Our Designated Killers

'Where Is the Outrage?'

 The People are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. —Thomas Jefferson


We have a choice. We can fight and win a just war against terrorism. . . . Or, we can win while running roughshod over the principles of fairness and due process that we claim to cherish, thus shaming ourselves in the eyes of the world and—eventually, when the smoke of fear and anger finally clears—in our own eyes as well. —Bob Herbert, The New York Times, December 3, 2001


The disciplined Bush administration strives continually to keep out of the news those of its security operations that are creating what The Washington Post accurately and ominously describes as an "alternative legal system." Or, as I call it, "a shadow Constitution."

Too often, the media are complicit in this secrecy because of their shallowness on constitutional issues, but sometimes they put sudden light on government orders and subsequent actions that were meant to remain deep in the shadows. This happened to the Rumsfeld-Poindexter Total Information Awareness system that, because of press exposure, has now been blocked, for a time, in the Senate, by both Democratic and Republican legislators. They may have become aware that this all-seeing eye, out of 1984, could be looking into their own personal information.

But there has been little follow-up to this front-page story in the December 15 New York Times: "The Bush administration has prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency [under George Tenet] is authorized to kill, if capture is impractical and civilian casualties can be minimized, senior military and intelligence officers said."

Acting on that presidential authorization, "a pilotless Predator aircraft operated [by the CIA] fired a Hellfire antitank missile" at a car in a remote region of Yemen, killing six, including an Al Qaeda leader, Salim Sinan al-Harethi, and "one suspected al-Qaeda operative with United States citizenship."

That dead American passenger was Kamal Derwish, who, according to the Bush administration, was the leader of an alleged cell of Al Qaeda sleepers in Lackawanna, a Buffalo, New York, suburb. As syndicated columnist Charles Levendosky—a constant and accurate chronicler of the Bush shadow Constitution—wrote:

"[Derwish was labeled] an enemy combatant, but only after his death. . . . Derwish was never accused of any crime in a court of law. Essentially, he was killed because of the company he kept"—and it was too late for him to tell his side of the story.

Further, as Seymour Hersh—who brought glaring sunlight to the My Lai massacre by American troops during the Vietnam War—reportedin the December 23 & 30 New Yorker, "There is no indication that American or Yemeni officers knew in advance who was in the car with al-Harethi. . . .

"The Yemeni official told me that there was no thought of blocking the highway and attempting to capture al-Harethi and his passengers, because he had evaded earlier attempts. . . . The official said, 'From past experience, this was the most effective way.' "

Remote-controlled assassination sure does the job.

David Wise, a veteran expert on espionage and covert action, asked a question (Time, February 3) about the termination of Mr. Derwish that should have been on editorial pages around the nation:

"An American citizen not charged [with] or convicted of any crime was killed by a CIA Predator, targeted with the cooperation of the Pentagon [Donald Rumsfeld, CEO], and there was hardly a peep of protest in this country. Where is the outrage? . . . It seems unlikely that being zapped by the CIA is exactly the sort of due process that the Framers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution."

But aside from the New York Times story, which was not followed up in that paper, and the brief mentions by Levendosky, Hersh, and Wise, most Americans had almost no information about this sudden, summary execution of an American citizen and the others in the car. Nor have there been any wide-scale media investigations of the CIA's designated killers and how their hit lists are compiled. Also largely unreported is that it is not only the CIA that has official vigilantes.

In his New Yorker article "Manhunt: The Bush Administration's New Strategy in the War Against Terrorism," Seymour Hersh reveals another lethal Bush administration directive that involves Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department. How many of you have heard of a July 22 secret directive by the defense secretary, as Hersh notes, "ordering Air Force General Charles Holland, the four-star commander of Special Operations [Green Berets, Delta Force, the Navy Seals, the 75th Ranger Regiment, et al.] to develop a plan . . . to capture terrorists for interrogation, or if necessary, to kill them, not simply to arrest them in a law-enforcement exercise"?

Hersh quotes a Pentagon consultant: "We've created a culture in the Special Forces—20- and 21-year-olds who need adult leadership. They're assuming [the military has] legal authority, and they'll do it—eagerly eliminate any target assigned to them. Eventually, the intelligence will be bad, and innocent people will be killed."

But since the Hersh article appeared, there's been little of depth in the media about these manhunters, except for Doyle McManus's masterful "A U.S. License to Kill" in the January 11 Los Angeles Times (more of which next week).

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