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Letting the Pat Out of the Bag

The Politics of Death: Assassination

by DIANE CHRISTIAN

The Politics of Death by assassination just got a boost from preacher Pat Robertson. He announced on August 22rd that the US should assassinate the duly-elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Speaking on his televangelical show which reportedly draws 3.4 million viewers, Robertson counseled that Chavez deserved assassination because Chavez had accused us of trying to topple and assassinate him. Robertson continued: "We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator." Robertson said Chavez was "a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil" in our sphere of influence, and was "leading his country into Communism and Muslim extremism," He noted: " we have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

Candor is Robertson’s single virtue here. Assassination has usually been a covert operation, publically denied. It has been a forbidden operation in the US for thirty years, requiring special Presidential permission. Many we’ve openly set out to assassinate, with presidents signing orders-Castro, Khadafi, bin Ladin-we’ve not killed. We smoked Hussein out of his hole alive but didn’t kill him. Though we murdered his sons and splayed them for the world to see, we just handled Hussein, fingering his cavities and hair and impounding his pistol to be given to President Bush as a war trophy. But Robertson blithely uttered the assassination politics which have driven much US policy, not just in the obvious parallel in Iraq, but in the Americas-making us bitterly hated as supporters of dictators, torturers, police squads, and murderers.

Several Christian preachers abjured Robertson’s call as unChristian. Chavez characterized it as terrorism. Our State Department called the remarks "inappropriate." Many suddenly saw extremist Muslim fatwahs in a new light. What exactly is the difference between Ayatollah Khomeni pronouncing assassination penalty on Salmon Rushdie for insulting Islam and Reverend Pat Robertson pronouncing assassination penalty on Hugo Chavez for criticizing the US?

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld dismissed the call, saying "Certainly it’s against the law. Our department doesn’t do that type of thing." (In this case he’s presumably not sending out for legal opinion that it’s all right for the commander-in-chief to assassinate at will in the war on terror-the tactic we took on international law, the Geneva conventions, torture and murder in the service of the war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Robertson recanted. He first said he didn’t say what he said, then he said he just said our special forces should ‘take him out’ which ‘might mean many things including kidnapping.’ Then he retracted the call to assassination as wrong. Even the New York Times, characterizing him as a crackpot with friends in high places, wondered what would happen if a mullah called for the assassination of our President.

Robertson is a very dangerous crackpot-inciting hate and parlaying powerfully the political-religious base that currently influences US policy. But he seems to me a very useful crackpot too, because he reveals the cracked, crass, illegal, presumption of much American policy. To many he doesn’t seem an extremist fanatic but a kind of cowboy-mobster-vigilante ethic which passes for American toughness-one often rationalized in a skewed and vicious apocalyptic Christianity.

Assassination takes its name from a medieval Muslim secret terrorist sect which killed its political enemies as a religious duty. Assassination is still justified as a religious or nationalistic duty and it is currently used openly, justified in Israel and in many countries as war against terrorism or state threat. The move from violence to civil government is often embodied in leaders who abandon terrorist tactics to take legitimized political power. People often pointed to Rabin and Arafat as terrorists who became Prime Ministers.

Robertson reminds us that the urge to kill a political opponent flourishes and justifies itself. The remedy is not religious refinement (as in trying to get Christians and Muslims to follow peaceful ideals of their religions). It is in abandoning the tactic that permits or authorizes politics by death.

We and the world need to embrace a civil legal ethic which forswears killing. Politicians and preachers and people of all places need to bridle their lust to take people out, to be Dirty Harry, or God.

DIANE CHRISTIAN is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at University at Buffalo and author of the new book Blood Sacrifice. She can be reached at: engdc@acsu.buffalo.edu

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005