RE-POST from May 12, 2011:
What is JSOC? Joint Special Operations Command.
I got that it was some kind of secret U.S. SWAT-team-like paramilitary program, ever growing and being unleashed onto scores of nations. I can't begin to imagine the breathtaking “black budget” it must suck up both crippling the welfare of the US citizenry and enabling it to wreak horror among non-US populations.
JSOC. Frontline addressed JSOC somewhat tonight about capture/kill operations in Afghanistan but not critically enough by a long shot. (Is it me or is Frontline getting more and more “careful” in its explorations?) I decided to do some fast googling.
Jeremy Scahill writes of JSOC:
Col. W. Patrick Lang, a retired Special Forces officer with extensive operational experience throughout the Muslim world, described JSOC’s forces as “sort of like Murder, Incorporated.” He told The Nation: “Their business is killing Al Qaeda personnel. That’s their business. They’re not in the business of converting anybody to our goals or anything like that.” Shortly after the operation was made public, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey called JSOC’s operators the “most dangerous people on the face of the earth.”
Several Special Ops sources say that President Obama has taken concrete steps to once again integrate JSOC more fully into the broader US military strategy globally. The bin Laden operation, which was done in concert with the CIA, seems to be evidence of that. The primacy of JSOC within the Obama administration’s foreign policy—from Yemen and Somalia to Afghanistan and Pakistan—indicates that he has doubled down on the Bush-era policy of targeted assassination as a staple of US foreign policy.
[The vast majority of JSOC’s missions are highly classified and compartmentalized. In some cases, JSOC operators have conducted operations without informing the combatant commanders of their presence. “Only a very small group of people inside our own government knew of this operation in advance,” a senior Obama administration official said shortly after bin Laden’s killing was announced.]
While JSOC—and the Navy SEALs in particular—will become legendary in a much broader circle as a result of the bin Laden killing, the secretive unit has had its share of controversy. JSOC forces were responsible for the botched rescue that ended up killing British aid worker Linda Norgrove in Afghanistan on October 8, 2010. JSOC also carried out a raid in Gardez, Afghanistan, in February 2010 during which two pregnant women and a US-trained Afghan police commander were killed. In that case, senior Afghan security officials and eyewitnesses claimed that US forces dug the bullets out of the dead women’s bodies. Initially, JSOC’s forces tried to cover up the incident by blaming the killings on a Taliban “honor killing.” Eventually, Admiral McRaven took responsibility for the botched raid and apologized to the family.
Those upper echelon military liars who refused to acknowledge a demoralized and liberal Pat Tillman, one of the JSOC team, had been killed by friendly not enemy fire, not only withheld this truth, but willfully propagandized Tillman’s death for as long as possible. Once again, such mendacity in the name of the sacrosanct military should give us serious pause.
Once again, some of these JSOC monsters not only cravenly dug the bullets out of the bodies of pregnant women they had wrongly murdered to escape accountability but attempted to frame the Afghans themselves for committing “honor killings” as quoted above. ANYTHING GOES. The ENDS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS. ONLY ONE COMMANDMENT for our military steamrolling leaderships and its elite squads, DON’T GET CAUGHT.
Our military, administration and arm-chair chicken hawk Congressional faux-generals certainly embrace the myopic extrajudicial ENDS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS group-think that continues to ALIENATE, if not actually kill, MORE AND MORE HEARTS AND MINDS globally as well as many of the awake hearts and minds of its own citizens by unleashing the savage JSOC operatives to ever advance their kill/capture raids to SECURE illegitimate US occupations for corporate opportunism. Of course, the JSOC team members are not terrorists -- or called out at as terrorists by citizens or corporate media -- because ... well, of course, because of the fact that they are Americans. Even when they kill innocent civilians, which they don’t unless they are absolutely NAILED for it, they are NOT terrorists.
We got a nice glimpse of how JSOC operates -- over-kill -- with the highly publicized alleged assassination of Obama bin Ladin. The ever efficient and expedient gangster two pops to the forehead, for one thing. Scott Horton reveals more of the secret but profound extrajudicial powers JSOC has:
The most secretive of roughly 20 temporary sites is run by the military’s elite counterterrorism unit, the Joint Special Operations Command, at Bagram Air Base. It’s responsible for questioning high-value targets, the detainees suspected of top roles in the Taliban, al-Qaida or other militant groups.
Recall that when Barack Obama was inaugurated, he issued an executive order designed to shut down secret prisons. When the order was finally released, initially expansive language had been narrowed to cover only secret prisons run by the CIA. Journalists and human rights groups then began to document the existence of detention operations involving the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), including the “Tor” or “Black Prison” at Bagram. As Dozier notes, the Defense Department insists that these are intelligence gathering, not detention operations.
