Death squad

A death squad is an armed military, police, insurgent, or terrorist squad that conducts extrajudicial killings, assassinations, and forced disappearances of persons as part of a war, insurgency or terror campaign. These killings are often conducted in ways meant to ensure the secrecy of the killers' identities, so as to avoid accountability.[1][2]

Death squads are often, but not exclusively, associated with the violent political repression under dictatorships, totalitarian states and similar regimes. They typically have the tacit or express support of the state, as a whole or in part (see state terrorism). Death squads may comprise a secret police force, paramilitary group or official government units with members drawn from the military or the police. They may also be organized as vigilante groups.

"Extrajudicial killings" are the illegal killing of leading political, trades union, dissidents, and social figures by either the state government, state authorities like the armed forces and police (as in Liberia under Charles G. Taylor), or criminal outfits such as the Italian Mafia.

Extrajudicial killings and death squads are most common in the Middle East (mostly in Iraq),[3][4][5][6][7] Central America,[8][9][10] Afghanistan, Bangladesh,[11] Pakistan and the part of Jammu and Kashmir that it occupies, Sri Lanka,[12][13][14][15][16][17] several nations or regions in Equatorial Africa,[18][19][20] Jamaica,[21][22][23] Kosovo,[21][22] many parts of South America,[24][25][26] Uzbekistan[citation needed], parts of Thailand[27][28] and in the Philippines.[28][29][30][31][32][33]



Although the term "death squad" did not rise to notoriety until the activities of such groups in Central and South America during the 1970s and 1980s became widely known, death squads have been employed under different guises throughout history. The term was first used during the Battle of Algiers by Paul Aussaresses.[34]

One of the earliest cases of extrajudicial killings was in Weimar Germany.[35]

Cold war usage

In Southeast Asia, extrajudicial killings were present in the context of the Vietnam War. Nguyễn Văn Lém (referred to as Captain Bay Lop) (died 1 February 1968 in Saigon) was a member of the Viet Cong who was summarily executed in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The picture of his death would became one of many an anti-Vietnam War icons in the Western World.[36]

During the 1960s and throughout the 1970s, death squads were used against the Viet Cong cadre as well as supporters in neighbouring countries (notably Cambodia). See also Phoenix Program (also known as Phung Hoang). The Viet Cong also used death squads of their own against civilians for political reasons.

In Latin America, death squads appeared first in Brazil where a group called Esquadrão da Morte (literally "Death Squad") emerged in the 1960s; then death squads apperead in Argentina, and Chile in the 1970s; and later in Central America in the 1980s. Argentina used extrajudicial killings as way of crushing the liberal and communist opposition to the military junta during the 'Dirty war' of the 1970s. Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, a far-right death squad mainly active during the "Dirty War". The Chilean military regime of 1973–1990 also committed such killings. See Operation Condor for examples.

During the Salvadoran civil war, death squads achieved notoriety when a sniper assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero during Mass in March 1980. In December 1980, three American nuns, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke, and a lay worker, Jean Donovan, were raped and murdered by a military unit later found to have been acting on specific orders. Death squads were instrumental in killing hundreds of peasants and activists, including such notable priests as Rutilio Grande. Because the death squads involved were found to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which was receiving U.S. funding and training from American advisors during the Carter administration, these events prompted outrage in the U.S. and led to a temporary cutoff in military aid from the Reagan administration[citation needed], although Death Squad activity stretched well into the Reagan years (1981–1989) as well.

Honduras also had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was Battalion 316. Hundreds of people, teachers, politicians, and union bosses were assassinated by government-backed forces. Battalion 316 received substantial support and training from the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[37]

Recent use

As of 2010, death squads have continued to be active in several locations, including Chechnya,[38] Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Iraq, and Sudan, among others.

By continent

South America


Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, a far-right death squad mainly active during the "Dirty War". Amnesty International reports that “the security forces in Argentina first started using “death squads” in late 1973. By the time military rule ended in 1983 some 1,500 people had been killed directly by “death squads”, and over 9,000 named people and many more undocumented victims had been “disappeared”—kidnapped and murdered secretly—according to the officially appointed National Commission on Disappeared People (CONADEP).[39]


