Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, who made that cost estimate, wrote with co-author Linda Bilmes in The Washington Post March 9, 2008, “The Iraq adventure has seriously weakened the U.S. Economy…you can’t spend $3 trillion—yes, $3 trillion —on a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home.”
The Stiglitz study is well known and is a factor in making many Americans want to get out of Iraq. (A CNN poll this January found two-thirds opposed the war.)
But other costly wars have been waged by the White House, Pentagon, and CIA that have been kept largely secret. Their costs ran into the billions of dollars and not only cheated uninformed taxpayers but lacerated innocent nations, turning their populations against us, and ruined for American business countries that should have been harmonious trading partners.
Take El Salvador. President John Kennedy in the early Sixties worked to help El Salvador’s military set up ORDEN, a rural paramilitary network, and ANSESAL, an intelligence agency, that were the forerunners of the dreaded Death Squads. Between 1980 and 1992, the U.S. literally waged a war to help the government suppress El Salvador’s poverty-struck people. The CIA created right-wing Death Squads to murder labor leaders who fought on behalf of the poor for decent wages. By the time those killer bands had finished their slaughter, 75,000 civilians lay dead and “the U.S. Treasury depleted by six billion dollars,” according to journalist William Blum’s “Rogue State” from Common Courage Press.
“Officially, the U.S. Military presence in El Salvador was limited to an advisory capacity. In actuality, military and CIA personnel played a more active role on a continuous basis,” Blum writes. “About 20 Americans were killed or wounded in helicopter and plane crashes while flying reconnaissance or other missions over combat areas, and considerable evidence surfaced of a U.S. role in the ground fighting as well.”
That the CIA was involved up to its ears in the blood-bath is more than a hollow assertion. The man known as the “father” of El Salvador’s notorious Death Squads, General Jose Alberto Medrano, told The Progressive magazine at the time that his killer outfits were established with the support of the CIA. What’s more, Covert Action magazine reported that in 1963 the Pentagon’s Green Beret Col. Arthur Simons of Panama sent 10 Army Special Forces men to help Medrano set up the first paramilitary Death Squad. These Green Berets carried out political assassinations in coordination with Salvadoran military, that magazine said.
Besides Green Berets, The Progressive identified both the State Department and the Agency for International Development (AID) as participating in the concerted effort to suppress dissent. As far as Medrano was concerned, anyone who took the side of employees against corporate owners was a Communist. “You discover the communist by the way he talks,” Gen. Medrano said. “Generally, he speaks against Yankee imperialism, he speaks against the oligarchy, he speaks against military men. We can spot them easily.”
Medrano added, “In this revolutionary war, the enemy comes from our people. They don’t have the rights of Geneva. They are traitors to the country. What can the troops do? When they find them, they kill them.”
So much for free speech and human rights.
One of the “enemies” was Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero who urged soldiers to stop killing on grounds they were “not obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God” — a comment that is as relevant today as the hour it was uttered. The very next day while saying mass in a cancer hospital chapel, Romero was shot dead. According to Craig Pyes, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, the Salvadoran National Guard also set up safe houses “where they tortured and then murdered those they considered ‘subversives.’ Their idea was to cleanse the country of hundreds of thousands of people.”
President Reagan not only funded the savage El Salvador government, he used that nation, as well as Guatemala and Honduras, as springboards to attack Nicaragua. James Carroll, in his award-winning “House of War” (Houghton Mifflin), said Reagan “increased what had been relatively modest support to three of the most repressive regimes in the world, just as their police-state methods reached new levels of savagery, all in the name of staving off the Marxists.”
Just why the U.S. Developed Death Squads in El Salvador may have something to do with profit-hungry US corporations operating Central America. As Carroll sees it, “More than two thirds of the region’s people had been made desperately poor over three generations by an American-sponsored, single-crop, agri-business economy that had made a mere 5 percent of the population fabulously wealthy.”
“The Latin oligarchs were not owners, exactly,” Carroll explains, “but in effect agents of such American companies as United Fruit and Domino Sugar, and multinational corporations like Gulf & Western. Dictators had been installed in these countries to protect this U.S. dominance.”
The slaughter in El Salvador, in which the CIA played a primary role, expresses the duality of U.S. foreign policy — where the White House espouses freedom and self-determination for all peoples while the reality, kept from the knowledge of the American public, is a policy of oppression to serve the interests of misguided U.S. corporate officials exploiting foreign labor. Should it be a surprise that after years of busting labor unions from El Salvador to Iraq, US politicians are attempting to do the same Stateside? Is it surprising that after denying millions of people the world over their fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the U.S. Congress has extended the Patriot Act and President Obama has assumed kingly powers, including the right to arrest anyone and throw away the key?
In this stunning disintegration of American democracy, the CIA is regularly found siding with the worst corporate interests — big oil companies such as BP that want government to punish those who expect them to agree to a fair profit; agricultural giants that want cheap labor to maximize short-term profits; and so forth. Such firms are afraid of both free enterprise and fair enterprise, and have turned the face of the nation towards unbridled corporate fascism. Like the Ku Klux Klan of old, the CIA is the new illegal, “invisible empire,” one that works harmoniously with its one-time employee, President Obama, to serve the needs of the Empire. The Republic is dead.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant for good causes who also writes on political and military topics. To contribute to his Anti-War News Service or comment, reach him at [email protected]