[News] If You Can't Beat 'Em, Hire 'Em: Rumsfeld and the Assassins

claude claude at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 24 08:58:15 EST 2003

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Hire 'Em: Rumsfeld and the Assassins
by <http://www.balkanalysis.com/>Christopher Deliso
December 23, 2003

There's a new policy livening things up over at the Pentagon. 
US Special Forces are planning to set up a "hit squad" of former Baathist 
Iraqi intelligence officers, men who could get the dirt on resistance 
leaders and ideally, kill them. That such a remarkable plan is even being 
considered indicates the desperation gripping the Bush Administration, as 
deadly resistance campaign continues.

The controversial policy of targeted assassinations has been 
<http://abcnews.go.com/wire/World/ap20031207_297.html>carried out clumsily 
and over large areas (Afghanistan) as well as efficiently (the missile 
attack that took out a suspected al Qaeda leader 
<http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/09/attack/main528782.shtml>in Yemen 
last November). However, questions of efficacy aside, there is also the 
issue of ethical actions, especially when a morally self-righteous 
blusterer like America is performing them. Charges veteran journalist and 
former military man <http://www.antiwar.com/reese/reese9.html>Charley Reese:

"&the idea is to hire some of the worst of the worst members of Saddam's 
old secret police to infiltrate the resistance and finger key players for 
the American murder squads. Thus, we climb in bed with the very people our 
boy president likes to moralize about those dreaded evildoers. Only now 
they will be evildoers on our payroll instead of Saddam's. Only now, 
instead of bringing democratic values to Iraq, we will show the Iraqis we 
are just as good at murder as Saddam."

Rumsfeld's 'Manhunt': Gladly Seeking Out Monsters

Not just antiwar critics are concerned about Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's 
enthusiastic backing for this "Manhunt" policy, one that by virtue of its 
method is being relegated to the shadows. Even Establishment opponents fear 
that Rumsfeld's increasing use of the secrecy-bound Special Forces will 
allow the Pentagon to remain largely unaccountable before Congress and the 
public. Coming from Rumsfeld, this is hardly a surprise; the tactic was 
used with his "<http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030512fa_fact>Office 
of Special Plans," a 
<http://www.antiwar.com/justin/j072103.html>pseudo-intelligence lie factory 
set up to tell the Secretary what he wanted to hear about Iraq and its 
potential threat to the United States in the run-up to the war.

Now, however, the executor of that operation Undersecretary for Defense 
Doug Feith is being pushed aside, according to another comprehensive exposé 
from <http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031215fa_fact>the New 
Yorker's<http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031215fa_fact> Seymour 
Hersh. Yet this neocon's apparent fall from favor should not be taken to 
mean that Rumsfeld has tired of the movement much to the contrary, the 
transition from Special Plans to Special Forces indicates that Rumsfeld is 
championing not just neoconservatism, but neoconservatism on steroids. 
Hersh provides more details about the new policy:

"&they (the Americans) plan to assemble teams drawn from the upper ranks of 
the old Iraqi intelligence services and train them to penetrate the 
insurgency. The idea is for the infiltrators to provide information about 
individual insurgents for the Americans to act on. A former C.I.A. station 
chief described the strategy in simple terms: 'U.S. shooters and Iraqi 
intelligence.' He added, 'There are Iraqis in the intelligence business who 
have a better idea, and we're tapping into them. We have to resuscitate 
Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose, and have Delta and agency shooters 
break down doors and take them' the insurgents 'out.'"

Rumsfeld's New Yes-Men

According to Hersh, the men who now have Rumsfeld's ear are Under-Secretary 
for Intelligence <http://www.defenselink.mil/bios/cambone_bio.html>Stephen 
Cambone and his assistant, Lieutenant General 
<http://www.dod.mil/news/Oct2003/n10212003_200310217.html>William Boykin. 
The former's neoconservative logic harmonizes with the Rumsfeldian one that 
led to the Office of Special Plans. Cambone argues that "&intelligence 
agencies should be willing to go beyond the data at hand in their 
analyses." Indeed, he does seem to fit the bill:

"'&Rumsfeld's been looking for somebody to have all the answers, and Steve 
is the guy,' a former high-level Pentagon official told me. 'He has more 
direct access to Rummy than anyone else.'"

As for Lieutenant General Boykin, his faith-based intelligence is far more 
literal. A fundamentalist Christian, he has gotten into trouble for 
claiming that <http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1016-01.htm>God 
ordains and protects America's wars against the Islamic "Satan," and that 
all manner of phenomena such as a smudged picture evidently indicating the 
presence of demons can be interpreted in this context.

Despite these rather unorthodox views, Boykin has achieved great popularity 
in Washington for his martial zeal and can-do attitude. Most importantly, 
Boykin also has experience with the kind of targeted assassination program 
Rumsfeld and Cambone are pushing. In 1993, Boykin was in charge of a Delta 
Force mission to hunt down 
drug lord Pablo Escobar, and a little later commanded the infamous 
Mogadishu raid, meant to capture a Somali warlord, which instead ended in 
death, ignominy, and a 

Rambo Reasoning

Hersh records other backers of the plan who express even burlier bravado:

"&a former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist 
leadership could be compared to 'fighting your way into a coconut you bang 
away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it 
out.' An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said, 
'The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We're going to have to 
play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. 
We've got to scare the Iraqis into submission.'"

Despite this gung-ho fervor, one suspects that the project might not be as 
easy as it seems. 
News recently interviewed unnamed "Pentagon officials" regarding the 
appearance of resistance spies within the newly-established Iraqi police 
force. The dismaying response from the Pentagon officials who have 
consistently gone out of their way to say that Iraq will not be another 
Vietnam was that they "&were not surprised about the infiltration. It is a 
common tactic that certainly happened in Vietnam, they said."

