Can there ever be any justification
for assassination under international law? As the United States prepares
for war against Iraq, it is clear that “regime change” is an integral
part of the American plan.
Although such a use of force would
seem to violate basic legal norms, exactly the opposite is true. For
several thousand years, in fact, scholars have argued persuasively that
tyrannicide is not only permissible, but indispensable. Today, when
Saddam Hussein is preparing to acquire nuclear weapons, the argument for
lawful assassination is more compelling than ever.
International law is not a suicide
pact. The right of anticipatory self-defense, long-established as part
of customary international law, was reaffirmed recently by the Bush
Administration in its National Security Strategy of the United States
of America (released September 20, 2002).
Here the President expanded upon
the traditional notions, asserting correctly that weapons of mass
destruction reduce the defending state’s obligation to wait until the
danger posed is “imminent in point of time”. Of course the United States
position on this matter of assassinating Saddam extends equally to any
other state which might face Iraqi nuclear aggression. In the case of
Israel, the right to strike first against Saddam likely exceeds that of
the United States.
best of all possible worlds, assassination could never be regarded as a
proper form of remediation. Yet, we do not live in the best of all
possible worlds, and failure to remove Saddam Hussein by assassination
would result in the killing and torturing of tens of thousands of
innocent civilians. Recognizing this, international law affirms, in
various authoritative forms and sources, that in certain circumstances,
assassination may represent a substantially life-saving use of armed
force in world politics.