Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Screwed Again: Seymour Hersh Puts Pro-War Spin On What We Would Normally Call Acts Of Terrorism

Famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh ruffled a few feathers last week with comments in Minnesota regarding an alleged "executive assassination ring" -- a squad of elite killers who have allegedly been infiltrating foreign countries and murdering ... well, officially, nobody knows who their victims have been, really, but if this story were officially acknowledged (whatever that means these days), we would no doubt be told that the alleged victims of the alleged murders were "the worst of the worst", without whom America will now be safer, huzzah huzzah.

Here's Hersh, as quoted by Eric Black of the Minnesota Post:
"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. 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 Times there was a story that its leaders [sic], 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. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
The article in the New York Times to which Hersh refers [or here] was written by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, and the admiral in question is Rear Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), former Commander of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and the first Director of NATO Special Operations Forces Coordination Centre (NSCC).

He's a special operations specialist, and a proud Navy Seal!

"Special Operations", of course, is intelligence jargon for "high-deniablilty" "clandestine" raids: sabotage, murder and other acts of what we would normally call terrorism.

In order for an act of international terrorism to have "plausible deniablilty", the perpetrators cannot share their plans with the ambassador or the CIA station chief. So that part of Hersh's statement is not surprising.

Neither is this: the NYT piece makes it very clear that the "stop" Admiral McRaven ordered was temporary, limited, and local -- and that it's history. In other words, the executive killing spree has resumed.

McRaven's order applied only to Afghanistan, and apparently was largely a matter of spin-control. The piece by Mazzetti and Schmitt is, as usual, full of spin itself, but nonetheless it's worth a look. It starts like this:
The commander of a secretive branch of America’s Special Operations forces last month ordered a halt to most commando missions in Afghanistan, reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower are jeopardizing broader goals there.
The spun part here, of course, is the alleged context. The "broader goals" mentioned by Mazzetti and Schmitt are only hinted at, but never specified in any detail -- not in the New York Times, at any rate.

Why are we there? What do we want? What sort of situation would make us declare victory? And if that situation somehow were to occur, would that be enough to make us leave? Our nation's paper of record cannot bring itself to ask any of these questions, much less answer them. The most it can do is spill a few beans now and then. Thus Mazzetti and Schmitt continue:
The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground strikes. The order covered all commando missions except those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials said.
The context here is breathtaking, is it not? After a series of raids killed women and children (and not, therefore, Taliban leaders and al Qaeda terrorists, as the Pentagon always claims victims of such raids to have been -- if it acknowledges them at all), the admiral ordered a two-week halt to all commando raids except "those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda"!

So: There was a two-week period in which the "executive assassination ring" in Afghanistan could attack only the leadership of our alleged enemies! And this is what Hersh -- and the NYT scribes -- called a "stop", or a "halt".

Mazzetti and Schmitt again:
American commanders in Afghanistan rely on the commando units to carry out some of the most delicate operations against militant leaders, and the missions of the Army’s Delta Force and classified Navy Seals units are never publicly acknowledged. But the units sometimes carry out dozens of operations each week, so any decision to halt their missions is a sign of just how worried military officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is putting in peril the overall American mission in Afghanistan, including an effort to drain the Taliban of popular support.
Even spun, the story stands out clearly: It's not the deaths of innocent and defenseless civilians that worries the American brass: it's the fallout. If only the stories could be contained, then the dozens of operations per week could be resumed ...
Military officials said the halt was ordered in part to allow American commanders time to impose new safeguards intended to reduce the risk of civilian deaths. They said it was also intended to help the military release information about civilian casualties more quickly, to pre-empt what some said have been exaggerated accounts by Afghan officials.
American spokesmen, eager to make it seem as though the American intervention in Afghanistan were a humanitarian gesture, always lie about the numbers of casualties, especially civilian casualties. This is particularly difficult when the Afghan government, sometimes in the person of hand-picked American sock-puppet Hamid Karzai himself, speaks frankly to the press about the nature of the raids and the numbers and types of the casualties. And therefore,
One senior official said that procedures had been set up to allow American troops to report more quickly the number of enemy and civilian deaths after a specific operation, and to quickly disseminate the information to Afghan officials in Kabul, the capital, and at the local and provincial levels.
And presumably, once the government officials in Kabul and elsewhere are told what to say by the Americans, they will release the proper information, and we will have no more contradictary reports about the secret raids that are killing innocent people in foreign countries. So when they bomb a wedding party and tell us they've killed five terrorists and nobody else, no elected or appointed Afghan official will dare to say anything else. Thus will more truth be hidden.

