US-TRAINED DEATH SQUADS IN BAHRAIN
By: SR Shearer
We have spoken very often on the pages of this website of the
casual and routine manner the US uses death squads to prop up
its puppet regimes throughout the world; the use of death squads
is made necessary by the way the US organizes its subservient
states: the organizational model America uses calls for most
of the nations of the world to be divided into two parts —
(1) an elite class of political / economic "managers,"
which in most countries approximates about 20 percent of the
population, and (2) a "worker-serf" class which
makes up the remaining 80 percent of the population. The "managers"
rule the country at the behest and in the interest of American
corporate power. [Please see our article, "The
Third World as a Model for the American New World Order System."]
death squads breaking
into a house in Bahrain
It is an Orwellian realm of "Newspeak" in which there
is very little connection between perception and reality; where
"freedom" means "slavery" and "democracy"
means rule of the many by the few in the interest of corporate
profits. For the eighty percent of the population which falls
into the "worker-serf" category, it is a notably cruel
and utterly despotic system that is held together by police
forces given to fascist-like brutality, torture, terror and
by the liberal use of death squads in order to "disappear" those
brave enough to challenge the authority of the country's "manager"
class. [We URGE you to see our article, "The
Horror of John Negroponte and Everything He represents."
Negroponte was chosen by President Bush to organize death squads
the use of death squads (and all the horror that goes
along with them) Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch
"One of the darkest threads in post war U.S.
IMPERIAL HISTORY has been the CIA's involvement with
torture, as instructor ... or contractor. Since its
inception the CIA has taken a keen interest in torture,
avidly studying Nazi techniques and protecting their
exponents such as Klaus Barbie. The CIA's official line
is that torture is wrong and is ineffective, a line
echoed by Seymore Hersh in his otherwise splendid reporting.
"It (i.e., torture) is indeed wrong ... [but]
IT HAS BEEN APPALLINGLY EFFECTIVE. Remember Dan
Mitrone, kidnapped and killed by Uruguay's Tupamaros
and portrayed by Yves Montand in Costa-Gavras's film
State of Siege?
Poster for Costa-Gravas's
film, State of Siege (left);
Dan Mitrone (center); Mitrone's
body in Uruguay (right)
"In the late 1960s Mitrone worked for the U.S. Office
of Public Safety, part of the Agency for International
Development. In Brazil, so A.J. Langguth ... relates
in his book Hidden Terrors, Mitrone was among
the U.S. advisors teaching Brazilian police how much
electric shock to apply to prisoners without killing
them. In Uruguay, according to the former chief of police
for intelligence, Mitrone helped "professionalize"
torture as a routine measure and advised on psychological
techniques such as playing tapes of woman and children
screaming that the prisoner's family was being tortured."
And it's not just Jeffrey St. Clair; take Doug Stokes.
In an article which also appeared in the magazine CounterPunch
entitled "Imperial Policing: Why Abu Ghraib Shouldn't
Surprise Us," Stokes writes:
"The reports and pictures coming out of Abu
Ghraib merely confirm what has long been a ... tactic
within U.S. counter-insurgency warfare: targeting and
torture of civilians. This terror serves not only to
break the will of those targeted but has a wider symbolic
psychological function in that IT DRAMATICALLY RAISES
THE COST OF DISSENT. Whether it is (was) the 'war on
communism' during the Cold War, or a 'war on terrorism'
in the post-9/11 era, the targets and tactics have remained
the same and the abuses at Abu Ghraib are the logical
outcome of what the U.S. has long been teaching both
its own counter-insurgency specialists and those of
... [its client-states]."
The Kubark Manuel
Stokes - citing the CIA's "Human Resources Exploitation
Training Manual" (i.e., the so-called KUBARK
MANUEL) - tells of the cold-blooded,
unfeeling, and utterly pitiless manner in which the CIA
deals with the subject of torture as a "useful instrument"
in the "management" of client-state populations:
"The manual cautioned that if a 'subject refuses
to comply once a threat has been made, it must be carried
out. If it is not carried out then subsequent threats
will prove ineffective'. The training manual concludes
that 'there are a few non-coercive techniques which
can be used to induce regression, but to a lesser degree
than can be obtained with coercive techniques'. [So
much for the common LIE that the CIA doesn't
use torture because it is ineffective; that's meant
for public consumption only.] In its introduction,
the manual states that if bodily harm or 'medical, chemical,
or electrical methods or materials are to be used to
induce acquiescence' then prior approval ... (is needed).
