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Time for U.S. to re-evaluate its assassination policy



Published: Fri, September 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Times change, and so must government policies.

A U.S. policy that is overdue for change is the one against covert assassination by government agents.

It is a prohibition that was perfectly suited for its time, back in 1976, when congressional investigations showed, among other things, that the CIA had tried to kill Fidel Castro a number of times and by various hapless means.

Reasoning: The logic was that it was unseemly for a great nation to assassinate the heads of state and prominent political figures in smaller nations. And besides, if our agents tried to kill them, they'd try to kill our president or leaders.

Today, the size of a nation doesn't matter. Some of America's most dangerous enemies aren't even nations. The United States can't afford to go into battle with rogue states or terrorists cells unarmed.

And we now know that despite our 25 year moratorium on political assassination, our presidents and former presidents have been targeted. And there is reason to believe that the fourth hijacked plane last Tuesday was headed either for the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Threats to U.S. leaders don't get much more serious than that.

There are those who would argue that assassinating Osama bin Laden would have only made him a martyr. But given the mounting evidence that he played a key role in the plot against the World Trade Center, how much better it would have been to have him a dead martyr than a live terrorist.

Ruing the day: If it turns out that agents for Saddam Hussein played an active role in the attack on the World Trade Center, the United States will have two reasons to rue the high-minded course it pursued in the last quarter of the 20th century.

We don't expect real life to mimic a James Bond movie, with spies leaving a trail of bodies from one end of a country to another. But we do think that the enemies of the United States should know that they can never rest easy, that at any given moment those who have taken the lives of American citizens may have to forfeit theirs.




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