The global terror network that is rarely named

In reading and listening to the commentary in US media about the killing of Qassem Suleimani by the US government, even those who disapprove of the action do so largely on strategic and tactical grounds and claim that the US was morally right to do what it did. The argument they give is that Suleimani was the operational head of the Iranian government’s elite Quds force who oversaw a terrorist network in many countries that the US has invaded or otherwise has troops in and thus deserved to die because he was behind the deaths of many Americans. (Murtaza Hussain provides some background on Suleimani and how he was viewed in both Iran and Iraq.)

Whenever I hear people saying these things, my reaction is “Really?” Suleimani was small potatoes compared to what the US government and the CIA have been doing around the globe for decades.

The US government is no stranger to the dark arts of political assassinations. Over the decades it has deployed elaborate techniques against its foes, from dispatching a chemist armed with lethal poison to try to take out Congo’s Patrice Lumumba in the 1960s to planting poison pills (equally unsuccessfully) in the Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s food.

But the killing of Gen Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite military Quds force, was in in a class all its own. Its uniqueness lay not so much in its method – what difference does it make to the victim if they are eviscerated by aerial drone like Suleimani, or executed following a CIA-backed coup, as was Iraq’s ruler in 1963, Abdul Karim Kassem? – but in the brazenness of its execution and the apparently total disregard for either legal niceties or human consequences.

Vipin Narang, a political scientist at MIT, said the killing “wasn’t deterrence, it was decapitation”.

There has been no shortage of US interventions over the past half-century that have attempted – and in some cases succeeded – in removing foreign adversaries through highly dubious legal or ethical means. The country has admitted to making no fewer than eight assassination attempts on Castro, though the real figure was probably much higher.

William Blum, the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, points to a litany of American sins from invasions, bombings, overthrowing of governments, assassinations to torture and death squads. “It’s not a pretty picture” is his blunt conclusion.

The CIA was deemed to have run so amok in the 1960s and 70s that in 1975 the Church committee investigated a numerous attempted assassinations on foreign leaders including Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem and, of course, Castro. In the fallout, Gerald Ford banned US involvement in foreign political assassinations.

Remember also that the US shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, killing all 290 people abroad, and then gave medals to the captain and crew of the US Navy ship that shot the plane down.

The list of terrorist actions by the CIA on behalf of the US government is long and extensive and very likely continues to this day in secret, to be revealed only later by a whistleblower. And yet these commentators never refer to the US as a terrorist state even when they use that label to describe identical actions by other countries.

Meanwhile the fallout from this killing continues. It brought out one of the largest crowds that Iran has ever seen, showing how the killing has unified Iranians. Iran has announced that it will no longer be committed to any aspect of the nuclear deal that was negotiated during the time of Barack Obama and that Donald Trump unilaterally abrogated. The Iraqi parliament has also voted to have the US withdraw all its troops from the country. There have also been attacks on an American military base in Kenya and rockets were fired at the Green Zone in Baghdad that encloses the US embassy.

Trump has tweeted that if Iran retaliates, he would order strikes on 52 targets that include sites important to Iranian culture. Observers were quick to point out that targeting cultural heritage sites constitutes a war crime under the United Nations. If Trump carries through that threat, the usual defense that it was in error would not hold. But these legal niceties are only applicable to nations and leaders who care about international law. If you are the head of a rogue nation that runs a terrorist network, and when you and your predecessors have committed multiple war crimes in the past and not suffered any repercussions, what is to stop you from committing a few more?


  1. Bruce says

    Other than the $2 trillion tax giveaway to the 1%, this will be the first campaign promise Trump has kept. He said he’d withdraw the US from Iraq, and now he’s making sure that it happens.
    Maybe Trump also wants a Nobel Prize for bringing peace to Iran. Now there is no more internal strife there, as all the moderates realize they must now support the hard-liners in Iran.
    I don’t know about others, but I am getting tired of so much “winning”.

  2. says

    The CIA operates its own wing of completely unregulated armed drones; imagine if Al Quds were flying drones up from Mexico, killing people. The CIA operates its own logistical transport companies (basically Air America 2.0); imagine if Iran was flying planeloads of moderately advanced heavy weapons down to the drug cartels on the US border. And of course the CIA has its network of black sites where it tortures people, and a rather public one on conquered territory in Cuba. The CIA has even placed congressional investigators under surveillance, to attempt to contain the government’s regulatory authority. The current director of the CIA participated in both torture and the cover up of an international conspiracy to commit torture. That’s just the recent stuff. If you factor in the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam war, the CIA is unquestionably the largest terrorist organization that has ever assassinated anyone. Then there’s the small matter of the CIA selling drugs to pipelines that ended in US cities, to fund its death squads in Nicaragua.

    One other bad penny that hasn’t dropped: Khalifa Hifter, one of the warlords killing people in Libya trying to take over the country, is a long-time CIA asset who may have gone rogue or who is just doing what he was always supposed to do: take over Libya and establish a friendly dictatorship. He’s worrying Turkey so much that Erdogan is threatening to go in with military force to suppress him.

    The CIA is almost certainly involved in the coup attempts in Venezuela; you can tell because of the great big violent clusterfuck, which is CIA’s signature.

    International terrorism? The CIA owns it; they’re just trying to eliminate the competition.

    (I also do not discredit the possibility that James Earl Ray was a CIA asset)

    Objoke: how can we tell the CIA was not behind the JFK assassination? He’s fucking dead, that’s how.

  3. John Morales says

    Well, the USA is an empire in every way but name.

    It can afford to indulge the whims of its rulers.

    (Not quite ruled by a Sultan and his coterie of viziers)

  4. Holms says

    Similarly, USA wages constant war in all but name. The actions are the same, they just didn’t bother declaring war.

  5. mailliw says

    I interpret the assassination of Qassem Suleimani as a cynical ploy to distract attention from the impeachment process.

    However to those of us in the rest of the democratic world, it is astonishing how much executive power the president of the US is allowed to exercise in matters of war and national security.

  6. mnb0 says

    “Suleimani was small potatoes ….”
    So what? That doesn’t make him any better.
    Fortunately as an anti-nationalist I’m in the comfortable position of condemning and Quds and the CIA. I won’t fall for the silly trap of defending the enemy of my enemy.
    Far important to me is that my worries as expressed the previous time seem to become reality. Donald the Clown has threatened to destroy 52 Irani targets. Compared to that the killing of Suleimani is small potatoes indeed.

  7. Ridana says

    I’m admittedly naive and uninformed about the finer points of our military adventurism, and I haven’t seen anyone saying this (nor dismissing it either), but am I way off in thinking this is more of Putin’s handiwork in manipulating the Puppet in Chief? Pinocchio was certainly motivated by the opportunity to bluster and kill bin Laden a Big Ol’ Terrorist and to distract from impeachment, but this is yet another move that strengthens Putin’s hand in the region, isolates the US internationally, and further drains the Treasury, isn’t it? Didn’t Dumbass have one of those off-the-record calls with Putin a few weeks ago?

    I guess I feel like the question isn’t if we’ll decide to go to war against Iran, but whether Putin wants to launch an overt war between the US and Iran. I think he called him off previously, and I hope he will again, but his calculations may have changed now that he’s got Syria more firmly in his pocket. I hope someone will explain why this is not what’s happening and if it really is as simple as the Pentagon being stupid enough to even suggest this assassination to Pumpkin as a ridiculous option.

  8. bmiller says

    mnbo makes a good point. We can look with distaste at what the action will do for the world situation (which is already bad enough). At the same time, I don’t want to seem to be pro-Iranian. The Iranian regime IS pretty terrible. Minor players when compared to the real Evil Empire, but still.

    It is a shame that the movement to clip their wings a bit in Iraq will now be destroyed by this clumsy act. And dsotrying Iranian cultural sites is exactly the same as what ISIS did.

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