Senate Is there a moral basis for assassinations?

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, Jan 12, 2012.

  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Mar 19, 1999
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    Are there justifiable assassinations, and is it possible to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable assassinations. I'm thinking of two particular types here.

    One kind of killing is Obama's drone attacks in Pakistan against Taliban and al Quaida leaders, e.g. the attacks in 2011 that killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and Ilyas Kashmiri. Are these really assassinations or are they part of legitimate combat operations in either the War in Afghanistan or the War on Terror or both, if the War on Terror can be said to have legitimate combat operations?

    A second would be the assassination of nuclear physicists/engineers/technicians alleged to be involved in Iran's covert nuclear weapons program.

    The latter looks a lot less like combat operations than the former. No one would suggest that either the U.S. or Israel was at war with Iran, although of course we're even less at war, technically, with Pakistan where many U.S.-launched drone attacks occur, albeit perhaps with the covert cooperation of the Pakistan government.

    I'll define assassination for the purpose of this discussion as the premeditated extrajudicial summary execution of a military leader or civilian, authorized by a state against an individual of another state, just to exclude political assassinations conducted against fellow citizens in the same state.

    I don't know if the drone attacks are easier to justify morally, but it seems to me on its face that the Iranian nuclear scientist assassinations are very difficult to justify. Assume for a moment that the Israelis are behind it:

    1. Israel and Iran are not at war
    2. Iran is not an aggressor nation under any meaningful definition of the term threatening war against Israel
    3. The assassination targets are not combatants, military leaders, or politicians in charge of military policy.

    Iran is in breach of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. But are assassinations justifiable as a means of treaty enforcement, and if so, on what legal or moral grounds?


    In the case of drone attacks, the ones happening outside a war zone seem problematic. Again, we're not at war with Pakistan or its citizens. We're taking a covert war against Taliban fighters and al Qaeda leaders into the territory of an ally nation. Maybe this effort is analogous to the secret bombing campaign against Cambodia in 69-70 and not something that falls easily under the rubric of assassination, although again the differences between our relationship with Pakistan in 2011 and Cambodia in 1969 are worth noting.

    Also note that drone attacks cause a fair amount of civilian casualties, more so than a car bomb attack on a nuclear scientist, although those have killed non targets as well.

    Anyway, is there a clear line between drone attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan and car bomb assassinations of nuclear scientists in Iran that makes one type morally justifiable, or are they both on the same side of the line, whether morally justifiable/unjustifiable?
  2. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 25, 2004
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    The assassinations against Iranian nuclear scientists may not be legal or morally right, but in this case I say we should bend the law. Iran's already made threats against Israel, and for no good reason. Iran basically stepped into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather than trying to resolve the conflict like the U.S. is doing, they're intent on pouring fuel onto the fire. On top of that, they're engaged in a proxy war and are developing an indigenous nuclear program. Iran's nuclear program may be good with the letter of the law, but I think it strains credulity to think that a country with Iran's record can be a trustworthy custodian of nuclear technology. It's the difference between a gun in the hands of a police officer, and a gun in the hands of a shady mafia member.

    As for assassinating terrorists, again I'd have to say pragmatism wins out here. These people have basically declared that they have the right to kill whoever they want until they're satisfied their demands are met, and they've taken concrete steps towards carrying out that carnage. If stopping them means having to kill them, then unfortunately you just have to kill them. If there's a guy at a shopping mall pointing a gun at bystanders and he says he's going to shoot, you have to assume he will shoot, which is why you have your SWAT team sniper take him out and ask questions later.
  3. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 19, 2000
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    That post assumes the US is indeed trying to resolve the conflict. I would think the idea that the US is even more engaged in that same proxy war is more defendable. On top of that, when we´re talking about track records, I know of only one country that actually lobbed atomic bombs at another.

    The only real moral justification for killing Iranian government officials would be if you did it because of Irans treatment of its own people. But then you´d have to ask "is there a moral basis for meddling in domestic affairs?"
  4. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Of course there's a moral basis for meddling in other country's domestic affairs. If not, NATO intervention in Bosnia/Libya/etc wouldn't have any sort of basis; neither would the UN/US mission in Somalia, or the no-fly zones erected to protect Shi'ite and Kurdish Iraqis during the 1990s. Responsibility to Protect is a legal codification for those types of interference that's been widely accepted in the international community over the past twenty or so years and it's a completely right concept. There isn't any more basis for letting dictators do whatever the hell they want to people because they're in charge of a nation than there is for the Divine Right Of Kings. R2P has it's issues, namely the completely ****** nature of the Security Council structure, but R2P is a good policy, I think, and hardly the only thing that is subverted/damaged by the nature of the UNSC.

