Fiddling While It Burns

Seymour Hersh and the Death Squad of Doom | 14/04/2009

Seymour Hersh. Picture: Getty Images.

Seymour Hersh. Picture: Getty Images.

Seymour Hersh made a bit of a splash a while ago with “revelations” of an “executive assassination squad”. From AlterNet:

“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 it’s 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. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s 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 Bush’s authority, they’ve 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. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. (emphasis in original)

Seymour Hersh made his name with his reporting of the My Lai massacre, and bolstered it with Abu Ghraib, but it’s important to note that the charging of military officers with murder over the massacre had already been reported, if drily and without context. Abu Ghraib likewise had been reported before Hersh got to it. What Hersh brought to the equation was the sense of outrage that these events truly deserved, something that most reporters tend to lose after a few years contemplating only the real moral filth of the world. He took numbers and facts rubbed clean for public consumption, and gave them back the brutality and bleeding flesh of reality.

That’s what he’s done here – added immediacy to a known quantity. Everyone with an interest knows Special Forces gather intelligence, identify targets, and destroy them. The fight has been over invasions, torture and domestic spying – the right of the US to act unilaterally against terrorists has been pretty much taken for granted. By rewording this situation and dropping it like an accidental revelation, Hersh forces us to take a fresh look at a settled debate. Of course, it got a lot more play in the left-wing press, where the use of force is a less settled issue.

The US has a long policy of denying the existence of its most elite SF units, and I think that’s as anti-democratic as all get-out. The unprecedented freedom of action and absolute executive control that has been in place during the global war on terror is even more so. What Seymour Hersh has done is a good thing – we need to think about these things, we need to talk about them, and voters need to be allowed to know about them. However, we don’t get to be babes in the woods – we know people kill in our name. We vote for politicians we know will send those people. If you disapprove of it entirely, join Resistance. Throwing hysterics because of which country they do it in is pretty damn hypocritical.

Special Forces - scary and authoritarian or super-awesome? Picture: Department of Defence.

Special Forces - scary and authoritarian or super-awesome? Picture: Department of Defence.

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