According to the report, the main reason that the US ended up hiring Iraqis 
with malevolent intentions was "hastiness" in the vetting process. Still, 
considering the pressure being put on President Bush to both lower the 
American death toll and speed up the transition to an Iraqi-run government, 
time is not a luxury now available to the US. Besides, even if there were 
time to properly "vet" the recruits, who could possibly separate the "good" 
guys from the bad? Has America penetrated Iraqi society so well that its 
soldiers can tell the difference? Or should they just rely on the input of 
<http://www.prospect.org/print/V13/21/dreyfuss-r.html>"allies," like Ahmad 

The answer to these questions is, of course, no. And the Pentagon seems to 
have accepted this. As the desire to win hearts and minds continues to 
wane, war planners have changed tack entirely. For rather than recruit 
Iraqis who might be good, they're going to hire the ones they know to be 
the worst. It's one way of being sure, alright.

Will It Be Another Vietnam? Do They Even Care?

This is essentially what the zealots quoted above are alluding to when they 
speak of "holding our noses" while working with the Iraqis, of somehow 
"going unconventional." Yet is this operating procedure really so unusual 
for the Americans? Some have argued that the plan has a lot in common with 
the Phoenix Program, a disastrous campaign aimed at eliminating Vietcong 
sympathizers. From 1968-72, somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people were 
killed many of them innocent civilians. Then there were the personal grudge 
killings set up by South Vietnamese "allies." Reminiscing on that war which 
allegedly bears no resemblance to today's, Charley Reese recounts:

"&another friend of mine, on loan to the CIA from the Green Berets, paid 
Nung mercenaries $5 for each Vietnamese head they brought in. They brought 
them in by the croaker sack full, but of course a severed head can't tell 
you if the person who used to wear it was a Viet Cong or just a poor farmer 
the Nungs happened upon. After all, they hated all the Vietnamese without 
regard for ideology.

"The same thing will happen in Iraq. Our paid evildoers will finger people 
they have a personal grudge against or, if they are smart, innocent Iraqis 
actually on our side. That way our death squads will endear us to the Iraqi 
people just as the Israeli death squads have endeared them to the 

A similar opinion was expressed by a Pentagon advisor and expert on 
unconventional warfare interviewed by Seymour Hersh:

"'&there are people saying all sorts of wild things about Manhunts,' he 
said. 'But they aren't at the policy level. It's not a no-holds policy, and 
it shouldn't be. I'm as tough as anybody, but we're also a democratic 
society, and we don't fight terror with terror. There will be a lot of 
close controls do's and don'ts and rules of engagement.' The adviser added, 
'the problem is that we've not penetrated the bad guys. The Baath Party is 
run like a cell system. It's like penetrating the Vietcong we never could 
do it.'"

And, speaking of the Iraqis, a critical former Special Forces officer added:

"'&these guys have their own agenda. Will we be doing hits (based) on 
grudges? When you set up host-nation elements' units composed of Iraqis, 
rather than Americans 'it's hard not to have them going off to do what they 
want to do. You have to keep them on a short leash.'"

Is the Program Already in Place?

However, the targeted assassination policy has many more enthusiastic 
backers, and especially after the capture of Saddam, it should be an easy 
sell. In the Pentagon today, the sentiment seems to be that since the US 
has suffered enough, the answer is not to pack up and go home but simply to 
step up the brutality. As one former CIA official and supporter bloviated, 
"&we did the American things and we've been the nice guy. Now we're going 
to be the bad guy, and being the bad guy works."

Whether or not this is true, Rumsfeld and Cambone are certainly going to 
give it their all, and this will mean 
<http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/6681.html>increased usage of "off the 
books" units <http://belgium.indymedia.org/news/2003/12/78999.php>for 
example, the ultra-secret 
<http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/2003117.asp>Task Force 121, 
created in November 
hunt down Saddam. Buoyed by his 
<http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3713751/>successful capture, the "Manhunt" amen 
corner is bound to get louder in the days and weeks ahead.

Yet what if the policy gets "out of control," as Seymour Hersh stated about 
the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program? There are two likely problem areas here: 
one, the clandestine cooperation with Israel; and two, the Pentagon's zeal 
for "cross-border raids." A recent 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1102940,00.html>report from 
the <http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1102940,00.html>Guardian 
described the Israeli training program and its potential fallout:

"'&this is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being 
conceptualised here. This is a hunter-killer team,' said a former senior US 
intelligence official, who added that he feared the new tactics and 
enhanced cooperation with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in 
the Middle East.

"'It is bonkers, insane. Here we are we're already being compared to Sharon 
in the Arab world, and we've just confirmed it by bringing in the Israelis 
and setting up assassination teams.'"

The same source alleged that US Special Forces are also operating in Syria, 
"attempting to kill foreign jihadists before they cross the border." It is 
this logic of deterrence more than anything that may invite serious 
problems for America and the whole Middle East region.

According to Hersh, there is currently a "debate" raging within the Bush 
Administration about whether the same type of "cross-border raids" should 
be conducted against Iran. Suspecting that Tehran may be behind the Iraq 
insurgency, the War Party has come up with the brilliant idea of unleashing 
the "worst of the worst" from Saddam's former loyalists on Iranian 
government troops. Now that would be a great idea.

comments on this article?
<mailto:backtalk at antiwar.com?Subject=If%20You%20Can%92t%20Beat%20%91Em,%20Hire%20%91Em:%20Rumsfeld%20and%20the%20Assassins%20 
 %20Deliso>send them to backtalk!


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