Western support for terrorism

The following is part of a series of articles from Chris Tolworthy reposted here with kind permission. The articles together ask many questions about the September 11 atrocity and its aftermath, as well as looking into it from numerous angles. The articles are split into a number of pages on this site (which you can follow using the links at the bottom).

Western Support for Terrorism
Chris Tolworthy
March 2002

The September 11th FAQ referred to western sponsored terrorism. Here are some examples. These examples all relate to America. America is not the only state to support terrorism. Similar lists could be made for (for example) Britain or France, especially in previous generations. However, America is most relevant to the so-called "War on Terror."

Many people say "America would never do that!" If you feel that way, please pay special attention to the first few examples. Most people - even those who defend America's record - now accept that these atrocities did happen. The other examples are less well known, but the evidence is there for all to see.

On this page:

  1. Footnotes


For the CIA backing of terrorism in Guatemala, see congressman Bill Delahunt's press release in 1999(1) or the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA Annual Report 1997 - 1998(2).
Estimated civilian deaths: over 200,000 people.


"The violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende changed the course of the country ... Revelations that President Richard Nixon had ordered the CIA to 'make the economy scream' in Chile to 'prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him,' prompted a major scandal in the mid-1970s, and a major investigation by the U.S. Senate." ...

An unknown quantity of documents remain lost or classified, but those that have been released confirm efforts to 'destabilize' Chile economically. Chile has been suffering ever since."(3)

Occupied Palestinian territories:

The American government has paid Israel almost one hundred billion dollars over the years. Part of that money is used for occupying Palestinian land, in opposition to international law, and to kill dissenters. For details of American support and for the best known atrocity, see the Sabra and Shatila page. For the latest news, see The Palestine Chronicle. (Why not add up the number of Israelis killed and compare them to the number of Palestinians killed? Choose any year you like.) For how the west reports the news, see Palestine Media Watch. The parallels with South African Apartheid are striking, except in how it is reported.

"What if we had supported the apartheid regime of South Africa against the majority black population? What if we had lauded the South African white leadership as 'hard-line warriors' rather than racists? What if we had explained the shooting of 56 black protesters at Sharpeville as an understandable 'security crackdown' by the South African police. And described black children shot by the police as an act of 'child sacrifice' by their parents? What if we had called upon the 'terrorist' ANC leadership to 'control their own people'.

"Almost every day that is exactly the way we are playing the Israeli-Palestinian war. No matter how many youths are shot dead by the Israelis, no matter how many murders - by either side - and no matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli Prime Minister, we are reporting this terrible conflict as if we supported the South African whites against the blacks. No, Israel is not South Africa (though it happily supported the apartheid regime) and no, the Palestinians are not the blacks of the shanty towns. But there's not much difference between Gaza and the black slums of Johannesburg; and there's not much difference between the tactics of the Israeli army in the occupied territories and that of the South African police. The apartheid regime had death squads, just as Israel has today. Yet even they did not use helicopter gunships and missiles."(4)

Estimated civilian deaths: 100,000 Palestinian people.


"Systematically, the Contras have been assassinating religious workers, teachers, health workers, elected officials, government administrators. Remember the 'Assassination Manual' that surfaced in 1984? It caused such a stir that President Reagan had to address it himself in the presidential debates with Walter Mondale. They use terror to traumatize society so that it cannot function.
[after describing various atrocities - the kind of thing that makes Osama Bin Laden seem kind and gentle by comparison:] "These are the activities done by the Contras. The Contras are the people President Reagan called 'freedom fighters.' He said: 'They are the moral equivalent of our founding fathers.'"

Estimated civilian deaths: over 13,000 people.

This is "The Big One." What America did in south-east Asia shocked all levels of American society - right up to the President:

"President Ford was reacting to Senate and House committee reports both concluding that the CIA had become a 'rogue elephant' crushing foreign citizens under foot in its bid to win the Cold War. For instance, more than 20,000 Vietnamese were killed during the CIA-guided Operation Phoenix intended to weed out communist 'agents' from South Vietnam." (BBC report, "CIA's licence to kill" Tuesday, 23 October, 2001)

Testimony before congress indicates that these "agents" included women and children.

