Thursday, June 21, 2007
President Bush's Revolutionary Guard
Most of the jaw-dropping revelations from Seymour Hersh's latest article detailing Maj. General Antonio Taguba's investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal have already been circulated widely. Certainly, the fallout the investigation had on Taguba's career is a tremendous injustice, and the possibility that Rumsfeld and the White House knowingly lied about when they first learned of the abuse ought to be investigated by Congress.
But what I found as shocking and perhaps more significant is the extent to which, according to Hersh's sources, the Bush administration has resorted to the use of rogue intelligence units that respond not to a chain of command subject to oversight and regulation, but to the verbal -- hence deniable -- command of the Sec. of Defense and the President. Here's Hersh:
...Shortly after September 11th, Rumsfeld, with the support of President Bush, had set up military task forces whose main target was the senior leadership of Al Qaeda. Their essential tactic was seizing and interrogating terrorists and suspected terrorists; they also had authority from the President to kill certain high-value targets on sight. The most secret task-force operations were categorized as Special Access Programs, or S.A.P.s.
The military task forces were under the control of the Joint Special Operations Command, the branch of the Special Operations Command that is responsible for counterterrorism... In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office. A former senior intelligence official told me that the White House was also briefed on task-force operations...
J.S.O.C.’s special status undermined military discipline. Richard Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State, told me that, on his visits to Iraq, he increasingly found that “the commanders would say one thing and the guys in the field would say, ‘I don’t care what he says. I’m going to do what I want.’ We’ve sacrificed the chain of command to the notion of Special Operations and GWOT”—the global war on terrorism.
Of course, we already know about this administration's secretiveness, as well as it's willingness to engage in illegal activity. And the use of deniable and even unseemly backchannels for "les raisons d'état" is nothing new.
But what Hersh is describing amounts to more than just a formal kidnapping and torture operation that serves "at the pleasure of the President". It suggests the creation of a parallel apparatus that operates so far off the radar that it exists outside the limits of institutional loyalty or control. This is tantamount to a personal secret police for use as the President sees fit.
For the time being, as far as we know, it only operates abroad. But there's a reason why this sort of rogue force is so repugnant to democratic principles. That's because the logic behind it, that of the primacy of national security over the rule of law, is an expansive one. And the limits on it tend to grow weaker with time.
It also raises a frightening question. What happens to Bush's secret police once he leaves office?