One year ago, The Future of Freedom Foundation presented what we called “a conference within a conference” at the annual conference of the Students for Liberty, a student-run libertarian group that is, once again, holding their annual conference in Washington, D.C., this coming weekend — February 13-15, 2015.
The theme of our mini-conference last year was “Civil Liberties and the National Security State.”
Given that a considerable number of libertarians who come into the movement as conservatives have a difficult time abandoning their conservative views on foreign policy, civil liberties, foreign interventionism, empire, the war on terrorism, and the national-security state, we believe that it is critically important to apprise young libertarians of the libertarian position on these issues, especially since the warfare state constitutes a much graver threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people than the welfare state.
Thus, the goal of our mini-conference was to raise the vision of young libertarians to the critical importance of civil liberties to a free society and the role that the national-security state plays in the destruction of civil liberties.
Our speakers consisted of a combination of “liberals” or progressives and libertarians: Jonathan Turley (law professor at Georgetown University and one of the top attorneys in the United States), Stephen Kinzer (author of The Brothers and several other books on foreign policy), Robert Higgs (author of Crisis and Leviathan), Jameel Jaffer (deputy legal director at the ACLU), John Glaser (writer on foreign-policy issues), Scott Horton (host of the Scott Horton Show), Sheldon Richman (FFF’s vice president), and me.
We also hosted a featured panel in the main ballroom of the conference whose theme was “Imperial Overreach and the National Security State.” The panelists consisted of three “liberals” or progressives: Oliver Stone (Oscar-winning Hollywood director), Peter Kuznick (professor at American University and collaborator with Oliver Stone on their “Untold History” series), and Jeremy Scahill (author and recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in 2014 for his film Dirty Wars).
Stone has been criticized by both conservatives and libertarians for his support of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, both of whom have implemented socialist programs and, although democratically elected, have ruled with dictatorial powers. Chavez and Maduro are examples of an old Latin American adage — that Latin Americans have the freedom to elect their dictators every four or six years. Not surprisingly, the combination of socialism and dictatorial powers has, not surprisingly, brought economic chaos to Venezuela.
Thus the criticism leveled at Maduro and Chavez is well-founded, except for conservatives, who have long been afflicted with the trait of hypocrisy. For even as some conservatives condemn the Chavez and Maduro dictatorships for being socialist, they also praise one of the most brutal, vicious, and tyrannical dictatorships in history, an unelected dictatorship, for its “free-market” policies.
Such policies originate within a group of economists that Pinochet brought into his regime who were known as the “Chicago Boys,” owing to their study of economics at the University of Chicago, where the noted free-market economist Milton Friedman taught.
During his 16-year-long unelected dictatorship, Pinochet’s regime also kidnapped and rounded up tens of thousands of innocent people and then proceeded to torture them, rape them, abuse them, disappear them, or murder them.
How did the members of the Chilean legislature feel about the economic policies adopted by Pinochet as well as the brutal policies inflicted on tens of thousands of Chilean people?
Oh, the legislature had no position at all on the issue because there was no legislature. The general abolished the legislature when he took power in a violent military coup in 1973. After that point, Pinochet ruled by what were called “decree laws.”
What about the federal judiciary? All Chilean federal judges became judicial servants of Pinochet, ruling in whatever way he and his goons wanted them to rule.
Among the most fascinating parts of the Pinochet saga was what the general did to his predecessor, a man named Salvador Allende, a self-styled Marxist who had been democratically elected president by the people of Chile in 1970. One day Allende and several of his supporters found themselves in the National Palace being attacked by Hunter Hawker fighter jets operated by pilots of the Chilean Air Force, who were firing rockets at Allende and his followers. At the same time, large numbers of Chilean army soldiers were approaching the National Palace in preparation for a massive military raid on the president’s position.
In other words, the national-security branch of the government, headed by General Pinochet, was waging war against the executive branch of the government, which was headed by President Allende. Allende never had a chance. Refusing an “unconditional surrender” demand by Pinochet, Allende ordered his followers to surrender to the opposing forces and then proceeded to take his own life, apparently to avoid being taken captive by the opposing forces.
How do conservatives justify their support for the war that the Chilean national-security branch of the government waged against Allende and the executive branch of the government?
They say that Pinochet’s coup was necessary to save Chile from the adverse effects of Allende’s socialist economic policies, which were causing economic chaos within Chile.
Well, except for one big thing: It was the U.S. government, operating through its own national-security state apparatus, that was responsible for much of that economic chaos, all with the aim of bringing about regime change in Chile.