The Esquadrão da Morte ("Death Squad" in Portuguese) was a paramilitary organization that emerged in the late 1960s in the context of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship. It was the first group to received the name "Death Squad" in Latin America, but its actions sometimes resembled traditional vigilantism as several executions were not exclusively political-related. The greater share of the political executions during the twenty-one years of Military Dictatorship (1964–1985) were done by the Brazilian Armed Forces itself. The purpose of the original "Death Squad" was, with the consent of the military government, to persecute and kill suspected criminals regarded as dangerous to society. It began in the former State of Guanabara led by Detective Mariscot Mariel, one of the "Twelve Golden Men of Rio de Janeiro's Police", and from there it spread throughout Brazil in the 1970s. In general, its members were politicians, members of the judiciary, and police officials. As a rule, these groups were financed by members of the business community.[40]

In the 1970s and 1980s, several other organizations were formed modeled after the 1960s Esquadrão da Morte. The most famous of such organizations was the "Scuderie Le Cocq," named after Detective Milton Le Cocq. The group was particularly active in the Brazilian Southeastern States of Guanabara, Rio de Janeiro, and Espírito Santo. In the State of São Paulo, the work of Death Squads and individual gunmen called "justiceiros" was a common practice during the period. Here the executions were almost exclusively a work of off-duty policemen. One of them, a police officer nicknamed "Cabo Bruno", was convicted in 1983 for the killing of more than 50 victims.[41]

The "Death Squads" that were active under the rule of the Military Dictatorship have left a lasting legacy in the culture of the Brazilian police as in the 2000s police officers were still being linked to Death-Squad-type executions. In 2003 alone roughly 2,000 people were killed in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with Amnesty international claiming the numbers are likely far higher.[42][43]


One of the most notorious murder gangs operated by the Chilean Army was the Caravan of Death, whose members travelled by helicopter throughout Chile between 30 September and 22 October 1973. During this foray, members of the squad ordered or personally carried out the execution of at least 75 individuals held in Army custody in these garrisons.[44] According to the NGO Memoria y Justicia, the squad killed 26 in the South and 71 in the North, making a total of 97 victims.[45] Augusto Pinochet was indicted in December 2002 in this case, but he died four years later without having been convicted. The trial, however, is on-going as of September 2007, other militaries and a former military chaplain having been indicted in this case. On 28 November 2006, Víctor Montiglio, charged of this case, ordered Pinochet's house arrest[46] Between 5,000 and 30,000 people are believed to have been killed in the operations of Pinochet's regime. In June 1999, judge Juan Guzmán Tapia ordered the arrest of five retired generals.


In Colombia, the terms "death squads", "paramilitaries" or "self-defense groups" have been used interchangeably and otherwise, referring to either a single phenomenon, also known as paramilitarism, or to different but related aspects of the same.[47] In 1993, Amnesty International (AI) reported that clandestine military units began covertly operating as death squads in 1978.

According to the report, throughout the 1980s political killings rose to a peak of 3,500 in 1988, averaging some 1,500 victims per year since then, and "over 1,500 civilians are also believed to have “disappeared” since 1978."[9] The AUC, formed in 1997, is the most prominent paramilitary group.

A report from the country's public prosecutors office at the end of 2009 reported the number of 28,000 disappeared by paramilitary and guerrilla groups. As of 2008 only 300 corpses were identified and 600 in 2009. According to the prosecutor's office it will take many more years before all the bodies recovered can be identified.[48]


Peruvian government death squads carried out massacres against civilians in their fight against Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.[49][50][51][52]


In its 2003 and 2002 world reports, Human Rights Watch reported the existence of death squads in several Venezuelan states, involving members of the local police, the DISIP and the National Guard. These groups were responsible for the extrajudicial killings of civilians and wanted or alleged criminals, including street criminals, looters and drug users.[24][25]

Central America

El Salvador

Main articles: Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan, Oscar Romero.

During the Salvadoran civil war, death squads (known in Spanish by the name of Escuadrón de la Muerte, "Squadron of Death") achieved notoriety when far-right vigilantes assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero for his social activism in March 1980. In December 1980, three American nuns and a lay worker were raped and murdered by a military unit later found to have been acting on specific orders. Death squads were instrumental in killing thousands of peasants and activists. Funding for the squads came primarily from right-wing Salvadoran businessmen and landowners.[53] Because the death squads involved were found to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which was receiving U.S. funding and training during the Carter and Reagan administrations, these events prompted some outrage in the U.S, however human rights activists criticized U.S. administrations for denying Salvadoran government links to the death squads. Veteran Human Rights Watch researcher Cynthia J. Arnson writes that "particularly during the years 1980–1983 when the killing was at its height (numbers of killings could reach as far as 35,000), assigning responsibility for the violence and human rights abuses was a product of the intense ideological polarization in the United States. The Reagan administration downplayed the scale of abuse as well as the involvement of state actors. Because of the level of denial as well as the extent of U.S. involvement with the Salvadoran military and security forces, the U.S. role in El Salvador- what was known about death squads, when it was known, and what actions the United States did or did not take to curb their abuses- becomes an important part of El Salvador’s death squad story.”.[54] Some death squads, such as Sombra Negra, are still operating in El Salvador.[55]


