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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Can state assassinations be justified?
US President George Bush has told the CIA to find and destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
The president has given the agency the green light to do "whatever is necessary" - which could include an assassination attempt - and has given it £700 million in funding to carry out the mission.
The operation will include the CIA working with commandos and other military units to act immediately on intelligence uncovered by American spies about enemy targets.
Should the CIA have been given the go ahead to assassinate Bin Laden? Can such actions ever be justified?
What exactly are we defending if we do this? Not that I'm naive enough to really think that this is all about defending freedom and democracy, but still, if we're getting into this sort of quagmire again I hope that we, the public, can be treated like adults and be let in on the real political implications of the situation. Given that voices within the US establishment are quietly withdrawing from the fiction that killing Osama Bin Laden will end terrorism as if by magic, what happens after it's done?
Do we then look the other way while the US, just as it did in the cold war, supplies the CIA with a blank cheque to intervene clumsily and brutally, in anything it is opposed to? We really don't want to create more Pinochets. Let's consider the example of Fidel Castro. The CIA know where he is. He regularly wanders about giving endless speeches, and there's a museum in Havana dedicated to the myriad botched attempts to assassinate him. Osama Bin Laden never appears in public and hides in a cave. You, as the Americans say, do the math.
War means death. Having presumably carried out the attacks on the USA Bin Laden has also presumably accepted the risk of personal retribution, and as he is living in a war zone he is increasing the odds against him of surviving the current attacks. His personal, religious desire is, presumably, to die defending Islam and reach paradise. However he dies - in war or by assassination - he will be content. On this basis it would be better to capture him and put him on trial. Then if he was handed a life sentence, it would humiliate him by denying him the ultimate penalty. The US armed forces probably have a better record of effectiveness than the CIA. It would be better to leave the special forces and the SAS to carry out the job.
Murder and extra-judicial killings do not become legal or justified simply because they are issued as executive orders by a US president. Mr Bush cannot claim executive privilege or sovereign immunity just as Mr Nixon could not. Those who carry out such murders or issue such illegal, unlawful orders against the likes of Castro, Gadaffi, Saddam Hussain or Bin Laden should be brought before an international criminal court.
Jovanky Delossantos, USA
The leader of a democratic country
should not order state-sponsored assassinations.
Only dictators give orders like that.
International terrorism is a concern
of every country, and if the terrorists
are captured the trial should be
conducted by the United Nations.
Yes I believe it can be justified. At risk is our very way of life. We live in peaceful co-existence with each other. How many innocent people have to die before someone realises this man, a cowardly man at that, isn't going to stop terrorising us ?
If it takes a 'terrorist' to catch a terrorist, then fair enough. If he has one thought before he hopefully comes to face-to-face with his assassins it's to feel how those poor victims of the WTC disaster felt when they knew they were going to die.
Andrew Carter, UK
How can people associate Bin Laden with Nelson Mandela? This is unbelievable. How can he be put on trial? How would that possibly work out? Evil people such as Bin Laden and his associates who have orchestrated such terrible crimes and are prepared to orchestrate more should be terminated as soon as possible. Why waste time with expensive and nonsensical trials? The USA must follow Israel's example and target terrorists without delay. The people who are against this action must be either very ignorant or completely brainwashed. Their "American arrogance" argument is just another means of supporting Bin Laden.
The US killed 100,000 mostly innocent Iraqi troops in the Gulf War, while all along claiming that their only quarrel was with their leader Sadam. Wouldn't it have been more humane to have just killed him?
Can someone explain to me what the difference between the US action in Afghanistan and Israel's actions in the West Bank is? Both are using massive military force and targeted killings against a terrorist state. If Israel can't do it then neither can the US, and if the US can do it, then so can Israel.
Since President Bush wishes to have Osama Bin Laden assassinated, and China and Russia are now standing shoulder to shoulder with the US in its fight against terrorism, who, pray, do Russia and China regard as terrorists? Expatriate Chechens? The Dalai Lama? I have a nasty suspicion that by the time everybody has submitted a list I'm going to be on there somewhere.
M Alamin, Sudan
If the US is at war with Bin Laden it makes no difference whether he is killed by a bomb or a CIA assassin. However, as assassination would unquestionably make him a martyr in the eyes of many, wouldn't it be better to try to put him in court and show the world proof of his wrongdoing?
A further point is whether the US will assassinate people with whom they are not at war. What if they decide they would like a troublesome person out of the way? What if the North Vietnamese had assassinated Kennedy for intensifying the war there? Would America have accepted it? What if Arafat had been assassinated? Or Mandela, Gerry Adams, the leaders of the Zapatistas, or the founders of modern Israel? These people were all labelled terrorists at one point but now opinion has changed. Would the world be more peaceful without them?
