Secret British documents revealed that the United States proposed “terrifying and wildly” ideas to combat terrorism in the 1980s.
The documents, which I have seen under the Freedom of Information Act, say that the US military “has already formed and trained a special force” to enter any country without the permission of its government in the event terrorists kidnap American citizens.
The idea was raised during talks that took place in London between delegations from the US and British ministries of defense in mid-December 1986.
According to a confidential report directed by the British Ministry of Defense to the Presidency of the Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Americans informed the British that “in the event of a terrorist incident in which a significant number of American hostages are kidnapped in a country that is unable to take effective action to secure their liberation or is unwilling to take these measures, and does not give “With permission for US counterterrorism forces to enter to end the incident, the United States may wish to send its forces (to this country) without permission.”
The American delegation emphasized that this option “includes controlling an airport (in the concerned country) to ensure the entry of American forces.”
The delegation informed the British that “American special forces are already being trained to implement this option.”
The British rejected the idea and warned the Americans of “the operational risks, the least of which are those threatening the hostages, and the political consequences of such an approach.”
According to a report by the British Ministry of Defense on “American anti-terrorism policy”, the British “made it clear that this is an option that has not come to their minds.”
Major General Kelly, head of the US delegation, responded to them, saying that this option “mainly concerns third world countries.”
In its assessment of the idea, the British Ministry of Defense considered it “an indication of the United States’ approach to dealing with these matters.” She emphasized that the Americans “are following it up as a serious suggestion.”
Despite its astonishment at the American idea, the British Foreign Office tended to point out that any intervention to persuade Washington to abandon it “would be futile.”
The ministry described the proposal as “extremely terrifying”. It warned that “its political consequences will be very dangerous, as well as the consequences for the hostages.”
She said that she had previous information confirming that the Americans “are training a kidnapping squad.”
The ministry linked this division to the new proposal, warning that this “indicates that there are still some very wild ideas circulating in Washington.”
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Based on this assessment, the Ministry did not see “any point in raising the issue with the Americans at the current stage.” She indicated that Britain “will not make the Americans change their policy.” In the end, the ministry advised that “the British spare their energy to use it in situations where their interference would have some effect” on Americans.
The late Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain, and the late Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States at the time.
During that period, the anti-terror policy pursued by the major countries, especially the United States and Britain, faced criticism for its application of what the opponents of this policy saw double standards that confuse terrorism and struggle with freedom.
These criticisms came after the escalation of the conflict between the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the United States in 1986.
In March of that year, the United States sank two Libyan military boats in the Gulf of Sirte, which Libya considered Libyan territorial waters.
On the fifth of the following month, a bombing took place in a nightclub in Berlin, Germany, in which two soldiers were killed and more than 70 American Marines were wounded. Washington accused the Libyan regime of masterminding and carrying out the bombing.
In the middle of the month, the United States launched a series of air strikes in an operation involving the US Air Force, Navy and Marines. And killed in the strikes, at least 40 Libya, including a girl, the Libyan regime said was Gaddafi’s daughter.
After studying the criticisms directed at the American policy supported by Britain, the British Foreign Secretary asked his assistants to develop “proposals on the manner in which the state ministers and officials at the Foreign Ministry would deal with comparisons and counterparts that are raised regarding the different cases,” that is, cases of the use of force by the United States and Britain and their dealings with the different groups that pursue Violence.
The purpose of the mandate was to search for convincing answers to questions about criteria for distinguishing between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters”.
According to a document by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the consultations between the research and planning departments and the rest of the departments of interest concluded that “the problem is complex and raises some lively discussion at the practical level.”
All administrations acknowledged that “Britain’s policy in dealing with all different groups is not, in fact, fixed on one principle.”
She added, “There is no solution to this problem yet.”
Another dilemma was that “an explanation of the British position (which appears to apply double standards) in each case is not always available.” The consultations concluded that “the lack of persistence on a single principle (in politics) is the result of conscious, well-founded decisions regarding individual cases (individual groups), but it is not always possible to explain these reasons publicly.”
The team tasked with conducting the consultations sent a list of “useful instructions” to British officials and embassies abroad to defend the British and American positions.
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At the top of the list of guidelines came “the permanent rejection of any comparisons, and to avoid refuting them in detail so that these comparisons are not given value.”
Among the most important of these guidelines is to avoid justifying the policy followed, in dealing with a particular case, by using an international principle that could be used against Britain in another case.
The guidelines warned against using the principle that “We never establish contact with groups that use violence.”
Violence “a fact of life”
In the Libyan case, it was advised that “the Americans suffered at the hands of Gaddafi, and did their utmost to prevent and deter his attacks by other means,” other than military force.
According to the British defense strategy on counterterrorism policy, the guidelines said, “The Americans found no choice, in the end, but to take practical action, in self-defense, against the Libyan capabilities that were used in supporting terrorism.”
While the strategy advised British officials to emphasize “the British decision to support the Americans and prepare for that,” it indicated that Britain “has also taken and is taking all kinds of other measures with our American and European friends to push the Libyans to think in a better way.”
In what resembles a “rehearsal” of training to respond to embarrassing questions in television and unrecorded interviews, the Planning Department at the Foreign Ministry advised ministers and officials not to be drawn into comparisons between Britain’s different positions on terrorism except in cases of urgency.
The administration cited the example of the British and American positions in support of the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation and against the Palestine Liberation Organization and its resistance to occupied Israel. And she advised to focus, in response, on the Soviet occupation and not to go into talking about the Palestinian resistance.
She advised officials that they respond as follows: “There is no comparison between the organization and the Afghan resistance fighting to defeat the foreign invader who has brought with it 118,000 soldiers, armed with full force with modern weapons, against it. One of the dimensions of the Afghan problem is that tens of thousands have been killed, and millions have been forced to flee.”
Another example is a comparison between the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon, the US raids on Libya and its position on the Gulf of Sirte.
British officials were advised to respond as follows:
Rejection of this comparison, which simplifies matters, and the need to take many factors into account. Gaddafi organized for years, defying international condemnations, a deliberate campaign of terrorist violence against innocent people outside Libya, and the United States does not maintain forces on the territory of another country without inviting this country (as Israel does with Lebanon).
According to the documents, the proposed strategy was based on the saying of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Foolish persistence on one principle is a ghost that dominates small minds.”
Facing criticism of the US and UK’s use of violent force when they wanted, any British official was advised to respond:
We are, of course, against violence and would like all problems to be solved without force. However, violence of all kinds is a fact of life. And if we want to achieve anything practical, we must, like us or not, deal with all the different circumstances that affect different issues. I do not know of many crises that were solved by people of virtuous morals who lack experience of reality while manipulating words.
Another example of comparison was what was believed to be British support for “Sikh terrorists”, while London and Washington refused to support Libya and Syria for Palestinian fighters fighting against the occupation.
British officials advised the following response:
The comparison is absurd and absurd. The United Kingdom does not provide official support to Sikh terrorists. The UK is not a safe haven for them. When we have sufficient and admissible evidence of criminal activity, the judicial authorities act. We accept the Indian government’s extradition of anyone who has committed crimes in India.