UNLEASHING THE CIA?
The old joke goes that in the waning days of the Second World War, when
Hitler was told of yet another defeat on the battlefield, he slammed his
fist into his desk and declared: “That does it! No more Mr. Nice Guy!”
We’ve been treated in the past couple of weeks to one press story after
another about how the Bush administration seeks to “unleash” the CIA from
its restrictions concerning things like political assassination and dealing
with “unsavory” characters. The nature of the September 11 attack was such,
we are told, that we have to remove our kid gloves and put on
depleted-uranium-tipped brass knuckles.
The policies whose “revisions” are being discussed and leaked are
principally a 25-year ban on the CIA and other agencies of the government
from engaging in assassination, and a policy of the past five years or so
of barring the CIA from employing real nasty killers and torturers abroad,
or at least not without express approval from high up.
Why are they telling us these tales at this time? Is it to comfort the
American public into believing that the government is holding nothing back
in its campaign of making us more secure? Or can they actually believe that
such announcements will put the fear of Allah in the Taliban leadership?
The fact is that since Gerald Ford signed a presidential order in 1976,
which stated that “No employee of the United States shall engage in, or
conspire to engage in, political assassination”, the United States has
plotted, on more than a dozen occasions, to administer what the CIA at one
time called “suicide involuntarily administered”. The last known attempt
was the firing of missiles into the home of Slobodan Milosevic in 1999;
amongst other attempts during this period was the arranging by the CIA, in
1985, for a car bomb to kill one sheikh Fadlallah in Beirut; 80 people were
killed in the explosion, the sheikh not being among their number.
Moreover, in 1984, President Reagan cancelled his own executive order,
which had reiterated Ford’s, with a new order which was actually called by
the press a “license to kill” — a license to kill anyone deemed a
“terrorist”. After the Fadlallah travesty, the license to kill was
cancelled, only to be reinstated a few months later following a hijacking
of a TWA plane.
President Bush, the elder, added a new twist in 1989. He issued a
“memorandum of law” that would allow “accidental” killing if it was a
byproduct of legal action: “A decision by the President to employ overt
military force … would not constitute assassination if U.S. forces were
employed against the combatant forces of another nation, a guerrilla force,
or a terrorist or other organization whose actions pose a threat to the
security of the United States.” In other words, assassination was okay as
long as we said “oops!”
It can thus be seen that all this talk we are being fed of late about
giving the CIA “new” powers to engage in “targeted killings” is little more
than spin, the native language of politicians.
The same can be said for the public now being told that because of the
terrorist crisis, the CIA is going to be allowed to revert to the good ol’
days when they could cozy up to the most despicable human rights violators
without getting permission from headquarters. It’s hard to imagine that in
recent years that even if an Agency officer felt moved to ask for such
permission that it would have been refused. A CIA officer could not have
set foot in Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Kosovo or Croatia
without tripping over an unindicted war criminal-cum-US ally. As I write
this, the Agency is sleeping with the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, a
band of torturers, kidnappers and rapists so depraved that the people of
Afghanistan at first welcomed the Taliban as heroes for conquering these
To top it all off, we are told that the finest legal minds of the Justice
Department, State Department, Pentagon, etc. have put their fine minds
together and have decided that the new marching orders are — will wonders
never cease? — LEGAL!
All these announcements are designed not only to make Americans feel safer,
but to give us a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling that our leaders are so
honorable that they engage in protracted debates and soul searching before
endorsing any policies not fit for our children’s schoolbooks.
William Blum is the author of “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA
Interventions Since World War II” and “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s