14 July 2009

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Dear readers,

If the Senate hearings of Sonia Sotomayor weren't in full proceedings, the other piece of news which would be on top of the US and not just international press would be the new Cheney scandal. Apparently, Dick Cheney would have prevented or delayed disclosure of a CIA program to send assassination teams against specific Al Qaeda targets. The whole problem is not the killings, from a legal point of view, but the hiding of the program from the Congress Intelligence Committee. I am not going down this road, because it is frankly of little interest (except if it leads to a Cheney indictment, but I am not holding my breath).

What I am more interested about are the assassinations themselves. First, a bit of irony... Since when did the CIA stop killing people? I mean the right people in the wrong place... or the other way around. ;-) I mean, what is their usefulness if they can't blow up a couple of self designated bad guys (and a bunch of civilians in the process)? You see, the problem is that the CIA switched from a traditional ground operational procedure (practised by nearly all countries and secret services on the planet, regardless of the regime) to the quasi exclusive use of drones. The unmanned aircraft went to be seen as the panacea when in need of safe removal of an annoying terrorist / freedom fighter / politician and so on. This led to the nearly daily use of MQ-1 Predator and later MQ-9 Reaper drones on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, in Yemen and in Iraq (and probably a couple of other places).

However, and apparently (if we must believe Leon Panetta, the current CIA chief), the "new" assassination program began just after 9/11. Although the CIA is covering itself by saying it was never made operational, one can legitimately have some doubts. What could have taken them eight years? I know the US intelligence community is in dire need of Middle-East specialists, Arabic speakers and so on, but still, it took less time for the NASA to put someone on the moon... And it is not like you need these guys to be in constant contact with the enemy either.

Other countries, as I mentioned, have done this for decades: the Russians had and still use special units and killers abroad, while the French have killed or attempted killing their enemies abroad, when deemed feasible. The United Kingdom SAS assassination squad became famous when they slaughtered a couple of unarmed IRA operatives in Spain in broad daylight. The Mossad revenge killing of PLO terrorists after the Munich Olympics has been made a movie. So why not the USA? I suspect there is a certain reluctance in the USA (despite the extreme violence of its society itself) to engage into what the American mentality considers dirty stuff. It's like sex on TV, swearing in children programs or showing tits at the Super Bowl: you just don't do it. After Second World War, the USA were even in the process of dismantling all their war time intelligence operations (not just the special force units), such as the OSS, before the reality of the Cold War pushed them to create the CIA.

Anyway, I personally believe that murder is always unethical. However, I consider (but I would be happy to be proven otherwise) that politics, especially international one, can not be entirely ethical. It is a sad fact of humanity that some people are such remorseless killers that they would wage war on the most peaceful states, only to make their point, kill, rape and genocide, just name it... Most of these are of the ideological type, which means there is simply no reasoning them at all. In the long term, they will get back at you. This is why most decent countries (including the liberal democracies) have used assassination as a latest resort, usually to avoid more carnage. It is not considered pretty, it is not considered honourable and neither is it considered moral. But it is a lesser evil, one you carefully plan to be able to staunchly deny it later.

I think it could have saved a lot of trouble to the USA and the entire world, if this CIA program had been implemented a bit more seriously (providing that the necessary legal information of the Congress had taken place). Instead of invading Iraq (probably the stupidest adventure ever attempted by the USA and UK) or dragging into lengthy and costly operations in Afghanistan, a series of killings, based on sound intelligence, could have improved the situation tremendously. And even if it wouldn't have helped, at least it should have been tried, before engaging in a double war with hundreds of thousands of victims on all sides.

In comparison, I will let you with this little piece of French nastiness in Pakistan. I know all parties involved have denied anything of the like, but the fact is that a couple of Pakistani admirals have been knee capped and the fact is also that the ISI has been known to play for both sides for at least 20 years. The fact is also that French services are known to absolutely always avenge their guys, a way or another. The Syrians learned it the hard way in the Bekaa in the 80's. You don't make war in tutu...

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