Suleimani Killing the Latest in a Long, Grim Line of US Assassination Efforts
There has been no shortage of US attempts to remove foreign adversaries through highly dubious legal or ethical means
(January 4, 2020) — the US government is no stranger to the dark arts of political assassinations. Over the decades it has deployed elaborate techniques against its foes, from dispatching a chemist armed with lethal poison to try to take out Congo’s Patrice Lumumba in the 1960s to planting poison pills (equally unsuccessfully) in the Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s food.
But the killing of General Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite military Quds Force, was in in a class all its own. Its uniqueness lay not so much in its method — what difference does it make to the victim if they are eviscerated by aerial drone like Suleimani, or executed following a CIA-backed coup, as was Iraq’s ruler in 1963, Abdul Karim Kassem? — but in the brazenness of its execution and the apparently total disregard for either legal niceties or human consequences.
“The US simply isn’t in the practice of assassinating senior state officials out in the open like this,” said Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “While Suleimani was a brutal figure responsible for a great deal of suffering, and his Quds Force was designated by the US as a terrorist organization, there’s no escaping that he was arguably the second most powerful man in Iran behind the supreme leader.”
Donald Trump’s gloating tweets over the killing combined with a sparse effort to justify the action in either domestic or international law has led to the US being accused of the very crimes it normally pins on its enemies. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, denounced the assassination as an “act of international terrorism”.
Vipin Narang, a political scientist at MIT, said the killing “wasn’t deterrence, it was decapitation”.
There has been no shortage of US interventions over the past half century that have attempted — and in some cases succeeded — in removing foreign adversaries through highly dubious legal or ethical means. The country has admitted to making no fewer than eight assassination attempts on Castro, though the real figure was probably much higher.
William Blum, the author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, points to a litany of American sins from invasions, bombings, overthrowing of governments, assassinations to torture and death squads. “It’s not a pretty picture,” is his blunt conclusion.
The CIA was deemed to have run so amok in the 1960s and 70s that in 1975 the Church committee investigated a numerous attempted assassinations on foreign leaders including Lumumba, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, and of course Castro. In the fallout, President Ford banned US involvement in foreign political assassinations.
The ban didn’t last long. Since 1976 the US has continued to be engaged in, or accused of, efforts to eradicate foreign leaders.
Ronald Reagan launched bombing raids in 1986 targeting Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. As recently as two years ago North Korea alleged that the CIA tried to assassinate its leader Kim Jong-un.
But most of the interventions in the modern era have been covert and conducted beneath the radar. Where they have been proclaimed publicly, they have tended to target non-state actors operating in militias or militant groups like Islamic State.
By contrast, until Trump the US has tended to fight shy of conducting overt assassination attempts on state actors connected to sovereign regimes. Suleimani himself is a case in point.
In 2008, the CIA worked hand in glove with the Israeli intelligence service the Mossad to target Imad Mughniyah, a senior Hezbollah leader, for assassination. In the course of their efforts they had the chance of taking out not only Mughniyah but also Suleimani in a single drone strike. In the end, the operation was called off because the US government blocked it on grounds that it could seriously have destabilised the region.
Despite such reticence, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, draws a direct line between earlier US administrations and the convention-shredding unpredictability of Trump. She said the advent of the unmanned drone in 2000 put the US on a slippery slope towards the current crisis.
The first deployment of a drone as an assassination tool was ordered by Bill Clinton in an effort to get Bin Laden. The first successful “targeted killing”, as it is now called, came soon after, carried out by the Bush administration in Yemen.
Obama inherited Bush’s widespread use of drone killings and increased their frequency tenfold, while seeking to give them a veneer of legal respectability with the secret internal “targeted killing memos”. Those documents argued that drone assassinations were justified under international law as self-defense against future terrorist attacks — a rationale that has been widely disputed as a misreading of the UN charter.
“Since Obama there has been a steady dilution of international law,” O’Connell said. “Suleimani’s death marks the next dilution — we are moving down a slope towards a completely lawless situation.”
O’Connell added that there was only one step left for the US now to take. “To completely ignore the law. Frankly, I think President Trump is there already — his only argument has been that Suleimani was a bad guy and so he had to be killed.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
jsluka 2020-01-04 13:57
I believe that the majority of Americans simply approve of such assassinations. It’s an aspect of American “exceptionalism .” As a whole Americans are a murderous, war-monger people. Can anyone really dispute that this is a cold, hard fact? The rest of the world sees this plainly, but Americans are apparently blind to this. General George S. Patton got this right in the famous speech to his troops before D-Day when he said: “Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle…. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.” On top of this, the American economy is now totally addicted to war.
Rodion Raskolnikov 2020-01-04 15:08
Since the end of WW II, the US has become Murder, Inc. Drones are a whole and massive program of assassination. When Obama was prsident, he and John Brennan would meet each Tuesday to decide who should be killed in the coming weeks. Probably Trump has similar meetings with Gina Haspel.
The American government has claimed for itself the right to kill with impunity. This is not a good thing. It has no such right. It is just murder, purely and simply
banichi 2020-01-04 17:40
I grew up in Berkeley, California in the 1950s and 1960s, and in that atmosphere got to see a lot of students at Cal Berkeley protesting. I still thought that the U.S. was a country firmly based in the democratic ideals. I don’t any more. I stayed out of Vietnam, which was a good thing, since too many of my Berkeley High School fellow students went there…and did not come back, or returned shattered and in disgrace simply because they went along with a murderous war. Until that time, none of us, including the veterans, knew any better.
I traveled in Europe, and the Middle East, and as far as Afghanistan in the early 1970s. Even at that time, the US and CIA were practicing regime change, ousting democratically elected leaders, such as in Iran (the Shah) and supporting other despots like Saddam in charge. Greece, a beautiful place, had the dictator Popadopulous (later thrown out). Afghanistan was ruled by a mildly socialistic government who managed to keep all the tribes happy, for the most part.
I recommend “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins (and its sequels). Opened my eyes. And “War is a Racket!” by Maj Gen Smedley Butler, 2 times Medal of Honor winner. There are many more.
What it boils down to is the U.S. is the most dangerous, brutal, anti-democratic country in the world, while pretending to support democracy. What it is really about, is money and power. That’s the reason for it.
Got help us.
Rodion Raskolnikov 2020-01-05 08:34
Thanks for this. I have a similar experience. Your recommendations for reading are also very good. Every student should be required to read these in high school.
The US will drag the world into a WW III. No one will win that war. It will be nuclear. Yesterday, Netanyahoo was speaking to the Knesset and said Israel is a nuclear power. that’s the first time any Israeli PM has openly admitted what everyone knows. Israel is beginning to show its nuclear teeth, just as a war against Iran looms.
It could not be worse than this.