MAY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES LEGALLY ORDER THE ASSASSINATION OF A LEADER OF A SOVEREIGN FOREIGN COUNTRY?
Following Watergate, the U.S. Senate Church Committee found five occurrences of direct U.S. involvement in assassinations or assassination attempts against foreign leaders. A recent news item suggested that Vice President Cheney headed a special "assassination" group whose job it was to go into another sovereign country, grab an offending citizen of that sovereign country and leave with that person for reasons and places unknown. Whatever you think of that prospect, the inquiry here is whether our President may kill a leader of another sovereign country? Or is that against the law?
But, first, a sad litany of our United States' history on this subject:
- Queen Liliuokalani, Monarch of the sovereign Hawaii Islands was forcibly and illegally deposed by Sanford Dole and the U.S. pineapple industry aided by a contingent of U.S. Marines in 1893.
- The United States' CIA first foray into the fields of replacing democratically elected leaders of sovereign countries was in 1953. The U.S. CIA forcibly deposed Mohammad Mossadegh, the elected leader of Iran, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower's orders.
- In 1954, President Eisenhower ordered the removal of democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala at the behest of the United Fruit Company using CIA resources.
- The United States attempted to overthrow the leader of Indonesia, Sukarno, in 1958, but failed.
- Patrice Émery Lumumba was an African anti-colonial leader and the first legally elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo. He helped win Congo's independence from Belgium in June 1960. Lumumba was assassinated by Belgium troops in January, 1961 encouraged and facilitated by President Eisenhower and the head of CIA, Allen Dulles.
- Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, President Kennedy ordered the assassination of Cuba's Fidel Castro including the utilization of the mafia and the CIA in that effort. If that seems far fetched, remember that his father, Joseph Kennedy, had documented mob connections.
- Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo had ruled the Dominican Republic for thirty years by force, fraud and torture with the help of the U.S. government and the American business community. In 1958 President Eisenhower began the effort to remove the corrupt dictator through the CIA who set up a training camp for the assassins in Venezuela. Trujillo is then assassinated by those trainees and others in May, 1961 during the Kennedy administration.
- In 1963, President Kennedy's administration, through bureaucratic confusion, facilitated the assassination of Vietnam's Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem using CIA resources. Chaos ensued in South Vietnam following this assassination.
- In 1963, Kennedy's CIA successfully participated in the assassination of President Abdul Karim Qasim of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was one of the group who participated in the attack on Qasim.
- In 1965, President Johnson arranged for the 82nd Airborne Division to mistakenly invade the Dominican Republic based on a totally erroneous CIA report of alleged subversive activities there.
- In 1970, President Nixon, through his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, formally approved of and facilitated through the CIA, the coup and assassination of democratically elected President of Chili, Salvador Allende. Allende was killed in 1973.
- In 1976 Kissinger visited Pakistan to order their leader not to proceed with their nuclear program. When their leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, asked what would happen if they did not obey the U.S. President, Henry Kissinger stated, "We will make a horrible example of you." (Kissinger's exact words: "We will destabilize your government and l make a horrible example out of you.") Within six months there were massive riots in Pakistan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was removed from office and then hanged by General Zia ul Haq, a General supported by the USA for more than a decade afterwards.
- In 1983, President Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada to depose their leader to the consternation of the International community including Britain.
- In 1985, President Reagan sold arms to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan Contras with the aim to depose Daniel Ortega, and the subsequent democratically elected leader through U.S CIA. The U.S. was supporting both sides of the Iran - Iraq war at the time that killed over a million people.
- In 1990, President Bush I invaded Panama to overthrow and jail their leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega, formally a CIA subcontractor.
- In 2003, President Bush II invaded Iraq and arranged for its dictator, Saddam Hussein, to be hanged.
A review of the domestic legal landscape pertaining to assassinations shows that the power of the United States President to order and carry out assassinations has remained with the executive branch of government and is largely unchecked by the legislature.
The limitations that here follow do not apply during wartime. During wartime, there are no limits to the President's legal right to assassinate foreign leaders of those countries with whom we are at war.
While the concept of our government engaging in the act of assassinating a foreign leader may seem brutal and archaic,
as one can see, some of our most enlightened leaders have shown surprising alacrity to engage in the horrible act. On the other hand, President Kennedy appeared not to have emotionally recovered from the November 2, 1963 Diem assassination when his own death occurred at the hands of an assassin just weeks later on November 22, 1963.
The U.S. Constitution puts the baton of state-sponsored assassinations squarely in the hand of the President by the anointment of the President as the "Commander in Chief" of the armed forces. Largely as a result of the Church Committee proceedings in 1975, President Gerald Ford formally issued Executive Order 11,905 in 1976. This document stated "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in political assassinations". President Carter and Reagan issued subsequent Executive Orders with minor modifications to include in the assassination prohibition, contractors and the intelligence agencies. (EO 12,306, 12,333)
Congress has shown no taste to enter this arena nor limit Presidential powers with respect to political assassinations except to ask to be kept informed through the Intelligence Oversight Act of 1980. (That is part of the current debate mentioned above with respect to the eight year hiatus if Cheney hid the ball of the ‘special ops' he headed after 9/11.)
The 1980 Act was supplemented in 1991 to require written findings by the President when covert action is necessary for the national security of the United States. The question of written findings was a big issue during the Iran-Contra affair.
Our country is in the unenviable position of having no restraints on the leader of the most powerful country in the world when it comes to political assassinations. U.S Presidents may legally engage in killing foreign leaders simply by withdrawing these Executive Orders. U.S. Presidents then, may and do kill at will. We say we are a country subject to The Rule of Law, yet as to whether or not our Presidents kill, there is no Rule of Law.
NEXT -- THE WAR CRIMES ACT OF 1996 SIGNED INTO LAW BY PRESIDENT CLINTON MAKES IT A CRIME TO BREACH INTERNATIONAL LAW WITH RESPECT TO TORTURE OR ANY OTHER PROTOCOLS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW SUCH AS THE GENEVA CONVENTION.
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