Hersh: executive assassination ring

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Thu Mar 12 08:53:02 PDT 2009


Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes 'executive assassination ring'

By Eric Black | Published Wed, Mar 11 2009 11:17 am

Seymour Hersh

REUTERS/Fadi Al-AssaadJournalist Seymour Hersh speaking in Doha at an Al
Jazeera forum on the media in 2007.

At a bGreat Conversationsb event at the University of Minnesota last night,
legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more
news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic
spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he
called an bexecutive assassination ring.b

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current
reporting, which he hasnbt written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were ban
honest response to a questionb from the eventbs moderator, U of M Political
Scientist Larry Jacobs and bnot something I wanted to dwell about in public.b

Hersh didnbt take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he
is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he
needs on the topic to be beffective...that is, empirical, for even the most

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh,
moderated by Jacobs and titled bAmericabs Constitutional Crisis,b looked to
be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by
a journalist and a high government official who had experience with many of
the crises.

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and
Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated
by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress
and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their
constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never
be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history
was mostly recent, starting with the Vietnam War with much of it arising from
the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen,
Jacobs asked: bAnd do they continue to happen to this day?b

Replied Hersh:

bYuh. After 9/11, I havenbt written about this yet, but the Central
Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against
people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority
for it. They havenbt been called on it yet. That does happen.

"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read
it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations
Command -- JSOC itbs called. It is a special wing of our special operations
community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except
in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They
did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr.
[Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...

"Congress has no oversight of it. Itbs an executive assassination ring
essentially, and itbs been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times
there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.]
McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

"Under President Bushbs authority, theybve been going into countries, not
talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a
list and executing them and leaving. Thatbs been going on, in the name of all
of us.

"Itbs complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they
are committing what we would normally call murder. Itbs a very complicated
issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The
Delta Forces youbve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no
exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs
that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find
themselves torturing people.

"Ibve had people say to me -- five years ago, I had one say: bWhat do you
call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they
donbt get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder?
What happens if I get before a committee?b

"But theybre not gonna get before a committee.b

Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about
these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC,
including, last July that:

bUnder the Bush Administrationbs interpretation of the law, clandestine
military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be
depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to
command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.b

(bFindingb refers to a special document that a president must issue, although
not make public, to authorize covert CIA actions.)

Here is a tape of the full Mondale-Hersh-Jacobs colloquy, a little over an
hour, without the audience Q and A. If you want to look for the Hersh
statement quoted above, itbs about at the 7:30 mark.

The rest of the evening was, as expected, full of worry and wisdom and quite
a bit of Bush-bashing.

Jacobs walked the two elder statesmen through their experiences of:

    * The My Lai massacre, which Hersh first revealed publicly and which he
last night called bthe end of innocence about us and war.b

    * The Pentagon Papers case, which Mondale called the best example of the
bgovernmentbs potential for vast public deception.b

    * Henry Kissingerbs secret dealings, mostly relating to the Vietnam War.
(Hersh, who has written volumes about Kissinger, said that he will always
believe that whereas ordinary people count sheep to fall asleep, Kissinger
bhas to count burned and maimed Cambodian babies.b)

    * The Church Committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses, in which
Mondale played a major role. (He talked about the fact that FBI director J.
Edgar Hoover not only spied on Martin Luther King but literally tried to
drive him to suicide.)

    * The Iran Contra scandal. (Hersh said the Reagan administration came to
office with a clear goal of finding a way to finance covert actions, such as
the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, without appropriations so that
Congress wouldn't know about them. Mondale noted that Reagan had signed a law
barring further aid to the Contras, then participated in a scheme to keep the
aid flowing. Hersh said that two key veterans of Iran-Contra, Dick Cheney and
national security official Elliot Abrams, were reunited in the George W. Bush
White House and decided that the key lesson from Iran-Contra was that too
many people in the administration knew about it.)

    * And the Bush-Cheney years. (Said Hersh: bThe contempt for Congress in
the Bush-Cheney White House was extaordinary.b Said Mondale of his successor,
Cheney, and his inner circle: bthey ran a government within the government.b
Hersh added: bEight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.b Mondale
said that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would
remain "like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.")

Jacobs pressed both men on the question of whether the frequent abuses of
power show that the Constitution fails, because these things keep happening,
or whether it works, because these things keep coming to light.

Mondale stuck with the happy answer. bThe system has come through again and
again,b he said. Presidents always think they will get away with it, but
eventually reporters like Hersh bring things to light, the public bstarts
smelling this stuff,b the courts and the Congress get involved. Presidents
balways, in the long run, find out that the system is stronger than they

Hersh seemed more troubled by the repetitions of the pattern. The bbeautiful
thing about our systemb is that eventually we get new leaders, he said. bThe
evil twosome, Cheney and Bush, left,b Hersh said. But he also said bitbs
really amazing to me that we manage to get such bad leadership, so

And he added that both the press and the public let down their guard in the
aftermath of 9/11.

bThe major newspapers joined the [Bush] team,b Hersh said. Top editors passed
the message to investigative reporters not to bpick holesb in what Bush was
doing. Violations of the Bill of Rights happened in the plain sight of the
public. It was not only tolerated, but Bush was re-elected.

And even Mondale admitted that one of his greatest successes, laws reforming
the FBI and CIA in the aftermath of the Church Committee, were supposed to
fix the problem so that bwe would never have these problems again in the
lifetime of anyone alive at the time, but of course we did.b

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