"At one point Congressman Ogden Reid pulled out a list signed by a CIA officer that named VC cadre rounded up in a particular action in 1967. 'It is of some interest that on this list, 33 of the 61 names were women and some persons were as young as 11 and 12,' noted Reid." (8)

"Between 1967 to 1973 an estimated 40,000 Vietnamese were killed by CIA-sponsored "counterterror" and "hunter-killer" teams, and hundreds of thousands were sent to secret interrogation centers."(8) It was an ugly time.(9) In the end the U.S. public decided that the U.S. was wrong to start this war, and the war was finally ended.

Estimated total civilian deaths: 2,500,000 - 3,500,000 people.


Other places: who is guilty?

The above three examples are the best known. Now we have established that the west (in this case, the U.S.) does support terrorism, we can move on to many other examples.

Many of these examples are controversial. In some, the U.S. may be "innocent" (whatever that means, where bombs are involved.) In other cases, the deaths were "collateral damage" during wartime. It should be pointed out that every terrorist considers that he is part of a war, and that makes civilian casualties unavoidable. Is that an excuse?

Perhaps, in some of these cases, American intervention makes the world a better place? The evidence for this is shaky.(6) Yes, it is possible to argue (as many do) that bombing other countries is the route to lasting peace. But it seems hypocritical to then complain when other countries (and individuals) bomb us. Anyway, the reader is left to examine these in detail.

Other places: sources of information

For full documentation, please refer to the following books. This page is not intended as an endorsement of these books. It is simply an acknowledgement that the evidence exists. Innocent people have been killed. We have been involved. We need to deal with it. For each case, we have a choice. Condemn it? Excuse it? Or ignore it? You decide.

  • "Rogue State" by William Blum
  • "Killing Hope" by William Blum
  • "The Real Terror Network" by Edward S. Herman
  • "The Culture of Terrorism" by Noam Chomsky
  • "Blackshirts and Reds" by Michael Parenti
  • "The Beast Reawakens" by Martin A. Lee
  • "To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti
  • "What Uncle Sam Really Wants" by Noam Chomsky
  • "Derailing Democracy" by David McGowan
  • "Against Empire" by Michael Parenti
  • "The Sword and the Dollar" by Michael Parenti
  • "NATO in the Balkans" by Ramsey Clark et al
  • "Colombia: The Genocidal Democracy" by Javier Giraldo
  • "The Continuing Terror Against Libya" by Fan Yew Teng
  • "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn
  • "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen
  • "Saving Private Power" by Michael Zezima
  • "Counterrevoution: U.S. Foreign Policy" by E. & R. Boorstein
  • "Deterring Democracy" by Noam Chomsky
  • "Year 501: The Conquest Continues" by Noam Chomsky
  • "Confronting the Third World" by Gabriel Kolko
  • "Imperialism: From the Colonial Age to the Present" by Harry Magdoff
  • "Culture and Imperialism" by Edward Said
  • "Imperial Brain Trust" by Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter
  • "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb" by Gar Alperovitz
  • "Bloody Hell: The Price Soldiers Pay" by Daniel Hallock
  • "Deadly Deceits" by Ralph W. McGehee
  • "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" by Norman Solomon
  • "Inventing Reality" by Michael Parenti
  • "Manufacturing Consent" by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
  • "War, Lies & Videotape" edited by Lenora Foerstel.

Here are some examples of US supported terror as detailed in these books and summarized at http://free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/ ChronologyofTerror.html. That Web site uses strong language and strong imagery, but given what happened, that is understandable. Don't shoot the messenger!. The "estimated civilian deaths" includes all those deaths attributed to violent action by governments or bodies supported by the United States.

The current war has killed 2000-8000 innocent civilians, but the earlier American involvement (1979-1992) may have killed over one million through the resulting war and hunger. For the latest killings, see Who kills innocent civilians?
Estimated civilian deaths (this time round): 2000-8000.

