MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 20

International Socialist Review, November–December 2001

Katherine Dwyer

Rogue State: A history of U.S. Terror


From International Socialist Review, Issue 20, November–December 2001.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.


The unlawful use of force or violence committed by a group or individual, who has some connection to a foreign power or whose activities transcend national boundaries, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
FBI definition of international terrorism [1]

Terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine state agents.
Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1983, U.S. Department of State, September 1984

If they turn on their radars we’re going to blow up their goddamn SAMs [surface-to-air missiles]. They know we own their country. We own their airspace ... We dictated the way they live and talk. And that’s what’s great about America right now. It’s a good thing, especially when there’s a lot of oil out there we need.
U.S. Brigadier General William Looney, one director of the continued U.S. bombing campaign of Iraq [2]

I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.
George H.W. Bush, then U.S. vice president, referring to an American ship that shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians [3]

A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn’t have an airforce.
William Blum, Rogue State

USING EITHER the FBI or the State Department definition of terrorism, the U.S. must be considered a terrorist state. Since 1945, the United States has tried to overthrow more than 40 governments and repressed at least 30 popular movements outside U.S. Borders. [4] U.S. officials have funded and trained a long list of assassins, death squad leaders, and bombers to aid them in these projects.

A White House commission report on the CIA from 1954 makes it very clear that the U.S. reserves the right to use whatever means it chooses to defend its own interests, including what would count as “terrorism” from any other source:

If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of “fair play” must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy. [5]

The U.S. has infiltrated, invaded, bombed, and destroyed more countries than any other nation on earth in order to further its own political and economic interests. The U.S. is the only nation ever to use the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb. It has used chemical weapons in vast quantities abroad – not to mention its experimentation with them on civilians inside U.S. borders. Whether covertly or overtly, by proxy or directly, the U.S. has always used terror to achieve its aims. The main thing that sets the U.S. apart is that it is richer, better equipped, and more systematic – and thus capable of inflicting terror on a far broader scale than its enemies. That’s why civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once called the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” What follows are some examples of terror, U.S. Style.


After the Second World War, the U.S. backed France in its efforts to maintain its colonies in Indochina, fearing the “domino effect” if Vietnam were to achieve independence. The U.S. refused to allow Vietnam to reunite after it was divided in 1954, creating a puppet regime in the South. Over a several-year period, the U.S. escalated its military presence to defeat the national liberation movement.

The method employed by the U.S. in Vietnam was to defeat the guerrilla armies by destroying the civilian population. To meet this goal, the U.S. dropped 15 million tons of ordnance on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia – more than twice the amount it used during the Second World War. [6]

It is now believed that the U.S. and its allies killed as many as 5 million Southeast Asian citizens during the active war years. The numbers of dead in Laos and Cambodia remain uncounted, but as of 1971, a Congressional Research Service report prepared for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee indicated that over one million Laotians had been killed, wounded, and refugeed, with the figure for Cambodia being two million. More than a half million “secret” U.S. bombing missions of Laos that began in late 1964 devastated whole populations of ancient cultures there. Estimates indicate that around 230,000 tons of bombs were dropped over northern Laos in 1968 and 1969 alone. Increasing numbers of U.S. military personnel were added on the Laotian ground in 1961 ... “Secret” bombing of Cambodia had begun in March 1969 ... When the bombing in Cambodia finally ceased, the U.S. Air Force had officially recorded dropping nearly 260,000 tons of bombs there. The total tonnage of bombs dropped in Laos over eight-and-a-half years exceeded two million.

The consensus now is that more than 3 million Vietnamese were killed, with 300,000 additional missing in action and presumed dead. [7]

In the ground war, the army and marines conducted “search and destroy” missions in which the killing of civilians was a common occurrence. We are more familiar with the My Lai massacre, in which U.S. forces massacred 500 villagers, but such incidents were not aberrations, as a report from an incident in April 1968, described by a member of the 2nd Batallion, 27th Marines, makes clear. After soldiers were ordered to “torch” a village where they were unable to find “snipers,”

there was a lot of screaming and just chaos coming from the direction of the village and a lot of people started running out of the tree line. From where I was standing, I saw maybe two or three male villagers and the rest were women and children – some of the children walking and some of them young enough to be carried, I would say under a year, maybe. The last thing I heard as a command was the gunnery sergeant told them to open fire to keep them back. Their village was on fire and they were in panic; they didn’t stop, so they just cut down the women and children with mortars, machine guns, tanks, snipers. [8]

