From Fri Oct 10 13:45:08 2003
Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2003 23:56:43 -0500 (CDT)
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
From: Dan Clore <>
Subject: [smygo] Assassination as a Tool of Statecraft
Article: 164974
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Assassination as a tool of statecraft

Editorial by Kazi Anwarul Masud, The Daily Star (Bangladesh), Vol.4 nu.110, Sunday 14 September 2003

Edward Said, lauded as “among the truly important intellectuals of our century” by Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, described the imperial perspective as “that way of looking at a distant foreign reality by subordinating it to one's gaze constructing its history from one's own point of view, seeing its people as subjects whose fate is to be decided not by them but by what distant administrator thinks is best for them”. Said who has a life long attachment to novelist Joseph Conrad (his first book was titled Joseph Conrad and his fiction of autobiography) defined imperium in Conradian language as “the conquest of the earth which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter nose than ourselves”. If one were to assume that post-Iraq war Middle East and particularly Palestine have been “taken away” and have to be “retained” by designating some people as “marked for death” and Ariel Sharon's frequent demands for the expulsion of Yasser Arafat, the elected President of Palestine and recognized as such by most of the people, from his own homeland then one starts wondering about the methods to be used for the elimination of the “recalcitrants” in the US-Israeli eyes.

Despite the absence of a uniform definition of terrorism the horrendous events of nine-eleven have focused the global attention to its elimination by all means and as expeditiously as possible. There is universal agreement that the key elements of terrorism are unlawful violence perpetrated against non-combatants intended to coerce or to intimidate governments and/or societies in pursuit of political, religious and ideological goals. Terrorism is inherently political and to Jessica Stern (of Harvard University) “deliberate evocation of dread is what sets terrorism apart from simple murder or assault”.

Zealots, Jewish religious-political faction, known for their fanatical resistance to the Roman rule in Judea in the first century AD, were perhaps the earliest known terrorists who adopted assassination as the primary tool of resistance to the Roman rule. Eleventh century Shia Muslim Assassins and the Indian Thugees (from seventh till mid-nineteenth century) also used assassination as justifiable method of expression of their beliefs, though Colonel Sleeman's account of the Thugees provides more a portrayal of banditry than offering to the Hindu goddess Kali. Though some anarchists accepted terrorist policy and practiced assassination, by and large the anarchists believed in the highest attainment of humanity through total freedom of expression unhindered by any form of repression or control from without. In effect, anarchism as a political theory was opposed to all forms of government.

The main point of enquiry of this article is to enquire into the legality of assassination as a tool of state craft. Emmerich de Vattel (Law of Nations —1758) defined assassination as “treacherous murder”. Treachery can be elicited from the Hague Convention IV as having the following features: (a) feigning a desire to negotiate a truce or surrender flag; (b) feigning incapacitation by wounds or sickness; (c) feigning civilian non-combatant status; and (d) feigning protected status by the use of signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations, neutral states or other states not a party to the conflict (Legality of Saddam Hussein's assassination-Sebastian Jodin-Quid Novi on line). Because assassination is generally committed through treachery, political thinkers throughout the ages found it abhorrent. In the 17th century Alberico Gentili was against assassination because he found no honour in killing through treachery. Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, condemned assassination by treacherous means. Emerich Vattal found it contrary to law and honour. The Hague Convention on Laws and Custom on War especially forbade killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to hostile nations or army.

As with every proposition there are dissenting voices. Professor Louis Rene Beres (of Perdue University) holds the opinion that though assassination is normally illegal under international law yet limited support for assassination can be found in Aristotle's Politics, Plutarch's Lives and Cicero's De Offices. Prof. Beres argues that (a) no crime without punishment is a sacred principle of international law; (b) where known perpetrators of crimes cannot be punished through normal judicial remedy (i.e. extradition and prosecution) the criminals have to be punished extra-judicially, and assassination may be the least injurious form of such punishment; (c) the right of self defence as codified in article 51 of the UN Charter and customary right of anticipatory and preemptive attack could include assassination as a distinct law enforcing measure. Justification sought in assassinating foreign leaders must have the two essential invariants that they must be terrorists and their crimes cannot be remedied through normal judicial process.

