Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dick Cheney 'hid plans to kill al-Qaida operatives abroad'.

It's beginning to look as if Seymour Hersh was right once again:

Dick Cheney, the former vice president, ordered a highly classified CIA operation hidden from Congress because it pushed the limits of legality by planning to assassinate al-Qaida operatives in friendly countries without the knowledge of their governments, according to former intelligence officials.

Former counter-terrorism officials who retain close links to the intelligence community say that the hidden operation involved plans by the CIA and the military to launch operations, similar to those by Israel's Mossad intelligence service, to hunt down and kill al-Qaida activists abroad without informing the governments concerned, even though some were regarded as friendly if unreliable.

The question here isn't whether or not one agrees with this tactic. The question is whether or not it is legal. Because, when one thinks about it, this is about as outrageous as it gets. The Vice President proposed operating an assassination squad from inside the White House without the consent of Congress.

It's the ultimate example of Cheney's belief in unrestricted executive power. He believed he had the right to literally kill whoever he wanted - with no trial or need to prove his case - and that he did not even have to seek Congressional approval for the actions that he was taking.

When I read stories like this I often wonder why the US bothered having a revolution. What was the point of getting rid of a King if only to replace that system with a democracy in which the president has the exact same powers as a King and your Congress is basically powerless and uninformed of the president's actions?

The CIA apparently did not put the plan in to operation but the US military did, carrying out several assassinations including one in Kenya that proved to be a severe embarrassment and helped lead to the quashing of the programme.

A former intelligence official said the plan was hatched in the cauldron of the September 11 attacks when officials were pushing various forms of unilateral action and some settled on the Israelis as an example.

"One of the most sensitive areas has been what we do in friendly countries that don't want to co-operate or maybe we don't have enough confidence to entrust them with information. If you have an al-Qaida guy wandering around certain bits of the world we might decide that we need to deal with that ourselves, directly, without making a lot of noise," he said. "There was a plan to deal with that. It was much talked about in the CIA and the military had its own operation."

Another former senior intelligence official responsible for dealing with al-Qaida said that assassination plans were reined in after similar covert operations by the military were botched and proved to be embarrassing, particularly the killing in Kenya. He did not give details of the operation.

This remains the main reason why I think there has to be a prosecution here. Someone has to draw a line in the sand and define where the powers of a president end and what exactly is the role of Congress. At the moment the Cheney camp are arguing that the president can basically do anything he wants without Congressional approval and the Democrats, whilst disagreeing, are nevertheless allowing that view to stand as a disagreement over policy, rather than as the act of blatant illegality that it is.

This is not rocket science. The Vice President has claimed the power to kill people at will without informing Congress about what he is doing. If this is allowed to stand, then the US should simply close down it's Congress and hold coronations every four years to anoint their new monarch.

Thankfully, there are sings of real anger amongst the Congress:

The evident anger in Congress is fuelling demands for a full blown investigation in to the CIA's failure to disclose the programme and Cheney's role in the cover up. The Senate majority whip, Dick Durbin, said the programme could have been illegal: "The executive branch of government should not create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark. To have a massive program that was concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal."

Anna Eshoo, a senior Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, is also calling for a probe. "We, by no means, have the full story. We don't know who gave the order. We don't know where the money came from. We don't know all the people who were involved," she told Politico. "We need a full investigation. My preference is that we hire an attorney to come in and run this, someone that is known for their prosecutorial knowledge as well as their knowledge of this particular area of the law."

But, without an investigation and a prosecution, this anger will be meaningless waffle. Someone, somewhere, has to draw a line in the sand and clearly state what is legal and what is not.

Click title for full article.

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