a new policy livening things up over at the Pentagon. Israeli-trained
US Special Forces are planning to set up a "hit squad" of former
Baathist Iraqi intelligence officers, men who could get the dirt on
resistance leaders and ideally, kill them. That such a remarkable plan
is even being considered indicates the desperation gripping the Bush
Administration, as Iraq's
deadly resistance campaign continues.
policy of targeted assassinations has been carried out clumsily
and over large areas (Afghanistan) as well as efficiently (the missile
attack that took out a suspected al Qaeda leader in Yemen
last November). However, questions of efficacy aside, there is also
the issue of ethical actions, especially when a morally self-righteous
blusterer like America is performing them. Charges veteran journalist
and former military man Charley
idea is to hire some of the worst of the worst – members of Saddam's
old secret police – to infiltrate the resistance and finger key players
for the American murder squads. Thus, we climb in bed with the very
people our boy president likes to moralize about – those dreaded evildoers.
Only now they will be evildoers on our payroll instead of Saddam's.
Only now, instead of bringing democratic values to Iraq, we will show
the Iraqis we are just as good at murder as Saddam."
'Manhunt': Gladly Seeking Out Monsters
just antiwar critics are concerned about Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's
enthusiastic backing for this "Manhunt" policy, one that by virtue of
its method is being relegated to the shadows. Even Establishment opponents
fear that Rumsfeld's increasing use of the secrecy-bound Special Forces
will allow the Pentagon to remain largely unaccountable before Congress
and the public. Coming from Rumsfeld, this is hardly a surprise; the
tactic was used with his "Office
of Special Plans," a pseudo-intelligence lie factory
set up to tell the Secretary what he wanted to hear about Iraq and its
potential threat to the United States in the run-up to the war.
the executor of that operation – Undersecretary for Defense Doug Feith –
is being pushed aside, according to another comprehensive exposé from
the New Yorker's
Seymour Hersh. Yet this neocon's apparent fall from favor should
not be taken to mean that Rumsfeld has tired of the movement – much to
the contrary, the transition from Special Plans to Special Forces indicates
that Rumsfeld is championing not just neoconservatism, but neoconservatism
on steroids. Hersh provides more details about the new policy:
(the Americans) plan to assemble teams drawn from the upper ranks of
the old Iraqi intelligence services and train them to penetrate the
insurgency. The idea is for the infiltrators to provide information
about individual insurgents for the Americans to act on. A former C.I.A.
station chief described the strategy in simple terms: 'U.S. shooters
and Iraqi intelligence.' He added, 'There are Iraqis in the intelligence
business who have a better idea, and we're tapping into them. We have
to resuscitate Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose, and have Delta
and agency shooters break down doors and take them' – the insurgents
to Hersh, the men who now have Rumsfeld's ear are Under-Secretary for
Intelligence Stephen Cambone and
his assistant, Lieutenant General William Boykin.
The former's neoconservative logic harmonizes with the Rumsfeldian one
that led to the Office of Special Plans. Cambone argues that "…intelligence
agencies should be willing to go beyond the data at hand in their analyses."
Indeed, he does seem to fit the bill:
been looking for somebody to have all the answers, and Steve is the
guy,' a former high-level Pentagon official told me. 'He has more direct
access to Rummy than anyone else.'"
Lieutenant General Boykin, his faith-based intelligence is far more
literal. A fundamentalist Christian, he has gotten into trouble for
claiming that God
ordains and protects America's wars against the Islamic "Satan,"
and that all manner of phenomena – such as a smudged picture evidently
indicating the maleficent
presence of demons – can be interpreted in this context.
these rather unorthodox views, Boykin has achieved great popularity
in Washington for his martial zeal and can-do attitude. Most importantly,
Boykin also has experience with the kind of targeted assassination program
Rumsfeld and Cambone are pushing. In 1993, Boykin was in charge of a
Delta Force mission to hunt down Colombian
drug lord Pablo Escobar, and a little later commanded the infamous
Mogadishu raid, meant to capture a Somali warlord, which instead ended
in death, ignominy, and a box-office
records other backers of the plan who express even burlier bravado:
former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist leadership
could be compared to 'fighting your way into a coconut – you bang away
and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it
out.' An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad
said, 'The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We're going
to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus
terrorism. We've got to scare the Iraqis into submission.'"
this gung-ho fervor, one suspects that the project might not be as easy
as it seems. ABC
News recently interviewed unnamed "Pentagon officials" regarding
the appearance of resistance spies within the newly-established Iraqi
police force. The dismaying response from the Pentagon officials – who
have consistently gone out of their way to say that Iraq will not be
another Vietnam – was that they "…were not surprised about the infiltration.
