March 30th, 2009
04:39 PM ET
13 years ago

Reporter alleges secret 'assassination wing'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Journalist Seymour Hersh sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room Monday."]
(CNN) - The Bush administration established a secret special operations unit unmonitored by Congress with authority to assassinate high-value targets in as many as a dozen countries, New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh told CNN Monday.

A former Cheney aide denied the claim.

Watch both interviews today on The Situation Room at 6 pm ET.

In an interview on CNN's The Situation Room, Hersh said the group - called the Joint Special Operations Command - reported to Vice President Dick Cheney and was delegated authority to assassinate individuals based on their own intelligence.

"The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress - Congress knows very little about this group, can't get hearings, can't get even classified hearings on it…goes around and has authority from the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack someone, I am sorry Wolf, yes I have a problem with that," Hersh said in the interview with Wolf Blitzer.

Cheney aide John Hannah denied the claim. "It's not true," he told Blitzer Monday. "And I think you heard in that interview that there was a little walking back from the original claim that was made in the speech that Mr. Hersh made" in which the reporter characterized the group as an "assassination wing."

Hersh said Monday he regretted using that language.

"I wish I had said something different, more careful. It's a loaded phrase, [but] it comes down to the same thing," Hersh said. "[The Bush administration] delegated authority to troops in the field on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good, and I can tell you it's always not good and sometimes things get very bloody."

Hannah also told CNN that in a "theater of war" like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pakistani border, "our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy."

But he also admitted he did not know for sure what the procedure had been. "I don't know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it's hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department."

A Special Operations Command spokesman rejected Hersh's report, saying their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. He adds that the vice president has no command-and-control authorities over the U.S. military. Two former Cheney aides also reject the claim, as does the former Bush homeland security adviser, now a national security analyst. Hersh did not disclose any sources in the speech or in the CNN interview, nor was he asked about sources.

The assassination of political leaders has been banned since 1976 - but suspected terrorists are a different story. When it comes to top al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden, American policy remains unambiguous, with President Obama saying “we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants.” Abu Musab al Zarqawi is the highest profile commander killed by American forces so far.

Former national security adviser Frances Townsend, a CNN national security contributor, says the list of authorized terror targets - people who can be killed without a trial -– numbers fewer than 100 who helped plan attacks or are "plotting the death and destruction of Americans or American interests around the world.” The U.S. military and the intelligence services, she says, are given authority to capture or kill them wherever they're found.

Townsend said the list of targets for the president to sign off on was the product of interagency collaboration that included the military, intelligence, law enforcement, and the Justice Department.

Both interviews air today on The Situation Room.

Filed under: Dick Cheney
soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. Paul H

    Are you people naive enough to believe that Bush is the first or only President to do such a thing. I bet most of you would wet your pants if you knew what every Presidents dirty little secrets were.

    March 30, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  2. Sammy

    "Cheney aide John Hannah denied the claim. "It's not true," he told Blitzer Monday. "

    What else would you expect them to say? I wouldn't trust Cheney if he told me the sky was blue.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Herschs claims proved to be true, not surprised one bit.

    March 30, 2009 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  3. Sue M

    I think this past administration should be investigated, STARTING with Chaney........where are all you republicans now, why aren't you hollowing FOWL now, especially you McCain, well you know McCain supported Bush 90% of the time, he probably knew all about this......and the GOP wonders why no one wants to vote for them anymore, this country doesn't want another Republican in the highest office in this country, thinking they are above the LAW

    March 30, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  4. Chris - Albany, NY

    Welcome to the party. Keith Olbermann shed some light on this a few weeks ago!

    March 30, 2009 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  5. MJM

    You think this is bad, try looking up "Clinton's Body Count".

    March 30, 2009 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  6. the idiot

    If this is true, and there are plenty of indications it isn't, would the Bush/Cheney administration be acting similarly to the Kennedy/Johnson administration and the Carter/Mondale administration and in the best interest of their country per their constitutional oath? Or because it was Bush/Cheney, should we apologize for it similar to HRC apologizing to the Mexican government for causing the violence in their country. Grow up folks. The "america is the blame" bunch is now in charge of the country.

