The Most Notorious Nazi Israeli Hitman
March 30, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

How Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's favored commando, ended up as a murderous agent in Israel's Mossad. In the 1960s, suspected war-criminal Skorzeny, was recruited for the long-running and global practice of extra-judicial killing against scientists believed to be aiding the enemies of the Israeli state.
posted by blankdawn (66 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Future prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir, joins Hitler's favorite commando, member of the Knight's cross of the Iron Cross, for the extrajudicial assassination of a former Nazi rocket scientist who was working for the Egyptians.

This would be a ludicrous plot for a work of fiction.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:19 PM on March 30, 2016 [31 favorites]


Just to be clear, as far as I am aware the war crime Skorzeny was suspected of was infiltrating behind American lines in an American uniform. Not, like, slaughtering people. Today we call that "special forces".
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


Gah. Wound up in Israel, did he? That's a little embarrassing.

Fortunately, I'm not only Jewish, but I'm also Irish, and he never wound up in ...

(Shuffles through notes.)

Purchased a farm in County Kildare, did he? God damn it.
posted by maxsparber at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2016 [35 favorites]


A bit of an aside, but just yesterday, on my way to work, I saw someone who very strongly resembled, and was dressed almost exactly like Mussolini in the famous photo from Skorzeny's rescue mission.


I guess when you go through life looking like that, you pretty much have to own it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:33 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Purchased a farm in County Kildare, did he? God damn it.

His Wikipedia page says the Irish government never let him spend more than 60 days at a time in Ireland.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 12:42 PM on March 30, 2016


This makes perfect sense to me.
posted by kafziel at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2016


This would be a ludicrous plot for a work of fiction.

This summer...in a world of lies and distrust...sometimes your worst enemy is your only friend. IN THEATERS ONLY, SUMMER 2016.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just to be clear, as far as I am aware the war crime Skorzeny was suspected of was infiltrating behind American lines in an American uniform. Not, like, slaughtering people. Today we call that "special forces".

Like Admiral Dönitz, the defence was that the Allies had done the same thing that he was accused of. Both were successful in the ploy (though Dönitz was found guilty on other charges).
posted by Emma May Smith at 12:56 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: Skorzeny is the model for Fearless Leader, a character from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

A Nazi SS officer. You know. For kids.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:56 PM on March 30, 2016 [18 favorites]


Just to be clear, as far as I am aware the war crime Skorzeny was suspected of was infiltrating behind American lines in an American uniform. Not, like, slaughtering people. Today we call that "special forces".

On the other hand he did then go on to get a job as a professional murderer after the war. So, y'know. Particular set of skills and all that.
posted by howfar at 12:58 PM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


I sort of wish the Mossad had eventually killed him after using his services in Egypt. I hate that he got to live a comfortable life in a fancy villa in Spain.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 1:06 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Alluring Mouthbreather: "I sort of wish the Mossad had eventually killed him after using his services in Egypt. I hate that he got to live a comfortable life in a fancy villa in Spain."

I get what you're saying, but he was an assassin's assassin.
posted by boo_radley at 1:12 PM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


From the article:
The Mossad man was further surprised to hear Skorzeny name something that he did want: “I need for Wiesenthal to remove my name from his list.”....

The Mossad agents did try to persuade Wiesenthal to remove Skorzeny from his list of war criminals, but the Nazi hunter refused. The Mossad, with typical chutzpah, instead forged a letter — supposedly to Skorzeny from Wiesenthal— declaring that his name had been cleared.
While the story seems unbelievable, given the longish life that Skorzeny lived, his proximity to Isreal (relative to other criminals) and his high profile notoriety, its likely that Skorzeny would have been at least left alone by the Mossad.

