Murder of Archbishop Romero
In February 1980 Archbishop Óscar Romero published an open letter to US President Jimmy Carter in which he pleaded with him to suspend the United States’ ongoing program of military aid to the Salvadoran regime. He advised Carter that “Political power is in the hands of the armed forces. They know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadoran oligarchy.” Romero warned that US support would only “sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their fundamental human rights.” On 24 March 1980, the Archbishop was assassinated while celebrating mass, the day after he called upon Salvadoran soldiers and security force members to not follow their orders to kill Salvadoran civilians. President Jimmy Carter stated this was a “shocking and unconscionable act”. At his funeral a week later, government-sponsored snipers in the National Palace and on the periphery of the Gerardo Barrios Plaza were responsible for the shooting of 42 mourners.
.. Murder and rape of US nuns
.. On December 2, 1980, members of the Salvadoran National Guard were suspected to have raped and murdered four American nuns and a laywoman. Maryknoll missionary nuns Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel, and laywoman Jean Donovan were on a Catholic relief mission providing food, shelter, transport, medical care, and burial to death squad victims. U.S. military aid was briefly cut off in response to the murders but would be renewed within six weeks. The outgoing Carter administration increased military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces to $10 million which included $5 million in rifles, ammunition, grenades and helicopters.
“Draining the Sea”
.. In its effort to defeat the insurgency, the Salvadoran Armed Forces carried out a “scorched earth” strategy, adopting tactics similar to those being employed by the counterinsurgency in neighboring Guatemala. These tactics were primarily derived and adapted from U.S. strategy during the Vietnam War and taught by American military advisors.
.. An integral part of the Salvadoran Army’s counterinsurgency strategy entailed “draining the sea” or “drying up the ocean,” that is, eliminating the insurgency by eradicating its support base in the countryside. The primary target was the civilian population – displacing or killing them in order to remove any possible base of support for the rebels. The concept of “draining the sea” had its basis in a doctrine by Mao Zedong which emphasized that “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”
.. “This may be an effective strategy for winning the war. It is, however, a strategy that involves the use of terror tactics—bombings, strafings, shellings and, occasionally, massacres of civilians.”
.. On 18 March, three days after the sweep in Cabañas began, 4-8,000 survivors of the sweep (mostly women and children) attempted to cross the Rio Lempa into Honduras to flee violence. There, they were caught between Salvadoran and Honduran troops. The Salvadoran Air Force, subsequently bombed and strafed the fleeing civilians with machine gun fire, killing hundreds
.. Atlacatl soldiers were equipped and directed by U.S. military advisers operating in El Salvador and were described as “the pride of the United States military team in San Salvador. Trained in antiguerrilla operations, the battalion was intended to turn a losing war around.”
.. The November 1981 operation was commanded by Lt. Col. Sigifredo Ochoa, a former Treasury Police chief with a reputation for brutality. Ochoa was close associate of Major Roberto D’Aubuisson and was alleged to have been involved in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
.. Col. Ochoa claimed that hundreds of guerrillas had been killed but was able to show journalists only fifteen captured weapons, half of them virtual antiques, suggesting that most of those killed in the sweep were unarmed.
.. he field commander said they were under orders to kill everyone, including the children, who he asserted would just grow up to become guerrillas if they let them live. “We were going to make an example of these people,” he said.[90
.. El Mozote Massacre
.. The US steadfastly denied the existence of the El Mozote massacre, dismissing reports of it as leftist “propaganda,” until secret US cables were declassified in the 1990s.[91
.. The army and death squads forced many of them to flee to the United States, but most were denied asylum.
.. A US congressional delegation that on January 17–18, 1981, visited the refugee camps in El Salvador on a fact finding mission submitted a report to Congress which found that: “the Salvadoran method of ‘drying up the ocean’ is to eliminate entire villages from the map, to isolate the guerrillas, and deny them any rural base off which they can feed.”
.. El Salvador’s National Federation of Lawyers, which represented all of the country’s bar associations, refused to participate in drafting the 1982 electoral law. The lawyers said that the elections couldn’t possibly be free and fair during a state of siege that suspended all basic rights and freedoms.
.. Fearful of a d’Aubuisson presidency for public relations purposes, the CIA financed Duarte’s campaign with some two million dollars.
