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Fri Apr 6, 2012, 10:52 PM

Legalizing targeted killings

Legalizing targeted killings

For most of the last decade, Israel has absorbed incessant criticism for its policy of targeted killings against the leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations. After the elimination of Sheik Ahmad Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantissi, both of whom had masterminded Hamas attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada, then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded that Israel “immediately end” its practice of “extrajudicial killings” – a convenient term for Annan, implying that military targets should be tried on the battlefield in the midst of a war.

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It is against that background that the speech by U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder on March 5 at Northwestern University School of Law appeared revolutionary. He announced: “It is entirely lawful ... to target specific senior operational leaders of Al-Qaida and associated forces.” Holder rejected calling these operations “assassinations.” He said, “They are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced,” because assassinations were “unlawful killings.” The context of his legal decision was significant, for he made clear: “We are at war with a stateless enemy.” This meant that the laws of war applied to the war on terrorism. It was not a police action, in which terrorists were to be arrested and read their rights. The terrorist masterminds that were being targeted were combatants, plain and simple.

What happened to cause this change? Washington’s policy has been evolving since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, after which U.S. intelligence agencies began using targeted killings very selectively. The technological development of unmanned aerial vehicles, like the Predator, and pinpoint intelligence made the use of warfare against terrorist organizations possible. But there were initially legal questions involved. Was the war against terrorism a law enforcement activity that required capturing terrorists and putting them on trial? Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says in his memoirs that when U.S. forces went into Afghanistan in 2001, using a Predator drone, they identified a convoy with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. But before the Predator could shoot, there were long consultations with lawyers, by which time Omar had escaped.

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After U.S. forces eliminated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, Professor Alan Dershowitz noted that all the states ganging up on Israel for killing Hamas leaders were now silent about the case of Bin Laden. This was a case of global hypocrisy. The NATO allies in Afghanistan were benefiting from targeted killings by U.S. forces against the Taliban. The Russian parliament adopted a law in 2006 permitting Russian security services, with the approval of the president, to kill alleged terrorists overseas. Belatedly, the major powers are validating the same Israeli strategy against terrorism that they had universally condemned a little more than a decade ago.

http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1658

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