The new CIA director, Leon Panetta, has just informed the US Congress he canceled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. Panetta said the campaign was authorized soon after 9/11 by the Bush White House, but had not yet become operational in 2009.
I respect Panetta, but his claim is not credible. The US has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue today under President Barack Obama.
Does Panetta mean that CIA and its masters in the White House sat on their hands and delayed this CIA project to kill senior al-Qaida cadres for eight long years? Sounds unbelievable. It also sounds illegal.
Claims by outraged Congressional Democrats that VP Dick Cheney hid from them details of CIA’s proposed assassination campaign also ring hollow. Either they were blind, deaf and dumb, or hopelessly incompetent. More likely, the legislators did not want to see what was in front of their noses.
The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950’s, using American hit teams or third parties. For one graphic example, in 1985, the CIA organized an attempt to assassinate Lebanon’s leading Shia cleric, Mohammed Fadlallah, using a truck bomb. The attack failed to blow up Fadlallah, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.
In 1975 I was approached to join the Congressional Church Committee investigating CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and, later, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem. The Church Committee turned up a snake pit of illegalities and gangster-style behavior.
Libya’s Muammar Khadaffi led me by the hand through the ruins of his private quarters in Tripoli, showing me where a 2,000-lb US bomb hit his bedroom, killing his infant daughter.Add to America’s hit list Gamal Abdel Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan’s Gulbadin Hekmatyar, Indonesia’s Sukarno, Iraq’s Abdel Karim el-Kassem, Chile’s Marxist leaders and, very likely, in conjunction with Israel, Yasser Arafat.
Today, in spite of downing civilian airliners in the past, he is chummy with the US and EU.
Most Pakistanis believe, rightly or wrongly, the US played a role in the assassination of President Zia ul-Haq. However, recent claims by a highly questionable Washington blogger that the US killed its favorite Pakistani, Benazir Bhutto, are attention-seeking lies.
To quote Stalin’s favorite saying, “No man. No problem.”
Assassination was outlawed in the US in 1976, but that did not stop attempts by its last three administrations to emulate Israel’s ruthless Mossad in the “targeted killing” of enemies. The Clinton and Bush administration, and now the Obama White House, sidestepped American law by saying the US was at war, and thus legally killing “enemy combatants.” But Congress has never declared war.
Washington is buzzing about a supposed secret death squad run by Vice President Dick Cheney and his protégé, the new US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This fire-breathing general led the Pentagon’s super secret Special Operations Command which has become a major rival to CIA in the business of “wet affairs” (as the KGB used to call assassination) and covert raids.
The latest outrage: in 2001, as I previously reported, US Special Forces oversaw the murder at Dasht-i-Leili, Afghanistan, of thousands of captured Taliban fighters by Uzbek forces of the Communist warlord, Rashid Dostam.Americans are now being deluged by sordid scandals from the Bush years about torture, kidnapping, brutal secret prisons, brainwashing, and mass surveillance of American’s phones, e-mail, banking and even its libraries.
CIA was paying Dostam, a notorious war criminal from the 1980’s, millions to fight Taliban. Dostam is poised to become vice president of the US-installed government of Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Bush hushed up this major war crime.
America is hardly alone in trying to rub out enemies or those who thwart its designs. Britain’s MI-6 and France’s SDECE were notorious for sending out assassins. The late chief of SDECE told me he had been ordered by President Francois Mitterand to kill Libya’s Khadaffi. Israel’s death squads are feared around the globe.
History shows that state-directed murder is more often than not counterproductive and inevitably runs out of control, disgracing nations and organizations that practice it. More important, democracies have no business being in the business of murder.
But US assassins are still at work. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, US drones are killing Pashtun tribesmen almost daily. Over 90% are civilians, not local angry tribesmen or Taliban. Americans have a curious notion that killing people from the air is not murder or even a crime but somehow clean.
US Predator attacks are illegal and violate US and international law. Pakistan’s government, against which no war has been declared, is not even asked permission or warned of the attacks.
Dropping 2,000-lb bombs on apartment buildings in Gaza or Predator raids on Pakistan’s tribal territory are as much murder as exploding car bombs or suicide bombers.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.