Assassinating Gaddafi is a step too
far By Richard M Bennett
It must be more than a little bit
difficult for the elected leaders of the Western
world to claim the moral high ground while
authorizing the deliberate targeting of the
leaders of largely Third World or so-called "enemy
states" for assassination.
Whether this is
by the use of poison or exploding cigars in the
case of Cuba's Fidel Castro or by the use of
highly sophisticated guided weapons in the case of
Serbia's Slobodan Milosovic, or the Iraqi dictator
Saddam Hussein, is less important than the belief
in Washington, London and perhaps Paris than they
alone have the right to order the untimely deaths
of foreign leaders.
The maverick former
MI5 officer David Shayler and Richard
Tomlinson of MI6 have both
vigorously claimed that Britain's intelligence
services had attempted to assassinate Libya's
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in February 1996.
Now suspicion is growing that Gaddafi is
once again being singled out for termination, a
suspicion fueled by an apparent public dispute
between Britain's military leadership who deny
that there is any intention of killing or
overthrowing Gaddafi and the Conservative-Liberal
Democratic coalition government that point-blank
refuses to rule this out as a sub-text to the
United Nations agreement on imposing a no-fly
Many Arab nations that reluctantly
signed up to this operation apparently did so on
the understanding that a no-fly zone would mean
just that ... stopping the Libyan air force from
attacking rebel held towns and cities.
While this may indeed prove to be a valid
excuse for attacking air defense sites and even
airfields, it would seem perverse in the extreme
to try and claim that tanks, trucks and Infantry
are "airborne assets".
It would seem
increasingly likely that the real intention of the
political leadership in the US and in particular
the United Kingdom and France is regime change and
that the "accidental" death of the Libyan leader
would be a significant milestone towards achieving
The British coalition government
is guilty of sending out mixed signals over
whether it believes Gaddafi could or should be
targeted under the terms of the UN resolution
authorizing military action in Libya.
March 20, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox when
asked if it was possible to hit Gaddafi "without
unacceptable civilian casualties, would you try to
do that?” Fox replied: "Well that would
potentially be a possibility."
the same day Pentagon spokesman Vice Admiral
William Gortney said, "We are not going after
Gaddafi. At this particular point I can guarantee
he is not on the target list."
highlighting the rift between the British military
and political leadership on March 21 the chief of
the defense General Sir David Richards stated
Gaddafi is "absolutely not" a target. "It is not
something that is allowed under the UN resolution
and it is not something that I want to discuss any
Downing Street sources however
quickly replied, "Government sources say it is
legal under the UN resolution to target Colonel
Gaddafi. Sources say under the UN resolution 1973
the coalition have the power to target Gaddafi if
he is a threat to the civilian population of
Libya." The source added that "General Sir David
Richards was wrong to say it is not allowed under
the UN resolution. However sources declined to say
whether this meant Gaddafi was a target."
B Raman, a former deputy head of
Intelligence at India's RAW (Research and Analysis
Wing) said on March 21:
"The no fly zone was authorized by
the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] to
protect the civilians from air strikes by the
Libyan air force. States of the Arab League
supported the proposal for a no fly zone under
the impression that it meant patrolling by the
planes of the members of the coalition in the
Libyan skies in order to immobilize the Libyan
"The UNSC resolution has been
interpreted by the US, the UK and France as
authorizing not only the immobilization of the
Libyan air force, but also its destruction on
the ground. Hence, the repeated air and missile
strikes for three nights in succession on ground
positions in Tripoli, the capital, and other
areas under government control."
"The reported destruction by a
missile strike of a building near Gaddafi's
place of residence under the pretext that it
housed the command and control of Libyan air
defense forces has given rise to suspicions that
the Western-led coalition has arrogated to
itself without the authority of the UNSC the
objective of removing Gaddafi through military
action. There have been vague answers from
Western leaders to the question as to Gaddafi's
removal is one of the objectives of the military
action. While the Americans have been somewhat
vehement in their denial, the British have not
been. While denying that Gaddafi is a direct
target, the British do not rule out the
possibility of his becoming an indirect victim
of the air and missile strikes."
article "This is war. Skip the hand-wringing about
assassinations" published in August 2003, John
Yoo, professor of law at the University of
California, Berkeley's School of Law concludes:
"No law prohibits the targeting of specific enemy
leaders in war. Assassination is different: the
murder of a public figure for political reasons.
The murders of Martin Luther King Jr, John F
Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln were assassinations.
By contrast, the killing of the enemy in
combat is protected by the laws of war. As Hugo
Grotius, the father of international law observed
in 1646, 'It is permissible to kill an enemy'.
Legitimate military targets include not just foot
soldiers, but the command and control structure of
an enemy's military, leading up to its commander
There are however great risks
and enormous moral issues inherent in the use of
assassination as an adjunct to foreign policy and
to put it in simple language; shouldn't the
world's leading democracies be better than this?
Can it really be beyond the wit of the
West's political leaders to find an intellectually
acceptable alternative to a descent into the
gutter along with the terrorist, the criminal and
the corrupt dictator?
If this alternative
view is treated with derision by the media and
widely dismissed as naive or unrealistic and bound
to end in failure, then it must of course be
pointed out that those targeted will undoubtedly
and indeed quite properly reserve the right to
retaliate in kind.
counter-terrorism experts would probably admit
there is simply no way to guarantee 100% the
safety of any of the world's major leaders, not
even the president of the US.
or revenge seeking dictatorships only have to "get
lucky" a very few times to allow quite a
significant cull of the most important Western
political leaders to occur.
enemy's leadership for assassination is not new,
but the willingness to resort to the elimination
of political opponents now appears to be becoming
almost a fully functioning part of modern warfare.
The personalization of conflict in aiming
to eliminate named individuals, the leaders of
foreign powers, in both war and in peace is in
effect an admission of failure by Western
democracies and is a further indication of a
return to the brutish methods of the Middle Ages
when respect for life and human rights were at an
all time low.