Death squads' flack in El Salvador, Clinton's man in Kosovo
Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi
July/August 1999

Years from now, when the war in Serbia is over and the dust has settled, historians will point to January 15, 1999 as the day the American Death Star became fully operational.

That was the date on which an American diplomat named William Walker brought his Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) war crimes verification team to a tiny Kosovar village called Racak to investigate an alleged Serb massacre of ethnic Albanian peasants. After a brief review of the town's 40-odd bullet-ridden corpses, Walker searched out the nearest television camera and essentially fired the starting gun for the war.

"From what I saw, I do not hesitate to describe the crime as a massacre, a crime against humanity," he said. "Nor do I hesitate to accuse the government security forces of responsibility."

We all know how Washington responded to Walker's verdict; it quickly set its military machine in motion, and started sending out menacing invitations to its NATO friends to join the upcoming party.

How Russia responded is less well known. One would assume that it began preparations for a diplomatic strategy in the event of war, which it probably realized was inevitable. But in Russia's defense and intelligence communities, the sight of William Walker uncovering Serb atrocities on television almost certainly provoked a different, and more dramatic, reaction. As connoisseurs in the area of propaganda and the use of provocateurs, they recognized a good job when they saw one. And, more importantly, they knew who William Walker was, and that if William Walker is not a CIA agent, he's done a very bad job of not looking like one. Judge for yourself:

According to various newspaper reports, Walker began his diplomatic career in 1961 in Peru. He then spent most of his long career in the foreign service in Central and South America, including a highly controversial posting as deputy chief of mission in Honduras in the early 1980s, exactly the time and place where the Contra rebel force was formed. The contra force was the cornerstone of then-CIA Director William Casey's hard-line anti-Communist directive, and Honduras was considered, along with El Salvador, the front line in the war with the Soviet Union. From there, Walker was promoted, in 1985, to the post of deputy assistant secretary of state for Central America. This promotion made him a special assistant to Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, a figure whose name would soon be making its way into the headlines on a daily basis in connection with a new scandal the press was calling the "Iran-Contra" affair.

Walker would soon briefly join his boss under the public microscope. According to information contained in Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's lengthy indictment of Abrams and Oliver North, Walker was responsible for setting up a phony humanitarian operation at Ilopango airbase in El Salvador. This shell organization was used to funnel guns, ammunition and supplies to the Contras in Nicaragua.

Despite having been named in Walsh's indictment (although he was never charged himself) and outed in the international press as a gunrunner, Walker's diplomatic career did not, as one might have expected, take a turn for the worse. Oddly enough, it kept on advancing. In 1988, he was named ambassador to El Salvador, a state that at one time was still in the grip of US-sponsored state terror.

Walker's record as Ambassador to El Salvador is startling upon review today, in light of his recent re-emergence into the world spotlight as an outraged documenter of racist hate-crimes. His current posture of moral disgust toward Serbian ethnic cleansing may seem convincing today, but it is hard to square with the almost comically callous indifference he consistently exhibited toward exactly the same kinds of hate crimes while serving in El Salvador.

In late 1989 came one of the most notorious and ghastly killings of the 1980s in Central America, when Salvadoran soldiers executed six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 15-year old daughter, blowing their heads off with shotguns. Walker scarcely batted an eyelid. When asked at a press conference about evidence linking the killings to the Salvadoran High Command, he went out of his way to apologize for chief of staff Rene Emilio Ponce, dismissing the murders as a sort of forgivable corporate glitch, like running out of Xerox toner. "Management control problems can exist in these kinds of situations," Walker said.

In discussing the wider problem of state violence and repression--which in El Salvador then was at least no less widespread than in the Serbia he monitored from October of last year until March of this year--Walker was remarkably circumspect. "I'm not condoning it, but in times like this of great emotion and great anger, things like this happen," he said, apparently having not yet decided to audition for the OSCE job.

Finally, in what may be the most amazing statement of all, given his current occupation, Walker questioned the ability of any person or organization to assign blame in hate crime cases. Shrugging off news of eyewitness reports that the Jesuit murders had been committed by men in Salvadoran army uniforms, Walker told Massachusetts congressman Joe Moakley that "anyone can get uniforms. The fact that they were dressed in military uniforms was not proof that they were military."

Later Walker would recommend to Secretary of State James Baker that the United States "not jeopardize" its relationship with El Salvador by investigating "past deaths, however heinous."

This is certainly an ironic comment, coming from a man who would later recommend that the United States go to war over...heinous deaths.

One final intriguing biographical note: Walker in 1996 hosted a ceremony in Washington held in honor of 5,000 American soldiers who fought secretly in El Salvador. While Walker was Ambassador to El Salvador, the US government's official story was that there were only 50 military advisors in the country (Washington Post, May 6, 1996).

With a background like this, it seems implausible that Walker would be chosen by the United States to head the Kosovar verification team on the basis on any established commitment to the cause of human rights. What seems more likely, given Walker's background, is that he was chosen because of his proven willingness to say whatever his government wants him to say, and to keep quiet when he is told to keep quiet--about things like a gunrunning operation, or the presence of 4,950 undercover mercenaries (whose existence he regularly denied with a straight face) in the banana republic where he was Ambassador.

The Iran-Contra incident isn't the only thing in Walker's background which gives reason for pause. Another is his curious ability to remain in Central and South America throughout virtually his entire diplomatic career.

Not since before the fall of China ahs the State Department allowed its career people to remain in one place for any significant length of time. It is well known among career foreign service people, though, that one of the few exceptions to this rule is the CIA agents in the embassies. Our intelligence people take longer to develop their contacts, and in order to preserve these "personal relationships" (bribe-takers don't like to change bagmen), they tend to hang around longer.

Walker was in Latin America virtually throughout his entire career, until he arrived in Kosovo. He had no experience in the region that qualified him to head the verification team in Yugoslavia. Furthermore, he spent the entire 1980s occupying high-level State positions in Central America, under the Reagan and Bush White Houses, when the region was the source of more East-West tension than in any other place in the world, and Central American embassies were the most notoriously CIA-penetrated embassies we had. You can draw your own conclusions.

There is a widespread belief not only in Russia, but also in other countries, that Walker's role in Racak was to assist the KLA in fabricating a Serb massacre that could be used as an excuse for military action. Already, two major mainstream French newspapers--Le Monde and Le Figaro--as well as French national television have run exposes on the Racak incident. These stories cited a number of inconsistencies in Walker's version of events, including an absence of shell casings and blood in the trench where the bodies were found, and the absence of eyewitnesses despite the presence of journalists and observers in the town during the KLA-Serb fighting.

Eventually, even the Los Angeles Times joined in, running a story entitled "Racak Massacre Questions: Were Atrocities Faked?" The theory behind all these exposes was that the KLA had gathered their own dead after the battle, removed their uniforms, put them in civilian clothes, and then called in the observers. Walker, significantly, did not see the bodies until 12 hours after Serb police had left the town. As Walker knows, not only can "anybody have uniforms," but anyone can have them taken off, too.

The story of William Walker's involvement in the was is just one of a rapidly-growing family of tales cataloguing the incompetence and arrogance of the United States and its allies throughout the Kosovo conflict. Even if it isn't proof of some as-yet-unreleased sinister plan to secure a permanent military presence in the Balkans, the fact that the US didn't even care to avoid the appearance of impropriety in its search for Serb atrocities says a lot about our approach to international relations. It says, 'Go ahead and think the worst about us. We don't care. We've got more bombs than you do.'

From Counterpunch, Volume 6, #10, May 16, 1999. Editors are Alexander Cockburn and Jeffery St. Clair. Counterpunch is published twice monthly except August. Subscriptions: $40 individuals, $30 student rate from Counterpunch, 3220 N. St. NW, Suite 346, Washington, DC 20007.

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