    As for drone strikes in Pakistan-well, we missed the ball by not invading Pakistan instead of Iraq ten years ago IMO; since then the country has increasingly painted itself into a corner. It's got hardly any regional allies, it's relationship with the US is increasingly erratic, and it's fomented a terrorist group within its own territory that could well prove to be its undoing. It's pretty clear, to me at least, that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable (probably a combination of both) to deal with enemies within its own borders, so it seems we've decided to take that upon ourselves. I think we can all agree that radical religiously-inspired terrorists are a bad thing for a country, especially one that can't or won't deal with them effectively; so...Responsibility to Protect, I'd say?

  5. CloneUncleOwen Force Ghost

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    =D=
  6. Lord Vivec Force Ghost

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    Alpha, your post shows an assumption that you can't justify: Nuclear Physics isn't just the atom bomb. There has been no evidence that ANY of Iran's nuclear physicists had anything to do with making a bomb. In addition, the idea that assassinating scientists for working on research you don't like is despicable and impractical. You want to live in a world where less and less people choose to go into STEM because they're afraid there's a target on their back? Do you really take your technology and understanding of nature for granted?

    We killed an american citizen and his 16 year old son. Tell me what makes you think this is pragmatic in any way? Also, the two we killed weren't actually a danger at that very second to anyone, unlike the ridiculously irrelevant analogy you've brought up, so try again.
  7. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    That's interesting. I hadn't heard of Responsibility to Protect, even though the concept used to be very prevalent in my news selection. You follow developments and then you miss their codification. Oh, well.
    Weird that China didn't veto it. Because where exactly does this leave Tibet and North-Korea?
    Still, I see it was established in 2005, so you can't really use that as a justification for NATO intervention in the nineties. But I agree that the concept seems morally right, and I don't condemn the interventions.

    The Wiki link says:
    RtoP focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of, Mass Atrocity Crimes.

    Whatever vile acts they committed, no fundamentalist terrorist cell has ever committed a crime of the above magnitude, and let's hope they'll never. I don't think you can convince me that any of them were about to, before the drones came.

    Let alone the Iranian scientist.
  8. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Terrorist organizations never commit ethnic cleansing and genocide? I think the LRA and AQI might disagree with you on that one. These people have no compunctions about committing mass murder when it suits their purposes.
  9. Lord Vivec Force Ghost

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    DarthBoba, an appropriate rebuttal to Watto would be citing a specific example of an event that would be categorized as such.
  10. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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  11. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Alright. I concede the point. Fundamentalist terrorists have committed Mass Atrocity Crimes.

    That still doesn't cover the Iranian nuclear scientist, though.
  12. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Sure; I just wanted to point out there are non-state actors that R2P can and should apply to, though; the Khmer Rouge are probably the best example, having killed millions and actually been in control of a state.

    I think the main reason people are uneasy about Iranian nuclear weapons is that there's no clear threat that they really need nuclear weapons for. The same thing applies to Israel; they've beaten all their potential regional opponents at least three times (1947, 1956, 1967, 1973) without needing nuclear weapons. Iran's last war was with Iraq and while that was a brutal and bloody conflict, Iraq was the aggressor in that one and modern Iraq is neither in a position to wage war on Iran, and actually likely to be more friendly to Iran as they're both Shia. The Gulf States are business-dominated, and in a business that absolutely depends on maximum stability. There's no bonus to war for them. Iran and Israel trade a lot of sharp comments, but they've never actually been to war with each other and have actually cooperated militarily a few times (the Israeli Air Force flew missions for Iran during the Iran-Iraq war). If Pakistan, historically no friend of Iran, had its internal act together, then I might feel differently, but they've warmed to each other over the last decade and Pakistan barely has its' own house in order and isn't a threat to anybody besides itself right now anyway.

