Bob Woodward’s final book on the Bush years in Iraq, The War Within, reports that top secret American targeting and assassination operations–extra-judicial killings–were “very possibly” the biggest factor in reducing violence in 2006-07, even more than the so-called troop surge itself.

He writes that the “groundbreaking” operations were carried out as Special Access Programs or under the Special Compartmentalized Information effort.

Woodward and his editors consider this strategy of summary executions of “key individuals in extremist groups” so ultra-sensitive that they chose not to reveal “the state secrets that have been so beneficial to Iraq.”

“Because disclosing the details of such operations could compromise their ongoing use,” Woodward writes, “I have chosen not to include more here.”

The programs were considered “awesome” by President Bush and were effective enough to give “orgasms” to the top intelligence adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, Derek Harvey.

As he has in the past, Woodward chooses to keep significant and explosive news a secret out of deference to the Pentagon and White House. The media is no longer independent, but part of the national security apparatus. (The New York Times, for example, held the story on FISA/domestic wiretapping for one year.)

Thus far no mainstream media writer has sought to uncover the whole story, and why it was withheld since being launched in May 2006.

No member of Congress has raised a question either. Most lawmkers, however well-intentioned, know little about counterinsurgency doctrine, the actual role of counterterrorism units, and the vast gulags that already hold some 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans in detention without charges or lawyers.

Some immediate questions:

• Since the Iraqis on the receiving end presumably know about these tactics, why keep them secret from the American public, Congress and media?

• How are the operations consistent with US constitutional law and international human rights standards?

• Are they joint US-Iraqi operations, or only US operations?

• Are those targeted for execution carrying out any military action at the time, or do their names only have to appear on target lists?

• Did the target lists come from Iraqi informants or official sources, and how were they verified?

• Why were the targets killed instead of being detained?

• How many targeted individuals were killed or made to disappear?

• Who in the Administration, Congress and upper echelons of the media have known, and for how long?

This is the essence of a dirty war, and could well be the updated “global Phoenix program” recommended by Petraeus adviser David Kilkullen in 2004.

The shame is the utter silence with which the news is being met.

Many Americans still don’t know “why they hate us”, but operations like these have a way of triggering sudden retaliatory events like 9/11.