Double Standards: Assassinations

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit released a long-secret memo in which the Obama administration laid out its legal reasoning for launching a drone attack on an American citizen overseas. The legal arguments for a targeted killing of an American citizen are greater than for a non-American, since the US citizen is entitled to due process in the court system, whereas a non-American is afforded fewer protections under the law.

The main justification presented in the memo revolved around the targeted person’s “continued and imminent threat of violence or death” to US persons. This justification received little debate in the press, congress or world opinion. All of the debates only revolved around the rights of due process for a US citizen.

The lack of debate would lead one to naturally conclude that everyone agrees with the rationale: that a government is responsible for protecting citizens that are threatened.

However, world opinion does not believe that such rationale is a universal responsibility. World bodies selectively believe that one government has neither the right nor the responsibility to protect its citizens. That government is Israel.

Consider the world reaction to the targeted killing of leading terrorists. The world celebrated the 2011 US assassination of Osama bin Laden, but almost uniformly (Australia was an exception) condemned Israel for the 2004 killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas.

Sheik Yassin had committed 100 attacks which killed hundreds of people in Israel. He had just completed a terrorist attack in Ashdod and was actively planning new attacks when he was killed. Osama bin Laden had committed a few attacks which killed thousands, and had not committed any recent attacks when he was killed by US special forces.

Below is a sampling of contrasting reactions from world leaders to the two events.

Now consider why Israel often ignores world opinion.

United Nations:

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “I condemn the targeted assassination of Ahmed Yassin. Such actions are not only contrary to international law but they do not help the search for a peaceful solution.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Osama bin Laden’s death as a key turning point in the struggle against terrorism.


EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, described the assassination as “very, very bad news. The policy of the European Union has been consistently condemnation of extra-judicial killing.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “I would like to congratulate the U.S., pay tribute to its determination and efficiency in reducing the threat posed by terrorists and underline the close cooperation between the EU and U.S. in the fight against terrorism.”


The Holy See unites with the international community in deploring this act of violence that cannot be justified in any state of law. Lasting peace cannot come from a show of force.”

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that while Christians “do not rejoice” over a death, bin Laden’s death serves to remind them of “each person’s responsibility before God and men” and “bin Laden must answer to God for having killed an innumerable number of people and exploiting religion”.


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “Israel is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said that bin Laden’s death would “bring great relief” around the world. “I congratulate President Obama and those responsible for carrying out this operation.”


French President Jacques Chirac “unreservedly condemned” Israel’s assassination of Hamas terror leader Yassin. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous also said: “France condemns the action taken against Sheikh Yassin, just as it has always condemned the principle of any extra-judicial execution as contrary to international law.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said on that bin Laden’s death is a “victory for all democracies fighting the abominable scourge of terrorism. France, the United States and European states work closely together to fight terrorism, so I’m overjoyed at the news.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said bin Laden’s death was a result of a “remarkable U.S. commando” operation. “For his victims, justice has been done. Today, in France, we think of them and their families.”


German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer: “The German government is deeply concerned about the development [killing of Sheik Yassin].”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Last night, the forces of peace were able to report a success [killing of bin Laden].”


Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen: “This act will contribute to increased tensions in the area and will make it more difficult to implement an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.”

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre called the death of bin Laden “a break-through in the fight against terror”.


Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said “Terror and violence is not the way ahead.”

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said, “I congratulate President Obama and the American people with the success in finishing the era of bin Laden’s unscrupulous and inhumane violence and destruction


Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Israel’s actions were “thoughtless and reckless, and cannot be justified.”

Japan’s Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said today that the country welcomed the death of Osama bin Laden as “significant progress of counter-terrorism measures. I pay respect to the US officials concerned.”


United States Representative to the United Nations John Negroponte stated that the USA was “deeply troubled by this action by the Government of Israel

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “There is no better rebuke to al Qaeda and its heinous ideology. The fight continues and we will never waiver.”


The Brazilian government said it “deplored the murder of Sheik Ahmed Yassin.”

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said the death of Al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden is “important and positive”.


Malaysia strongly condemned the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin: saying the action was a manifestation of terrorism.

Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he hopes that the death of bin Laden would help bring universal peace and harmony.


LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA GÓNGORA said his country regretted the actions taken by the Israeli army which had resulted in the loss of Sheikh Yassin. Mexico believed these actions broke down the necessary political conditions needed to put an end to escalating violence and to ensure peace in the region. It recognized the right to the self-determination of the Palestinian people, urged the international community to apply the Road Map, and urged the parties not to take unilateral decisions that placed obstacles in front of the road to peace. Societies had the right to live in peace. The protection of the rule of law and respect for human rights was essential to eradicate these acts. The Security Council must take a stance against international terrorism and the international community must continue together to endow the United Nations to guarantee that human rights and fundamental freedoms must be recognized fully

Mexico Ministry of Foreign Relation: The Government of Mexico reiterates its deep conviction that terrorism is a criminal activity that must be fought decisively by the international community because it represents a serious threat to global peace and stability and causes many innocent lives to be lost. That’s why the Government of Mexico recognizes the efforts carried out by the Government of the United States to fight against and capture Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. These efforts have resulted in his defeat and death during an operation by U.S. armed forces in Pakistan. This is an act of great significance in the efforts to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism which threatens peace and international security, in particular the one practiced by one of the most cruel and bloody terrorist organizations which has acted against the civilian population and which has caused the loss of many innocent lives, including Mexican citizens in the attacks of September 11th, 2001.


HARDEEP SING. PURI said the killing of Sheikh Yassin had further inflamed passions in the Middle East, and there was concern that it would fuel the cycle of violence and counter-violence in the region, causing a set-back to the efforts to resume the peace process. There could be no military solution to the Middle East problem. States of course had the right to defend themselves, but they also had the responsibility to uphold international law. The people of Palestine deserved the full support of the international community to enable them to realize their national aspirations. There could, of course, be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terror. The international community had to be relentless in fighting the war to eradicate this scourge; no ends could be justified by use of the means of terrorism.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh: “I welcome it as a significant step forward and hope that it will deal a decisive blow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The international community and Pakistan in particular must work comprehensively to end the activities of all such groups who threaten civilized behavior and kill innocent men, women and children.”


CAROLINE MILLER said Australia had consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism. Hamas was a terrorist organization proscribed under the Australian law. It had used suicide bombers to target and murder many innocent Israelis. Australia urged calm and called on both sides to exercise maximum restraint. Violence would not settle the Middle East dispute.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard congratulated the United States on the operation and said she acknowledges the role of Pakistan in the fight against terror.  “Our fight against terrorism does not end with bin Laden’s death. We must remain vigilant against the threat posed by al Qaeda and the groups it has inspired,” she said.

New Zealand:

JILLIAN DEMPSTER said the use of extra-judicial killings by a State was particularly abhorrent. Assassinations such as the extra-judicial killing of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin clearly violated the norms of international human rights law. Not only that, but they did not achieve their stated goal, were counter-productive to peace efforts in the Middle East, and would likely only produce further violence.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key stated that “the world is a safer place without Osama bin Laden”, but “bin Laden’s death may not mean an end to terrorism    

South Africa:

DUDU KHOSA said that her country condemned the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. Such extra-judicial killings constituted a contravention of international law and relevant United Nations conventions, and only strengthened those not committed to achieving peace in the Middle East. Such acts could only lead to retaliation and counter-retaliation, further eroding any progress being made in the implementation of the Road Map.

South Africa Department of International Relations and Cooperation reaffirmed South Africa’s support for stemming “the demon of terrorism in all its manifestations


VLADIMIR PARSHIKOV said the Russian Federation supported the proposal to hold the special sitting since it was concerned about the worsening situation in the Middle East in general. The recent acts committed by Israel were a serious threat to the Road Map to peace and these acts of violence would nullify every effort taken by the Quartet. Both parties must show restraint and a high level of responsibility to commit themselves to peace. The Russian Federation would also vote in favour of the proposed draft resolution of the Security Council condemning all acts of terrorism including those committed recently by Israel.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry published a statement on its website calling bin Laden’s death a “landmark point… The elimination of Osama bin Laden, a notorious figure and the number one terrorist, is a landmark point in fighting international terrorism. This is an extraordinary event for the entire anti-terror coalition which will have a lasting practical meaning in terms of decapitation of the criminal organization,” the statement said. “It will become an important symbol since it took place on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. As part of the anti-terror coalition, we sympathize with the Americans, and appreciate the fact that the Russian authorities were informed about the news (of bin Laden’s elimination) ahead of the official announcement of U.S.President Barack Obama.”


SHA ZUKANG said the act of assassination by Israel was strongly condemned in the belief that the practice of targeted liquidation was not conducive to the settlement of the Middle East issue, rather, it would trigger more conflicts and bloodshed and further destabilize the region.

Chinese spokesman: We have noted the announcement and believe this is a major event and a positive development in the international struggle against terrorism.

