Wednesday, June 14, 2006


"Death happens to us all. It's how we live that distinguishes us."

When two 500-pound bombs landed on the house where Zarqawi was hiding, the world celebrated to see his corpse, even far lefties - once they accepted that it really was him, and while maintaining he really wasn't as bad as the US Administration was making him out to be. This was a horrible man who died a painful death and is facing his just reward.

But Alan Dershowitz brings up a good point at the Huffington Post:

As the civilized world justly celebrates the long overdue killing of Abu M al-Zarqawi, it must recall that his death was brought about by what has come to be known as "targeted assassination" or "targeted killings." This is the same technique that has been repeatedly condemned by the international community when Israel has employed it against terrorists who have murdered innocent Jews.

When Israel targeted the two previous heads of Hamas, the British foreign secretary said: "targeted killings of this kind are unlawful and unjustified." The same views expressed at the United Nations and by several European heads of state. It was also expressed by various Human Rights organizations.

When Israel targeted such Hamas leaders as the eldest son of Mahmoud Zahar, the response of the UN and some European leaders was condemnation. Sociologist Robert J Brym offered this opinion based on a study of newspapers from Israel and the palestinian settlements:
I have found that the most common motivation for suicide attacks involves revenge and retaliation for Israeli actions against Palestinians. Every time Israel engages in a targeted assassination — and every time it engages in other forms of repressive violence — it enrages the Palestinian population and sows the seeds for future suicide attacks.
So what's the difference, Dershowitz asks?

I applaud the targeted killing of Al Zarqawi. His death will save many innocent lives. But I also applaud the targeted killings of anti-Israel terrorists whose deaths save numerous lives. All decent people must insist on a single standard of judging tactics such as targeted killing. It is nothing short of bigotry to approve this tactic when used by the United States and Great Britain but to condemn it when it is used by Israel.

Commenters at the site had this to say:
I am inclined to agree. But only on reflection I realize that is because I support the specific examples.

However... Mr. Dershowitz's ease at shining light on hypocricy is one thing; drawing a line when our enemies turn the same logic on us is another.

What would Mr. Dershowitz say if Hamas conducted a "targetted killing" of the Israeli Prime Minister? "You gotta hand it to 'em -- that saved a lot of innocent Palestinian lives?"

(I could easily extend the hypothetical to our own shores, but I don't want the NSA and the Secret Service on my tail any more than they may already be.)

And how would Mr. Dershowitz nuance his position with respect to top guys in Hamas are now democratically elected, while Zarqawi was not?

It's not just hypocricy at issue here. It's civilization, justice, and the rule of law. To wit: even the Israelis didn't simply blow away Eichman when they found him, and the US conducted the Nuremburg Trials. Both countries brought the respective criminals to justice, and by that I mean a trial by jury, not a trial by 500-lb smart bomb. Times have changed in Israel, and the US.

Death happens to us all. It's how we live that distinguishes us.
-by ReasonIsMyReligion

Ron Goldman and Nichole Brown Simpson were targeted killings as well, the only difference is that they never hurt anybody. I know that O.J. deserved his day in court, but Mr. Dershowitz should be more selective as to who he defends. If he doesn't any moralizing on his part is rendered null and void as a result.

Go on Dershowitz, tells us about how Saddam and Abu M. Zarqawi are killers. You've spent enough time with killers to be able to recognize one.

Excellent Point Mr. Dershowitz.

Of course it is rhetorical. You and I know the answer...

...if it is your son or daughter it is correct. (Britain & US)If it is someone far away in a strange land you don't understand then it is wrong (Israel)

Hypocrisy doesn't even cover this one completely.
-by shanghislim

I would condemn both. Not necessarily for moral reasons, but for strategic reasons.

The death of a terrorist is a strategic trajedy; a mark of flawed strategic vision. Killing terrorists is like playing whack-a-mole.

We should be CAPTURING terrorists. Supposedly, the USA had special operations soldiers in the vicinity. The US should have dropped a heavy gas bomb to incapacitate everyone in the area, then moved in to capture these individuals. When they wake up from the gas, interrogate them. Or try them in a court. I dont care.

Killing them just makes them martyrs for their cause and results in ZERO intelligence gain for us.
-by vauban
[From the wreckage of Zarqawi's home the coalition soldiers in Iraq gathered enough stuff to make dozens of strikes against terrorists]
"The evidence suggests that Zarqawi was part of a Pentagon disinformation campaign launched in 2003, which was initially intended to justify the US-led invasion of Iraq. This central role of Zarqawi as an instrument of war propaganda was recently confirmed by leaked military documents revealed by the Washington Post."

--Michel Chossudovsky, "Who was Abu Musab al Zarqawi?" June 8, 2006,
-by raise
Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy analyzed Dershowitz' post and responded with this conclusion:

In my view, targeting terrorist leaders is not only defensible, but actually more ethical than going after rank and file terrorists or trying to combat terrorism through purely defensive security measures. The rank and file have far less culpability for terrorist attacks than do their leaders, and killing them is less likely to impair terrorist operations. Purely defensive measures, meanwhile, often impose substantial costs on innocent people and may imperil civil liberties. Despite the possibility of collateral damage inflicted on civilians whom the terrorist leaders use as human shields, targeted assassination of terrorist leaders is less likely to harm innocents than most other strategies for combatting terror and more likely to disrupt future terrorist operations.

