Seymour Hersh – the very name is repulsive to most conservatives. He was the man who exposed the My Lai massacre by US troops in Vietnam, and since then has gained a bit of an evil reputation in the conservative community. Bush 43 adviser Richard Perle called Hersh "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist."
The reporter's most recent big story, as yet unproven, concerns his claim in March of an "executive assassination ring" which reported directly to then-Vice President Dick Cheney. Hersh has said, “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving,” There was also a report that Hersh told an Arab television crew that the same unit was responsible for Benazir Bhutto's assassination. There is no hard evidence of this, but considering America's determination to preserve the dictators who work with us, one must admit the possibility exists, but until actual proof is presented, the allegation is only a possibility and nothing more.
Since the initial hullabaloo over Hersh's claim of the assassination ring, we've heard almost nothing—or have we? Just this week, CIA Director, Leon Panetta, briefed the House Intelligence Committee that on the previous day he had just shut a secret CIA program that had been in operation since 2001. None of the House Intelligence Committee members had EVER been briefed on this program. One of the members of the committee, Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D-CA), said she could not discuss what was a “highly classified program.” She did, however, note that when Panetta told House Intelligence Committee members what had been kept secret, “the whole committee was stunned, even Republicans.” A Republican committee member said it was something they hadn’t heard before.
It's really interesting that Director Panetta said the secret program had been in operation since 2001, because on January 3, 2001 Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) introduced House Resolution 19: Terrorist Elimination Act of 2001. Included in this resolution was a clause that ended the prohibition on assassinations of terrorists or those who support terrorists. It's easy to see how that last phrase could even include heads of state in the view of certain governmental hardliners of the past eight years. Fortunately, the bill never made it out of committee, but with the suspect coincidental timing of Hersh's claim, Director Panetta's briefing this week, and Bob Barr's bill in 2001, one must wonder if the Bush administration decided to continue with the intent of that particular clause in the bill. The content of Bush 43's signing statements, which were effectively government by executive decree as with any monarch, have not all been made public.
Is this Bush-era secret CIA program that "stunned the Republicans" Cheney's alleged executive assassination ring? I truly hope not, because its existence would seriously harm our national image for decades to come. But isn't it naive to think that a nation wouldn't consider assassination as a tool to advance its interests? Assassination has been used as long as there have been human organizations down to the tribal level, so doesn't it make sense that nations would continue to do so now? After all, assassination is a lot cheaper than a war, isn't it?
But that's not what happened in World War I, for it was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand that provided the spark that lit that particular power keg, and over ten million service members on all sides, as well as millions more civilians, died as a result. Perhaps that's why President Ford outlawed assassination as a tool, and President Reagan affirmed that same law: neither one wanted us to relearn the lessons of the past.
Perhaps Ford and Reagan did what almost any monarch would have done in the past: publicly disavow a policy, yet continue to carry it out in secret; I do remember that we engaged in a rigorous policy of "regime change" (including Iran-Contra) during the Reagan years. I do not doubt that we arranged for a few assassinations using proxies, but there's no evidence I know of during Reagan's administration where the blame for such assassinations is directly pointed at America.
Even the Clinton administration apparently considered this question, because Clinton administration executive branch lawyers have held that the president's inherent authority to use lethal force, under Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution (which concerns presidential pardons), permits an order to kill an individual enemy of the United States in self-defense. But there's no indication that President Clinton implemented such a policy. Concerning Oliver North's assertion that President Clinton should be held accountable for sanctioning the assassination of a foreign national (Osama bin Laden), one wonders if Mr. North would be equally eager to hold the Bush administration accountable should Cheney's alleged executive assassination unit turn out to be more than a rumor and an interesting series of coincidences.
So we don't know what the secret CIA program was – at least not yet. But the timing is suspect, and while I'm normally loath to give credence to conspiracy theories, this particular set of circumstances stinks a little too much to ignore. It's not yet to the level that would justify an investigation, but I think we should keep an eye on this one. If we did have an official policy of assassination, those who authorized the policy need to be held accountable, if only to keep from relearning the lesson of World War I.Powered by Sidelines