How did the U.S. national-security state advance its regime-change mission in Chile?
First, the CIA was charged with the task of secretly doing everything it could to bring maximum economic harm to the Chilean people, so that they would eagerly welcome the military dictatorship when it finally came. As President Richard Nixon said to the CIA, “Make the economy scream!” (Yes, that Richard Nixon — the conservative crook and liar of Watergate fame.)
And that’s precisely what the CIA proceeded to do. For example, the CIA secretly financed a nationwide truckers’ strike with the aim of paralyzing the delivery of food to the Chilean people. If people were starving to death, it was felt, they would be more receptive to being saved by military brutes.
Now, don’t get me wrong — this is not to say that Allende’s economic policies were not causing economic chaos. Of course they were. They were socialist programs. It’s just to say that the CIA was intentionally doing everything it could to make matters worse, in order to encourage people to yearn for and welcome a military dictatorship, one that would be saving them from the economic chaos, much of which the CIA was intentionally (and secretly) inflicting on them.
Second, the CIA orchestrated the violent kidnapping of a Chilean army general named Rene Schneider, including smuggling into the country high-powered untraceable weapons that the kidnappers could use. Since Schneider resisted his kidnapping with the sidearm he was carrying, the kidnappers shot him dead.
Why did the CIA want Schneider out of the way? Because he was the commander of the entire Chilean Armed Forces, and, as such, had taken an oath to support and defend the Chilean constitution, just as members of the U.S. national-security state take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The problem arose when Schneider said no to the U.S. government’s request for a coup that would destroy Chile’s longtime democratic system. Schneider’s position was that it was the duty of the Chilean military to uphold the oath they had taken to support and defend the constitution of the country and thereby protect the right of the democratically elected president to continue serving in office until the next election, which would have been in 1976. That’s what got Schneider killed, leaving a widow, four children, and an entire nation to grieve his loss. Needless to say, the CIA falsely denied any role in Schneider’s kidnapping and assassination.
Third, U.S. national-security state officials did everything they could to convince their Chilean counterparts to ignore their constitution and take power in a coup. At the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, for example, U.S. military officials constantly ingrained into their Chilean counterparts the moral duty of a nation’s military-intelligence forces to violently remove a president from office when his policies are, in the judgment of the national-security branch of the government, threatening “national security.”
By the way, U.S. military officials at the School of the Americas were also training their Chilean counterparts in the techniques of torture, skills that they would put to good use against those tens of thousands of innocent Chileans who they tortured during and after the coup.
Fourth, while U.S. officials were doing everything to financially strangle the other three branches of the Chilean government, they were, at the same time, funneling millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars directly into the coffers of the national-security branch of the government, thereby turning the loyalty and allegiance of Chilean military-intelligence forces toward the U.S. government and away from the rest of their own government.
Some people have suggested that the Pinochet coup was legal under the Chilean constitution, and in support of their thesis they cite a letter that the members of the Chilean legislature, in an 81-47 vote, sent to the military asking for a coup.
But that is false and disingenuous. The fact is that Chile in 1973 had much the same type of government that the United States did. The Chilean constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, provided for only two ways to remove a democratically elected president from office — impeachment or the next presidential election. Neither constitution provided for a military coup to save the nation from a president’s policies.
A vote to impeach Allende failed to secure the required number of votes under the Chilean constitution. Thus, any suggestion that Pinochet’s coup was legal under the Chilean constitution is false and deceptive. No matter how some conservatives might try to dress up the actions of their dictator, the fact remains that what their dictator did was illegal, which is sort of ironic given that conservatives are normally the “law and order” types and the ones who traditionally call for a “strict” interpretation of a nation’s constitution.
Recall President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal economic policies, which were, in principle, no different from Allende’s socialist and interventionist economic policies. Roosevelt, for example, nationalized gold, established Social Security, which would become the permanent crown jewel of the socialist welfare state, converted U.S. industries into cartels under the NIRA, initiated his scheme to pack the Supreme Court with his cronies, and much, much more. Roosevelt’s socialist and interventionist policies caused untold economic chaos and suffering and made the Great Depression much worse than it already was.
Did that provide a legal justification for a military takeover of the U.S. government, like Pinochet did in Chile? Not under the U.S. Constitution, which is the highest law of the land, just as the constitution of Chile was in 1973. Even if 95 percent of the members of Congress had requested the U.S. military to attack Roosevelt in the White House and establish a military dictatorship, as Pinochet and his forces did in Chile, a coup would have been an illegal act under the U.S. Constitution, just as it was under the Chilean constitution.
