State terrorism

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State terrorism is a controversial term that is separate from the more common term state sponsored terrorism. State terrorism is defined by some as violence upon a population committed by national governments or their proxies when not in a state of armed conflict with that population . State terrorism can be effected directly, at the hands of national military or security forces, or indirectly, through state sponsored terrorist organizations. States can terrorize their own populations, to secure rule and suppress dissent, or foreign citizens, to support favoured or destabilize unfavoured foreign regimes.


Confines and definition

State terrorism, like terrorism, is a contested term. Acts that accusers may describe as terror, supporters may defend as legitimate defense against supposed threats. State terrorism has been defined as "The use or threat of violence by the state or its agents or supporters, particularly against civilian individuals and populations, as a means of political intimidation and control (i.e. a means of repression)" (Sluka, 2000). However, many contend that states cannot commit acts of terror and/or that acts of terror cannot be committed within the scope of a declared war. The distinction between state and nonstate terror has been criticized as distracting from or justifying official terrorism (Chomsky and Herman, 1979). Some, such as Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, view particular political systems as instances of state terrorism: "State terrorism is a political system whose rule of recognition permits and/or imposes a clandestine, unpredictable, and diffuse application, even regarding clearly innocent people, of coercive means prohibited by the proclaimed judicial ordinance." Some acts of state terrorism also qualify as genocide, crimes against humanity or mass murder.

Methods of state terror

Although state terrorism is an almost universal social phenomenon, instances of state terror usually fall into certain categories. Unfair trials, torture, and extrajudicial execution are said to be common practices of state terror, often used to terrorize domestic populations by sovereign or proxy regimes.

Citizens of Western nations are generally protected from unfair trial by constitutional or legislative safeguards and the requirements of due process, although recently in the United States, Supreme Court intervention was required to uphold such safeguards, as in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Undeveloped nations may have weak institutions and unstable political climates that allow governments to have inappropriate influence over the judiciary, allowing dissenters to be victimized as criminals.

According to Amnesty International (1997), in 1996, out of 150 countries surveyed, 82 had committed torture.

Extrajudicial execution

Extrajudicial execution, or political murder, is the practice of states or their proxies to assassinate citizens because they are viewed as political threats, and/or to intimidate communities. Extrajudicial execution may be carried out by the official military, police forces or unofficial paramilitaries (often called "death squads" or euphemized as "civilian defence"). In the latter case, there may be strong ties between the paramilitaries and official forces, with an overlapping membership and/or a "blind eye" turned to illegal activities.

Such death squads often unpredictably attack the socially disadvantaged ("undesirables"), religious or ethnic minorities, or citizens deemed to be subversive. Their targets typically include the homeless, street children, union leaders, indigenous peoples, clergy, activists, journalists, and academics. Death squads conveniently shield their sponsors from liability, the illusion of spontaneous criminal violence providing "plausible deniability". Often, the bodies of victims are secretly disposed, typically in mass graves, leaving no evidence of a crime and increasing the trauma to families and communities. These cases are known as "disappearances", particularly in South America. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was formed in 1980 to investigate the global phenomenon of disappearances.

Acts labelled as state terrorism, sorted by state


Chile, under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, pursued an extensive policy regarded by many as state terrorism against both civilians at home and perceived enemies abroad. On the international stage, the Chilean state's actions included the assassination of former ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C., by means of a car bomb, the killing of General Carlos Prats in Argentina in similar circumstances, and the attempted assassination of Bernardo Leighton in Italy. In 1990 the Chilean president Patricio Aylwin created a commission to investigate the illegal killings carried out under the Pinochet dictatorship, 2,920 cases were reported to the commission. His report was delivered in 1991 and it is known as the Rettig report [1] (, after his chairman, Mr. Raul Rettig. In 2003 President Ricardo Lagos established the National Commission Over Political Prison and Torture, oriented to develop a rigorous survey of persons that have suffered political prison or torture under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, The commission's report was delivered to the President on November 10, 2004 and includes the declarations of 35,868 victims.