    To clarify my position-I'd like to see these weapons entirely gone from the planet, but that isn't achievable for now. Containment seems to be about the best option we have right now, and I don't think the nuclear club needs to get any larger than it already is.
  13. Lord Vivec Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 17, 2006
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    That's poor reasoning to ensure that a certain few countries have access to essentially world-destroying weapons while others don't.
  14. Jabba-wocky Chosen One

    Member Since:
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    I'm also not sure about your note that they have no need for weapons. Historically, what was the logic of the Chinese acquiring nuclear capability? Cold War tensions were much more centered around the Soviet Union, and probably their most serious conflict of the whole period was the one against their own one-time ally. I also don't see where the Iranian propaganda has espoused particularly bad logic. The conservative wing of US politics has made it clear that they see the country as a target for regime change, and has demonstrated their willingness to pursue such action through unilateral invasions into neighboring countries. Further, the earliest reports of undeclared Iranian nuclear activity date from around the early 1990s, just on the heels of the Iran-Iraq War. That would seem more than ample reason to pursue something like this.

    It seem pretty clear that Iran is pursuing the bomb to become a dominant regional power. But that's pretty much the same reason anyone has ever developed the technology. We can object without pretending that all the other nations were some sort of saintly communes that only stumbled onto this out of sheer benevolence.

    EDIT: I mean, fundamentally, what "justification" is there that merits the use of a weapon that can destroy millions of people with a single use, and render whole areas uninhabitable for multiple generations? What else does the even begin to be proportionate to? Excepting the fact that it's already accepted as a norm in international affairs, isn't it pretty insane to consider even threatening as a deterrent?
  15. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    As I said before, I'm of the belief that disarmament for everyone is the ideal goal. That, due to political realities, is currently not obtainable; therefore we have to accept the second-best option, which is limiting the numbers of weapons in existence and the total number of countries that possess them. Your China example isn't applicable, either. None of Iran's neighbors are either capable or have particularly strong reasons to attack them, and the USA isn't going to be invading anyone anytime soon due to budgetary reasons, and nuclear weapons wouldn't help Iran against an American invasion in any case. And I'm not pretending that the rest of the nuclear club created their arsenal out of some kind of silly benevolence, either; just saying that we don't need more of these weapons around in anyone's hands, least of all domestically unstable regional powers with delusions of grandeur.


    I agree. They're loathsome weapons that need to be minimized and as I've been saying, eventually eliminated.

  16. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 19, 2000
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    Well, DB, a nuke-free world sure won't be obtainable if everyone goes around saying that it's not obtainable. But why is it not obtainable?

    I think we can all agree that as soon as somebody lobs one of those babies in a populated area, the person(s) will have committed a Mass Atrocity Crime. So why then do we accept that any country has them, at all? As J-w says, even as a deterrent it's despicable. If lobbing them is not acceptable, why is keeping them as a deterrent quite alright? Why not say: "Well, if someone wants to lob 'em at us, then that's their disgrace. Nothing we can do about it. We're better than that. We're not going to kill the other half of the global population for it."
    Because if you do, well, Mass Atrocity Crime. Probably no court to condemn you, but you'd still be just as guilty.

    I say, let those countries that don't want Iraq to own nukes cast the first stone. If a nuke-free US wanted to prevent Iran from getting nukes, that would be a wholly noble and worthwhile undertaking. Now, though, the interpretation cannot be discarded that it's all just in the name of eliminating the competition.
  17. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 1998
    star 6
    Actually, this has been a controvertial topic for hundreds of years. It's one of the points of the work "Utopia". It's put forward that the fictional state of Utopia indulges in assassinations to avoid war.
  18. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Mutual paranoia, mostly among the second-stringer nuclear powers (Pakistan, Israel, the GOP, etc.) is why disarmament isn't possible right now. We will never be able to convince them to disarm even if all the older nuclear countries already have; they'll look at their neighbors and go "why should we? They have them even if you don't." And I seriously doubt even a totally neutral third party could negotiate for all countries to destroy what they already have. I mean, the international community can't even get Israel and the Arabs to agree on something as seemingly common-sensical as no longer being at each other's throats and basic recognition of human rights, and nuclear weapons are a vastly stickier topic for obvious reasons. Take ourselves and the Russians as an example; the first serious arms-control treaties appeared in the early 1970s. It has taken us nearly forty years to get down to a couple of thousand warheads on each side, and this is with two countries that have never actually been at war with each other. If ourselves and the Russians are any kind of example for how a universal disarmament negotiation process might go, then reaching a treaty with seven or more countries would conceivably take centuries.
  19. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    It's kinda funny that your whole argument boils down to the very thing you'd accuse the 'second-stringer' countries of: "why should we? They have them even if you don't."

