Foreign Policy Question: Should USA Assassinate WikiLeaks Founder?
Let’s talk about one of the tools that governments use to take care of problems – assassination.
For as long as history has been recorded, there have been stories of important figures being poisoned, stabbed (Et Tu, Brute?), or blown up with a Hellfire missile (link is to a video) for political benefit. Like it or not, assassination – targeted killing – is a tool that all governments use to execute policy.
The USA – as far as I can tell – has been using a very slippery moral framework to justify targeted killings. It seems to go like this:
- Political leadership killings are never OK (Gerald Ford took care of this in 1976)
- Legal arrest is our preferred means of dealing with bad guys
- When the bad guys (or gals) are beyond the reach of any police force friendly to the USA, we may blow them up with a missile. At least, that is, if they’re terrorists.
These rules are problematic. First, I would argue that all targeted killings are inherently political. Von Clausewitz said that war is “the continuation of politics by different means” about 200 years ago, and that logic still stands. It’s got to make political sense to execute someone without a trial…the USA can only get away with blowing up a terrorist in Pakistan because it’s politically acceptable to do so. Drawing a distinction between “political leaders” and terrorists is a little simplistic.
Second, the idea that the USA exhausts all legal options before engaging in a targeted killing is a little Pollyanna. Most police forces outside of the Western world tend to be guilty of both corruption and brutality. When a US policymaker says “we extradited so-and-so from Pakistan,” what they’re really saying is “the Pakistani police tortured this guy and his family for a few days, burned his house down, etc., and then turned him over.” There’s no moral benefit in associating ourselves with many foreign police forces when the police are human rights abusers of the highest order.
Three, when we have intelligence that identifies someone as a terrorist, we will kill them with a Predator drone. We do this because, even if they terrorist isn’t actively engaged in a terrorist act, we know that he or she could engage in a terrorist act at some point in the future. The fact that these people are willing to attack us is enough to put them on our hit list. This is known as the “preemption” doctrine of George W. Bush, and Obama seems to have embraced it as well.
But why should we stop at terrorists? WikiLeaks has published a list of facilities critical to the security and well-being of the USA and the rest of the world. This information is classified, and while it may be true that many of the places on this list are obviously important, a terrorist might not realize that a certain mine in a certain South American country is critical to the U.S. computer industry. As a result, dozens of critical locations across the globe are a little less safe today than they were prior to this WikiLeaks disclosure.
- We kill people who we think are terrorists because they might try to commit an act of terrorism at some point in the future.
- Terrorists seek to disrupt our society, and their primary tools are violence and the threat of violence (fear is a weapon).
- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seeks to disrupt our society by publishing secret information that can negatively impact our military, relations with foreign countries, and our security.
- Assange’s decision to publish data about the locations of important facilities around the world increases the likelihood each of these facilities will be attacked.
- Assange – indirectly – is threatening these facilities with violence by publishing their importance.
I would guess that many terrorists would love to replicate Assange’s recent acts. He’s disrupted the American government, raised security concerns at dozens of facilities around the world, and he’s done it all with a computer.
What’s worse is that Assange plans to keep on doing these things.
Assange is not a political figure, he is beyond the reach of all legal authorities, and he’s acting as an information terrorist. He represents a danger to the USA and an argument could be made he should be killed ASAP. This is in keeping with our existing targeted killing policy (as far as I can tell) and it would have the added benefit of sending a chilling message to others who threaten our society…sort of like Israel’s Mossad killed Gerald Bull.