Colombian paramilitary groups, such as the AUC, have usually been considered responsible for as many as 70 to 80% of yearly civilian deaths in the South American country's internal conflict [2] ( It has been argued on many occasions that some of these groups have maintained well documented relationships with several elements of the official state and police forces. The paramilitaries have often been accused of making and executing death threats against suspected guerrilla collaborators among the civilian population. The blame for many of the murders of a number of the poor and the homeless, as well as street children and others allegedly considered social undesirables, has also been assigned to them, though most of these crimes remain unresolved.

In recent years, some civilian critics, in addition to the Marxist FARC and ELN (blamed for an estimated 15 to 25% of yearly civilian deaths), have criticized the Colombian government's policies, including, but not limited to, those of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, considering that some measures, such as the use of temporary mass roundups (where many of the detainees are later released) and the attempted implementation of an anti-terror statute, can be seen as signs of alleged state repression. (The anti-terror statue was shot down in late August 2004 by the Colombian Constitutional Court due to a procedure error [3] ( The Court has also previously struck down other security measures it considered as unconstitutional.)

The state itself is usually directly blamed by critics for about 5% of the annual civilian deaths in Colombia's civil war. [4] ( The rebel groups themselves (and/or those that may sympathize with their goals and/or methods) may label the Colombian state as "terrorist", and vice versa, while international organizations, such as the United Nations or Human Rights Watch, for the most part, do not apply the term to either party as a whole, though specific acts and individuals might qualify as such.


Under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Cuba has been accused by some human rights organizations in the world of various abuses of human rights. These allegations include extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment, and coercion of its population through control of basic resources. The issue still remains controversial, particularly in the United States.


The government of the People's Republic of China has repeatedly engaged in behaviors considered to violate international standards of human rights. Some of these are also considered by many as acts of state terrorism, such as the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

China has also actively suppressed movements in Tibet which support independence for the Dalai Lama. Some of these actions, such as mass imprisonment and using violence against peaceful demonstrators, would be classified by some as state terrorism.


In 1985, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, had travelled to New Zealand to lead a flotilla of yachts protesting against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. The ship was sunk just before midnight on July 10 1985 by two explosive devices attached to the hull by operatives of French intelligence (DGSE). Of the twelve people on board, one, photographer Fernando Pereira, was drowned when he attempted to retrieve his equipment.


In the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s, the Nazi Party's paramilitary organisation (Sturmabteilung, or SA for short) terrorized political opponents and minorities. Although the SA committed their crimes in the open, they were only forbidden for short periods of time in 1924 and 1932. In 1932, power shifted from SA to the other Nazi paramilitary organisation, the SS. During Adolf Hitler's rule of Germany (1933-1945) the SS played a key role in building a system of state terror. It controlled the Gestapo, and was responsible for the persecution and the extermination of the Jews, brutalities and killings in concentration camps, excesses in the administration of occupied territories, the administration of the slave labor program and the maltreatment and murder of prisoners of war.

During the 1950s in East Germany, labor revolts and labor strikes were often put down with what most would consider hugely disproportionate force, the goal likely being to terrorize workers into conforming behavior. Also, East Germany provided assistance to the Red Army Faction, a West German militant organization.


The massacres of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) from 1965 - 1969 are estimated to have claimed the lives of up to a million and have been described as "anti-communist pogroms". The official minimum number of deaths is 500,000.

The Indonesian government has repeatedly used state sponsored terrorism as a method of controlling and opressing several minority groups under its rule. They are Archeh (Sumatra), East Timor and West Papua (Irian Jaya).


The United States Department of State includes Iran as a terrorist state using its definition of state-sponsors of terrorist activity. This is based mainly on allegations of financial support to terrorist organisations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Islam Jihad, and PFLP-GC ; as well as "financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid" to Hizbullah [5] ( and Kurdistan Workers Party.


Iraq under Saddam Hussein and at the aid of American weaponry, is widely believed to have been responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks on its own civilian population to stem revolutionary activity during the Gulf War and pacify ethnic groups. One of the more famous incidents is the controversial Halabja poison gas attack.

See also Human rights situation in Saddam's Iraq and Human rights in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.