As an aside, Skorzeny makes a guest appearance as a zombie terminator to defend the Fuehrer in 'Hitler vs Stalin'
posted by aeroboros at 1:19 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


The article makes this point too but this man was an officer of the Waffen-SS and fought on the Eastern Front throughout Barbarossa to at least December 1942, so I personally find it highly unlikely that his only war crime was to impersonate enemy personnel.
posted by coolname at 1:22 PM on March 30, 2016 [23 favorites]


Fascinating story. At least he ended up using his special skills for a good cause in the end.
posted by My Dad at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2016


Is the murder of foreign citizens in foreign countries really "good"? I mean, sometimes it's arguably necessary, but the notion that "he was working for the goodies, so his career as a paid murderer was fine" seems pretty morally sketchy to me.
posted by howfar at 1:28 PM on March 30, 2016 [25 favorites]


Were they "civilians"?
posted by My Dad at 1:47 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, yes, quite frequently they were. The idea that you can just assassinate whomever you like because they are doing something contrary to your state's interests is fairly repugnant to me, and most concepts of international law.
posted by howfar at 1:52 PM on March 30, 2016 [28 favorites]


But yay the goodies, Kissinger, the Contras and drone strikes, yeah?
posted by howfar at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


I should mention (some may be unaware of this fact) but a number of Arab countries repeatedly attacked Israel in the post-war period and were committed to the destruction of the country. So you could argue Skorzeny was a soldier engaged in warfare.

As for the Waffen SS, it was a paramilitary organization. There were criminal elements, but the Waffen SS also acted in parallel, and as an institutional competitor to, the Wehrmacht (which also committed war crimes and was itself implicated in facilitating the Final Solution and the Holocaust).
posted by My Dad at 1:54 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


But yay the goodies, Kissinger, the Contras and drone strikes, yeah?

Interesting how many logical fallacies are present in this argument. Good exercise for the brain sorting them all out!
posted by My Dad at 1:55 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could argue that he was a soldier engaged in warfare. But you'd be wrong. Even if he were a soldier (which he wasn't, he was an assassin) he'd be in breach of all recognised rules of engagement and hence once more a war criminal. I'm sorry, but you don't get to handwave international law and national sovereignty just because you sympathise with the criminals.
posted by howfar at 2:01 PM on March 30, 2016 [22 favorites]


As for the Waffen SS, it was a paramilitary organization. There were criminal elements, but the Waffen SS also acted in parallel, and as an institutional competitor to, the Wehrmacht (which also committed war crimes and was itself implicated in facilitating the Final Solution and the Holocaust).

dear lord, dude, are you downplaying the criminality of the Waffen-SS because one of them later killed scientists for Mossad
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2016 [35 favorites]


Fun fact: Skorzeny is the model for Fearless Leader, a character from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. A Nazi SS officer. You know. For kids.
And he was the boss to Boris and Natasha, two spies with very Russian accents. Jay Ward & Bill Scott were Equal Opportunity Offenders. (And the name Boris Badenov was a take-off of Boris Godunov, a 16th century Russian tsar, so less Soviet, more Russian) Fearless Leader's boss was "Mister Big" who was revealed to be under three inches tall and whose voice was based on Peter Lorre. And Bullwinkle himself was named after a friend of Ward's, Clarence Bullwinkel, a Chevrolet dealer in Oakland, CA. And Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz, while his nickname was based on Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan, who in 1938 flew solo across the Atlantic 'by accident', his name was based on the show's Business Manager and credited Producer Peter Peich. But I digress.

Tom Lehrer wrote a song serenading a notable ex-Nazi who worked post-war for the American space program: Werner von Braun.

you don't get to handwave international law and national sovereignty just because you sympathise with the criminals.
But you do get to handwave anything for people with skills you can use for your own purposes, especially when you're violating international law too...
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:13 PM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


The CIA also recruited tons of Nazis, not just for science but for skullduggery:
In the decades after World War II, the C.I.A. and other United States agencies employed at least a thousand Nazis as Cold War spies and informants and, as recently as the 1990s, concealed the government’s ties to some still living in America.
Previously.
posted by grobstein at 2:20 PM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


He's mostly a name to me, and granted Wiki is not the best source at all, but from their take down of his war time, he seems to have been more flash than substance. Kidnappings that never came off, assassinations that never occurred. No doubt his memoirs have some interesting stories, but as I look through google books for Skorzeny and search on the word assassin for particulars, I come up empty. Engineering, some combat, talking turkey with high rankers, making plans for raids and assassination, but in the end, more bogeyman than not.

