Death Squads: The Utility of Extrajudicial Violence Against Civilians by the State

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By George Gantchev

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The purpose of this paper is to re-examine an old phenomenon, namely – the State’s use of terror against its own populace. Our special focus would be on one particularly infamous strategy of state-sanctioned terror – the use of death squads. Today, there is a myriad of literature on the issue of non-state terrorism which, especially after the 9/11 events, has grown to vast proportions. Since the historical record demonstrates that the ratio of civilian victims of state terror is infinitely higher than that of non-state terrorism, we have been amazed by the fact how much less work has been conducted on researching this issue. Thus, we have chosen our topic in order to reassess the opposite face of the phenomenon of terrorism – that is, the deliberate application of extrajudicial violence against civilians by their own government. The focus of our analysis would be the triangular relationship between the state, its tools of violence (the official security state apparatus but mostly the extrajudicial entities such as death squads), and the civilian victims of state terror. By analyzing this relationship, we would attempt to come up with a useful model that explains the anatomy of state terror in relations to its causality, its purpose, and its utility. We would attempt to answer the following questions in our inquiry: what makes the existence of state terror possible? Why are death squads such a popular phenomenon? What is the strategic purpose of state terror in general and of death squads in particular? What is the utility of death squads relative to other forms of state terror? Finally, who are the death squads’ victims?