Was Dr. David Kelly a target of Dick Cheney’s “Executive Assassination Ring”?
By Tom Burghardt
Revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency launched a world-wide assassination program, and then concealed its existence from the U.S. Congress and the American people for eight years, carries an implication that death squads may have been employed against political opponents.
The Wall Street Journal reported July 13 that “A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.”
Investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman writes, “The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn’t clear, and the CIA won’t comment on its substance.”
The Washington Post however, revealed July 16 that the assassination plan was sanctioned by President Bush. Unnamed “intelligence officials” told the newspaper that “a secret document known as a ‘presidential finding’ was signed by President George W. Bush that same month, granting the agency broad authority to use deadly force against bin Laden as well as other senior members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
According to Post reporter Joby Warrick, Bush’s finding “imposed no geographical limitations on the agency’s actions” and that the CIA was “not obliged to notify Congress of each operation envisaged under the directive.” This implies that targets could be hit anywhere, including on the soil of a NATO ally or inside the United States itself.
According to the Los Angeles Times the program “was kept secret from lawmakers for nearly eight years at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney.”
Despite these reports and hand-wringing amongst congressional Democrats, there’s something fishy here. After all, isn’t the whole point of America’s “global war on terror” to “capture or kill” al-Qaeda suspects? What’s so secretive or controversial about that?
The descriptions of the operation that have so far emerged however, bear a striking resemblance to charges laid earlier this year when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said that the Bush administration stood-up an “executive assassination ring.”
During a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota in March the veteran journalist told the audience: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.”
The program was allegedly shut down by Panetta on June 23, a day after leaning of the agency’s clandestine initiative. What make these revelations all the more significant is that the CIA Director only learned of the program fully four months after assuming office.
“The implications,” socialist analyst Bill Van Auken writes, “are clear. The CIA maintained the secrecy ordered by Cheney even after the latter had left office, and continued to conceal the existence and nature of the covert operation not only from Congress, but from the Obama administration itself.”
But was the program shut down? The Washington Post further revealed that the plan, allegedly “on the agency’s back burner for much of the past eight years, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of proposals to initiate what one intelligence official called a ‘somewhat more operational phase’.”
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a former top aide to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell hints that the program was in a “somewhat more operational phase” years earlier, despite repeated denials by CIA officials and congressional staffers.
Wilkerson told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show July 14, “What I suspect has happened is what began to happen while I was still in the government, and that was we’re killing the wrong people. And we’re killing the wrong people in the wrong countries. And the countries are finding out about it, or at least there was a suspicion that the countries might find out about it, and so it was shut down. That’s my strong suspicion.”
According to Wilkerson, the teams may have been dispatched under deep cover, using Joint Special Operations Command as a cut-out, a confirmation of charges made by Seymour Hersh in March. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was queried by the State Department, “after some hemming and hawing, which was Rumsfeld’s forte, he finally admitted that he had dispatched some of these teams,” Wilkerson explained.
Powell’s former aide told Maddow, “It’s laughable that the CIA has never lied to Congress. “They lie to Congress on a routine basis.” Much the same can be said of General Powell who lied to the entire world “on a routine basis” during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
It must also be said there is precedence for the CIA’s alleged death squad activities during the Bush era. In Vietnam for example, the CIA and U.S. Special Forces jointly ran a secret assassination program that targeted Vietnamese dissidents. As author Douglas Valentine revealed in his definitive study, The Phoenix Program, Operation Phoenix “was a computer-driven program aimed at ‘neutralizing’, through assassination, kidnapping, and systematic torture, the civilian infrastructure that supported the insurgency in South Vietnam.”
Those programs never died and have since morphed into above top secret “Special Access Programs” used with deadly effect in Central- and South America during the 1980s and across the Middle East today.