Washington's support for the Contra terrorists is one of its most shameful open secrets.
Estimated civilian deaths: over 13,000 people.

America's record in Cuba is not good. Attempted assassinations of a head of state, bombings, military invasion, crippling sanctions... it's not a pretty picture.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

El Salvador

"Officially, the U.S. military presence in El Salvador was limited to an advisory capacity. In actuality, military and CIA personnel played a more active role on a continuous basis. About 20 Americans were killed or wounded in helicopter and plane crashes while flying reconnaissance or other missions over combat areas, and considerable evidence surfaced of a U.S. role in the ground fighting as well. The war came to an official end in 1992; 75,000 civilian deaths and the U.S. Treasury depleted by six billion dollars." (7)

Columbia is perhaps the most violent country in the world. The U.S. government sends aid to the Columbian government, which is blamed for killing thousands of its own citizens.
Estimated civilian deaths: over 67,000 people.

(See the Iraq page.)
Estimated total civilian deaths: 200,000 people directly from the 1991 terror campaign, over 1,000,000 from sanctions and related secondary effects.

The events of 1963 were very similar to the events of the early 1990s. Iraq was demonized (back then, for moderate left-wing sympathies). An invasion was planned. After various dirty tricks, the then president was removed by his people.

"Papers of the British cabinet of 1963, later declassified, disclose that the coup had been backed by the British and the CIA.
"Added note: For the coup of 1963 the British MI6 and the CIA hired a young Iraqi man in Cairo to do their dirty work and help them destroy the Iraqi Communist Party. That man's name: Saddam Hussein." (7)

The west sees this as a problem created by the Serbs. The Serbs see this as a problem that was made much worse by the west. Antiwar.com has extensive material on this topic. Whatever the truth about the wider conflicts (and remember who it was created Yugoslavia in the first place), nobody can deny that bombing creates terror.
Estimated civilian deaths: over 3000 people from the 1999 bombing. Perhaps this prevented further casualties? Or perhaps the whole mess might have ben avoided if the Americans (and German) had taken different decisions in 1990?

The Congo has had a very difficult (and bloody) time since its independence. Many people trace this to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister after independence. This assassination was apparently supported by President Eisenhower.
Estimated civilian deaths: 2 million.

East Timor

"In December 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor ... the day after U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had left Indonesia after giving Suharto permission to use American arms, which, under U.S. law, could not be used for aggression. ... The Indonesian government, kept propped up with U.S. taxpayers' money, continues to this day to be one of the worst human rights abusers on the planet."(7)

Estimated civilian deaths: over 200,000 people (people out of a population of between 600,000 and 700,000).

"The U.S. supported the Duvalier family dictatorship for 30 years, then opposed the reformist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Meanwhile, the CIA was working intimately with death squads, torturers, and drug traffickers." Back in 1959 theU.S. had prevented an attempt to overthrow Duvalier. Eventually, in the 1990s, the US government bowed to pressure and supported Aristide, but only with strings attached.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

The film "Black Hawk Down" paints a picture of American soldiers being "the good guys" here, but like most Hollywood films its history is not entirely correct. The western world remembers the 18 dead soldiers. Somalians remember the 500-1000 of their own dead.
Estimated civilian deaths: 500-1000.

For details, see the page on Libya.
Estimated civilian deaths from the April 1986 attack: over 100 people.


"On July 3, 1988 the U.S. Navy warship the Vincennes was operating within Iranian waters, providing military support for Iraq in the ongoing Iran/Iraq war. During a one-sided battle against a small number of lightly armed Iranian gunboats, the Vincennes fired two missiles at (an Iranian) Airbus, which was on a routine civilian flight. All 290 civilians onboard were killed. ... Despite the fact that the vast majority of victims were Iranian, the US paid $2.9 million in compensation only to non-Iranian victims of the shooting."(7)

Back in 1953, a joint British-American operation removed the president chosen by the Iranian parliament, and returned their preferred dictator.

