders were by independent “death squads” (the government somehow on the sidelines, wringing its hands) while stating blandly that “the Salvadorean Government does not condone nor is there evidence of a pattern of torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. . . . “
  26. The report of the Senate’s inquiry into assassinations was published in 1975. Although CIA Director William Colby had issued a directive prohibiting assassinations in 1973 in the context of inquiries into Operation PHOENIX, the crux of the matter then as now was the perhaps deliberate ambiguity of the term.
  27. Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Lehman, “The Organization of American Intelligence,” 12 August 1976. Declassified Documents Series (1986:002477). The stated intention of the paper was to “give Governor Carter an outline of our intelligence system and how it works.”
  28. Theodore Shackley, The Third Option: Aft American View of Counterinsurgency Operations (New York: Reader’s Digest Press/McGraw-Hill Books, 1981), p. IX.
  29. John Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars: ClA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II through Iranscam (New York: Quill/William Morrow, 1986), p. 350; Charles R. Babcock, “Ex-Chief of CIA assails bureaucratic infighting,” Washington Post Service, International Herald Tribune, 14 May 1985.
  30. Richard H. Shultz and Alan Ned Sabrosky, “Policy and Strategy for the 1980s: Preparing for Low Intensity Conflicts,” in Hunt and Shultz, Lessons from Unconventional Warfare: Reassessing U.S. Strategies for Future Conflicts (New York: Pergamon Press, 1982), p. 199. Four of thc seven Spccial Forccs Groups were dcactivatcd in thc 1970s. Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars, p. 351, gives the Special Forces post Vietnam strength as 3,600, in three U.S.- based groups, with one battalion in Panama and detachments in Europe and the Far East—as well as 5,800) in Reserve and National Guard units (a manpower tool that would be tapped in the unconventional war against Nicaragua).
  31. For the United States’ continuing export of military aircraft, the training of military helicopter pilots, the covert arrangement for resupply of parts, and the repair of Guatemalan air force A-37 counterinsurgency aircraft in the United States, see “Reagan To Resume Arms Sales,” Latin America Regional Reports—Central America, 14 January 1983.
  32. See McClintock, The American Connection, vol. 2, State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala, chapter 7, “Human Rights and Security Assistance, “ for a summary of the human rights policy as it related to Guatemala and El Salvador
  33. On the rivalry between the military and the Department of State, see Lt. Col. John Childs, “The Inter-American Military System, “ Ph.D. dissertation, American University (1978), pp. 243, 331-36. This study was adapted and published in book form as Unequal Alliance: The Inter-American Military System, 1938-1978 (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1980).
  34. Amnesty International, Argentina, The Military Juntas and Human Rights: Report of the Trial of the Former Junta Members (London: Amnesty International, 1987), pp. 1
  35. Patricia Flynn, “The United States at War in Central America, Unable to Win, Unwilling to Lose,” in Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn, eds., The Politics of Intervention, The United States in Central America (New York: Monthly Review Press/ Center for the Study of the Americas, 1984), p. 97. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Somoza, a presidential envoy was dispatched to meet with Honduran President General Policarpo Paz García. Paz García sped to Washington soon afterward. By the end of the year, Honduras was at the top of the list for American assistance to Central America and scores of U. S. personnel in mufti were in place or en route to positions in the United States’ new staging ground for unconventional warfare.
  36. On the latter, see McClintock, The American Connection, vol. 2, State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala, pp. 196-99, “When military assistance is not military assistance. “
  37. The term “tyrant” is not used frivolously; General Anastasio Somoza Debayle of Nicaragua, General Carlos Humberto Romero, and the Shah of Iran easily fit the dictionary definition as oppressive or cruel rulers.
  38. The methods of government of Afghanistan’s possibly lesser known ruler Hafizullah Amin and his predecessor, Noor Mohammed Taraki, overthrown by Amin on 16 September 1979, were equally oppressive and cruel. The two of them (Amin was Taraki’s right-hand man and Foreign Minister) accounted for the “disappearance” or outright murder of thousands of political prisoners (many of them from rival Marxist factions) since leading a coup in April 1978. Amin published the names of 12,000 prisoners who were said to have died in Kabul prisons during Taraki’s government but persisted in the practice of torture and summary execution See Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1980 (London: Amnesty International, 1980), pp. 176- 83, and Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Afghanistan (September 1979), covering the period April 1978 to May 1979. The recent past in Afghanistan has been consistently bloody. President Daoud was killed in the coup of April 1978; President Taraki vanished in the coup in September 1979 and was officially said to have “died after a severe illness” (this was later unofficially amended to “shot by three men on the orders of Amin”). Amin himself, his nephew, and his younger brother were “executed” in the course of the December 1979 coup.