[Thus, giving away the lie that these methods are not
used by American interrogators.]
Ghraib Prison, Baghdad, Iraq
Military intelligence officers
forcing civilian prisoners to adopt humiliating
positions to take some pictures aimed at intimidating
other prisoners which is a methodology discussed
in the KUBARK MANUEL
"The manual continues that if 'a new safe house
is to be used as the interrogation site, it should be
studied carefully to be sure that the total environment
can be manipulated as desired'. For example, the manual
says, 'The electric current should be known in advance,
so that transformers or other modifying devices will
be on hand if needed'. The Baltimore Sun conducted
an investigation into the use of these manuals. They
were told by an intelligence source that the 'CIA has
acknowledged privately and informally in the past that
this referred to the application of electric shocks
to interrogation suspects'. In sum, torture was condoned
as part of the strategic arsenal available to counter-insurgency
forces in combating alleged subversion. IMPORTANTLY,
TORTURE NOT ONLY PROVIDED AN EFFICIENT MEANS FOR INDUCING
'REGRESSION' BUT ALSO ACTED TO INSTILL TERROR IN TARGET
POPULATIONS. The abuses committed at Abu Ghraib thus
form part of a covert tradition within the history of
U.S. imperial policing and counter-insurgency warfare."
So much for those who would deny the fact that the
U.S. uses torture and terror to enforce compliance to
its wishes among its client-state populations.
This — i.e., the use of death squads - is precisely the
system that the US has introduced into the nations of the Persian
Gulf — i.e., Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates,
Oman and Saudi Arabia - where it has proven to be particularly
effective because of the low populations of these countries
(the fewer people who need to be controlled, the better). [We
URGE you to see Appendix 1 for a history
of how the U.S. has trained Saudi death squads, "Mercenaries
Inc: How a US Company Props Up the House of Saud."]
Persian Gulf states (the GCC)
As we indicated in our article, "US
Acts to Prevent Escape of Bahrain Domain," these six
nations are fundamental lynchpins of the American New World
Order System. Together they produce almost 30 percent of the
world's oil. Insofar as the Middle East and North Africa are
concerned, THESE NATIONS REPRESENT A "FALLBACK" POSITION
FOR THE UNITED STATES IN THIS AREA OF THE WORLD THAT IS INVIOLABLE
AND FOR WHICH THE US WOULD RISK NUCLEAR WAR.
If one were to add Iraq to this list, then one could easily
be talking about 35 percent of the world's oil production and
possibly one-half of the world's oil deposits (proven and unproven).
SAUDI DEATH SQUADS ENTER BAHRAIN
Commenting on the entrance of Saudi death squads into Bahrain,
Finian Cunningham writes:
"When Saudi-led military forces intervened in Bahrain on
March 14, it was declared by the Bahraini government and its
allies among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates
that the unprecedented move was a matter of urgency, needed
to "restore order and stability" to the tiny Persian Gulf
island kingdom. An arcane GCC defence pact was invoked —
the Arabian Peninsula Shield — even though legal experts
pointed out that such a provision was only applicable in the
event of one of the six Gulf states coming under attack from
an external enemy.
protester steps on a torn poster of King Hamad bin Isa
Al Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain
"Three weeks later, the real nature of the Saudi-led intervention
is becoming brutally clear. It can now be seen as an invasion
that has led to foreign occupation ... and crimes against
humanity committed by the very forces purported to bring order.
In one sense, the rhetorical justification for invoking the
Peninsula Shield force, "to restore order and stability,"
is literally correct. The aim was to restore the order
and stability of the US-backed Al Khalifa Sunni dictatorship
that had sat perilously on top of an oppressed Shia majority
for decades. On February 14, the Shia majority (60-70 per
cent of the indigenous population) along with disenfranchised
Sunni and non-religionists from working class communities
rose up in numbers that had never been seen before. Inspired
by revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab
region, Bahrain's surging pro-democracy movement rocked the
Remarking on America's complicity in the invasion of Bahrain
by Saudi troops (death squads), the Bahrain Freedom Movement
"The past week has been among the worst in the history
of Bahrain as Death Squads roamed the towns and ... attacked
Bahrainis. It became clear that Robert Gates, the American
Secretary of State for Defense, had given the green light
for the Saudis to carry out their invasion ... He was
in Bahrain on Saturday 12th March, one day before the bloody
attack on the demonstrators near the financial harbor ..."
