WASHINGTON, May 18 A special death squad assassinated Pakistans former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on the orders of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, claims an American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
Mr Hersh, a Washington-based journalist who writes for the New Yorker magazine and other prominent media outlets, also claims that the former vice-president was running an “executive assassination ring” throughout the Bush years. The cell reported directly to Mr Cheney.
In an interview to an Arab television channel, Mr Hersh indicated that the same unit killed Ms Bhutto because in an interview with Al Jazeera TV on Nov 2, 2007, she had said she believed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was already dead. She said she believed Omar Saeed Sheikh, an Al Qaeda activist imprisoned in Pakistan for killing US journalist Daniel Pearl had murdered Bin Laden.
But the interviewer, veteran British journalist David Frost, deleted her claim from the interview, Mr Hersh said.
The controversial US journalist told Gulf News on May 12 he believed Ms Bhutto was assassinated because the US leadership did not want Bin Laden to be declared dead.The Bush administration wanted to keep Bin Laden alive to justify the presence of US army in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban, Mr Hersh said.
The Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist claimed that the unit also killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafique Al Hariri and the army chief of that country.
Mr Hariri and the Lebanese army chief were murdered for not safeguarding US interests and refusing to allow US to set up military bases in Lebanon. Ariel Sharon, the then prime minister of Israel, was also a key man in the plot, Mr Hersh said.
According to Mr Hersh, Lt-Gen Stanley McChrystal who was last week named the new commander in charge of US forces in Afghanistan, ran the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite unit so clandestine that the Pentagon for years refused to acknowledge its existence.
Gen McChrystal, a West Point graduate and a Green Beret, is currently director of Staff at the Pentagon, the executive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A media report noted that most of what Gen. McChrystal has done over a 33-year career remains classified, including service between 2003 and 2008 as commander of the JSOC.
On July 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report titled ‘No blood, no foul’ about American torture practices at three facilities in Iraq. One of them was Camp Nama, which was operated by JSOC, under the direction of then Major Gen. McChrystal.
Gen McChrystal was officially based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but he was a frequent visitor to Camp Nama and other Special Forces bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where forces under his command were based.
An interrogator at Camp Nama known as Jeff described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic soaking in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings.
When he and other interrogators went to the colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military’s Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the colonel told them he had “this directly from Gen McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in”.
On March 11, Mr Hersh told a seminar at the University of Minnesota that the unit Mr Cheney headed was very deeply involved in extra-legal operations.
“It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,” he explained. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office … Congress has no oversight of it … It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.”
Mr Hersh said “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
Although Mr Cheney had ignored such allegations in the past, recently he began responding to these charges, making counter-allegations against the Obama administration.
Last week in particular, Mr Cheney appeared almost daily on popular talk shows and also delivered a formal address at the American Enterprise Institute on the importance of interrogation techniques widely considered to be torture. Once known for his reticence and low profile, Mr Cheney has now become his party’s most audible voice.
Media commentators, however, attribute his sudden exuberance to the fear that if he did not defend himself, he might be prosecuted for authorising torture.
“Mr Cheney knew, when he began his media assault, that the worst of the horrors inflicted upon detainees at his specific command are not yet widely known,” said one commentator. “If the real stuff comes into full public light, he feared the general outrage will be so furious and all-encompassing that the Obama administration will have no choice but to … seek prosecutions of those Bush-era officials who specifically demanded those barbaric acts be inflicted upon prisoners.”
One blogger wrote that Mr Cheney not only authorised water-boarding, putting prisoners in confined spaces, pushing them, slapping them, putting bugs on them or demeaning them and their religious faith.
He quoted former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as telling a congressional panel in July of 2004 that if pictures of such acts were “released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse”.
Mr Hersh recently gave a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union making the charge that children were sodomised in front of women in the prison, and the Pentagon had tape of it.
First Published at Dawn.com