That does not prove that it should be the only strategy we use, but it does mean that we should reject condemnations of it as somehow immoral. Even more clearly, we should reject the double standards of those who claim that it is permissible to target Zarqawi but wrong for Israel to target equally odious Hamas leaders.

Commenters conspired to say this:

The rank and file have far less culpability for terrorist attacks than do their leaders, and killing them is less likely to impair terrorist operations.
This depends upon the level of immediate control exercised by the leaders. If the organization is an optimally functioning cell system -- which may or may not be the case here -- the removal of the leadership will have minimal impact on any actions already planned. In such a case, it is far more useful to capture the leadership rather than kill it.

When a terrorist organization is able to command volunteers for suicide missions at the lowest level, then it is far from clear to me that these fanatics are far less culpable than the leaders, who, in the present examples, appear to have far more respect for the hadith against suicide when it comes to their own self-preservation.
-by Gabor

As long as the insurgents do not follow the rules of war, they do no get the benefits. Targeting a head of state of a generally lawful state is different from targeting the head of a terrorist organization.
-by ClosetLibertarian

When most critics attack Israel for using indiscriminate force they do not mean indiscriminate force relative to their military objective, which would be a rather hard charge to pin on Israel. Rather what they mean is indiscriminate force relative to the political platform of withdrawal from the territories. I find it extraordinarily frustrating when the phrase "indiscriminate force" is used without a narrow and specific objective.

There is a huge difference in the two killings, and if you can't see the difference you are being purposefully obtuse and disingenuous.

There is no doubt Israel has a serious problem with Islamic terrorism, but it has and continues to deal with that problem as a law enforcement and legal issue, both in Israel proper and the occupied territories. But to say that the level of violence in Israel is even comparable to the in Iraq is just ridiculous. Israel has a functioning and effective justice system, Iraq does not. It regularly captures terrorists, tries them in civilian courts and sends them to prison for defined prison terms (not until the "war against terror" ends). When it resorts to extralegal means by targeting leaders of terrorist organizations for assasination, especially when such crude methods as missiles and bombs are used that kill innocent bystanders, is a violation of all the principles of a country that believe in the rule of law. Whether or not the criminals "play by the rules" doesn't even enter into it.

By comparison, as much as the right and the President may pretend otherwise, Iraq is still a country at war (the security is so bad there, the President didn't even tell the Prime Minister of Iraq that he was coming until five minutes before he showed up). As I noted in an earlier thread, while it may be illegal to deliberately target the legitimate civlian leaders of sovereign nations in times of war, Zarqawi was no such thing. He was a leader of a guerilla movement, and as a foreigner, couldn't even claim to be a legal combatant under Geneva. He was a legitimate target for military attack. The only complaint I could see even the most hardcore anti-war leftist making is did the U.S. do everything possible to minimize the possibility of collateral damage. And that is even pretty weak, since I doubt that Zarqawi would have been taken alive and any civilians in that house would have been killed regardless.
-by Freder Frederson

When it resorts to extralegal means by targeting leaders of terrorist organizations for assasination, especially when such crude methods as missiles and bombs are used that kill innocent bystanders, is a violation of all the principles of a country that believe in the rule of law.
So in your view, is "Israeli rule of law" supposed to operate in Gaza? Were the Israelis supposed to go into Gaza, arrest those two militants, return them to Israel, and put them on trial? Just curious...

I guess I'm just obtuse, but I don't understand how those two Hamas militants can possibly not be viewed as a legitimate target for military attack, just as Zarqawi was.
-by Jeek

Is it morally OK for Hamas to target Israeli leaders? Is it morally OK for al Qaeda to target US or Iraqi leaders? How do you distinguish all of these cases?
You really don't. Hamas is at war with Israel, according to its charter. Given that, they are, as a combatant, justified in attacking the head of their enemy, absolutely. But with that said, you do have to draw a distinction between civilian and military, e.g., Hamas may be "justified" in attacking Shaul Mofaz, but not, say, the Education Minister.

What it boils down to is that war is brutal, and the longer it lasts, the more brutal it is. Efficiency, i.e., killing the head, will usually reduce net brutality.
-by Mike BUSL07

Freder, your logic suggests that there is a difference based on the state of war: like it or not, the U.S. is at war in Iraq, whereas Israel is not at war with the Palestinians. This beggars belief: anyone with a sense of history understands that Israel and the Palestinians have been at war since (at least) 1948. That war has sometimes been low-intensity, sometimes all-out, but there has never been any sort of true peace. To claim that the Palestinians can't be 'at war' because they don't have a legitimate government (until recently) is to split hairs. The Israelis see their citizens dying from an outside group of armed, dangerous people. That's war, regardless of the nicieties of international law.

One simply cannot claim that the Israelis are required to fight with one arm tied while Hamas is not similarly constrained (the latter, of course, demands the destruction of the former). If you insist that this is not 'war', then I must insist in return that whatever it is, the Israelis retain the right to find and kill the leaders of the people trying to kill them.
-by Steve White
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Muslihoon said...

Excellent post. Thanks, Christopher. I like how you always include differing opinions as well.

Anna Venger said...

Closet Libertarian had it right. We were not singling out a head of state in killing Zarqawi, nor should they be singled out.

Targeting innocent Israelis is also nothing like taking out known terrorists.

Christopher R Taylor said...

My goal is to demonstrate and help the internet community in the discussion of topics here, as well to demonstrate the difference of opinion. It's kind of dull to read a bunch of people saying "yep, yep, yep" and nobody learns that way.