Saturday, February 9, 2008

It's Not the Man, It's the Mission. The Whisperers of Death.

The other night a Mayan survivor remarked that there are Kaibiles in the Congo. They're a special unit of US-trained Guatemalan troops officially called "The Messengers of Death," but he noted that recently eight of them were ambushed and died themselves in that faraway land.

The poor Kaibil killers must not have known what hit them, since, on the road, away from home, they were in the Congo under actual legal constraint, as peacekeeping troops of the United Nations.

It's a similar story with Indonesian troops, now deployed as UN peacekeepers in Lebanon.

Back home, unbound by law, they kill civilians, but, away -- where that would cause problems -- such behavior is banned, and, generally, despite their past record, they don't go around murdering people (rape is another matter; its a problem of men in armies most everywhere, and UN troop assignments vary: In Haiti, it has included repression).

It's not the man, its the mission. Political killers are not killing machines.

They are human components of killing machines, and if the machine setting is switched from "kill" to "don't kill," as trained people, they do tend to comply.

While its true that some people are what these days are called psychopathic killers, such compulsive blood-spillers are rare in any society.

There aren't enough of them to stock a brigade, let alone a government or a Harvard institute.

In the Guatemala torture/ state terrorism/ genocide case now being tried in Spain (see postings of February 5 and 7, 2008), there is one such lunatic figure -- Col. German Chupina, the former national police chief and close ally of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, who, some of his old employees say, liked to cruise the city in a black-windowed van and point out women from the street for raping, and then cutting up and finishing off with his own literally bloody hands.

Gen. Rios Montt, one of the massacre dictators, is also often described as, in his way, crazy, but that is because he combined religious fanaticism with impolitic speaking bluntness (In his case, the fanaticism was Evangelical Christian. When he wasn't killing families he was lecturing them, on TV, on their sexual mores).

As he was helping him burn the Mayan highlands President Reagan said that Rios Montt was "totally dedicated to democracy" and getting a "bum rap" on human rights (New York Times, December 5, 1982). But Rios Montt spoiled the effect a bit when he explained to the press: "It is not true that I have a policy of scorched earth! I have a policy of scorched communists!"

But the crazies are exceptions.

Most top killers avoid the smell of burning flesh. They are calm bureaucrats, ideologues, politicians, academics. They kill with whispers, papers, and keyboard strokes.

And on the earthly -- implementation -- level, where sharp knives enter chests, the human adjustment is sometimes difficult for those who must do the actual killings.

Some of the people in Spain for the Mayan trial have occasionally cried, but the other day one man did it for a different reason than the others. He cried because he'd been made a killer.

As a teen he had been snatched into the Guatemalan army and that US counterinsurgency favorite, the "Civil Patrols," (The US has used them in dozens of countries, including, recently, Nepal, the Philippines, and Iraq. Gen. Rios Montt, a Fort Bragg trainee, was director of studies at the Pentagon's Washington, D.C. Inter-American Defense College), and when this man was brought for training he found that his imposed mission included becoming "one of the destroyers of everything, of our own people in Guatemala."

The old adage among murder trainers is that once you've killed you can't go back, especially if the person you've killed is a bound and screaming, unarmed captive.

It's fair that people should pay for their crimes. But the judgers should consider circumstances. Sentences should vary according to whether the killer was under coercion, or a coercer who whispered death from an office.

Link to view this posting in Spanish translation.

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