The Washington Post confirms that the CIA worked with Israel’s Mossad to kill Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah. Mughniyah was involved in the killing of hundreds of Americans and Israelis, but the assassination still opens debate on legal questions surrounding the definition and use of assassination in the war on terrorism.
Newsweek gives a full description of Mughniyah’s heinous crimes. Before the world knew anything about Osama Bin Laden, he was the top of FBI’s most wanted list. In 1983, the Hezbollah leader devised the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. He kidnapped, tortured and killed CIA station chief William Buckley. Sending the CIA videos of the torture sessions to mock the agency.
Mughniyah also received credit for bombing Marine and French paratrooper barracks in the Beirut airport in 1983 and hijacking TWA flight 847 in 1985. He conducted bombings in Argentina as well as numerous other more minor terrorist attacks.
The Hezbollah leader was a natural target for a Mossad assassination, but the CIA’s participation was slightly more surprising.
The Washington Post reports that on February 12, 2008, CIA spotters watched as Mughniyah entered his SUV. Mossad agents in Tel Aviv pulled the trigger, blowing up the vehicle and instantly killing one of Hezbollah’s most dangerous men.
The CIA reportedly developed the car bomb.
One anonymous official said, “we probably blew up 25 bombs to make sure we got it right.”
The agency wanted to make sure there would not be any collateral damage from the explosion that could hurt innocent bystanders.
Another official explained “the way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute.”
But the U.S. did not call off the assassination, and now some scholars are wondering if the hit was actually legal.
“It is a killing method used by terrorists and gangsters,” according to Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at Notre Dame “It violates one of the oldest battlefield rules.”
That rule is “killing by perfidy” — using treachery, like lulling an enemy into a false sense of security, to kill an enemy combatant — and it is strictly prohibited by the customary international law.
The government argues that the state was exercising its right to self-defense, since the Hezbollah leader posed an immediate threat to the U.S. and could not be captured. According to Professor Vladeck at American University’s Washington College of Law, the question of legality is still out.
“It’s fairly clear that the government has at least some authority to use lethal force in self-defense even outside the context of ongoing armed conflict. The million-dollar question is whether the facts actually support a determination that such force was necessary and appropriate in each case.”
The full article from the Washington Post on the CIA Mossad Assassination can be found here.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]