1572: The Martyrs of Gorkum 1892: Ravachol, anarchist terrorist

1976: Costas Georgiou and three other mercenaries in Angola

July 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1976, three Britons and one American were shot in Angola by a military police squad for murders committed as mercenaries earlier during the year.

Costas Georgiou.

They were among 13 foreigners sentenced at the Luanda Trial, which occurred on the pivot of Angola’s transition from generation-long anti-colonial insurrection on towards generation(s)-long civil war. Between them, more than half a million Angolans died, but this date belonged to a couple of unrepresentative Anglos.

Long story short, the immediate aftermath of Angolan independence in late 1975 was a scramble for control among the several factions who had been fighting the Portuguese … along with a scramble among interested outside states to line up their allies in this resource-rich Cold War prize.

Small wonder that foreign soldiers of fortune soon found their way into the chaotic scene.

Over the course of the first few months of independence, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) more or less consolidated state power, and it proceeded to prosecute supporters of a rival guerrilla movement for their part in the conflict immediately after independence.

Thirteen foreign mercenaries who were captured by MPLA-supporting Cuban troops — the other nine drew long prison sentences — were charged in a show trial with war crimes for their conduct in the field in a case that made the western gun-for-hire an emblem of colonial depravity.

The most notorious of the bunch was Costas Georgiou. A Greek Cypriot emigre to Britain, he had gone to Angola as “Colonel Callan” and was wanted by Scotland Yard for there ordering a mass execution of other British mercenaries — an act he admitted at trial. Even the inevitable London Times editorial against the trial (June 29, 1976) agreed “the proceedings against Callan, if not the rigours of the sentence may be conceded.”

The others looked much less culpable, almost arbitrarily selected for death from among the ranks of unprepossessing, sometimes barely-there mercs. American Daniel Gearhart, a Vietnam veteran drowning in debt, had apparently been in the field for a mere three days and never so much as fired a shot; that he had advertised in Soldier of Fortune magazine was held to aggravate the charges against him, and in vain did the father of four insist that being tried for his life was enough to scare him straight out of the business.

Angolan defense attorneys, while also appealing against the legality of the trial on grounds of both international and domestic law, spoke that revolutionary language of decolonization in defending their charges. Georgiou, according to Maria Teresinha Lopes, was

“a colonized man … [treated in England as] a sub-human, just a Greek, just a ‘boy’.”

Another Angolan defense attorney argued against the death penalty because

“To condemn them to death while ignoring their social origin in terms of revolutionary justice would deny the theory which guided our revolution. My clients are an integral part of the exploited class.” (Both comments from London Times, June 19, 1976)

The era of decolonization was a time for idealism, but not the sort that would shrink from bloodshed.

In denying the doomed men clemency, Angola’s first independent president Agostinho Neto denounced

Mercenarism, instrument of the aggressive designs of imperialism … a scourge of the African continent and a grave threat to the peace, freedom and independence of the peoples …

It is imperative that the practice of mercenarism be banished once and for all from our planet. It is urgent that all states and peace-loving forces fight it most energetically.

We are applying justice in Angola not only in the name of our martyred people but also for the good of the brother peoples of Namibia, Zimbabwe and all the peoples of the world against whom imperialism is already getting ready to prepare new mercenary aggressions.

(Text dated July 9, and reprinted in the July 10 London Times)

You could just about substitute the word “terrorism” for “mercenarism” and read it on today’s campaign trail.

Juridically, Angola pursued these warriors as peoples who had fought unlawfully and could therefore be placed outside the protections conferred on soldiers by the Geneva Conventions — and subjected to the liberating power of revolutionary violence.

That this ad hoc concept of “mercenarism” could be exploited to license an outrage upon humanity was a notion relentlessly denounced by British and American officials,* who had not yet fully explored the utility of the “unlawful combatant” construct in extending the reach of their own security states.

As for all that peace-loving, brother-peoples stuff in the execution order?

What actually happened after the mercenaries were shot was that the two biggest former anti-colonial guerrilla movements in Angola morphed into Cold War proxies — the MPLA of the Warsaw Pact, supported by its control of the country’s oil; UNITA of NATO, supported by its control of the country’s diamonds — and bled the country dry in a horrific civil war.

* Henry Kissinger, then President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State, complained that Angola’s decision

to ignore both the law and the facts … cannot help but affect adversely the development of relations between the United States and Angola.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Angola,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Mercenaries,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Soldiers,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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17 thoughts on “1976: Costas Georgiou and three other mercenaries in Angola”

  1. Johnny says:

    I met a few Mercs who were in Angola, one who was there when one of those who executed the Brits in a field was shot like a dog for his actions that day by his own men!
    There seems to be no mention that Callan was an ex British Army paratrooper who got kicked out for robbing a Post Office in Northern Ireland!
    Most of the so called mercenaries had very little military experience or joined to fix vehicles etc, not to fight, most Brits were jailed in Hull for a few Months after returning to the UK.
    Callan deserved to be shot and was probably only missed by his immediate family!

  2. Rik Ruiters says:

    Living in South-Africa, I can only tell that in this continent, white people always will be victim of black racism. If these four ad been black, ….

