The hawks in the Bush administration have apparently found another (faulty) parallel in the Salvadoran war to apply to the conflict in Iraq. Earlier I critiqued the view of Vice President Cheney and others that elections during the 1980's in El Salvador were a model for how elections during a civil war would "take the winds out" of an insurgency. Now Newsweek reports on its web site today that the Bush Administration is considering the use of Special Forces to train Iraqi paramilitary squads to engage in targeted kidnappings and possibly assassinations of Sunni insurgents and "sympathizers." Newsweek reports that some in the Pentagon refer to this as the "Salvador Option":
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administrations battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a successdespite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)
Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions
The Newsweek article does not overtly editorialize, but its choice of a photo to illustrate the story, speaks a thousand words. The photo is a picture from the slaying of four American nuns by such a paramilitary death squad in El Salvador in 1980.
As David Holiday points out, "now it seems that the U.S. military (or the CIA?) is finally and rather brazenly owning up to its role in the Salvadoran conflict." In the past, the US has claimed that the death squads in El Salvador were operations not sanctioned by either the Salvadoran government or US policy. The disclosures now seem to be a frank acknowledgment that the death squads were an integral part of the military strategy against the FMLN guerrillas during the civil war in El Salvador. Be sure to read David's excellent piece about the Salvadoran death squads which he posted today in reaction to the Newsweek story.