Demand Accountability for America’s Secret Wars

Special Operations

Target: Admiral William McRaven, Head of Special Operations Command

Goal: Demand accountability for the United States’ secret military involvement in more than 130 nations

The accepted White House narrative is that the last American troops exited Iraq in December of 2011. Roughly 20,000 military personnel remained after this date, however, in addition to thousands of civilian contractors. This represents a pattern, rather than an exception. Far beyond its “official” wars, United States’ Special Operations forces were deployed in 134 nations during 2013, and largely without independent oversight.

An investigation by revealed that the number of countries where the U.S. deploys elite troops has ballooned under the Obama administration. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has embedded itself in the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Central Intelligence Agency, among dozens of government departments, and maintained a total budget of more than $10 billion in 2013. Yet the American public, media, and even Congress are kept in the dark about exactly where “special ops” will be sent next, and to what ends.

From secret drone bases in Saudi Arabia, to counterterrorism exercises in West Java and numerous online propaganda campaigns, special ops forces could be found in more than two thirds of all the world’s nations. In a time when budget debates put essential needs on the chopping block, the United States cannot justify a top-secret military free-for-all. And there is the moral cost to be considered, as well. Without oversight from outside SOCOM itself, the potential for human rights abuses is great. Demand that SOCOM commit to independent oversight and increased accountability for its secret wars.


Dear Admiral McRaven,

In SOCOM 2020, which some have called your “blueprint for the future” of the agency, you claim special ops forces can “project power, promote stability, and prevent conflict” around the world. In reality, the track record for covert military operations is far less flattering. Top-secret plans have intentionally armed groups which later proved to be America’s terrorist enemies, such as the Haqqani network. And in a more familiar example, it was the United States’ support for radical Islamists during the Cold War that led, in part, to the tragedies of 9/11.

Without accountability to Congress and the American people, SOCOM has the same potential to unintentionally promote conflict, rather than prevent it. Under your leadership, SOCOM’s scope of deployments increased from 120 nations to the current 134. Some good can be said of special operations, as when elite troops were recently sent to help with relief efforts in the Philippines. But in the midst of an ongoing Recession, of all times, how can such a massive budget for this top-secret military network be justified?

Clouded in such secrecy, human rights abuses and other violations of international law are more likely to go unpunished–and this is hardly the message the United States wants to send the global community. It is crucial that all military actions proceed with independent, objective oversight to ensure that America’s efforts to promote peace don’t have the opposite effect. Commit to increasing accountability for your agency without delay.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster via Wikimedia

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