General Question

SmashTheState's avatar

Is assassination a valid political tool?

Asked by SmashTheState (13357points) May 29th, 2010

We’re not discussing here the use of assassination during a time of war, but rather the use of assassination as an alternative to war. Is it effective? And, if so, can it be morally defended? If assassination of one’s enemies is acceptable, how about assassination of one’s own allies, as a means of determining policy?

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47 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Assassination as a political tool to achieve an agenda outside of war is completely unacceptable, and for a country, that is based on the rule of law, it would be highly hypocritical as well.

ragingloli's avatar

how about assassination of one’s own allies, as a means of determining policy?
That is even worse.

SmashTheState's avatar

@ragingloli But what if it’s used, as I mentioned in the question as an alternative to war? That is, if a war involving the death and injury of tens or hundreds of thousands of people could be avoided by the assassination of a single person (or a small handful of people). Is it still unacceptable?

ragingloli's avatar

As long as you have not exhausted every other option, yes, it is still unacceptable.
And even when you have exhausted all other options, the ones that authorise and perform the assassination must be punished, with at least a life sentence. Killing someone outside of self defence without a death sentence from a court that has judicial authority over the killed person is murder and must be punished accordingly, regardless of whether it was done on behalf of a government.

zenele's avatar

Not very practical to kill off your allies, is it?

Not very legal to kill someone anyway?

How would you determine policy with an ally by assassinating their leader?

Do you know where the word comes from, btw? Methinks you been smoking it too much. But you got me thinking, so I’ll give you a GQ and welcome to fluther.

NRO's avatar

Yes it is valid, in that it forces a change when nothing else has been able to, but because it is a lawless action, the change may not be what was wanted.

Cruiser's avatar

I can think of more than one leader of a country right now that could use hot lead to the skull. IMO a very efficient form of problem solving diplomacy.

SmashTheState's avatar

@zenele Yes, it comes from the hashashim, a sect of Kali-worshipping cultists who were tricked into becoming paid killers through the promise of a paradise produced through the illusion of hashish and suggestion.

jerv's avatar

I believe that assassination is as valid and morally defensible as open conflict. In fact, slightly moreso since there is far less collateral damage than there would be from a full-scale invasion.

As to whether it’s a proper thing to do to one’s allies to determine policy, not just no, but Hell no! Assassination should only be used against those that you would otherwise go to war with anyways. Just because it saves ammunition and reduces civilian casualties, that does not make it any less harsh than carpet-bombing.

Seek's avatar

Hm… Well, it worked for Reagan. I’m not a big fan of the dude, but I have to respect the “Fuck with us and I’ll blow up your house and decimate your family” message.

mammal's avatar

no, only fascist countries like Israel and America and occasionally Russia indulge in such anti social behaviour.

DocteurAville's avatar

I guess if you are in Afghanistan and there is a tone of poppy ready to be shipped any war lord in town just happen to want it. To buy more guns. Then, just shoot him.

It wouldn’t have been a bad if the old admin have killed Sadam Hussein instead of going for your war dollars. He is dead now anyway, but I would have approved that one hit.

Come on folks. Countries are killing people for political reasons since ______

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Assasination as a political tool is rarely defensible no matter how effective it may be.

Preemptive attack of countries America does not like almost became standard policy under the Bush Regime. The CIA has used Black Op assasinations for decades. Until America fully regains its moral compass, it risks becoming as bad as those it opposes.

As a tool to prevent immanent and deadly attack, its use may be a valid defense but it remains morally open to question due to faulty intelligence information and the “fog of war” phenomenon.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

It’s a rogue action, but morally defensible against a Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Problems are: that the necessity for it is only clear in hindsight; most assassination attempts get fouled up and evidence points to the sanctioning power; most of the nations that dictators rule have several dictators-in-waiting who eager to grab power should the “big man” fall (and are at least as evil).

There are cusps in history where an assassination might have prevented a war, but those moments are only clear in hindsight. Even a successful assassination leaves the doubt of what might have happened otherwise; unintended consequences.

bea2345's avatar

The answer has to be no, both on moral grounds and on the ground of expediency. Unintended consequences to irreversible acts are, themselves, often irreversible.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It depends how you define “valid”. It’s not lawful, and probably not “honorable”, but considering that it’s been around and used as an alternative to “thoughtful” political debate for about as long as we’ve been walking on two feet it can’t be denied that it’s often “effective”.

Maximillian's avatar

Probably been said, but if it is an effective way to stop war, and diplomacy has failed, then use it. It is not only necessary, but its a duty. It is a form of self-defense; preventive actions.

When it comes to shooting allies; if they are a threat to the state, get rid of them.

deadleaf's avatar

Without reading others comments. I thought that assassinations were useful and would make a difference, but I came to learn that through assassination, you breed assassination. Unfortunately, it’s a double edged sword. Like a pirate steeling from another pirate.

NRO's avatar

@deadleaf to live outside the law you must be honest

CaptainHarley's avatar

Better to kill one fool than 20,000 relative innocents to get to him. Having said that, as an instrument of national policy, assassination is generally unacceptable, both on moral and on practical grounds ( finding your target can often be rather like looking for a needle in a haystack ).

jerv's avatar

@CaptainHarley The same can be said of open warfare. How often have we bombed 31 flavors of dogshit out of a place only to find that our target was elsewhere?

CaptainHarley's avatar

War is an inexact science.

roundsquare's avatar

Assuming we had rational, clear thinking decision making go behind it and it was used only as a method of saving a large number of lives, I could probably be okay with it. The problem is that the amount of information you need and the type of clear thinking you need to make this decision is probably beyond what humans are capable of.

