August 24, 2005

Assassination - A Foreign Policy Tool?


On August 23, I appeared as a guest on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Reverend Pat Robertson's remarks calling for American covert operatives to assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. I am not a South American specialist - my comments focus on the use of assassination as a foreign policy tool.

Assassination has been against U.S. policy since it was specifically prohibited in an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, again by executive order under President Jimmy Carter and then again with the current executive order in force EO 12333, singed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The law not only prohibits the United States government from conducting assassinations, it also prohibits conspiring, supporting, assisting, etc, anyone else from doing it. Oft-heard remarks such as "we'll have the Israelis do it" are nonsense.

The names that usually come up when discussing assassination in this context are Saddam Husayn and Usamah Bin Ladin.

  • Saddam Husayn
During war, the leader of country is the commander in chief of the armed forces and is considered a valid military target. In peacetime, he is not. In the 1990's, it was U.S. government policy to support organizations attempting to overthrow Saddam Husayn - this became the official public position of the government when President Bill Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. How was Saddam to be treated under this act? At the time, U.S. intelligence agencies had to be careful not to cross the line - we could not support groups who were planning to kill Saddam, only those groups who agreed to take him into custody.
  • Usamah Bin Ladin
After the initiation of the Global War of Terror, Usamah Bin Ladin became a military target, the leader of hostile "armed forces" in a sense.

For more on the Hardball segment: