A New York Times investigation published today unveiled the inner-workings of Seal Team 6, the elite naval force best known for capturing Osama Bin Laden and until those events, the most secretive unit of the US military.
The tale charts how the mythologized unit, which began as a small group reserved for rare missions, morphed into what the Times called a “global manhunting machine” filled with invisible fighters that outsiders never knew about—or could hold accountable.
The story is significant not just because of the new, gory details it unveils about excessive killing and civilian deaths, but because it exposes yet another thing the US government does not want its citizens to know about. The unit carried out America’s dirtiest work around the world, showcasing what happens when elected lawmakers avert their gaze in an attempt to secure plausible deniability on the grandest scale.
“This is an area where Congress notoriously doesn’t want to know too much,” Harold Koh, the State Department’s former top legal adviser, who advised the Obama administration on clandestine war, tells the Times.
Further, James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, tells the Times:
“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.” Team 6, he added, “should continue to operate in the shadows.”
And therein lies the rub. It is no doubt important to preserve secret military missions that protect the lives of Americans and US allies around the world, but shrouding certain actions in complete secrecy (meaning no one outside the military is keeping a watchful eye) merely strips the players of accountability and opens the door to behavior few Americans would support. If they knew about it, that is.