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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Doctrine of Assassination

Watching the 700 Club's news segments, where a story is delivered then Pat Robertson (or his son) gives the significance in digest form, is much like ordering a steak and having the server chew it up only to regurgitate it into your mouth. Often his comments are out of this world but the other day was beyond the pale when Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuela's President:
You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. (emphasis added)

Robertson knows a lot of doctrines but the "Doctrine of Assassination" does not seem to exist. There are very few usages of the term found on Google The only relevant reference I found in Google Scholar deals with the ethics of assassination vis a vis the doctrine of Just War and Self-Defense. Could it be that Robertson knows that the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption is in really a call for assassinating those who oppose American hegemony?

Whit Kaufman, in a paper on The Ethics of Assassination, poses the moral concerns surrounding the idea of eliminating foreign leaders:
Nonetheless, there remain serious concerns about the idea of assassination even if we decide that the target is a combatant; these concerns apply to the assassination of military leaders as well as political leaders. First, the fact of premeditation is troublesome; self-defense is paradigmatically not premeditated, but as Webster describes it, an immediate reaction where there is no time for deliberation. Second, a primary moral duty under the doctrine of self-defense is to use the minimum necessary harm. An assassination order, or a bounty offered for the target “dead or alive” is in itself not morally permissible, because it violates this duty. Any planned assassination must be one in which killing is only a last resort; the order must be capture alive if at all possible. Morally, we cannot be indifferent between capturing alive or dead. (Some questions were raised, for example, about the killing of Hussein’s sons: was every reasonable effort made to capture them alive?) This is to say, a premeditated killing is always suspect; the aim must be to capture if at all possible, and to kill only to prevent him from escaping and carrying out further harm.

A second concern is the danger of misuse of the policy. In the course of public debate over the assassination of Hussein, it was widely reported that some members of the administration wanted to have Hussein dead, in order to avoid a trial at which embarrassing revelations might come out about the connections between the United States and the Hussein regime. Obviously, such an improper motive would invalidate the moral legitimacy of an otherwise legitimate assassination attempt on Hussein. Similarly, the initiating attack on Iraq was clearly an assassination attempt on Hussein, based on intelligence reports that claimed to identify his whereabouts – yet the Administration refused to describe the attack as an assassination, but insisted it was merely a legitimate strike against a “command and control” center. In order to evaluate the ethics of the action, one must be entirely clear about its underlying motivation.

A third concern is the danger of the slippery slope: once assassinations are ever permitted, will this undermine the Just War limits on killing? The worry here is about breaking down the barrier between legitimate killing in self-defense or in punishment, versus the sort of illegimate killing of which terrorism is a prime example, and which can simply be called murder. Assassination, given its premeditated character, is uncomfortably close to the side of illegitimacy. This is not necessarily a reason to reject the legitimacy of any assassinations, but it is a reason to reiterate the strict limitations on the policy. To the extent a person is in a role distant from the actual aggression itself (i.e. a supervisory role), there must be a direct connection between him and the acts of violence. A mere figurehead leader, as Wingfield suggests, is not a legitimate target, nor ordinarily is a civilian commander in a democratic state. The ordinary assumption must be that one may use defensive force only against those who are the agents threatening imminent, unjust violence. The presumption must be against assassination, given its resemblance to premeditated killing. It is reserved only for exceptional and urgent circumstances, and when all other methods have failed; to the extent the target is a political leader rather than a military one, that provides a further presumption against assassination. In Just War Theory, assassination can be seen as at best a last resort.

In conclusion, it appears that the policy of assassination or targeted killing, though it may be morally legitimate in certain limited circumstances, must in general be considered impermissible under the Just War Doctrine. The principle of respect for human life does not in general allow premeditated, extrajudicial killings of specific individuals. Only in urgent situations or extreme circumstances, where there is no other means to avoid a given imminent harm, can assassinations be permitted. And to the extent the target is a political rather than a military leader, the presumption against assassination must be even stronger. The recent shift in opinion in favor of the use of assassination can be revealed for what it is: a newly emboldened effort of the Realists and the Consequentialists to make inroads into the Just War Doctrine. But as much as they have the power of emotion on their side, moral principle must be the ultimate determinant in the conduct of war.(Emphasis added, and just Read the whole thing)

But back to Robertson, he also makes a not so subtle dig at the President with his claim that, "We don't need another $200 billion war..." What makes this interesting is the comparison and underlying agreement with what Ben Shapiro recently wrote.

After examining the unpopularity of the war, Bush's plunging poll numbers, Shapiro even notes the lack of proof of WMD's and that it was al-Queda who attacked us, not Iraq. Despite all this he is not deterred from saying, "If America is to survive and flourish, Americans must realize that empire isn't a choice: It's a duty."

That's right, we must embrace our inner empire. Empire is our duty and that's Why war in Iraq is right for America:
That is why impatient isolationism serves us ill in Iraq. Did Iraq pose an immediate threat to our nation? Perhaps not. But toppling Saddam Hussein and democratizing Iraq prevent his future ascendance and end his material support for future threats globally. The same principle holds true for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and others: Pre-emption is the chief weapon of a global empire.

No one said empire was easy, but it is right and good, both for Americans and for the world. Forwarding freedom is always important, but it is especially important where doing so ensures America's future security -- as in Iraq. Maintaining American empire will require Americans to recognize the dangers of impatient isolationism.

Ah yes, impatience is the problem. That's why torture is such an part of our tool kit (right next to the tongs, pincers, and heated rods). Those who justify torture, ilk like Robertson, can easily accept assassination as a method of policy. It's not a slippery slope anymore, it's a plunge off the cliff into an immoral abyss.