"It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on," Hersh stated. "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us."
-- Seymour Hersh during topic “America’s Constitutional Crisis” at the University of Minnesota on March 10, 2009.
Mr. Hersh has been busy, ever since, expressing his regrets over having said those words (even parsing that he had actually said assassination “wing” not “ring”) and so obviously nervous in every interview with the whole subject. This investigative journalist, who was awarded the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for exposing the My Lai massacre and cover-up, originally attributed his awkwardness over his revelations as too early in consideration of a book planned but not written. In the days after Minnesota, however, Hersh has not run away from what he said, but he appears to be frantically running away from something.
Wolf Blitzer interviewed Seymour Hersh on CNN March 30, 2009, to give Hersh a chance to “revise or amend or explain” the assassination ring comments. This offer of redemption to Hersh was made after Blizer had tape played of himself narrating:
“A Special Operations Command spokesman rejects the report. Says their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. He adds that the vice president has no command and control authorities over the U.S. military. Two former Cheney aides also reject the claim, as does the former Bush homeland security adviser, now a national security analyst.”
Then the video goes to a CNN employee, the network’s national security advisor Francis Townsend who says:
“There is no such squad wandering the earth. They don’t do this. There is no such thing.”
Blitzer’s voice-over combined with the authorative pronouncement of another CNN employee apparently wasn’t enough to compel Hersh to recant, only mourn as “loaded” his descriptive phrase “assassination wing”. In fact, Hersh told Blitzer:
“Everything I wrote about, everything I said in that article was written, has been written over the years in "The New Yorker." The basic premise that I was saying is there is a unit known as the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, it's a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about…I wrote…that congresspeople are very upset at the senior leadership. It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill. We're talking about high value targets. That's absolutely correct.”
“Is there anything wrong with that?” Blitzer asked.
“Oh, sure,” Hersh responded. “Because what's the intelligence basis? What's the legal basis for that?…The idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn't mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That's how it sort of played out in the press.The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can't get clearings, can't get hearings, can't get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this…For the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I'm sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
“What if it's done by the CIA?” Blitzer asked.“The CIA has learned a lesson,” Hersh replied. “The reason that I could write a story last summer in "The New Yorker" about it, there was a joint operation inside Iran involving JSOC and the CIA and the CIA wanted to go to Congress and they wanted to get authority. They wanted to get something known as a presidential finding. That is how Congress got a smell of how much is going on.”.
Blitzer pressed,”When you said executive assassination ring...
“No, I said ‘wing’ actually,” Hersh said.