Tuesday, July 14, 2009

America's death squads

Over the weekend a scandal erupted in Washington over the revelation that then-Vice president Dick Cheney had illegally ordered the CIA not to brief Congress on a special operations programme. That is enough for careers to end and people to go to jail, but today it got worse, when the nature of that secret programme was revealed: death squads:

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 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.

The plan was apparently intended to apply to "friendly countries that don't want to co-operate or maybe we don't have enough confidence to entrust them with information" - in other words, countries with laws against murder who are unwilling (or unable, because they are democratic and have independent police and media) to look the other way when people are shot execution-style or blown to bits in a car-bomb. Countries like the UK. You can see why Congress would be concerned about that.

The proper response to terrorism is a legal one: arrest, prosecution, and trial. It is only the pathological secrecy of spies - their refusal to put their "evidence" before the courts - which prevents this. But their preferred methods - rendition, torture, death squads - simply incite more terrorism. Which suggests that we should really be prosecuting the CIA as accessories...