The report continues:
"With American-made and supplied Apache helicopter gunships
hovering overhead, troops armed with American-made and supplied
tear gas canisters and guns and other weapons have brutally
dispersed and suppressed democratic-minded and peaceful protests.
Hundreds of unarmed demonstrators have been either beaten
or killed. Many claim the recent U.S.-backed Saudi invasion
is a 'replica of the invasion of Saddam Hussein's invasion
of Kuwait in 1990'. As the Saudi military scorched and then
razed Pearl Square, including a monument symbolizing the people's
revolution in hopes of erasing the image of the revolution
from the people's memory, hundreds of Bahrain protesters were
injured and killed with live ammunition and rubber bullets."
rises as forces move in to Pearl Square to force anti-government
VIDEO OF MAN KILLED BY SAUDI TROOPS
Well-known journalist Dallas Darling elaborates:
"While thousands of demonstrators were rushed to the main
hospital at Salmaniyah and other make-shift clinics, the Saudi
military opened fire 'with no mercy on Bahrainis'. Soon
afterward, Saudi death squads raided Salmaniyah and other
emergency treatment centers, taking away patients to be questioned
and imprisoned. Teams of doctors and nurses from other
nations trying to enter Bahrain were turned away. According
to the Bahraini Freedom Movement, death squads attacked innocent
civilians at Malikiyah, Sitra, Nuwaidrat, Bani, Jamra, Bahsa,
and in many other towns. Although there have been images
of such atrocities, the American and British ambassadors in
Manama failed to take any action.
troops forced their way into Salmaniya hospital in Bahrain
and "disappeared" hundreds of patients who had been
wounded protesting in Pearl Square.
"What some Bahrainis see as genocide by the al-Khalifa
Dynasty and its armed soldiers, Washington and London supports.
What some Bahrainis see as Saudi aggression and a military
invasion, the United States and its military and naval bases
nearby view it as a means to keep their military port and
to protect what it considers to be their national interest,
namely, petroleum and oil. But for
many Bahrainis, the Saudis and al-Khalifa could not have militarily
deployed without American approval and supplied
weapons. The Bahraini Freedom Movement believes there is a
'country-wide revulsion of indifference to the value of human
life shown by those American officials who have sided with
the al-Khalifa Dynasty, also supported by the Saudi regime.'"
DEATH SQUAD ATROCITIES
Cunningham goes on to report that it has been estimated by
human rights groups that between 200 and 400 injured patients
were "disappeared" at Salmaniya Hospital alone.
A spokeswoman for US-based Human Rights Watch said:
"We are deeply alarmed by the number of disappeared. And
we are even more concerned by the number of people who had
been reported missing and who are now being found dead. There
seems to be a blatant campaign to silence people by fear."
One of those who was 'disappeared' was named Abdulrazul Al
Hujairi. He worked as a cleaner at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama
and was taken into custody on March 19, according to witnesses.
His badly beaten body, including a broken neck, was found the
next day near the remote oil fields of Awaali.
body of Abdulrazul Al Hujairi killed by US-trained Saudi
The father of another man Hani Abdulaziz (32),
from Belad Al Qadeem, west of Manama, described how he saw his
badly injured son being taken away by military police while
he was being treated at the International Hospital on March
19. Abdulaziz is believed to have been tortured after he was
snatched by a police squad earlier that day. He was taken to
a nearby construction site and shot in the legs and arms, said
witnesses. The bare concrete room where he is said to have been
shot four times at close range bore the evidence of massive
blood loss. His body was eventually released five days later
— the same day he was buried. Abdulaziz's family rejected
the official death certificate, which claimed that he was killed
in a car accident.
NERVE GAS USED
Another violation of international law concerns the alleged
use of chemical warfare agents by the Peninsula Shield forces.
One Bahraini senior consultant said:
"We are sure that nerve agents are being used against protesters.
Hundreds of people have been treated for severe symptoms of
nerve poisoning that are quite distinct from exposure to teargas."
This diagnosis of nerve gas poisoning was verified independently
by other senior doctors. One toxicologist said:
Nine doctors at Salmaniya hospital medical
complex including Doctor Nigera who filed a report with
Human Rights Watch verified independently the use of these
neurotoxins that left people paralyzed and dead. Doctors
have attempted to treat people with atropine and described
the symptoms of those assaulted as consistent with organophosphates
characteristic of chemical and neurological weapons, which
are specifically a war crime and in direct violation of
the 1993 international convention against the use of poison
gas and chemical weapons.
"I am 100 per cent sure that these people were
suffering from nerve gas poisoning. All the symptoms match
those of poisoning with organophosphate chemicals that are
used as chemical warfare weapons."
The toxicologist went on to say:
"People were being brought into the hospitals
suffering from unconsciousness, severe convulsions, spasms
in their hands and limbs, memory loss, vomiting, the loss
of voluntary muscle function, leading to urination and diarrhea.
These symptoms match closely those of poisoning with organophosphate
neurotoxins. Furthermore, we treated people with the drug,
atropine, which is an antidote specific to this organophosphate
It should be pointed out that the use of such nerve agents
is illegal under the 1993 UN Convention against Chemical weapons,
to which the Bahrain state and its Western allies are signatories.
It should also be noted that the same toxicology and claims
of neuro toxins being deployed against civilian protesters have
been reported in the US-backed Yemeni regime. That such a grave
violation of international law was conducted contemporaneously
by two US-backed regimes strongly suggests that these states
were given clearance from Washington.
GIVING THE GAME AWAY
The blatant use of these kinds of tactics — tactics that
the US government must have known would have been impossible
to hide — gives evidence as to the importance the US attaches
to its Persian Gulf client-states; moreover, the wretched effort
by US spokespersons to blame the Saudis ALONE
for what's going on is pathetic.
The presence of both Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral
Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Bahrain
prior to the entrance of Saudi troops into the country gives
the game away — AND IF "DISSIDENTS" IN THE PRESS MAKE
A FUSS ABOUT IT BY SHOWING PICTURES AND REPORTING ON THE "GOINGS-ON,"
SO BE IT.
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff meets with
Bahrain's King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa to discuss the
political unrest …
IN THE AMERICAN VIEW, THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE SO
IMPORTANT THAT IF AMERICA'S CLAWS HAVE TO BE BARED FOR ALL TO
SEE, THAT'S TOO BAD, BUT THE GOVERNMENT CAN LIVE WITH IT —
and besides, most Americans don't seem to care; after all, according
to the leaders of the American evangelical community, what the
US is fighting against here are DEMONS — ISLAMIC DEMONS.
It is precisely here that America's enemies in the Middle East
and North Africa would be well-advised to sit up and take note
of the danger they are in: there are a lot of things that the
American Empire can tolerate losing; BUT LOSING THE OIL FIELDS
OF THE PERSIAN GULF IS NOT ONE OF THEM.
The fact that the United States has been willing to show its
claws in such an OPEN fashion in Bahrain should
be warning enough.
The US baring its claws: American-trained death squads being let loose in Bahrain
Sadly for the people of the Middle East, it is a warning that
is destined to go unheeded. [Please see Chapter XV of the New
Antipas Papers, "The
Gog / Magog War."]
God bless you all!
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WANT TO
FELLOWSHIP ON HOW TO GO ON IN THESE DANGEROUS AND TROUBLED TIMES,
WE URGE YOU TO CONTACT US AT: [email protected].
IN ADDITION, WE URGE YOU TO DOWNLOAD THE NEW ANTIPAS PAPERS,
PRINT THEM OUT YOURSELF, AND STUDY THEM CAREFULLY; SHARE THEM
WITH YOUR FRIENDS.
FINALLY, WE URGE YOU TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT OUT THE FLYER
WE SENT TO YOU RECENTLY.
Then make copies and take these copies out to the campuses
where you live; pass them out; OR if that seems
too "daring" for you right now, post them on telephone
poles, the sides of buildings, on campus bulletin boards; post
them in union halls, in the neighborhoods of the poor and downtrodden,
near employment offices, wherever you can.
Once again, we URGE you to read (or re-read):
Mercenaries Inc : How a U.S. Company
Props Up the House of Saud
[Executive Mercenaries trains Saudi death squads]
by William D. Hartung
"We were shocked and saddened to hear about the attacks
in Saudi Arabia and the deaths of at least 91 people there,
including ten Americans."