Another soldier commented, “When Calley [the lieutenant in charge during the My Lai massacre – editor’s note] and his people went through there, it was not the first time anyone went through My Lai and put the torch to it, nor was it the last time.” [9]

Vietnam became a testing ground for the newest U.S. weapons – including chemical weapons. In 1961, the U.S. initiated a new program of developing “herbicidal warfare” in Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1970, the U.S. dropped 100 million pounds of Agent Orange and other types of herbicide over 4 million acres of land in Vietnam and burned millions more. By the end of the war, 25 million acres of farmland and 12 million acres of forest were destroyed. [10] Five-hundred pounds of the highly toxic and almost indestructible substance dioxin remained in Vietnam as a result of mass spraying of Agent Orange. Dioxin is so potent that experts estimate that only three ounces in the New York City water supply would kill the city’s entire population. [11] The U.S. also experimented with poison gas and other toxic substances. In at least one instance, the CIA used influenza in an attempt to cripple a village. [12]

U.S. experts figured out how to intensify the toxic impact of many of their weapons. One U.S. pilot described how napalm – hundreds of thousands of gallons of which were dropped in Vietnam – was transformed into a more deadly tool of chemical warfare:

We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot – if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter [WP – white phosphorous] so’s to make it burn better. It’ll even burn under water now. And one drop is enough, it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorous poisoning. [13]

On top of the millions that the U.S. killed, two million Vietnamese were exposed to various poisons as a result of the U.S. war. Inside Vietnam, rates of birth defects and multiple miscarriages skyrocketed after the war, and returning U.S. soldiers passed crippling diseases like cancer on to their children. Tens of thousands more died in Vietnam after the war from unexploded ordnance left by the U.S. forces. Widespread chromosomal damage and neurological disorders have been reported as a direct result of the chemical warfare waged by the United States.

International terrorist networks – U.S. style

If Bush is truly concerned with uprooting international networks of terrorists, he can begin at home. The U.S. not only harbors many famous international terrorists [14] – it is the world’s number one sponsor of terrorist networks.

It would be difficult to imagine a more far-reaching network of international terrorists than the United States’ own Central Intelligence Agency. Since its formation in 1947, the CIA has employed thousands as one part of the U.S. strategy to maintain hegemony during the Cold War. The CIA enlisted anyone that could serve as an ally in the battle against the Soviet Union. This policy included protecting and hiring German Nazis after the Second World War – even some directly implicated in atrocities against Jews – to enlist them in the new anticommunist crusade. The notorious Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie, for example, was smuggled out of Germany and hired by U.S. intelligence in 1947. [15]

The CIA trained and helped to fund – through the elicit cocaine trade – the Nicaraguan contras. Drawn from former military personnel of the Somoza dictatorship and right-wing opponents of the Sandinista revolution, the contras were created, in the words of then-chairman of Americas Watch, to conduct “a planned strategy of terrorism” against the Sandinista regime. [16] Ronald Reagan called them “freedom fighters.” Former contra director Edgar Chamorro explained how the contras, from bases in Honduras, operated:

FDN [the main contra organization] units would arrive at an undefended village, assemble the residents in the town square and then proceed to kill – in full view of the others – all persons suspected of working for the Nicaraguan Government or the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front], including police, local militia members, party members, health workers, teachers, and farmers from government-sponsored cooperatives. [17]

The U.S. is home to its very own terrorist training school, the School of the Americas (SOA), now located in Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA was formed in 1946, one year before the CIA was created, in order to train Latin American dictators, death squad leaders, and military and police officers. The school has trained such notorious figures as El Salvador’s Roberto D’Abuisson, a 1972 graduate and the death squad leader responsible for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980. SOA graduate Leopoldo Galtieri, dictator of Argentina between 1981 and 1982, was responsible for the death or disappearance of more than 30,000 people. Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, a two-time graduate of the SOA and a CIA “asset,” commanded the Guatemalan security force responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people throughout the course of a four-decade counterinsurgency war.