In fact, the Chilean people learned firsthand what President Eisenhower was warning the American people about in his 1961 Farewell Address. Ike told the American people that the vast military-industrial complex, which was grafted onto America’s constitutional order after World War II, posed a grave threat to America’s liberties and democratic processes.
Ironically, it was the Chilean people, who had acquired the same type of vast military establishment, who experienced what Ike was talking about. And the reason they did was because the U.S. national-security establishment exhorted Chilean military officials to attack their president and establish a military dictatorship.
None of this matters, of course, to many of the conservatives who criticize Oliver Stone for supporting Chavez and Maduro. The truth is that many of them hate Stone for much more than his support of Chavez and Maduro. They also hate him for his condemnation of the entire U.S. national-security establishment and its foreign interventionism — the foreign interventionism that was, in fact, responsible for bringing their dictator to power.
The obvious question arises: Why did we invite Stone, a leftist, to share his perspectives with the students at the SFL conference?
The answer is: Because although he is a progressive, Oliver Stone presents a courageous, unabashed, passionate, eloquent, uncompromised, and principled libertarian case on civil liberties and the national security state, as you can see in the panel discussion here.
Most conservatives, on the other hand, are disasters when it comes to the national-security state and its assault on the liberties and democratic processes of the citizenry, as reflected by their unwavering support of their dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and how he came to power.
How could The Future of Freedom Foundation ever present conservative speakers who extol the benefits of the national-security state, foreign interventionism, empire, and foreign aid, and who glorify a dictatorship for its economic policies but which also kidnapped, tortured, raped, disappeared, or murdered 40,000 innocent people?
Why did Pinochet and his goons do those horrific things to those 40,000 people? Because all of them were people who believed in socialism or communism, ideas that that Pinochet was determined to eradicate from Chilean society, even if he had to kill the ideas by torturing or killing those who held such ideas within their minds. That was their “crime” — believing in the “wrong” ideas, just like freedom-minded people in communist countries were being killed by their governments for having the “wrong” ideas.
Many of the victims had also supported Allende or had served in his administration. In the eyes of Pinochet and his goons, this made them deserve nothing less than incarceration, torture, rape, disappearance, or execution. I would tell you what these people did to the women they took into custody but it is so horrifically gruesome that I don’t feel comfortable putting it into this article. Suffice it to say that it pertains to matters sexual.
The emotional pain suffered by many Chilean families who lost loved ones, including college-aged children, for doing nothing more than believing in the “wrong” ideas or for having supported the democratically elected president of their country has not dissipated despite the passage of more than 40 years. Part of the reason for this longstanding pain is that there are families who have still not found the remains of their loved ones. That’s because Pinochet intentionally hid or destroyed the burial sites or dropped the bodies of the people he murdered into the ocean to prevent surviving family members from ever finding them. This article has a good photograph of family members who still are looking for the remains of their loved ones. Here is the face of a woman who still goes out to the Chilean desert regularly to look for bones of a loved one — I think her brother, if I recall correctly from a documentary entitled Nostalgia for the Light, directed by the internationally renowned Chilean film director Patricio Guzman.
Make no mistake about it: what Pinochet was doing met with the approval of U.S. national-security state officials, and U.S. taxpayer money began flooding into the coffers of Pinochet’s dictatorial regime. Don’t forget: this was 1973, when U.S. forces were on the verge of defeat at the hands of the communists in Vietnam. This was the Cold War, when the U.S. national-security state’s anti-communist crusade was still in full swing. And here was Army General Augusto Pinochet, incarcerating, torturing, raping, disappearing, or killing people who believed in communism and socialism, and taking virtually no casualties. No wonder U.S. military officials and CIA officials were ecstatic over Pinochet’s military victory over the country’s president and the entire executive branch of the government. No wonder that conservatives were also ecstatic given their fervent devotion to the Cold War’s anti-communist crusade.
Needless to say, you won’t find any of this in articles or speeches by conservatives who criticize Chavez and Maduro. That’s because many conservatives love what the U.S. national-security state did in Chile. They’re not about to criticize it. They know that if it hadn’t been for the U.S. national-security state and its policy of regime-change, their dictator, Augusto Pinochet, would never have come to power in a violent coup that ended up with the death of the country’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.
All that these conservative supporters of their dictator, Augusto Pinochet, focus on is the Chicago Boys and the glorious economic miracle that they brought to Chile via one of the most vicious, brutal, and tyrannical dictatorships in history.
