American Assassination History for Dummies
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Files of an FBI investigation of groups opposing President Reagan's policy in Central America show that secret guidelines for national security investigations gave the agents enormous latitude to delve into the lives of Americans who simply had criticized government actions.
The disclosures from FBI files have raised questions in the public and Congress about whether the relaxed guidelines, designed to make it easier for agents to examine groups suspected of trying to "achieve political or social change" through violence, are a sufficient protection for individual rights. President Reagan has ordered an internal review of the FBI surveillance, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Friday.
As you can probably guess, the Democrats made some noise, complained, opened hearings — but no one had the courage or stamina to go through all that again.
Meanwhile, on the assassination front, here’s a snapshot of what Reagan’s EO 12333 led to. This WaPo article, "Covert Hit Teams Might Evade Presidential Ban" dated February 12, 1984, needs to be unpacked to understand how little things have changed in the past three decades:
The Reagan administration has debated whether to authorize covert operations abroad that would allow military or CIA hit teams to secretly attack terrorist groups responsible for recent bombings of U.S. installations. By one account the debate is still going on and no decision has been made.
[S]ome CIA and military officials argue that the most effective way to retaliate--with the fewest mistakes and fewest innocent victims--is through a surgical strike by a hit team, run and organized by the United States but probably composed of U.S. military personnel or even foreign nationals.
Air strikes or bombardments with 16-inch, one-ton shells from the battleship New Jersey do not have the precision of a small hit team with a definite target, these officials have argued.
One senior intelligence official in Beirut recently said that air strikes, while in theory more "morally" acceptable and conventional, have killed many unintentionally.
This amazing passage gets right to one of the dark absurdities that informs our own debate today about how to fight terrorism — that it’s "legal" and considered essentially "normal" to shell with destroyers or bomb villages from the air if terrorists are suspected of being in those villages — but considered completely beyond the pale of civilized behavior to actually aim and target suspected terrorists.
It was a similar debate as this in the Bush years that led to increased use of drones and targeted assassinations — and now that we’re using drones, the sense is that the American imperial machine has crossed a Rubicon of death and evil unheard of. What Reagan’s war on terror reveals to our post-Reagan eyes is the absurdity of conducting imperial wars, period — whatever the choice of weapon is.
And then there’s this black comedy part of the story — putting the fate of the American imperial machine and justice in the hands of lawyers and "rule of law"-tards rather than in the public forum where it belongs:
Those officials opposed to using hit teams say it would be assassination. And, they noted, an executive order concerning the intelligence community, first signed by President Ford in February 1976 and later reaffirmed by Presidents Carter and Reagan, prohibits assassination. The order says: "No employee of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."
One official said the order could be revoked or simply ignored, arguing that covert action against terrorists could be defined as something other than "political assassination." This apparently could be done in secrecy. The law does not require the administration to give Congress prior notification of covert operations.