Who heads the U.S. death squads?

Last year renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publicly discussed JSOC, a longtime black-ops U.S. military operation that Hersh describes as an “executive assassination ring.” Hersh, who writes for the New Yorker, made his statements as part of a public talk at the University of Minnesota. He’s been investigating these issues for a forthcoming book.

When asked whether covert hit squads run by the White House continue to this day, Hersh said yes, and elaborated:

“After 9/11 … 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. …

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — 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 secretary of defense.

“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.

“… they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee.?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

Of course, this comes as no surprise to me or to many others. However, it does beg the question: who is running the operation NOW? Because if there’s one lesson we’ve learned in our country’s brief history, it’s that power is addictive. So it may be that JSOC (and perhaps other such black-ops federal death squads) functioned without oversight until the last Bush administration; but if, as Hersh claims, JSOC reported to Cheney (GWB’s “shadow President”), then Cheney’s departure from the White House created a power vacuum that someone must have jumped at the chance to fill. The “inspirational” Barack Obama would likely not want to dirty his hands with running a secret assassination ring. And, according to Hersh, JSOC doesn’t report to the defense secretary. So at present, JSOC and/or other assassination squads must be either functioning without any authority or reporting to another figure — likely someone with White House heft. I’m speculating, of course, but Obama’s uber-powerful Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel currently fills the role closest to that of a “shadow President,” and may be JSOC’s go-to guy.

Well, if so, I’d rather have Rahm Emanuel in charge than Cheney. But we probably won’t begin to know the truth until another generation has passed and relevant documents start to be declassified.

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