Two years into the Obama Administration, it’s true that the number of reports of abuse coming out of these prisons has decreased and that the nature of the abuse claims reported has softened somewhat. But the fact remains that U.S. forces are operating two detention programs in Afghanistan—one public and broadly within established international guidelines, the other, run by JSOC, not so obviously compliant. Why did Defense Secretary Gates opt for the continuation of a JSOC secret prison system in Afghanistan when he was presented with proposals for a consolidated system, as required by law? After Gates departs the Pentagon later this year, will his successor allow this dangerous practice to continue?
How did the JSOC come into such prominence and power? They were POLITICALLY expedient and effective in the dark and dirty days of Cheney and Rumsfeld, not that the days are so much less dark and dirty now, but those two ruthless figures certainly played Dr. Frankenstein to a seeming JSOC monster.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, has alleged that then–Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often circumvented the traditional military command structure in how they used JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” Colonel Wilkerson told me in late 2009 for a story about JSOC in Pakistan. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”
Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” said Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch—read: Cheney and Rumsfeld—wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”
Reading about the convenience of a tight, hyper-secretive, extrajudicial and ruthless political convenient thug squad I couldn’t help be reminded of Hitler’s SS that expanded to infamously and staggering tragic proportions. According to wikipedia:
The SS grew from a small paramilitary unit to a powerful force that served as the Führer's "Praetorian Guard", the Nazi Party's "Protection Squadron" and a force that, fielding almost a million men (both on the front lines and as political police), managed to exert as much political influence in the Third Reich as the Wehrmacht (Germany's regular armed forces).
According to the Nuremberg Trials, as well as many war crimes investigations and trials conducted since then, the SS was responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime. In particular, it was the primary organization which carried out The Holocaust. As a part of its race-centric functions, the SS oversaw the isolation and displacement of Jews from the populations of the conquered territories, seizing their assets and transporting them to concentration camps and ghettos where they would be used as slave labor (pending extermination) or immediately killed.
Initially a small branch of the Sturmabteilung (the "Brownshirts" or Stormtroopers, abbreviated in German as SA), the SS grew in size and power due to its exclusive loyalty to Adolf Hitler, as opposed to the SA, which was seen as semi-independent and a threat to Adolf Hitler's hegemony over the party. Under Himmler, the SS selected its members according to the Nazi ideology. Creating elite police and military units such as the Waffen-SS, Adolf Hitler used the SS to form an order of men claimed to be superior in racial purity and ability to other Germans and national groups, a model for the Nazi vision of a master race. During World War II, SS units operated alongside the regular Heer (German Army). However, by the final stages of the war, the SS came to dominate the Wehrmacht in order to eliminate perceived threats to Adolf Hitler's power while implementing his strategies, despite the increasingly futile German war effort.
Stan Goff writes an enlightening, troubling and demystifying profile of JSOC -- the nature of its men -- and its ever escalating extrajudicial political clout.
Part of the old special ops boilerplate was "special operations in politically sensitive environments." Right.
Failure is a politically sensitive environment.
Given the proven ability of special operations to fail, and given the diffusionary loss of its original focus, the only asset that remained for JSOC to do things that are "special" was its high level of secrecy. Many alumni are now performing special duties at six-figure salaries as mercenary contractors... still paid by the Department of Defense - that is, with your taxes - only without that pesky potential Congressional oversight. I say potential, because Congress has no stomach to oversee anything military. The idealization of the military has ensured that.
Which brings me to the sycophancy of elected officials in the face of military commanders, and that includes Barack Obama.
Elected officials are forced to factor the mystique into anything and everything they say about anyone and everyone military. A sizable fraction of the voting public believes that cops are like the interesting, intelligent people they see on endless Law and Order re-runs, and they believe that military people are like the equally complex and ethical characters played by their favorite actors in idealized representations by the media. Or they are related to military members, an equally biasing condition.
Consequently, many of us have been forced to repress our gag reflex every time one of these Generals comes before a Congress that lines up to see who can fawn most effusively before the silver stars.
As for the romanticized Stanley McCrystal-type stoic special ops soldiers, Goff has a lot to say:
Obviously, I insert this quote with the subject of evil in mind, and in the context of a discussion of this mystique-laden military institution, JSOC. Because that is what they actually do, evil, and not some salvific secret missions that keep us unknowingly safe abed at night. Moreover, they are not the idealized archetypes, but simply a bunch of men who are conjoined primarily by their overarching commitment to US nationalism, their belief that ends justify means, and their personal pursuit of probative masculinity.
Few are multi-lingual, most are only marginally in better physical condition than the average civilian gym rat, many are stupid - more so than you want to know - and all are committed, when under orders, to bully and kill helpless people. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
They are far more banal than anyone would like to believe; and the culture is closer than anything else to a boys locker room. They like sports, pornography, gun culture, video games, alcohol, and misogynist humor. Gunslinging is dick-swinging - the dare-ya atmosphere we males know well, what I call probative masculinity. That's as stupid and banal as it gets. Our entire culture has become stupid, banal, macho, and adolescent - decadent beyond reckoning. The grotesque reality of the militarized imperial core of 21st Century rentier capitalism.
A little background.
For the record, I was a member of a constituent organization in JSOC for a few years in the 80's while JSOC was forming as a coordinating command in the wake of the 1979 hostage rescue debacle in Iran. Like all these coordinating elements that recieve truckloads of money, it grew into a kind of bureaucratic empire that was planted in some upscale digs on the boundary between Fort Bragg, NC, and the adjacent Pope Air Force Base. This is a process I call institutional dog-waggery... when the coordinaton and support apparatus becomes the tail that ends up wagging the dog.
Included in JSOC, then, were special counter-terrorism units from the Army and Navy, with special aircraft and air coordination assets from the Army and Air Force. God only knows what tack-ons have happened since then, especially since Donald Rumsfeld privileged the role of so-called special operations as part of his doctrinal rewrite for the entire Department of Defense.
Money has flowed like water into special operations; and this is the institutional equivalent of pouring buckets of ox blood into the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Chagres River. Along with the boys who want to kill to prove themselves have come opportunists and mountebanks of every stripe, not unlike the intellectual swindlers who sold Rumsfeld on his doctrine in the first place. Well, to be honest, Rumsfeld himself was one of the chief con artists, but that's another story.
In time, the very precise and limited skill sets that had been developed by the early counter-terrorist units - mostly geared to hostage-barricade resolution - had diffused out of the CT units, via retirees and ex-members, as well as training agreements with other agencies, until anyone who wants to observe what used to be called close-quarter battle (CQB) can see it reenacted with a fair amount of verisimilitude on prime time TV... SWAT tactics to the layperson.
Finally, Goff offers little hope in extrajudicially ruthless Obamaworld about reining in this dangerous US “terrorist” organization, especially the felonies committed in the shadows involving rendition and torture:
Proving innocence can be very damaging, especially if release brings revelations of more torture, rape, and murder... all of which happened, involving special operations, at various times in the conduct of the now expanding war. These are felonies; and they can send people to prison.
Felony commission is a "politically sensitive environment."
Anyone who hoped the Obama administration would investigate these kinds of activities during the Bush era has been disappointed. On the contrary, Obama has expanded the war into new countries, expanded the participation of the CIA and JSOC, left Guantanamo intact, refused to initiate independent investigations of military actions, and promoted the former JSOC commander - tainted by cover-ups and torture - to become the most well-funded and resourced warlord in Afghanistan.
Now the Obama administration's Justice Department is declining to investigate Guantanamo and the NCIS.
Meanwhile, JSOC flourishes, cloaked in secrecy with just the mystique peeking out. But there was no leaping over tall buildings in a single bound, no warrior-poets protecting us from the manifold dangers lurking outside our borders. There's just garden variety machismo, men who beat, torture, and kill unarmed detainees... men who have learned to relish violence, because it raises their esteem in the eyes of other men the terrible escalations of probative masculinity that continue to underwrite the wars of capital and nationalism like no other phenomenon.
Masked by mystique, cloaked in official secrecy, and in our name.
What Simone Weil said remains unfortunately true:
As soon as men know that they can kill without fear of punishment or blame, they kill; or at least they encourage killers with approving smiles.
Finally, Seymour Hersh has been warning about a dangerous Christian crusading zeal permeating the American military, especially JSOC:
He [Hersh] also charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community.
“What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals* if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”
Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.’”
“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”
He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”
Hersh may have been referring to the Sovereign Order of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization commited to “defence of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering,” according to its website.
“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”
“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”
How troubling this all is. JSOC. The tentacles of it are now penetrating more and more countries around the globe with the latest brutalizing technology a devastated US population has paid for. In addition, thanks to Obama's escalating lawlessness, the names of American citizens are now being added to its hit list.
Or, barring that, enjoy a lot more “24” type propaganda tv and movies, I’ll bet. Fuel for American denial and/or apathy.