Sri Lanka:

SARALA M. FERNADO said extra judicial killings were in contravention to international law and should be condemned in no uncertain terms by peace-loving countries. Terrorism brought immense pain to innocent civilians, broke social systems, generated hatred and darkened the future of the generations to be born. For a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict, all parties should exercise restraint and refrain from any form of violence, as these only contributed to diminish hopes for a lasting peace.

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris congratulated the US and said: “the killing of the terrorist leader [bin Laden] by US forces sends a warning to other terror groups as well.” Cabinet Minister de Silva added: the assassination “sheds a lot of light on how a ruthless terrorist group should be crushed.”


Prime Minister Recep Erdogan called the killing of Yassin “a terrorist act” and said that “the assassination was not humane.”

President Abdualla Gul declared that the killing of bin Laden was a message for terrorst organizations all around the world.

Saudi Arabia:

ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR said that Israel had no use for the resolutions adopted by this august Commission, nor for the Geneva Conventions. The assassination of Sheikh Yassin was a crime. Israel also tortured detainees and prisoners in contravention of international law. The international community was urged to put an end to such crimes, including that committed against Sheikh Yassin. This criminal act must be deplored in this forum. Otherwise, the Commission risked losing its credibility. Full solidarity with the sufferings of the Palestinian people must also be expressed.

Statement on Saudi Press Agency: “An official source has expressed the hope of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the extermination of the terrorist head of Al Qaeda is a step towards the reinforcing of the international efforts to combat terror and breaking up its cells. And the extinguishing of the misleading school of thought it rests on.


MANAF AL-SALAHI said his country condemned the escalating Israeli policies which had taken a dangerous turn with the assassination of last week which was a clear violation of international norms and laws. This act may bring the region into spiralling violence. The peace process as a whole had reached a stalemate and it would be difficult for the peace process to be revived unless the international community pursued the road to peace in a strict way.

Embassy of Yemen in the U.S. released a statement welcoming “the elimination of Usama Bin Ladin, the founding father of the Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network. The successful operation, spearheaded by U.S. forces, marks a monumental milestone in the ongoing global war against terrorism.”


MOHAMMAD REZA ALBORZI said the international community had once again been witness to yet another act of brutality and barbarism and extra-judicial targeted assassination by Israel. The relentless massacre of Palestinians and targeted assassinations were strongly condemned, as these acts were clear instances of State terrorism, which further revealed the violent face of the Israeli Government before the international community. That these atrocities were perpetrated at the very time when the Commission was in session clearly manifested Israeli continued defiance of this body and was an appalling affront to the Commission’s credibility. It was high time that the Commission considered some sort of preventative mechanism to bring an end once and for all to the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Iran Foreign Ministry:  The Islamic Republic of Iran hopes that the death of Osama bin Laden will put an end to war and the killing of innocent people and restore peace to their region, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The IRNA website reports Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that foreign countries now have no excuse for military buildup in the region to fight terrorism.”


SHEHAB A. MADI said the assassination of Sheikh Yassin was a crime that would only lead to further escalation, violence and instability in the region. It was another crime against the Palestinian people and a clear violation of all norms and international conventions. The policy of assassination which led only to more escalation and violence was totally rejected.

Jordan said the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is likely to end unjust campaigns in the West against Islam.


OMAR HILALE said his country strongly condemned the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yasssin and other civilians by Israel. This would have dangerous consequences that would destabilize further the region. Morocco rejected violence and everyone should return to the negotiating table. It was the responsibility of the international community to condemn Israeli acts.

Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said that “the entire world suffered from bin Laden and the organization he created“.

In total, 31 countries voted in favor of a UN Commission on Human Rights resolution “Which Condemns Continuing Grave Violations Of Human Rights in Territory, Including Tragic Assassination of Sheikh Yassin”: Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Despite condemning Israel for killing an active terrorist, these countries extolled the US doing the same thing:

Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said “Bin Laden’s activities are repudiated by all people and nations who truly believe in the dignity of the human condition, and we stand in support of all his victims.”

Chile President Sebastián Piñera said he was “glad that the whole world learned that, though late, justice arrives, and that crimes committed against innocent people around the world will not go unpunished.”

Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia’s counter-terrorist agency, said that bin Laden’s death “would bring positive impact” and that “it would reduce movements organized by radical groups since their main figure had died.”

Ethiopian Communication Department said “The Ethiopian Government salutes all parties involved in this operation, particularly the US anti-terrorist operatives, for hunting and destroying this unrepentant leader of an international terrorist organization.”

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