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Murder: Up front and personal

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Date: Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:14 PM
Subject: Murder: Up front and personal
To: expert-wgs@list.usip.org


Friends:

This week's cross-border incursion by American commandos into Syrian territory raises valid and timely ethical and legal questions that we need to think about urgently and carefully.  I am reminded of an op-ed piece that I wrote for the Outlook section of the Washington Post ten years ago (in late August 1998, three years before  9/11) entitled "We Can't Defeat Terrorism With Bombs and Bombast".  It was a strong criticism of the Clinton administration's Tomahawk missile attacks against a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the (totally unrelated) terrorist bombing a few days before of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  (The fact that the target in Khartoum was proven later to be a completely harmless industrial site is an embarrassing detail that only adds to the shame we all should feel for that criminal act ten years ago.)  The concept of lethal punitive actions committed by my country on the sovereign territory of a third country that had done nothing to deserve that punishment struck me as both criminal and stupid.  (One consequence, by the way, has undoubtedly been to greatly diminish American legal and moral leverage in our attempts to bring peace and justice to Darfur.)

Here is what I said at the time:  "To launch missiles into countries with which we are technically at peace ---- and to kill their citizens --- is to declare that the United States is free to make its own rules for dealing with this international problem [terrorism].  What standing will we have in the future to complain about any other country that attacks the territory of its neighbor, citing as justification the need to protect itself from "terrorism"? Did those who authorized these attacks think through the long-term implications of this short-sighted and dangerous precedent?"

Below, Helena Cobban addresses the same issue in the light of last week's commando raid into Syria ---  an act made even more dangerous and shameful, I believe, by the fact that it involved the deliberate  killing ---  face to face, up front and personal --- of individual Syrian citizens by individual American citizens with absolutely no legal or moral authority to commit this act of aggression and murder.)

How does this help us bring peace and justice to the Middle East?

Helena Cobban is a highly respected and credible authority on the subject.

Ray

Click Here: Check out "'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: On extra-judicial executions"

Text:

On extra-judicial executions

Posted by Helena Cobban
October 28, 2008 4:50 PM EST | Link
Filed in Human rights , War crimes etc

Since when is it okay for a state (or an individual) to set out to kill a person based solely on accusations against him that have never been publicized and have never been tested against even the most basic norms of criminal procedure?

It is not okay. Extra-judicial killings, also known as assassinations, are always abhorrent. They shock the conscience of anyone who believes in the rule of law. When carried out by states they represent a quite unacceptable excess of state power.

Much worse than "judicial" executions, which are (imho quite rightly) strongly criticized throughout much of the world.

So how come so many political leaders, representatives of the western MSM, and other members of the western political elite seem to be completely unperturbed-- or even quietly supportive-- when reports come out of US government operatives undertaking acts of extra-judicial killing?

Just because Israel has been carrying out such acts against alleged Palestinian opponents for many years now, does that make it somehow "okay"?

No.

Just because in the early days of the post-9/11 trauma, some mentally sick members of the Bush administration started handing out decks of playing cards with the "52 most wanted" on them, does that make setting out to kill those named individuals, or others later associated with them, somehow okay?

No.

It is time for us US citizens, whose government has carried out numerous acts of extra-judicial execution in recent years, to draw a firm line and say "No more!"

This week, we have had yet another shocking example of

     (a) our government-- speaking through still unnamed "administration officials"-- trying to "justify" the acts of lethal aggression it committed against Syria on Sunday by saying that they were aiming at (and indeed, also succeeded in) killing an alleged long-time operative of Al-Qaeda in Iraq called Abu Ghadiya; and
     (b) this explanation being reported by many branches of the media-- e.g. the NYT, "Wired" magazine, and Britain's ITV-- without those reporters also providing the essential background in national or international law, or in common morality, that would indicate that such acts of assassination constitute serious violations of the rule of law. And without seeking out and quoting the opinion of anyone who states anything to that effect... In other words, these acts of extra-judicial killing are treated by these reporters and the editors who stand behind them simply as "business as usual", the kind of "normal" acts that a government carries out need that not be exposed to any particular questioning or criticism.

It is time for this to stop. Reporters, editors, and editorialists should probe such activities a lot more deeply. Editors should task reporters to go out and ask their US government sources whether they think that acts of extra-judicial killing are ever valid? And under what circumstances? What procedures are followed before a person is put onto a US government hit list? What safeguards are there to ensure against the use of malicious slander when such hit-lists are compiled? What safeguards are there to insure against cases of mistaken identity in either the placing of a name on a hit list, or the "execution" of the kill? Under what supposed "legal" authority are these assassinations carried out?

My understanding is that the "excuse" US military officials often make when they speak about their missions is that they say their orders are to "capture or kill" the named individuals. But including an explicit "kill" option in there would still require specific legal authority, no?

... As it happens, in the case of Sunday's Sukkariyeh raid, no less august of a media outlet than the BBC has now thrown some doubt on the claim that it was all "about" targeting this shadowy AQI operative, Abu Ghadiya:   US officials ... are reportedly claiming that [Abu Ghadiyah's] death in the raid will have a major impact on al-Qaeda's capabilities.

But this runs at odds with statements made by the militant's organisation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which announced his death on jihadist web sites over two years ago.

According to an al-Qaeda obituary of the militant released in August 2006, Abu Ghadiya died on the Saudi-Iraqi border sometime after the US-Iraqi offensive on Fallujah in November 2004...

But whether the Sukkariyeh raid was indeed a deliberate attempt to extra-judicially execute this alleged miscreant or not, that fact makes no difference at all to the underlying illegality of the act. An extra-judicial killing is extra-judicial, period. Such an act carried out by the US inside Iraq would, at one level, be no less heinous than one carried out in Syria. But crossing an international border to do it, and violating Syria's sovereignty in that way, certainly adds an additional level of illegality to the act under international law.

But my basic point here is: Extra-judicial killing is always wrong, and should be treated as such in the public policy discourse.