There is no question but that Pinochet’s “free-market” economic policies brought an economic revival to Chile. But there is also no question but that the economic policies recommended by the Chicago Boys also greatly fortified the financial base of the Pinochet dictatorship. With the financial stability brought by the Chicago Boys, the Pinochet regime had plenty of money to pay the salaries and other governmental expenses of those who were running the concentration camps and dungeons, those who were raping and torturing people, and those who were disappearing and executing people.
As an aside, many conservatives favor the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which is not only an attempt to inflict economic harm on the Cuban people in the hopes of getting the same result that Pinochet got in Chile, it is also a direct infringement on the economic liberty and other fundamental rights of the American people.
None of that matters to conservatives because they say that lifting the embargo will fortify the financial base of the Cuban dictatorship.
But then these same conservatives, in another classic case of conservative hypocrisy, turn around and convince themselves that there was nothing wrong with the Chicago Boys’ doing everything they could to fortify the financial base of a dictator who was kidnapping, torturing, raping, disappearing, executing, and assassinating people.
In fact, Pinochet’s coffers, which were being supplemented by U.S. taxpayer-funded foreign aid — something else that conservative supporters of Pinochet never criticize — enabled him to organize what is quite possibly the largest international torture-and-assassination ring in history, a top-secret organization known as DINA, whose program of international torture and assassination was secretly known as Operation Condor. Not surprisingly, the CIA was a partner in that operation too, not only providing technological-communications equipment but also by lining the pockets of the head of DINA with a large sum of U.S. taxpayer cash.
DINA, in fact, was the organization that orchestrated the assassination of Orlando Letelier on the streets of Washington, D.C. What did Letelier do to deserve assassination at the hands of Pinochet’s assassins? He was a believer in socialism, he had served in the Allende administration, and, worst of all, he was lobbying Congress for a cut-off of U.S. foreign aid to Pinochet. When DINA agents ignited the bomb they had placed under Letelier’s car, the blast killed not only him but also his young assistant Ronni Moffitt. Oh well, I suppose that there is always going to be collateral damage in these types of operations.
What matters, insofar as many conservatives are concerned, is that we not focus on such unpleasantries. They certainly don’t. Their focus is on the Chicago Boys and their grand and glorious economic transformation and economic miracle.
Why, they don’t even talk about the U.S. national-security state’s participation in the murder of two American citizens during the coup — Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi — and the subsequent cover-up of that crime by U.S. officials. Why were these two Americans murdered by their own government? For the same reason their own government was celebrating Pinochet’s murder of Chilean citizens. Horman and Teruggi were leftists — they believed in socialism and supported the Allende administration. But another strike against them was that they were also opponents of the U.S. government’s war in Vietnam, which, in the eyes of U.S. national-security officials, made them bad Americans. Perhaps worst of all, Horman, who was a journalist, had inadvertently discovered U.S. complicity in the coup, which U.S. officials were determined to keep secret from the American people and the rest of the world.
Oh well, what’s two Americans, especially compared to the glorious “transformation” and “economic miracle” wrought by the Pinochet regime on the advice of the Chicago Boys?
One of the ironies of all this is that Milton Friedman himself did everything he could for the rest of his life to distance himself from the Pinochet regime. Providing economic advice to the Pinochet regime was clearly not something that Friedman wanted to be associated with.
But Friedman must have realized that throughout the time that he was doing everything he could to distance himself from Pinochet’s dictatorship, he was, at the same, implicitly pointing the finger of shame at his acolytes, the Chicago Boys, who were expressing great pride for loyally and enthusiastically serving their general.
Another irony was that it was Friedman himself who pointed out in a speech delivered in 1991 that the military establishment is one great big socialist enterprise. So, here we have the spectacle of conservatives preaching that the way to achieve “free markets” is by adopting a socialist apparatus, and a brutal one at that. How ironic (and hypocritical) is that?
In the movie Downfall, which revolves around the secretary of German dictator Adolph Hitler, there is a scene at the end of the movie where Hitler’s real-life secretary is featured making a statement. She said that when Hitler asked her to serve as his secretary, she eagerly accepted the opportunity to serve her country by going to work for the president. It was only after the war, she said, when she discovered Sophie Scholl, who was part of the White Rose group of young Germans who were secretly opposing Hitler, that she realized how horribly mistaken she had been.
Unfortunately, those conservatives who extol the free-market “achievements” of Augusto Pinochet have not yet arrived at that point. They have not yet arrived at the libertarian position, which condemns all dictatorship.
People who live in glass houses by praising unelected “free-market” dictatorships, especially ruthless and tyrannical ones, have no moral standing to be throwing stones at democratically elected socialist dictatorships.
This article was revised on February 15, 2015.