Honduras had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was Battalion 3–16. Hundreds of people, teachers, politicians, and union bosses were assassinated by government-backed forces. Battalion 316 received substantial support and training from the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[56] At least 19 members were School of the Americas graduates.[57][58] Seven members, including Billy Joya, later played important roles in the administration of President Manuel Zelaya as of mid-2006.[59] Following the 2009 coup d'état, former Battalion 3–16 member Nelson Willy Mejía Mejía became Director-General of Immigration[60][61] and Billy Joya was de facto President Roberto Micheletti's security advisor.[62] Another former Battalion 3–16 member, Napoleón Nassar Herrera,[59][63] was high Commissioner of Police for the north-west region under Zelaya and under Micheletti, and also became a Secretary of Security spokesperson "for dialogue" under Micheletti.[64][65] Zelaya claimed that Joya had reactivated the death squad, with dozens of government opponents having been murdered since the ascent of the Michiletti and Lobo governments.[62]


Throughout the Guatemalan Civil War, both military and "civilian" governments utilized death squads as a counterinsurgency strategy. The use of "death squads" as a government tactic became particularly widespread after 1966. Throughout 1966 and the first three months of 1967, within the framework of what military commentators referred to as "el-contra terror," government forces killed an estimated 8,000 civilians accused of "subversive" activity.[66] This marked a turning point in the history of the Guatemalan security apparatus, and brought about a new era in which mass murder of both real and suspected subversives by government "death squads" became a common occurrence in the country. A noted Guatemalan sociologist estimated the number of government killings between 1966 and 1974 at approximately 5,250 a year (for a total death toll of approximately 42,000 during this period).[67] The killing would reach its zenith in 1982 under the presidency of Efrain Rios Montt, with over 18,000 documented killings in that year alone.[68]

Greg Grandin remarks that "Washington, of course, publicly denied its support for paramilitarism, but the practice of political disappearances took a great leap forward in Guatemala in 1966 with the birth of a death squad created, and directly supervised, by U.S. security advisors."[69] An upsurge in rebel activity in Guatemala convinced the US to provide increased counterinsurgency assistance to Guatemala's security apparatus in the mid to late 1960s. Documents released in 1999 details how United States military and police advisers had encouraged and assisted Guatemalan military officials in the use of repressive techniques, including helping establish a "safe house" from within the presidential palace as a location to coordinate "death squad" activities.[70] In 1981, it was reported that this same "safe house" was in use by Guatemalan security officials to coordinate counterinsurgency activities.[71]



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.[72] The rebels, led by Bun Yom, rescued many thousands of Cambodian people. The rebels also captured thousands of Khmer Rouge soldiers, which they traded to the Thai government for food and munitions.[73]


Mao Zedong made use of the Red Guards to assassinate, imprison, and terrorise millions of suspected political opponents during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.[74]


The South Vietnamese warlords regularly ordered their soldiers to 'punish' the villages if they did something that was undesirable to them.

South Korea

Any news reports of the use of death squads in Korea originates around the middle of the 20th century such as the Jeju Massacre[75] and Daejeon.[76] There were also the multiple deaths that made the news 1980 in Gwangju.[77]


Many extrajudicial killings occurred during the 2003 anti-drug effort of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Rumors still persist that there is collusion between the government, rogue military officers and radical right wing/anti-drugs death squads, [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] with both Muslim[78] and Buddhist[79] sectarian death squads still operating in the South of the country.