It is a common tactic that certainly happened in Vietnam, they said."
to the report, the main reason that the US ended up hiring Iraqis with
malevolent intentions was "hastiness" in the vetting process. Still,
considering the pressure being put on President Bush to both lower the
American death toll and speed up the transition to an Iraqi-run government,
time is not a luxury now available to the US. Besides, even if there
were time to properly "vet" the recruits, who could possibly separate
the "good" guys from the bad? Has America penetrated Iraqi society so
well that its soldiers can tell the difference? Or should they just
rely on the input of well-meaning "allies," like Ahmad
to these questions is, of course, no. And the Pentagon seems to have
accepted this. As the desire to win hearts and minds continues to wane,
war planners have changed tack entirely. For rather than recruit Iraqis
who might be good, they're going to hire the ones they know
to be the worst. It's one way of being sure, alright.
It Be Another Vietnam? Do They Even Care?
is essentially what the zealots quoted above are alluding to when they
speak of "holding our noses" while working with the Iraqis, of somehow
"going unconventional." Yet is this operating procedure really so unusual
for the Americans? Some have argued that the plan has a lot in common
with the Phoenix Program, a disastrous campaign aimed at eliminating
Vietcong sympathizers. From 1968-72, somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000
people were killed – many of them innocent civilians. Then there were
the personal grudge killings set up by South Vietnamese "allies." Reminiscing
on that war which allegedly bears no resemblance to today's, Charley
friend of mine, on loan to the CIA from the Green Berets, paid Nung
mercenaries $5 for each Vietnamese head they brought in. They brought
them in by the croaker sack full, but of course a severed head can't
tell you if the person who used to wear it was a Viet Cong or just a
poor farmer the Nungs happened upon. After all, they hated all the Vietnamese
without regard for ideology.
same thing will happen in Iraq. Our paid evildoers will finger people
they have a personal grudge against or, if they are smart, innocent
Iraqis actually on our side. That way our death squads will endear us
to the Iraqi people just as the Israeli death squads have endeared them
to the Palestinians."
opinion was expressed by a Pentagon advisor and expert on unconventional
warfare interviewed by Seymour Hersh:
are people saying all sorts of wild things about Manhunts,' he said.
'But they aren't at the policy level. It's not a no-holds policy, and
it shouldn't be. I'm as tough as anybody, but we're also a democratic
society, and we don't fight terror with terror. There will be a lot
of close controls – do's and don'ts and rules of engagement.' The adviser
added, 'the problem is that we've not penetrated the bad guys. The Baath
Party is run like a cell system. It's like penetrating the Vietcong –
we never could do it.'"
of the Iraqis, a critical former Special Forces officer added:
guys have their own agenda. Will we be doing hits (based) on grudges?
When you set up host-nation elements' – units composed of Iraqis, rather
than Americans – 'it's hard not to have them going off to do what they
want to do. You have to keep them on a short leash.'"
the Program Already in Place?
the targeted assassination policy has many more enthusiastic backers,
and especially after the capture of Saddam, it should be an easy sell.
In the Pentagon today, the sentiment seems to be that since the US has
suffered enough, the answer is not to pack up and go home – but
simply to step up the brutality. As one former CIA official and supporter
bloviated, "…we did the American things – and we've been the nice guy.
Now we're going to be the bad guy, and being the bad guy works."
or not this is true, Rumsfeld and Cambone are certainly going to give
it their all, and this will mean increased usage of "off the
books" units – for
example, the ultra-secret Task Force 121,
created in November to
hunt down Saddam. Buoyed by his successful capture, the "Manhunt"
amen corner is bound to get louder in the days and weeks ahead.
if the policy gets "out of control," as Seymour Hersh stated about the
Vietnam-era Phoenix Program? There are two likely problem areas here:
one, the clandestine cooperation with Israel; and two, the Pentagon's
zeal for "cross-border raids." A recent report from
the Guardian described the Israeli training program – and
its potential fallout:
is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being conceptualised
here. This is a hunter-killer team,' said a former senior US intelligence
official, who added that he feared the new tactics and enhanced cooperation
with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in the Middle East.
is bonkers, insane. Here we are – we're already being compared to Sharon
in the Arab world, and we've just confirmed it by bringing in the Israelis
and setting up assassination teams.'"
source alleged that US Special Forces are also operating in Syria, "attempting
to kill foreign jihadists before they cross the border." It is this
logic of deterrence more than anything that may invite serious problems
for America and the whole Middle East region.
to Hersh, there is currently a "debate" raging within the Bush Administration
about whether the same type of "cross-border raids" should be conducted
against Iran. Suspecting that Tehran may be behind the Iraq insurgency,
the War Party has come up with the brilliant idea of unleashing the
"worst of the worst" from Saddam's former loyalists on Iranian government
troops. Now that would be a great idea.