I could be wrong, of course, but if that's all there is, then no surprise that he was acquitted.

(That having been said, there was his work for the CIA and his assassinating Nicola Tesla....)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:30 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


the criminality of the Waffen-SS

Indeed, and much though I dislike simple moral reductionism, in the case of the SS, I think it might have occurred, even to them, that they were the baddies.
posted by howfar at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


"A farm in County Kildare" is a rather understated way of describing Martinstown House which is apparently an 1830s Strawberry Hill Gothic cottage orné by Decimus Burton.

Skorzeny obviously had plenty of money.
posted by Azara at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but you don't get to handwave international law and national sovereignty just because you sympathise with the criminals.

Ye-es. But law and the justice system are themselves based on more fundamental things, especially what we call natural justice and necessity. Look at it this way: it was totally legal to put my family in cattle cars and transport them to Auschwitz. If anyone had interfered with that it would have been a breach of international law and national sovereignty.

I think it's reasonable to ask whether Skorzeny's killings were justifiable, but that question has to take the circumstances into account. Just saying "the victims were behaving lawfully under Egyptian law" isn't necessarily a sufficient defense.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Skorzeny, Good or Bad?" is literally a religious question. It can not be resolved on MeFi.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:26 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think it's reasonable to ask whether Skorzeny's killings were justifiable, but that question has to take the circumstances into account.

This is fair. I think one problem is that, as the Haaretz article expresses "The Mossad’s playbook for protecting Israel and the Jewish people has no preordained rules or limits". Sometimes the ends do justify the means, and some assassinations carried out on behalf of Israel have (in my view) been arguably morally justifiable. However, the notion that the ends always justify the means, which does appear to be the Mossad's view of things, has led to egregious and appalling abuses of natural justice and international law on multiple occasions. This is hardly behaviour limited to Israeli security services, of course, but there is, I think, a (fairly understandable) impulse to justify such behaviour on behalf of the Mossad where we would condemn it in the CIA or FSB or whoever. And I don't think that this broader tendency towards justification is ultimately good either for the rule of law or for Israeli security in the long term.

As an aside, the particular killing described in detail in the article took place in West Germany, a democracy and member of NATO. I think this adds some specific difficulties to the idea that there was a justification for the rejection of the rule of law in this case.
posted by howfar at 3:27 PM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


there is, I think, a (fairly understandable) impulse to justify such behaviour on behalf of the Mossad where we would condemn it in the CIA or FSB or whoever

Really? If so, sure. But I read a lot of leftie blogs and the commentators kind of assume that the Mossad is responsible for pretty much everything awful. In fact, a current news story in the UK is about a Labour Party activist that got suspended for his claims that Mossad is behind ISIS.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:39 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is the murder of foreign citizens in foreign countries really "good"? I mean, sometimes it's arguably necessary, but the notion that "he was working for the goodies, so his career as a paid murderer was fine" seems pretty morally sketchy to me.

Depends on who's murdering and who's getting murdered. If he's working for "us" == "good". If he's working for "them" == "bad". (I'm neither German nor Israeli nor any of their enemies, so I don't have a dog in this particular fight ... I feel neutral about the whole thing.)
posted by theorique at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2016



I think it's reasonable to ask whether Skorzeny's killings were justifiable, but that question has to take the circumstances into account. Just saying "the victims were behaving lawfully under Egyptian law" isn't necessarily a sufficient defense.


The victims here were citizens of the nation that had recently murdered 1/3 of the Jewish people.