    Your post does not clarify why the US needs nukes.

    Anyway, second-stringer countries aren't regulars on the Security Council. So there's still nothing keeping the UN from adopting a "preventing Mass Atrocity Crimes includes going after those who have nukes" stance. After all of the involved have disarmed, of course. Which won't happen.

    I don't think your second-stringer argument holds any water.
  20. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    That's nice, because I don't think your "it's not fair" argument does, either. If you can find a way to get everyone to disarm, go ahead and post it. I don't think you or anyone else here can.

    Edit: Where did I ever say that the USA, or any other country for that matter, "needs" nukes? I've posted, twice now, that complete disarmament should be the goal. Unless the USA is on some other planet, that would include us. You're making a straw man argument by saying I'm saying something that I'm not.
  21. Jabba-wocky Chosen One

    Member Since:
    May 4, 2003
    star 8
    Watto how does what you outlined disqualify the Chinese example? None of it's neighbors were particularly prepared or inclined to attack it, either. The only wars it fought were border skirmishes that wouldn't have threatened the overall existence of either the nation or the regime. Nor were they meant to. The Iranians faced a far more existential threat from Iraq.

    As for your comment that the US wouldn't start any wars "any time soon" I find it weak for several reasons. First, before the drum beat for war started, who would've imagined the US might invade Iraq on the heels of its then sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, deficits were ballooning, and it was already engaged in Afghanistan? Yet that's what happened. Further, acquiring nuclear weapons is a long-term strategic choice. It's ridiculous to act as if the Iranian scientists have to check their e-mail every morning to see if they still have a job. The US will, by necessity, have re-arranged its finances in light of medium term obligations sometime within the next ten years. At that point, it's very well possible that they could be poised to take military action abroad again. To defend against that, countries would need deterrents already in place, not working on them, but having a completion date that is sometime between months and years in the future.

    Further, we could even talk about the Israeli example. You justified their armament by talking about the hostility of surrounding nations. Fine. But you're speaking of a country with absolute military superiority over said neighbors. They have, on multiple occasions, defeated the entire armed forces of multiple countries combined. The notion that they somehow "needed" the bomb is in light of this pretty ludicrous.

    I'm not on the same page as Watto, as I think what's he advocating is an idealism that we can't really expect from nation states. Or at least, a type we've never actually seen practiced historically. But I do think you aren't being quite fair here. The strength of Iran's justifications are about on par with several of those that have existed in the past.
  22. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2000
    star 9
    If you actually read my posts, you'll see I didn't say that.

    How am I in any way "justifying" Israeli nukes with that? I said they never needed them to win.

    No they're not. The threat simply isn't there from its neighbors and Iran is kidding itself if it think it can fight a nuclear war with any of the current nuclear powers and not be destroyed in the process. The issue with nukes being employed in a war of anything beyond total annihilation is that they unhinge war from being a political means to an end, IE, you're not going to gain anything from a nuclear exchange.

    I agree with Watto in that it'd be the best solution if we could not have any possessed by anyone, but as you say, that kind of idealism doesn't exist on a global stage.


  23. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 19, 2000
    star 5
    That's nice, because you're making a straw man argument, too.
    [face_laugh]
    I never said "it's not fair". Has 44 been whispering things? No, no, my argument is: the US shouldn't have killed that nuclear scientist. For the rest, I'm just trying to find a proper balance between a moral stance towards nukes and a practical one, like you.
  24. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Okay then. :p Also, answer my PM. :p
  25. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Jabba-wocky, it took me a good while to realize that you meant DarthBoba when you said Watto.
    I was all like, where and how does your Chinese example meet my argument? For a moment there, I thought that you'd tackled the thing DB and I were debating from a third angle.

    And then I'm confusing Iran and Iraq in my post.
    And then we're all straying from Jabba's original topic.

    Anyway...

    That is what I'm advocating, isn't it? Just trying to think straight. I know that, for now, I have to accept that man is 'crooked timber', but what's the use of philosophical ruminations if you don't allow yourself to think them through all the way? As long as they're philosophical anyway... What's done is done. That scientist is dead. All we can do is strive for a better future, no?

    Once a thought enters the world, it's there. Owning nukes is as bad as lobbing them. It deserves the same punishment. I like it.
    I guess it'll be torn apart once DB creates his new topic, but for now, I'll just enjoy my smug righteousness.