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Assassinations 'r Us: Israeli Action Reflects, and Indicts, US Policy

Executive Order 11905 is a 6,000-word national policy statement on the activities of intelligence services at home and abroad. President Ford signed it on Feb. 18, 1976. Here's one of its simplest orders: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination." Sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush signed a secret intelligence order revoking Ford's. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would confirm the reversal in a CNN interview six weeks later. Assassinations were back on.
Published on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 by the Daytona Beach News-Journal (Florida)

Assassinations 'r Us: Israeli Action Reflects, and Indicts, US Policy

Editorial

Executive Order 11905 is a 6,000-word national policy statement on the activities of intelligence services at home and abroad. President Ford signed it on Feb. 18, 1976. Here's one of its simplest orders: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination." Sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush signed a secret intelligence order revoking Ford's. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would confirm the reversal in a CNN interview six weeks later. Assassinations were back on.

On Nov. 3, 2002, an unmanned CIA Predator drone fired at a convoy traveling in Yemen, killing a man believed to be al-Qaida's district manager for Yemen. The CIA didn't know an American was traveling with the convoy. He was killed, so were four other Yemenis. "I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here," Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said of the assassination, which turned out to be one of many. In his State of the Union address three months later, Bush verged on gloating, Tony Soprano-like, about the productivity of his assassination policy. While "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries," he said, "many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."

Bush had not only erased Ford's ban on assassinations. He had lowered the bar to include merely "suspected terrorists." Other nations' leaders took notice, such as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Never known to resist giving violence a chance, Sharon has made assassination of targeted Palestinians a centerpiece of his version of war on terror. On Monday morning, an Israeli strike assassinated Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. Hunters cloaked in justice have acted as sinisterly as their prey.

Like so many products of Mideastern rancor and prejudice, on every side of every fence, Yassin was a revolting character who admired suicide bombers, reveled in visions of Israel's extinction and inspired his followers by means first and foremost contemptuous of peace. A justified killing? Only if the same contempt for peace, the same unilateral dogmatism, the same savage means of murdering first and asking questions never, are the standards by which Ariel Sharon wants to define Israel. And those are the standards by which he has defined his rule.

The problem, of course, is that the consequences of Sharon's actions are not limited to his neighborhood. They darken an already grimy picture of America's once-optimistic designs for the region. Not only has the Bush administration virtually abandoned any notion of a "road map" for peace between Israel and Palestinians, but any American claim to be on the side of peace in the Middle East, from Jerusalem to Baghdad, is made less credible with every assassination, and made almost laughable by the Bush administration's response to Yassin's assassination. The administration initially greeted the news with the sort of silence that rhymes with approval. When world opinion rendered that position untenable, the administration had a State Department spokesman deliver a standard line: "We're deeply troubled." Condemnation was out of the question, not only because the administration tacitly approves of the hit, but because the White House is now the world's spiritual leader of political assassinations.

Naturally, Hamas' response to the murder was not only the promise of bloody reprisals against Israel, but against the United States, because the United States is seen, justly through the acts of this administration, as the unquestioning backer of Israel financially, politically and, in this case, philosophically. There are rarely clearer cases of violence begetting violence, of indifference begetting chaos. American indifference, in this case, was intentional. President Bush made up his mind about Ariel Sharon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of one helicopter flight over the region in 1998. "We flew over the Palestinian camps," he told his very first gathering of the cabinet two days after his inauguration. "Looked real bad down there. I don't see much we can do over there at this point. I think it's time to pull out of that situation."

But disengagement hasn't worked, and a policy of peace by assassinations won't work in Israel any better than a policy of war for peace in Iraq. In either place -- and the two are fatally connected -- occupation and unilateral force are substituting for statecraft. Until that changes, violence will remain the one language every side speaks.

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