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Can you go to "War" against an individual?
September 13, 2001 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Can you go to "War" against an individual? Laws may limit exactly what the US can do, and whether or not an assasination attempt will be possible.
posted by mathowie (23 comments total)

 
On the general topic of people being whipped into a war frenzy, I was just e-mailed this quote, from a book on Nazis.

"The leaders of a country determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along -- even into a war they don't want. Tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for their lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. Whether the government be a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliamentary form or a communist dictatorship, it works the same everywhere." -- Hermann Goering
posted by fotzepolitic at 4:44 PM on September 13, 2001


I don't have any specialist knowledge of international law, but isn't this why "harboring" has become a buzzword of the knee-jerk political reaction. It's a lot more convenient to blame a nation.
posted by liam at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2001


The legal precedent was set during the Jefferson administration when the US formally declared war against the Barbary Pirates, even though they were not a nation. We would not be at war with Osama bin Laden explicitly but rather with his organization.

And yes, it is legally possible to do this.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2001


...among other things, the US doesn't get directly involved in assassination; we pay other people to do it for us. I see no reason why that couldn't happen this time. It's probably not coincidental that we're hearing lots about how large Al-Qaeda is -- it's perfectly acceptable to directly target enemy leaders, so if we go to "war" against Al-Qaeda, then Bin Laden is a legitimate target (look at how we killed Adm. Yamamoto).

And besides which, you'd be surprised how quickly laws can be changed.

Doesn't mean it's a good idea, mind you, but where there's a will, there's a way. That's what lawyers are for.
posted by aramaic at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2001


The same question should be asked about declaring war on organizations. Killing OBL wouldn't do to much, really, undoubtable it'd piss off his crew and they'd redouble their efforts. I don't think simply revoking the presidential directive banning assassination will do the trick, unless you interpreted it in such a way as to allow the assassination of 500 members of organization X.

Do we need different rules for dealing with organizations? What kind of organizations? (What keeps you from attacking PepsiCo?) How would you fight them?

One of the reasons we may need to exist inside the existing laws is that by attacking anybody outside our country would be violating the sovereignty of that nation... not something they're are going to stand around for.
posted by daver at 4:52 PM on September 13, 2001


A question that has been bugging me: If we go to war with a country because they harbor terrorists, when do we stop?

A war to conquer land has a concrete goal, and the fight stops when the land is conquered.

Even the Gulf war had a reasonable stopping point at the Kuwaiti border.

But say we decide to attack nation X. When do we stop? Do we kill people until they give up? What if they surrender immediately? Then what? Do we occupy the nation? Does someone just decide how much damage to do, and we go and do it?
posted by whatnotever at 4:54 PM on September 13, 2001


Steven -- read the article more closely, it specifically discusses the pirate of Barbary, and notes that they were effectively the government of tripoli, thus falling under the general rules for declaring war on nations.
posted by daver at 4:54 PM on September 13, 2001


it is a lot easier to convince people to want war when they know it´s going to happen thousands of miles away and they will probably watch it on TV having a beer and doritos.
posted by papalotl at 4:57 PM on September 13, 2001


I think it's a big mistake to single out one individual, effectively turning him into a hero and encouraging the image of an underdog fighting the most powerful nation on earth.
There is no war and can be no war. This has to be treated as a very sophisticated international police investigation. All other problems must be dealt with politically.
The terrorists and those who abet them are mass murderers. They should be caught, tried and punished. Blaming nations and individuals is simplistic and wrong.
These people are madmen, butchers, genocidal maniacs. They are not a nation, a race, or a religion.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2001


Does anyone truly believe that the U.S. will let law interfere with this particular retribution?
posted by rushmc at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2001


Sounds like an Onion headline: "U.S. Declares War on Dave". Or better yet, Chad.
posted by jjg at 5:02 PM on September 13, 2001


Weren't the embassy bombers sentenced a bit back? and the guy didn't get death because the jury believed he'd become a martyr type figure for those insane idiots who say they do what they do in the name of "jihad"?

Agreed though, it won't stop the US this time.

But how are they going to get him? The Russians met sticky ends in those mountains..
posted by Mossy at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2001


The Russians were trying to occupy and control the country. This is a very difficult and easily frustrated goal. The US wishes to destroy or render ineffective the Al Quaida organization, headed by Osama bin Laden. While not easy, this goal is much more readily achievable.

