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'Swift-Boating' Obama? Pentagon denounces politics of attack ad.

A group of former Special Operations Forces officers has criticized the White House for what it says were dangerous leaks of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Now, the US military is pushing back.

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President Obama (2nd l.) and Vice President Joe Biden (l.), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, in this May 2011 file photo.

Courtesy of Pete Souza/White House/Reuters/File

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The US military is pushing back against the campaign of a group of former Special Operations Forces officers who have spoken out against President Obama in what some have described as a latter-day “Swift Boat” campaign. 

The group in question is the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc. (OPSEC is short for operational security). It has criticized the White House for what it says were dangerous leaks of the raid that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden

“As a citizen, it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy,” says Benjamin Smith, a Navy SEAL, in an Internet film the group has produced. “It will get Americans killed.” 

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to the film, warning that using the uniform for partisan politics erodes the trust that people have in their military. 

“One of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy is, it’s most important we remain apolitical,” he said Wednesday. “That’s how we maintain our trust with the American people. The American people don’t want us to become another special-interest group. In fact, I think that confuses them.” 

The OPSEC organizers in turn spoke out against Dempsey’s remarks. “We respect the Chairman’s views but as we are no longer on active duty we also appreciate our right to speak freely on issues we feel passionate about, including protecting those still in uniform from intelligence leaks and being used for partisan political purposes,” said Scott Taylor, president of OPSEC, in a statement. 

“Our nation has a very long history of former military figures continuing to serve the country through political activism, including 115 members of the current Congress and countless others,” he added.

Dempsey rejected the actions of such groups as OPSEC, regardless of whether its members are retired or on active duty. “If someone uses the uniform for partisan politics, I’m disappointed in that,” he said.

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Some Special Operations Forces officers have had similar responses. For special operators to take part in political campaigns is “in violation of everything we’ve been taught, and the opposite of what we should be doing, which is being quiet professionals,” Army Special Forces Maj. Fernando Luján told the Associated Press

Unlike the largely passive response of John Kerry to so-called Swift Boaters in the 2004 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama has spoken out against the OPSEC group. “I don’t take these folks too seriously,” he told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “One of their members is a birther who denies I was born here, despite evidence to the contrary.” 

He is referring to retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, who has questioned the president’s birth in Hawaii and appears in the group’s Internet film.

The group criticizes the president in particular for what it says was a politically motivated push to take credit for the bin Laden raid. 

Adm. William McRaven, head of Special Operations Command, which planned the raid, took on such criticisms in an interview last month with CNN, noting the great risks involved in the operation. 

“At the end of the day – make no mistake about it – it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions, that was instrumental in the planning process,” he said, “because I pitched every plan to him.”


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