Sy Hersh, Abetted by Olbermann, Slandered SEALs That Later Killed Bin Laden as Cheney's Personal Assassins

The Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden are being widely hailed as heroes -- in stark contrast to previous descriptions of them from liberals in the media.

It was not long ago, over in the wetlands of the left, that these courageous warriors were demeaned as little more than homicidal thugs acting at the behest of war criminal Dick Cheney.

Here's how Keith Olbermann, then at MSNBC, described claims made by New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh in 2009 (h/t, RealClearPolitics; video after page break) --

In 1976 President Gerald R. Ford issued an executive order that read in part, quote, no employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, as we first reported on this news hour last night, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh claiming to have uncovered a covert, executive assassination ring that reported directly to Vice President Dick Cheney's office. A reminder, if one is needed, that in 1976 Mr. Cheney was the chief of staff to President Ford. Meaning, by the time Cheney was back in the West Wing, it appears he had either forgotten about his own boss's executive order or, worse, he had decided to ignore it.

Mr. Hersh making the revelations at a forum in Minnesota two nights ago. The topic -- America's constitutional crisis. Hersh saying that Mr. Cheney and his inner circle, quote, they ran a government within the government, adding, eight or nine neo-conservatives took over our country. Hersh's bomshell allegations about the assassination ring, the result of reporting for a book he says might still be a year or two away from being published. Hersh telling Minnpost.com in an email after the event that the disclosures are, quote, not something he wanted to dwell about in public. The toothpaste, however, already out of the proverbial tube here. When the discussion touched upon the abuses of executive power, Mr. Hersh, asked how these things tend to happen and whether they continue to happen to this day. In his reply, the reporter describing a secret commando unit officially called the Joint Special Operations Command.

Olbermann then cut to audio of Hersh speaking at the forum in Minnesota --

It's a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Clinton, in the uh, Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney, Cheney office. They do not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. (Robert) Gates, the Secretary of Defense. They report directly to him. They are not, uh, uh, they have absolutely no, Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination ring, essentially, and it's been going on and on and on.

And just today in the Times there was a story saying that its, its leader, a three-star admiral named  (William H.) McRaven, ordered a stop to certain activities because there were so many collateral deaths. It's been going into, in-, under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, well, in the name of all of us.

Back to a deeply concerned Olbermann --

A CIA spokesman today responding to Hersh's allegations by calling them, quote, utter nonsense.

The Cheney-led "assassination team" alleged by Hersh, Olbermann told his viewers, was officially called the "Joint Special Operations Command." Here's how the National Journal's Marc Ambinder describes the "highly mythologized SEAL Team Six" that killed bin Laden, "officially called the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, but known even to the locals at their home base Dam Neck in Virginia as just DevGru" --

DevGru belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command, an extraordinary and unusual collection of classified standing task forces and special-mission units. They report to the president  and operate worldwide based on the legal (or extra-legal) premises of classified presidential directives. Though the general public knows about the special SEALs and their brothers in Delta Force, most JSOC missions never leak. We only hear about JSOC when something goes bad (a British aid worker is accidentally killed) or when something really big happens (a merchant marine captain is rescued at sea), and even then, the military remains especially sensitive about their existence. Several dozen JSOC operatives have died in Pakistan over the past several years. Their names are released by the Defense Department in the usual manner, but with a cover story -- generally, they were killed in training accidents in eastern Afghanistan. That's the code.

Writing about Hersh's claims, The Weekly Standard's Bill Roggio helpfully pointed out where Hersh was mistaken, yet again --

After authoritatively and wrongly claiming the United States would go to war to halt Iran's nuclear program six times during the Bush administration, The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh is back at peddling conspiracy theories. His latest: Former Vice President Dick Cheney personally ran an "executive assassination ring." ...

(Following quotes from Hersh at forum in Minnesota) Like every good tale, there is some truth to it. The Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, does participate in the black operations hunt  for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups' leaders. This is done in conjunction with the CIA's Special Activities Division. There is little secrecy about this, just read "Jawbreaker" or this article by Bob Woodward from back in November of 2001.

But to claim that JSOC does not "report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office," or that "Congress has no oversight of it" is just false. JSOC was established in 1980 after the failed mission to rescue the hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran. JSOC is a component command of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which reports to the Secretary of Defense. JSOC, like the CIA, certainly falls under congressional oversight.

Hersh has made a living of making fantastic claims that don't live up to the hype. Chalk this one up as another Hersh fantasy.

A more recent Hersh fantasy -- alleging last January that "neo-conservative" members of Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta in the military, including General Stanley McChrystal, "overthrew the government" to wage a "crusade" against Muslims, as neatly described by NewsBuster Matthew Balan.

Over at Big Hollywood, John Nolte justifiably slams left-wing court jester Stephen Colbert for celebrating bin Laden's demise at the hands of men he maligned two years ago as Cheney's "secret, lawless assassination squad."

All of which begs the questions -- do Hersh, Olbermann and Colbert believe the killing of bin Laden was a political assassination? Or would it have been one only under Bush and Cheney?

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts