Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

  Can't kill your way out of war
--General David Petraeus 

Acting is all about honesty.
If you can fake that, you've got it made
--George Burns

 I think I'll move to Australia 
--Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible,
No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst

Retired SEAL Matt Bissonnette's No Easy Day (published under the pseudonym, "Mark Owen") is a kiss-and-tell about the assassination of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team 6 (ST6), of which he was a member.  Many things surrounding this book reveal the questionable nature of the War on Terror.

First, if the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) were real, would it not be an act of sheer insanity to identify oneself in the media?  Would one not then be a sitting duck for al Qaeda retribution?

Second: All members of ST6 were awarded the Silver Star Medal (SSM) for this operation in which there was, by Bissonnette's account, less-than negligible hostile action.  This award should be bestowed for conspicuous valor in the face of an armed enemy -- how does this equate with assassinating an unarmed man in his nightshirt, in his house?

The Silver Star is appropriate for the Bedford Boys in World War II Normandy and later, the Battle of the Bulge. Appropriate for the Battle of Lang Vei or the Son Tay raid in Vietnam, in which large enemy forces were engaged and neutralized in a genuine military raid conducted for a military reason.  More recently, think Waygul and Wanat.

The SSM is NOT awarded for service or achievement; the Bronze Star without "V" device (valor) device takes care of that need. As with the Pat Tillman scenario, the statutory requirements for the award were not met.  There were more SSM's awarded for the OBL action than were awarded to entire Ranger and Airborne Battalions on D-Day.  Moreover, assassination is not a military term.

Third: The Law of Land Warfare and the Geneva Conventions, which are the law of our land and all civilized nations, does not recognize the actions of Bissonnette's "No Easy Day".

Bissonnette admits that OBL was shot in the entry phase with two to the head, and he said he himself then fired a handful into the body of a grievously-wounded adversary, whom he "could not identify".  If the target was no longer capable of hostile action (any man  is neutralized when he takes two to the head from a 5.56 carbine, and Bissonette describes OBL's brains spilling onto the floor), then his action is a violation of the GC's.  

He justified his trunk shots on the program 60 Minutes by saying he wasn't sure if OBL held a grenade under his clothing which he might throw, but that would be a scenario only seen in Marvel comics. Of course, after a cascade of dissimulation from the highest levels, what matter a final fib from a triggerman?

Fourth, but perhaps most significantly: Why was there no credible effort made to capture the most valuable source of intelligence concerning al Qaeda?  A live prisoner is an invaluable asset for neutralizing terror networks.  A kill mission in this case lacks military (though perhaps not political) logic.

The author has been criticized for jeopardizing national security, but what SEAL or SOCOM technique, training or operational imperative was exposed that had not already been revealed in the recent Navy propaganda film, "Act of Valor"?

If Act of Valor is a righteous film, then too is this book.  If this is a false conclusion, then Bradley Manning may be getting a new bunk mate.

Washington's objection to this book is that this soldier compromised the White House's carefully-scripted theater, revealing that the rapt faces in the NSC viewing room the day of the assassination were actually conducting the finest performance of the day.

[cross-posted at RangerAgainstWar]


  1. "Why was there no credible effort made to capture the most valuable source of intelligence concerning al Qaeda?"

    That's an easy one:
    Terrorists are delusional enough to think they could blackmail governments into releasing prisoners.

  2. Frankly, ISTM that the "releasing the prisoner" scenario wasn't that big a danger; given the immense bodyguard of lies surrounding this entire episode I can't see how ol' Osama doesn't disappear into a cell on the USS Shangri-La for ninety days while a faked image gets broadcast to the public along with the whole tale of the burial at sea. AQ - which by the time he was kacked had, I understand, pretty much eased him up to "emeritus-jihadi-in-chief" - mourns their martyr and the CIA gets a couple of months to suck the gomer's brain dry before he gets the garotte and THEN goes over the side.

    Anyway, I'm not going to get all that about this nonsense. The recent embassy attacks point out, to me, the full range of bullpuckey we're being fed about our policies in the Middle East. The entire region is hellishly complex and difficult, and yet we're being fed the line that the "problem" is "the terrorists" and that the solution is as simple as two in the brain housing group. Idiotic, and dangerous. But typical...

