In reading the daily newspapers and watching TV news, I have begun to wonder whether I am crazy or some magic erasure of memory has taken place. The administration has recently announced new U.S. priorities. Focus on combating international terrorism will replace the Carter administration emphasis on human rights. Washington Post columnist Stephen S. Rosenfeld says the issue is complicated because the roots of international terrorism lie "not only in individual pathologies and local conditions but in international organizations and political connections." But whose organizations and whose connections? And how to define international terrorism? Do we disregard our own past when for a "national security objective" we promoted international terrorism?
An anti-international terrorism policy could become a double-edged sword. From 1959 on, the CIA, under orders from the White House, recruited Cuban exiles and trained them not only for combat but in the crafts of terrorism. Our government then launched some of them in an invasion of another state, dispatched them on assassination missions and sabotage expeditions abroad. When policy shifted, many of these same terrorists were placed by their former mentors in intelligence agencies throughout the hemisphere. Other returned to their former professions or took jobs as international drug dealers and arms traders. Still others became free-lance contractors to foreign states, such as Pinochet's Chile or Somoza's Nicaragua.
Cuban exiles trained by the CIA were the actual White House plumbers under former president Nixon, the ones who broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist and later into Watergate.
The U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to International Activity published a report in 1980 about the myriad illegal and violent activities by foreign intelligence agencies in the United States. The report indicated that the U.S. government through the CIA not only helped to create some of the agencies that have been among the leading practitioners of terrorism in their own countries and abroad but assented to their activities on U.S. soil.
International terrorism is a very serious threat not only to U.S. national security but to human rights as well. What is emerging, however, in the gradual definition of the new policy, appears to be a kind of double speak.
The Salvadoran government, though suspected of involvement in the murder of three U.S. nuns and a missionary and two U.S. government officials, will be actively rewarded will higher quantities of lethal aid to fight "international terrorists." Chile will have officially gotten away with murder in the Letelier-Moffit case as soon as this administration reinstates the mild cosmetic reductions in embassy personnel put forward by the Carter administration.
If we are to learn something from our recent past at a time of present peril, it might be worth a reflection pause in Congress and in the press to inquire into the real nature of a policy of "combating international terrorism" and of the possible consequences we will have to pay. We are still paying for the Bay of Pigs and the Cuba policy. The sins of the Watergate plumbers and Vietnam have not really been washed away by the hostage redemption ceremonies.
If the members of the Reagan administration want to be known for great statesmanship, it might also behoove them to reflect before announcing a new policy that can work only by erasing or distorting our own past. It is also a policy that may not correspond to the present global political realities.