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The Justice of Assassination

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Mon, 9 May 2011 14:53:10 -0400

A few days before the Bin Laden fuss, some loonies in N Ireland threatened to
kill the Queen.  In a random internet discussion at the time I said that it
didn't seem that terrible to me - obviously, any murder is wrong, but if you
are going to target anyone, a King or Queen seems like a "reasonable" choice.
After all, isn't that what wars were all about? - you have a bunch of people
who slaughter each other until one or the other King/Queen dies.  And that's
how the game ends.

So while I wouldn't want anyone to kill the Queen, it would seem, in my moral
terms, better to target the Queen (who, after all, enjoys a lot of status and
rewards for her position) that some random granny.

At the same time, I was aware that there's a general consensus in modern wars
*not* to kill heads of states.  As it happened, no-one called me out on this,
so the idea stalled there.

And then Bin Laden was killed, and there was a similar concern about
assassination - that he should have been captured and tried instead.  And
people seem to feel, to some extent, that exactly how fair this was depends on
whether or not there was a "war" etc etc.

I admit I didn't think much about this question, except to make a mental note
that it seemed consistent with my argument about the Queen, above.

Now today there's a post on Crooked Timber arguing the case against killing
Bin Laden in more detail.  And it includes an interesting example that *does*
shift my moral compass in the opposite direction: the targeted killing of IRA
members by the SAS in Gibraltar.

So, am I wrong in one of these cases, or is there a way to square the two?

I don't have an answer - I'm just writing this down here as a reminder to
think about it when I have more time...



First Guess

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Mon, 9 May 2011 15:16:10 -0400

OK, I think I see the confusion above.

The loonies in NI are already planning to kill people.  So they lose brownie
points for that.  *After* that fact, comes the choice of target.  And, if they
are going to kill *someone* then, as I said, why not the Queen?

On the other hand, in Gibraltar, the SAS had (perhaps not?) the chance not to
kill.  The question is not targetting particular people, but whether you need
to kill at all.

So, returning to Bin Laden, it would be consistent for me to argue that he
should have been captured: I am not making an argument about whether to kill
Bin Laden or sme random chap in Pakistan; I am making an argument about
whether to kill or not.


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