America had been able to convince a select few of Bin Laden's guilt, but having enough evidence to convince Tony Blair, and having enough evidence to convict him in a fair trial are two different things. For that matter how fair is any trial in America going to be? Where in America are you going to find an impartial Jury?
If Bin Laden really wants to cause trouble for America he could do worse that agree to stand trial in the USA. Assuming, of course, that he survived to see his day in court. America has a fine tradition of summary justice for national antiheros such as John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ian Harriss, UK
In reply to Ian Harris.
I wonder what people would say if they read, "The people opposed to the terrorist action seem to always forget one crucial fact. America is only the potential target of a terrorist attack because they decided to murder many thousands of innocent civilians to further their own extreme ends. There is an old adage: live by the sword, die by the sword."
Bin Laden has been stripped of his Saudi citizenship and the Taleban government harbouring him is not recognized by the USA. He is not a US citizen so he should not have any of our constitutional rights. He is in essence, a non-person.
I find it quite incredible that Daniel, USA can describe Bin Laden as a "non-person" and attribute him no rights because he is not a US citizen. He is most definitely a person, an evil, dangerous person, but a person all the same. I fully expect Bin Laden to be killed during fighting (assuming of course that he is found), but if he is captured he should be accorded the right of a trial, the same as any other person. Any reasonable jury would find him guilty, jail him and throw away the key. It is Bin Laden's belief that US citizens are "non-people" that gave him justification in his eyes for the atrocity of September 11th. Do we really want to end up thinking the same way?
Richard H, UK
Why not? Go for it! While the US are about it, why don't they make one clean sweep - go in and assassinate all the other people, leaders and others in countries who dare to dissent with the US? Or perhaps the US should nuclear bomb all dissenting countries out of existence? After that they can sit down and wonder what to do next, since they'll have no more reason to whinge, "Why does everyone hate us so?"
Bush ordering the execution of
his enemy in war is just doing the same
thing as his enemy is to him.
I don't think trying to fly a plane into the White House
or Pentagon was just their way of saying hello.
If we know beyond reasonable doubt that Osama Bin Laden and his
al-Qaeda network were behind the most horrible attack in history on the United States, then the state is fully justified in sponsoring his assassination. But one must be absolutely sure before committing such a crime
for the greater good.
The US has declared war on al-Qaeda. If it is justified in doing so under recognised conventions, which I understand it is, then Bin Laden is a legitimate target. Only the method is subject to legal debate. In practice, war becomes a bit cloudy and messy and tends to favour the victor. However provided the "who dunnit" issue is resolved, then frankly the sooner we are rid of Bin Laden the better.
Osama bin Laden is as selfish as all the rest of us, in that we'd sacrifice millions of others to save ourselves. Knowing he set this engine in motion he is fearful of facing the consequences for his actions, and in hiding and dodging his enemies he hopes to develop a Robin Hood image. In all his years in Afghanistan, with all his wealth and international appeal, his followers have given nothing worthwhile to the country. That country was much better off under the old King prior to 1973.
Nora Allan, Malaysia
While I can see the need to bring this man to justice, the crucial question remains: will the death of Osama Bin Laden really mean the first step towards ending world terrorism?
I would like to believe that, but the fact is that violence breeds violence. Have things improved with the endless wars fought in the name of truth and justice? I think the world is worse off now than it ever was in terms of atrocities and violation to human rights.
Euan Gray, UK
Silly me, I thought that when you were at war the whole idea was to kill your enemies. Wonder what gave me that silly notion?
Len Barrett, I think we all need to remember that we can be killed as well. America has created the Taleban and Bin Laden, this makes them guilty by association for the 5000 deaths at the WTC. It is time the US people start hanging their own government officials. Then we would have a safer world.
In this case it is certainly an option to kill Bin Laden. We are fighting a war; that is what you do in war, kill people. It may be unpleasant but that is the truth. Bin Laden has made claims to killing as many US and UK citizens as possible. I cannot imagine why any UK or US citizen would think that somehow rules should apply in the hunt for this man. He would not for a moment hesitate in killing you, me or any member of your family. For those who somehow doubt this, perhaps they can have a meeting with a Taliban fighter to discuss this point of view. I am sure that you would be treated with the utmost respect and kindness.
Don't forget that today's terrorist is tomorrow's politician, history of the last 50 years has shown that to be true. Assassination is wrong, and assassination condoned or sanctioned by governments is even worse.
Yes it's right. How many millions might have lived if we'd managed to kill Hitler before the Holocaust?
It is so ironic that we claim our aim is to eliminate all terrorists, but still choose to use their methods to achieve this. Assassinating Bin Laden or bombing Omar's house and killing his child in the process, is just unacceptable! We may believe that what we do is fair and just, but I bet that so do the terrorists. What gives us the right to kill someone without trial and still consider them terrorists for doing the same? We should stick to our values and respect human rights no matter who the opponent is!