"The coup restored the Shah to absolute power, initiating a period of 25 years of repression and torture, while the oil industry was restored to foreign ownership, with the US and Britain each getting 40 percent."(7)

Known civilian deaths (1988): 290 people. Under the Shah: unknown.

"The 1983 invasion of Grenada was the first major American military assault in which news reporters were barred from being present. The U.S. government didn't want the world to witness the great superpower beating up on a tiny island and murdering its civilian inhabitants."(7)
Estimated civilian deaths: several hundred people.

America supported a coup that overturned the popularly elected leader George Papandreou, and led to seven years of murder, torture, and fear.
Estimated civilian deaths: over 10,000 people.

Costa Rica
Mid-1950s, 1970-71
America twice tried to assassinate President Jose Figueres.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Dominican Republic
President Juan Bosch tried to reform his country to help the poor. When the army forced him out, the U.S. did nothing. When he tried to regain power, the U.S. sent 23000 troops to stop him.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

The U.S. secretly carpet bombed this country and removed its president, Prince Sihanouk. This allowed Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to move in.
Estimated total civilian deaths: 1,000,000 - 2,000,000 people.

The U.S. Air Force dropped more than two million tons of bombs...
Estimated total civilian deaths: over 500,000 people .

Another example (linked to Vietnam) of training police and military units in "counter-insurgency" - i.e. terrorism.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

The U.S. has a long history of supporting right-wing candidates and undermining left-wing candidates in Italy. Presumably as a result, Italy has the least stable government in Western Europe (if measured by how long each government lasts, and the number of corruption scandals.) Its current president - who effectively controls the media - is a cause of great concern to many observers.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown - and probably unknowable. How do you measure deaths due to political instability and corruption?


"[This] was called by the New York Times 'one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history.' ... It was later learned that the U.S. embassy had compiled lists of 'Communist' operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres, as many as 5,000 names, and turned them over to the army, which then hunted those persons down and killed them. The Americans would then check off the names of those who had been killed or captured." (7)

Back in 1957-58, America had tried all kinds of tricks - including bombing - to get rid of president Sukarno. They failed. All this was more than 30 years ago, but Indonesia remains a massive buyer of western arms, and has a terrible record for human rights.
Estimated civilian deaths: 500,000 - 1,000,000 people.

In 1964 the U.S. government secretly supported a military coup to remove the reformist (but democratically elected) president, Joao Goulart. Over the next fifteen years, the country became a typical military dictatorship with all the injustice and killing that implies.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

British Guiana/Guyana
Cheddi Jagan was elected three times, but finally forced out by various means, all supported by Britain and the United States. (At least one U.S. President signed an order to remove him from office.) The country went from being one of the richest in the area to being one of the poorest. How do we calculate the deaths that result from shorter life spans, less food, etc.?
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Soviet Union

"The US infiltrated many hundreds of Russian emigres into the Soviet Union to gather intelligence about military and technological installations; commit assassinations; obtain current samples of identification documents; assist Western agents to escape; engage in sabotage, such as derailing trains, wrecking bridges, actions against arms factories and power plants; or instigate armed political struggle against Communist rule by linking up with resistance movements." (7)

Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Middle East

"The United States twice attempted to overthrow the Syrian government, staged several shows-of-force in the Mediterranean to intimidate movements opposed to US-supported governments in Jordan and Lebanon, landed 14,000 troops in Lebanon, and conspired to overthrow or assassinate Nasser of Egypt and his troublesome Middle-East nationalism." (7)

Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Germany, Italy, Europe
Late 1940s onward
"Operation Gladio" was a secret civilian army, designed to make left-wing politics look bad. (The U.S. and other western government were afraid of creeping socialism in Europe).

