Seymour Hersh Was Right–Dick Cheney Really Was Setting Up Assasination Ring

Back in March Seymour Hersh was quoted as accusing Dick Cheney of operating a secret assassination ring. There was some skepticism from the right as to the validity of this charge but it turns out that Hersh was correct. The New York Times reports:

Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency has developed plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists, according to current and former government officials.

The plans remained vague and were never carried out, the officials said, and Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, canceled the program last month.

Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles. How could the role of the United States be masked? Should allies be informed and might they block the access of the C.I.A. teams to their targets? What if American officers or their foreign surrogates were caught in the midst of an operation? Would such activities violate international law or American restrictions on assassinations overseas?

Yet year after year, according to officials briefed on the program, the plans were never completely shelved because the Bush administration sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails.

Mr. Panetta scuttled the program, which would have relied on paramilitary teams, shortly after the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center recently informed him of its existence. The next day, June 24, he told the two Congressional Intelligence Committees that the plan had been hidden from lawmakers, initially at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The program was designed in the frantic weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks when President George W. Bush signed a secret order authorizing the C.I.A. to capture or kill operatives of Al Qaeda around the world. To be able to kill Osama bin Laden or his top deputies wherever they might be — even in cities or countries far from a war zone — struck top agency officials as an urgent goal, according to people involved in the discussions.

But in practice, creating and training the teams proved difficult.

“It sounds great in the movies, but when you try to do it, it’s not that easy,” a former intelligence official said. “Where do you base them? What do they look like? Are they going to be sitting around at headquarters on 24-hour alert waiting to be called?”

In theory I might be willing to accept assassination of top al Qaeda leaders considering the unconventional war we are engaged in. In reality, as we find out more about the conduct of the Bush administration, we cannot trust them with such a program. Even if we could justify the use of assassination under these circumstances, there is no excuse from keeping such a program secret from Congress.

It would be interesting to see the extent of their hit list, as well as the locations they were operating. I can’t imagine conservative (or other Americans) tolerating it if a European country was sending operatives into the United States to assassinate suspected enemies.

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  1. 1
    Mike's I.P. alter-ego says:

    Point acknowledged on the theoretical acceptance of possible assasinations and on a distrust of the former administration to run such a program. Where I differ is A) if it was only on the planning boards, I’m not sure there would have been a necessity to inform congress. B) If we had a group on U.S. territory that where conducting attacks on a European country, and that country sent operatives inside the U.S. and killed them, I’m not sure I’d have a problem with that. I would wonder in most cases, why the offended country wouldn’t work with ours to perhaps capture and extradite them, but I can imagine cases where working together might not be easy. I don’t remember the details, but I remember some group in the former Soviet Union, holding school childern hostage and killing some. If some of these terrorists had somehow exscaped and hid in the U.S. I think I’d be o.k. with them being knocked off on our soil by Russian agents.

  2. 2
    carly says:

    Cheney belongs in jail. There is a related post at there aree several otehr posts about Bush/Cheney

  3. 3
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “I don’t remember the details, but I remember some group in the former Soviet Union, holding school children hostage and killing some. If some of these terrorists had somehow escaped and hid in the U.S. I think I’d be o.k. with them being knocked off on our soil by Russian agents.”
    Yes, I agree. If the really reprehensible and dangerous individuals were hiding out, the host country would probably more than happy to get help to get rid of them assuming the discovery of such cooperation would not be a huge political liability.
    There’s plenty of other things to go after Cheney for. This particular decsion seems reasonable/understand, in principle at least, as Ron says, and I suspect any admin in power at the time would have done the same.

  4. 4
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The laws about ‘covert action’ are very tricky. Technically, there are a series of executive orders banning the CIA from taking part in assassinations. There is also congressional law in place setting out the proper procedures for any ‘covert action’ undertaken by US agencies.
    However, the president can temporarily suspend his own executive orders with a ‘finding’ by informing select senior committee chairs and members of the congressional leadership. He does not need their approval, merely to inform them. It is also possible more most of Congress to be ignorant of such a process, as only select members must be notified. It is also not unheard of for congressmen to deny they have been informed in order to ‘preserve secrecy.’
    If the Bush administration carried out even one operation without following this procedure, there was some serious law-breaking going down. However, it is true that there is no legal responsibility to notify ANYONE before an operation is actually undertaken, and the law is so flexible that the president can inform the select individuals on the list WHILE the operation is taking place.
    The odds are that the law was not broken on this specific issue, though that does not eliminate the moral questions nor do I disagree with Ron’s distrust of the administration in question to handle such matters.
    Regardless of the law being broken, however, there are serious questions about the productivity of assassinations (which are, after all, state ‘terrorism’), the moral questions entailed in such decisions, and who will be handling the business. Writers such as John Stockwell (who has personal experience of his topic as one of the men in charge of CIA covert operations in Angola) have covered the cultural problems and irresponsibility rampant among the CIA officers who engage in such business. In many cases, the operation takes on a life of its own to justify its own existence regardless of its success or failure. This is tremendously dangerous for a slough of reasons that should not require prolonged explanation.

  5. 5
    Fritz says:

    Eclectic, I would question the assertion that an assassination is always an act of terrorism.  If the target is a player in acts of murder then this is just another military action to remove him.  Beats the hell out of bombing raids.
    Unfortunately, states have difficulty leaving it at that, and they use assassination as terror against propagandists, organizers, etc. (for example, French actions against Greenpeace).    And sometimes states screw up — as the Mossad did at least once after Munich.

  6. 6
    Eclectic Radical says:

    “Eclectic, I would question the assertion that an assassination is always an act of terrorism.  If the target is a player in acts of murder then this is just another military action to remove him.  Beats the hell out of bombing raids.”
    Assassination may, in specific instances, be preferable to bombing raids if it achieves desirable goals with less collateral damage. I don’t disagree with that thesis. However, the purpose of either a bombing raid to kill a terrorist leader or an assassination to do the same is not primarily to simply eliminate the leader but also to deter future terrorist attacks out of fear of retaliation. This fits pretty solidly under the definition of terrorism, if one defines terrorism as using violence and the fear of further violence it inspires to attempt to affect the decisions of another.
    If you want to argue about whether pragmatic governance sometimes requires state terrorism, that is an argument with some play on both sides. I certainly agree that saving the most lives possible may justify morally questionable operations if the blowback will not erase those benefits. This final issue, of course, is the defining issue of the question, far more important than moral questions from the point of view of a head of state. If the benefits outweigh the blowback, then our leaders will do things we find distasteful. If the blowback outweighs the benefits, they should not undertake such action.
    The biggest issue I had with the Bush government is my lack of trust in their decision-making process on the benefits of action versus the cost of blowback. The Iraqi invasion appears to have succeeded, but the blowback cost of the original war was clearly far beyond their expectations in a manner that suggests a failure of judgment. I don’t believe the blowback cost of said war was worth its success, and we must still wait to see what happens with the new Iraqi government to determine the degree or duration of that success.
    Considering the misapplication of various surveillance programs intended to target ‘terrorists’, I also question whether an assassination program carried out by the administration in question would have been similarly misapplied.

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