Assasination law deserves extra look

Published 12:54 pm Wednesday, April 16, 2003

By By BILL CRIST - Publisher
Our nation does not engage in the practice of assassination, although some individuals and groups would disagree with that statement.
In trying to find the specific code that forbids citizens of this country from committing the crime, the Internet proved an interesting, although ultimately unuseful, tool. Searching for sites that might reference the specific law, a researcher will uncover dozens of sites dedicated to conspiracies surrounding the assassination and attempted-assassinations of many of the world's leaders.
Most of us probably conjure up images of a sniper with a rifle when we think about killing for political reasons. We might picture the Texas Book Depository and President Kennedy's assassination. Others might remember the televised broadcast of Ronald Reagan's shooting following a speech in Washington D.C.
What about our current situation in Iraq, though? While our country does not have riflemen on rooftops seeking Saddam Hussein, we have targeted him several times as a "leadership target." The weapon we've chosen to employ comes from the skies, in the form of precision bombs dropped from planes called in to destroy specific targets. It is not known if any of those attempts have been successful, but isn't the fact that we've targeted the man in a way an attempt to assassinate him?
Make no mistake about it, Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power, and it appears our troops have been successful in that mission. He was a dictator who tortured and killed his own citizens who questioned his decisions or dared to express opinions contrary to his own. He lived in opulent palaces while his countrymen struggled to put food on the table. His sons reportedly engaged torture and rape seemingly for recreation. There is no doubt about it; Hussein was evil in every sense of the word.
He was also given ample opportunity to step down. Several countries offered him safe refuge. With vast sums of wealth hidden away, he likely could have continued living like a king, albeit a king with no kingdom. He chose to remain in Iraq, though, defiant through weapons inspections and finally deadlines to step down. Many would say that he had to know what the ultimate outcome of this conflict would be. Perhaps he saw himself as a martyr, perhaps he hoped to "disappear" in much the same way Osama Bin Laden has. Maybe he truly thought the Iraqi army and people would be able to hold off our forces.
According to the dictionary an assassin is one who kills a "politically important person." If he were a victim, Hussein would certainly fall under the definition. Yet we don't define the killing of soldiers and troops as assassination. They fall under the casualties of war category. The ordinary soldiers, many of whom were forced into military service, are the ones that the law tolerates to fall victim during war.
We have heard about the elite Republican Guard and the Fedayeen, Hussein's thugs that have been documented to have fired on women and children as they fled a battlefield. There may be little public sympathy for these men, and they probably do not deserve any. Our nation says their leader does, though.
Which gets us back to what the definition of assassination is, and whether by dropping 2,000-pound bombs on buildings we suspect Hussein is in falls under that definition. Does it only count if the victim is shot with a gun or stabbed with a knife? Does it only count if the target has committed atrocities?
These are not easy questions to answer, and are questions that our president and military leaders have struggled with since the outset of the war. There probably is not one hard and fast rule that governments can follow, particularly through the haze of war. It is a question that warrants an open and public dialogue, though. It may be a reality many of us would rather keep behind closed doors, but the fact is that it is a real issue, and one that a nation that asks for God's blessing needs to do some soul searching about.
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