During the al-Aqsa Intifada, Israel has engaged in tactics and undertaken controversial military operations that have resulted in criticism of its policies and actions. According to Dr. Lev Grinberg, a political sociologist at Ben Gurion University, Israel's actions constitute state terrorism.[6] ( On June 4, 2004 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also accused Israel of state terrorism. [7] (,2763,1231094,00.html). Military operations into Palestinian territory and overlooked harassment of Palestinian citizens by both military personnel and Israeli citizens have also resulted in human rights criticism.

Actions during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War

Actions following the establishment of the State of Israel

An incomplete list of military operations after 1948. Some of the following incidents were qualified by Israel as collateral damage resulting from counter-insurgency operations.


The Gladio network was set up against the communist party with "false flag operations". Uncovered, it caused a major scandal.


It is claimed that during the 1970s Mexican security authorities would have employed torture and assassination techniques against guerrilla members, student protesters and their sympathizers. In the Chiapas region, since the mid to late 1990s illegal armed groups allegedly of a paramilitary nature have clashed with EZLN members and acted against their alleged supporters, leading to several massacres and forced displacements of civilians. It is claimed by critics that some of these violent actions would have occurred with local military and police tolerance or cooperation. [9] ( [10] ( [11] ( [12] (


The ruling junta of Myanmar has repeatedly engaged in activities to suppress democratic movements within the country. Many of the junta's opponents, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, believe the goal of some of these is to terrorize the population into compliance. See, for instance, the August 8, 1998 Burma protest.

Soviet Union

Under the reign of Josef Stalin (and, to a lesser extent, under several other Soviet leaders), political opponents of the Soviet regime, as well as perceived "enemies of the people", were subject to incarceration under life-threatening circumstances and execution. Stalin was able to cement his hold on power by intimidating and executing his political opponents, real and imagined.

The assassination of dissidents in exile (such as the 1940 murder of Leon Trotsky in Mexico by agents of Stalin) might also be considered an example of state terrorism.


During the 1970s and the 1980s, several groups attacked suspected members of Basque terrorist organization ETA. These groups are:

These groups have been suspected and in some cases proved to include Spanish policemen and to be funded with state secret funds.

Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón's investigations led to the conviction of a Spanish PSOE minister and several subordinates for organizing the GAL.


The United States Department of State classifies Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for providing "political and limited material support" to a number of Palestinian rejectionist groups, some of which are accused of terrorist activity, including Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS). [13] ( [14] (

United Kingdom

The controversial World War II bombing of Dresden by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) is sometimes offered as an example of state terrorism, because the operation's stated aims of "causing confusion" or "hampering troop movement" are doubted by some historians, the most outspoken of whom is the prominent Holocaust denier David Irving. As the Dresden raids occurred within the rules of engagement of a war, they do not fit the definitions of "state terrorism" given earlier in the article. Dresden and Berlin were primary targets after the Yalta Conference because they were industrial cities, as well as rail and road nodes leading to the Eastern Front. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey listed at least 110 factories and industries in Dresden.

In Northern Ireland, Loyalist paramilitaries, supported by unauthorized elements of the British security forces [15] (, have been blamed for the deaths of Irish Republicans as part of a counter-terrorist operation. There are no documented cases of this being British government policy.

United States

A number of critics have labeled actions of the United States of America as terrorism. For instance, the US has taken sides in various foreign civil wars and conflicts, notably siding with Israel against other Middle East countries. Also the US is often accused of working with and supporting countries, political organizations, and juntas with questionable human rights practices and intentions. The CIA, in particular, has been accused of supporting terrorist organizations in other countries (e.g. Operation PBSUCCESS, Operation Just Cause, Operation Ajax, Operation Urgent Fury).

Other controversial examples include the U.S. intervention in Chile, and many other U.S. foreign interventions. Vietnam, and the Korean War are also cited as terrorism by some critics because of the large number of civilian casualities and disproportionate American military power. However, the semantic line between war and state terrorism is a fine one in these cases. The U.S. and many supporters have justified its actions as humanitarian relief and/or self-defense in different contexts: against the spread of communism(during the Cold War), Al-Qaeda(present), and other perceived threats to itself, its strategic interests or its allies.

The United States' military action against Nicaragua in 1984-1985 was criticized by some commentators as terroristic after the International Court of Justice, found the US guilty of "unlawful use of force", and "in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another state." The United States has rejected this ruling.

