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Human Rights Fifth Column By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, August 26, 2002


It is an almost daily occurrence that someone — usually but not always from the self-proclaimed "progressive" Left — accuses the Bush administration or its predecessors or the United States in general, of moral inconsistency, incoherence (that, on good days) or, more seriously and frequently, hypocrisy. The main argument is that America is or claims to be built upon principles of extensive individual human and democratic rights, but behaves abroad as if democracy and respect for human rights were matters of political convenience. The evidence they present is supposed to show both the irrationality and incoherence of U.S. policies, and the pernicious impact they have upon some elements of the American body politic and overseas opinions about the United States. Let us take a closer look at one of those.

Over the past decade or so the "human rights establishment" in the U.S. and abroad, made up of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have continually accused various military regimes in South America's Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay) as well as Brazil and Bolivia, of engaging in a genocidal conspiracy, "Operation Condor," in the mid-1970s. The human rights establishment labels Operation Condor a "crime against humanity" under what its members hopefully describe as "evolving international law," but that is all an ideological claim and no more.

Operation Condor was an informal arrangement among South American military governments and their countries' intelligence services to exchange intelligence and co-operate against the then deadly and internationally coordinated threat from Marxist-Leninist terrorist groups in those countries.

Furthermore, the "progressives" and human rights activists claim, naturally enough, that all this "criminal activity" was at the very least condoned, and probably actively encouraged, by Washington. For public relations purposes, the groups have a poster boy for America's complicity in Operation Condor: it was all the fault of Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state between 1969 and 1977, who according to Christopher Hitchens' The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso Books: May 2001; excerpted in The Guardian, Harper's Magazine and at the Third World Traveler website), was an immoral, reactionary war criminal.

Operation Condor was simply an agreement between the intelligence organizations of anti-communist regimes to exchange data, extradite or arrest terrorist suspects trying to take advantage of regional freedom of movement, and, yes, in some cases, and often outside the law, to deal with them — to murder them for a partner country. Hence, Chilean terrorists of the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) were often found dead in Argentina, Montoneros Marxist Leninist terrorists were "disappeared" in Chile or Paraguay, Uruguayan Tupamaros in Argentina, and so on. Some of the countries or regimes involved — Chile and Argentina being the best example — were traditional enemies. But under the precept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," the countries were unified by the Castroist menace to their countries. That menace, coordinated and organized from Havana, was even more international. A Revolutionary Coordinating Junta between Uruguayan, Bolivian, Argentine, and Chilean Marxist terrorist groups was established in Paris in 1976, largely paid for by Havana (and so indirectly probably with Soviet money). Moreover, ever since the mid-1960s Havana was openly organizing, training, and arming sympathetic "revolutionary" groups throughout Latin America.

The clear, violent, and totalitarian threat to both the undemocratic and democratic (e.g. Uruguay) regimes in South America was inherently international. Why was Operation Condor a "crime against humanity" under international law, but not the Tricontinental, OSPAAL (Organization in Solidarity with Peoples of Africa and Latin America), JCR (Revolutionary Coordinating Junta) and other organizations Castro paid for, sponsored, and controlled? Perhaps because the New York Times et al. in the mainstream American and European media have bought the notion that illegally murdering totalitarian terrorists and their logistical supporters is more illegal than Marxist terrorists killing policemen, military personnel, and their families. Or that Fidel Castro is a "progressive" and thus untouchable for the human rights establishment, or that violent totalitarian terrorists are to be seen as "leftist dissidents." "Dissidents" indeed-who killed police, army, and government officials and their families, as well as innocent passersbys, and sought a Stalinist "solution" in the Southern Cone.

Aside from the goals of the "victims" of the 1970s, there are their methods. The Montoneros planted booby traps in infants' cradles. Nor does it seem to matter to AI & Co. that it was the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua that was responsible for the assassinations of Commander Bravo in Honduras and Somoza in Paraguay. The human rights establishment never seems to have considered accusing the Sandinistas of Somoza's or Bravo's murder, nor appreciating

Operation Condor as simply an answer to an equally international, and even more dangerous, threat to national survival than that expressed by such leftist caricatures as Pinochet. etc. The civil wars of South America during the 1970s were wars, and rights get trampled by all combatants in wars-in this case by military gorillas as well as the Castro-backed terrorists.

Ultimately, the fight over who was culpable for Operation Condor is not a matter of "human rights" by any rational definition, but a fight over history. He who controls the interpretation of the past controls the present-and, one may add, has an advantage in defining the terms for the future. Hence, "truth commissions" — whether in South Africa or Guatemala, Peru, or Spain — are simply attempts to manipulate "human rights" fundamentalism in order to reclassify terrorists as "innocent victims," make anti-communism a crime per se, and thus legitimize a long lost and historically defeated "progressive" cause. The issue is not criminality as such-Argentina's military rulers of the 1970s snatched children and completed the ruin of their country started by the "progressive" Juan Peron, and they should have paid for that. But that is not the goal of their "human rights" enemies. Their goal is cleaning up the image of the Marxist terrorists, and such pseudo-human rights groups as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo make no secret of it.

That previously legitimate groups like AI, of which this author used to be a member, give credibility to these schemes only demonstrates how much the rot inside the human rights establishment has advanced, and why its claims to moral authority have to be questioned.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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