Sunday, June 03, 2007

Assassinations as official policy

I was watching the debate this evening between the Democratic presidential candidates when Dennis Kucinich was asked if he would approve an operation to “take out” Osama bin Laden which would result in the death of a few innocents. He said that he would not because rather than assassinating people we should seek to arrest people who have violated international law and put them on trial. Senator Obama said that since we were at war he would approve such an action and Senator Clinton and several others also raised their hands if favor of such an operation.

Exactly when did the idea that the United States should abide by the rule of law and not be assassinating people become a fringe left-wing position? When did extra-legal assassinations as official US policy become a main-stream, middle-of-the-road stance?


Anonymous said...

In 1943, President Roosevelt ordered Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to "Get Yamamoto", referring to Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, the archetect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Secretary Knox relayed the order to Admiral Chester Nimitz who relayed it to Admiral William Halsey. On April 18, 1943, Admiral Yamamoto took off from Rabaul for an inspection tour of Japanese military facilities in the Solomon Islands. American Naval intelligence interceted the radio communications detailing his intinerary. American P-38 fighters intercepted Yamamotos flight which was escorted by six Japanese Zeroes. After a dogfight with the Zeroes, Yamamoto's plane was shot down and he died. For years there was a dispute among the American pilots as to which one actually shot down Yamamoto's plane.

Yamamoto, of course was a uniformed military officer conducting a war against the United States. But it is fair to say that Osama bin Laden also considers himself a leader in in a war against the United States. Is there a moral difference here?

Anonymous said...

What I mean is, if ordering General Yamamoto's death falls inside the traditionally accepted rules of war, wouldn't ordering Osama bin Laden's death also fall within those rules? Or does it matter that bin Laden is acting on behalf of a non-governmental organization rather than a government?

Our government has a hard time deciding whether to treat terrorists under the criminal justice paradigm or the war paradigm. Each has its own set of rules. During the Clinton administration, I believe, there was an indictment of bin Laden and also an order for the military to take him out. The missiles missed him and he has not been arrested on the indictment either. After 9/11, the Bush administration asked the Taliban in Afghanistan to turn him over, presumably for some kind of trial. The Taliban refused and bin Laden has neither been arrested nor killed. (As far as we know.)