    March 30, 2009 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  7. Georgia Gal

    Of course Cheney would deny the claim. You wouldn't actually expect him to tell the truth would you??

    March 30, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  8. New Yorker

    Silly Sheeps, Trix are for Kids! I thought everyone already knew we had a wing like that for years even before Bush. Sorry friends, mainstream doesn't give you the entire story lol.

    March 30, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  9. lyn

    Come on, you guys in the media are not surprised by this, are you? This is no surprise to me. I have always thought this was the case. But you are considerd to be conspiracy theorists if the issue was brought up.

    March 30, 2009 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  10. New Yorker

    Typo...not sheeps but sheep lol.

    March 30, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  11. Mikey

    We are not at war with 12 nations. How come these guys have authority to kill people in 12 nations? And what do the leaders of these 12 nations say to that? Do they even know? Or are they on the list themselfes, maybe because we don't "like" them (Hugo Chavez, the Castro brothers)? Scary stuff...

    March 30, 2009 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  12. Ain't life strange?

    This sounds a bit far fetched... but with all I've read about Cheney it wouldn't surprised me if it turned out to be true. It WOULD surprise me if it was true and Bush knew about it. I think Cheney was an unleashed operator who had no limits and let as few people as possible know exactly what he was up to. He was so secretive his right foot didn't know what color sock was on the left foot.

    March 30, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  13. Eze

    Well, the reporters on this one again have incorrect information. The Joint Special Operations Command was and has been in existance since the 1990's. It was created so a unified command was in charge of all the various branch's special operation units. Traditional commanders do not know their fully capabilities nor how to use them correctly (read Panama here). The unit may have worked under JSOC but it was NOT JSOC. Let's actually research our facts please, for once...

    March 30, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  14. lived9lives

    To proud army navy mom: Yes, someone is doing something about the "war criminal" issue. Google: Judges, Spain Gonzalez. At least in Spain the judges there want to prosecute Gonzalez and others who tortured their citizens held in Gitmo by Cheney and his henchmen. And hopefully something will come from this article also. Cross your fingers folks.

    March 30, 2009 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  15. HD

    They better try him before he becomes 'too ill to stand trial'...

    March 30, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  16. No Hillary = No Obama

    I don't put anything past the deceitful Bush administration. Wait and see more is coming out about Bush and his corrupt administration and henchmen.

    March 30, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  17. John

    Republicans: Indifferent to the Constitution and accountability until a Democratic adminstration took office.

    March 30, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  18. Jack in Florida

    He George and Dick................the Hague is calling.........I would not put anything past the Bush and Cheney show..............history will prove that they are the most evil, despicable administration in our nations history.

    March 30, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  19. Karen

    Say changing alot of news from Obama administration today to the past.

    I say NO, we are moving forward and moving fast!!

    March 30, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  20. Joe Terrogano

    Let's have a real investigation, get any accurate information, and then make judgments. If this is true, then prosecution should be considered. If not, lets focus on the economy.

    March 30, 2009 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  21. kerry

    March 30th, 2009 5:24 pm ET


    They should be in Jail!!!!!!!!!!

    No, there is an attempt from the media to keep them relevant. They are not gonna go to jail and for that you know what, we rather move forward!!

    March 30, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  22. Ginger

    None of this is a bit surprising.... Why is it Congress doesnt investigate things like this? What are they afraid of?
    Bush and Cheney should be investigated but seems nobody is willing to look into the shenanigans they pulled... Cheney and his Illegal company in Iraq WHILE WE WERE FIGHTING A WAR THERE God doesnt anybody have any guts?????
    Whats wrong with the old fashioned American? Where did he disappear to? Seems nobody can stand up for what they believe in any more...

    March 30, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  23. Evan

    Just a part of this to point out -

    No one is surprised by this news.

    That's sad when the vast majority of the population has learned so much about an administration that the announcement of further criminal activity doesn't even cause anyone to blink an eye.

    March 30, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  24. Jonathan

    I like Bush even more now. He had the guts to protect this country.

    March 30, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  25. Cindy

    This needs verification first. It all sounds too surreal.. even for the likes of Dick Chaney. It really does sound more like a movie or book plot than real life.

    March 30, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
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