Eric Mitton, USA
I actually think this is a moot point. I highly doubt that Bin Laden would ever allow himself to be taken alive, and would either be killed during an attempt or would kill himself, thinking that would make him a martyr.
I wish the world community would stop cynically putting the word "war" in quotes every time they refer to this conflict, as if to say that only Hollywood-obsessed Americans could believe this is a real war. Call us cowboys, call us naive, call us stupid; at least we are rational enough to recognize a need to defend ourselves. What can you call the massive civilian deaths and the use of bio-weapons against American citizens? Is it a "public relations" exercise? An attempt to "express frustration" towards Americans? Is it a "crime" when 5,000 innocent people are killed for political gain? It's called war, and as such the assassination of our enemies falls under the category of self-defence and is completely justified. No amount of semantic gymnastics is going to change that attitude here, especially when our citizens are being assassinated.
Death is an easy escape for Bin Laden. He is just a body with a tortured soul, full of anger and hate who could only get recognition by means of violence. And as misery loves company, there are plenty like him who would be happy to pick up where he left off and bring their own names to fame. He should be tried, locked up and made to listen to round the clock taped prayers from the Koran of being good to other humans. Something he has obviously forgotten.
To everyone saying that Bin Laden should be brought before a court and tried for his crimes, I'd really like to know exactly how many soldiers' lives are worth losing to capture him. I'm assuming, rightly I believe, that the number lost would be less when trying to assassinate him. Just a round figure will suffice.
Patrick, Acton, England
The actions of the CIA represent the will of the free world. "Freedom itself has been attacked." Thus freedom is being defended. Likely, those that have a problem with this feel the way they do due to the involvement of the CIA. The CIA has to be involved, though. Only they, or MI6 have the intelligence capable of finding and neutralising Bin Laden and his lieutenants.
As a matter of self-defence I am willing to go along with the President's decision to assassinate Bin Laden or any other terrorist. Bin Laden has repeatedly stated that he will plan and approve future attacks on the US. We have no alternative but to destroy him and his network.
It's a joke. What if Bin Laden, the Taleban or Saddam were to do the same to either Bush or Blair. Where will it end? The west is noisy the attacks happened in the US. But when it happens in Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere it turns the other cheek. The US should be fair and
sincere in its policies. The world will be a better place to live in. If it starts this ball rolling who knows know where it will end.
This is fair enough, as long as Bush and Blair understand that it also makes them legitimate targets.
Andrew Levens of the UK must have thought that Bush was an "illegitimate" target before the CIA was instructed to take off the gloves. We see how much being an illegitimate target persuades people not to take you out. After all, the flight that went down in Pennsylvania was going to deliver greetings and salutations to the White House along with a load of jet fuel and shrapnel.
If we use the assassination technique, we are no different than the terrorists that hit the New York WTC themselves.
These actions would simply be, by definition, terrorism. Shouldn't we start eliminating terrorism and be careful not to create and support it ourselves?
Allowing state assassination is inherently a bad policy. Mr Bush should reason rather than acting in a free-wheeling manner. State assassination will open a can of worms and will backfire.
Putting someone like Bin Laden on trial will have a much more powerful effect than making a martyr of him.
Arif Sayed, Dubai, UAE
The very last thing we should do is turn Bin Laden into a martyr (and give reason to millions to join a jihad). Neither should we abandon reason and enlightenment - Bin Laden needs to be put to trial. That may be galling for those who are bloodthirsty, but we must strive to be honest, decent and fair.
Not normally. But when an organisation credibly declares war on the US then the US is perfectly entitled to take them at their word.
It's then a military, not a political matter.
While it should only be used in extreme circumstances, like a war, what is the difference between a CIA hit-man killing Bin Laden as opposed to a missile from a plane?
No! Who are they to act as judge and jury? The US have not provided any solid evidence of his guilt. Even if evidence exists, How do we know that this is not manufactured by the US? If they are in a position to kill him then they can capture him and let the courts decide. Can someone please explain how this is not a state funded terrorist? Who will punish the US government for all the innocent deaths? And Why double standards when Colin Powell asked India and Pakistan to show caution in response to what is happening in Kashmir?
During a declared war, it is perfectly reasonable to target individuals. The Allies would have killed Hitler if they could have located him.
However, during peacetime the state must act within the letter of the law even if it hinders the "war" effort.
Otherwise, targeted assassinations become routine extra-judiciary killings which turn your police and army into death squads.
When a state begins to act illegally the terrorists have won!
