Eventually, an administration willing to embrace torture to fight terror was going to embrace terror as well: especially an administration populated by moral monsters like John Negroponte, who had embraced terror before, and gotten away with it.
Death squad activity is terrorism. Its purpose is never merely the assassination or kidnapping of a small number of leaders, but always the cowing of entire populations.
This case is no different. Note the language carefully:
One military source involved in the Pentagon debate agrees that this is the crux of the problem, and he suggests that new offensive operations are needed that would create a fear of aiding the insurgency. “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists,” he said. “From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”
The target isn’t a few dead-enders or foreign terrorist; the target is “the Sunni population,” which needs to be taught a lesson.
I’m not saying this is wrong as a military matter. Threatening everyone in a village with death, or worse, if the village is used for enemy operations can be a very effective technique, whether the perpetrators are the SS in occupied Czechoslovakia, ARENA in El Salvador, or whatever new force we invent in Iraq. It probably would have worked here if Lord North had been willing to order it.
Indeed there may be no other way to win the sort of war we’re now fighting. It appears that the Bush Administration has managed to make a large proportion of the Sunni population of Iraq into our enemies. If you really want to occupy (sorry, Sen. Miller, “occupy” is the word) an area against the enmity of a large slice of the population, and you can’t or won’t do what’s necessary to make them like you, then you have to make them fear you.
But is that who we want to be? The next time you see the movie about Lidice, do you really want to have to think about which side you’re supposed to be rooting for?
Update Kevin Drum blasts Glenn Reynolds for nitpicking, and getting it wrong. Kevin doesn’t mention the disgusting law- professor “getting-to-maybe” judiciousness with which Reynolds finds that he can “see arguments both ways” about hiring and arming groups of thugs to terrorize civilians, and (as the Strategy Page item Glenn approvingly links to approvingly remarks) take hostages.
Second update Billmon at Whiskey Bar has some documents about the original Salvadoran death squads.
Third update Uh-oh! As if by magic, private armies are starting to appear in Iraq, and the U.S. military is “working with them.”