The New People's Army (NPA) groups known as "Sparrow Units" were active in the mid-1980s, killing government officials, police personnel, military members, and anyone else they targeted for elimination. They were also supposedly part of an NPA operation called "Agaw Armas" (Filipino for "Stealing Weapons – "), where they raided government armories as well as stealing weapons from slain military and police personnel. A low level civil war with south Muslims, Al-Qaeda sympathizers and communist insurgents has led to a general break down of law and order. The Philippines government has promised to curb the killings, but is itself implicated in many of the killings.[29]

North America

United States of America

After the American Civil War the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan carried out lynchings of African-Americans. This was often with the unofficial support of some local and state level leaders in the American south. In the introduction to "Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder With Deniability," author Bruce B. Campbell describes the KKK as "one of the first proto-death squads," which "conducted death-squad-like killings and other terrorist acts against recently freed black slaves, “carpetbaggers,” and those thought to collaborate too closely with the agents of the victorious federal government engaged in “reconstructing” the recently rebellious South." Campbell notes the difference with modern death-squads was that the Ku Klux Klan was associated with elements of a defeated state rather than the ruling governmental entity. "Otherwise, in its murderous intent, links to private elite interests, and covert nature, it very closely resembles modern death squads.”[80]

A post by Greg Grandin accuses United States of being responsible for training and setting up death squads in South and Central American countries.[81][dubious ] The School of the Americas, run by the US Army in Georgia has been accused by various critics of the US of having trained "500 of the worst human rights abusers in the hemisphere"[82] The CIA was accused of making extensive use of death squads in the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War. It is estimated that as many as 19,000 alleged Viet Cong were killed during this program.[83]


During the 1920s and 1930s, the PRI regime of President Plutarco Calles used death squads against Mexico's large number of Roman Catholics. The most infamous of these organizations were the Red Shirts (Mexico), which reported directly to the governor of Tabasco, Tomás Garrido Canabal. The most famous victim of the era's death squad violence was the Jesuit priest Father Miguel Pro.

In 1968 the Mexican Army killed hundreds of people in the Tlatelolco massacre. Through the 1970s and 1980s death squads were used against students, leftists, and activists. One of these squads was the Brigada Blanca. In 1997 about forty-five people were killed by a death squad in Chenalho.[84]



The French military used death squads during the Algerian War (1954–1962).[85]


Beginning in 1919, the government of the Weimar Republic sanctioned the formation of paramilitary Freikorps units in order to prevent a takeover by Soviet-backed German Communists. Although supposedly under the control of Defense Minister Gustav Noske, the Freikorps tended to be drunken, trigger happy, and loyal only to their own commanders. However, they were instrumental in the defeat of the 1919 Spartacist Uprising and the annexation of the Bavarian Soviet Republic. The most famous victims of the Freikorps were of Communist leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who were captured after the Spartacist Uprising and shot without trial. After the Freikorps units turned against the Republic in the monarchist Kapp Putsch, many of the leaders were forced to flee abroad and the units were largely disbanded.

Some Freikorps veterans drifted into the ultra-nationalist Organisation Consul, which regarded the Versailles Treaty as treasonous and targeted politicians associated with it for assassination. The most famous victims of O.C. were Matthias Erzberger and Walter Rathenau, both of whom were cabinet ministers in the Weimar regime.

In addition, the city of Munich also remained a headquarters of Russian White émigré hit teams, which targeted those believed to have betrayed the Tsar. Their most infamous operation remains the 1922 attempt on the life of Provisional Government statesman Pavel Miliukov in Berlin. When newspaper publisher Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov attempted to shield the intended victim, he was fatally shot by assassin Piotr Shabelsky-Bork.

During the same era, the Communist Party of Germany also operated assassination squads of their own. Titled, the Rotfrontkämpferbund they carried out assassinations of carefully selected individuals from the Weimar regime as well as rival political parties. The most infamous operation of Weimar-era Communist death squads remains the 1931 slayings of Berlin police Captains Paul Anlauf and Franz Lenck. Those involved in the ambush either fled to the Soviet Union or were arrested and prosecuted. Among those to receive the death penalty was Max Matern, who was later glorified as a martyr by the East German State. The last surviving conspirator, former East German secret police head Erich Mielke, was belatedly tried and convicted for the murders in 1993. The evidence needed to successfully prosecute him had been found in his personal safe after German reunification.

During the 1930s, the dictator of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler made extensive use of death squads, starting with the infamous Night of the Long Knives and reaching a peak with the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 . Following the frontline units, the Nazis brought along four travelling death squads called Einsatzgruppen (Einsatzgruppe-A through D) to hunt down and kill Jews, Communists and other so-called undesirables 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 of suspected political dissidents, most of Polish upper class and intelligentsia,[86] POWs, and uncounted numbers of Romany.

During the Cold War, death squads associated with the Libyan embassy in East Berlin plotted murders of West German and American targets. This was done with the full knowledge of the East German secret police or Stasi. The Stasi also operated training camps for the Red Army Faction. At these camps, R.A.F. members were instructed in the use of military hardware and assisted in planning attacks on West German politicians, cops, union officials, and businessmen.


