Commentary Magazine


Was the Assassination Ban Covertly Repealed?

In 1981, Ronald Reagan promulgated Executive Order 12333, which, among other provisions, declared that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.”

As I noted in the Weekly Standard last July, President Bush has the power to revoke it or modify it or supplant it by issuing a new executive order. Under certain circumstances, like an attack or an impending attack on the United States, such an amendment or new order need not be published in the Federal Register. It is possible, in other words, that Bush might already have qualified the ban in some instances and not let us or our adversaries know.

I have no idea if Bush has fiddled with the executive order after September 11. I do know that some of our adversaries are continuing not to play by Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

The officer in question is Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who spoke yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C.

Iran’s activities are “obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it,” and should no longer be “alleged,” he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran’s involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.

Should the United States respond by assassinating the assassins and/or the taskmasters of the assassins? Or is that still against the rules?