-US State Department Press Release
But the fact that one of the targets was a U.S. private
military corporation called Vinnell raises serious questions
about the role of "executive mercenaries," and
corporations who profit from war and instability. This
is the second time in eight years that Vinnell's operations
in Saudi Arabia have been the target of a terrorist attack.
In 1995 a car bomb blasted through an Army training program
Vinnell was involved with. The following year, Bill Hartung,
a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute wrote this
article for the Progressive magazine.
The sanitized version of American foreign policy asserts
that the United States is hard at work promoting democratic
values around the world in the face of attacks from totalitarian
ideologies ranging from communism during the Cold War
to Islamic fundamentalism today. Every once in a while
an incident occurs that contradicts this reassuring rhetoric
by revealing the secret underside of American policy,
which is far more concerned with propping up pliable regimes
that serve the interests of U.S. multinational corporations
than it is with any meaningful notion of democracy. The
November 13, 1995 bombing of the Saudi Arabian National
Guard (SANG) headquarters and an adjacent building housing
a U.S. military training mission is one such incident.
President Clinton tried to paint the bombing as just
another senseless act of terrorism perpetrated by armed
Islamic extremists, but the target was chosen much too
carefully to support that simple explanation. The Saudi
National Guard is a 55,000 man military force whose main
job is to protect the Saudi monarchy from its own people,
using arms from the United States and training supplied
by roughly 750 retired U.S. military and intelligence
personnel employed by the Vinnell Corporation of Fairfax,
Virginia. A January 1996 article in Jane's Defence
Weekly describes the SANG as "a kind of Praetorian
Guard for the House of Saud, the royal family's defence
of last resort against internal opposition." The
November bombing -- which killed five Americans and wounded
thirty more -- was certainly brutal, but it was far from
senseless. As a retired American military officer familiar
with Vinnell's operations put it,
"I don't think it was an accident that it was
that office that got bombed. If you wanted to make a
political statement about the Saudi regime you'd single
out the National Guard, and if you wanted to make a
statement about American involvement you'd pick the
only American contractor involved in training the guard:
The story of how an obscure American company ended up
becoming the Saudi monarchy's personal protection service
is a case study in how the United States government has
come to rely on unaccountable private companies and unrepresentative
foreign governments to do its dirty work on the world
stage, short-circuiting democracy at home and abroad in
the process. In the wake of the Iran/contra scandal and
the end of the Cold War, many observers of U.S. foreign
policy have assumed that this penchant for covert policymaking
has been put aside, but Vinnell's role in Saudi Arabia
puts the lie to that comforting assumption.
To borrow a phrase from one of Vinnell's former presidents,
the company didn't start out as a "spook outfit"
when it was founded in 1931 as a small Los Angeles area
construction company. The firm's early growth was tied
to contracts for the LA freeway system. Indeed, some of
Vinnell's best known projects are decidedly civilian in
character, including work on the Grand Coulee Dam and
the construction of LA's Dodger Stadium (Brooklyn Dodger
fans take note). But by the end of World War II, the company
was already dabbling in military and intelligence work.
Vinnell's first overseas contract involved shipping supplies
to Chinese Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek as part of his
futile attempt to beat back the revolutionary forces of
Mao Tse-Tung. The company soon embarked on a booming military
construction business in Asia, building military airfields
in Okinawa, Taiwan, Thailand, South Vietnam, and Pakistan.
Vinnell's Asian adventures served as a springboard for
its emergence as a global company that was more than willing
to do a little intelligence work on the side if the opportunity
presented itself. In his memoir Ropes of Sand, former
CIA operative Wilbur Crane Eveland describes how he used
his Vinnell connection as a cover during his tours of
duty in Africa and the Middle East in the early 1960s,
noting that company founder Albert Vinnell expressed his
willingness to help the agency do whatever it needed to
do (for a fee, of course). Eveland returned the favor
by negotiating contracts for Vinnell to do construction
services on oil fields in Iran and Libya, bribing the
appropriate officials along the way.
Vinnell's big break in the military/intelligence field
came during the American intervention in Vietnam, when
the company won hundreds of millions of dollars of business
doing everything from building military bases to repairing
armored personnel carriers to running military warehouses.
At the peak of its involvement Vinnell had 5,000 employees
in Vietnam, but not all of them were engaged in straightforward
military operations. Several retired Army and Marine officers
familiar with Vinnell's work in Vietnam have indicated
that the company ran several "black" (secret)
programs. In a March 1975 interview with the Village
Voice, a Pentagon official described Vinnell as "our
own little mercenary army in Vietnam" and asserted
that "we used them to do things we either didn't
have the manpower to do ourselves, or because of legal
problems." The official indicated that one of Vinnell's
jobs was as "rear security forces," assigned
to "clean up" U.S. military bases in Vietnam
during the U.S. withdrawal: "how they 'cleaned up'
was pretty much up to them.... If we figured an area was
certain to be overrun by the VC [Viet Cong].... they were
to demolish everything and anything."
The last thing that Vinnell nearly demolished in Vietnam
was its own financial viability. The company had apparently
poured all of its resources into the war effort, and it
had very little to fall back on when the war ended. Vinnell
posted losses every year from 1970 through 1974, and in
January 1975 the company filed a reorganization plan with
the California Department of Corporations in which it
proposed to sell voting control in the company to a Lebanese
investor for the modest sum of $500,000. With these dismal
financial figures looming in the background, the firm's
February 1975 contract for $77 million to train the Saudi
National Guard brought Vinnell back from the brink of
The Vinnell/Saudi training deal drew considerable fire,
both in the press and on Capitol Hill. On February 9,
1975 Peter Arnett filed a piece for the Associated Press
that raised questions about the propriety of a private
U.S. company serving as a hired protection service for
an undemocratic regime. When Maas asked one of Vinnell's
men in Riyadh whether he viewed himself as a mercenary,
the question drew a classic bureaucratic response: "We
are not mercenaries because we are not pulling the triggers.
We train people to pull the triggers. Maybe that makes
us executive mercenaries."
This setup was a bit too blatant even for the more hawkish
members of Congress. Senators Henry ("the Senator
from Boeing") Jackson and Armed Services Committee
Chairman John Stennis of Mississippi demanded hearings
on the contract, which Jackson purported to find "completely
baffling." Meanwhile, a reform-minded young Congressman
from Wisconsin named Les Aspin aired charges that the
$77 million Saudi contract may have been greased with
a $4.5 million payment to middleman Ghassn Shaker, the
very same Lebanese businessman that Vinnell was trying
to give a controlling interest in the company at a cut
rate price. The hearings were held and Shaker was dissuaded
from buying a controlling interest in Vinnell, but the
contract to train the Saudi National Guard was allowed
By 1979, when a rebellion rocked the Saudi regime and
opposition forces occupied the Grand Mosque at Mecca,
Vinnell's "executive mercenaries" were called
out from behind the scenes onto the front lines. The
Washington Post reported at the time that in the final
stages of the storming of the mosque, the Saudi princes
who were running the military operation relied on "advice
from the large U.S. military training mission" (including
Vinnell contract employees) and were "in frequent
telephone contact with U.S. officials." Counterspy
magazine further reported that when the initial National
Guard assault failed, Vinnell personnel were brought to
Mecca to "provide the tactical support needed to
capture the Mosque."
During the 1980s, things returned to "normal"
in Saudi Arabia, with strict controls on freedom of expression,
harsh repression of the rights of women, public beheadings
of common criminals, and the maintenance of a fiercely
anti-communist, pro-U.S. foreign policy. (These same practices
continue to this day). Vinnell's role as the regime's
principal security "prop" was barely discussed
in the U.S. media, but the company did figure indirectly
in the biggest intelligence scandal of the decade, Iran/contra.
Lt. Col. Richard Gadd, who went on to become the chief
operations officer for Ollie North and Richard Secord's
private weapons air drop service for the contras, was
hired by Vinnell for his first job out of the Air Force.
According to Steven Emerson's 1988 book Secret Warriors,
Gadd's work at Vinnell involved setting up a private,
"black" air transport service called Sumairco
which was to be dedicated solely to secret U.S. army operations.
Gadd left Vinnell after a few months, taking Sumairco
with him. He also used his brief stopover at Vinnell to
get started on two other "special services"
companies, American National Management and Eagle Aviation
Services, which were secretly involved in such major operations
as the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
That someone like Gadd would use Vinnell as his transition
from serving in the armed forces to joining the netherworld
of private companies involved in covert operations on
behalf of the U.S. government is not surprising. Although
Vinnell is one of literally hundreds of companies that
do work for the CIA and military intelligence agencies,
its strong ties to Saudi Arabia and its experience in
military training and logistics make it a central players
in this still burgeoning field.
Today, the biggest question regarding Vinnell's ongoing
operations is the same one that was posed twenty years
ago: why is a U.S. company using retired U.S. military
and intelligence personnel to defend a corrupt monarchy
in Saudi Arabia? It's obvious what's in it for the monarchy:
protection from rebels and democrats who might want to
change the kingdom's form of government. On this front,
Vinnell must be busier than ever: Human Rights Watch reported
that in 1994, "Saudi Arabia witnessed the largest
roundup in recent history of opposition activists and
a new low in the dismal human rights record of the Kingdom."
The organization's report for 1995 cited "further
deterioration in human rights observance," including
a harsh crackdown on peaceful Islamist organizations.
Political parties and demonstrations are outlawed, there
is no independent free press, and there has been a systematic
crackdown on peaceful Islamic dissenters.
The lengths to which the Saudi regime will go to prevent
critical information from reaching its subjects were underscored
in January of 1996 when Saudi officials tried to get Britain
to deport Mohammed al-Mas'ari, whose Committee for the
Defense of Legitimate Rights has been faxing critical
reports about the Riyadh government to contacts within
Saudi Arabia from its offices in London. The none to subtle
message conveyed to Conservative Prime Minister John Major's
government was that if Mas'ari was allowed to continue
operating from Britain, Britain's future arms sales and
other commercial contracts with Saudi Arabia might suffer.
While Mas'ari's democratic credentials have been questioned
in some U.S. media assessments of the case, his message
is clear enough -- he told the New York Times in
late January that "The Saudi regime is a mafia that
has enormous wealth under its control and doesn't want
to give it up. We want to have an elected, accountable
government with a real rule of law and an independent
The Saudi government obviously feels threatened enough
by statements of this sort to make Mr. Mas'ari's presence
in London into an international incident. Supporters of
Mr. Mas'ari's organization operating within Saudi Arabia
are treated even more harshly. On August 11, 1995, the
Saudi government beheaded Abdalla al-Hudhaif, a supporter
of CDLR who was convicted by a secret tribunal of offenses
ranging from firearms possession to distributing critical
leaflets to allegedly throwing acid at a security officer.
Human Rights Watch notes that this last allegation against
Mr. al-Haif is the only violent incident alleged against
the peaceful Islamist opposition in Saudi Arabia during
the government's ongoing crackdown on their activities.
With peaceful means of expressing disagreement with the
current Saudi ruling circle so systematically blocked,
violent outbursts like the bombing of the Saudi National
Guard headquarters are more likely to occur, and to be
met in turn by violent repression by Saudi Arabia's Vinnell-trained
internal security forces.
As for Vinnell and its employees, their main interest
in Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly the money. A retired Marine
officer who did five years with Vinnell in Saudi Arabia
reports that he was able to save up several hundred thousand
dollars to buy a retirement home in cash. An official
familiar with the work of another U.S. firm that recently
got a contract to train the Saudi Navy says that employees
at the firm "feel like they've died and gone to heaven,
because the Saudis will never run out of money."
The myth of Saudi Arabia as a bottomless source of cash
has worn thin lately as tens of billions of weapons purchases
from the United States plus the cost of the 1991 Gulf
War have driven the Saudi budget into deficit for the
first time ever, but Vinnell's contract is safe as long
as the current Saudi ruling clique stays in power (it
was recently renewed through 1998). If anything, Vinnell's
fortunes may improve in the short-term, now that King
Fahd has stepped aside for health reasons, leaving the
reins of government in the hands of his brother, Crown
Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, who also happens to run
the National Guard. Jane's Defense Weekly has speculated
that the guard may be built up even faster now as a way
of enhancing Crown Prince Abdullah's personal power base,
which will no doubt mean bigger contracts for Vinnell
But is what's good for the Saudi monarchy and its chosen
protection service good for the people of the United States
or Saudi Arabia? The short answer is no, but the U.S.
government has exerted considerable energy trying to convince
us that we're all in this mess together and that Americans
have no choice but to support the Saudi monarchy.
It's true that the Saudi regime provides a wide array
of economic and political services to the U.S. government
and U.S. corporations, but most of these services have
little to do with promoting either democracy or prosperity
for the citizens of the United States or Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis provide access to their oil resources to U.S.
firms on extremely favorable terms, and adjust their pricing
policies within OPEC in ways that support U.S. interests.
