As I argued here October 27, the raid that US Special Forces undertook against Syria Oct. 26 had indeed been authorized by the White House. In fact, by President Bush himself, if we are to believe this important report in the NYT today, which tells us that Syria is one of “15 to 20” countries covered by a classified order issued in spring of 2004 that allows the US military to hunt down for “kill or capture” accused Al-Qaeda operatives located in those countries.
That order does not cover Iran (where few Qaeda people would be hiding out, anyway, given the deep doctrinal differences between Qaeda and the Tehran regime.) But the authors of the NYT story, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, suggest strongly that US military raids into Iran are probably covered by a separate order.
- Even with the order, each specific mission requires high-level government approval. Targets in Somalia, for instance, need at least the approval of the defense secretary, the administration official said, while targets in a handful of countries, including Pakistan and Syria, require presidential approval.
That would doubtless be because of the intense diplomatic sensitivity of taking these hostile actions inside countries whose governments provide important services to the US. (Unlike Somalia, for example, which has far less diplomatic importance.)
Regatrding Syria, Schmitt and Mazzetti also write:
- The recent raid into Syria was not the first time that Special Operations forces had operated in that country, according to a senior military official and an outside adviser to the Pentagon.
Since the Iraq war began, the official and the outside adviser said, Special Operations forces have several times made cross-border raids aimed at militants and infrastructure aiding the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The raid in late October, however, was much more noticeable than the previous raids, military officials said, which helps explain why it drew a sharp protest from the Syrian government.
The 2004 executive order gave permission specifically to the US military to act within the “15 to 20” named countries under certain circumstances. The White House– with the connivance of top members of the US congress– has long allowed the CIA the right to carry out various kinds of illegal acts, including killing and abduction of suspects, in an even broader range of foreign countries.
For the US government to arrogate to itself the right to act in such an illegal and potentially extremely destabilizing way in other countries around the world underscores, yet again, how far our country has slipped from be an upholder of international law and what a rogue force it has become within the international system.
We should press President-elect Obama and the leaders of the incoming Congress to repeal all the “executive orders” that have allowed and encouraged such global malfeasance.