Assassinations: Are they ethical, or even legal? This is a question that many people have different answers to (interestingly, the different answers to this question don’t seem to vary by which side of the aisle you stand on). Second question first (because it’s a lot easier to answer). Are assassinations legal? According to the Constitution of the United States, the President cannot deploy troops for more than 90 days without the permission of Congress. So, by that logic; if an assassin is sent, he has 90 days to kill whoever he has to kill and get out.
Back in 1976, President Ford issued Executive Order 11905; explicitly banning the US from carrying out assassinations against foreign personnel. So, that’s it, open and shut, right? Technically, yes. However, since this is an executive order, and not a Congressional mandate, then any sitting President can reverse that Executive Order, whenever they want. However, it would be a rare president that would be willing to deal with the political fallout of saying “Yes, the United States can now assassinate people”. So, by ordering an assassination, they are de facto reversing that Executive Order, without the political stigma.
Also, in Executive Order 12333, Ronald Reagan stipulated that the CIA is the only agency allowed to operate covertly outside the US. So, if assassinations were legal, they would have to be carried out by the CIA. In conclusion: Assassinations are de facto legal, simply by the fact that Presidents order them. It really is that simple Now for the first question: Are assassinations ethical? Is it ever morally right to take the life of another human being off the field of battle? How is that not murder? Murder is wrong; I firmly believe that, and I don’t know of many who’d argue with me. But in America, the government has been given certain powers and responsibilities; and one of those responsibilities is to protect and defend their people from individuals and organizations that have proven to be threats to the security of our nation (Al-Qaida, the PLO, Quds Force, etc). So, if done to protect United States citizens from those who have harmed, and would, given the chance, harm them again, then a state-sanctioned assassination against a foreign citizen is not murder.
If you’re an atheist, and you don’t believe in a higher power; than you must decide for yourself whether assassinations are ethical or not. Logically, you think that there is no higher power that decides right or wrong, so people, whether individually or in groups, decide what is right and what is wrong. Thus, if you say it’s right, it’s right; and if you say it’s wrong, it’s wrong. (Now, the problem comes when one person says something is right and another says it’s wrong…who decides between them?) I lack both the time and the energy to go through all the different ethical worldviews, but I will give a principle that I think applies to all of them Who is the person being assassinated? And why are they being assassinated? These questions, no matter what your worldview, do bear directly on the morality of assassinations. Pretend for a second that you’re the President. If someone has done something to take lives of the citizens that you are responsible for; then they have, in effect, declared war on you.
Thus, if they are in their backyard, sipping an espresso; and you order a sniper to blow them away; then that is totally inbounds. They declared war on you, they should have had their guard up. But what about innocents? What if we’re wrong about who we’re assassinating and they’re really not a terrorist? Or what happens if an innocent person gets killed while we’re killing the terrorist? These two questions have the same answer: It is the responsibility of the people involved in theassassination to make sure that that doesn’t happen. The people ordering theassassination are responsible for making sure that they have the right guy; and both they and the people carrying it out are responsible for making sure that no innocent civilians get caught in the crossfire. In conclusion: assassinations are both legal and ethical, provided they work within these parameters: 1) The individual being targeted has proven themselves a threat to the United States.
2) The people involved have the right guy. 3) No innocent people are harmed. If an assassination is carried out within those parameters, then it is both legal and ethical. God bless America.