The Moral, Legal, Political, and Practical Dimensions of Assassination
Murder: The killing of a political leader or other public figure by a sudden violent attack. Destruction of something: the destruction of something such as somebody's reputation by malicious or treacherous means.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the New York World
Trade Center and the Pentagon, some attention has been focused upon the assassination ban contained in Executive Order (E.O.) 12333, Section 2.11, and whether it would prohibit the United States from responding to the attacks by targeting those who orchestrated these acts of terrorism. In considering the challenges involved in effectively combating terrorism and protecting the United States from future terrorist attacks, there has been wide-ranging debate as to what approaches might be beneficial. Part of that discussion has centered around whether assassination of terrorist leaders is, or should be, one of the options available.
This is the context within which the paper will argue against the use of assassination as a tool of statecraft of the United States. The paper will present reasons as to why assassination should not be used as part of political strategy employed by the United States government. As outlined above, assassination can be with respect to a person's character, or it can be with respect to the murder of a person. The definition of assassination that the paper will operate within will be an assorted of the three definitions presented in the preface. The final quotation in the preface is the primary context within which the modern debate over assassination persists today in America. For several decades, assassination has been formally illegal in the United States, yet, since the first executive order banning assassination performed by an individual or agency of the United States, assassination attempts continue. The paper argues for the discontinuation of assassination as a tool of statecraft by the United States because it is a faulty, illegal action with unintended results that often do not support or augment the United States and its government.
There are a few reasons as to why the United States should not resort to assassination that will be presented. The first reason is that assassination by the United States does not work. The second reason that it should not be used is that it is illegal by America's own standards. The third reason it should not be used is because the effects are unpredictable and are deeply traumatic to the society in which the assassination occurs.
Assassination has been used since the earliest moments of organized human societies. Assassination is a very old practice. It is a practice that has been used by nearly every human civilization. Assassinations continue in the 21st century. Assassinations should not be used by the United States. There are key reasons behind this argument. Since the 1960s, a time around the world of great violence and frequent assassination, there has been substantial research into the nature and efficacy of assassinations. Evidence of these studies over time has shown that in many respects, and often with respect to the United States, assassinations are ineffective.
The evaluation performed here demonstrates that assassination has not been a useful tool of U.S. foreign policy. Only one out of seven U.S. cases amounts to a success and five of seven are rated failures…All the leaders that the U.S.-plots successfully targeted suffered from either overestimating the degree of support they had or breakdowns in their personal security structure…The findings of this study indicate that assassination is unlikely to bring about warmer relations with the targeted state if that is the goal.[footnoteRef:0] [0: Wightman, 2003, 121 -- 123.]
This evidence supports the argument of the paper. When used by the United States, assassination simply does not work. The odds are not in favor of a political success or favorable coup when performed by the United States. Attempts are noted as failures and there are a great many more failures than successes. The United States clearly has problems assessing their strategies when the decision has been made to make an assassination. The United States in its assassination attempts, does not locate substantial enough detail in their intelligence on the intended figure in order to carry out the assassination to its hypothetical advantage. This is an ineffective tool that the United States cannot execute correctly.
The latest version of the ban in the United States of assassination performed by an individual or agency of the government is called Executive Order 12333. More details on the Executive Order are below:
On December 4, 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333 on "United States Intelligence Activities." Section 2.11 of the order provides: "Prohibition on Assassination. No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." Section 2.12 of the order prohibits indirect participation in activities prohibited by the order, stating: "Indirect participation. No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order." E.O. 12333 is still in force. E.O. 12333 is the latest in a series of three executive orders which included assassination bans.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Bazan, 2002, 2 -- 3.]
The first of these orders was issued by Gerald Ford, and then by Jimmy Carter. The third version, that still is in effect today is by Ronald Reagan. This is yet another reason as to why assassination should not be used. There are three versions of essentially the same executive order, which states that assassination is illegal. The United States is one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world. It is a country that the world perceives as a superpower and it has maintained this status for several decades and arguably, a century. The United States often declares itself an example in various ways for the rest of the world to follow. If the United States wants assassinations to decrease and not to be targeted for assassinations, then it must lead by the example set by its own government and not participate in such activities.
The fact that assassinations needed to be formally banned says something, or at least implies some sinister actions performed by the United States government, either publicly or discreetly. To ban assassination means that there was a need for it to be banned; it was being performed and/or used in excess, recklessly, or ineffectively. There must have been some concrete implications and substantiated concern for the United States and its use of assassination. In other words, there must have been proof and enough suspicion that as a way to deter those suspicions and show a public, formal sign of good faith. From one perspective, the ban against assassination by the presidential executive orders to assassinate outside suspicion about the United States should not use assassination as a tool of statecraft because it is illegal and because if the United States violates its own rules, then it will be the reason why its power and influence is undermined and disrespected.
Assassination is a very specific and intentional action. Assassinations are of public figures. If a person who is not well-known is killed, they are usually described as being murdered or a murder victim. When the murder victim is a public figure, it is an assassination. Those who are assassinated must be public figures if the murder is to stand as an assassination. Assassinations require shock value. When public figures are graphically murdered, then there is a great deal more shock value than if the person murdered was anonymous or not so well-known. Assassinations are usually very public and the murders are often grotesque. There is a message in the act of assassination as well as a message in the figures assassinated.
Assassinations often have strong political implications. The people who are assassinated are not always politicians, but assassinated figures often have strong political ties or implications because of their presence, symbolism, and message.[footnoteRef:2] President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated very publicly. There is a shock value to his death that still has not fully dissipated within American culture and collective memory. He was shot in the had sitting with his wife during a parade in Texas, a state that greeted him wholeheartedly. The event was additionally televised. He is an example of an assassination of a political figure with clear political implications. [2: Grossenblacher, 1993, 108. ]
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is another figure who was assassinated, around the same time as President Kennedy. His death was very public; it took place outside on a balcony while he was traveling across the United States, speaking on behalf of civil rights and other related interests. In honor of his work and his death, there is a holiday in his memory. These are examples of how assassinations, even decades after they have been executed (pun intended), leave scars and traumas on the collective memory of the culture within which the assassination has taken…