Political Killings, Part of U.S.-Phil. Counterinsurgency Strategies
Extrajudicial executions, meant to create terror among the populace, are
main fare in U.S.-directed counterinsurgency strategies in
during the latter part of the 60s and early 80s respectively. It is now
being seen with increased intensity in
It is not surprising though, as
is the first front in the
“war on terror” and the Philippines
is the second front.
Posted by Bulatlat
strategies for counterinsurgency were developed from its experiences in
pacification campaigns against American Indians and the Fil-American War;
partisan and guerrilla operations in German or Japanese occupied
territories during World War II (unconventional warfare); and later,
American experience in the Philippines, Korea, and Indochina. With the
early pacification campaigns, the U.S. army used punitive actions and
suppression campaigns employing conventional methods. Partisan and
guerrilla operations led to the development of unconventional warfare and
covert/special warfare which involves psychological operations
including assassinations, hostage-taking, propaganda, and sabotage
operations. Counter-guerrilla tactics were developed and made more
sophisticated with the latter experiences.
strategies were first described in the 1951 manual of the U.S. Army
Operations against Guerrilla Forces
(FM 31-20) and the 1960 Special Forces manual, Counterinsurgency
combined the traditional approach to counterinsurgency, the use of
conventional warfare methods, to that of guerrilla tactics. These are
implemented by what U.S. manuals called as counterorganization for
counterinsurgency. Among the formations and their tasks are,
units of the military who are assigned the task of punitive operations,
resettlement and suppression campaigns directed against the local
army-trained civilian self-defense
forces, such as the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), who
are formed to provide security, surveillance and intelligence;
elite special forces to
match elite guerrilla forces and to lead paramilitary units; and
paramilitary units, dressed
like guerrillas, for intelligence, counter-subversion, and psychological
or special/covert operations. One type of paramilitary unit is the
small-unit “hunter killer team,” like the Nenita command of the
Philippines headed by Col. Napoleon Valeriano of the Philippine
Constabulary in the 1950s, which conducted long range reconnaissance
with the mission to “hunt and destroy” the adversary. Another form of
paramilitary unit is the anti-communist vigilante group formed from a
tribe, religious, or political minority much like what was done in the
Philippines during the late 1980s under the “total war” of the Aquino
regime such as the Alsa Masa, Tadtads and Pulahans.
counterinsurgency operations was originally envisioned to have four
phases, namely, Phase 1 organization of local auxiliary counterinsurgency
forces and population control; Phase II offensive operations to destroy
large guerrilla formations, food control and resettlement, and designation
of free fire zones; Phase III intensified efforts to isolate guerrilla
forces; and Phase IV. Rehabilitation.
the experience of the U.S, in counterinsurgency operations against the
Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People’s Liberation Army) in the
Philippines, another element was added, that of civilian operations or
civic action. This also reflected a development in the counterinsurgency
strategy of the U.S. synthesizing the “Winning the Hearts and Minds”
theory with that of the “Cost-Benefit or Carrot and Stick” theory. From
this developed the four phases of clear-hold-consolidate-develop contained
in Oplan Bantay Laya as well as Oplan Lambat Bitag.
underlying principles are integral to U.S. counterinsurgency operations.
First, the guerrilla/terrorist assumes an illegal status and therefore his
life is forfeit if apprehended. Second, the guerrilla uses terror to
subjugate the local population and can therefore be effectively
neutralized by the use of counterterror by the counter-insurgent.
by the counterinsurgent includes assassinations, disappearances, and mass
executions. These terror operations were implemented by the U.S. and its
puppet armies in many countries in subsequent decades, and remained as a
hallmark of the counterinsurgency state in the 1980s.
Justification for terror
operations can be read in U.S. training manuals. The 1965 U.S. Army
Psychological Operations manual (FM33-5) stated that unconventional
warfare against the enemy should have a multiplier effect by creating an
atmosphere of fear. Fear was being created to force the local population
to transfer loyalties from the insurgent to the counterinsurgent; to
create a disincentive to discourage the local population from providing
resources to the insurgents; and to make the supporters and the insurgent
themselves lose confidence on the strength of their own army. These terror
operations were carried out overtly or covertly.
The May 1961 U.S. manual
on “Operations Against Irregular Forces” defined
“overt irregular activities” to include
terrorism by assassination, bombing, armed robbery, torture, mutilation,
and kidnapping; provocation of incidents, reprisals, and holding of
hostages; and denial activities, such as arson, flooding, demolition, use
of chemical or biological agents, or other acts designed to prevent use of
an installation, area, product, or facility. “Covert irregular
activities,” on the other hand, included espionage, sabotage,
dissemination of propaganda and rumors, delaying or misdirecting orders,
issuing false or misleading orders or reports, assassination, extortion,
blackmail, theft, counterfeiting, and identifying individuals for
To prevent the terror tactics from
backfiring on the counterinsurgent, U.S. and French experts in
counterinsurgency instructed that these must be carried out by
“professionals.” According to the manuals, these “professionals,”
referring to paramilitary units, mercenaries, or special units assigned as
death squads, must not be identified with the counterinsurgents trying to
win the hearts and minds of the population.
An example of a simple terror tactic
was the “Eye of God” developed by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Geary
Lansdale when he was assigned in the Philippines in the 1950s under the
auspices of the JUSMAG. The “eye of God” was used by soldiers in areas
identified as supportive to the HMB. The soldiers would enter the area
and warn villagers that supporters of guerrillas would be punished. During
the night special operation units posted drawings of eyes on walls facing
the house of suspected supporters of HMB guerrillas. A similar tactic was
used in Vietnam in the early 60s but with certain ramifications.
Selected Vietnamese troops were
organized into terror squads and assigned the task of working with rural
agents in penetrating Viet Cong— held areas. Within a short time Viet Cong
leaders—key members of the clandestine infrastructure—began to die
mysteriously and violently in their beds. On each of the bodies was a
piece of paper printed with a grotesque human eye. The appearance of “the
eye” soon represented a serious threat. The paper eyes, 50,000 copies of
which were printed by the U.S. Information Service in Saigon, turned up
not only on corpses but as warnings on the doors of houses suspected of
occasionally harboring Viet Cong agents. The eyes came to mean that “big
brother is watching you.” The mere presence of “the eye” induced members
of the Viet Cong to sleep anywhere but in their own beds. It was an eerie,
The current practice of the AFP of
painting red crosses on doors or walls of suspected NPA sympathizers is a
variation of this tactic.
strategies and tactics
Counterinsurgency strategies and
tactics were further developed by the U.S. Armed Forces with its
experiences in Vietnam where U.S. troops acquired extensive experiences in
advising and actually participating in counterinsurgency operations.
In Vietnam, the U.S. employed its most
modern weapons in its conventional warfare operations while also giving
full play to counterguerrilla tactics through Special Forces units.
They employed napalm bombs to raze
forests and deprive the Vietcong of cover. U.S. ground troops joined
combat operations and patrols with South Vietnamese troops. At the same
time, Special Forces units such as the Green Berets conducted
counterguerrilla tactics and operations. One such counterguerrilla
operation, which was part of the U.S. pacification campaign was Operation
During Operation Phoenix in Vietnam,
the CIA funded, designed, and advised Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU).
Each province in Vietnam had a PRU and each PRU had a U.S. adviser from
Special Forces units.
U.S. intelligence units provided names
of suspected Vietcongs for neutralization to PRUs. Each PRU was given a
quota which according to reports reached a high of 1,800 persons per
Two U.S. Navy SEALS, Lt. John Wilbur
and Barton Osborn, who served as advisers to PRUs, testified that PRUs
were ordered to kill suspected members of the Vietcong infrastructure in
Sometimes, Wilbur said, it was much easier to shoot somebody rather than
wait for intelligence operations to bear fruit especially since they were
working on a monthly quota.
Zepezauer in his book, The CIA's Greatest Hits: Called Operation
Phoenix, described Operation Phoenix as, “…an assassination program
plain and simple. The idea was to cripple the Nationalist Liberation Front
(NLF) by killing influential people like mayors, teachers, doctors, tax
collectors-anyone who aided the functioning of the NLF's parallel
government in the South.”
In El Salvador, and the
rest of Latin America, American counterinsurgency experts claimed to have
proved the correctness of U.S. strategy and doctrine.
"The El Salvador experience," Victor Rosello writes, "generally validated
the US Army's Foreign Internal Defense doctrine in countering insurgency.”
In addition, it enabled U.S. counterinsurgency experts to devise
strategies and tactics to deal with the “urbanization” of the insurgency.
Seven training manuals
prepared by the U.S. military and used between 1987 and 1991 for
intelligence training courses in Latin America and at the US Army School
of the Americas (SOA), where the US trains Latin American soldiers,
contain description of tactics such as executing guerrillas, blackmail,
false imprisonment, physical abuse, using truth serum to obtain
information, and paying bounties for enemy dead. Counterintelligence
agents were advised that one of their functions is "recommending targets
And the targets for “neutralization” or
other punitive actions were very broad. These included
"local or national political
party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs or ideologies contrary or
in opposition to the National Government", or "teams of hostile
organizations whose objective is to create dissension or cause
restlessness among the civilian population in the area of operations. The
manuals described universities as “breeding grounds for terrorists,” and
identified priests and nuns as terrorists. It advised intelligence units
to infiltrate youth groups, student groups, labor unions, political
parties, and community organizations.
Even elections were identified in
these manuals as “insurgent activities.” It stated that insurgents
"can resort to subverting the
government by means of elections in which the insurgents cause the
replacement of an unfriendly government official to one favourable to
Death squads were
used extensively in El Salvador.
In 1963, the U.S. government sent 10 Special
Forces personnel to El Salvador to help General Jose Alberto Medrano set
up the Organizacion Democratica Nacionalista (ORDEN)-the first
paramilitary death squad in that country. They gathered intelligence and
carried out political assassinations in coordination with the Salvadoran
At a November 1989 press
conference, Cesar Vielman Joya Martinez, a soldier in the First Infantry
Brigade's Department 2 (Intelligence), revealed that certain military
units in Department 2 carried out "heavy interrogation" (a euphemism for
torture) after which the victims were killed. The job of his unit was to
execute people by strangulation, slitting their throats, or injecting them
with poison. He admitted killing eight people and participating in many
more executions. He stated that the Brigade Commander had sent written
orders to carry out the killings and that the use of bullets was forbidden
because they might be traced to the military.
Martinez said that they gave reports of the abductions and tortures they
did to a U.S. adviser sitting in a desk next to his. Another Salvadoran
soldier, Ricardo Castro, revealed that he held monthly briefings with then
deputy CIA chief of station in El Salvador Frederic Brugger. He said that
he had attended trainings given by U.S. advisers on torture techniques.
He also said that in December 1981, he came to know of a massacre of
600civilians in Morazan province which was led by a U.S. trained
of death squads in counterinsurgency is not also new in the Philippines.
The Nenita command which formed by Col. Landsdale in the 1950s was a death
squad. Likewise vigilante groups which Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a U.S.
military adviser and a high profile CIA operative, helped form were also
involved in killings of civilians.
Counterinsurgency and the “war on terror”
The World Trade Center attacks in 2001, the U.S. went into war-footing.
It subsumed its goals and plans in a National Security Strategy, which
guides the political, military, and economic policies of the
From this is based the goals contained in the Quadrennial Defense Review.
QDR revealed that U.S. military operations had and would stress on
unconventional, irregular, foreign internal defense, counterterror and
counterinsurgency operations. Consistent with this, all units of the U.S.
Armed Forces would be trained in these types of operations to free the
Special Forces which would, in turn, prioritize the conduct of trainings
to surrogate armies and conduct special operations. Consistent with this
thrust, U.S. Special Forces would be increased by 15 percent. It would
also increase Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs units by 3,700 or
strategy of pre-emption, the CIA and Special Forces units are given a free
hand in conducting assassinations and renditions of suspected
counterinsurgency and counterterror strategies and tactics described in
the previous section were developed by Special Forces and are in line with
the current thrusts and stresses of the U.S. Armed Forces. The only
difference is that these types of operations, such as assassinations and
abductions, which used to be part of clandestine operations, are now
openly acknowldeged by the Bush regime. This makes overt and covert
operations less distinct and official policy and operations more blatantly
Evidences of this type of counterinsurgency operations can now be seen in
June 2004, people suspected of being hostile to the regime and their
supporters were being kidnapped and killed by police commandos from the
notorious Wolf Brigade. It is the most
notorious and best known death squad created, funded and directed by
U.S. advisers. A majority of its officers and personnel served in Saddam
Hussein’s Special Forces and Republican Guard—veterans of killings,
torture and repression.
among the U.S. advisers are
retired Colonel James Steele
and former DEA officer Steven Casteel who are both veterans of the dirty
war. Steele served in
In El Salvador,
Colonel Steele commanded the U.S. Military Advisor Group, training
Salvadoran forces between 1984-86. Steven
Casteel worked in
paramilitaries called Los Pepes that later joined forces to form the AUC
in 1997. These were responsible for most of the violence against
civilians in Colombia. Casteel was instrumental in forming Special Police
Commandos, known as the Wolf Brigade, in his capacity as senior advisor to
the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
operatives “came in white police Toyota Land Cruisers, wore police
commando uniforms, flak vests and helmets” and were armed with 9mm Glock
pistols.” Their links to the U.S. military are confirmed by their
equipment. Glock pistols are standard issue for many U.S. law enforcement
officers. The same type of sidearms was issued to Iraqi police by the
September 8, 2005 the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a human rights
report stating that, “Corpses appear regularly in and around Baghdad and
other areas. Most bear signs of torture and appear to be victims of
extrajudicial executions.... Serious allegations of extrajudicial
executions underline a deterioration in the situation of law and order….
Accounts consistently point to the systematic use of torture during
interrogations at police stations and within other premises belonging to
the Ministry of the Interior.”
January 16, 2005 USA Today reported that Isam al-Rawi, a geology
professor who heads the Iraqi Association of University Lecturers, has
been cataloguing assassinations of academics in occupied Iraq and has
documented 300 of them. On January 14, 2005, the Newsweek reported that
Interim Prime Minister Allawi, a former agent of both the Iraqi Mukhabarat
and the CIA, has been a principal proponent of applying the “Salvadoran
option” in Iraq.
Associated Press tallied a total of 539 persons killed by the Wolf Brigade
from April to Octrober 7, 2005. When Casteel was asked regarding the
killings, he blamed insurgents “impersonating” police commandos.
these, it is no wonder then that the same counterinsurgency strategy and
tactics dubbed the “dirty war” which was employed in Vietnam and El
Salvador are now being seen with increased intensity in Iraq and in the
Philippines. After all, Iraq, together with Afghanistan, is the first
front in the U.S. “war on terror” and the Philippines is the second
Death Squads, the CIA and Political Killings in Central
Luzon, Bulatlat, May 28-June 3, 2006
the Army, “Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies,”
Army Pamphlet 550-104 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, September 1966), p. 184.
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