They were working to develop rockets for a nation that at the time

1. was harboring fugitive Nazis
2. was using some of those fugitive Nazis to train its military
3. was suspected, credibly, of using those same Nazis to also train its intelligence agencies (but wrongly - it was Syria that was doing it, not Egypt)
4. was led by a government whose officials were prone to making proclamations about finishing what Germany had started.

They were fair game.
posted by ocschwar at 6:59 PM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


One cannot achieve good ends from bad deeds. His later work as an extra-judicial killer for Mossad does not absolve him of his war crimes, but makes him both a war criminal and a terrorist.
posted by scruss at 7:45 PM on March 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Look at it this way: it was totally legal to put my family in cattle cars and transport them to Auschwitz. If anyone had interfered with that it would have been a breach of international law and national sovereignty.

What?

Auschwitz is in Poland. The Nazis broke international law just being there in the first place. I know that can be easy to overlook; it's not like it was the entire reason for the war or anything.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


They were fair game.

I'm totally not prepared to debate this point right now. I don't have the free time or the emotional strength. But my conscience wouldn't let me pass on without commenting. This is one of the darkest, most evil-tainted things I've ever read.
posted by traveler_ at 8:21 PM on March 30, 2016 [15 favorites]


Justinian: "Just to be clear, as far as I am aware the war crime Skorzeny was suspected of was infiltrating behind American lines in an American uniform. Not, like, slaughtering people. Today we call that "special forces"."

Do Special Forces really wear uniforms from hostile countries? Isn't that considered spying?
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


He's mostly a name to me, and granted Wiki is not the best source at all, but from their take down of his war time, he seems to have been more flash than substance.
so, most of the things that Skorzeny takes credit for, the Gran Sasso liberation of Mussolini, the Hungarian Putsch (where he unseated Hungary's head of state with little more than four tanks and a battalion of troops), and the weird infilitration ops that he did on the Bulge; all seem like modest fare when compared to, say, movie heroes or comic books; but for a paratrooper and commando, it's actually pretty respectable. Consider one of the most renowned British paratroopers during the Second World War was probably John Frost, and he's only got three major operations to his name before mounting his heroic holding action at Arnhem before getting captured; and also consider that Skorzeny's achievements were done as a German officer and that the story of Germany's war is really about a shockingly successful first one-and-a-half years, and then a slow, grim grind for survival over its last three; and the flip side to the interpretation of his career is that he did pretty well given the circumstances of the time.

But the other noteworthy thing about Skorzeny is that he was one of the few Nazis who was as or more prolific in the post-war period than he was during the war. He was acquitted from war crimes, THEN broke out of jail, THEN helped setup a underground railroad for Nazis trying to move their stolen loot out of German THEN became a freelance mercenary and military adviser to new regimes in the Middle East, South America, and South Africa. And now we found out he turned into a hired gun for Mossad, hunting the same people he helped setup in South America or the Middle East, because it turns out he just really enjoys hunting people and he doesn't care who.

I mean, don't get me wrong, he's a terrible guy, and he's fomented his own share of misery and cruelty, but he's fascinating. Like all of the stuff that we associate with Bond henchmen and sub boss villains were things that he embodied, because Ian Fleming patterned his villains after Otto Skorzeny; and it's rather hard to think of another soldier in the WWII or post-war period who gets that much recognition as a freelance murder entrepreneur.
posted by bl1nk at 8:50 PM on March 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


His later work as an extra-judicial killer for Mossad does not absolve him of his war crimes, but makes him both a war criminal and a terrorist.

Heinz Krug, his victim, was part of a conspiracy to commit war crimes. There's no way to prosecute people in this position; we're barely even able to prosecute war criminals decades after their victims have been exhumed from mass graves. There's certainly nothing like an international police force to protect innocents. So stipulating that the Mossad was right about what he was engaged in and that there was no other way to dissuade him1 his killing was an act of self defense. That's one of the concepts that stands behind law: to a large extent we have law so that people don't need to defend themselves. Viewed as such (and making those stipulations) his killing was entirely lawful.

