February 20, 2007

PAUL CAMPOS thinks I'm beyond the pale for suggesting (in this post, which he does not link) that the Bush Administration might have been better off trying to use covert action to kill Iranian nuclear scientists and radical mullahs, instead of having to look at the massive air strikes now reportedly being planned, which would surely kill more people. He hurts his credibility up front by saying that Iran is not at war with us -- when, in fact, it has been since 1979, with the deaths of many Americans, soldiers and otherwise, on its hands. (Later: Some emailers say that this means that Ollie North should have gone to jail for Iran/Contra. Well, that would have been fine with me, actually. But I said Iran has been at war with us; we, however, have not been at war with Iran. This is about what to do as that seems to be changing).

But surely talking about assassination isn't beyond the pale. Or, if it is, I'm beyond the pale with Dianne Feinstein and Joe Biden:

Senators asked FBI Director Louis Freeh Thursday to consider the legality of assassinating Osama bin Laden and other suspected terrorist leaders.

Referring to terrorist leaders, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Freeh, "What is present law with respect to their takedown?" Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said, "I would very much like a legal memorandum from the FBI, stating whether or not the prohibition against assassination of heads of state applies to organized crime units, and/or terrorist units." . . . Feinstein said arrest of terrorists is the best option but said that other "robust" strategies should be considered.

Of course, that was in 1998, when it was okay for Democrats to sound tough.

Nor were Biden and Feinstein the only ones:

Even before 11 September 2001, two members of Congress questioned the continuance of such a ban with regard to Saddam Hussein and international terrorists. In 1998, Senator Charles S. Robb stated that if Hussein continued to defy the United Nations, the United States should consider changing the executive order forbidding the assassination of foreign leaders

Then there's George Stephanopoulos, who wrote: "A misreading of the law or misplaced moral squeamishness should not stop the president from talking about assassination. He should order up the options and see if it's possible. If we can kill Saddam, we should."

Campos' claim that such actions would be illegal is misleading -- assassination is illegal, as both articles above note, only by executive order, which can, of course, be rescinded by the President. (As the second item observes, Bob Barr introduced legislation in 2001 to rescind that ban by statute). Kiling by covert military action -- as when things are blown up, and scientists or mullahs just "happen" to get killed -- is apparently outside the ban anyway. As noted in my original post, there are plenty of arguments from reasonable people why this kind of thing might be a bad idea on practical grounds. Campos, however, thinks it ought to be illegal even to talk about the subject (if you do, you might be an "accessory to murder"). Somebody tell Dianne Feinstein, et al. Er, and send Campos a copy of the First Amendment. And no, this isn't the first time Campos has called me names for agreeing with Democrats on the war.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Campos does a pretty good job of beclowning himself by displaying his ignorance of how international law and international security actually work. Attached is an article I'm sure you've seen and I'm sure he needs to read. The author was one of my professors. Perhaps Campos should stick to the compelling and weighty analysis of America's fatness.

I hadn't realized the article, from the Washington Quarterly, was online, but here it is. And here's an excerpt:

In the international community, states have always reserved the right to use force to maintain world order and safeguard their own defense. When containment fails, diplomacy is ineffective, and a full-scale war is too costly, killing a regime leader is an option a state should seriously consider. In a world in which states will amass WMD, unlawfully invade their neighbors, and threaten other’s national and international security, national security experts and policymakers may need to reexamine their choices, including killing regime leaders, as a means of ensuring security.

It's by Catherine Lotrionte, who teaches Intelligence Law and International Law at Georgetown's Foreign Service School. Who knew that so many of us were beyond the pale? And yes, there's a lot of beclowning going on these days.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It's getting crowded out here beyond the pale, as reader James Ray sends a link to this 1994 interview with that well-known international war criminal Dave Barry:

Reason: One of the planks in your presidential campaign is the Department of Two Guys Named Victor.

Barry:: This is one of those times I wasn't kidding. At the time, we were mad at Moammar Gadhafi, which resulted in us bombing all over Libya and killing a bunch of people, but not him. Then Ronald Reagan gets up and says we're not trying to kill him, we're just dropping bombs. You can kill all the Libyans you want, but legally you can't try to kill the leader.

The other one was Manuel Noriega. Here we have a problem with just one person, and we send all these troops down to deal with it. All these people get killed and hurt, but not Noriega.

So instead of messing around with armies, get a couple of guys named Victor. The president meets with them and has breakfast, or he goes to dinner with them at the restaurant of their choice, and suggests that he's having a problem. Then the next thing you know, you read in the paper that Saddam Hussein has suffered an unfortunate shaving accident resulting in the loss of his head. We don't involve a lot of 22-year-old kids in this dispute between George Bush and Saddam Hussein.

See, this was once a kind of anti-war position. Then it was popular with Democratic officeholders. Now, apparently, it's shifted to "beyond the pale" category. It's not only important to have the right opinions -- it's important to have them at the right time.

MORE: More here:

One would expect a law professor like Campos to have authority to back up such language. But in fact, his characterizations of the relevant legal principles are over-simplified, if not flat-out wrong. . . . In short, Campos' attack on Reynolds and Hewitt betrays his ignorance of the subject matter at hand and his failure to do even the most elementary research before denouncing others as "accessor[ies] to murder." As happens so often on the left, "murderer" and "fascist" are the common coin of a polemic that bears no relation to reality. And, needless to say, Campos offers no constructive thoughts as to how we should deal with the threat Iran poses to our troops in Iraq, or the threat a nuclear Iran will pose to us and our allies.

Needless to say, indeed.

Dan Riehl adds that Campos is trying a different kind of assassination. If he hadn't let his intellectual guns go off half-cocked, he might have done better at that. . . .