El Salvador’s Atlacatl Battalion’s leaders were also trained at the SOA. In December 1981, the battalion swept into the northeastern village of El Mozote and systematically killed more than 200 men, women, and children, raping many of the women, beheading many of the victims, and slitting the throats of and hanging children.

All of these methods were put into practice during the Vietnam War when the CIA created the infamous Phoenix Program. Faced with a popular guerrilla movement on the ground and growing protest over the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the war, Vietnam became a virtual laboratory for developing counterinsurgency techniques that could replace standard military intervention with terror. Overseen by William Casey of the CIA, the object of the Phoenix Program was to replace U.S. ground troops with a Vietnamese force, under CIA and U.S. military command, that could round up, torture, and kill suspected Vietcong leaders while the U.S. continued to bomb the entire population from the sky. Of course, people working for Phoenix didn’t distinguish between “leaders” and civilians, but rather swept entire areas and claimed everyone they detained was Vietcong. [18] The practice of setting quotas for how many people Phoenix needed to kill – 3,000 per week – only ensured random murder.

As former U.S. military intelligence officer K. Barton Osborn told a House committee, no one detained by Phoenix for questioning lived through the process. Former CIA director William Colby, who ran the Phoenix Program, claimed that more than 20,000 people were killed by its agents; the South Vietnamese government claimed more than twice that number. [19] U.S. troops, along with the CIA, not only massacred entire villages, but used torture and summary execution to control the population. Osborn described to Congress the catalog of horrors that Marine counterintelligence and their Vietnamese collaborators inflicted:

The use of the insertion of the 6-inch dowel into the canal of one of my detainee’s ears and the tapping through the brain until he died. The starving to death [in a cage] of a Vietnamese woman who was suspected of being a part of a local political education cadre in one of the local villages ... [T]he use of electronic gear such as sealed telephones attached to…both the women’s vagina and the men’s testicles [to] shock them into submission. [20]

Other techniques included throwing prisoners out of planes alive and cutting off fingers, fingernails, ears, and sexual organs. [21]

In many ways, the CIA intervention in Guatemala mirrored what they had done in Vietnam. As in Vietnam, the U.S. faced a popular movement on the ground. Despite a U.S.-engineered coup in 1954 – paid for by the CIA and the United Fruit Company – popular resistance to U.S.-based companies and handpicked rulers continued to threaten U.S. interests in the area. In response to widespread protest, the U.S. set up a “counterinsurgency” base in Guatemala in 1962. The base, staffed by U.S. special forces and Guatemalan officers schooled at the SOA’s original location in Panama, trained death squads to quell protest and kill dissidents. The effort was beefed up in 1966, when the U.S. sent a military officer to retrain and arm the Guatemalan military. Parallel to SOA military training, more than 30,000 Guatemalan police had received training from the U.S. Office of Public Safety by 1970.

The results were catastrophic. Between 1966 and 1968 alone, U.S.-trained death squads killed between 3,000 and 8,000 people, according to Amnesty International. By 1976, the numbers had swelled to 20,000 murdered or disappeared. Death squads used techniques gleaned from the U.S. war in Vietnam to torture and terrorize their victims, including electric shock with field telephones, covering their victims’ heads with plastic bags filled with insecticide, and dropping suspected guerrillas from planes alive. One CIA-backed Guatemalan army unit known as “G2” – infamous for its brutality and liberal use of torture – even had its own crematorium. [22]

General Hector Gramajo, who taught counterinsurgency courses at the SOA in 1967, described the general approach that continued throughout the 1980s. Gramajo told the Harvard International Review:

We have created a more humanitarian, less costly strategy, to be more compatible with the democratic system. We instituted civil affairs [in 1982], which provides development for 70 percent of the population, while we kill 30 percent. Before, the strategy was to kill 100 percent. [23]

Since the CIA-engineered coup in 1953, more than 200,000 Guatemalans have died at the hands of military, police, and death squad leaders – many of them sponsored by the CIA and trained at the SOA.

“Our kind of dictator”

In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama, supposedly to root out the dictator and international drug runner Manuel Noriega. President Bush portrayed Noriega as a brutal dictator and vowed to “end 21 years of dictatorship” by invading the country and arresting Noriega. Bush failed to mention that Noriega had been on the CIA payroll for 10 years – including the year 1976, when Bush headed up the CIA – collecting up to $100,000 annually.

