10 Brutal Dictators We Secretly Supported
By definition, a dictator is an evil person. That’s why the international community treats them as pariahs: the atrocities committed by people like Kim Jong-Un deserve no place in a modern progressive world. But just occasionally a bloodthirsty psychopath comes along who our leaders not only turn a blind eye to, but actually offer financial or military support. Here are 10 cases of infamous tyrants where international hypocrisy ruled the day.
We all know Egypt’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was one bad dude. When the Arab Spring unseated his 30-year rule the world gave a silent cheer: It was the end of an authoritarian monster who had been responsible for thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of cases of torture, and who knows how many arbitrary detentions and disappearances. In fact, the only people on the planet who weren’t glad to see him go were our very own leaders.
See, Mubarak was one of our favorite dictators. By 2011, we were sending him an annual allowance of $1.3 billion in military aid. Even as his son was funneling a large portion of the country’s GDP into his own pockets, we continued to sing his praises. When Mubarak’s security forces began the wholesale murder of protesters, we refrained from condemning our old ally, even as bodies piled up in the streets. Basically, this was a tyrant we fully supported. And when his equally bloodthirsty military successors took over this year, we broke our own laws to financially support them instead.
The rule of Augusto Pinochet is one of the more shameful episodes in Western history. On September 11, 1973, ordinary Chileans awoke to military fighter jets bombing their capital in a CIA-backed coup. Within hours, the popular leftist president Salvador Allende had been murdered and General Pinochet had seized control, beginning a 17-year reign of torture, executions, and secret concentration camps that we supported every step of the way.
And I mean supported. In 2003, declassified government documents revealed that the CIA not only engineered the coup, they helped Pinochet set up his infamous torture centers, considered launching terrorist attacks against unarmed civilians, and put the head of Chile’s feared security forces on the Washington payroll. Once in power, the West welcomed this monster into the international community, with the UK going so far as to veto his extradition to Spain to face charges of murder in 1999. To this day, idiots still continue to claim Pinochet brought democracy to Chile—because it’s not like we’d ever support a non-democratic dictator, right?
8The Somoza Family
The Somoza Family was Nicaragua’s answer to North Korea’s crazy Kim dynasty—a highly corrupt clan that bled an entire country dry and slaughtered thousands. And we were determined to do everything we could to keep them in power.
In the late ’70s, the popular Sandinista movement threatened to throw the Somozas out of power. Suddenly, Nicaragua transformed from a country we could just ignore to one that threatened to become truly democratic. Since a democratic Nicaragua wasn’t in our interests, the American government went into overdrive to prevent it from happening.
Under Jimmy Carter, Washington gave full support to the Nicaraguan National Guard, a brutal and sadistic group who weren’t above bombing civilian neighborhoods and had around 10,000 deaths on their conscience. This support went as far as smuggling Guard leaders out in Red Cross planes (which is super-illegal), and funding their Contra terrorist campaign for the next decade. Even worse, when a hurricane devastated Nicaragua in 1988, Reagan refused to send a penny for the relief efforts, effectively punishing civilians for the Sandinista overthrow of the Somozas. It was a stupid, nonsensical policy, and all it did was ensure millions of Nicaraguans suffered needlessly.
If you grew up after, say, the 1970s, it might surprise you to learn that North Korea wasn’t always the craziest dictatorship on the peninsula. In the ’60s, South Korea was a poverty-stricken wasteland, unable to match the booming Northern economy, and ruled by massacre-loving tyrant Syngman Rhee. That all changed when Park Chung-Hee seized power, ushering in a period of long South Korean prosperity—and he did it all while being completely insane.
With Richard Nixon’s implicit blessing, Park embarked upon a series of reforms which included mandating the length of women’s skirts and forbidding men to grow long hair. Less amusingly, he also clamped down on dissent, crapped all over the constitution, began torturing his opponents, and had his security forces murder student protesters. He completely overstayed his legal welcome as President and eventually had to be assassinated by one of his best friends—but we in the West always stood by him because, hey, at least he wasn’t a Commie.
Meet Suharto, the most corrupt man who ever lived—literally. Transparency International estimates he plundered over $35 billion from Indonesia during his 31-year rule. But corruption is just the tip of this particularly depressing iceberg. During his years in power, Suharto illegally occupied the island of Timor (killing around one-third of the population), engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Chinese, and murdered anywhere from 1–2 million of his own people. And he did all this with a big helping hand from Britain, the US, and Australia.
The horror all started when the CIA engineered a coup against the previous Indonesian dictator, Sukarno. Any good intentions quickly vanished as Suharto’s goons embarked upon an orgy of mass murder and ethnic cleansing—raping, torturing and garroting hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese. Shortly after, the British Foreign Office decided to get involved, supplying Suharto with guns, riot-control vehicles, and fighter jets which the dictator used to bomb civilian areas. In the following years, Britain began a policy of discrediting Suharto’s opponents, while Australia brought the mining rights to occupied Timor and cheerfully exploited it as genocide continued around them. Arguably, Suharto was worse than Saddam Hussein or even Assad—yet the West supported him right to the end, allowing him to die in comfort, surrounded by his ill-gotten billions.
