Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rumsfeld's own black bag force

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

Burt Lancaster created an unforgettably dark and sinister character, Gen. James Mattoon Scott, in the gripping 1964 film adaptation of Fletcher Knebel's novel, "7 Days in May."

Contemptuous of President Jordan Lyman (Frederic March) and Congress, Joint Chiefs chairman Scott sidesteps and ignores laws, the president and Congress to create a secret ad hoc military force, Ecomcon, at a remote Texas base to overthrow the U.S. government.

The plot was implausible. But the insolence and icy ego of Lancaster's starchy character could prompt comparisons with the audacious and high-handed current Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Invoking the "war on terror" as justification, Rumsfeld has ordered in-house Pentagon lawyers to reinterpret laws to stretch his authority to suit his need for more power.

Military personnel jailed without charges as spies (later released). Enlistment contracts with service personnel abrogated and tours extended indefinitely (now challenged in court). Abusive treatment of Iraqi detainees condoned (until exposed). Mutli-billion dollar deals awarded to Halliburton without bids. Congressional critics of poor planning and insufficient forces in Iraq ignored with contempt.

Now Rumsfeld's real-world conduct has parallels with the fictional Gen. Scott's secret Ecomcon force.

The Washington Post reports, and the Pentagon confirms after first denying, that Rumsfeld has formed a secret new clandestine, covert intelligence service inside the Pentagon, called the Strategic Support Branch, which rivals the Central Intelligence Agency (and avoids congressional oversight).

As described by the Post, the group conducts "surreptitious missions in friendly and unfriendly states, when conventional war is a distant or unlikely prospect -- activities that have traditionally been the province of the CIA's Directorate of Operations." Rumsfeld considers the CIA inept.

Congress knew nothing of Rumsfeld's new operation. The Pentagon pooh-poohs alarms, saying Rumsfeld is only embellishing existing operations.

Rumsfeld's independent unit seems to defy Congress' drive to consolidate and coordinate intelligence activities, not increase them.

However, with the White House, Congress and the Justice department controlled by Republicans, and Democrats reduced to pathetic sputtering sounds, who will challenge Rumsfeld and risk being damned as "unpatriotic"? GOP yes-men also could fill expected vacancies on the Supreme Court, increasing the chances of sympathetic support for bending laws.

One-party control of the American "democracy" (or any government) encourages arrogant abuses of the public trust, putting the system of law in the hands of capricious political ideologues.

Maybe Rumsfeld believes as did the fictitious Gen. Scott: he's the best judge of conducting military affairs secretly with our without congressional approval, even if outside of the law.

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