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This article appears in the January 21, 2005 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

Gonzales Must Be Questioned
About Rumsfeld Death Squads

by Edward Spannaus

New revelations coming out about the "death squads" being created by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld make it imperative that the Senate Judiciary Committee recall Alberto Gonzales for questioning concerning his role in providing the legal justification for these hit-teams. It is indisputable that the legal opinions which Gonzales, as White House Counsel, approved and submitted to the President—contending that the President has virtually unlimited powers in wartime to override laws and treaties, even those prohibiting torture—laid the basis for the use of these "hunter-killer" teams championed by Rumsfeld, and for the practice of "extraordinary rendition" being attributed to the CIA.

Yet these issues were scarcely touched upon, during the Senate Judiciary Committee's Jan. 6 hearing on the nomination of Gonzales to become Attorney General of the United States. The hearing, which had been scheduled to last for two days, was rushed through and completed in just one day—very likely because the White House and Senate Republicans are fearful that some new scandal or set of documents will emerge and blow the whole process up. This was the view of a number of sources consulted by this news service; one, who was directly involved in the hearings, says that there were rumblings that "there is something big out there," which the Republicans are afraid of.

'The Salvador Option'

It was known at the time of the hearing, that some major leaks would be coming out containing revelations on Rumsfeld's plans for expanding the use of the combined military Special Forces and CIA "hunter-killer" teams, which Rumsfeld set into motion in the period immediately following Sept. 11, 2001. The most definitive account of this secret program, and its direct connection to the publicized torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo, has been provided in a series of articles, now in book form, by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. It is anticipated the Hersh will be publishing an updated account of the death-squad operation, possibly as early as Jan. 15-16.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reported on Jan. 9, that the Pentagon, being desperate over the recognition that the United States is losing the war against the "insurgency" in Iraq, is now discussing what is called "The Salvador Option": the creation of kidnapping and assassination teams, modelled on the death squads which were financed and supported by the U.S. in El Salvador in the 1980s, to hunt down leftist rebels and their sympathizers.

"Following that model," Newsweek reports, "one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support, and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shi'ite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called 'snatch' operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation."

However, one source told EIR that this scheme is already in effect, with death squads already having been deployed weeks ago, in the assault on Fallujah. Other well-placed U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources have reported that such U.S. units have been operating for the past year or more, and are, in some cases, working in conjunction with Israeli assassination squads. Israel has a longstanding policy of "preventive assassinations" of Palestinians "militants."

Another aspect of the debate, is over whether the Department of Defense or the CIA should carry out these operations. The DOD is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which has gotten more attention in the wake of the torture scandals; the CIA is not subject to the Code, but does technically require a Presidential finding in order to conduct covert operations.

Newsweek describes this as part of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's long-standing drive to take over the CIA's clandestine and paramilitary operations. "Rumsfeld's Pentagon has aggressively sought to build up its own intelligence-gathering and clandestine capability with an operation run by Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone," Newsweek reported.

Prior to the publication of the Newsweek account, EIR was told by an informed source, that, as a result of the post-9/11 restructuring, and pursuant to the exercise of Presidential authority, Rumsfeld had accelerated his drive to take complete control of the intelligence-gathering process as it involves covert and paramilitary operations. The new CIA Director Porter Goss has been "emasculated," and the CIA itself sidelined, somewhat in the same way that the State Department has become less and less important in the Bush-Cheney Administration.

The accumulation of power in the Pentagon, as regards intelligence-gathering and assessment, is "staggering," this source said, and he added that Rumsfeld is now preparing an aggressive expansion of covert operations, with authorization from the White House. This will include something like the 1970s Phoenix assassination program in Vietnam, which Rumsfeld now calls "eradication."

The only Senators who questioned Gonzales about any of this, were Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who were subject to the time constraints and cutoff of questioning imposed by committee chairman Arlen Specter.

Kennedy questioned Gonzales about a Justice Department memo prepared for Gonzales, which authorized the CIA to transport prisoners out of Iraq to other countries for the purpose of "facilitating interrogation." Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the forcible transfer of persons from occupied territories, and defines this as a "grave breach" of the Convention and therefore a war crime, the Justice Department argument, approved by Gonzales, was that this prohibition does not apply to "foreign terrorists" in Iraq. (This is an absolute mischaracterization of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which applies to everyone within an occupied territory or country.)

When Kennedy asked Gonzales about the DOJ memo, and also about the question of "ghost detainees" (prisoners held incommunicado and "off the books," hidden from the International Red Cross), he claimed not to remember the circumstances of the CIA requesting the legal guidance, and asserted that "I don't have any knowledge about what the CIA or DOD is doing."

Blaming the CIA

There is a bit of Rumsfeld subterfuge also going on, in attributing these operations to the CIA. It is believed by many sources, that the "rendition" operations are conducted under DOD auspices, just the same way that the special task forces formerly known as Task Forces 20 and 121 (now 6-26) included CIA operatives, but were run by the Pentagon. Specifically, this is run out of the office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, and his deputy, Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin.

An interesting confirmation of this came in a Jan. 8 Chicago Tribune story, one of a number of such stories reporting on efforts to trace the Gulfstream executive jet that has been used to transport suspected al-Qaeda operatives to third countries such as Egypt and Syria, where they have been tortured. All previous accounts of the "mystery jet" described it as owned and operated by the CIA, under a set of untraceable cover names and corporate shells. However, the Tribune cites a retired CIA officer saying that the jet is operated by the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC is based at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, and is the coordinating agency for all military special operations forces and operations.

Gonzales: The Facilitator

Of a piece with Gonzales's approval of death squads and torture, is his earlier conduct when he was counsel to then-Gov. George W. Bush in Texas, in facilitating executions of death-row inmates. In both cases, Gonzales readily provided the twisted legal rationalizations for his boss's indifference to death and suffering.

It has now been shown, that when Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the reason that his "death penalty memos" to Governor Bush were so truncated, was that he usually had "numerous discussions" and "a rolling series of discussions" with Bush about each execution, Gonzales "almost certainly crossed the line from half-truth to untruth." writes Alan Berlow in the online Salon magazine.

This is demonstrated in the Jan. 14 edition of Salon, by Alan Berlow, the author of the noted 2003 Atlantic Monthly analysis of the Gonzales memos, which memos resulted in the execution of all 57 death-row inmates who were the subjects of his memos. Berlow had shown that the Gonzales memos were generally only a summary of the prosecution's arguments, and repeatedly failed to mention the most important claims on the defendant's behalf, including plausible claims of innocence.

"Because the written summaries were so thoroughly unprofessional," Berlow wrote in Salon, "Gonzales no doubt felt he had to downplay their significance in his Senate testimony"—which he did by claiming that the memos were preceded by extensive discussions with Bush. But, says Berlow, Bush's appointment logs only show one meeting per execution, which was almost always on the day of the execution. Gonzales also testified that if Bush "expressed questions or concerns ... the governor would direct me to go back and find out and be absolutely sure." Yet there is no record of any follow-up memos or report in any of the 57 cases.

Gonzales's testimony, Berlow concludes, is "just not believable."

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