You’ve probably never heard of Islam Karimov. And why would you? He’s the despotic ruler of Uzbekistan, a country most of us were barely aware existed, and a small-time crook we condemned for years—until 9/11 happened.
See, Uzbekistan benefits from being a strategic location for Afghan military ventures. So when we decided to invade Karimov’s Taliban neighbors, we needed Uzbekistan. Unfortunately, this alliance came at a human cost so horrific it’s almost unimaginable.
Under Karimov’s rule, ordinary Uzbeks suffer torture, harassment, imprisonment, and summary executions. In 2003, Human Rights Watch estimated 600 people were illegally detained each year, many of them beaten, drowned, or outright murdered. Two prisoners were even boiled alive in 2002, a sentence it would be impossible to write in a better world. People live in crushing poverty, despite US funding for the regime reaching heights of $500 million per year. $79 million of that went directly to funding the same security services that force millions of children to work in slave conditions harvesting cotton. It’s one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships, and we continue to throw money at it like we simply don’t care about the suffering of its 30 million people.
Batista was Cuba’s dictator before Castro made it fashionable, a mafia-supported corrupt dinosaur who palled around with flush American businessmen and made life hell for ordinary Cubans everywhere. So naturally, when it looked like his regime was was doomed to collapse, we tried our absolute best to keep him in power.
Just to be clear, Batista’s Cuba was a genuine mafia state. Nearly every casino, construction project, and bank was paid for and owned by New York Italian and Jewish mobsters: the same people Washington had vowed to stamp out back home, but was now tactically supporting. And you better believe Batista lived life like the biggest gangster in history. When he wasn’t ordering the summary execution of dissidents, his planes were bombing entire rebel villages. He rigged elections, cozied up to the American ambassador, and sold Cuba’s resources down the drain. He was a crook, a thief, and a murderer—and our unwavering support for him resulted in Cuba ultimately falling under the control of yet another dictator.
3The Al-Khalifa family
Bahrain’s record on human rights can best be described as “dismal.” Under the autocratic Al-Khalifa family, the country’s security forces have engaged in an enthusiastic campaign of unlawful detention and torture (not to mention assaulting medics who tried to help injured protesters). Those detained have been electrocuted, had their genitals burned, been stripped naked, and even threatened with rape. All this is well-reported and widely known. Now: Want to guess who would continue to support such a vicious, abusive regime?
If you said “the West,” then congratulations: Your pattern-recognition skills are excellent. In 2012, Obama happily exploited a legal loophole to continue selling arms to Bahrain, despite Congress opposing the deal. In 2013, the UK made a £1 billion deal to supply the corrupt Gulf state with fighter jets, while British businessman Bernie Ecclestone allowed the kingdom to use his Formula One brand in a shameless international PR stunt. And both the EU and USA remained strangely silent about the crushing of protesters during the Arab Spring, a crackdown that saw thousands imprisoned and brutally tortured. But, hey, what’s a few human rights abuses between friends?
When Libya came back in from the cold in 1999, it was seen as a triumph for then–Prime Minister Tony Blair. With an eagerness that now seems faintly disturbing, Blair lobbied other Western leaders to accept “Mad Dog” Gaddafi and restart business with the pariah state. It was like a bad adolescent romance, the democratic UK suddenly besotted with authoritarian Libya. And the UK became such a fawning fangirl that it even ordered MI6 to start carrying out Gaddafi’s dirty work.
In the early 2000s, British Intelligence set about systematically detaining and extraditing enemies of the Gaddafi regime all over the world. Native Libyans, whose only crime was to oppose human rights abuses, were “disappeared” and returned to Libya, where they were beaten, electrocuted and viciously tortured. With UK knowledge, a pregnant woman was chained in a cell and left to starve. Children as young as six were kidnapped and sent to detention camps. Incredible as it seems now, the Blair government essentially became an arm of the Gaddafi regime—with MI6 leaving cheery notes for their Libyan counterparts alongside extradited prisoners. It was a sickening abuse of human rights that surpasses nearly anything else on this list, and the people responsible have never had to face anything remotely like justice.
Whenever you next hear a politician condemning Iran for its attitude toward gay people, or claiming Afghanistan’s treatment of women is incompatible with our Western values, take a moment to remember Saudi Arabia. Under King Abdullah, the Gulf State carries the death penalty for homosexuality, and women’s rights are virtually non-existent. Migrant workers are routinely tortured and sexually abused, while young children are frequently imprisoned without trial and executed—often without even knowing what their crime was. In short, it’s one of the most repressive regimes in recent history, and the EU, UK, and US are utterly in thrall to it.
Right now, the UK sustains a £15 billion trade with Saudi Arabia and frequently sells it arms—which have subsequently been used to massacre entire villages in Yemen, for example. The US counts Saudi Arabia among its closest allies and has never spoken out against its human rights abuses. The German military frequently lends arms and training to the Saudis, even as the country deports Ethiopian Christians in a low-key form of ethnic cleansing. Everything about our relations with this rogue state is disgustingly, hypocritically wrong. Yet our leaders continue to regard them as vital allies and a force for good in the region. If there was ever a reason to feel utterly sickened by our spineless, morally bankrupt politicians, this is it.