Saturday, May 14

The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden [international legalities]

            [only in this Alice-in-Wonderland world that is the US could we be discussing the 'legality' of wiping out other human beings, whether we have the right - to their lives, as well as their resources; and all this in the context of accepting unsubstantiated and wildly suspect US government conspiracy theories]

The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden

By Marjorie Cohn, May 9, 2011

When he announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed
by a Navy Seal team in Pakistan, President Barack Obama
said, "Justice has been done."  Mr. Obama misused the
word, "justice" when he made that statement.  He should
have said, "Retaliation has been accomplished." A
former professor of constitutional law should know the
difference between those two concepts.  The word
"justice" implies an act of applying or upholding the

Targeted assassinations violate well-established
principles of international law.  Also called political
assassinations, they are extrajudicial executions.
These are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out
by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government,
outside any judicial framework.

Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed
conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary
executions noted that "extrajudicial executions can
never be justified under any circumstances, not even in
time of war." The U.N. General Assembly and Human
Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International,
have all condemned extrajudicial executions.

In spite of its illegality, the Obama administration
frequently uses targeted assassinations to accomplish
its goals.  Five days after executing Osama bin Laden,
Mr. Obama tried to bring "justice" to U.S. citizen
Anwar al-Awlaki, who has not been charged with any
crime in the United States. The unmanned drone attack
in Yemen missed al-Awlaki and killed two people
"believed to be al Qaeda militants," according to a
CBS/AP bulletin.

Two days before the Yemen attack, U.S. drones killed 15
people in Pakistan and wounded four. Since the March 17
drone attack that killed 44 people, also in Pakistan,
there have been four drone strikes. In 2010, American
drones carried out 111 strikes. The Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan says that 957 civilians were
killed in 2010.

The United States disavowed the use of extrajudicial
killings under President Gerald Ford. After the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed in 1975 that
the CIA had been involved in several murders or
attempted murders of foreign leaders, President Ford
issued an executive order banning assassinations. Every
succeeding president until George W. Bush renewed that
order. However, the Clinton administration targeted
Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, but narrowly missed

In July 2001, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel denounced
Israel's policy of targeted killings, or "preemptive
operations." He said "the United States government is
very clearly on the record as against targeted
assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we
do not support that."

Yet after September 11, 2001, former White House press
secretary Ari Fleischer invited the killing of Saddam
Hussein: "The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people
take it on themselves, is substantially less" than the
cost of war. Shortly thereafter, Bush issued a secret
directive, which authorized the CIA to target suspected
terrorists for assassination when it would be
impractical to capture them and when large-scale
civilian casualties could be avoided.

In November 2002, Bush reportedly authorized the CIA to
assassinate a suspected Al Qaeda leader in Yemen. He
and five traveling companions were killed in the hit,
which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz described
as a "very successful tactical operation."

After the Holocaust, Winston Churchill wanted to
execute the Nazi leaders without trials. But the U.S.
government opposed the extrajudicial executions of Nazi
officials who had committed genocide against millions
of people. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H.
Jackson, who served as chief prosecutor at the
Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, told President Harry
Truman: "We could execute or otherwise punish [the Nazi
leaders] without a hearing. But undiscriminating
executions or punishments without definite findings of
guilt, fairly arrived at, would ... not set easily on the
American conscience or be remembered by children with

Osama bin Laden and the "suspected militants" targeted
in drone attacks should have been arrested and tried in
U.S. courts or an international tribunal. Obama cannot
serve as judge, jury and executioner. These
assassinations are not only illegal; they create a
dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the
targeted killings of U.S. leaders.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School
of Law and past president of the National Lawyers
Guild. She is deputy secretary general of the
International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her
latest book, "The United States and Torture:
Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse" was published
earlier this year by NYU Press. 

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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