As opposed to Hobbesian world where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” the world has now attained the state of liberal democracy which in Francis Fukuyama's eyes may constitute the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and final form of human government and as such has constituted the “end of civilization”. Although Fukuyama does not suggest that occurrence of events, even large and grave ones, will cease, it is difficult to ignore Samuel Huntington's hypothesis “that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or economic. The great division among human kind and dominating source of conflict will be cultural”. Long before Huntington inspired forensic investigation of his hypothesis historian Bernard Lewis (The Roots of Muslim Rage-September 1990-The Atlantic Monthly) wrote about clash of civilizations between Islamic and Western civilizations partly because, he wrote, “ Islam was never prepared, either in theory or in practice, to accord full equality to those who held other beliefs and practiced other forms of worship”. According to Lewis the struggle between the two rival systems has now lasted for some fourteen centuries. It began with the advent of Islam in the seventh century and has continued virtually till today.

As a continuum of this rivalry one could interpret the Iraq war, but not the Afghan war which was waged to oust the Taliban who by allowing its territory to be used by Al-Qaida defied UNGA definition of aggression (1974) which does not entitle any country to allow its country to be used by a terrorist organisation to bring harm to another country, a result of the inter-civilizational struggle now that the raison d’etre for the war (WMD and its under one hour delivery by Saddam Hussein) has become controversial.

The central point of this present enquiry—legality of assassination—has still remained unresolved. In 1981 President Reagan issued an executive order prohibiting any person employed by or acting on behalf of the US government to engage in or conspire to engage in assassination. The order was a codification of an earlier policy laid down by President Ford in 1976. Since an executive order is not a law it can be changed by another executive order. In October last year White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer publicly advocated political assassination as a means of realising US foreign policy goals. Though Bush administration officials later claimed that Fleischer's assertion did not change the 26-year old ban on assassination they however pointed out that the ban did not apply to Iraqi dissidents of Saddam Hussein. An article titled “ Can we put the leaders of the Axis of Evil in the crosshairs” published in Parameters (Fall 2002) of the US Army War College indicated that the debate on assassination had not abated. The article asserted “Under the current circumstances assassination may prove to be a more frequent and necessary means of countering the asymmetric threat our nation will continue to face”. The article went on to argue that murder would be a justifiable weapon against leaders of “rogue states”.

Though it is upheld that assassination would be illegal under international law, many legal experts suspect that it may not be illegal because most terrorist leaders fall under the category of “illegal combatants” who are denied the benefits granted to legal combatants under the Geneva Convention on War. Michael Walzer, writer of seminal Just and Unjust War of the Princeton University argues that assassination of terrorist leaders may be legal because it would be illogical to label terrorist camps as legal targets for elimination while granting immunity to the persons planning and training terrorists. Regardless of the debate constancy remains on targeted killing of political leaders during war time if they become part of the command and control structure of the warring parties.

The US has a history of targeted assassination and/or attempts thereof particularly during the second half of the last century. Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, was murdered at the instigation and with the help of the CIA. In 1960 Eisenhower administration ordered the assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba to forestall his attempts to draw his country closer to the Soviet Union. In 1961 Kennedy administration sanctioned the overthrow of Iraqi dictator General Abdul Karim Quasem. At least eight different attempts by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro failed. Coup against Chile's Salvadore Allende was supported by the Nixon administration. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and Che Guevara were killed at the instigation of the US authorities. Example may also be cited of the Reagan administration's air strikes to kill Libya's Qaddafi in which his baby daughter was killed. US apparently stopped such operations as a result of public outcry following revelation of these facts by the Senate sub-committee on Intelligence headed by Senator Frank Church. Besides it was found that political assassinations invite counter assassination attempts and fuels anti-Americanism disproportionate to the gains garnered by the elimination of “delinquents”. Historical data shows a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and increase in terrorist attacks on American targets.

In recent days Israeli target attacks on Palestinian militants forced the resignation of Abu Mazen as Prime Minister on whom the US had pinned high hopes for implementation of the Middle East Road Map. Apart from the fact that Yasser Arafat has been forcibly confined to his Ramallah quarters (he was not allowed to attend the funeral of his sister who died recently) and Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships' constant attacks on Hamas and other Palestinian militants and consequent death and destruction wrought on innocent civilians in the name of “collateral damage” continue; surprisingly Edward Said's “imperial perspective” refuses to take into account the cyclical effect of Israeli aggrandisement. It has to be recognised by the regnant authority that undue expression of Israeli muscularity by putting Palestinian leaders in the crosshairs may bring momentary satisfaction to the trigger happy but historical blizzards would see such orgiastic display of muscle power with scorn. If the Western world is truly interested to establish peace in the Middle East then it has to put a leash on its sentinel in the East unless the West is convinced, now that the ideological rival has been put to flight, that the time has come to resume inter-civilisational war between Islamic and Judeo-Christian forces.