I had a related discussion with a family member recently, talking about the death camp guards who were killed by their prisoners after liberation. I said there was no way to criticise them; my relative said that the killings were wrong because the law had to take its course. The thing is, the law very often doesn't take its course; few of those guards were ever prosecuted. There was certainly no real effort made to prevent their crimes in the first place. When victims take justice into their hands it's because the law has failed. The fault lies with us for failing to protect them.

1 Both big assumptions, of course.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:57 PM on March 30, 2016


Heinz Krug, his victim, was part of a conspiracy to commit war crimes.

What war crimes would those be? He was a civilian, whose civilian manufacturing company sold weapons components legitimately to the government of Egypt. It is not a war crime for a civilian company to sell arms to a government. Governments need arms for national defence purposes.

As you may recall, Egypt had some national defense concerns at the time, as it had recently been invaded by one of its neighbours. And to think, all Egypt ever did was blockade their ship traffic -- as if there were anything wrong with blockading another country, amirite?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:50 AM on March 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq: lest ye forget, Egypt did not recognize the State of Israel and was party to the multi-national invasion of the former British Mandate of Palestine territories in 1948 (and invaded Israel on May 15th, 1948). There was no peace treaty or legal recognition until 1977; Israel and Egypt were at war for 29 years, armistices/ceasefires notwithstanding. (An armistice is not a peace treaty: it's just an agreement by both sides to stop shooting.)

I don't want to get into the right or wrong of the Arab/Israeli conflict (that way lies madness), but from the Israeli point of view, at that time, they were in a state of temporarily-interrupted war with an existential enemy who did not recognize their right to exist, and who intermittently conducted offensive operations against them. The nearest prevailing modern equivalent would be the South Korea/North Korea partition, with its periodic ominous flare-ups.

And that's the context in which you need to evaluate Mossad's actions in tackling a guy who was selling weapons and missile technology to the Egyptian government.
posted by cstross at 2:33 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]



I'm totally not prepared to debate this point right now. I don't have the free time or the emotional strength. But my conscience wouldn't let me pass on without commenting. This is one of the darkest, most evil-tainted things I've ever read.


Why? Because they were officially civilian?

There's a large spectrum that starts with having nothing to do with a war effort, as a civilian, and moves to, oh, being a janitor on a military base, all the way to fighting in civvies.

At some point, a person crosses a line on that spectrum, at which point, his being in civvies makes him a MORE legitimate target for killing, not less.

Krug crossed that line. He was developing weapons for a military run partly by fugitive Nazis.
posted by ocschwar at 6:37 AM on March 31, 2016


He was developing weapons for a military run partly by fugitive Nazis.

I mean, post World War II, that also describes the militarizes of Russia and America.
posted by maxsparber at 8:12 AM on March 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


Do Special Forces really wear uniforms from hostile countries? Isn't that considered spying?

No, they do not. At least not U.S. forces. This is a direct violation of Geneva Conventions, and would mean the person is an unlawful combatant.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2016


At some point, a person crosses a line on that spectrum, at which point, his being in civvies makes him a MORE legitimate target for killing, not less.

Case in point, Gerald Bull, a Canadian artillery engineer who worked for Saddam Hussein designing a "super gun" (a large artillery piece) was assassinated in Brussels in 1990. Mossad involvement was suspected.

You could argue, he was just an unlucky guy in the wrong place at the wrong time who wanted to work on his engineering projects. Or, from the point of view of various governments, he was a dangerous and unpredictable asset who was willing to do military engineering for anybody, even a blacklisted dictator like Saddam Hussein.
posted by theorique at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2016


No, they do not. At least not U.S. forces. This is a direct violation of Geneva Conventions, and would mean the person is an unlawful combatant.

