Was it justified to kill Admiral Yamamoto?

Was Soleimani's killing justified?

In his guest commentary, the professor of bioethics, Peter Singer, is critical of the killing of the Iranian general Soleimani and asks whether the right to life does not apply to villains.

On January 3, the United States carried out an attack on Ghassem Soleimani, one of the most senior Iranian military commanders, while he was leaving Baghdad International Airport in a car with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi leader of the Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. All car occupants were killed.

At a specially convened press conference, an unnamed senior US State Department official said that Soleimani had been "the most important architect" of Iranian terrorist attacks for 20 years and "killed 608 Americans in Iraq alone". Soleimani and al-Muhandis have been declared terrorists by the United Nations, and both are "prime examples of villains".

In 2003, US intelligence about alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was completely false. These mistakes led to the invasion of Iraq, which paved the way for Iran and Soleimani's engagement in the country. But let us assume that the statements made by the US government this time correspond to the facts. Was the deadly attack on Soleimani and al-Muhandis ethical?

right to live

We can start with the assumption that killing people is wrong. President Donald Trump will not deny that. A year ago he declared: "I will always defend the first right in our declaration of independence, the right to life." Trump directed his remarks to active anti-abortionists, but if fetuses have a right to life, so must older people.

But is there an exception for "villains"? To simplify the argument as much as possible, let us assume that the right to life only protects innocent people. Who should judge this innocence? If, as Americans often claim, we prefer "a government of laws, not individuals," there must be a legal process to determine the guilt. Since 2002, the International Criminal Court has endeavored to bring such a procedure to use worldwide. The court has some notable achievements in prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity, but its powers are limited and the US's refusal to join the 122 other countries that have recognized the court's jurisdiction does not Influence contributed.

Who judges?

Agn├Ęs Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, civil or arbitrary executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated in the wake of Soleimani's killing that there is no oversight of targeted killings carried out outside a country's borders. The executive simply decides who should be killed without proper legal process or the consent of any other state authority. Accepting such action makes it difficult to raise objections in principle to similar killings planned or carried out by other countries. This includes the 2011 attack attempt allegedly conceived by Soleimani himself at Cafe Milano in Washington, D.C., in which Iranian agents planned to kill the Saudi US ambassador while he was eating lunch.

The only thing the US can bring forward in defense of its killings is that they were targeting real villains and that the Saudi ambassador was not one. In doing so, they place the decisions of individuals above the rule of law.

The other justification the Pentagon offered for the killing was a vague reference to "deterring future Iranian attack plans". As Callamard points out, this is not the same as an "imminent" attack, which is required under international law to justify action in self-defense. She also pointed out that other people were killed in the attack - a total of seven people were reported to have died - and indicated that these further deaths were clearly unlawful killings.

Just war

A careful reading of the transcript of the press conference by three senior US State Department officials reveals the true mindset of the Trump administration. In response to repeated questions about the justification for the attack, a government official compared it to the shooting down of an aircraft in 1943 with Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on board. Yamamoto was visiting Japanese forces in the Pacific at the time, and the incident occurred during the war, more than a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Another government official said: "When I hear these questions, it is like you are describing Belgium for the past 40 years. It is the Iranian regime. We are dealing with 40 years of warfare that this regime has carried out against countries has committed five continents. " At one point the government official who compared the attack to the killing of Yamamoto blurted out, "Jesus, do we need to explain why we are doing these things?"

If US State Department officials believe the US is at a just war with Iran, as it was with Japan in 1943, then killing Soleimani makes sense. According to popular just war theory, they are allowed to kill their enemies whenever they have the opportunity, as long as the importance of the target exceeds what is known as collateral damage - harming innocent people.

Negative consequences

But the US is not at war with Iran. The US Constitution gives Congress sole power to declare war, and war has never been declared on Iran. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi says the congressional leadership should have been consulted regarding the plan to kill Soleimanis. If this is an act of war, she is right.

On the other hand, if the killing was not an act of war, the killing was extra-legal and, since it was not necessary to fend off an imminent attack, it was both illegal and unethical. It carries the risk of serious negative consequences - not only in terms of escalating reciprocal retaliation in the Middle East, but also by contributing to a further decline in the international legal order. (Peter Singer, Translation: Jan Doolan, Copyright: Project Syndicate, 9.1.2020)

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University, founder of the charitable organization The Life You Can Save and author, among others. from "Animal Liberation. The Liberation of Animals", "Saving Lives: How Poverty Can Be Abolished - And Why We Don't").

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