28 December 2007

Wartime Assassination

I like to look at events from different angles, and yesterday's assassination of Benazir Bhutto made me think about assassination as a military operation. My memory cannot come up with a single assassination attempt sponsored by a government at war with its target prior to 1942 (with the possible exception of some events during the American Civil War). While those fighting a propaganda war may choose to depict Benazir Bhutto as a non-combatant, she was only a non-combatant in the same way Thomas Dewey was a non-combatant as he campaigned against Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. Bhutto was seeking to become a key political leader in a country at war with both dissidents in its own country and the former government of its neighbor, Afghanistan.

If the assassin was connected with the Taliban, al-Qaeda or even the combatants in Waziristan, then this was an act of war, not a political assassination such as that of Gaitan in Colombia. If that's the case, you have to wonder how much responsibility rests at the feet of Ms Bhutto and her political associates, who perhaps should have been more cautious about security arrangements in a war zone.

But more noteworthy to me is how political leaders have become legitimate military targets according to the laws of war in the 21st century. This is a bad, not a good, thing. It's one thing to exile a defeated military leader, and another to seek to kill him or her anywhere but on the battlefield.

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