It was reported on Tuesday that Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal will be taking over command of US forces in Afghanistan, pending Senate approval.
McChrystal is presently director of the Joint Chiefs staff, but from September 2003 to August 2008, he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees such elite units as the Army's Delta Force and the Navy SEALs.
Famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh recently described the JSOC as an "executive assassination wing" controlled for many years by the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Speaking to a University of Minnesota audience in March, Hersh called JSOC "a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. ... 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."
Although McChrystal's efforts with JSOC were not widely reported at the time, Newsweek did run a brief article on him in June 2006:
No one would have mentioned his name at all if President George W. Bush hadn't singled him out in public. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, West Point '76, is not someone the Army likes to talk about. He isn't even listed in the directory at Fort Bragg, N.C., his home base. That's not because McChrystal has done anything wrong—quite the contrary, he's one of the Army's rising stars—but because he runs the most secretive force in the U.S. military. That is the Joint Special Operations Command, the snake-eating, slit-their-throats "black ops" guys who captured Saddam Hussein and targeted Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
JSOC is part of what Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to "work the dark side" after 9/11. To many critics, the veep's remark back in 2001 fostered his rep as the Darth Vader of the war on terror and presaged bad things to come, like the interrogation abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. But America also has its share of Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls "the shadows." And McChrystal, an affable but tough Army Ranger, and the Delta Force and other elite teams he commands are among them. ...
Rumsfeld is especially enamored of McChrystal's "direct action" forces or so-called SMUs—Special Mission Units—whose job is to kill or capture bad guys, say Pentagon sources who would speak about Special Ops only if they were not identified. But critics say the Pentagon is short-shrifting the "hearts and minds" side of Special Operations that is critical to counterinsurgency—like training foreign armies and engaging with locals.
McChrystal, however, may not be quite as much of a white knight as Newsweek made him out to be. A far less flattering impression of him is given by an Esquire article which ran at the same time as the Newsweek piece. This article details revelations by a military interrogator, "Jeff," about the use of torture "at a secret camp used by Task Force 121, the ultimate Special Ops team, the elite titanium tip of Donald Rumsfeld's spear."
It was a point of pride that the Red Cross would never be allowed in the door, Jeff says. This is important because it defied the Geneva Conventions, which require that the Red Cross have access to military prisons. "Once, somebody brought it up with the colonel. 'Will they ever be allowed in here?' And he said absolutely not. He had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in--they won't have access and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating, even Army investigators."
Given Task Force 121's history, that was a remarkable promise. Formed in the summer of 2003, it quickly became notorious. By August the CIA had already ordered its officers to avoid Camp Nama. Then two Iraqi men died following encounters with Navy Seals from Task Force 121--one at Abu Ghraib and one in Mosul--and an official investigation by a retired Army colonel named Stuart Herrington, first reported in The Washington Post, found evidence of widespread beatings. "Everyone knows about it," one Task Force officer told Herrington. Six months later, two FBI agents raised concerns about suspicious burn marks and other signs of harsh treatment. Then the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that his men had seen evidence of prisoners with burn marks and bruises and once saw a Task Force member "punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention."
Fred Kaplan at Slate and Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Dish have already noted Task Force 121's involvement in harsh interrogations and General McChrystal's apparent protection of the abuses. Hopefully, these questions about McChrystal will not be overlooked during his confirmation hearings.