  3. SO,
    The German gov't has released terrorists in the past. As have the Italians.
    There's even recent reports that there was German collusion in the Munich massacre. The Palestinians were provided passive support before the incident.
    We released Puerto Rican terrorists during the Clinton years.
    Negotiating is always a option.
    Screw the nonsense motto-we don't deal with T's. This is a bullshit statement.

  4. Chief,
    I avoid conspiracy stuff, usually.
    I'm gonna do a piece on conspiracy and christianity and religion.
    If one can believe in god then any conspiracy theory becomes sensible by comparison.
    I find awarding the SSM for assasinating a guy in his bedroom to be a factual point to protest.When did it become valorous to kill someone with supreme killers ?

  5. Jim, feel free to support your assertions abut Germany with some sources.

  6. SO,
    I'll work on it.
    I may have to make that a separate article.
    Of course dealing with the 70/80's groups is not the same template that we see today.
    Hasn't Stern or spiegle done some released document stories recently on the Munich fiasco??

  7. SO,
    Just for shits and giggles i googled =
    Highly entertaining.
    The Aug 31/12 entry states-German gov't released 3 terrorists involved in.... etc.... etc...
    Surely you read this stuff without my tutorial.

  8. I can find recent reports about three terrorists "released", but

    (1) not a single name
    (2) no hint about the reason (we happen to "release" people when we cannot prove their crimes, you know? We have no gitmo.)
    (3) one certainly false accusation that "the Bavarian government" released them. A German government cannot release prisoners, only the judicial branch can release prisoners from investigative custody.

    I rate this all as a rumour.

  9. Mr. Ortmann,

    There has been much written both in the German press and elsewhere this summer re. the release of recent documents indicating German collusion in the 1972 Munich massacre; this is not hidden info, nor is it rumor. Der Spiegel has been leading the pack:

    A few sources quickly found:

    Officials Ignored Warnings of Terrorist Attack

    Germany was warned one month before Munich

  10. These links don't offer anything like evidence for the politically-motivated release of terrorists from custody, though.
    Nor does the Spiegel article about the release, for it offers no details whatsoever.

    Besides, Der Spiegel is known to get some stories wrong anyway. I'd be more interested in more trustworthy sources such as historical research articles.

    Last but not least, the relationship between the PLO etc and the FRG was different than the one between AQ and the U.S. The palestinians were not really opposed to us, we were just caught a bit in the struggle. AQ identifies the U.S. as main antagonist.

  11. jim, good write up.

    1. I strongly agree about the Silver Stars, that is ridiculous. No doubt it was a high risk operation, but no higher risk than a lot of operations in some of the most remote parts of AFG.

    2. I also agree that AQ isn't even in the same league as several criminal organizations (Mexican cartels come to mind), and the fact that this guy is still alive is proof of that. If a cartel wanted him dead, he would be dead by now (however, cartels in Mexico have the good sense to keep to their side of the border, or only go after the "undesirables" on this side of the border, drug addicts, migrants, etc). No doubt an AQ type would sacrifice himself to kill this guy, yet, he lives. Very telling....

    3. Your point about violations of the Geneva Conventions might be valid, if we were concerned about the law (specifically, those laws). Again, very telling that NO ONE is making a stink of what is essentially a written confession.

    4. As an intel guy, I frankly don't see a lot of value in taking him alive (a trial would be a zoo that would likely lead to events like we've seen over the past couple of days in the ME, and where do you put him in prison??? So many complexities). Could he have had intel value? Sure, maybe. But not likely. If we assumed he would actually tell us anything, which I can't imagine he would. I don't think he knew a hell of a lot about actual operations. And it isn't like we were going to "flip" him :)

    What bothers me about this book (as well as many others) is the complete and utter impotency of Statements of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Without a doubt, this guy signed an NDA when he left the team, swearing under penalty of law, that he would not divulge the details of this operation or of TTPs used by his sensitive unit. Yet, here it is, this guy cashing in on his fortune, while his peers and comrades in arms have to deal with the potential consequences. I am in no way suggesting what those consequences might be at this point, but either way, he held them in no regard, he only saw dollar signs.

