Death squad

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Concept.png Death squad Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Reagans-Contra Death Squads.jpg
Nicaraguan Contras being trained by U.S. troops at a Honduran base
Death squads carry out extrajudicial killings and torture.

A death squad is an armed group whose activity includes extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances as part of political repression and ethnic cleansing during warfare (including civil wars) or revolutionary terror. Regular armies or police forces may form units that carry out this kind of activity.

Death squads are distinct from assassination teams due to their permanent organization and the larger number of victims (typically thousands or more) who may not be prominent individuals.

Wikipedia (as of April 2022) notes that:[1]

Except in rare cases where they are formed by an insurgency, domestic or foreign governments actively participate in, support, or ignore the death squad's activities.

John Stockwells activity as a CIA case officer and his participation in the Angola war gave him insight into how the CIA actively trains and/or uses death squads in a strategy of destabilization (or keeps oversight and control by having the leadership of these groups under control).[2][3][4] In an interview on Alternative Views in 1980 he commented on the training of police forces of several dictatorships around the world:

“[...] in country, after country, after country, of our allies, or our client states in the third world, you've find that the CIA helped put in power the dictator, or reinforced someone who had just gotten into power, train their police, train them in oppression, suppression of the people [which includes heavy torture techniques as was discussed shortly before in the conversation] and it worked for a decade, a decade and a half, sometimes for twenty years [...] (25:20)”
John Stockwell (1980)  [5]

Other violence, such as rape, torture, arson, or bombings may be carried out alongside murders. They may comprise a secret police force, paramilitary militia groups, government soldiers, policemen, or combinations thereof. They may also be organized as vigilantes. When death squads are not controlled by the state, they may consist of insurgent forces or organized crime, such as the ones used by cartels.

US sponsored death squads in South America

“They don't meet the death squads on the streets where they're actually chopping up people or laying them down on the street and running trucks over their heads. The CIA people in San Salvador meet the police chiefs, and the people who run the death squads, and they do liaise with them, they meet them beside the swimming pool of the villas. And it's a sophisticated, civilized kind of relationship. And they talk about their children, who are going to school at UCLA or Harvard and other schools, and they don't talk about the horrors of what's being done. They pretend like it isn't true.”
John Stockwell (1987)  [6]

“So what the US military advisors do, is to teach the people in the country how to organize themselves, and how to carry out missions, and how to keep their mouths shut about missions, and how to be more "professional" in the jobs that the ingenious troops want to carry out anyway. [...] It wasn't quite that the American advisors said thou shall create a death squad and you gonna report to me, no. What they said was: here is how to organize yourself, to conduct missions and don't report to me, because I don't want to know it.”
Christopher Simpson (2014)  [7]

Partial list of US sponsored death squads in South America [8] by serendipity.li:[9]

Bolivia: Death Squads

Bolivia. Between October 1966-68 Amnesty International reported between 3,000 and 8,000 people killed by death squads. Blum, W. (1986). The CIA A Forgotten History, p. 264

Bolivia, 1991. A group known as "Black Hand" shot twelve people on 24 November 1991. Killings were part of group's aim to eliminate "undesirable" elements from society. Victims included police officers, prostitutes and homosexuals. Washington Post 11/25/1991, A2

Bolivia: Watch List

Bolivia, 1975. CIA hatched plot with interior ministry to harass progressive bishops, and to arrest and expel foreign priests and nuns. CIA was particularly helpful in supplying names of U.S. and other foreign missionaries. The Nation, 5/22/1976, p. 624

Bolivia, 1975. CIA provided government data on priests who progressive. Blum, W. (1986). The CIA A Forgotten History, p. 259

Brazil: Watch List

Brazil, 1962-64. Institute of Research and Social Studies (IPES) with assistance from U.S. sources published booklets and pamphlets and distributed hundreds of articles to newspapers. In 1963 alone it distributed 182,144 books. It underwrote lectures, financed students' trips to the U.S., sponsored leadership training programs for 2,600 businessmen, students, and workers, and subsidized organizations of women, students, and workers. In late 1962 IPES member Siekman in Sao Paulo organized vigilante cells to counter leftists. The vigilantes armed themselves, made hand-grenades. IPES hired retired military to exert influence on those in active service. From 1962-64 IPES, by its own estimate, spent between $200,000 and $300,000 on an intelligence net of retired military. The "research group" of retired military circulated a chart that identified communist groups and leaders. Black, J.K. (1977). United States Penetration of Brazil, p. 85

Brazil: Death Squads

Brazil, circa 1965. Death squads formed to bolster Brazil's national intelligence service and counterinsurgency efforts. Many death squad members were merely off-duty police officers. U.S. AID (and presumably the CIA) knew of and supported police participation in death squad activity. Counterspy 5/6 1979, p. 10

Brazil. Death squads began appear after 1964 coup. Langguth, A.J. (1978). Hidden Terrors, p. 121

Brazilian and Uruguayan death squads closely linked and have shared training. CIA on at least two occasions co-ordinated meetings between countries' death squads. Counterspy 5/6 1979, p. 11

Brazil, torture. After CIA-backed coup, military used death squads and torture. Blum, W. (1986). The CIA A Forgotten History, p. 190

Cambodia: Watch List

Cambodia, 1970. Aided by CIA, Cambodian secret police fed blacklists of targeted Vietnamese to Khmer Serai and Khmer Kampuchea Krom. Mass killings of Vietnamese. Valentine, D. (1990). The Phoenix Program, p. 328

Cambodia: Death Squads

Cambodia, 1980-90. U.S. indirect support for Khmer Rouge — U.S. comforting mass murderers. Washington Post, 5/7/1990, A10 editorial

Central America: Death Squads

Central America, circa 1979-87. According to Americas Watch, civilian non combatant deaths attributable to government forces in Nicaragua might reach 300, most Miskito Indians in comparison 40-50,000 Salvadoran citizens killed by death squads and government forces during same years, along with similar number during last year of Somoza and still higher numbers in Guatemala. Chomsky, N. (1988). The Culture of Terrorism, p. 101

Central America, 1981-87. Death toll under Reagan in El Salvador passed 50,000 and in Guatemala it may approach 100,000. In Nicaragua 11,000 civilians killed by 1968. Death toll in region 150,000 or more. Chomsky, N. (1988). The Culture of Terrorism, p. 29

Central America. See debate carried in Harpers "Why Are We in Central America? On Dominoes, Death Squads, and Democracy. Can We Live With Latin Revolution? The Dilemmas of National Security." Harpers, 6/1984, p35

Central America, 1982-84. Admiral Bobby Inman, former head of NSA, had deep distaste for covert operations. Inman complained that the CIA was hiring murderers to conduct operations in Central America and the Middle East — eventually Inman resigned. Toohey, B., and Pinwill, W. (1990). Oyster: the Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, pp. 215-6

Chile: Watch List

Chile, 1970-73. By late 1971 the CIA in near daily contact with military. The station collecting the kind of information that would be essential for a military dictatorship after a coup: lists of civilians to be arrested, those to be protected and government installations occupied at once. Atlantic, 12/1982, p. 58

Chile, 1970-73. CIA compiled lists of persons who would have to be arrested and a roster of civilian and government installations that would need protection in case of military coup against government. Corn, D. (1994). Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades, p. 251

Chile, 1972-73. Drew up lists those to be arrested immediately, or protected after a coup by military. Sergeyev, F.F. (1981). Chile, CIA Big Business, p. 163

Chile late 1971-72. CIA adopted more active stance re military penetration program including effort to subsidize anti-government news pamphlet directed at armed services, compilation arrest lists and its deception operation. CIA received intelligence reports on coup planning throughout July, August and September 73. U.S. Congress, Church Committee Report. (1976) v 7, p. 39

Chile. Chilean graduates of AIFLD, as well as CIA-created unions, organized CIA-financed strikes which participated in Allende's overthrow. In 1973 AIFLD graduates provided DINA, Chile's secret police, with thousands of names of fellow unionists who were subsequently imprisoned and tortured and executed. Counterspy 4/1981, p. 13

Chile. Blum, W. (1986). The CIA A Forgotten History, 240

Chile, 1973-74. After 1973 coup, U.S. Embassy intelligence types gave their files on the Chilean and foreign left to the junta's military intelligence service (SIM). NACLA (magazine re Latin America) 8/74, p. 28.

