This is a little story about a potentially huge story that a lot of folks like myself want to be true but don’t know whether it is true. This little story also is about jumping to conclusions about that potentially huge news story, which had its public incubation at a college lecture last night and is now on a journey to super nova fruition or embarrassing fizzlement.

01aaa_cheney.bmpI write of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s perhaps inadvertant assertion during an appearance at the University of Minnesota that a covert military unit attached to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) prowled the world killing people on orders of Dick Cheney.

This “executive assassination ring,” as Hersh termed it, allegedly reported directly to the vice president’s office, bypassing the defense secretary and Joint Chiefs of Staff, had no congressional oversight and went into foreign countries without talking to the ambassador or CIA station chief.

As corroboration, Hersh pointed to a New York Times story that Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, the JSOC commander, had ordered a temporary halt to most commando raids in Afghanistan because of a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower were jeopardizing broader goals there.

Hersh is the preeminent investigative journalist of our time. He broke the story of the My Lai Massacre, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for The New York Times in 1970, and was the first journalist of consequence to draw attention to the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad in 2004 in a New Yorker magazine story. He also reported in the New Yorker that the U.S. was prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iraq and that there was a covert action plan in place against the Tehran regime.

So when Hersh mentions, even in passing, that the vice president had his own hit squad, he has to be taken seriously until when and if he is discredited.

Hersh himself later regretted spilling the beans, explaining in an email exchange with a Minneapolis reporter that the subject was “not something I wanted to dwell about in public,” that he is looking into it for a book that it may be a year or two before he has enough evidence “for even the most skeptical.”

But until that story can be fleshed out beyond anecdotal evidence that the squad operated in Afghanistan, which after all is a war zone, and faces and places where it may also have roamed that are not war zones can be confirmed, what we’re left with is a lot of wishful thinking from sites like Raw Story and bloggers such as Will Bunch and emptywheel, as well as the usual “this is just another Hersh fantasy” from the Weekly Standard and other unquestioning defenders of the Bush imperial power grab.

It should be noted that the Joint Special Operations Command has been anything but a secret since it was established in 1980 following the failed Desert One mission to rescue the hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. And even though its work is covert, it is an open secret that CIA and JSOC teams have been in pursuit of Al Qaeda and Taliban bigs since shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

What we do know about the obsessively secret — and I daresay obsessively evil — Cheney suggests that there is some truth to the story because the vice president would never let something like President Ford’s 1976 executive order prohibiting any employee or agent of the U.S. government to conspire or engage in political assassination, let alone any other order or law, stand in his way. That order was enacted in response to post-Watergate revelations that the CIA had tried multiple times to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro.

But this is not yet a Story of a Lifetime. It remains to be seen whether what on its face may be little more than a conspiracy theory gathers steam in the days and weeks to come — which is to say that Hersh himself fleshes out his assertion with a piece before he publishes that book that does not rely entirely on blind sources and deep background, and the mainstream media joins in, as well.

My inherent caution does not preclude my joining Bunch and others in noting that if the Cheney accusation stands up, then President Obama must shake off his much criticized diffidence about going after Bush administration wrongdoing. Cheney clearly will have broken the law and must be held accountable.


Shaun Mullen is a former The Moderate Voice columnist. Over a long career with newspapers, this award-winning editor and reporter covered the Vietnam War, O.J. Simpson trials, Clinton impeachment circus and coming of Osama bin Laden, among many other big stories. He blogs at Kiko’s House.

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  • Silhouette

    From the link:
    “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, 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.

    “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.”
    So a team that only answered to Dick Cheney….that went (go?) around killing people at his sole descretion. The fine line has been crossed. Dick Cheney is now officially a usurper of the US government and did in fact take over our nation for his own purposes. We have laws against this. He MUST be tried for treason. If he isn’t, others will follow his lead. We are telling our nation “hey, don’t worry about that little document known as the Constitution. In reality, you can do whatever you want as long as you’re powerful and nasty enough.”

    Which negates every single thing our founding fathers had in mind for the United States of America. It is the antithesis of everything we stand for. But yeah, let’s not prosecute Cheney…much better to perish ideologically as a cohesive nation…the last thing we’d want is to make an example out of a bloodthirsty treacherous traitor like Cheney.

    • gretchenlowe

      My problem is that they used women and they are trying to make it seem like it was all burly Navy Seals. And joining is nonconsensual. No one signed up to be a part of this unit. The Best and the Brightest are that way for a reason and no one will stand for this treatment. They are trying, again, to pin their acts on CIA members with no knowledge or involvement. Their methods here were very odd, again, much like tin-foil and brainwaving. I just want to know when stupid, Republican, Texas men are ever going to let me excel at something other than making cakes. I guess they are only gender neutral when it comes to assigning blame in their own actions. “I’m not going to take responsibility for this,” is something I often hear.

  • AustinRoth

    “little more than a conspiracy theory”

    Um, how about less than a conspiracy theory. Rumors about JSOC have been around since it was formed. It is the Left equivalent of tin-foil hats and CIA brainwave monitoring.


    Hunting Leadership Targets in Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorist Operations
    Selected Prespecives and Experience
    JSOU Report 07-6, June 2007
    Graham H. Turbiville, Jr.

  • NordicAngst

    It wouldn’t be all that surprising if this were true. The office of the vice president had it’s hand involved in organizing just about everything in the war and Cheeny has no qualms about simply forming his own special groups when the existing ones did not support him.

    Still, outside of serving justice, I don’t think the current administration has much to gain from digging up all the war crimes and illegal acts carried out by Bush and co. It would be better for US diplomacy if these skeletons stayed hidden.

  • “This is a little story about a potentially huge story that a lot of folks like myself want to be true but don’t know whether it is true.”

    I have to say, I find the idea that *anyone* wants this story to be true more than a bit disconcerting! I get the whole thing that if the story is true, it might finally force the current administration to actually look into prosecuting the Bush admin for war crimes, but when someone says they hope the story is true, what they’re saying is that they actually are hoping that the USA has been going around and covertly dispatching commandos to kill people without even the faintest whiff of due process. Are people really that blinded by their hatred of Bush and Cheney that they seriously WANT the US to have fallen that far?

    As much as I would love to see Bush and Cheney held accountable for the crimes they have committed, I absolutely and sincerely pray that this story is NOT true – that we haven’t been going around and killing whomever we wanted for whatever reason a madman like Cheney might come up with. I would hope most people would feel that way. It’s a bit scary to me to consider the implications otherwise.

  • gretchenlowe

    It’s true!