During the Irish War of Independence, Michael Collins mounted a legendary guerrilla campaign. Using a hand picked crew of gunmen who were dubbed "The Twelve Apostles", Collins killed carefully selected officials of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police and British Intelligence. On Bloody Sunday (1920), Collins' men killed fourteen of the MI5 agents from the Cairo Gang. In one incident, the IRA hit team was heard to scream, "May the Lord have mercy on your souls," before opening fire.[87]

That afternoon, a combined force of British security forces shot into the crowd during a Gaelic football match at Croke Park, killing many unarmed civilians. The hostilities ended in 1921 when the British Government negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which guaranteed the independence of the Irish Free State.

After independence, the Irish Civil War was fought between those IRA veterans who accepted the Treaty and those who considered it unacceptable. Although fought between men who had recently served together against the British, the fighting was often without quarter and brutal atrocities were committed by both sides.

The Anti-Treaty IRA began raising money for their cause via armed robbery of banks and post offices. In the aftermath, several members of the Irish Parliament, or Dail, were assassinated. In the southwest of Ireland, which the Anti-Treaty militants controlled, a number of sectarian killings took place against Protestants. In addition, many historic mansions built by the Anglo-Irish gentry were deliberately burned. The most infamous operation of Anti-Treaty death squads took place on 22 August 1922, and involved the ambush and sniper slaying of Michael Collins at Beal na mBlath, County Cork. Collins had been travelling to what he believed was a peace conference.

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Irish Free State formed a special counter-terrorism police, which was called the Criminal Investigation Department. Based in Dublin's Oriel House, the CID were especially despised by the Anti-Treaty IRA, which referred to them as, "The Murder Gang." During the Battle of Dublin (1922), the CID is believed to have summarily shot an estimated 25 Anti-Treaty militants. Utimately, the Irish Free State disbanded CID upon the cessation of hostilities in 1923. (see Executions during the Irish Civil War).

United Kingdom (UK)

During the Irish war of independence in 1916–21, the British Cabinet of David Lloyd George organised several assassination squads. Known by their mixture of police and military uniforms, they were dubbed the Black and Tans and the Auxiliary Division. In 1920 alone the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force murdered the mayors of Limerick[88] and Cork[89] cities. In Limerick, the replacement mayor was also murdered,[88] while in Cork, the new mayor died after a 74 day hunger strike.[89][90]

In Northern Ireland, various paramilitary groups and members of the British military and the Royal Ulster Constabulary killed without lawful excuse during The Troubles.[91][92] During the 30 years of the The Troubles in Northern Ireland, both nationalist and loyalist paramilitaries organised assassination squads. Notable cases include Brian Nelson, who was simultaneously an Ulster Defence Association terrorist and an informant for the British Army's Intelligence Corps. In 1992, Nelson pled guilty to a total of 20 charges, including 5 sectarian murders.[93][94][95]

Soviet Union

During the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War, Vladimir Lenin used the Cheka to murder members of the House of Romanov, the Russian nobility, officers of the White Army, Russian Orthodox priests and laity, and officials of the Russian Provisional Government.

During the late Great Purge, the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin used death squads in the secret police force, the NKVD, to hunt down and kill suspected political opponents.

In the post-war period, the Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the Soviet State in a campaign to eliminate Eastern Rite Catholicism in the newly annexed regions of Soviet-ruled Ukraine.[96] Priests and laity who refused to convert to Orthodoxy were either assassinated or deported to the GULAGs at Karaganda.[97] On 27 October 1947, the KGB staged a car accident in order to assassinate the Greek-Catholic Bishop Theodore Romzha of Mukachevo.[98] When the "accident" failed to kill the Bishop, the KGB poisoned him in his hospital bed on 1 November 1947.[99]

In addition, a large number of Anti-Communists in the West were also targeted for assassination. Two of the most notable victims were Lev Rebet and Stefan Bandera, Ukrainian nationalists who were assassinated by the KGB in Munich, West Germany. Both deaths were believed accidental until the 1961 defection of their murderer, Bohdan Stashynsky.


