So, now we know: The CIA program so sensitive that it could not be revealed to Congress involved plans to capture or kill al-Qaida leaders on a list compiled in the wake of the 9/11 massacres. It was apparently never fully activated and was canceled by the new CIA director, Leon Panetta.
Thus, the latest sorry chapter in the history of the presidential license to kill, usually behind an elaborate cloak of deniability because murder goes against the American grain.
In 1975, after I reported on CBS that the CIA had been involved in assassination conspiracies, Sen. Frank Church's investigating committee documented plans in various states of consideration to murder foreign leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo; Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic; Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam; Gen. Rene Schneider, the Chilean army commander in chief; Sukarno of Indonesia; and Fidel Castro of Cuba.
Castro, in particular, was the target of several plots during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, one of them in progress when Kennedy was assassinated. Some of those foreign leaders were, in fact, killed, though the Church committee wasn't able to establish direct U.S. involvement.
Under public pressure, President Ford issued a sweeping executive order banning participation by American employees in assassination plots. That did not deter President Reagan from ordering an attack on Col. Moammar Gadhafi's desert compound in Libya. And the first President Bush at least considered bombing Noriega's presidential palace as part of the invasion of Panama.
The second Bush White House took the position that it isn't assassination if it's part of a military operation.
That helps to explain why the Bush administration liked to talk of a war on terror against enemy combatants.
One can understand the temptation of a president to use his enormous powers against a murderous hidden adversary. This White House would do well to remember that Americans are made uneasy by the hidden uses of the president's authority against its foes.