What's This About 'Executive Assassination Ring'?

By Margie Burns

Seymour Hersh, possibly America’s best journalist, laid down another bombshell on March 9. According to Hersh, the Bush-Cheney administration authorized an “executive assassination ring,” a shadowy special operations force unknown to the public:

“It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,” Hersh said at at event at the University of Minnesota reported by MinnPost.com. “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 [N.Y.] 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.”

Hersh’s assertion of direct complicity by the Bush administration is new, but assassinations have long been a frequent if under-reported tactic for destabilizing poor or vulnerable governments and populations in every world hot spot, ongoing in the Middle East, in Latin America and recently in poverty-blasted Somalia. Iraqi professionals, especially college professors, were targeted for assassination under the US Coalition Provisional Authority.

Since Hersh’s comments are based on research for a book not yet published, little can be claimed about his investigation of the unknown Joint Special Operations Command at this point. One unanswered question is time frame: If the allegations prove true, did these special ops assassinations begin after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001?

Or did they begin before? We do not yet know the when and where, but if any country raises questions about alleged assassination ops, it is Afghanistan in 2001.

As we know, the Bush administration assaulted the devastated country of Afghanistan—“Pipeline-istan”—because it housed Osama bin Laden. The outcome was that the country was basically taken under US control, though not securely, while bin Laden reportedly slipped through the hands of the authorities. Before leaving, however—and indeed before 9/11—bin Laden’s key opposition, the most significant single opponent of the Taliban in Afghanistan, was assassinated. On Sept. 9, 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud, commander of the ‘Northern Alliance’ in Afghanistan and the one Afghan considered able to lead a post-Taliban government, was attacked by two suicide bombers posing as a journalist and a cameraman trying to interview him, dying on Sept. 14.

Massoud was a home-grown patriot, his popularity stemming from his role in ousting the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. (The Soviets had repeatedly tried and failed to assassinate him.) The admiration in which he was held at home made him a threat to any external power seeking a foothold in Afghanistan, including Pakistan, bin Laden and al Qaeda, and the West. In an invited speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on April 6, 2001, Massoud warned that the Taliban was connected to al Qaeda and that a terrorist attack was imminent. It was on August 6, 2001, that George W. Bush received the famous Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” which the administration was subsequently faulted for disregarding as a “CYA.” The following day, Bush received a follow-up briefing on al Qaeda going into further detail.

When Massoud was assassinated, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey issued a formal statement calling his death “an important demise for Afghanistan” and adding, “Information about the assassination points to the fact that it was not committed only by internal factions ...” Government sources intimated that the statement referred to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistan intelligence service that was uncontrolled by the government of Musharraf.

A detailed article in Le Monde, Oct. 3, 2001, “On the Trail of Commander Massoud’s Killers,” laid out what amounted to a safe-conduct for the killers as they approached Massoud. The bombing was the final step in an itinerary characterized by remarkable access for the two phony journalists, Arab Tunisians claiming to be Belgians.

On July 25, the two turned up at the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, holding Belgian passports (stolen from Belgian consulates in Strasbourg and The Hague). Perhaps they got the Belgian papers soon after Massoud’s speech in Brussels. The fake ‘journalist’ got into Pakistan on a visa issued in London that had expired in July 2000. The fake ‘cameraman’ entered Pakistan on a rare ‘unlimited’ multi-entry visa issued in London on July 16, 2001. Their Afghan visas were written in English, without a word of Pashto, the Afghan language. The Taliban issued each of them a one-month visa, again in English. They apparently arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 28.

After a long trek from Kabul to the region of Massoud’s camp, on August 31, the two were conveyed to Massoud’s base. When there, by all accounts, they did not act like journalists: They did not ask questions or interview anyone; they wanted only to meet Massoud.

Massoud’s assassination is only one of the stories left incomplete by the previous administration.

The Sunday following Hersh’s surprising discussion, former Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed at length on CNN by political correspondent John King, who did not question Cheney about the “executive assassination ring.” A question placed for King through CNN Television News has not been answered. Perhaps one purpose of the Cheney interview was to dismiss Hersh’s recent allegations through the tactic of not airing them. It is difficult to understand why such a purpose could be legitimately served by a cable news channel.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email margie.burns@verizon.net. See her blog at www.margieburns.com

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2009

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