The Russian military has been accused of using death squads against Chechen insurgents. The prooflink offered discusses insufficient care for refugees and quotes one American politician claiming, among a list of other accusations, that captured insurgents have been known to sometimes "disappear", in what is immediately rebuffed as a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black, attempts to shift attention awy from America's human rights violations. However, no organized or centrally approved systematic abuses, much less units or squads formed expressly for the murder of Chechens or command approval for the spontaneous formation of such, are claimed or even suggested by any named source in the article or any description of any given event. The writer does pose a question to the reader about death squads, but without anything to back such a claim up, and only in an attempt to compare Russia's abuses to America's in Iraq.[100]


Prior to World War II, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought a war by proxy during the Spanish Civil War. There were death squads used by both the Falangists and Republicans during this conflict. Prominent victims of the era's death squad violence include the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and journalist Ramiro Ledesma Ramos.

The Republican death squads were heavily staffed by members of Joseph Stalin's OGPU and targeted members of the Catholic clergy and the Spanish nobility for assassination (see Red Terror (Spain)).

According to author Donald Rayfield,

"Stalin, Yezhov, and Beria distrusted Soviet participants in the Spanish war. Military advisors like Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, journalists like Koltsov were open to infection by the heresies, especially Trotsky's, prevalent among the Republic's supporters. NKVD agents sent to Spain were therefore keener on abducting and murdering anti-Stalinists among Republican leaders and International Brigade commanders than on fighting Franco. The defeat of the Republic, in Stalin's eyes, was caused not by the NKVD's diversionary efforts, but by the treachery of the heretics."[101]

The ranks of the Republican assassination squads included Erich Mielke, the future head of the East German Ministry of State Security. Walter Janka, a veteran of the Republican forces who remembers him described Mielke's career as follows,

"While I was fighting at the front, shooting at the Fascists, Mielke served in the rear, shooting Trotskyites and Anarchists.[102] "

In the modern era, Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) terrorist group were death squads illegally set up by officials within the Spanish government to fight ETA. They were active from 1983 until 1987, under the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party's cabinets.[citation needed]


The Srebrenica Massacre, also known as the Srebrenica Genocide,[103][104][105][106] was the July 1995 killing of an estimated 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, as well as the ethnic cleansing of 25,000–30,000 refugees in the area of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić during the Bosnian War. In addition to the VRS, a paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions participated in the massacre.[107][108]

In Potočari, some of the executions were carried out at night under arc lights, and industrial bulldozers then pushed the bodies into mass graves.[109] According to evidence collected from Bosniaks by French policeman Jean-René Ruez, some were buried alive; he also heard testimony describing Serb forces killing and torturing refugees at will, streets littered with corpses, people committing suicide to avoid having their noses, lips and ears chopped off, and adults being forced to watch the soldiers kill their children.[109]

The Srebrenica massacre is the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II.[110] In 2004, in a unanimous ruling on the "Prosecutor v. Krstić" case, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) located in The Hague ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide.[111]

Middle East


The Israeli intelligence has systematically targeted certain terrorist members of Palestinian organizations. With the most recent operation being possibly the killing of Hamas member Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai in February 2010. Other historical examples include the failed attempt to kill Khalid Mesh'al in Amman, Jordan, in September 1997. The most famous Israeli death squad was formed on the orders of Prime Minister Golda Meir in retaliation for the 1972 Munich Massacre. In the aftermath, the squad toured the world killing members of Black September and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as part of Operation Wrath of God. This was depicted in the films Sword of Gideon and Steven Spielberg's Munich (film).

On 14 December 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that targeted killing is a legitimate form of self-defense against terrorists, and outlined several conditions for its use.[112]


Under the reign of by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1941–1979) the SAVAK (Security and Intelligence Service) was founded. During the 1960s and 1970s it has been accused of using death squads .[citation needed] After the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, Amnesty International continued to complain of human rights abuses in Iran.[113] Suspected foes of the Ayatollah Khomeini, were imprisoned, tortured, tried by kangaroo courts, and executed. The most famous victim of the era's death squad violence remains Amir-Abbas Hoveida, Prime Minister of Iran under the Shah. However, the same treatment was also meted out to senior officers in the Iranian military.

Among them were "death squads" in the form of killings of civilians by government agents that were denied by the government. This was particularly the case during the 1990s when more than 80 writers, translators, poets, political activists, and ordinary citizens who had been critical of the government in some way, disappeared or were found murdered.[114] In 1983 the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gave one of the leaders of Iran Khomeini information on Communist KGB agents in Iran. This information was almost certainly used. The Iranian regime later used death squads occasionally throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s however by the 2000s it has appeared to almost entirely if not all cease their operation. This partial Westernization of the country can be seen paralleling similar events in Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, and Northern Iraq beginning in the late 1990s.