So: McRaven gave Special Ops in Afghanistan a two-week slowdown to get their propaganda operation in order.

The propaganda operation is by no means limited to Pentagon insiders or acknowledged supporters, as Hersh convincingly demonstrates when he says:
"It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.
And so, here we are, in never-never land. Even Seymour Hersh, famed investigative reporter, can't help slinging it, one shovel-full at a time.

They're not murderers, even though what they're doing is murder. But how do we define a "murderer"? Is it not someone who murders? Hersh can't even bring himself to call it that, but he will go so far as to say that they're "committing what we would normally call murder".

I'm not a writer. I'm just doing what we would normally call writing. And you're not a reader. You're just doing what we would normally call reading. Really. No exaggerations. It's all highly specialized.

Apparently it's "very complicated", at least in Hersh's imagination. And it might not be murder, even though it's what we would normally call murder, because the murderers are not actually murderers but instead "young men that went into the Special Forces".

Special Forces, of course, are those on the front lines of Special Operations. What we would normally call our own terrorists, if it weren't so very complicated.

So: They're not murderers because they're hired to kill people, or more properly they're not murderers because they've volunteered -- and qualified -- to be cogs in their country's elite force of hired killers.

And these killers who are not really killers are in fact the "best and the brightest"? Possibly they are, in Hersh's imagination -- but please! Let's be serious here. The lie about "the best and the brightest" has been around since at least the early 60's, and it's even less true now than it was then.

The best and the brightest don't join the militarization of America. They fight against it.

The best and the brightest didn't get all hyped up after 9/11 and decide to go kill people. The best and the brightest could see, on the day itself, that the government/media story was hogwash.

The best and the brightest have been working for years -- decades in some cases -- to counteract the very propaganda Hersh is so fond of spewing.

But for all his inside connections, Hersh cannot see it any other way. By his own admission, he has no outside connections.
Hersh insists [...] that his close ties with the underside of the defense world are the reason he’s so confident about his understanding of that reality. “I’m not working with guys outside the system,” he tells me. “You do understand that, don’t you? I’m not outside the system in what I do. I’m really not.”
So perhaps it's not entirely imaginary. Perhaps for Sy Hersh, and for everyone else who works entirely within the "national defense" "system", the Navy Seals and the Delta Forces and all the other Special Operations not-murderers really are the best and the brightest. Which is to say: they are the best and the brightest of those who are not quite good enough or bright enough to see that the American military is a blight on both America and the rest of humanity.

By fighting one war after another in defenseless foreign countries on false pretenses, the American military has shown its hand over and over and over ... so they must be the best and the brightest of those who have sold their souls to the devil. They can't even claim ignorance. It is, after all, a devil that we all know very well.

The best and the brighest would never willingly harness themselves to such a demonic force. And the draft is a thing of the past. So what does that tell you about the people who spend their lives in support of the system?

Hersh was joined in Minnesota by another venerable working-within-the-system type, the former Democratic something-or-other, Walter Mondale. According to Eric Black, the event moderator, Larry Jacobs,
walked the two elder statesmen [sic] through their experiences of:

* The My Lai massacre, which Hersh first revealed publicly and which he last night called “the end of innocence about us and war.”

* The Pentagon Papers case, which Mondale called the best example of the “government’s potential for vast public deception.”

* Henry Kissinger’s secret dealings, mostly relating to the Vietnam War. (Hersh, who has written volumes about Kissinger, said that he will always believe that whereas ordinary people count sheep to fall asleep, Kissinger “has to count burned and maimed Cambodian babies.”)

* The Church Committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses, in which Mondale played a major role. (He talked about the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover not only spied on Martin Luther King but literally tried to drive him to suicide.)

