In his rebuttal to Glenn Greenwald's critique of the "terrorism expert industry," Daniel Trombly profoundly mischaracterizes both my research and the specific points on which Greenwald's post quoted me verbatim. Trombly writes:
"[Greenwald] rejects 'terrorism' as a useful term altogether, arguing, along with scholar Remi Brulin, that the term terrorism is primarily 'propaganda' for 'justifying one's own state violence'-- especially of the American and Israeli variety -- rather than a possible subject of expertise."
My research, presented in my recently completed Ph.D. dissertation, in a book chapter, and in an extensive 2010 conversation with Greenwald at Salon, addresses the definition and deployment of the concept of terrorism in American political discourse since 1945 and, more specifically, between 1972 and 1992, when this discourse was born. Much more narrowly, in Greenwald's post I attempt to show how "terrorism experts," in this case scholars writing for the two main "terrorism studies" journals, Studies on Conflict and Terrorism and Terrorism and Political Violence, have wrestled with the definitional issue in the specific context of American policies in El Salvador in the 1980s.
Replying to a comment that noted his focus on "non-state groups," Trombly notes: "Author here: I apologize for the lack of clarity. I was explaining the origin of the term as applied to non-states, which was almost a century after it was first used to describe the French revolutionary regime. My point was that even in its origin of its later application to non-state groups (which is now the common use of the term), it was not a term of propagandistic condemnation, but self-identified tactical and ideological description. Obviously state terrorism exists." (Emphasis mine.)
As I write in Greenwald's post, a comprehensive analysis of the two main "terrorism studies" journals shows that the (very few) scholars mentioning the issue of "death squads" or discussing U.S. policies in that country in the 1980s all (with one exception, Ariel Merari) accept that "state terrorism" exists, and that their definition of "terrorism" includes "death squads." In this they agree with Greenwald, with me, and indeed with Trombly.
But this is far from being the end of the story. Indeed, despite this, not a single article in these journals has ever applied this definition to U.S. support for El Salvador in the 1980s. In essence, the two main "terrorism studies" journals have been silent about this topic not by defining "terrorism" in a way that would exclude such actors and policies, but rather simply by never writing about it at all (while at the same time publishing countless articles where the United States is described as being "opposed to terrorism" or "fighting terrorism").
Bruce Hoffman's book was specifically mentioned by Andrew Exum during a previous online debate as the work of someone who clearly deserves to be called a "terrorism expert without the scare quotes." Furthermore, Hoffman's stance is of much interest since he explicitly excludes "death squads" from his definition of "terrorism," stating, on p. 27 of Inside Terrorism:
The use of so-called ‘death squads' (often off-duty or plain-clothes security or police officers) in conjunction with blatant intimidation of political opponents, human rights and aid workers, student groups, labor organizers, journalists and others has been a prominent feature of the right-wing military dictatorships that took power in Argentina, Chile and Greece during the 1970s and even of elected governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru since the mid-1980s. But these state-sanctioned or explicitly ordered acts of internal political violence directed mostly against domestic populations - that is, rule by violence and intimidation by those already in power against their own citizenry - are generally termed ‘terror' in order to distinguish that phenomenon from ‘terrorism', which is understood to be violence committed by non-state entities.
Besides its tautological quality, this argument is extremely problematic since it makes no sense once placed in its historical context.
First, it is silent about what should be a central fact when discussing the El Salvador conflict, namely that Ronald Reagan repeatedly presented U.S. aid to that country as being part of the "fight against terrorism."