  39. Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars, pp. 360-61, observes that Soviet troops were in Afghanistan considerably before December 1979, and that the invasion was “not so much a blitzkrieg (as) a creeping intervention.” The way was opened for full-scale invasion by an 85,000-man Soviet army with the overthrow and murder of President Hafizullah Amin on 25 December Like his own predecessor, Noor Mohammed Taraki, and his successor, Babrak Karmal, Amin was a Marxist. After the killing of Amin in the course of a fight with Soviet paratroopers and rival Afghans, Karmal assumed the presidency. The Soviet “invitation” to invade was extended by Karmal—a formal request for military assistance that seems to have been his first governmental act. Prados estimates the Soviet force level in the immediate aftermath of the invasion as 105,000, rising to 118,000 at the end of 1986, and possibly as high as 140,000.
  40. Ibid., p. 363.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid., p. 357, cites a Carter speech at Emory University in 1982 in which he described the program as “the best way to punish the Soviets short of ‘going to war, which wasn’t feasible.’”
  43. Ibid., p. 351.
  44. Major Peter N. Kafkalas, “The Light Division and Low-lntensity Conflict: Are They Losing Sight of Each Other?” Military Review January 1986), p. 20. Kafkalas provides a concise summary of the ongoing debate on the future of light infantry divisions, and notes that the army had phased them out in 1944, concluding that they lacked “adequate fighting strength and sustainability.”
  45. Rapid Deployment Forces, Issue Brief Number IB-80027, Congressional Research Service, 16 January 1981, cited at length (in Spanish) in Lilia Bermúdez, Guerra de baja intensidad (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno, 1987), p. 51.
  46. Ibid. The services were instructed to establish a joint command structure for the Rapid Deployment Forces Joint Task Force, to be in place and working by I March 1980, with operation plans for the Persian Gulf and the Caribbean areas.
  47. Ibid. Kelley was appointed on 29 November 1979.
  48. Ibid., citing the preface to U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Field Circular 71-101, Light Infantry Division Operations.
  49. Cited in ibid., p. 20.
  50. Michael T. Klare, “A Blueprint for Endless Intervention,” The Nation (30 July/6 August 1988).
  51. Bermudez, Guerra de baja intensidad, p. 65.
  52. Kafkalas, “Light Divisions and Low-lntensity Conflicts,” p. 19.
  53. Eliot Cohen, Commandos and Politicians: Elite Military Units in Modern Democracies, Harvard Studies in International Affairs (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1978), p. 88; Cohen cites the New York Times, 25 October 1974, on the creation of the new battalions.
  54. The First and Second Ranger battalions were based at Fort Lewis, Washington, and at the Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. The Third was based at Fort Benning, Georgia. The three had a combined strength of about 1,500.
  55. Ibid., p. 88.
  56. Ibid., pp. 88, 64, 70-73.
  57. A parallel effort was made, with a less visible return, to improve Middle East human intelligence resources, which had been found wanting in 1979.
  58. Shelby Stanton, The Green Berets at War: U. S. Army Special Forces in Southeast Asia, 1956-1975 (London: Arms and Armour Press, 1986), pp. 114, 195-99, and Col. Charles Beckwith in his own account of his career, Delta Force, America’s Counterterrorist Unit and the Mission to Rescue the Hostages in Iran (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983).
  59. Bradley F. Smith, The Shadow Warriors (London: André Deutsch, 1983).
  60. Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr., “Delta Force” (book review/essay), Military Review (November 1983), pp. 21-27.
  61. Ibid., p. 25. The disaster came soon after the task force flown in by C-130s was to shift to six helicopters at the site known as “Desert One”; one of the six was found unusable. One of the helicopters crashed into a C-130 on takeoff and went up in a fireball. Summers’s disdain extends from the poor planning of the operation to the panicky flight from the scene as if Iranians were hot on their trail, abandoning “the bodies of his men . . . maps, diagrams, weapons, demolitions and other sensitive equipment”: “[T]hey were not under fire and there is no indication from his own account that there were any Iranian forces in the area.”
  62. Ibid., p. 26. Summers’s critique centers on Beckwith’s own account of his career, his view of leadership, and that “the Army was forewarned how he might react to stress.” Summers holds that by his own account he continually “lost control,” “became emotional,” and “lashed out at his superiors,” blaming others for his troubles—while characterizing his career as a model of leadership.
  63. Bill Keller, “Special Commando Units Unfit, U.S. Official Says,” New York Times Service, International Herald Tribune (7 January 1986).