Iraq was formed by the British from three provinces of the Ottoman Empire following the empire's breakup after World War I. Its population is overwhelming Muslims but divided into Shia and Sunni Arabs and with a substantial Kurdish minority in the north. The new state leadership in the capital of Baghdad was composed mostly of the old Sunni Arab elite although this ethnic group was a minority.

This leadership used death squads and committed massacres in Iraq throughout the 20th century, culminating in the dictatorship of Saddam Hussien.[115]

After Saddam was overthrown by the UK-US invasion in 2003 the secular socialist Baathist leadership were replaced with a provisional and later constitutional government that included leadership roles for the Shia and Kurdish. This paralleled the development of ethnic militias by the Shia, Sunni, and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

During the course of the Iraq War the country has increasingly become divided into three zones: a Kurdish ethnic zone to the north, a Sunni center and the Shia ethnic zone to the south.

While all three groups have operated death squads,[116] in the national capital of Baghdad some members of the now Shia police department and army formed unofficial, unsanctioned, but long tolerated death squads.[117] They possibly have links to the Interior Ministry and are popularly known as the 'black crows'. These groups operated night or day. They usually arrested people, then either tortured[118] or killed them.[119]

The victims of these attacks were predominantly young males who had probably been suspected of being members of the Sunni insurgency. Agitators such as Abdul Razaq al-Na’as, Dr. Abdullateef al-Mayah, and Dr. Wissam Al-Hashimi have also been killed. Women and children have also been arrested and or killed.[120] Some of these killings have also been simple robberies or other criminal activities.

A feature in a May 2005 issue of the magazine of The New York Times accused the U.S. military of modelling the "Wolf Brigade", the Iraqi interior ministry police commandos, on the death squads used in the 1980s to crush the Marxist insurgency in El Salvador.[121]

Western news organizations such as Time and People disassembled this by focusing on the aspects such as probable militia membership, religious ethnicity, as well as uniforms worn by these squads rather than stating the United States backed Iraqi government had death squads active in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.[122]

Iraq has also suffered badly since the post-invasion insurgency of 2005. Iraq was formed by British partitioning and domination of various tribal land in the early 20th century. The British later departed. They left behind a national government led from Baghdad that was mostly made up of Sunni ethnicity in key positions of power that ruled over an ad-hoc nation splintered by tribal affiliations. This leadership used death squads and committed massacres in Iraq throughout the 20th century, culminating in the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.[123]

The country has since become increasingly partitioned following the Iraq War into three zones: a Kurdish ethnic zone to the north, a Sunni center and the Shia ethnic zone to the south, with the secular Arab socialist Baathist leadership were replaced with a provisional and later constitutional government that included leadership roles for the Shia and Kurdish peoples of this nation.

There were death squads formed by members of every ethnicity.[116] In the national capital of Baghdad some members of the now Shia police department and army formed unofficial, unsanctioned, but long tolerated death squads.[117] They possibly have links to the Interior Ministry and are popularly known as the 'black crows'. These groups operated night or day. They usually arrested people, then either tortured[118] or killed them.[119]

The victims of these attacks were predominantly young males who had probably been suspected of being members of the Sunni insurgency. Agitators such as Abdul Razaq al-Na'as, Dr. Abdullateef al-Mayah, and Dr. Wissam Al-Hashimi have also been killed. These killings are not limited to only men. Women and children have at times have also been arrested and or killed.[120] Some of these killings have also been simple robberies or other criminal activities.


Death squads were active during the civil war from 1975 to 1990. The number of the disappeared is put around 17,000.[124][125]


Ivory Coast

Death squads are reported as active in this country.[18][126]

This has been condemned by the US[19] but appears to be difficult to stop. Moreover there is no proof as to whom is behind the killings[20]

In an interview to the panafrican magazine "Jeune Afrique", Laurent Gbagbo accused one of the opposition leaders, Allasane Ouattara (ADO), to be the main organizer of the media frenzy around his wife's involvement in the killing squads. He also successfully sued and won, in French courts, in cases against the French newspapers that made the accusations.[127]

Human rights groups

Many human rights organisations like Amnesty International along with the UN are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment .[9][128][129][130][131]

Extrajudicial Killings Summit

The 22nd PUNO Supreme Court[disambiguation needed ] is set to hold a National Consultative Summit on extrajudicial killings on 16 and 17 July 2007 at the Manila Hotel. Invited representatives from the three branches of the government will participate (including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the PNP, CHR, media, academe, civil society and other stakeholders).