Generally, SOF members don't wear foreign uniforms but instead dress in civilian apparel to avoid attention. Example
posted by theorique at 10:00 AM on March 31, 2016


I don't want to get into the right or wrong of the Arab/Israeli conflict (that way lies madness), but from the Israeli point of view, at that time, they were in a state of temporarily-interrupted war with an existential enemy who did not recognize their right to exist, and who intermittently conducted offensive operations against them. The nearest prevailing modern equivalent would be the South Korea/North Korea partition, with its periodic ominous flare-ups.

Dome on, dude. You know you can think of a more apt modern equivalent than that.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2016


Have been watching 'World War II in HD Colour' on Netflix, and it discussed how in the last German offensive against the Western Allies, Germans were captured in American uniforms and many were summarily executed as spies.
For Operation Greif ("Griffin"), Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small part of his battalion of English-speaking Germans disguised in American uniforms behind the Allied lines. Although they failed to take the vital bridges over the Meuse, their presence caused confusion out of all proportion to their military activities, and rumors spread quickly.[34] Even General George Patton was alarmed and, on 17 December, described the situation to General Dwight Eisenhower as "Krauts…speaking perfect English…raising hell, cutting wires, turning road signs around, spooking whole divisions, and shoving a bulge into our defenses."

Checkpoints were set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. American MPs at these checkpoints grilled troops on things that every American was expected to know, like the identity of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of a particular U.S. state—though many could not remember or did not know. General Omar Bradley was briefly detained when he correctly identified Springfield as the capital of Illinois because the American MP who questioned him mistakenly believed the capital was Chicago.[34][85]

The tightened security nonetheless made things very hard for the German infiltrators, and a number of them were captured. Even during interrogation, they continued their goal of spreading disinformation; when asked about their mission, some of them claimed they had been told to go to Paris to either kill or capture General Dwight Eisenhower.[35] Security around the general was greatly increased, and Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters. Because Skorzeny's men were captured in American uniforms, they were executed as spies.[34][86] This was the standard practice of every army at the time, as many belligerents considered it necessary to protect their territory against the grave dangers of enemy spying.[87] Skorzeny said that he was told by German legal experts that as long he did not order his men to fight in combat while wearing American uniforms, such a tactic was a legitimate ruse of war.[88] Skorzeny and his men were fully aware of their likely fate, and most wore their German uniforms underneath their American ones in case of capture. Skorzeny was tried by an American military tribunal in 1947 at the Dachau Trials for allegedly violating the laws of war stemming from his leadership of Operation Greif, but was acquitted. He later moved to Spain and South America.[34]

Wikipedia
posted by rosswald at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


  There's no way to prosecute people in this position

Sure there are: arms embargoes, UN Security Council, and likely more. International assassination is the very opposite of the rule of law. It's a return to fort main, the rule of might. I don't know how Raanen could have lived with himself after a he lied to a war survivor in Yad Vashem, saying that Skorzeny was not the Nazi that the survivor had recognized. To do that was a betrayal of the memory of all of those who died.
posted by scruss at 11:06 AM on March 31, 2016


Sure there are: arms embargoes, UN Security Council, and likely more.

West Germany? In 1962? Remember, this was BEFORE the West Germans had an honest reckoning over the Holocaust. Attitudes among the German public and government were still far closer to what they were during the earlier phases of the occupation.

Back when there were German protests outside of Landsberg Prison at every war criminal's hanging.

This was when the prospect of having to hang their own war criminals caused the West Germans to have an oh-so-enlightened conversion to supporting the abolition of the death penalty.

This was when the German security apparatus was working hard to protect West German citizens from being arrested for war crimes, and warning likely arrestees not to travel to where Wiesenthal might pounce on them. There was no prospect of West Germany halting weapons work for Egypt done by private West German citizens.

