As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not Buying It

Jeremy Scahill raises objections to the Democrats' anger over a secret CIA program to allegedly assassinate Al Qaeda leaders.

Partisan politics often require selective amnesia. Over the past decade, we have seen this amnesia take hold when it comes to many of President Bush's most vile policies. And we are now seeing a pretty severe case overtake several leading Democrats. It makes for good speechifying to act as though all criminality began with Bush and -- particularly these days -- Cheney, but that is extreme intellectual dishonesty. The fact is that many of Bush's worst policies (now being highlighted by leading Democrats) were based in some form or another in a Clinton-initiated policy or were supported by the Democrats in Congress with their votes. To name a few: the USA PATRIOT Act, the invasion of Iraq, the attack against Afghanistan, the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, the widespread use of mercenaries and other private contractors in US war zones and warrant-less wire-tapping.

Regarding the Bush-era assassination program, there is great reason to be skeptical that the program CIA Director Leon Panetta alleges was concealed from Congress is actually the program the public is currently being led to believe it is. Why would the CIA need to conceal a program that never was implemented and, if it never was implemented, why did Panetta need to shut it down? Moreover, who was running this inactive program from the minute Obama was sworn in until June 24 when Panetta supposedly announced its cancellation? This program -- as it is currently being described -- should hardly be a major scandal to members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as some are now treating it. As they well know, President Obama has continued the Bush targeted assassination program using weaponized drones and special forces teams hunting "high value targets." As former CIA Counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and others have pointed out, "The CIA runs drones and targets al Qaeda safe houses all the time." Cannistraro told Talking Points Memo that there is no important difference between those kinds of attacks and "assassinations" with a gun or a knife.

Except no Democrat has actually talked about the nature of the program. They have raised anger at having the secret program concealed from Congress, apparently at the behest of Dick Cheney. But no Democrat has ratified the print media's take that the program in question concerned targeted assassination squads. And these stories just keep on coming. The AP writes that George Tenet cancelled the hit squads, because he found the details problematic. The American Conservative discussed the program and how it ran into trouble in Kenya. The Washington Post fingers the hit squad policy as the one Cheney ordered kept from Congress, saying that it never reached more than an aspirational stage. Then they contradicted themselves on that point today, claiming that CIA officials were about to activate the plan when Leon Panetta found out about it and ordered it terminated. In the same article, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, said that the CIA didn't break the law in concealing an aspirational program from Congress, which Jan Schakowsky rebuked, but only on the technical grounds of withholding classified information.

There is no reason to believe, in my view, that this particular program is the same as the one that has raised Congress' ire. There may have been an assassination squad program; it's apparently been reported as far back as 2001. But nobody really knows what program Panetta closed with a flourish and reported to Congress, and those who think they do are either speculating or getting information from unreliable sources. It defies belief that Dick Cheney, on the ropes for ordering the CIA to hide information from Congress, would hide this particular information, in continuity with what past Administrations have done. And it defies belief to think that dozens of sources would come out of the woodwork on Cheney to describe a program of "killing bad guys," which is very favorable to the former Vice President. Nope, this was something bigger. Much bigger.

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