The New York Times this morning has a report that explains that the top secret CIA program recently dismantled by director Leon Panetta was actually a set of roving death squads, which were created to clandestinely assassinate Al Qaeda leaders abroad. The squads did not have to operate using standard disclosure procedures with local governments, American diplomats, or military leaders, and only reported to the vice-president. This seems to match up with a scary program New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh mentioned at a lecture in March. Then, Hersh described it thus:
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.
The Times story from March reported that the two-week Special Operations teams' stop order came "after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground strikes. The order covered all commando missions except those against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, military officials said."
But this doesn't jive with what the Times reported today, which is that the CIA plans — which targeted those very high-ranking terrorist leaders that were still targeted during the break — actually "remained vague and were never carried out." So do these reporters need to get their stories straight? Or are there simply more Cheney-commanded death squads led by different Special Operations branches? Either way, with stories like these, it makes us grateful for the mainstream media and the money, time, expertise, and diligence big newspapers and magazines devote to telling us about these important, scary stories.
C.I.A. Had Plan to Assassinate Qaeda Leaders [NYT]
Update: Speaking to the Daily Beast, Hersh addresses the point that his report conflicts with the Times' over whether Cheney's program was operational. "I said what I said, they can always say what they say," he told writer Benjamin Sarlin. "The last time they said the government doesn’t torture; this time it's the government doesn’t assassinate."