.. Nearly two weeks earlier, US Vice President Dan Quayle on a visit to San Salvador told army leaders that human rights abuses committed by the military had to stop. Sources associated with the military said afterword that Quayle’s warning was dismissed as propaganda for American consumption aimed at the US Congress and the U.S. public. At the same time, U.S. advisers were sending a different message to the Salvadoran military – “do what you need to do to stop the commies, just don’t get caught“. A former U.S. intelligence officer suggested the death squads needed to leave less visual evidence, that they should stop dumping bodies on the side of the road because “they have an ocean and they ought to use it“.
.. After 10 years of war, more than one million people had been displaced out of a population of 5,389,000. 40% of the homes of newly displaced people were completely destroyed and another 25% were in need of major repairs
.. At war’s end, the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador registered more than 22,000 complaints of political violence in El Salvador, between January 1980 and July 1991, 60 percent about summary killing, 25 percent about kidnapping, and 20 percent about torture. These complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to the Salvadoran Army and security forces alone.
- The Salvadoran Armed Forces, which were massively supported by the United States (4.6 billion euros), were accused in 60 percent of the complaints,
- the security forces (i.e. the National Guard, Treasury Police and the National Police) in 25 percent,
- military escorts and civil defense units in 20 percent of complaints,
- the death squads in approximately 10 percent, and
- the FMLN in 5 percent.
.. The report concluded that more than 70,000 people were killed, many in the course of gross violation of their human rights. More than 25 per cent of the populace was displaced as refugees before the U.N. peace treaty in 1992
.. The State’s terrorism was affected by the security forces, the Army, the National Guard, and the Treasury Police;:308 yet it was the paramilitary death squads who gave the Government plausible deniability of, and accountability for, the political killings. Typically, a death squad dressed in civilian clothes and traveled in anonymous vehicles (dark windows, blank license plates). Their terrorism consisted of publishing future-victim death lists, delivering coffins to said future victims, and sending the target-person an invitation to his/her own funeral.[169
.. the objective of death-squad-terror seemed not only to eliminate opponents, but also, through torture and the gruesome disfigurement of bodies, to terrorize the population.[170
.. the FMLN continuously violated the human rights of many Salvadorans and other individuals identified as right-wing supporters,
- military targets,
- pro-government politicians,
- public officials, and
These violations included
kidnapping, bombings, rape, and killing.
.. the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances
.. By 1993—nine months ahead of schedule—the military had cut personnel from a wartime high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF’s strength stood at less than 15,000
Human Rights Commission of El Salvador
.. On 26 October 1987, Herbert Ernesto Anaya, head of the CDHES, was assassinated
.. Many of the documents, from the CIA and the Defense Department, are not available
Narrow growth rings in nearby stands of trees indicate that each story of supposedly miraculous rain prayers really did take place during a drought. Many European expeditions happened to arrive during exceptionally bad years of frozen winters and parched summers. Between 1540 and 1541, for example, followers of Hernando de Soto reported snow storms in Arkansas and Alabama, and followers of Coronado rode horses over the frozen Rio Grande; the first Spanish explorers in California found the mountains of Monterrey Bay covered in snow, and the first English colonies at Roanoke and Jamestown starved during the region’s worst droughts in centuries.
.. Europeans of the era imagined that climates would be more or less the same along the same latitudes — meaning Virginia would have the seasons of Sicily, and New England those of southern France. Colonists thus tried and failed to cultivate tropical fruits in Virginia and silkworms in Maine.
.. Desperate to seize food and land, Massachusetts settlers launched a war against neighboring Pequot Indians in 1636, massacring hundreds of men, women and children in the region’s worst colonial conflict.
.. The Pilgrims were simply unprepared for a shift in climate. They gave thanks — prematurely, it turned out — once it looked like the worst seasons had passed. But the colonists didn’t really thrive until they themselves changed, by adapting to New England’s climate and learning to raise crops and livestock in a way the region could support.
.. But the climate fluctuations of the Little Ice Age were only a fraction of the climate change projected under most global warming scenarios.
To the surprise of many, even in Sweden, Nordbat 2 quickly established a reputation as one of the most trigger-happy UN units in Bosnia. The troops and officers from some of the least belligerent nations in the world turned out to be quite adept at both using force and playing the odds in a high-stakes political game. This article outlines how a well-entrenched culture of mission command enabled Nordbat 2 to take on completely new and unexpected situations with remarkable results. While this culture of mission command turned out to be a potent force multiplier and an exceptionally effective strategic asset, it also had another side: Nordbat 2 on multiple occasions utterly disregarded orders from its highest political authorities, to the frustration of the Swedish government.
The culture of mission command in Sweden dates back to 1943, when senior Swedish army officers were taking note of the tactical superiority of German troops fighting Soviets on the Eastern Front. Sweden, being a small nation with several large and frequently hostile neighbors, had to prepare to fight an enemy which possessed overwhelming numerical superiority.
.. The Swedish Army estimated that a breakdown of command and control was a likely scenario as the Soviets would inevitably disrupt communications, destroy command centers, and seize territory, thereby isolating segments of the Swedish Army. In order to cope with this contingency, all units were trained to engage in what was known as “the free war,” (i.e. autonomous operations against local targets, without centralized command). The free war was intended as a last resort, which would only end when the invader had finally retreated. The official doctrine stated that all Swedish citizens were to, without exception, consider any order to surrender to be false, regardless of its origin
.. The officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), all the way down to the lowest-ranking enlisted men, were taught that the only truly mortal sin was to hesitate. To seize the initiative and act was the primary imperative. There was no priority higher than that of achieving the mission objectives at hand. Orders could be disobeyed, rules could be broken—as long as the mission was successful.
.. While several other countries preferred to send lightly armed vehicles to avoid provoking the parties to the conflict, Henricsson wanted the main infantry fighting vehicle of the Swedish Army at the time. This vehicle, known as the Pbv 302, featured a 20mm automatic cannon and fairly respectable armor for a vehicle of its type.
.. Henricsson even decided to bring the latest portable Swedish anti-tank guided missiles.
.. Henricsson, however, had his own set of expectations. He let the media know he would personally ensure Nordbat 2 brought body bags and that everyone who served under him would be ordered to write their wills before departing.
.. Henricsson made it clear that his interpretation of the mission objectives (which he had developed himself on the basis of the original UN mandate, rather than taking clues from his political superiors) was that protection of the civilian population was the highest priority. In order to achieve this, Henricsson expected that force might be used, and that losses were a real possibility.
.. When fired at, Nordbat 2 often shot back, frequently disregarding the UN rules of engagement. Colonel Henricsson made it clear that he would not respect rules and regulations that threatened to prevent him from achieving his mission objectives.
.. When his own government tried to rein him in, he simply told his radio operator to pretend that the link was down until he had a fait accompli to present to Stockholm.
.. Nevertheless, Nordbat 2 had once again refused to let the parties to the conflict dictate the terms of its deployment. In several other incidents, Nordbat 2 personnel intervened to protect refugees and took action to prevent the cover-up of ethnic cleansing operations.
.. On several occasions this took the form of forcing passage through roadblocks. During one such event, the battalion commander himself forced a sentry to remove the anti-tank mines used to block passage by threatening to blow the sentry’s head off with a heavy machine gun.
.. Instead of taking on regular troops in mechanized combat, Nordbat 2 found itself in a conflict characterized by ethnic cleansing, massacres, smuggling and random violence. Nevertheless, it was able to operate with a surprising degree of effectiveness.
.. The Dutch peacekeepers, representing a professional elite airborne unit, were more or less helpless for more than a year inside the Srebrenica enclave because they were unwilling to initiate any confrontations with the parties to the conflict, and because they were willing to be micromanaged by their home government. Nordbat 2, on the other hand, was something of a loose cannon, and earned a reputation as a force to be reckoned with. It even became known as “Shootbat” for its tendency to return fire, regardless of the formal rules of engagement.
.. Nordbat 2’s willingness to bend or even break the rules, and disregard direct orders from both UN command and its own government, enabled it to achieve its mission objectives as defined by the first battalion commander: protect the civilians at all cost.
.. on several occasions Nordbat 2 did not accept the control of its civilian leadership. Accustomed to mission command, Nordbat 2 acted as it had been taught: rules can be broken as long as it is done to achieve the mission objectives.
.. As long as political leaders can trust the local commander to make the right choices, mission command can be an incredibly powerful force multiplier
.. Even though Nordbat 2’s first battalion commanders were very unpopular with the Swedish government for their refusal to take orders from home, they were nevertheless greeted as heroes upon their return and remain viewed so to this day.
.. This meant the Swedish government did not have to deal with the political fallout of the otherwise failed UN mission. The Dutch government, for example, was hard-pressed by public opinion after the massacre at Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.
.. the basic rule of mission command remains relevant: it is better to make a mistake than to do nothing at all.