The US Army runs the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation training camp, the successor to "The School of the Americas", in Georgia, USA where some of its graduates have gone on to commit acts of what others consider to be state terrorism in Latin America.

The US Army and other government officials have argued that the vast majority of graduates have not committed such actions, and therefore the former "School of the Americas" is not directly responsible for them, and they have also pointed out that the institution has, in recent times, added courses that emphasize dealing with respect for human rights and civilians to the curriculum.

The recent War on Terrorism, which was started by the United States, has been accused by many of the U.S.'s critics of actually being a front for state-sponsored terrorism, often parodied as the War OF Terrorism. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have been cited, for the U.S.'s acts of torture, bombing, and killing of mass numbers of civilians. This includes the internment of Arabs and others at Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta where mistreatment and abuse has been alleged to have taken place, and the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, to the U.S.'s shock and awe bombing campaign of Baghdad.

The U.S. government has tightened its immigration rules since the 9/11 attacks and has deported a number of men living in the U.S. who have or are assumed to have terrorist backgrounds, e.g. former members of the IRA or the INLA. Usually these men have lived peacefully in America for years and resent their deportation strongly, pointing to the troubled history of Northern Ireland. Other people have been refused entry to the U.S. on similar grounds. These restrictions do not apply to right-wing terrorists from Latin America.

U.S. in World War II

Certain U.S. actions during the World War II have also been labeled by some as state terrorism. Critics argue that these events do not qualify as the United States and the entire world was in a state of war, and therefore the U.S. was acting within the laws of war as they were framed at that time.

The Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is considered by some an example of mass killing of civilians which went beyond the laws of war. This has been a highly debated issue over the years. See Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The legal defence for this action can be found in "Laws and Customs of War on Land" (Hague IV); October 18, 1907[16] (

  • 25 The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.
  • 26 The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.
  • 27 In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.

It was a bombardment of defended towns because countries had air defences. It was an arial assault so no warning need be given. It is disputed whether all necessary steps as far as possible were taken, as not using such a powerful bomb would be a feasible step, but such a view was initially accepted due to political influence from the US. There were a number of legal arguments against this view, but unlike Karl Dönitz, who was tried and found guily of waging "unrestricted submarine warfare" for which no one in the US Pacific submarine campaign was ever tried, (which is often cited as a case of Victors justice), as no Axis personnel were tried at the post-war Nuremberg Trials for participating in the decisions on, or execution of, "assault by aerial bombardment on defended enemy territory", it is not possible to state categorically that the aerial bombardment on defended enemy territory during World War II was or was not a war crime. However the fact that there were no prosecutions, suggests that legal opinion of the time was that it was not a crime during World War II.

The firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden during WWII, which killed many thousands of people, especially civilians, is also considered state terrorism by some. However as these actions were taken in a declared war and were not clearly a "means of repression" they do not fit per se the definitions given earlier in the article as constituting an act of "state terrorism".

U. S. versus Cuba

The persistent aggression against Cuba from U. S. since 1959 deserves it's own section. Official documents from U. S. government, formerly classified as Top Secret and Eyes Only for the President were recently declassified, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. These documents indicate that only between October 1960 and April 1961, the CIA introduced 75 tons of explosives in 30 secret aerial missions and 45 tons of weapons and explosives in 31 marine infiltrations, with which were perpetrated 310 attacks with bombs, derrailed 6 trains, 150 factories and 800 plantations were set to fire. Between 1959 and 2003 were performed more than 800 terrorist attacks including 78 bombings against civil population and 61 cuban airplanes hijacked. As biological aggressions, the African Swine Fever Virus was introduced forcing the sacrifice of half a million pigs. In Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, the dengue hemorrhagic fever afected about 344 203 persons, with the record case of 11 400 fell ill in a single day July 6 1981 [17] ([18] ( These documents also link Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles (on the CIA's payroll for years) with many terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people [19] ([20] (

The result of this persistent terrorism against Cuban population has resulted in about 3500 killed and 2100 handicapped persons. The economical losses are huge and there are no signs that this aggression will stop [21] (

See also


fr:Terrorisme d'État


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