Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rumsfeld trashes another treaty

Canadian Cynic aimed me at this Washington Post article which describes Donald Rumsfeld new plans to fight "The Long War". In short, it has taken five years to develop three plans, all of them SECRET NOFORN, which provide the details and operational guidance to deal with terrorist groups worldwide. Part of it, however, should be raising more than a few eyebrows. (All emphasis mine.)

Details of the plans are secret, but in general they envision a significantly expanded role for the military -- and, in particular, a growing force of elite Special Operations troops -- in continuous operations to combat terrorism outside of war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Developed over about three years by the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, the plans reflect a beefing up of the Pentagon's involvement in domains traditionally handled by the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
Did the CIA and the State Department suddenly go somewhere? What possible reason could exist to create new elements of the Department of Defense to duplicate the functions of the CIA and State Dept?

For example, SOCOM has dispatched small teams of Army Green Berets and other Special Operations troops to U.S. embassies in about 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, where they do operational planning and intelligence gathering to enhance the ability to conduct military operations where the United States is not at war.
Gather that in because it's likely to get lost in the fog.

The Department of Defense and specifically US SOCOM is working out of US embassies to do operational planning and intelligence gathering... to prepare for military operations.

That's illegal.

But when has that ever stopped the Bush administration? The Geneva Conventions were described as "quaint" and obsolete by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It stands to reason that anything else that stands in the way of whatever Rumsfeld wants to do must also be, well... inconvenient, at least. It's still illegal.

Rumsfeld is using American diplomatic missions as military planning and operations centers. Far be it from him to let a pesky little thing like the Vienna Convention get in the way. Given that the Bush administration doesn't have a diplomatic bone in its corporate body, those embassies were something of a waste anyway. Better to use them as military garrisons.

But that damned Vienna Convention is still there. There is a pretty basic description of what a Diplomatic Mission is actually established to do.

The role of such a mission is to protect in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; negotiating with the Government of the receiving State as directed by the sending State; ascertaining by lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.
Now we all know that countries have intelligence officers lodged in their embassies. They're actually legal provided the name is on the list submitted to and approved by the receiving nation. Further, there are military personnel in most embassies. They traditionally hold positions as attaches and are there to assess and, in some cases, liaise with the receiving nation's equivalent military and naval authorities. They are also listed, submitted and approved by the receiving nation. Many embassies have additional military personnel assigned as "private staff". They're legal too, provided the numbers and role do not exceed what the receiving nation considers reasonable.

And in a subtle but important shift contained in a classified order last year, the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform -- rather than gain the approval of -- the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country, according to several administration officials. "We do not need ambassador-level approval," said one defense official familiar with the order.
The ambassador to a country is the supreme representative of the sending nation. Except now the Bush administration has subordinated that role to the US Department of Defense and Special Operations Command - in direct violation of the Vienna Convention.

That's not new. The United States has a long record of Convention violations although they have mostly occurred in the US when dealing with foreign nationals.

When SOCOM first dispatched military liaison teams abroad starting in 2003, they were called "Operational Control Elements," a term changed last year because "it raised the hackles of regional commanders and ambassadors. It was a bad choice of language," said one defense official, adding: "Who can pick on Military Liaison Elements?"
I can.

If the ambassador of an overseas embassy is no longer consulted but merely advised that such a team is infiltrating, and then that team operates without the advice and consent of the ambassador, they aren't conducting liaison - they are in control. The ambassador is relegated to 2nd fiddle.

State Department officials, meanwhile, said that although, for the most part, cooperation with the military teams has been good, they remain concerned over continued "gray areas" regarding their status. "Special Ops wants the flexibility and speed to go in there. . . . but there's understandably questions of how you do that and how you have clear lines of authority," one U.S. official said. There remains "continuing discussion, to put it politely, in terms of how this is going to work," the official said. SOCOM says the teams work for the regional commanders.
Gray areas? Continuing discussions? To put it politely?

This is not a happy relationship. This is no less than a takeover of the US diplomatic corps and another trashing of an international treaty.

Now, I'm pretty certain you imagine that US Special Ops is made up of tough Green Berets and Navy SEALs. They constitute only one element of Special Ops Command. This is also a part of SOCOM and it's worth your while to buy, borrow or beg this book.
(click for larger image... please!)

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