Presumably now that both America and Israel openly support a policy of state-sponsored assassination, they support each other's deplorable activities. So what's new? Is it any wonder that some fundamentalist Muslims despair and resort to violence?
Andy Bee, UK
If the US is so keen on free enterprise, why do they give $1bn to their state apparatus yet only offer $1m reward for private assassins?
Assassination of any kind can not be justified, whether it is state-sponsored or not. The endless cycle of assassinations of political figures between Israel and Palestine, and assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan, should have taught us a lesson: assasssination is not a civilized way to solve problems.
The leader of a civilized nation should refrain from taking such a dirty action.
I find it most ironic that a man who thinks it's wrong to kill a child in the womb is all for assassinating a political leader. The same points made me cringe during the pre-election talks, when he talked of overturning Roe v. Wade, and in the next breath defended his stance on capital punishment. Given his hypocrisy, I'm expecting a draft within the next two months.
We all want him dead. No one wants him around stirring up any more trouble. For those who think this is wrong or an infringement of human rights: let's not forget his organisation took over 5000 lives in less than three hours. It's called punishment
people. This is war - people die! This is really a stupid question.
This isn't a Hollywood movie where America saves the world, for goodness sake! I wish Bush would get his head out of the clouds and stop thinking he's Clint Eastwood. If Bin Laden is killed rather than given a "fair trial" he'll be made a martyr by fundamentalists, and this will only result in more people like him taking up arms. If America really wants to break global terrorism, they should start by revising their own policies on funding and arms supply.
People like Osama Bin Laden are mad with hatred, dealing out death without compunction or mercy, and thus deserve to be treated just like mad dogs are: terminated.
Would human rights activists talk differently if one of their own kin was brutally murdered by the al-Qaeda goons on the instructions of Bin Laden?
Such barbarous people deserve only "termination'.
Morally, I think it's very wrong. Practically however, I don't see much alternative. If he was captured, put on trial (where and under what law?), found guilty and sentenced we would probably face unlimited hijackings and further terrorist activity demanding his release. More innocent people would die because of one megalomaniac's cause. If the CIA do take him out (and I can't blame them for wanting to) perhaps it will be a lesson to others who feel that directly targeting civilians of another nation (because you don't like their leaders politics) is a justifiable course of action.
Terrorism is terrorism regardless of who carries it out. This is state sponsored terrorism!
Where is this going to stop? George Bush's actions and language since September 11th are indistinguishable from Bin Laden's. Neither of them have any regard for innocent lives.
Lucius Hamilton, Australia
What is the difference between killing him by bombing (let's face it, that's what the bombing is aiming to do) and killing the man by assassination? At least assassination is much less likely to kill innocents.
I think there are times when such actions are justifiable. Hitler and Stalin come to mind immediately. Both were responsible for monstrous atrocities and murder on a grand scale. Early assassination in their cases would have saved literally millions of lives around the world. The cost of appeasing both is clearly apparent with hindsight.
Bin Laden and his followers are clearly another type of murderous fascists. They appear willing to use any means to kill, destroy and maim societies that will not adopt their views. The evidence of their deeds is not in dispute and the hindsight of history shows that eliminating such people early would greatly benefit the rest of the world.
Mr Bin Laden has no respect for any other people's lives including his own fanatical army.
In exceptional cases like this, I think it is fully justified to do whatever it takes to show people like Bin Laden that terrorism like this is not tolerated.
This is state-sponsored terrorism by a so-called civilised country. Osama Bin Laden should be brought to justice like all the others in the past. What makes US take such action? Only the belief that might is right.
What does it matter what we think? The US will still do whatever they want.
International law is a joke - The US only obey the law when they want to. If the law suits their actions, it's used as justification; if not, then the law is blatantly disregarded. Quis custodiet ipsos Custodies?
Andy L, UK
Government sponsored assassinations shouldn't be allowed. Governments are legalistic creations and must follow the rule of law. The rule of law (that everyone, including the government is subject to the law) is the only profound political difference between the western democracies and the autocracies of the past or the dictatorships of places like China and Saudi Arabia. If the government can just decide to execute someone without prior legal recourse it undermines the whole validity of a modern state.
The fact is that the CIA have been carrying out assassinations for decades. The green light given by Dubya is just more WWF-style speak for the American public. I think it is a dangerous precedent to demonise the enemy of the moment and to proclaim that assassination is justified. After all, if the world had listened to Maggie Thatcher's labelling of Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, would it have been OK to send the snipers in after him?
State assassinations are most definitely justified. If this action had been taken years ago, when we had the chance, Osama Bin Laden would be a footnote in history and not the subject of a worldwide manhunt. Monsters such as he don't deserve to live and should be exterminated when the chance presents itself.
21 Oct 01 | South Asia
Eliminate Bin Laden, CIA told
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