"After NATO was formed in 1949, Gladio came under its discreet aegis. "Gladiators" were responsible for numerous acts of terrorism in Europe, foremost of which was the bombing of the Bologna railway station in 1980, claiming 86 lives." (7)

Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Eastern Europe

"Allen Dulles, Director of the CIA, in a remarkable chess game, instigated a high Polish security official, Jozef Swiatlo, to use a controversial American, Noel Field, to spread paranoia amongst the security establishments of Eastern Europe, leading to countless purge trials, hundreds of thousands of imprisonments and at least hundreds of deaths." (7)

Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

A failed attempt to overthrow the communist government in Albania.
Estimated civilian deaths: probably hundreds.

The west was not as innocent in the run-up to this war as we have been led to believe. The U.S. was involved in the region long before the north Koreans decided to invade the south. The war included its share of terrorism. For example, "in 1999, we learned that shortly after the war began, American soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of helpless civilians; amongst many other such incidents, hundreds were killed when the US purposely blew up bridges they were crossing."(7)
Estimated civilian deaths: over 1,000,000.

U.S. interference in elections (and fighting against the nationalist Huk movement) finally led to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, for whom torture was "la specialite de la maison."
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

The U.S. helped the neo-fascists to power, and created the KYP, an organizationknown for its systematic use of torture.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Marshall Islands
The U.S. used the islands for nuclear tests. All the inhabitants had to escape. It is still not safe to eat food grown there.
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.


"[The U.S.] supplied arms and money to Corsican gangs to break up Communist strikes, burn down party offices and beat up and murder party members and strikers; sent in a psychological warfare team to complement all of these actions and used the threat of a cutoff of food aid and other aid... all to seriously undermine Communist Party support and prestige. It worked." (7)

Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.

Hiroshima & Nagasaki
August 1945
This does not need comment, except to note that the bombing is still controversial. Many people believe it was "necessary." Many others believe it was not, and Japan could have soon been defeated with far less death and destruction, but nuclear weapons served the purpose of establishing America as the ultimate superpower. The jury is still out.
Estimated civilian deaths: 150,000 people instantly; hundreds of thousands more by radiation poisoning.

Japan, Germany, France
Saturation bombing of civilian towns in WWII.
Estimated civilian deaths: 672,000 Japanese people; 180,000+ German people; thousands of French people.

Around the world
Have you ever wondered why America now includes so much of what used to be Mexico? Then we have foreign policy towards Japan, elsewhere in the Far East, Nicaragua ...
Estimated civilian deaths: unknown.


"In 1898 the United States went to war with Spain, taking over the Philippines. America defeated Spain with the help of our allies, the brave Filipino nationalist guerrillas. The U.S. government had promised independence to them. The U.S. government lied."

"A British witness said: 'This is not war; it is simply massacre and murderous butchery.'"(7)

Estimated civilian deaths: 200,000 people

America and Africa
Slavery and the defeat of the Native Americans. Need I say more?
Estimated civilian deaths: 90,000,000 people (in North, South and Central America combined)

Perhaps some of these cases are moral and justified. Perhaps, when difficult choices had to be made, some of these were the right choices. Perhaps. But if we can make excuses for our own actions, why can we not make excuses for other nations? Let us be consistent. If we make excuses for our own killing, let us also make excuses for Iraq or China or Osama Bin Laden. Let us please be consistent.

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Please note: HTML links were created between January-March 2002. Some of these links may have expired when you read this.

1. Available at http://www.house.gov/delahunt/guat.htm

2. Available at http://www.ghrc-usa.org/archives/annual/annual98.htm"

3. "Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973" by Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 8 .

4. "Robert Fisk: When journalists refuse to tell the truth about Israel" The Independent, 17 April 2001.

5. The speaker was 13 year veteran of the CIA. http://free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/ ChronologyofTerror.html

6. Perhaps American intervention in world affairs is always a bad idea. America's "founding fathers" seemed to think so. For a right-wing commentaryon world news, see "Americans Against World Empire" at http://www.againstbombing.org/

7. For longer quotations summarising these books, see http://free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/ChronologyofTerror.html and pages two and three of the same report.

8. See for example "The Phoenix Program" by Douglas Valentine.

9. For an online summary of the origins and evils of the Vietnam war, see http://free.freespeech.org/americanstateterrorism/ vietnamgenocide/Vietnam.html

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