If it look like assassination and sounds like assassination …

Posted on February 25, 2010


You’ll probably be as relieved as I was to learn – once and for all – that the United States government has not been engaging in political and corporate assassination for the past nine years

They’ve done a whole lot of “targeted killing” of people who disagreed with them, or people they just didn’t like (much like going on a hunting trip with Cheney, i would imagine) … but there was no assassination.

What is “targeted killing,” you ask? It stemmed from a secret order signed by Bush in 2001 that allowed the CIA to capture and, if necessary, take out “opposition forces, enemy combatants, and suspected collaborators.” The plan reportedly focused on killing people at close range rather than blowing them up with remote-guided bombs. And Cheney personally ordered the CIA not to inform Congress about the program.

But let’s back up for a moment.  Among the targets in this killing-that-isn’t-assassination program were “suspected collaborators.”  That means that American intelligence and counter-terrorism operatives, under explicit orders from the Vice President of the United States, were killing people who were only *SUSPECTED* of acts against America?  SUSPECTED?  So what does this mean?  Cheney could order his next door neighbor to be whacked if the neighbor’s cat crapped on Cheney’s lawn?  Where were the limits?  Where is the accountability?

Why did it take the CIA more than four months *after* an intensive investigation into the “targeted killing” program to come forward and admit that it was a Cheney operation, start-to-finish?  I guess it takes four months to destroy that many e-mails and paper trails.

This is just another example of the classic Bush-Cheney tactic of getting away with murder (literally in this case) by simply not calling the action what it is.

Whatever phrase is used to describe the process, clearly the U.S. was  engaged in targeted killing during the entire Bush II administration. So what about those specific U.S. foreign relations and military behavior policies that expressly forbid assassination? It may generate flashbacks to the tortured debate over torture, but it all comes down to semantics. Assassination is OK — as long as you don’t *CALL* it “assassination.”

In 1975, the U.S. Senate formed an 11-member commission called the Church Committee, led by Idaho Senator Frank Church. This panel was charged with investigating the activities of the CIA – particularly the many reports that detailed efforts by the agency to assassinate such foreign leaders as Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba and Rafael Trujillo. In response to the committee’s findings, Gerald Ford was the first president to issue what would become a series of executive orders to place specific limits on the scope of the CIA’s targeted political killings operations. Ford’s Executive Order 11905 of Feb. 18, 1976, included a specific prohibition of assassination that said, “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.” Jimmy Carter reaffirmed that executive order with his own, as did Ronald Reagan; their versions of the order dropped the modifier “political” from “assassination.” An exhaustive Internet search failed to locate any evidence that any president since has rescinded Reagan’s order, so it’s probably still in effect.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. When Dick Cheney wants to kill someone, he simply has to come up with a rationale for describing that killing as something other than assassination.

The federal government is bound by three incontrovertable rules in order to effectively argue that a killing is in accordance with both domestic and international law, and is not an “assassination.” First; the killing must be a military act, an act of war. Second; the target must be definable as military or a civilian engaging in hostile acts against the United States. Third; if the killing takes place within a state with which the U.S. is not at war, the U.S. must have the expressed formal permission of that country’s government to carry out the hit.

On the international scale, the Law of Armed Conflict (a series of treaties that includes the Geneva Conventions) allows the killing of enemy combatants or even civilians engaged in hostile acts against the United States. Legally, as long as the U.S. government has the permission of the government where the killing takes place, the killing can occur anywhere in the world. It also does not matter that the people “pulling the trigger” — deploying the drones — are civilian CIA agents, not soldiers.

But, as always, Cheney couldn’t be bogged down with pesky rules. He had a world … er … country, to run. So with a little creative writing help from his buddy, then-CIA Director George Tenet, all of a sudden assassination was possible with just a few syllabic modifications.

So, as we watch the Justice Department get away with a wrist-slap this week for authorizing torture by waterboarding because they retroactively declared that waterboarding can’t be called torture, is it any wonder that the man who – more than any other considers himself above the law – retroactively decided that assassination isn’t assassination when you call it “targeted killing”?

But all this pathetic, transparent wordsmithing does help me, in a way.  I can now safely say, aloud and in public, that I honestly hope that Dick Cheney doesn’t get assassinated.  But he’d do the world an enormous favor if he’d go out and get himself target killed.

You know … in accordance with his own policy.