Death Squads

death squads


Julie Mazzei argues that the conditions giving rise to death squads develop when several factors come together to form a favorable environment. What are these factors? Do you agree or disagree with her argument? Explain.

Death Squads

Campbell (2000) refers to death squads as government sponsored terrorist groups aimed at maintaining status quo. They are paramilitary in nature and conduct extrajudicial killings, disappearance of persons due to political repression, ethnic cleansing, torture, assassinations and genocide. In her book, Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces? Julie Mazzei argues that conditions giving rise for death squads develop when several factors conglomerate to form a favorable environment. The conditions that give rise to death squads are discussed in the subsequent paragraph.

According to Julie Mazzei, the leading factor that resuls to development of death squads is the existence of political elites who are firmly interested in maintaining societal structures. Such political elites have a history of employing death squads to protect their positions. Secondly, the existence of a reform movement with an interest of breaking the present power structure and redistribute wealth. The elites counteract such reform movements by using death squads to eliminate their influencing leaders. Consequently, the government forms death squads when they are not willing to adopt such reforms or rather unable to stop such reform movements. Lastly, death squads thrive in situations where there exists a rift between hard-liners and moderate political elites leading to a break away by hard-liners from their mainstream counterparts. Based on the wide belief that moderate political elites are too soft to stop reform movements, the only option they are left with in order to maintain social order is to use death squads to eliminate their opponents and destroy the mentality seeking reforms.

I totally agree that the above factors suggested by Julie Mazzei create a favorable environment for the development of death squads. Her arguments concur with Campbell’s definition of death squads and explain their role of maintaining status quo. First, the transition of power from one government to the next is usually not an easy task in most countries across the world. Each and every government wants to remain in power for as long as possible. In a bid to elongate its reign, the government in power has to weaken its opposition by eliminating their influencing leaders that pose threat to the government’s long reign.

Secondly, political elites are not likely to welcome reforms advocated by various reform movements. The reforms are always intended to strip them of some of their powers and are usually geared towards empowering common citizens. For fear of becoming unpopular and eminent development of uprising rebellious movements due to economically empowered citizens, the political elites are likely to suppress such movements and the best way to do so is to formulate an elite paramilitary that is, death squad to identify and eliminate the advocators for such reforms. Besides, such reform movements have in many cases turned into revolutionary movements. Thus, it is a preemptive strike by the government in power to employ death squads to eliminate the drivers of such reform movements before they can escalate to possible revolutionary movements.

Lastly, when hard-liner political elites break away from their mainstream counterparts, they often leave behind coward moderate political elites. Moderate political elites are usually unpopular among the people and are often in fear of being overthrown by the hard-liners political elites. In a bid to maintain their power, they are likely to employ death squads to identify and eliminate opposing hard-liner political elites.


Campbell, Bruce B. “Death Squads: Definition, Problems, and Historical Context.” In B. B. Campbell and A. D. Brenner eds., Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

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