Wednesday, July 15, 2009

CIA Assassination Squads? It Sounds Like The Movies

"It sounds great in movies, but when you try to do it, it's not that easy." That's what a former intelligence official told the New York Times on Tuesday about the CIA's canceled secret program that involved plans to send paramilitary teams around the world to assassinate top al-Qaeda leaders.

"The idea of CIA assassination teams evokes movie-style images of black-clad specialists climbing through windows to silently garrote their targets," Corey Flintoff wrote in Tuesday's NPR.org.

In reality, the question is: Can the CIA go after terrorists with impunity?

Although the program appears to have never been carried out, it remained secret, since its inception in 2001, even from Congress. That was until last month when CIA director Leon Panetta announced he was canceling it. The secret plan was in effect for so long because officials wanted a more precise way to kill terrorists than by drone aircraft missile strikes on suspected al-Qaeda sites, which frequently resulted in civilian casualties.

In 1976, after the disclosure that the CIA had plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, Gerald Ford's executive order on foreign intelligence activities explicitly prohibits "political assassination." That ban was aimed specifically at attempts on the lives of foreign leaders. Supporters of the 2001 plan argue that al-Qaeda leaders are no different than soldiers on a battlefield, making them legitimate targets.

According to the Geneva Conventions, it would be lawful for one uniformed soldier to kill another uniformed soldier. It would also be lawful, for a soldier, on the battlefield or operating a drone aircraft from afar, to target someone out of uniform who was participating in terrorist activities.

Is the United States technically at war with al-Qaeda? The way international law might apply to the secret 2001 program depends on this question. Would it be lawful for non soldiers such as CIA agents to engage in killing of any kind? The fact that they are not in uniforms could be interpreted as "feigning noncombatant status," which is a violation of the laws of war.

There is the long-held argument that the global war on terrorism is not a war in the legal sense, which would mean sending CIA operatives to kill terrorist suspects would be a military action against a private group. Juliet Lapidos, in an article in Tuesday's Slate.com, says this is "no different from sending the CIA to Italy to murder suspected members of the mafia, and a violation of the basic notions of state sovereignty."

Lapidos goes on to say that the argument can be made that if the CIA kills a terrorist in a foreign country, "it's kosher because it's a form of self-defense, where the 'self' in question is the United States of America. It doesn't matter whether the terrorist is currently engaged in fighting - only that he's a terrorist."

Targeted assassinations, according to the defenders of the secret CIA initiative, would be no different from what the United States is trying to accomplish with unmanned Predator drone missile attacks in Pakistan. President Obama has continued this Bush administration tactic.

The question remains: Should Congress have been briefed about the plan? Supporters of the plan say no, that the plan was simply not advanced enough to warrant notifying Congress. They point to the controversy that arose after Panetta briefed Congress on the program. The media attention and public discussion illustrates the danger of exposing a highly sensitive and secret program to the risk of congressional leaks.

The secret program never got off the ground, but since word leaked out about it, the discussion has continued. The question remains: What's the difference between assassinating someone with a missile and assassinating them with a handgun? That one's up for debate.

The whole idea of secret CIA assassination squads lurking in the shadows with terrorist leaders in their cross-hairs, wearing dark suits and smoking Marlboros, sure sounds like something out of a movie. Or maybe a comic book. The Geneva Conventions are taken about as seriously as Comic-Con.

14 comments:

  1. Why are people getting all upset over Cheney’s death squads, torture techniques, lets face it, nothing will happen to him, they might investigate, the justification will be 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 or you are only giving ammunition to our enemies and in the end nothing will happen, he is part of the ruling class. The chickens are coming home to roost from the operatives that stole the election for Bush/Cheney 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio. I love listening to Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, these chicken hawks on the War of Terror have become chicken little’s that the sky is falling when it comes to the economy, too funny.

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  2. This really makes you think. What else don't we know about the Bush Administration? And don't get me started about Cheney!

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  3. What's the problem? Hasn't anyone ever seen the Dirty Dozen? Telly Savalas' Maggott was my fave! Maybe that's what we should do. Offer condemned men the chance to kill top Al Qaeda leaders on suicide missions. Unleash all our Maggotts on them, LOL!

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  4. It sounds like a movie...A bad movie! But I did like the image of the CIA agents wearing dark suits and smoking Marlboros. Nice touch. Maybe a film noir.

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  5. It's only natural to want to blame the Buch/Cheney administration, and fairly so. But, as stated in the article, Obama has continued the Preditor drone missile attacks in Pakistan. The difference between assassinating someone with a missle and assassinating them with a handgun? I would think the political fallout from the handgun scenerio would clearly be a public relations disaster. On the other hand, they get the same result. It's true though, we've tossed out the Geneva Conventions in favor of Comic-Con. Good choice of words. It's truer than you think.

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  6. However, if this were a movie, it would be character assassination.

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  7. Another controversial article by Paul Solomon. I hope the CIA doesn't come after you. And I'm sure the NSA has your phone tapped. As to Comic-Con, it's possible this is a secret government agency, but you were trying to say that. Right?

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  8. Elliot FirestoneJuly 16, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    Paul, you better watch what you write. While I don't think the CIA hit squads will be after you, I'm sure your phone's been tapped. The truth is stanger than fiction. They couldn't write a movie as ridiculous as the Bush Administration's secret programs, or public one's, for that matter.

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  9. Who is leaking this so called top secret stuff?

    They coiuld have called Cheney up to the point we are at without having gone public. Politics are at play.

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  10. This is just more of the partisan bickering that's been going on for years. A shame that a proposed plan to go after and eliminate those enemies of our culture and land is now being held up for those very enemies to see and gloat about. We are in a war and there are enemies about that if not stopped will do their best to bring us down. Hopefully we'll survive the next 9-11 as we did the last and then perhaps it'll be clear that some of those enemies would have been killed in their beds if need be, or at their dinner table, instead of us sitting back and watching more of our own people perish in clouds of cement dust and burning jet fuel.

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  11. Why are we even worried about Congressional leaks of top secret information? The head of the CIA can't even keep his mouth shut. That seems to be a bit more problematic than what some pin-head Congressman would blurt out to his concubine in the heat of passion.

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  12. I can't wait for the movie to come out. Larry David can play Leon Panetta.

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  13. Chevy Chase can play Dick Cheney. In fact, make it a comedy.

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  14. NO, it does not sound like the movies. It sounds like the eighties. Even the names are the same.

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