Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War – 2011-05-01 20:04:50
BERKELEY (May 1, 2011) — On Monday, NATO bombs fell on Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Tripoli headquarters. A Libyan government spokesman denounced the attack as a failed assassination attempt. The charge was echoed by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who accused the West of plotting to “execute” Qaddafi.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates denied the charge. “We consider them [i.e., Qaddafi’s offices] legitimate targets,” Gates told the media. “We are not targeting [Qaddafi] specifically, but we do consider command and control targets to be legitimate targets wherever we find them,” Gates informed the press.
While Gates argued that such targets had been considered “legitimate” from the beginning of the NATO-led air campaign, the initial bombing targeted the Libyan government’s air defenses, supply depots and ground forces.
Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen warned that the Libyan leader’s command and control centers would remain at risk. It was not clear if that rationale was meant to explain NATO’s air strike on the Tripoli headquarters of Libyan TV. The assault temporarily knocked the country’s main TV station off the air.
On December 22, 1974, Seymour Hersh published an expose in The New York Times that described the government’s “family jewels” — a trove of secret assassination operations conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency over several decades. Hersh exposed a number of covert assassination attempts targeting foreign leaders and to subvert foreign governments. Hersh also revealed how intelligence agencies were illegally spying on the legal political activities of US citizens.
The victims of US assassinations were found around the world. The victims included Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, the Diem brothers of Vietnam and General Rene Schneider of Chile. Under President John F. Kennedy, the CIA made numerous attempts on the life of Cuba’s Fidel Castro — even working with the Mafia at one point.
in 1976, in response to the Hersh’s revelations and the Senate investigations that culminated in the Church Committee hearings, President Gerald Ford issued Executive Order 11905, which was designed to put an end to US-sanctioned assassinations of foreign leaders. In 1981, President Reagan replaced Ford’s ban with his own Executive Order 12333, which began to move the bar on what was banned.
In 1986, Reagan ordered air strikes on Qaddafi’s tent-home in Libya. This assault — which could honestly be described as a terrorist attack — missed Gaddafi but US bombs did succeed in killing Gaddafi’s youngest daughter and, according to some reports, 40 other children.
Two years later, George H.W. Bush “reinterpreted” the law banning politicide in order to target Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. The new understanding was that the prohibition did not apply if a foreign leader was killed as an “unintended consequence” of an action undertaken or supported by the government.
When it was George W. Bush’s turn to control the weapons of the assassin’s trade, the rationale for taking out a fellow foreign leader shifted once again. America’s decision to directly target Saddam Hussein was deemed legal by “experts in international law,” despite the long-standing rules of the Geneva Convention and a presidential ban on assassinating foreign leaders that had been signed by President Bush.
According to Jim Ross, the senior legal analyst at Human Rights Watch, George W. Bush chose to rely on an interpretation of international human rights law that “allows you to target military commanders” in a time of war.
If the US agreed to a truce and President Saddam Hussein were to surrender in return for an end to military action, it would then be illegal to kill him. This could explain why the Bush White House refused to negotiate with Saddam and the Obama White House has ignored Qaddafi’s repeated offers to honor a cease-fire and seek a negotiated end to the conflict.
When President Gerald Ford declared a ban on assassinations of heads of state in 1976, he did so largely out of fear that any continuation of US assassination plans might trigger retaliatory attacks directed at an American president. It was a reasonable fear.
But now, thanks to NATO’s wanton breach of international law, the current US president — and other leaders of the NATO coalition — may consider themselves legitimate targets for similar, retaliatory attacks. An equal application of the “Saddam Hussein Exemption” means that Barack Obama now has become a legitimate target for foreign military assassins. The Monday bombing the Libyan leader’s official residence is the equivalent of attempting to assassinate the US Commander and Chief by attacking the White House. The May 1 assault on the home of his children is an even more reprehensible act of state terrorism.
Under the Geneva Convention, armies are supposed to make every effort to minimize civilian casualties when in pursuit of military victory. But NATO’s attempts to kill Qaddafi by attacking buildings shared by scores of innocent bystanders — and destroying the homes and lives of his children — has set a dangerous new standard. Following NATO’s lead, Libyan forces (or sympathetic foreign intelligence agents or freelance terrorists) now can claim justification for killing members of Obama’s family — including Michelle, Sasha and Malia.
Applying America’s shifting definition of what constitutes a “justifiable assassination” also means that 10 Downing Street — the residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, his wife, Samantha and their three children — also becomes a legitimate target.
Similarly, the Elysee Palace — the command center for French President Nicholas Sarkozy as well as the official residence he shares with his wife Carla Bruni — now stands as a legitimate target for retaliation — by Libyan government forces, their proxies or sympathetic agents.
This leaves us with a portentous and essential question: Is it possible to hold NATO and its leaders accountable, under the auspices of the International Criminal Court, for the commission of war crimes and the violation of international law?
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the positions of EAW, its founding committee, or its members.