For years, a significant portion of Saudi "petrodollar"
revenues have been invested in U.S. government bonds,
helping ease the burden of the growing U.S. budget deficit
(the tradeoff is that taxpayers have been asked to spend
hundreds of billions of dollars to build a U.S. military
force that can get to the Middle East on short notice
to defend regimes such as the Saudi monarchy from threats
from without or within).
In the realm of secret wheeling and dealing, the Saudis
have not shied from putting up money for joint covert
operations with the U.S., from arming the Afghan rebels
to providing funds to Oliver North's Iran/contra "enterprise."
According to the Washington Post, the latest U.S.-Saudi
joint venture has been a secret initiative to provide
over $300 million for covert weapons supplies to the Bosnian
government during the period of the UN embargo on that
nation. Although Clinton Administration officials have
denied involvement in this scheme, it would be consistent
with other U.S. actions of the past several years, such
as looking the other way as planeloads of weapons were
dropped in the area. What is certain is that Saudi Arabia
will be approached about providing funds to train Bosnian
Muslim forces in the context of the current NATO intervention
to police the Dayton accords. A source with contacts within
the Vinnell Corporation has indicated that the State Department
has encouraged Vinnell to bid on the contract to train
the Bosnian forces. Vinnell's parent company, BDM, which
bought the firm in 1993 to expand its market niche in
military training services, already has a contract to
provide 500 translators for NATO peacekeeping forces in
The Cold War is over, and the culture of deception and
covert dealing represented by the Vinnell Corporation's
role in Saudi Arabia should be brought to and end with
it. Nothing of value can come from sustaining the secretive
network of companies and relationships that has fueled
scandal after scandal and cost thousands of innocent lives.
Even advocates of a U.S. military role in Bosnia have
to take pause at the recent revelations of covert activities
on the part of the U.S. and its ally, Saudi Arabia, in
arming Bosnian forces. If true, the secret violation of
the arms embargo on Bosnia will take its place alongside
a long line of examples of U.S. government hypocrisy,
from the secret arming of Iran and Iraq in the 1980s to
the cover-up of the U.S. role in the slaughter of hundreds
of thousands of Guatemalans by Pentagon backed military
forces and CIA-backed death squads from the 1960s through
the 1990s. The common thread uniting these operations
is the use of private companies and shadowy intelligence
operatives to subvert the publicly stated objectives of
U.S. policy, undermining democratic accountability in
The policy of using Vinnell trainers and U.S. arms supplies
to keep the Saudi monarchy in power can not be sustained
indefinitely. For one thing, the money's running out.
The lavish social programs that have been used to buy
off dissent are being cut sharply to make room for continuing
expenditures on advanced American, French, and British
weaponry. A number of security analysts are beginning
the speak of Saudi Arabia as the "next Iran,"
-- a top-heavy, corrupt monarchy that is in danger of
being overthrown by its own people if it fails to implement
major reforms soon. And as one confidential financial
advisor to the Saudis told the New York Times,
the U.S. policy of pushing weapons and military solutions
over democratization and social reform may be the greatest
single threat to the survival of the House of Saud:
"People think we have this great gold mine in
Saudi Arabia . . . I don't think the U.S. government
realizes what it is doing by shoving weapons down the
Saudi's throats. They're forgetting that what they're
doing is creating instability in Saudi Arabia. That
could be the greatest risk to Saudi security."
The people of Saudi Arabia will eventually demand and
receive a measure of input into how their government is
run and how their resources are utilized. Whether that
change comes about through a revolution led by Islamic
fundamentalists or an evolution towards democracy will
depend in significant part on whether U.S. policy continues
to back the monarchy to the hilt or press for a political
opening that allows for peaceful change.
If the Saudi monarchy is overthrown, will Vinnell be
put in charge of "cleaning up" all the sensitive
U.S.-built military and intelligence facilities in Saudi
Arabia as it was during the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam?
Or will the American public head off that day by demanding
that our government get out of the dictator protection
racket and allow the possibility of genuine democratic
development in Saudi Arabia?
- William D. Hartung is a Senior Fellow at the World
Policy Institute at the New School for Social Research
in New York City and the author of And Weapons for All
(HarperCollins, 1995). The author would like to thank
his colleague Jennifer Washburn for providing research
assistance in the preparation of this article.
Hartung is very, very wrong in his assumption
that the US would under any circumstances allow
the Saudi monarchy to be toppled.
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