Identify member of organization; kill him. Identify facility of organization; blow it up. Repeat as needed. The Mossad systematically hunted down and killed all but one of the people who were involved in the 1976 massacre at the Munich Olympics, I predict something similar will happen here.

Will it be effective? I don't know. According to some, the recent Israeli policy of missiling the cars and offices of experienced Palestinian terrorists has put a noticeable crimp in the ability of the PLO to conduct sophisticated operations. Apparently it's not just in the technology industry that good people are hard to find.

Perhaps if the US combines their attack on Al Quaida with a simultaneous increase in foreign aid to the relevant countries (probably in kind, maybe monetary) they can get away with it for long enough to render the organization impotent.
posted by jaek at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2001


I think the most useful metaphor used to describe bin Laden (again, based on past activities, rather than present evidence) is that he's a "venture capitalist for terrorists". Cut off his communications, and most of all, cut off his finances. Then cut off his extremities.

(I hate to make a political point, but Paul O'Neill's objections watered down an international treaty designed to restrict money-laundering tax havens only a few months ago. And we all know about Congress's opposition to an international criminal court.)

Anyway, the christening scene from Godfather 2 runs through my head right now.
posted by holgate at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2001


Interestingly enough, I've read some articles (I forget where, sadly) making the argument that the real reason that US keep dumping money on Israel is because it buys us the services of the Dudevan -- the Israeli assassination unit. They are, by all accounts, spectacularly effective.
posted by aramaic at 6:33 PM on September 13, 2001


Weren't the embassy bombers sentenced a bit back? and the guy didn't get death because the jury believed he'd become a martyr type figure for those insane idiots who say they do what they do in the name of "jihad"?

Actually, that was reported to be their secondary rationalization. Their main reason was apparently that they felt that because his motive to kill was based in his religious convictions, that he was less culpable than if he had done it for some other reason.
posted by rushmc at 6:38 PM on September 13, 2001


the professor seems to be skirting the issue with semantics. The president cannot order an assassination. He can order a military strike against a target which is different.(opps, he got caught in the wake off the bomb) The Mayaguez incident should provide some light into presidential reaction to hostiles attacking u.s. targets (in this case a ship) 80 marines died in that raid. I think off jesse strang, shot on a navy vessel upon lake michigan as an example of assassination of religious zealots. Also individuals are held accountable within the confides of state-sponsored terrorism. in other words, an individual act that can be proved to be state-sponsored is considered an act by that country if ties are made.
posted by newnameintown at 7:00 PM on September 13, 2001


sorry, about 35 solders and sailors died(ben kiernan must be wrong?)
posted by newnameintown at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2001


I believe the reason the president cannot order assasinations is because of a presidential executive order (directive? Not sure of the technical language) made by Ford some 20+ years ago. The order was made because covert ops from the U.S. were running amok.

Presumably, Bush can rescind this order. And then go right ahead and make his assasination order. The biggest reason not to is because of moral outrage and international pressure. Both of those seem as if they would be somewhat attenuated today... But there are big policy questions about what that means for the future.
posted by daver at 7:15 PM on September 13, 2001


I heard one security "expert" on one of the news channels Tues, or Weds night discussing this very issue. He claimed that in the past, when the US needed to "take someone out" they usually employed the services of the British SAS. If Bin Laden is brought to trial, heres hoping that the trial is held in Texas.
posted by jbelshaw at 7:41 PM on September 13, 2001


As daver said, the prohibition against assasination comes from an executive order. Executive orders come from the Chief Executive. If the President writes "except in this case" at the bottom of the order, it's legal.
posted by Bluecoat93 at 8:38 PM on September 13, 2001


According to some, the recent Israeli policy of missiling the cars and offices of experienced Palestinian terrorists has put a noticeable crimp in the ability of the PLO to conduct sophisticated operations.

...Thus making Israel the haven of peace and security it now is.
posted by Allen Varney at 11:21 PM on September 13, 2001


The executive order effectively means that no one except the President can order an assassination.

I note with interest that law professor Turley cites no law or Constitutional provision, or even a legal precedent, that prevents Congress from declaring war against an organization, person, animal, vegetable, or mineral. I infer from this that there is no such precedent, since I would expect the esteemed (and usually quite astute) Professor Turley to be aware of any precent that existed.
posted by mikewas at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2001


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