Edward Herman’s The Real Terror Network is a penetrating analysis of the extreme hypocrisy of US power in the world and the institutional forms it takes. Written during the early years of the Reagan administration, Herman describes how US backed national security states throughout Latin America carried out acts of terrorism which matched, and sometimes exceeded, the crimes carried out by enemy states. Take for example the fact that during the Reagan years it was confirmed that 500,000 refugees had fled the US-backed national security state in Uruguay, “more than twice that of Cuba”. Facts of this kind were suppressed in favor of news reports which feigned outrage over the alleged crimes of disobedient states like Cuba.
Along with the journalistic double standard used when addressing the crimes of US allies, Herman also spells out the forms of thought that sustains this disparity. “Constructive” and “benign” terror are those acts of terror which contribute to or leave untouched US interests while “nefarious” terror is confined to powers that operate outside the US sphere of influence. For example, Pol Pot’s atrocities in Cambodia were given extensive coverage in the US press while equally egregious US sponsored crimes carried out in Indonesia and East Timor were ignored. With the crucial backing of Washington, the Indonesian military slaughtered “between 100,000 and 200,000” Timorese. This was preceded by what Herman called the “holocaust in Indonesia,” where more than half a million people were killed. US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, along with the major press, found this carnage to be “well justified”. All of this conformed with what Herman called “the principle of averting the eyes from [national security state terror],” a form of terrorism far more grave than sub-national terror (“retail” terror).
Perhaps the most graphic illustration of constructive terror during this period was Operation Condor, an international network of state violence sustained by Washington, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Paraguay. This operation, launched in 1976, is suspected to have led to the murder of Chilean economist Orlando Letelier. Letelier was murdered by a car bomb in Washington DC. Herman notes “the United States government chose not to interfere with the death squad at work on US soil before the [murder]–and it was therefore not going to be able to prosecute successfully after the fact. The United States was one of the sponsors of Operation Condor, had trained the Cuban terrorist triggerman, and had been instrumental in bringing into existence the Pinochet regime . . . Operation Condor, like the Cuban refugee terror network are our progeny. We are not likely to hurt our own.” Other murders that can be traced to this operation include the assassination of former Bolivian president Juan Torres who was “found dead in an automobile truck,” and General Carlos Prats Gonzalez , commander in chief of the army under the Allende government. Gonzalez was killed by a bomb in Argentina.
Pinochet’s international terror network offers a useful historical analogue to president Obama’s secret “kill list”, where his military hitmen, like the killers in DINA (Chilean intelligence), can “travel anywhere in the world . . .to carry out sanctions, [including] assassinations, against terrorists or supporters of a terrorist organization.” This phrase was taken from a secret FBI report from Argentina, another state in this criminal project which was integral in the overthrow the Bolivian government in 1980 with the tacit support of the Carter administration. This support for brutality reached beyond the frontiers of Latin America into the Levant and southeast Asia. In a section called “Israel’s sacred terrorism,” Herman recalls how American commentators “like to pretend that terrorism is an invention of the Palestinians,” despite a massive documentary record of Israeli terror which includes the shooting down of a Libyan airliner in 1973, an attack that killed 110 people. Herman also details how the US lent uncritical ideological support to apartheid South Africa’s illegal occupation of Namibia and the savage military assault on Angola.
In addition to a study of the links between the Latin American military dictatorships and Washington, Herman also examines the economic structures of control which preserve these oppressive regimes. At the heart of these western backed tyrannies is a dedicated effort to terrorize the majority of the public. This process is carried out through theft of land, violence, and the virtual elimination of any social support systems. These norms can be blamed for Herman’s observation that “central America may be the world leader in inequality, with the lower 50% of income receiving units getting only 13% of all income and the upper 5% obtaining a staggering 35% of total income in the mid-1970s.” It should be noted that these policies of economic violence have global effects which also impact countries in the so-called first world. Expenditures that could go to productive uses and social growth are diverted to terrorist states which do the bidding of Washington political elites. Incidentally, it’s interesting to note how the structures of inequality in Latin America during the 1970s also have appeared in the US. Chuck Collins’ Economic Apartheid in America reported that “in 2001, the top five percent of income-earners collected 27.5 percent of the national income; the bottom 20 percent collected 4.2 percent.” Current statistics are doubtlessly similar, if not worse.
Herman’s study of Washington based international terrorism, a phenomenon which probably reached it’s most hideous phase in the Reagan years, is a timely read as the current administration escalates their “war on terror”, which is forecasted to continue for at least another decade. The continuity between the policies of so-called liberal administrations like that of Franklin Roosevelt (a backer of the Samoza government) and those of right-wing governments like the Nixon-Kissinger regime demonstrate the ease with which imperial objectives can overpower any move toward human decency. The savagery of “first world” leaders is captured in heart-wrenching form in the preface to the book. Herman writes “In Santiago, Chile, to deal with a woman already tortured but still refusing to talk, ‘Her torturers brought in her one-year-old son and used flat-nosed pliers to jerk out his fingernails.’ This method was effective.” Horrific acts of this sort likely motivated Bishop Dom Pedro Casaldaliga to say, in support of the oppressed peasantry of Brazil, “whoever fails to speak out against arbitrariness is by his very silence an accomplice of injustice . . . and I will persist in my task until I am called by God or liquidated by an assassins bullet in these rude backlands.” Since this statement, thousands more have been “liquidated” by US terror, predator drones being the preferred weapon to carry out such cruelties today. If current trends persist, the reach of this real terror network will only spread along with the wholesale violence which defines it. Unless, of course, the silence of the “accomplice” is broken.
Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel