From El Salvador To Iraq: Death Squads Come In Waves


Remember the heady, idealistic days of early 2005? You know, like, January 1st through to, say, the 7th or 8th? After the three-hundred-and-sixty-six day bloodbath that was 2004, and once the Are-the-Tourists-Okay? angle of the Tsunami story was driven into the ground – because apparently middle-aged sex tourists are still a more compelling image of Thai suffering than orphaned locals – it really seemed as though, this year, mourning brown-skinned folks as though they were real people would be en vogue.

News agencies started turning away, slowly, from the fates of small, exclusive sea-side resorts, and started talking about the indigenous human toll of the South East Asian catastrophe; news that’s not, it should be pointed out, without it’s relevance to the goings-on of American capitalism: the post-traumatic suffering of those lucky children who survived the waves raises relevant commercial questions, like how many Asian kids is Nike’s Philip Knight going to have to fire as absenteeism skyrockets whilst they look for their parents’ bodies? (A quick aside: Remember how nobody wanted to give up wearing Nikes despite the devastation the company wrought on South-East Asia? Seriously, though, that Tsunami was positively Shakespearean.)

Despite their status as walking contradictions in terms, “Television Journalists” waxed poetic about the devastation. Suddenly bereft of their go-to metaphor – “Huge waves of refugees,” “Market ebbs and flows,” and so on – reporters struggled to find the proper timbre for such chilling, desperate news. We started talking about debt relief, and aid packages, and we were all so swept up in the profoundly humanitarian moment that it didn’t even seem to bother anybody that American helicopters weren’t readily available to help, bogged down as they were in a Quagmire.

And it was that very Quagmire, in Babylon, that snapped us back into the realpolitik of our current post-January 10th paradigm. Shifty, far-out, conspiratorially anti-government sources like Newsweek began to report on a raging debate in the Pentagon that has definitively put to rest any Tsunami-mirage hopes that in 2005, the white North might assign even mildly human-like values to non-white lives: The debate over the “Salvador Option,” a term in an of itself so chilling and inhuman as to recall the moral fitness of another first-world regime that weighed the “option” of Madagascar against Zyklon B.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with the ‘Salvador Option’? Well, remember in the 1980s, when all those fiery, irrationally passionate Latinos and their wacky hippy allies advanced the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the CIA was orchestrating bands of marauding assassins and torturers in El Salvador against the left-wing FMLN guerrillas, as well as Catholic clergy and innocent civilians? Well – and we don’t really need to dwell on this– essentially, every accusation they made was true, and we’re tacitly admitting it now, only because we’re hoping to do the exact same thing (except openly this time) in Iraq. So while you thought the question to ask new Bush appointees like Gonzales was ‘Do you condone torture’, it turns out that the more germane question might be ‘Do you condone mutilating nuns’ genitalia and leaving bishops dead in ditches?’ And the answer you’ll get, at this point, is: We’ll let you know. Also, according to Newsweek, “The interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option.” Thank God that the tyrant Hussein is in U.S. custody, so that dedicated democrats like Allawi can set themselves to the difficult task of building a free and thriving political expression for Iraqi civil society.

The U.S. government’s open consideration of the use of Death Squads in Iraq raises a number of interesting questions: How long before Bush starts freely using winks and air quotations in his halting deliberations on Iraqi democracy? How long before Christopher Hitchens pulls himself out of a bottle long enough to tell us again the one about the threat posed by the Islamo-fascists to human civility? And, on a personal note: As a shrill, leftist rhetorician, how am I expected to ply my trade so long as reality keeps hijacking the most hysterical reaches of available hyperbole?

Of course, with the torture and war crimes of Bush’s illegal war against Iraq condoned by a majority of U.S. voters last November, the administration isn’t bound by any moral checks nor, would it seem, are they bound by the limits imposed by shame – so long as they stop short of drowning Iraqis with a tidal wave, we’re unlikely to see any sort of outpouring of grief or rage from up here in fortress North America. And who knows even then; if Rumsfeld starts looking into seismological warfare, I’m sure that the pundits and the apologists will have an ideological cushion for him to land on then, too.

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