Thursday, February 18, 2010

Very Targeted Assassinations

One major shift we've seen from the Bush to Obama administration is an increase in targeted strikes successfully killing al-Qaeda terrorists. Most people consider this a good thing, though a few die-hard Obama haters are annoyed that we aren't capturing and sending them to Gitmo instead. But by and large, we consider this an example of a step forward in the war against al-Qaeda.

The recent assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, possibly (though not assuredly) at the hands of Israel, has not raised similar cries of pleasure. Indeed, it seems to be seen as some sort of mini-scandal. This despite the fact that this manner of eliminating a known terrorist resulted in precisely zero civilian casualties, property damage, or serious negative effect whatsoever. I seriously object to some of the policies endorsed here, but Sonny Bunch has a point when he writes:
I mean, look, I’m all in favor of lobbing missiles at terrorists from airplanes; it’d be nice to capture them alive and get some info out of them via harsh interrogations, but a Tomahawk up the keister works just as well as far as I’m concerned. But then you get all the hemming and hawing about “Oh, we’re just creating more terrorists when we accidentally kill an innocent bystander.” Well, there’s none of that here, is there? The guy was traced to his hotel room, zapped with a stun gun, and smothered to death. Quick and easy. If only all terrorists could meet the same fate.

I don't endorse torturing anybody, and I don't endorse recklessly lobbing missiles at terrorists without regard to the surrounding civilian population (though that doesn't mean no collateral damage is acceptable). Nonetheless, from within the framework folks say they judge Israel within (accepting its right to self-defense, but urging it to do more to avoid collective punishment and civilian hardship), this really was the ideal killing. At least, Alan Dershowitz writes, that was seemingly Judge Goldstone's view on things:
The Goldstone report suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate retail measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate, retail and focused attack on a combatant who was deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel, than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Not only was Mabhouh the commander in charge of Hamas' unlawful military actions at the time of his death, he was also personally responsible for the kidnapping and coldblooded murder of two Israeli soldiers several years earlier.

Not putting any words in Judge Goldstone's mouth -- he may have no problem with the killing of Mr. Mabhouh -- but the global community hardly seems to be taking this stance. One gets the distinct sense it's damned if you do, damned if you don't.


joe said...

It's nothing specific to Israel or the US but I always puzzled over why killing people (even non-citizens) in another state's territory wasn't a bigger deal than it is. It would seem to be a huge violation of sovereignty to exercise the power of life and death, which a state supposedly holds a monopoly to within its own borders. (Obviously there's an argument to be made that this is simply necessary if enemies of the assassin state can move/reside freely in the host state without fearing arrest/extradition, but I dunno, it still seems like a big sovereignty issue.)

chingona said...

I'm with Joe. And we do have that case, which I haven't followed that closely, of the Americans charged with kidnapping for snatching up a terrorist in Italy a while back.

Part of the trick, obviously, is not to be caught on videotape. I haven't seen too much condemnation of the actual killing (other than from Hamas). I've seen a lot of talk about whether they put at risk the unsuspecting people whose identities they stole. (If that is indeed what happened. New details keep coming out.)

chingona said...

Excuse me. Suspected terrorist.

chingona said...

And we don't particularly care for it, either. I mean, we backed the Pinochet coup in Chile and provided significant assistance to that regime. They were our ally. But when they blew up Letelier in downtown DC, that pissed of a lot of people in the U.S. government.

joe said...

Well, it's always different when we do it ; )

joe said...

The obvious just occurred to me... it's also a False Flag issue if the assassins pose as citizens (or worse, as soldiers) of a third country. And even worse if there's identity theft of real people involved. Unless the state sponsoring the hit claims responsibility afterward.