35 countries where the U.S. has supported fascists, drug lords and terrorists
As the situation in Ukraine continues to fester, a handy history guide -- from A (Argentina) to Z (Zaire)
Almost 200 years after the slave rebellion that created the nation of Haiti and defeated Napoleon’s armies, the long-suffering people of Haiti finally elected a truly democratic government led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. But President Aristide was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup after eight months in office, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recruited a paramilitary force called FRAPH to target and destroy Aristide’s Lavalas movement in Haiti. The CIA put FRAPH’s leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant on its payroll and shipped in weapons from Florida. When President Clinton sent a U.S. occupation force to restore Aristide to office in 1994, FRAPH members detained by U.S. forces were freed on orders from Washington, and the CIA maintained FRAPH as a criminal gang to undermine Aristide and Lavalas. After Aristide was elected president a second time in 2000, a force of 200 U.S. special forces trained 600 former FRAPH members and others in the Dominican Republic to prepare for a second coup. In 2004, they launched a campaign of violence to destabilize Haiti, which provided the pretext for U.S. forces to land in Haiti and remove Aristide from office.
The 2009 coup in Honduras has led to severe repression and death squad murders of political opponents, union organizers and journalists. At the time of the coup, U.S. officials denied any role in the coup and used semantics to avoid cutting off U.S. military aid as required under U.S. law. But two Wikileaks cables revealed that the U.S. Embassy was the main power brokerin managing the aftermath of the coup and forming a government that is now repressing and murdering its people.
In 1965, General Suharto seized effective power from President Sukarno on the pretext of combatting a failed coup and unleashed an orgy of mass murderthat killed at least half a million people. U.S. diplomats later admitted providing lists of 5,000 Communist Party members to be killed. Political officer Robert Martens said, “It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”
Iran may be the most instructive case of a CIA coup that caused endless long-term problems for the United States. In 1953, the CIA and the U.K.’s MI6 overthrew the popular, elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. Iran had nationalized its oil industry by a unanimous vote of parliament, ending a BP monopoly that only paid Iran a 16% royalty on its oil. For two years, Iran resisted a British naval blockade and international economic sanctions. After President Eisenhower took office in 1953, the CIA agreed to a British request to intervene. After the initial coup failed and the Shah and his family fled to Italy, the CIA payed millions of dollars to bribe military officers and pay gangsters to unleash violence in the streets of Tehran. Mossadegh was finally removed and the Shah returned to rule as a brutal Western puppet until the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
When U.S. forces arrived in Korea in 1945, they were greeted by officials of the Korean People’s Republic (KPR), formed by resistance groups which had disarmed surrendering Japanese forces and begun to establish law and order throughout Korea. General Hodge had them thrown out of his office and placed the southern half of Korea under U.S. military occupation. By contrast, Russian forces in the North recognized the KPR, leading to the long-term division of Korea. The U.S. flew in Syngman Rhee,a conservative Korean exile, and installed him as President of South Korea in 1948. Rhee became a dictator on an anti-communist crusade, arresting and torturing suspected communists, brutally putting down rebellions, killing 100,000 people and vowing to take over North Korea. He was at least partly responsible for the outbreak of the Korean War and for the allied decision to invade North Korea once South Korea had been recaptured. He was finally forced to resign by mass student protests in 1960.
The CIA began providing air support to French forces in Laos in 1950, and remained involved there for 25 years. The CIA engineered at least three coups between 1958 and 1960 to keep the growing leftist Pathet Lao out of government. It worked with right-wing Laotian drug lordslike General Phoumi Nosavan, transporting opium between Burma, Laos and Vietnam and protecting his monopoly on the opium trade in Laos. In 1962, the CIA recruited a clandestine mercenary army of 30,000 veterans of previous guerrilla wars from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines to fight the Pathet Lao. As large numbers of American GIs in Vietnam got hooked on heroin, the CIA’s Air America transported opium from Hmong territory in the Plain of Jars to General Vang Pao’s heroin labs in Long Tieng and Vientiane for shipment to Vietnam. When the CIA failed to defeat the Pathet Lao, the U.S. bombed Laos almost as heavily as Cambodia, with 2 million tons of bombs.
After reading my last AlterNet piece on the failed war on terror, former CIA and State Department terrorism expert Larry Johnson told me, “The main problem with respect to assessing the terrorist threat is to accurately define the state sponsorship. The biggest culprits today, in contrast to 20 years ago, are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Iran, despite the right-wing/neocon ravings, is not that active in encouraging and/or facilitating terrorism.” In the past 12 years, U.S. military aid to Pakistan has totaled $18.6 billion. The U.S. has just negotiated the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia. And Turkey is a long-standing member of NATO. All three major state sponsors of terrorism in the world today are U.S. allies.
Since the U.S. launched its so-called war on terror in 2001, a task force of 500 US JSOC forces has conducted covert operations in the southern Philippines. Now, under Obama’s “pivot to Asia,” U.S. military aid to the Philippines is increasing, from $12 million in 2011 to $50 million this year. But Filippino human rights activists report that the increased aid coincides with increased military death squad operations against civilians. The past three years have seen at least 158 people killed by death squads.
When President Obama approved flying weapons and militiamen from Libya to the “Free Syrian Army” base in Turkey in unmarked NATO planes in late 2011, he was calculating that the U.S. and its allies could replicate the “successful” overthrow of the Libyan government. Everyone involved understood that Syria would be a longer and bloodier conflict, but they gambled that the end result would be the same, even though 55% of Syrians told pollsters they still supported Assad. A few months later, Western leaders undermined Kofi Annan’s peace plan with their “Plan B,” “Friends of Syria.” This was not an alternative peace plan, but a commitment to escalation, offering guaranteed support, money and weapons to the jihadis in Syria to make sure they ignored the Annan peace plan and kept fighting. That move sealed the fate of millions of Syrians. Over the past two years Qatar has spent $3 billion and flown inplaneloads of weapons, Saudi Arabia has shipped weapons from Croatia, and Western and Arab royalist special forces have trained thousands of increasingly radicalized fundamentalist jihadis, now allied with al-Qaeda. The Geneva II talks were a half-hearted effort to revive the 2012 Annan peace plan, but Western insistence that a “political transition” means the immediate resignation of Assad reveals that Western leaders still value regime change more than peace. To paraphrase Phyllis Bennis, the U.S. and its allies are still willing to fight to the last Syrian.
The foreign officials the U.S. has worked with include many who have benefited from their cooperation in American crimes around the world. But in Uruguay in 1970, when Police Chief Alejandro Otero objected to Americans training his officers in the art of torture, he was demoted. The U.S. official he complained to was Dan Mitrione, who worked for the U.S. Office of Public Safety, a division of the US Agency for International Development. Mitrione’s training sessions reportedly included torturing homeless people to death with electric shocks to teach his students how far they could go.
Patrice Lumumba, the president of the pan-Africanist Mouvement National Congolais, took part in the Congo’s struggle for independence and became the Congo’s first elected Prime Minister in 1960. He was deposed in a CIA-backed coup led by Joseph-Desire Mobutu, his Army Chief of Staff. Mobutu handed Lumumba over to the Belgian-backed separatists and Belgian mercenaries he had been fighting in Katanga province, and he was shot by a firing squad led by a Belgian mercenary. Mobutu abolished elections and appointed himself president in 1965, and ruled as a dictator for 30 years. He killed political opponents in public hangings, had others tortured to death, and eventually embezzled at least $5 billion while Zaire, as he renamed it, remained one of the poorest countries in the world. But U.S. support for Mobutu continued. Even as President Carter publicly distanced himself, Zaire continued to receive 50% of all U.S. military aid to sub-Saharan Africa. When Congress voted to cut off military aid, Carter and U.S. business interests worked to restore it. Only in the 1990s did U.S. support start to waver, until Mobutu was deposed by Laurent Kabila in 1997 and died soon afterward.
A huge amount of human suffering could be alleviated and global problems solved if the United States would make a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law, as opposed to one it only applies cynically and opportunistically to its enemies, but never to itself or its allies.