If we want to use this as a tool, we need exact and stringent rules with no bending whatsoever. I don’t know how to write these rules, but if we could somehow write a rule that allows us to do this only when it will save x number of lives, we could consider allowing this.

(Sorry if it sounds cold to quantify lives like that, but thats the only way I know of to decide who should die when we have no other alternative).

jerv's avatar

@roundsquare ”...the type of clear thinking you need to make this decision is probably beyond what humans are capable of.” These days, you can say that about what color socks to wear!

One thing that seems to be overlooked here is that similar tactics are used by non-government entities, or at least, the argument could be made that that is so. What would you call the killing of Dr. Tiller, as according to the defense lawyer it was done to save lives and was intended to change policy.

Where is the line between assassination and premeditated murder? Is there one?

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

As a professional officer, I always followed Frank Herbert’s maxim: “the forms must be observed” (sometimes to the chagrin of my superiors). Any “War of Assassins” must have specific rules; if such were developed, I’d endorse them. It would reduce collateral damage to innocents; only the political leaders and a few trained professionals would be legitimate participants.

@jerv makes an excellent point, assassination is used now as a vigilante tactic; those doing it consider themselves justified and potential martyrs. All that society can do is chase them down and make them pay.

I agree that the kind of prescient judgement needed to determine proper targets for political assassination, to prevent war, is beyond human level.

CaptainHarley's avatar

No one in America should kid themselves that this has never been done by the USA.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@CaptainHarley I know it has. I’d just like to see some formal rules about its application. It will happen whether formally banned or not.

NRO's avatar

@ I don’t think anyone does. And sometimes it gets noticed. As well as other operations. Some years back a bullet went through a cheap motel wall and hit a young mother. The police arrived to see a man who worked for eSystems dead in the next room.

And everyone has read about the attempts to assassinate Fidel with gimmicks Q would turn his nose up at.

CaptainHarley's avatar


So would I, but the chances of that happening approach zero as a limit! It’s one thing to utilize assassination as a tool of covert ops, and quite another thing to publically proclaim it as a legitimate technique of national policy.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@CaptainHarley That’s why I’m glad I’m retired now.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Ditto. The stories I could tell! Whew!

bea2345's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_landIt’s a rogue action, but morally defensible against a Hitler or Saddam Hussein.: It is possible that the Iraquis would have suffered less had Saddam Hussein been drowned at birth. It is also possible that if my mother was a man I would not have been born. We don’t manage hypothetical situations but real ones. It is now emerging that the war against Iraq had very little to do with human rights or horror at Hussein’s atrocities. It was about oil, and nothing else. Saddam was so nasty that killing him almost seemed a moral act, but it would have been nothing of the kind, because the motives themselves were immoral. There are times when violence is necessary: in self defence; think of the Uganda-Tanzania war. But think of situations where a violent intervention was necessary to save lives and not attempted for no reason or bad reasons: think of Rwanda. Would have a well planned assassination stopped the worst horrors of the Second World War? Perhaps, and perhaps not. None of the attempts on Hitler’s life succeeded, so we will never know.

Seek's avatar

That’s the beauty about hindsight. I can honestly say that had I been there, and known then what I know now, I’d be the first in line to shoot little baby Idi Amin in the head. Maybe someone needs to hurry up and invent a time machine.

bea2345's avatar

They say that hindsight is usually 20/20 vision. Not true. Uganda may have been ripe for somebody like Idi Amin; I am told that Obote should have seen it coming.

CaptainHarley's avatar

History has a certain inevitability about it. Look at all the efforts that were made to prevent WWII, and none of them amounted to a tinker’s damn in the final analysis.

roundsquare's avatar

@CaptainHarley Thats true if you just treat WWII as a binary event. But one can debate if those attempts made an impact in decreasing (or increasing) the length of impact of the war.

mattbrowne's avatar

Only under very, very special circumstances. There are very few examples in history:

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Osama Bin Laden

The criteria is ongoing large-scale genocide and the inability to resolve the issue by other methods.

Let’s take a current example for which the tool should not be used: Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan. I think he should get arrested and tried at the International Criminal Court.

bea2345's avatar

One could debate the inclusion of Osama Bin Laden in this list, @mattbrowne – at the risk of offending someone in Fluther – we outside the US have yet to see a strong legal brief recommending the arrest and trial of Bin Laden for terrorism and other assorted crimes such as murder. You see, this was the kind of thing that international bodies were created to manage: what’s wrong with having a provable case a (and good lawyers) in front of a proper tribunal? This is not an argument for bin Laden’s innocence: it is just a re-stating of the obvious: when they catch him, if they do, I don’t see how he could get a fair trial.

mattbrowne's avatar

@bea2345 – I agree, Bin Laden is a special case.

roundsquare's avatar

@bea2345 Fully agree with your statement, but in the context of assassination, a trial isn’t going to happen…

But still, whatever the standard for assassination is, it should include (at the very least)
a) At the least, enough evidence to win a trial (probably more, but this is a bare minimum)
b) No reasonable chance of taking the person to trial

Nullo's avatar

Sniping a leader won’t be worth much if the government that he represents can just field another one. Most modern governments have enough redundancy and bureaucracy that they can carry on even short a few heads.

NRO's avatar

Ask @CIA or @Mossad, they do it all the time

roundsquare's avatar

@Nullo But do they have a high enough redundancy of charismatic leaders? I would think thats critical.

NRO's avatar


jerv's avatar

I don’t know about that. Enough desire for vengeance can more than compensate for a leader that lacks charisma.

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