  3. Jean pires says:

    What’s up in angola 1976, 10 of July
    Callan deserve to died, how came you going
    To some one country and killed people because
    Of your own interested, how you guys think if, was
    the other way round, angolan mercenary came
    to Cyprus or to England and kill innocent people, and special the kids how u gonna feel.

  4. Jean pires says:

    What’s up in angola 1976, 10 of July
    Callan deserve to died, how came you going
    To some one country and killed people because
    Of money.

  5. don says:

    sacli get in touch please

  6. Scali says:

    My dad was one of the ones shot by Callan’s men. I couldn’t care less if it was political or not. Callan’s got what he deserved, and I hope the men who shot my dad did too.

    Don, interested in what you find out. What is you interest in this?

    1. don says:

      Scali hi I was 17 when on Holiday and heard that 4 men were executed in Angola. I had nothing to do with this as I was so Young at the time however I thought on how These men felt being in front of a Group of men with gun waiting on the bullet. It has however came to light that These 3 men were not right in the head the 4th was an american who was there by Chance.I have just got the book `firepower`about what happened in Angola. I go to Angola to pick up very sick children and bring them to Germany for Treatment and I 1st went there These memories came back about the civil war there. Where do you come from you can always E-Mail me mcilvar@gmx.de

  7. Tenente Afonso Lopes de Almeida says:

    En el año 1976 se cometieron muchos errores en este juicio,La nueva nacion no tenia la plataforma juridica ideal para juzgar estos mercenarios,El gobierno Angoleño los sometio a un tribunal popular,donde predomino el sectarismo politico del momento,los juezes eran politicos del gobierno,el alegato del crimen era de assesinato de mercenarios britanicos,por logica deberian ser considerados herois y no acusados,entonces le dieron a las victimas el tinte de colaboradores (cocineros,personal de logistica ) para convertirlos en personas buenas y inocentes que habian ido a Angola en un mal momento,esto era una farsa que hasta los abogados de defensa apoiaran y al gobierno angoleño le convenia,todos ellos eran ex-paracaidistas ,operadores y especialistas en reconocimiento y combate.su historial es amplio.,
    Calan no era un loco desquiciado como lo pintaron,la pruba de ello fue que les paralizo el juicio en el primer dia al decir que asumia toda la responsabilidad y que soltaran a sus hombres ya que estos solo cumplian ordenes.

    El juicio debio haber sido en una corte militar,el gobierno angoleño tambien tenia en ese momento 60000 Mercenarios Cubanos en Angola y se librava una guerra contra dos movimientos guerrilleros reconocidos por Naciones Unidas,Portugal,y centenares de paizes mas,incluiendo el MPLA movimiento que estava en el poder.

    Calan fue un soldado desde los 16 años,su unico delito ser mercenario,las leyes en ese entonces Angoleñas no conocian ni el termino de esa palabra,debio ser expulsado ,entregado a los britanicos hubiera cumplido un minimo de 30 años de carcelen su pais,algun dia la historia lo pondra en el sitio correcto,los familiares de estos mercenarios que Calan ordeno fusilar deben reconocer el error de estos,si estuvo siempre claro que Calan los fusilo por desertores,luego del incidente de la pista de aterrizaje de Maquela do Zombo,todos ahi saben la verdadera historia de lo que paso,solo que no olviden hoy 38 años despues aun es el mismo gobierno que esta en el poder y de ello no se puede decir la verdad aun. Teniente Afonso Lopez FAP

  8. don says:

    Thanks Ged. I went to Luanda last month and had asked around but not much info to be got. It might Sound stupid but I would like to pay my respects to all who went there to earn promised BIG CASH. I am going back to Luanda in spring I will try and find the Football Stadium and lay flowers at this place.
    I hope it would be Fitting to do this as I think the People sent there were of poor militery Standards or were not in a Position to lead men in battle god bless all of you. YES I am ex militery as well

  9. Jed Batty says:

    It was reported at the time that the executions took place on the main football stadium in Luanda. By all accounts Daniel Gearhart was put out of his misery by an Angolan or Cuban army officer after the firing squad made a complete botch of his execution.
    Chris Dempster’s book Fire Power gives a good account of what was going off. And you can read of the demise of Sammy Copeland. Surprised that we haven’t heard more regarding Peter McAleese who appeared to be fairly professional in how he conducted himself and his men while in Angola.

  10. don says:

    Does anyone know the location in Luanda of these executions?

  11. Steve says:

    Gearhart was obviously only killed because he was American that bit about him advertising himself as a merc wasnt the reason he was executed, they were all mercs. He was executed so the Russians could stick their fingers up to the CIA. Andrew McKenzie got labelled as Callan’s 2ic so that was the end of him, he almost lost his finger in a firearm accident then he lost his left leg up to his knee and then he got executed so he had no luck. I never did see the indictments but I heard the basis of the trial was around the execution of the British mercs AND not to mention the 180 or so Angolan civilians that were massacred.

  12. Dave says:

    Callan was unhinged before the end of the trial and the other three were just selected to be murdered.The appeal for clemency should have been accepted in all four cases.

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