International assassination is the very opposite of the rule of law

The smuggling of my the 12 year old grandfather out of the Sudetenland, through several borders, and his unauthorized entry into Mandatory Palestine, was a violation of several national laws, the sovereignty of several nations, umpteen diplomatic norms, et cetera. The murder of his mother and grandmother, however, was perfectly legal. That was 1938 to 1940. 22 years later, do you really expect Joe Raanan to care about the rule of law?
posted by ocschwar at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2016 [6 favorites]


Case in point, Gerald Bull, a Canadian artillery engineer who worked for Saddam Hussein designing a "super gun" (a large artillery piece) was assassinated in Brussels in 1990. Mossad involvement was suspected.

You could argue, he was just an unlucky guy in the wrong place at the wrong time who wanted to work on his engineering projects. Or, from the point of view of various governments, he was a dangerous and unpredictable asset who was willing to do military engineering for anybody, even a blacklisted dictator like Saddam Hussein.


Bull was assassinated in March 1990. This is before April Glaspie said these words to the Iraqis:
I have a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq ... I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.
The idea that Hussein was a "blacklisted dictator" in March 1990 is simply not supported by the facts of history. The US had provided tactical support to the Iraqis as recently as 1988. Relationships were not always easy, but that's the way the real world works. You don't get to draw a nice easy distinction between the goodies and the baddies.

We have the difficult and unsatisfactory process of law precisely because people can't be trusted to do justice even in a courtroom. If we can't be trusted to do it there, we certainly can't trust ourselves to do it anywhere else.

You're just arguing that the goodies should be able to kill the baddies, without any real consideration for how we might define those terms. For all you wish to dress it up in other argument, it's a perspective that is entirely opposed to the rule of law, and, in my view, deeply dangerous.
posted by howfar at 11:37 AM on March 31, 2016 [7 favorites]


You're just arguing that the goodies should be able to kill the baddies, without any real consideration for how we might define those terms. For all you wish to dress it up in other argument, it's a perspective that is entirely opposed to the rule of law, and, in my view, deeply dangerous.

I'm not really arguing "should", but rather "is". Governments have typically reserved assassination as a high-risk method of getting rid of their greatest opponents and I see no reason why this type of covert action and espionage will stop. When they get caught red handed, as they sometimes do, governments will make all the appropriately contrite sounds (or denials), diplomats will do their diplomatic work, and then the world will go back to business as usual.
posted by theorique at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2016


I'm not really arguing "should", but rather "is"

I guess it seems to me that the only good option is arguing "should not". It's like privacy infringement or torture. We know that governments do these things. We know that they have justifications, some better than others. But the fact that these things happen is a threat to us all. Damage to the rule of law, or individual human rights, presents, almost by definition, a greater increase in risk to the innocent that to the guilty. Defending the rule of law (which is emphatically not the same thing as kowtowing to authority or authoritarianism, no matter how many times that is, perhaps a little disingenuously, argued) is a moral imperative, because the rule of law strongly tends toward protecting the weakest and most vulnerable from the strongest and most brutal. It's far from ideal, and compromises will have to be made, but the rule of law is a real good, and damaging it is a real harm. Sometimes those harms are justified, but that doesn't make them right.
posted by howfar at 1:13 PM on March 31, 2016


There's no way to prosecute people in this position

Sure there are: arms embargoes, UN Security Council, and likely more.


No, seriously.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2016


Interesting that comments mostly in favor of the Mossad campaign.

Would it change things to remember that many assassinated by Mossad were non-military members of the organization later recognized by the UN as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people (the PLO)?

Would it have been legitimate if the government of North Vietnam, for example, sent Nazi assassins to kill engineers working for Boeing and Monsanto in the US?

The example is not really adequate, as the US was murdering several million SE Asian civilians from the skies while Egypt was trying to play military catch up to a state that had already evicted the majority of the native Arab population and would soon attack and invade their territory.
posted by blankdawn at 9:20 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Would it change things to remember that many assassinated by Mossad were non-military members of the organization later recognized by the UN as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people (the PLO)?