Noriega had turned against U.S. interests by challenging the 1977 treaty that would hand over U.S. military bases and control of the Panama Canal by 2000, as well as by continuing to support “enemies” of the U.S. such as Cuba. Fearing that defiance against U.S. rule might spread throughout Latin America, the U.S. decided to pull the plug on its handpicked dictator. Under auspices of “bringing Noriega to justice,” the U.S. launched the largest air raid since the Vietnam War – not on Noriega, but on the civilian population of one of Panama’s poorest neighborhoods, El Chorillo.

Claiming that El Chorillo harbored nationalist supporters of the Noriega regime, the U.S. leveled the neighborhood. At least 15 square blocks – home to 30,000 people – were demolished by 24,000 troops using the newest equipment in the U.S. arsenal. Dick Cheney, who was then secretary of defense, tried to subdue critics with the idea that by using the latest and most sophisticated war machines, including the stealth fighter bomber, the U.S. had actually helped save lives in Panama. “The reason we used this particular aircraft,” Cheney explained, “is because of its great accuracy. We dropped, I believe, two 2,000-pound bombs near Rio Hato to pave the way for the Rangers when they landed there and to stun and disorient the [Panamanian troops]. And it really worked, because it reduced both Panamanian and U.S. casualties.” [24]

One resident of El Chorillo, a mother taking care of her seven-year-old son when the U.S. invaded, tells a different story:

I was ironing when I heard the first sound of machine guns firing ... It was around 11:30. We went out on the balcony where you could see little red lights, which the neighbors said were projectiles. Thirty or forty minutes later, four helicopters appeared headed toward the Central Barracks. The helicopters were firing all kinds of weapons because you could hear the bursts and explosions were of different intensities ...

The lights in the neighborhood went out and houses began to burn. It was chaos. People tried to leave their burning homes but found themselves between two fires ... [T]anks and armored cars and soldiers were advancing on foot, firing. We could hardly believe it. My son was crying, terrified. The best my sister and I could try to do was protect him with our bodies.

With every bomb blast the building shook and the windows shattered. At some point I made my way to the kitchen and somehow brought back the tanks of propane [cooking] gas back to the bathroom, which seemed the most sheltered spot, because the gas tanks were exploding in a lot of the apartments as they were hit by bullets. [25]

U.S. soldiers wove through the wreckage setting fire to homes that survived the bombing attacks. The bombing and burning left at least 20,000 poor and working-class Panamanians homeless. [26]

U.S. troops surrounded and took over hospitals, in some cases falsifying death reports to match U.S. propaganda that claimed the death toll was low. At one hospital, eight of the nine doctors on duty at the time of the invasion were fired or driven into hiding after they were tagged Noriega supporters. [27] U.S. troops not only neglected to count the number of dead, but covered up the massacre by burying bodies in at least 14 unmarked mass graves. Witnesses even saw U.S. troops using flamethrowers to incinerate bodies, presumably also to disguise the true death toll. [28] While it has been impossible to get an accurate death count due to U.S. intervention, many estimate that between one thousand and four thousand Panamanians died in the attacks.

The U.S. not only grabbed Noriega under absolutely no legal authority – but also arrested and detained many others, including Dr. Romulo Escobar Behancourt, chief negotiator of the 1977 treaty, who was arrested and held for five days. They also held several union leaders for three weeks on no charges, destroyed offices of political and human rights organizations, and shut down newspapers that had been critical of U.S. policy. U.S. troops stole 15,000 boxes of Panamanian government documents, which to this day they have refused to return. One source estimates that U.S. forces arrested 7,000 people during the invasion. [29]

According to the FBI, terrorism is distinguished as illegal violence. The U.S. attack on Panama defied all international law, including Geneva convention protocol prohibiting the slaying of civilians in warfare. The United Nations, the Organization of American States, and most nations condemned the invasion. Regardless of Noriega’s own crimes, the U.S. had absolutely no jurisdiction in Panama and thus no legal claim on Noriega, yet they abducted him and brought him to trial in a U.S. court.

