The Guardian newspaper in London has published the following:
Dick Cheney, the former vice president, ordered a highly classified CIA operation hidden from Congress because it pushed the limits of legality by planning to assassinate al-Qaida operatives in friendly countries without the knowledge of their governments, according to former intelligence officials.
Former counter-terrorism officials who retain close links to the intelligence community say that the hidden operation involved plans by the CIA and the military to launch operations, similar to those by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, to hunt down and kill al-Qaida activists abroad without informing the governments concerned, even though some were regarded as friendly if unreliable.
The CIA apparently did not put the plan in to operation but the US military did, carrying out several assassinations including one in Kenya that proved to be a severe embarrassment and helped lead to the quashing of the programme.
The newspaper’s description produced a flash of déjà vu. This is something I wrote for the AJC in late October 2001, while temporarily posted in Jerusalem:
In Washington, word has leaked that President Bush has given the CIA $1 billion and clear instructions to conduct its shadow war against terrorism — wherever it might lead.
The concept is unfamiliar to most Americans. But a version of it has been going on in Israel for nearly 30 years. Its architects say the United States will see some satisfying victories. But America should prepare itself for tragic blunders and unintended consequences, they say.
”You have to be very careful not to make mistakes, ” said Gidon Ezra, a member of Israel’s parliament and a former deputy chief of Shin Bet, the country’s internal security force. “But mistakes happen. Sometimes innocent people get killed.”
Then there are the moral ambiguities — the internal conflicts between a country at war, and one that places a high value on legal norms.
Even as the Bush administration set in motion its clandestine, ”dead-or-alive” operation against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, the U.S. State Department condemned the most controversial tool in Israel’s anti-terrorism campaign — its policy of pre-emptive assassinations.
”We remain opposed to targeted killings, ” said spokesman Richard Boucher.
It is not clear assassinations of terrorists will become part of the American portfolio. U.S. officials remain mum. But Uzi Arad, a former head of Mossad, the much-feared Israeli intelligence agency, said America is at the beginning of a path that his country has trod since 1972.
That September, at the Olympic Games in Munich, masked Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes and coaches. Like the Sept. 11 attacks in America, the drama played out on television.
“The analogy is very much with [Prime Minister] Golda Meir in the wake of the Munich massacre, ” Arad said. “Golda Meir issued an order to exact justice. In the years that followed, it was done. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Sometimes with more success, sometimes with less.”
While Arad draws a distinction between Bush’s search for justice and Israel’s pre-emptive strikes, Ezra does not. Eventually, the two motivations merge, the former deputy chief of Shin Bet said.
”A lot will change in U.S. policy, ” Ezra predicted. Foremost will be the rules of interrogation regarding suspects, he said. Israel recently renounced torture, but maintains its right to ”pressure” arrested suspects.
In the United States, any evidence gathered in such a way would be ruled tainted and thrown out of court. But Ezra said the object ”is not to put them to trial, but to get information.”
Under U.S. law, immigrants suspected of a crime or other violation of their status can only be held for 48 hours without charges. “Which is nothing, ” Ezra said. “You sometimes need two months to open their mouths. ”
Bush on Friday signed into law a bill that allows authorities to detain immigrants for seven days, and detention could be repeatedly extended for six-month periods.
Israelis have steadfastly rejected the death penalty in cases of criminal murder, but the government’s policy of assassination has broad public support among those who feel their lives randomly threatened by suicide bombers.
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