License To Kill

I can’t say I’m even slightly surprised that while ex-VP Dick Cheney was doing end-runs around democratic oversight, the intelligence program he was protecting was something that was… actually… not… that… spectacular….

The plan, to form direct action units for assassinating senior Al Qaeda members, doesn’t sound like anything more sinister than the consolidation of what’s already been done and discussed. Getting people in close is also entirely consistent with military ethics. I’ve lost count of all the soldiers with whom I’ve spoken who’ve stated flatly that there’s no substitute for putting people in harm’s way to do this sort of thing.

I’d also quickly point out that I don’t think it exonerates Cheney et al from the consequences of their decisions. The aggressive fetish they’ve made out of secretly torturing and killing things paints too broad a picture to suggest they actually cared about minimizing collateral damage. I realize that that’s in part a caricature, but it’s also a perception that they themselves are responsible for cultivating.

More importantly, Current Intelligence contributor Ken Anderson, a professor of law at American University in D.C., was quoted in the article that explains it all in the New York Times.

Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University who has studied targeted killings, said the United States first made the argument in 1989 that killing terrorists would not violate the assassination ban and would be a legal act of self-defense under international law.

Such killings would be premised on the condition that the authorities in the country where the terrorist was located were unable or unwilling to stop the terrorist, Mr. Anderson said.

In legal terms, he said, there is no real difference between killing a terrorist with a missile or with a handgun. “In political terms,” he continued, “there’s a real difference. The missile feels more like regular warfare, even if it’s carried out by the C.I.A.”

Don’t forget to read Amos Guiora‘s article on the subject in Foreign Policy.

One comment

  1. I think the bigger question here is that the CIA is supposed to be subject to Congressional oversight, which Cheney circumvented. And there is also the fact that Leon Panetta, the CIA’s Director, had no knowledge of this programme until recently, when he killed it (pardon the pun).

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