Assassination not most effective method

Last month, President George W. Bush did a disservice to the cause for which America is now fighting. The Washington Post reported Bush ordered the CIA to engage in an operation to kill Osama bin Laden. Though executive orders signed by every U.S. president since Gerald Ford state, “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” this new directive does not follow the path most compatible with American values.

Of course, assassination carries several advantages. Right now the president has authority to attack enemies – be they hostile nations or terrorist camps – with missiles, bombs and ground troops. And current technologies allow for precision bombings, which, arguably, are merely a broader means of assassination. Allowing field agents and special forces troops to conduct targeted killings certainly makes for safer offensives. A stray bullet will not kill 50 civilians.

Also, assassinations, as opposed to conventional ground assaults, limit the risk to fewer U.S. troops. A large unit of soldiers might be needed to overtake a terrorist camp, but a two-man sniper-spotter team could be all that’s necessary to kill the camp’s leader. The assassination answer costs far less. Per-unit cost of some of today’s most advanced missiles lie in the millions of dollars, much more expensive than a bullet.

But those reasons hinge on some liberal interpretations of history. The CIA’s ineptitude justified Gerald Ford writing the executive order in the first place. During the 1950s and ’60s, CIA operatives tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Fidel Castro several times. Their bungled attempts were an albatross around the U.S. intelligence community’s neck for decades. Uproar over their conduct prompted a series of laws in the 1970s designed to make sure they were never given the opportunity to embarrass the U.S. again.

Still, they found a way, and much of the respect the CIA had left evaporated during the Iran-Contra congressional hearings. Bush’s recent directive carried with it $1 billion in additional funding for the effort, but it is still $1 billion given to an organization that might be unfit for the task. The agency could be saved, however, by public support for their goal. Since polls indicate most Americans support some manner of war against this threat, failed assassination attempts might not be as embarrassing as in the past.

But from the beginning, the Bush administration made it clear this was not like any other war. It’s still ambiguous as to whether this actually is a war, or whether it will be a series of focused conflicts fought in embassies as much as on battlefields. What sets this apart from other wars most is that it is based almost exclusively on a clash of seemingly irreconcilable ideals. Members of the Bush administration have said several times that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were not attacked because of a border dispute or for territorial acquisition, but because Taliban and al-Qaida world views cannot coexist with America’s. And therein lies the problem. Unwavering commitment to respective ideologies seems the only firm, if intangible, ground in this war. To truly win, then, the United States must never lose sight of why it lays claim to moral superiority.

Doing so requires taking the more difficult road sometimes. Since it seems about half the administration’s ultimate goal lies in forming and preserving coalitions, international opinion plays a major role, unsavory as that might be to some. For the United States to keep the international community firmly on its side, officials must perform certain actions counterintuitive during a normal war.

The Nuremberg trials provide an example of how the United States might make a powerful statement to the rest of the world. After the second world war, Allied nations put Nazi party and military officials on trial for the atrocities they committed. Doing the same with bin Laden would be a more powerful gesture than any successful assassination. A trial would show the world that no matter how unconscionable one’s actions, no matter how despicable one’s methods and no matter how twisted one’s logic, the United States maintains its willingness to uphold “certain inalienable rights.”

Even the Nuremberg trials weren’t held during wartime, however. The United States must decide, then, how it wants to meet this new challenge. Should we choose to pursue a mentality more consistent with past wars, a trial will not serve any purpose. “War isn’t about trials. It’s about defeating the enemy,” said Gov. Jesse Ventura. If we move forward with that in mind, we must be prepared for an all-out war, not diplomatic resolutions. If we move forward in a manner allowing for things such as a bin Laden trial, we must be prepared for a series of conflicts that will at times seem endless.

Though less expeditious, Americans should oppose assassinating bin Laden without a trial. This must be where we prove to those who would test our resolve that we will not back away from that which makes us Americans. As he preaches hate and intolerance, we should stand unafraid.