After going to press last week (finishing up at an exceptionally early time on Tuesday), I attended the “Great Conversations 2009” discussion at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University of Minnesota West Bank campus. The lecture, which was produced by the College of Continuing Education, featured famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (3-6-09 AJW), Vice President Walter Mondale and political science professor Larry Jacobs.
Hersh, who won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, provided the controversy. He said that the CIA, in the post-9/11 years, has been violating its charter by spying within the United States (the purview of the FBI), and that Dick Cheney’s office operated an “executive assassination wing” — an extralegal program of foreign assassinations.
Here are some relevant excerpts from Hersh on the latter topic:
“[T]here was a story in the New York Times [March 9] that if you read carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It’s 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 do not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. Gates, the Secretary of Defense. They report directly to him… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing, essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.
“And just today in the Times, there was a story saying that its leader, a three-star [vice] admiral named [William H.] McRaven ordered a stop to certain activities because there were so many collateral deaths. It’s been going, under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to 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.”
When Hersh talked about “finding people on a list and executing them,” there was an audible collective gasp and murmuring in the concert hall.
It should be noted that Hersh was summarizing the thrust of his reportage for an upcoming book. We may not have the story fleshed out for another year or more.
After the election of the Obama-Biden ticket last November, there was the widespread expectation that things would be different in the nation’s capital. In his talk last week, Hersh also expressed concern about how Obama was making Afghanistan “his war.” The journalist warned that Afghanistan is shaping up as a quagmire with no defined exit strategy. Also, the Iraq War, despite the spin on how the surge has turned the tide, could also deteriorate into a bloodbath at any time.
The final topic discussed by Hersh, Mondale and Jacobs was the precipitous decline of the major daily newspapers. It was pointed out that investigative reporting, like that undertaken by Hersh and others of his rank, is an expensive proposition. In this era of cutting costs and newsroom budgets, there will be fewer skilled reporters at newspapers to hold government officials and corporate honchos to account.
The discussion at the U of M ranged over 40 years of U.S. government skullduggery, culminating in the executive power grab during the Bush-Cheney years. While we hope that the Obama administration operates with more ethics and greater transparency, we must be vigilant in maintaining our civil liberties and demanding that our government turn from the path of cowboy behavior in foreign relations. This is no time to relax and trust our elected representatives to do what’s right.
— Mordecai Specktor /Â email@example.com
(American Jewish World, March 20, 2009)