I have now learned not to question Sy Hersh. When I heard he was working on a story on an "executive assassination ring" run by Dick Cheney, I told our audience to be skeptical. Come on, bounds of reason. Assassination teams, really?
But I still don't get it. If these teams are meant to kill or capture senior Al Qaeda operatives, what's the big deal? Aren't we trying to do that already?
Is that really out of the ordinary? And what difference does it make if you kill people by missiles fired out of drones or you kill them at close range?
So, there are two possibilities here. One is that the CIA has gotten too risk averse. I think they should obviously have highly-trained paramilitary teams ready to take out our enemies. Is this something they should use often or without going through all of the proper channels? Of course, not. Look at how many times we were wrong in our extraordinary rendition program. We only kidnapped and tortured those guys. At least, we didn't terminate them with our hit squads.
But given the right circumstances, we should have hit squads. For example, if we went to war with North Korea (let's hope to God that never happens), I sure hope we got a team that's going to parachute into Pyongyang and try to find Kim Jong-il. If we don't, then I think we are being too cautious and not utilizing our entire arsenal. Of course, this doesn't mean you send that team if there is no war.
And there's the rub with assassination teams - once you start playing with them, it's hard to put them down. But we are at war with Al Qaeda and if someone isn't trained to take out Osama bin Laden at close range at a moment's notice, then we're doing something wrong.
Now, there is a second possibility. It's not that controversial to have a team ready to kill or capture Bin Laden or other senior Al Qaeda operatives. It is controversial to have a team ready to kill ... other targets.
Remember, the Bush administration told us that their warrantless wiretapping program was aimed only at Al Qaeda affiliates and we found out that was nowhere near the case. There were guys listening in on phone sex calls of innocent Americans by the time we found out about that program.
So, I have to ask what I previously thought unimaginable. Who exactly were the assassination squads supposed to assassinate?
I really don't want to get into crazy speculation. I certainly don't think this program would be turned inward as well. And it is eminently possible that it was just aimed at senior Al Qaeda guys, as I explained above. But given the history of the Bush administration and what has been less than honest explanations in the past, one has to ask - who were the targets under consideration?
If as a journalist, you don't ask this question, then you're not doing your job. It would be hard to argue this isn't relevant.
Dick Cheney hid this program from Congress (under what authority could he order a program like this in the first place?) and ordered the CIA to lie about it to the rest of the government (including large portions of the FBI and CIA). Is it not conceivable that as Cheney worked the "dark side," he gave other unimaginable orders? Did Bush even know what orders Cheney was giving? Did Bush know who was on the assassination list? If they had a program, they had a list, right? Who's on the list?
If they bothered to have assassination squads, it seems inconceivable that they didn't make a list. Does anyone have that list? Where is it now? And who's on it?