Does defending peaceful nations constitute terrorism?
The murder of a president, prime minister, king, or other world leader can resonate throughout a country. Sometimes the assassination of a leader is so shocking and profound that it triggers what psychologists call flashbulb memory in a country’s citizens. Many will remember forever where they were and what they were doing now they heard their leader was murdered.
Because of painful experiences in their histories, most governments now surround their leaders with protection, which ranges from a handful of personal bodyguards to elaborate security services, to deter a prospective assassin or group of assassins from carrying out their deadly actions. Unfortunately, some still succeed. Nine famous assassinations occurring since 1865 appear in this article.
American heroes like Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy were assassinated and it did not create a cataclysmic event of war. With Kennedy, it did leave Russia winning the cold war despite its claims they did not have any hand in the assassination and with Lincoln, it left not just a nation but a world in grief. His administration lasted 1,037 days. From the onset, he was concerned with foreign affairs. In his memorable inaugural address, he called upon Americans “to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle…against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” He declared:
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.…The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
Both Lincoln and Kennedy were killed because they posed a threat to those who opposed freedom, equal rights, communism and civil liberties.
Kennedy was assassinated by more than one shooter, likely three. Oswald, the presumed lone gunman was labeled in Lincoln’s day as a ‘turncoat’ who spent a better part of three years in the Soviet Regime being groomed as a spy and assassin. The collaboration of the Soviet Regime tethered to the Castro Regime master minded JFK’s assassination. A third entity, the CIA also had dirty hands. The CIA, the Command in Assassinations has been responsible for countless ‘hits’ and even war crimes.
The US has a long history of seeking to assassinate leaders who have challenged American interests. The plots, some of them farcical, have generally been unsuccessful or not implemented, though some targets have fallen in later US-inspired coups.
Achmad Sukarno of Indonesia in 1975 the US Senate Church committee, investigating the activities of the CIA, noted that it had “received some evidence of CIA involvement in plans to assassinate President Sukarno.” An agent had been identified who it was believed might be recruited for the job.
As a leader of the nationalist non-aligned movement, Sukarno was seen by the US as a dangerous irritant. He was overthrown in a bloody coup in 1965 and died under house arrest five years later.
Fidel Castro of Cuba The CIA hatched several plots to kill Castro between 1960 and 1965. “The proposed assassination devices ran the gamut from high-powered rifles to poison pills, poison pens, deadly bacterial powders and other devices which strain the imagination,” according to the Church report.
Patrice Lumumba of Congo President Eisenhower ordered the assassination of the country’s first prime minister in 1960. CIA chief Allen Dulles sent a CIA scientist to Congo with a lethal virus. But before the plan could be activated, Lumumba was deposed. He was later captured with CIA help and killed by rebel forces.
Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic The administrations of Eisenhower and Kennedy, through the CIA, plotted the assassination of the dictator for several years before a group of dissidents shot him to death in 1961.
Salvador Allende of Chile President Nixon made it clear in 1970 that a CIA assassination of the new left-wing president would not be unwelcome. Allende was killed in a 1973 coup.
Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia He claimed that the CIA set up several plots to kill him in the early 1960s. He was deposed in a 1970 coup.
Muammar Gadafy of Libya After a Libyan terrorist attack in Berlin in 1986, US jets tried to kill Gadafy in bombings which included a strike at his personal compound. It killed his infant adopted daughter.
Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia The US targeted Milosevic during the NATO bombing campaign of 1999, narrowly missing him when his empty villa was hit by three laser bombs
Osama bin Laden After 9/11 President Bush issued an authority to kill Bin Laden and two dozen top aides if they could not be captured alive. Last November six suspected followers, including one of the principal strategists, Salim Sinan al-Harethi, were killed in their car by an unmanned CIA Predator plane in Yemen.
They’ve been interpreting “assassination” to refer only to leaders of real countries, and not to terrorist leaders, who are generally seen as fair game.
Syria’s six-year civil war has claimed the lives of at least 400,000, according to a United Nations estimate released a year ago. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million more have been displaced internally. It begs the question, why?
Why the executive order? Well, in part because the US had a history of poorly planned, poorly thought out assassinations, mostly by the CIA, throughout Latin America (and other places, including Iran). These operated largely without oversight from the President, and ranged from “laughable” to “reprehensible”. The effects ring through today: leaders like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad draw anti-US sentiment from our previous habits of violently, covertly, and incompetently meddling in foreign affairs.
This and other abuses by the CIA led to a committee led by Frank Church, which resulted in dramatically curtailing the activities of American intelligence agencies, and putting up walls between them to limit the possibility of abuse. Which ultimately led to lack of information sharing, enabling the 9/11 attacks, and the gradual weakening of the Church Committee recommendations. Frank Church would be horrified to learn of a Department of Homeland Security, designed to bring these organizations together.
More broadly, assassinations are a form of state-sponsored terrorism. It’s difficult to deal with terrorists because they operate in secret. You can’t sign a treaty with them ending the conflict because they can violate it and disclaim responsibility. A war, horrific as it is, is an undeniable thing, and it’s much clearer when it’s over. Assassinations place the US uncomfortably close to terrorism, and makes dealings with civilized nations harder. If the Chancellor of Germany doesn’t do our bidding, is she at risk of assassination? Why would she have any dealings with us at all?
Terrorism has blurred those lines, and we’re engaging in activities that could be called “assassination”. Or not: it’s hard to say if Osama bin Laden could be called a “public figure” when he was in hiding. But Saddam Hussein, monster that he was, was a public leader, and killing him would undoubtedly have been assassination.
If Saddam and his sons were executed, years before he was captured and hanged, how would have that changed history? One thing for certain, it would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Other pundits might state it might not have helped. You can kill the leadership, but the regime is still in place. Even a despot like Hussein would have a line of succession. Killing him would have been an undoubted act of war, and they would declare war on the US immediately. Maybe they’d be weaker for it; maybe not.
It’s said in diplomatic circles that a prohibition on assassination makes our own leaders safer, by reciprocity. I’m not sure how much they believe that any more, if they ever did. However as of today, POTUS reaction to justifiably bomb Syria after Assad’s chemical attack on his own citizens was very Presidential. Assad’s regime is tyrannical, oppressed and extremely dangerous.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had said that terrorists were hiding among more than 5 million people. Assad points out that a simple search on the Internet will show terrorists holding automatic weapons and among ISIS leaders feigning themselves as peaceful refugees. One or more statements I will agree with on Assad is that “You don’t need a significant number to commit atrocities…it’s not the quantity of refugees, it’s the intentions.”
But all of this is blasphemous as Assad is certainly not a peacekeeper but rather one of the most feared Terrorists. If we reflect on history and more so now in such an uncertain time, would it make more sense to justifiably assassinate Assad then to continue to assimilate negotiations with Syria and Russia? Would a bullet to the brain end the some of the hostilities, tensions, war crimes and other crimes be the best resolution? Certainly the ‘wait and see’ approach was doing wonders for babies being killed by the hundreds and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of lives all around Europe, the Middle East and certainly the United States.
About the author: Scott Bernstein is the CEO of Global Security International LLC headquartered in NYC. He has extensive experience as a Counter Terrorist Consultant, International Apprehension Operative, Human & Sex Trafficking Expert and a Military and Law Enforcement Trainer. He is available as a Consultant and as a Speaker. In addition to his LinkedIn profile, you can also interact with Scott on his LinkedIn group http://bit.ly/1LMp2hj.
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