Terror, intimidation and violence are the glue that holds empire together. Aerial bombardment, drone and missile attacks, artillery and mortar strikes, targeted assassinations, massacres, the detention of tens of thousands, death squad killings, torture, wholesale surveillance, extraordinary renditions, curfews, propaganda, a loss of civil liberties and pliant political puppets are the grist of our wars and proxy wars.
Countries we seek to dominate, from Indonesia and Guatemala to Iraq and Afghanistan, are intimately familiar with these brutal mechanisms of control. But the reality of empire rarely reaches the American public. The few atrocities that come to light are dismissed as isolated aberrations. The public is assured what has been uncovered will be investigated and will not take place again. The goals of empire, we are told by a subservient media and our ruling elites, are virtuous and noble. And the vast killing machine grinds forward, feeding, as it has always done, the swollen bank accounts of defense contractors and corporations that exploit natural resources and cheap labor around the globe.
There are very few journalists who have covered empire with more courage, tenacity and integrity than Allan Nairn. For more than three decades, he has reported from Central America, East Timor, Palestine, South Africa, Haiti and Indonesia—where Indonesian soldiers fractured his skull and arrested him. His reporting on the Indonesian government massacres in East Timor saw him branded a “threat to national security” and officially banned from occupied East Timor. Nairn returned clandestinely to East Timor on numerous occasions. His dogged reporting of torture and killing of civilians by the Indonesian military contributed to the U.S. Congress suspending military aid to Jakarta in 1993. He exposed U.S. complicity with death squads and paramilitary organizations carrying out murderous rampages in El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti. During the 2014 presidential elections in Indonesia, where he spends much of his time, Nairn was threatened with arrest for exposing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s role in atrocities. Nairn’s reporting on army massacres was an important component in the trial of former Guatemalan President Efrain Ríos Montt. Gen. Montt ordered the killing of over 1,700 people in the Ixil region of the country in the early 1980s and was convicted in 2013 of genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. The conviction was later overturned.
Nairn, whom I spoke with in New York, reaches back to the genocide carried out against Native Americans, the institution of slavery and the murder of hundreds of workers and labor union organizers in the 19th and early 20th century to explain the roots of American imperial violence. He noted that, although wholesale massacres have become taboo on American soil in recent generations, the FBI was carrying out selective assassinations of black radicals, including Fred Hampton, in the 1960s. And police show little constraint in gunning down unarmed people of color in poor communities.