Murder for Hire

April 8, 2013 - 5:18 AM

I am a fan of the Central Intelligence Agency. More precisely, I am a fan of the officers and analysts who, along with uniformed service members and Foreign Service Officers are at the dangerous, too often deadly, pointy end of the sword in promoting American foreign policy as enunciated by the President.

Whomever the President happens to be.

A book about the CIA's drone program will be published tomorrow and an harrowing excerpt was published over the weekend in the New York Times.

According to NY Times correspondent (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Mark Mazzetti, the mechanism by which the U.S. got permission to overfly Pakistan territory back in 2004 with drones was a deal to use one to kill a Pashtun tribal leader named Nek Muhammad on behalf of the Pakistani government.

Muhammad was not a good guy. He was an ally of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and, according to the article, had been "marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state."

The deal was a simple one: If the CIA would use one of its predator drones to kill Muhammad, they could have access to Pakistani airspace to kill the people the U.S. wanted dead.

Under the deal, "[The] CIA agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.'s covert action authority - meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent."

Indeed the Pakistani military immediately took credit/responsibility for the death of Nek Muhammad "saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound."

This is not the particular issue that Sen. Rand Paul was seeking clarity on during this 13+ hour filibuster last month - that had to do with using drones to kill Americans on American soil, not tribal chieftains in Pakistan.

Nevertheless the whole thing leaves a sulfur-like smell behind. How different, for instance, was this contract killing of Ned Muhammad from the work of Murder, Inc. back in the hey-day of the Mafia in New York?

In another article, this one from 2012, the NY Times suggested the enforcement arm of the Mafia was responsible for between 400 and 1,000 murders.

The story gets worse. The Mazzetti article claims that the death-by-Predator program was switched into high gear after the CIAs own Inspector General wrote a report saying officers "might face criminal prosecution for the interrogations carried out in the secret prisons, and he suggested that interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the exploiting of the phobias of prisoners - like confining them in a small box with live bugs - violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture."

This leads to a very real conundrum on the battlefield: If a bad guy is captured all the protections afforded by international treaty kick in. If, however, if the bad guy is killed, he is … dead. No protections obtain.

If, as we have been told, torture doesn't work - that is actionable intelligence is unlikely to be gained - then killing a foe rather than taking him (or her) into custody is a cost-effective method of operating. If it can be done by remote control, so much the better.

You will remember that the U.S. Justice Department issued a White Paper earlier this year laying out the justification for allowing the singling out and killing of bad people via Predator. It says the President has the authority to use lethal force "against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States."

Also, it is not exactly clear to me that there is much difference in dropping a Hellfire missile on someone's head from a circling Predator and firing a Tomahawk Cruise Missile from some 600 miles away to accomplish the same task.

I am not a lawyer, not a spy, and not a military expert (as you have come to know all too well). I am a concerned American citizen who feels very uneasy about this program - whether it is administered by George W. Bush or Barak Obama.

It smells like Murder for Hire and I wish - fervently wish - there were some better way to prosecute this war.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the NY Times article about the beginnings of the Predator program in Pakistan; to the Wikipedia entry for Murder, Inc.; and to that DoJ White Paper on targeted killings. Also a modestly amusing Mullfoto from my trip to Ohio last week.