    Quiet Professionals......

  12. BG,
    Thanks for replying.
    Your cmts mean a lot to me.
    As for para 4 -who ever said anything about a trial?
    Have we seen KSM in a court room lately? This is the new America-we don't need no stinking trials.
    OBL alive would have put tremors in the ranks of AQ -imo.
    Speaking of books-everybody wants to cash in-think Dalton Fury.
    If you remember a Marine was photographed killing a wounded opponent who had been wounded 18 hours before and was NEVER TREATED BY a US medic. Nobody said a word of protest, so why raise a squack about just one more dead 'BAD GUY"?
    Part 2 of this essay should be up today.
    Have u determined a thesis topic?

  13. No jim, still working the thesis. It has been very frustrating. My degree is a new degree, and there is a lot of debate within the school house as to what it what Science and Technology Intelligence is all about. They have made our left and right limits of thesis topics very narrow. They want it to be S&T related, has to be strategic intelligence (not intelligence operations) and focused on something foreign (we can't look at our own systems, processes, organizations, etc). This is especially hard for me because I am not a specialist or an analyst, my job is to manage and resource specialists. Therefore, my natural inclination is to research management, resourcing, policy, and support issues.

    The latest is this: The DNI directed that our school setup a degree in Cyber Intelligence. We don't know what this means, but what I do know is that people are leaning forward and designing a curriculum. However, to my knowledge, it isn't based on any threat model. So I am offering to help out, by compiling a series of future Cyber Threat models to propose a unified theory or assessment, and then crosswalk their curriculum with the threat model. I think it will be interesting, and will give me a chance to get around and meet people, which is part of my goal as well.

  14. Lisa-

    Read the Der Spiegel article, but it comes across a lot more "after the fact", like maybe somebody could have put it all together, but then again nobody was really thinking that such could happen. That, and the simple fact that the Germans are at a certain disadvantage here due to history . . . Especially in connection with anything to do with Jewish people . . . so, not really a smoking gun, rather a collection of stuff that after the fact looks like, "well you should have seen it coming . . . or not".

    How would you rate that in comparison with this?

  15. seydlitz,

    The documents do not need mitigation; there is no ambiguity. They do not read as, "well you should have seen it coming . . . or not".

    There was clear collusion on behalf of the German government. These things always surface 40+ years later, when most of the players are dead and most of the rest of us beyond caring.

  16. Lisa-

    You haven't answered my question . . .

  17. Lisa-

    And please point out in the article where there is any mention of "clear collusion" . . . I missed that part . . .

  18. Lisa, the most responsible player for what happened in the 70's is Altkanzler Schmidt, and he's still relatively well, very alive and easily the most-respected political person in Germany today.

    The article(s) mention nothing that couldn't have been simple coincidence (judiciary releasing people for lack of evidence, for example - yeah, we do that).

    What I read out of the articles was a German political interest in cutting free from entanglement in the Mid East conflict, which the cooperation of leftist RAF terrorists with PLO terrorists had brought over us.
    Our conflict was with the RAF, the PLO's conflict was with Israel. There was no need for us to battle the PLO or need for them to battle us.

  19. To Lisa, SO, and Seydlitz.
    Let's stay OT.
    Let's keep the discussion in 2012.

  20. Jim,

    Agreed, strong predispositions arise at the oddest times, and I'm sure we're all sorry to be infecting your piece; this will be my last.

    Seydlitz writes, “Germans are at a certain disadvantage here due to history . . . Especially in connection with anything to do with Jewish people”

    What does this even mean? Delicate way of saying, “due to Germany’s history.” You would not be insinuating the Jewish people are to blame for their own persecution by Germans, would you?

    “[A]t a certain disadvantage”, yes. The eyes of the world are still upon the Germans. Pity their hands are tied on building any more crematoriums for while.

  21. jim-

    Will not say anything more, but see the need to respond to Lisa's last comment.


    What did my comment mean? The context was Munich 1972 which you brought up along with a serious charge of "German collusion" in the massacre, but haven't been able to expand on . . .

    So instead, you went for my juggler . . . "You would not be insinuating the Jewish people are to blame for their own persecution by Germans, would you?

    “[A]t a certain disadvantage”, yes. The eyes of the world are still upon the Germans. Pity their hands are tied on building any more crematoriums for while."

    Pointing out an obvious historical context - once again referring to 1972 - and asking for clarification makes me, what an anti-Semite?

    That was really over the top. How about an apology? I would expect it from a man, why should it be any different from you?

  22. Just back from three weeks Italy, two weeks of which were touring Tuscany by Vespa with 19 fellow riders, letting that take my mind off worldly cares and woes. Was a grand trip.

    jim- A kill mission in this case lacks military (though perhaps not political) logic.

    Much of the morass we flounder in has been as a result of military action without political logic, not even flawed political logic. As Bacevich so elegantly put it, Americans think "War works".

    Like bg, I have grave reservations with Bissonnette's book and his making personal gain from compromising the confidentiality of the mission for what appears to be personal gain. I have no idea of Bissonnette's motives, as I am not a mind reader, but it concerns me that he is falling in step with other conservative military folks who feel free to discredit their Chain of Command if they don't buy the politics. After all is said and done, he seems like a flake to me.

    The SSM is indeed over the top for these players, but then, in RVN, the standard Bn Cdr award package included the SSM. Someone just had to gin up a sufficient narrative. I know of many Bn Cdr SSM narratives that were edited to make the claim rise to at least close to justification. One LTC I served under went ballistic when he heard that his adjutant had been told to "just pick a day he flew from his flight records and create a narrative." He told the Group Cdr he would go to the press over it. However, for every ethical O-5 and O-6 with ethics on this, there were dozens happy to have another medal to wear. This is nothing new.

    I also agree heartily with bg's #4. I would also wonder, if he was as physically frail as stories relate, if he could even be subjected to "enhanced interrogation" and survive. The fact is that he's dead, and there is no turning back. Move forward.

  23. To all.
    Esp seydlitz.
    I try my best to keep emotion from my writings, but i'm often unsuccessful, but my topics are often visceral and like most of us drunks here we are very close to the topic.
    I also try to be impersonal, and i've violated this a few times, esp. in my early cmts to bg. I held him responsible for the system which was not a fair thing to do.Since then i've pulled myself to the center in my dealings with him.
    We've all got skin in the game , and as such we get a bit to emotional.
    I'm a big fan of Spock even when i command the starship.

  24. seydlitz,
    I am not trying to limit discussion but i was uncomfortable with the direction of the discourse and i felt that it needed moderated ,hence my request to get OT.
    1972 is not my topic of the day.
    Earthlings are just too emotional.

  25. seydlitz,

    My sex has nothing to with whether I give or receive apologies. I rarely demand or expect them when people speak their mind forthrightly.

    I mean no offense to you, personally, and if I caused such, then for that I apologize. It could just be a case of apophenia with me: I am so often confronted by anti-Semetic liberals (other than Jews, though not exclusively) that I simply expect that stance, and presumed you to speak for the many.

    And you know Godwin's Law. Again, the time for this exploration is at a post dedicated to such a topic. Jim's is not such a post.

  26. Lisa-

    Apology accepted.

    Actually I did attempt to get this discussion back on topic . . . twice in fact. My link fit the topic and then I asked for your view a second time . . .

    I grew up in a society that looked at the world of the late 1960s in terms of 1865 or perhaps 1921. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to achieve a revision of 1914 is that historians insist in looking at it in terms of 1939. The Northern Irish problem lasted as long as it did because too many looked at it in terms of 1916. The Serbs felt vindicated in their actions during the 1990s because they were in 1389. And Al Qaida, where would their minds be exactly? Israel? It's not 1948, it's 2012 . . .

    If you wish to understand 1972 you can't look at it in terms of 1942, which was my point, call that what you will. I am a strategic theorist, as you know, and my first impulse is to get people to question their assumptions . . . don't expect me to change that. I wouldn't if I could.

