It's time to disband the Navy's SEAL Team 6 and all other secretive, unaccountable units of the U.S. imperial military. As is said about lawyers, if we didn't have these units, we wouldn't need them.
The New York Times reported recently:
While fighting grinding wars of attrition in Afghanistan and Iraq, Team 6 performed missions elsewhere that blurred the traditional lines between soldier and spy. The team's sniper unit was remade to carry out clandestine intelligence operations, and the SEALs joined Central Intelligence Agency operatives in an initiative called the Omega Program, which offered greater latitude in hunting adversaries.
Team 6 has successfully carried out thousands of dangerous raids that military leaders credit with weakening militant networks, but its activities have also spurred recurring concerns about excessive killing and civilian deaths.
Afghan villagers and a British commander accused SEALs of indiscriminately killing men in one hamlet; in 2009, team members joined C.I.A. and Afghan paramilitary forces in a raid that left a group of youths dead and inflamed tensions between Afghan and NATO officials. Even an American hostage freed in a dramatic rescue has questioned why the SEALs killed all his captors.
We are expected to trust the government that those operations kill bad guys only. But why should we, when it has done so much to earn our distrust? It has long downplayed the civilian deaths inflicted by drones, bombers, and ground operations.
The Times writes:
When suspicions have been raised about misconduct, outside oversight has been limited. Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees SEAL Team 6 missions, conducted its own inquiries into more than a half-dozen episodes, but seldom referred them to Navy investigators. "JSOC investigates JSOC, and that's part of the problem," said one former senior military officer experienced in special operations, who like many others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because Team 6's activities are classified.
Even the military's civilian overseers do not regularly examine the unit's operations. "This is an area where Congress notoriously doesn't want to know too much," said Harold Koh, the State Department's former top legal adviser, who provided guidance to the Obama administration on clandestine war.
Here we have a super-secretive unit of killers that is protected from accountability by its own. William C. Banks, a Syracuse University expert on national-security law, told the Times, "If you're unacknowledged on the battlefield, you're not accountable."
Members of Congress pretend to keep an eye on the military to prevent criminal behavior—but in fact they are integral to the corrupt system: with eyes turned away, they keep it going with large sums of money. "Waves of money have sluiced through SEAL Team 6 since 2001," the Times writes, "allowing it to significantly expand its ranks—reaching roughly 300 assault troops, called operators, and 1,500 support personnel—to meet new demands." And this is just one unit—though it is the most glamorized, having conducted the raid that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
The Times quotes James G. Stavridis, retired admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, who said, "If you want these forces to do things that occasionally bend the rules of international law, you certainly don't want that out in public." By "bend the rules," Stavridis means, in the Times' words, "going into undeclared war zones."
So politicians need secretive military units to fight undeclared wars—which would seem to violate the Constitution.
The existence of secretive military units conducting private lethal operations should bother anyone who aspires to live in a free society. Their very nature offends common decency. Yet a propagandized population takes for granted that secrecy is legitimate and necessary for our safety in a terrorism-plagued world.
Beyond the obvious objections to secretive military units, there is also this: U.S. intervention in the Muslim world makes people want to kill Americans, as government officials widely acknowledge. Secretive military units allow the national-security elite to engage in actions that provoke violence against Americans confident that Team 6 and the Army's Delta Force will neutralize any retaliatory threat.
For our own safety, we must disband these squads of killers.
This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.