* The Iran Contra scandal. (Hersh said the Reagan administration came to office with a clear goal of finding a way to finance covert actions, such as the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, without appropriations so that Congress wouldn't know about them. Mondale noted that Reagan had signed a law barring further aid to the Contras, then participated in a scheme to keep the aid flowing. Hersh said that two key veterans of Iran-Contra, Dick Cheney and national security official Elliot Abrams, were reunited in the George W. Bush White House and decided that the key lesson from Iran-Contra was that too many people in the administration knew about it.)

* And the Bush-Cheney years. (Said Hersh: “The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extaordinary.” Said Mondale of his successor, Cheney, and his inner circle: “they ran a government within the government.” Hersh added: “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale said that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain "like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.")
The continuity here is remarkable. It's not just a devil that we know, but one that we've known for a long, long time.

Ever since what Hersh calls "the end of innocence about us and war" -- more than 35 years ago -- how could anyone willingly support it? How many times can we lose our innocence?

Even knowing what we know now -- as if what we knew 35 years ago were not enough -- Hersh still claims that the people who line up to do the system's dirtiest of dirty work -- what Mazzetti and Schmitt flatteringly call "delicate" operations -- are "the best and the brightest".

As an invesitgative journalist he is often amazingly shallow. Perhaps that's one of the reasons Seymour Hersh is so well-respected. Here's Eric Black again:
Jacobs pressed both men on the question of whether the frequent abuses of power show that the Constitution fails, because these things keep happening, or whether it works, because these things keep coming to light.

Mondale stuck with the happy answer. “The system has come through again and again,” he said. Presidents always think they will get away with it, but eventually reporters like Hersh bring things to light, the public “starts smelling this stuff,” the courts and the Congress get involved. Presidents “always, in the long run, find out that the system is stronger than they are.”
This is the sort of nonsense we always get from politicians. Are we supposed to believe that "the system has come through again and again" because the crimes against humanity committed by our leaders are eventually publicized? On the contrary: no president, and no other high-ranking government official, has ever been prosecuted for the war crimes, the crimes against humanity, or the crimes against America that they have all committed. And none of them ever will. And they all know it.

Former presidents, secretaries of "defense", and other career "national security" types trundle off into the sunset and/or multi-million dollar "jobs" as directors of the war profiteering corporations that drive the evil machine, but prefer to be called "defense contractors". It's working, all right. The system is working fine. It's doing just what it was designed to do.

Can we get a more "journalistic" take on that?
Hersh seemed more troubled by the repetitions of the pattern. The “beautiful thing about our system” is that eventually we get new leaders, he said. “The evil twosome, Cheney and Bush, left,” Hersh said. But he also said “it’s really amazing to me that we manage to get such bad leadership, so consistently.”
It's a beautiful thing how we get new leaders every so often but the policies never seem to change very much. It's beautiful how Bush and Cheney take the rap for being "evil" and now Obama and Biden can do the same sorts of things without being "evil". That's the beauty of the imaginary reality, where even the anti-war reporting has a pro-war spin.

But then again, it's all spin, even from "the best and the brightest" investigative journalists. Any serious observer, certainly anyone worthy of the respect accorded Seymour Hersh, would be able to explain why we get "such bad leadership, so consistently". He wouldn't express amazement, because there's nothing amazing about it. It's not even remotely surprising anymore.

The sad fact -- which Hersh won't touch -- is that party politics is nothing more than an intersquad scrimmage, an exhibition game intended to convey the impression that the two "competing teams" are adversaries.

They're not. They're partners. They're working together to put on the big show every four years. And we know this is true because of what happens to prospective players who are not interested in furthering the big show, but would try to change the game. Most of them don't even get onto the field. And those who do never last very long.

We've seen what the Democrats and the media did to Mike Gravel, which was exactly what the Republicans and the media did to Ron Paul. We've seen the cold silence -- or jeering derision -- which has greeted every serious attempt to uphold the rule of law, to stop the war in Iraq, to stop the war in Afghanistan, to investigate the crimes of 9/11, to reform a clearly broken electoral system, to rein in a clearly complicit national media, or even to bring just a little bit of accountability to our government. These were all efforts to change the game in one way or another, and no such efforts will be tolerated.

This is the system. This is what it does. The time for amazement is past.


Aha! Here's something in a similar vein, from the cold archives:

You Know We're Really Screwed When ... Even The Anti-War Propaganda Has A Pro-War Bias

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