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Fox News on the Salvador Option: It Never Happened

Reported by Melanie - January 10, 2005

Newsweek magazine published an article over the weekend titled The Salvador Option, by By Michael Hirsh and John Barry.

The article says, in part:

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980's. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

Linda Robinson, a senior writer for US News & World Report was a guest today (January 10, 2005) on Fox News Live w/David Asman. Robinson wrote a book about US special forces titled "Masters of Chaos" and reported from Central America in the l980's.

Asman began the interview: "The Newsweek story. First of all, any truth to it?"

Robinson: "Right, no. First we have to get straight the history. The Salvador Option in the 80's was actually Special Forces advisors fighting against the death squads and retaining and advising the Salvadorian army so..."

Asman interrupts: "So, well, the Newsweek story makes it seem like we were training death squads. I mean, they have a picture on the first page of some nuns who were murdered by Salvadorian death squads suggesting it was the US who trained them to do that."

Robinson said she got a "a lot" of emails over the weekend from retired Special Forces officers who served in El Salvador who were "quite upset that this is being portrayed as them having trained death squads because it was the opposite."

Robinson explained that Special Forces in Iraq are embedded with, and advising Iraqi forces, but they aren't leading or forming assassination squads. She said their mission has not been to kill innocent civilians. Robinson said she spoke with Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman this morning and he reiterated that "all training" in Iraq is being done in accordance "with the laws of warfare" and Iraqi forces are not being trained in assassination techniques.

Then this:

Asman: "You know, the incredible, this comes out on the same day that CBS is taking a hit realizing they messed up on their story, their memogate story over the summer. You would think that Newsweek would check into this a little more carefully before coming out with a charge that we're training assassination squads."

Robinson: "What is happening is we're expanding the training and advising effort because the Iraqi forces have been so weak and their performance has not been good so the kernel of truth in that story is that there is an effort on to expand the Special Forces training and advising and that's their core mission." Robinson said they know the language and the culture and that's what makes them special.

Asman: "But a kernel of truth is about the only thing you can get out of this article?"

Robinson: "Ah, that's certainly my...."

Asman, interrupting (Asman said this as if it were a statement, not a question): "The rest of it is just plain wrong. I mean, they throw in a lot of things, a lot of information about what happened in the past that's just not true."

Robinson: "That's right."

(The highlighting is my emphasis.)

COMMENT: First of all, the Newsweek article says that the Pentagon is "intensively debating" this, yet Asman and Robinson discussed it as if Newsweek claimed it was already taking place. Second, the United States did train troops in Central America. Hundreds if not thousands of civilians who opposed dictators whom we supported were killed. What we did may "officially" be a secret but the Iran Contra scandal for example, in which Fox News' own Oliver North was involved, isn't a secret and the hundreds of books, articles and witness accounts aren't either. The Newsweek article isn't what has a "kernel" of truth in it, it's this segment on the fairy-tale-as-news network.

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