The CIA's dirty war

The government's covert war on terrorists is immense and ugly, which is just the way Bush likes it.

Published December 30, 2005 4:08PM (EST)

You may have heard about the CIA's stable of secret prisons in Eastern Europe, known as "black sites." You've also heard about "extraordinary rendition," the CIA's effort to capture and spirit away terrorist suspects from friendly countries without any judicial oversight. And you might also have known about the harsh techniques the CIA uses in interrogating prisoners, including some that may well be called torture. But what you didn't know is that all these efforts -- and a number of other clandestine CIA endeavors in the war on terrorism -- are part of a sweeping operation called GST, a top-secret covert action program that George W. Bush created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and that has grown into the U.S.'s largest undercover program since the Cold War.

Reporter Dana Priest sketches the broad outlines of the program in this morning's Washington Post. Read it and weep: Priest paints a picture of an intelligence apparatus that Bush and his lawyers have blessed with terrifying flexibility and resources, a program that appears free to do whatever it pleases, however corrupt, dirty, or un-American, under the aegis of the war on terrorism.

Indeed, the administration's legal justification for the program -- the post-9/11 Congressional resolution that authorized "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks" -- makes virtually any anti-terrorist action, whether torture, kidnapping, or assassination, legal. "Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act," one official tells the Post of the White House's view of the law. "It's an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything."

Despite the recent outcry over some aspects of the GST program, Bush and his underlings, including CIA director Porter Goss, are described as being fully and personally committed to the covert, ugly war. They're not changing their game. For examples, when Europeans objected to the presence of "black sites," the CIA shut down those prisons, but simply moved the detainees to other secret bases.

For Bush, keeping up such efforts are paramount, the Post points out. Where other presidents might have shied away from undercover operations -- these things can get messy -- Bush likes to fight ugly. "In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action," A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004, tells the Post. "But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations."

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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