  • Puno will give the keynote speech and closing remarks. Puno searches for major solutions to solve forced disappearances.
  • During the first day of the summit, the speakers will present their respective papers comprising significant inputs from their respective sectors, while on the second day, the participants will break out into 12 groups (chaired by a Justice) and take part in a workshop. Local and international observers (the diplomatic corps and representatives from various international organizations) will be accredited.
  • Puno announced that "the summit highlight will be a plenary session where each of the 12 groups shall report to the body their recommended resolutions. The reports and proposals will be synthesized and then transmitted to the concerned government agencies for appropriate action."
  • The earlier slated Malacañang-sponsored "Mindanao Peace and Security Summit (8–10 July 2007 at Cagayan de Oro City), focussed on how to make the anti-terror law, or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, more acceptable to the public.[132][133]
  • On 16 July 2007, Justices, activists, militant leaders, police officials, politicians and prelates attended the Supreme Court's two-day summit at the Manila Hotel in Manila City to map out ways to put an end to the string of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Bayan was set to launch their "silent protest", but expressed support for the high court's initiative. Director Geary Barias, chief of the police's anti-killings Task Force Usig, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez, re-elected party-list Representatives Satur Ocampo (Bayan Muna) and Crispin Beltran (Anakpawis) attended. Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that the "National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Forced Disappearances: Searching for Solutions," would help stop the murders. Delegates were given 12 to 15 minutes each to share their insights and knowledge about the matter. Yniguez accused the government of failing to actively pursue investigations on the hundreds of killings and the Catholic Church was alarmed that victims have been denied their "fundamental right" to live.
  • Based on Yniguez-church's count, the number of victims of extrajudicial killings has reached 778, while survivors of "political assassinations," was pegged at 370. He also noted 203 "massacre" victims, 186 people who involuntarily disappeared, 502 tortured, and others who were illegally arrested. Yniguez similarly criticized the government's alleged insistence on implementing its Oplan Bantay Laya I and II (the military's counter-insurgency operation plans which militants have said consider legal people's organizations as targets).
  • Meanwhile, Bayan urged the Supreme Court to "check serious threats to civil liberties and basic freedoms" including the anti-terror law or the Human Security Act of 2007, which took effect on 15 July despite protests from leftist groups.
  • Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. will join Bayan and other leftist groups as petitioners in their formal pleading before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the law. Human rights lawyer Atty. Edre Olalia of the International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) will serve as lead counsel. Bayan chair Carol Araullo said the respondents will include members of the Anti-Terrorism Council headed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Raul Gonzalez. Earlier, [CBCP president Angel Lagdameo] pointed out at least 5 provisions of the law that may threaten civil liberties: Sec. 19 allows detentions of mere suspects for more than three days in the event of an actual or terrorist attack, while Section 26 allows house arrest despite the posting of bail, and prohibits the right to travel and to communicate with others; Sec. 39 allows seizure of assets while Sec. 7 allows surveillance and wiretapping of suspects; Sec. 26 allows the investigation of bank deposits and other assets.[134]

See also


External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • death squad — n. 1. FIRING SQUAD (sense 1) 2. a group whose function is to kill the enemies of a tyrannical political regime or a criminal organization …   English World dictionary

  • death squad — n a group of people who have been ordered to kill someone s political opponents …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • death squad — death ,squad noun count a group of people who illegally kill other people, especially their political opponents …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • death squad — death′ squad′ n. mil any of various paramilitary groups, esp. in Latin America, whose members murder political opponents and petty criminals • Etymology: 1965–70 …   From formal English to slang

  • death squad — noun a clandestine military or paramilitary team who murder political dissidents or petty criminals (usually with the government s tacit approval) • Hypernyms: ↑hit squad * * * noun : any of various extremist groups whose members kill suspected… …   Useful english dictionary

  • death squad — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms death squad : singular death squad plural death squads a group of people who illegally kill other people, especially their political opponents …   English dictionary

  • death squad — death squads N COUNT Death squads are groups of people who operate illegally and carry out the killing of people such as their political opponents or criminals …   English dictionary

  • death squad — noun Date: 1969 any of various extremist groups whose members kill suspected political adversaries and criminals …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • death squad — any of various groups of assassins, esp. in Central America, whose members murder political dissidents, petty criminals, etc., usually with the tacit approval of the government. [1965 70] * * * …   Universalium

  • death squad — noun An armed group that carries out clandestine killings …   Wiktionary

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