Amid much international turmoil -- especially at a time when truth seems to
be a scarce commodity -- never has there been a greater need for a permanent
U.S. Truth Commission than now.
An assortment of truth commissions have been established in countries such as
El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa because of
the unprecedented bloodletting there. Their objectives were truth and
reconciliation. While much truth did surface (Peru's commission recently reported
twice as many deaths, 69,000 between 1980 and 2000, than had been previously
reported), there has been little reconciliation because most human rights violators
from those countries remain free.
The truth is, the United States was a key player in virtually all of these
(and other) conflicts -- resulting in millions of casualties and refugees.
Despite this, most U.S. citizens are seemingly unaware of this. Most are either too
young to remember or their knowledge is on par with Jay Leno's "Jaywalkers."
Because of the long and sordid history of U.S.-armed interventions,
parameters would have to be established for such a commission to limit its
investigations to post-World War II or even post-Vietnam. Unlike U.S. citizens -- who seem
to suffer from historical amnesia -- people from nations that have had
dictators imposed upon them have not forgotten these pages from their history. This,
as opposed to mindless envy, might better help explain the world's rampant
The charge of such a commission would be to examine the U.S. role in
supporting or quashing insurgencies in the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Other things to investigate are:
- Was there congressional authorization for these interventions?
- Did these interventions conform to international law?
- Was the U.S. government truthful about the reasons for initiating
- How much U.S. money was spent on each insurgency?
- How much monetary damage was inflicted upon each nation, and how much
money have U.S. taxpayers paid for reconstruction?
- What was the U.S. military role on the ground in each country?
- What was the U.S. role in training military and intelligence officers
from nations that violated human rights, and what was the relationship between
U.S. intelligence services and the intelligence services of those allies?
- How many lives were lost, and how many major injuries were incurred on
- Did the United States study the issue of "blowback" (i.e.,
U.S.-supported allies later turning against the United States using our own sophisticated
technology and weapons)?
- What was the U.S. role in the torture, "disappearances" and political
violence by its allies against combatants and noncombatants?
- What was U.S. policy in regard to dealing with allies purportedly
involved in drug-dealing or smuggling arms?
- How many people were displaced internally and externally?
- Was U.S. refugee and political asylum policy deliberately politicized,
and what have the repercussions been?
Such a commission should also study whether reparations are called for.
Ideally, it should also stress justice, as peoples from nations that have had truth
commissions have expressed a high level of dissatisfaction because the
perpetrators still run free. The best example can be found in Guatemala, where that
nation's supreme court recently cleared former dictator Efrain Rios Mont to
run for president (as opposed to trying him for crimes against humanity).
Efforts continue to bring such military criminals from Chile (during the Pinochet
dictatorship) and Argentina's "dirty wars" to trial.
The theory behind blanket amnesties is that without them, the perpetrators
would not step forward. Admittedly, there is no incentive by this U.S.
administration to accede to the creation of such a commission.
Perhaps that's the key. A commission would have to be independent, composed
of individuals with impeccable credentials and supported by reputable human
rights organizations. The other possibility is to wait until there's an
administration that is committed to truth and justice.
The drawback to governmentally dependent bodies -- similar to the 9/11
commission -- is that their conclusions invariably lead people not to focus on
responsibility. Instead, as happened in the 9/11 case, they conclude that the
intelligence agencies were handcuffed (because they couldn't count on human rights
butchers as collaborators), that the intelligence budget is insufficient, and
that the U.S. military is too small to carry out its duties.
The truth is -- bearing in mind that being the "world's lone superpower" is
not an elected position -- we are needlessly meddling in far too many conflicts.
Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez have been writing the syndicated Column of the Americas, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, since 1994.
Copyright 2003 Universal Press Syndicate