What's your basis for that? Wikipedia has a list of people thought to have been killed by the Mossad; another list is here. There aren't many PLO people on there, and I don't see anyone who could be credibly described as "non-military". Even if I'm wrong, where is the "many" you speak of?

Incidentally, the PLO's charter explicitly defines it as a military and not a political group. There's not much room for equivocation; it explicitly rejects political compromise and the idea that anyone can merely sit on the sidelines, as it were:
Article 9: Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it. They also assert their right to normal life in Palestine and to exercise their right to self-determination and sovereignty over it.

Article 10: Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution.[...]
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:54 PM on March 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


Would it change things to remember that many assassinated by Mossad were non-military members of the organization later recognized by the UN as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people (the PLO)?

It's hardly a surprise that the Israeli spy agency (as well as the lesser known 'Shabak') would be implicated in the deaths of some of the principal adversaries of Israel.

(A fascinating introduction to this area is Victor Ostrovsky's By Way Of Deception, which is relatively outdated now, but provides a good insider view of the Mossad as it operated in the 1960s-1980s.)
posted by theorique at 3:44 AM on April 1, 2016



Would it change things to remember that many assassinated by Mossad were non-military members
of the organization later recognized by the UN as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people (the PLO)?

The organization later recognized by the organization whose human rights commission has an annual Muammar Khadaffi Award?
posted by ocschwar at 7:34 AM on April 1, 2016


annual Muammar Khadaffi Award

No longer exists, and was never a UN award.

This is the non-governmental Swiss organisation that administered it - Nord-Sud XXI
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:51 AM on April 1, 2016


The organization later recognized by the organization whose human rights commission has an annual Muammar Khadaffi Award?

It's impressive that we've had people defend the Waffen SS and libel the UN in this thread, both in order to legitimise assassination and smear the notion of human rights.
posted by howfar at 10:54 AM on April 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, Yitzhak Shamir and Joe Raanan had the choice between recruiting an SS murderer or relying on the rule of law and the processes pioneered in the nascent UN, to prevent the building of an Egyptian Peenemunde program.

You might second guess the choice they made, but surely you notice that they had some skin in the game.

I stand corrected on the Khadaffi award.
posted by ocschwar at 2:06 PM on April 1, 2016


It's impressive that we've had people defend the Waffen SS and libel the UN in this thread, both in order to legitimise assassination and smear the notion of human rights.

More relevantly, we've had people defend the PLO, particularly at the time when its only raison d'être was killing Jews. Before anyone chimes in and says that they were trying to kill Israelis,1 note that when they took hostages outside Israel they separated out their Jewish captives as a prelude to murdering them. E.g.

And I hardly think a mistaken reference to an award consists of libeling the UN in this regard: the UN appointed a literal Nazi as its head, and UN bodies are notoriously, obsessively focused on Israel, pretty much to the exclusion of all other countries. Once again, e.g.

1 That doesn't make things better, but in the past people have thought that it was some sort of defense.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:18 AM on April 2, 2016


Given that the subject of the FPP is Otto Skorzeny, I think the the defence of the SS is pretty relevant.

I'm not going to defend Waldheim, who was, at the very least, entirely complicit in the Holocaust, but given that he had gone to considerable efforts to conceal the fact that he wasn't just (like the last pope) a relatively innocent draftee, I'm not going to impute antisemitism to the UN on that basis, either.
posted by howfar at 10:04 AM on April 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


You are, of course, correct that there is a tendency to treat organisations like and including the PLO as far less morally reprehensible than they are. But, just as with Israel's morally reprehensible behaviour, the motivations often are real, human, understandable and exceptionally strong. That's what happens when deep and legitimate interests come into conflict.
posted by howfar at 10:20 AM on April 2, 2016


[A few comments deleted. Please drop the more general tallying of Israel/Mossad vs PLO stuff, that will absolutely drive this thread off a cliff -- this kind of thing is the reason we can't have threads on adjacent topics. Let's bring it back around to Skorzeny and the narrow topic of the article.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:17 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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