An ethical question

The name Patrice Lumumba doesn’t mean anything to most Americans today. But since this country was complicit in Lumumba’s death — his “assassination” — this is a man we should know, especially when we once again have given the president of the United States the authority to selectively have people killed.

Lumumba was a rising star in Africa, having helped his beloved Democratic Republic of the Congo gain its independence from Belgium in 1960 and becoming its first prime minister. His call for a unified Africa free of colonial control didn’t sit well with many western leaders, and even President Dwight Eisenhower decided he needed to be “eliminated.”

Although the CIA plot to poison him was not carried out, the U.S. helped foment dissension in the Congo, leading to Lumumba’s being deposed, captured and killed by a firing squad under a Belgian’s command late one night, just seven months after independence was won. He was 35.

Fidel Castro

Americans do know the name Fidel Castro. The United States had at least eight plots to kill him in the early 1960s. Needless to say, none succeeded. It was after revelations of the attempted Castro assassinations that President Gerald Ford issued an executive order prohibiting the practice, saying, “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in political assassination.”

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Regan confirmed the policy.

Things changed in 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks designed by Osama bin Laden, when President George W. Bush declared war on al-Qaida and authorized “lethal covert operations” to get bin Laden, “dead or alive.”

Bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011 at his Pakistani compound in an operation ordered by President Barack Obama.

In prosecuting the “war on terror” the Obama administration has ramped up drone attacks on “enemy combatants” in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. High-profile al-Qaida leaders have been killed under a policy in which the president gives final approval for the bombings.

This unconventional war against enemy groups and individuals rather than countries presents a huge ethical dilemma. I am troubled that anyone, let alone the president, can decide what individual ought to die.

That debate has been amplified as congressional leaders question whether the president has the right to order drone strikes on American citizens within the country. While I think that is a far-fetched idea, it is an important discussion to have.


Drone strikes ought to be bothersome even if you agree that certain identified terrorist leaders ought to be killed. Too often, they are not the only ones who die once a missile is fired.

A study by Stanford and New York University law schools cites statistics of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism based in London, which reported that from June 2004 to mid-September 2012, “drone strikes killed 2,562 (to) 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. Another 1,228 to 1,362 people were injured.”

How much is too much “collateral damage” in such attacks?

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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