It was only last week that the US government tried to negatively portray Iran and Iranians by associating them with political assassinations.
It was just this week that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton openly called for the political assassination of Moammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader. "We hope he can be captured or killed soon," she said -- while in Libya, to Libyans.
It is actually against the law, what the US government is doing.
And not some kind of United Nations "law" or international legal standard (of the sort that sound fantastically humane but are actually just unenforced moral standards that most countries, especially superpowers, routinely ignore).
State-sponsored assassination is actually illegal according to the laws of the United States itself.
In the decades before and since President Gerald Ford signed United States Presidential Executive Order (EO) 11905 on February 18, 1976, the US government has directly and indirectly assassinated people -- many people. And EO 11905 is not exactly ambiguous legal speak -- it's one of the most straightforward pieces of legal documentation you will find. In Section 5, subsection G, it clearly states that "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."
But not only does this law of the land continue to be violated, it is undertaken with boast and bluster -- as well as the requisite vocabulary of patriotism -- by high level figures in the US government. This week's announcement in Libya by Hillary Clinton that she would like Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi "captured or killed soon," though blunt, should not have come as a surprise. Under Obama, two high profile assassinations have already been paraded in the national and international media in 2011 alone.
The US government's assassination of Osama bin Laden -- the alleged mastermind of a horrific act of violence that led to the death of thousands of civilians -- was emotionally justifiable to most Americans. But its lack of civility and the simple premise -- which remained unchanged, despite variations in the official story -- that an unarmed man was attacked in his home, in front of his wife and children, struck many Americans as very un-American retaliation. Is one a superpower when one must resort to such tactics to take out the enemy?
And then there was last month's assassination of a US-born citizen living abroad. Anwar al-Awlaki wasn't even a foreigner. The fact of his eventual demise as a result of a US government political assassination was so well known that in 2010 his own father hired civil rights lawyers in the US to remove his son's name from the US government's targeted killings list.
Gone are the days of kangaroo courts, hangings and unintentional video leaks of those hangings, a la Saddam Hussein. Gone are the days of tragic accidents of air and ground transportation that involved leaders of foreign nations. Gone are the days of sudden illnesses followed by rapid death of high level foreign enemies.
Obama and company, in contrast to their public distancing from Israel and its leaders, have quite comfortably eased their way into the same policy that Israel has proudly sponsored for decades: the state will sanction assassination of its political enemies and the world will be clear on who did it.
"'We hope he can be captured or killed soon so that you don't have to fear him any longer,' Clinton told students and others at a town hall-style gathering in the capital city [of Libya]," states the Associated Press coverage of Clinton's speech.
The characterization of this kind of statement is impossible with adjectives or adverbs -- such behavior can only be understood through an analogy. Just imagine if Moammar Gaddafi came to the United States, spoke at a university and said the same thing of Barack Obama. Granted, there may be a number of audience members who will be pleased with Mr. Gaddafi, but the vast majority will undoubtedly feel belittled and invaded. It's only human to react territorially when a visitor presumes to have free reign in your backyard.
The hubris, not only of the State Department's announcement of Gaddafi's potential assassination but of the world's greatest democracy violating its own laws has not been lost on Washington insiders who have, over time, debated the EO (knowing of its repeated violation), only to have it remain on the books to this day.
Discussions of the issue have led to elaborations of the law several times since Ford's 1976 EO. In 1978, President Carter's EO 12036 made it clear that "indirect" assassination would also not be undertaken by the US government and its agencies. Later, Executive Orders by President Reagan in 1981 (EO 12333), President Clinton in 2004 (EO 13355) and the second President Bush in 2008 (EO 13470), were also added to the list -- and violated.
These Executive Orders -- edicts that are no different in form, function or repercussion than any given US law -- were no doubt meant to convince someone that the US is not an international judge-jury-executioner, that it is a civilized nation with a civilized government.
The Obama administration has made it clear that that pretense is no longer of interest.
They've also made it clear that they take the American public for granted. It was only last week that the Obama administration publicly decried political assassinations.
The widely disputed account put forward by US Attorney General Holder that two Iranians (one of whom was rarely identified accurately in the media as what he really is: a US citizen of Iranian descent) allegedly tied to the Iranian government were intercepted while planning assassinations of two foreign ambassadors on US soil, seems even more dubious now.
From the looks of it, the top brass in Obama's administration don't exactly draw the line at such tactics.