  27. seydlitz,
    i appreciate the cmts that you make on this site.
    Usually when i sober up i usually get your point.
    it's hard to face strategic thinking when sober.
    when looking at the 72 fiasco it is necessary to look at the 68 olympics. Hell even the 36 event has relevance.
    I accept responsibility for the discussion going OT b/c i replied to SO,s cmt on T's and etc..
    Even tho the Germans released the 3 Munich killers 3 months later he still believes that they didn't negotiate with T's.
    The point is that i went ot by answering him, but i try to be a gracious bar tender as do you.
    i will keep a tighter lock on my lip in the future.
    Often i go ot , but i always acknowledge this fact before so doing. sometimes side ot topics do address the discussion and ad depth to the discussion.
    it's a fine line between bullshit and charisma.

  28. Dear seydlitz,

    I do find your last paragraph fascinating, and respect your strategic theorist's posture. I, however, come from a psychological perspective, and see things a little differently. But we agree that questioning one's assumptions is a good idea.

    You write, "If you wish to understand 1972 you can't look at it in terms of 1942 ..." Aviator47 is on-board with you when he wrote of OBL, "The fact is that he's dead, and there is no turning back. Move forward."

    While I do feel "forward/get on with it!" are good mottos by which to live, the are some caveats. On the personal level, while I may press on following an offense, if I do not understand it (the origin - current conduct of my former adversary), I will be acting without necessary data, and in bad faith. Resentment and fear will operate in the backfield.

    If I can, to use your analogy, "understand 1942," then I can understand why the actors behaved as they did, maybe understanding why things fell apart. Move forward we must, but we should seek a better way, because people do not simply move past their grievances and "get over it". They may sublimate, and employ denial and cognitive dissonance, but in the end, there it is (until confronted.) Only then may rapprochement be possible.

    Why even have military history at all if we're not going to analyze past actions/results in context? We risk the cage of relativism and revisionism if we do not go back and view things as they were. To just keep bumbling forward, only seeing things in current context and on contingency, is not necessarily a formula for success, IMHO.

    I faintly hear Basil Fawlty's impatient "Sorry, sorry, so sorry" in the background. Apologies are good; understanding, better, and understanding both of a time and place and through current lenses is necessary for the full picture.

  29. Lisa-

    Some random thoughts . . .

    Questioning assumptions is a constant. My two literacy threads were about my own questioning of my assumptions concerning literacy, which for a teacher is somewhat fundamental.

    And I'm all for historical context, which is what I'm arguing, but context as in contingency . . . strategy doesn't exist without contingency in fact.

    At the same time, reading your comment, I first thought of Heraclitus and never stepping in the same river twice. But then I would question my assumption as to 1942 as well . . . I suppose I have a specific perspective on that period in time, following very much Hannah Arendt's ideal types as presented in "The Origins of Totalitarianism" which after a lot of study of this period I've taken as pretty much my view, although of course open to question.

    It's been a long road . . . What seems to make the difference is not so much the people, or political community, but the character of the state and how that comes about. Failure, manipulation, corruption and confusion can give birth to far more than we think. But what happens when it is more a question as to what structures were/have been/are allowed to develop? Does anyone ever really know where that path is going to lead? How could they? Contingency seems to fall by the wayside . . . leading to almost a deterministic structure that in the end collapses. I saw that in 1989 btw.

    As to where the path leads, or rather has led us, that is a question that we as Americans will have to face imo at some point . . . Who exactly is accountable then?

    Individuals of course are responsible for their own actions, but that doesn't really explain it does it?

  30. There is much here, seydlitz. Per, "Strategy doesn't exist without contingency in fact". Yes, we only have the benefit of fixed context after the fact (and maybe not even then.)

    Agreed: What misshapen fruit are borne of "Failure, manipulation, corruption and confusion," and a provocative thought that we mostly operate within a deterministic framework constrained mostly by the blind, embittered and megalomaniac.

    Oh, not only Americans will have to face accounting! Moreover, what form can that take in order to be meaningful or effective?

    Per your last statement:

    Individuals of course are responsible for their own actions, but that doesn't really explain it does it?

    --I am conflicted. In a sense, that is the only thing that explains anything, no?