Chile, 1973. The military prepared lists of nearly 20,000 middle-level leaders of people's organizations, scheduled to be assassinated from the morning of the coup on. The list of some 3,000 high-level directors to be arrested. Lists detailed: name, address, age, profession, marital status, and closest personal friends. It alleged U.S. military mission and the CIA involved in their preparation. Moa 186. From late June on plotters began to finalize lists of extremists, political leaders, Marxist journalists, agents of international communism, and any and all persons participating with any vigor in neighborhood, communal, union, or national organization. The Pentagon had been asked to get the CIA to give the Chilean army lists of Chileans linked to socialist countries. Names sorted into two groups: persons not publicly known but who important in leftist organizations; and, well-known people in important positions. 20,000 in first group and 3,000 in second. Second group to be jailed, the first to be killed. Sandford, R.R. (1975). The Murder of Allende, pp. 195-6

CIA provided intelligence on "subversives" regularly compiled by CIA for use in such circumstances. Blum, W. (1986). The CIA A Forgotten History, p. 194

Columbia: Watch List

Colombia. Luis Moreno, an employee of State Department, bragged he helped Colombian army create a database of subversives, terrorists and drug dealers. Haiti Information, 4/23/94, pp. 3,4

Columbia: Death Squads

Colombia. MAS (Muerte A Secuestradores): "Death to Kidnappers," Colombian antiguerrilla death squad founded in December 1981 by members of Medellin cartel, Cali cartel, and Colombian military. Scott, P. and Marshall, J. (1991). Cocaine Politics, p. 261.

Colombia, 1993-94. Amnesty International called Colombia one of worst "killing fields." U.S. is an accomplice. William F. Schultz, human rights group's newly appointed Executive Director for the U.S., told a news conference that using fight against drugs as a pretext — Colombian government doesn't reign in [its forces]. About 20,000 people killed since 1986 in one of Latin America's most "stable democracies." only 2% political killings related to drug trafficking and 70% by paramilitary or military. U.S. probably a collaborator and much of U.S. aid for counternarcotics diverted to "killing fields." AI report said human meat is sold on black market and politicians gunned down along with children, homosexuals, and drug addicts. U.S. support because of Colombia's strategic position. No one is safe, people killed for body parts. Washington Times, 3/16/1994, p. a15

Costa Rica: Watch List

Costa Rica, 1955. Ambassador Woodward reported the government should be urged to maintain closer surveillance over communists and prosecute them more vigorously, and the government should be influenced to amend the constitution to limit the travel of communists, increase penalties for subversive activities and enact proposed legislation eliminating communists from union leadership. Meanwhile USIA aka USIS programs "to continue to condition the public to the communist menace" should be maintained. Z Magazine, 11/1988, p. 20

Cuba: Watch List

Cuba, 1955-57. Allen Dulles pressed Batista to establish with CIA help, a bureau for the repression of communist activities. Grose, P. (1994). Gentleman Spy: the Life of Allen Dulles, p. 412

Cuba: Death Squads

Cuba, 1956-95 CIA's war against Cuba and Cuba's response. In 1956, CIA established in Cuba the infamous Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities, BRAC — secret police that became well known for torture and assassination of Batista's political opponents. Unclassified W/1994-1995 16-17

Dominican Republic: Watch List

Dominican Republic, 1965. CIA composed list of 55 communist ringleaders of projected takeover of government. Crozier, b. (1993). Free Agent, p. 58

Dominican Republic: Death Squads

Dominican Republic, cover, 1965. 18 public safety program advisers, 6 of whom CIA. Police organized La Banda, a death squad. Lernoux, P. (1982). Cry of the People, p. 187


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Examples

Page nameDescription
Aidar Battalion
Azov BattalionThe not be talked about neo-nazi army battalion Ukraine used to fight against the Russian military in the Donbass and Ukraine. Its existence is highly talked down in western media, even though the UN accused them multiple times of war crimes, including electrocuting and raping men.
Contras
Donbas Battalion
Right Sector
Ukrainian death squadUkrainian death squads, like all units of similar kind trained by the United States, carry out extrajudicial killings and torture.


References