The U.S. invasion of Panama, justified in part as a war on drugs, is only one example of U.S. hypocrisy when it comes to combating “narcoterrorism.” Not only did key U.S. officials wine and dine Noriega throughout the 1970s and 1980s with full knowledge of his involvement in the drug trade, but Noriega’s successor, Guillermo Endara – handpicked by the U.S. – was equally if not more involved in narcotics trafficking. In fact, Endara, as nearly all other senior government officials who were given Washington’s stamp of approval, was head of a Panamanian bank known for laundering drug money.

Currently, the U.S. claims to be waging a “war on drugs” by funding the Colombian government, which is the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid. Yet a 1994 Amnesty International report showed that government-supported paramilitary groups, which have killed 20,000 people since 1986 – many of them human rights workers, union leaders, and heads of political organizations – are knee-deep in the drug trade. [30] Many of the death squad leaders responsible for atrocities in Columbia were trained at the SOA. More than 10,000 Colombian military personnel have been trained at the SOA – more than any other country.

Fighting terrorism: The new cover for imperialism

Around the world, the U.S. government is using the tragedy of September 11 not only to justify a war against Afghanistan, but to lay the basis for wars in many other countries as well. Already, the warlords in Washington have hinted that more strategic locations in terms of U.S. interests may be next in line for U.S. or NATO military intervention – for example, Iraq.

Before the dust had settled over New York and D.C., “anti-terrorism experts” were already concluding that the U.S. needed to get back to the kind of good old-fashioned covert operations they had engaged in during the Cold War, including bringing more “unsavory characters” onto the CIA payroll. The U.S. hopes to use the war on “terrorism” like they used the war on “communism” – as a permanent excuse to project its power abroad, using assassinations, proxy armies, dictators, secret terror cells, and direct military intervention. We should oppose them every step of the way.

* * *


1. William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000), p. 32.

2. Blum, Rogue State, p. 159.

3. Blum, Rogue State, p. 227.

4. Blum, Rogue State, p. 2.

5. Blum, Rogue State, p. 42.

6. Gabriel Kolko, Century of War (New York: The New Press, 1994), p. 426.

7. Brian Willson, Bob Kerry and the crime of Vietnam: Will we learn? available on Willson’s Web site at www.brianwillson.com.

8. Testimony of Jack Bronaugh, Winter Soldier Investigation, given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, through February 2, 1971. Text, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans against the War, Inc., is available on the Sixties Project Web site at http://lists.village.virginia.edu/sixties/.

9. Testimony of Michael McCusker, 1st Marine Division, from the Winter Soldier Investigation.

10. Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990 (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), pp. 82, 301.

11. Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995), p. 132.

12. Young, p. 191.

13. Quoted in Young, p. 130.

14. Florida seems to be a favorite retirement spot for dictators and terrorists. Current residents of the Sunshine State include Jose Guillermo Garcia, head of El Salvador’s armed forces during the 1980s, when thousands were killed by death squads under his command. Several members of a Honduran army unit trained by the CIA and known for brutality and murder also live in Florida, as does Sintong Panjaitan, an Indonesian general responsible for killing hundreds of Timorese in the massacre at Santa Cruz in 1991. These are only a few examples; the U.S. harbors many others with full knowledge of what they have done.

15. The horrifying facts are extensively documented in Christopher Simpson, Blowback: The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis, and Its Disastrous Effects on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988).

16. Cited in Who were the contras? compiled by the MAP Library, available online at http://webmap.missouri.edu.

17. Cited in Who were the contras?

18. Phoenix Program head William Colby also did not make a distinction. When asked by a member of Congress in 1971, “Are you certain that we know a member of the VCI from a loyal member of the South Vietnam citizenry?” Colby answered, “No, Mr. Congressman, I am not.” Quoted in Blum, Killing Hope, p. 131.

19. Blum, Killing Hope, p. 131.

20. Young, p. 213.

21. Blum, Killing Hope, p. 131.

22. Blum, Rogue State, p. 53.

23. Katherine Dwyer, School of the Assassins, International Socialist Review, Fall 1999, p. 25.

24. The Independent Commission of Inquiry, The U.S. Invasion of Panama: The Truth Behind Operation ‘Just Cause’ (Boston: South End Press, 1991), p. 28.

25. The Independent Commission, p. 29.

26. The Independent Commission, p. 40.

27. The Independent Commission, p. 28.

28. The Independent Commission, p. 41.

29. The Independent Commission, pp. 46–55.

30. Blum, Rogue State, p. 162.

Last updated on 8 August 2022