Death squad

From Academic Kids

A death squad is an extra-judicial group whose members execute or assassinate persons they believe to be politically unreliable or undesirable. They differ from terrorist groups in that they are endorsed by governments, usually in order to eliminate political opponents; some are directly created by such governments, others are supported, protected, or merely not discouraged. Dictatorships, especially totalitarian ones, have used to kill whole groups of people who do not fit their political ideology, religion, or race (see genocide).

The term "death squad" has more recently been extended (especially by journalists) to small groups organised by terrorist organisations such as the IRA.


Before World War II

There have been other death squads throughout history. During the late 1930s, the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin used death squads in the secret police force, the NKVD, to hunt down and kill hundreds of thousands of known or suspected political opponents during the Great Purge. Many were innocent bystanders caught by mistake or misidentified. According to some estimates, more than one million victims were killed, mostly by being shot; millions more were sent to gulags.

When Nazi Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazis brought along four travelling death squads called Einsatzgruppen to hunt down and kill Jews in the occupied areas; this was the first of the massacres that made up the Holocaust. Typically the victims, who included many women and children, were forcibly marched from their homes to open graves or ravines before being shot. Many others suffocated in specially designed poison trucks called gas vans. Between 1941 and 1944, the Einsatzgruppen killed about 1.2 million Soviet Jews, as well as tens of thousands Soviet leaders, POWs, and Romany.

Central America and Hispaniola

Death squads were common in Central America during the 1980s. Many of them were believed to be employed by various governments. The Central American death squads often consisted of members of the national armed forces, and often acted in close cooperation with the highest officials of the military. Many of these death squads hunted down leftist rebels and suspected supporters in the countryside, killing their victims, and occasionally wiping out whole villages. One well-known death squad that still operates currently in Central America is the El Salvadorian-based Sombra Negra ("Black Shadow" in Spanish).

In El Salvador, the death squads achieved notoriety for the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the murders of four American nuns. This prompted great controversy and outrage in the U.S., because of the death squads' widely-alleged ties to the Salvadoran military, which was receiving funding and training from American advisors.

In Brazil, death squads are known to have killed poor people, such as homeless children, in Brazilian cities, simply to get rid of these 'undesirables', or as a form of extrajudicial policing (police are known to have been involved in death squads).

In Haiti, the paramilitary death squad Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), organised in mid-1993 with U.S. backing, terrorised the supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by murder, public beatings, arson raids on poor neighborhoods, and severing limbs by machete. Aristide, a Catholic priest who enjoyed great popularity among the poor of Haiti, was opposed by the U.S., and served less than eight months as Haiti's president before being deposed, on 29 September 1991, by a coup in which many hundreds of his supporters were massacred, and thousands more fled to the Dominican Republic or left by sea. Aristide was granted asylum in the U.S. and was later restored to the presidency through U.S. intervention that removed the regime of General Raoul Cédras in 1994.


The Khmer Rouge began employing death squads to purge Cambodia of non-communists after taking over the country in 1975. They rounded up their victims, questioned them, and then took them out to killing fields to be shot or beaten to death. More than 1.6 million Cambodians fell victim before the Khmer Rouge were overthrown.

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 was carried out by numerous death squads called the Interahamwe (see History of Rwanda). Members of these killing squads hunted down Tutsis and moderate Hutus in many towns and villages. The Interahamwe typically chopped up their victims with machetes or shot them at close range. The Rwandan Hutu armed forces often helped in these massacres, which killed from 650,000 to 800,000 before the Rwandan Patriotic Front took over the country in July of that year.

In the late 1990s, the use of paramilitary death squads by Serb warlords and President Slobodan Milošević against Albanian separatists in Kosovo caused the Clinton administration to retalitate, with NATO cooperation, by launching a bombing campaign against Serbian forces in the area. As predicted, the bombing campaign, which targeted civilian infrastructure, including bridges, government buildings, and radio stations, caused huge flows of refugees. The administration defended its actions by claiming that the potential chaos resulting from ethnic conflict between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs would have been devastating had NATO not intervened.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials used the term death squad to describe fedayeen paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime, who used guerrilla tactics to fight U.S. and U.K. troops. Saddam Hussein himself had employed death squads, known as Fedayeen Saddam, to kill tens of thousands of Shiite Arabs and Kurds during rebellions he crushed in 1988 and 1991.

In Northern Ireland, Loyalist and Republican death squads have been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people.

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