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Keith Olbermann: Ready, Fire, Aim

Keith Olbermann: Ready, Fire, Aim

By Gary Berntsen - March 13, 2009

Last Monday, a friend informed me that MSNBC's host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann had gone off on a rant about me on his show. The friend told me that Mr. Olbermann had commented on an interview I had done on Fox & Friends on March 1, 2009 in which I had stated that I was displeased with the Bush Administration for not--after seven years-- having executed September 11th mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Guantanamo Bay detention camp detainees that are classified as unlawful enemy combatants. Unlawful enemy combatants are those individuals captured on the battlefield conducting military-type operations who are not in uniform, lack any designating unit patch, are not led by recognized authority and do not conduct themselves in accordance with the rule of law. Under the Geneva Convention, these individuals are also designated as marauders and we are under no obligation to provide them POW status. I argue that we must provide a suitable and expeditious legal process to handle these critical cases - a legal process that keeps on the table the option of our harshest punishment.

I watched Mr. Olbermann's performance later in the evening. He called me a sadist. Then he lectured that had Al Qaeda operated under the parameters which I suggested, I too would have been subject to execution by Al Qaeda if captured by them. I have a newsflash for Mr. Olbermann and his MSNBC producers: Al Qaeda and the Taliban torture, rape and kill all Westerners who fall under their control. In the specific case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, responsible for the horrible death of close to 3,000 people in the United States, he has been in front of a judge and proudly admitted both his role in his heinous acts and his desire for the death penalty. I have served on the battlefield against these type of killers on many occasions. Though I had retired from the CIA in 2005, I returned to Afghanistan from June 2007 to June 2008 and worked as an adviser to the U.S. Army on a Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) Task Force in Eastern Afghanistan. It was my great honor to work as a member of this unit. I deeply lament the sacrifices my fellow team members made--several of whom lost their lives or suffered horrific life changing injuries. Mr. Olbermann's desire to lecture me, or anyone else who has worked against Al Qaeda, is frankly pathetic.

Furthermore, MSNBC producers and Mr.Olbermann are not as informed or prepared as they should be--and I believe they do a poor job of representing the NBC brand. Let me provide a personal story to highlight my point. After retiring from the CIA in 2005 and publishing my first book, Jawbreaker, I did the television circuit for several months. One day I received a call from NBC informing me that Tim Russert wanted to interview me for his hour-long CNBC show. On the appointed day I traveled to Washington, D.C. When I entered the studio, the lights were down and Mr. Russert was already seated. In front of him was a copy of my book, Jawbreaker. It looked worn from use and notes were attached to dozens of pages. A cameraman directed me to my seat. I was nervous, of course. Tim Russert looked across the table and stated, "Welcome Gary. I have seen all of your interviews and read this book twice. I know you have been honest. That is why you are here today. Let's begin the interview." Tim Russert was probing, insightful and clearly in search of the truth. It was a privilege to be interviewed by him. The fact that Mr. Olbermann is now a major representative of the same brand is disheartening.

On television news shows, guests are forced to compress answers and it is easy for viewers to come to conclusions that may be less than accurate. In regards to the issue at hand, I am a published bestselling author who has provided detailed and nuanced answers to some of the most difficult challenges that lie ahead for our country. In November 2008, I published a policy book called Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism and National Leadership. Though I am a Republican, the book was written in a non-partisan fashion and I balanced my criticisms of both major political parties for failures in understanding intelligence, covert action, and other critical issues related to national security. Having said all of this, I return to Mr. Olbermann's categorization of me. The word "sadist" is defined as someone who derives pleasure from the pain of others. I certainly have faults, but sadism is not one of them. What I desire is justice. Individuals like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and those who employ terror in the cities of the world or in the mountains of Afghanistan should face our harshest punishment, the death penalty. The sooner we can deliver it, the better.

Gary Berntsen is a decorated former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) career officer who served in the Directorate of Operations between October 1982 and June 2005. He writes at The Berntsen National Security Review

Gary Berntsen is a 23-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Operations and author of Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda

Gary Berntsen

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