A bomber on a motorcycle has blown up yet another Iranian nuclear scientist, leading to this intriguing headline at the NY Times:
Iran Reports Killing of Nuclear Scientist in ‘Terrorist’ Blast
Why the quotes - was this terrorism, or not?
The safe answer is that they are quoting the Iranians:
“The Islamic Republic of Iran expresses its deep concern over, and lodges it strong condemnation of, such cruel, inhumane and criminal acts of terrorism against the Iranian scientists,” Iran’s United Nations ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, wrote in a letter sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other U.N. officials.
Hmm. Personally, I think "terrorism" connotes an attack on a random civilian population. But who am I? The UN has never agreed to a formal definition of terrorism. However, the US criminal code seems clear enough:
From U.S. Code Title 22, Ch.38, Para. 2656f(d) (d) Definitions
As used in this section—
(1) the term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than 1 country;
(2) the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;
As an examle, back in 1993 when Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate former President Bush during a visit to Kuwait both President Clinton and the Pentagon described it as terrorism. Here is the President:
We could not, and have not, let such action against our nation go unanswered.
From the first days of our Revolution, America's security has depended on the clarity of this message: Don't tread on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sovereignty, to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism, to deter further violence against our people and to affirm the expectation of civilized behavior among nations.
And the Pentagon:
The Iraqi Intelligence Service, the I.I.S., is the largest of the Iraqi intelligence agencies. It is responsible for investigating and acting against any suspected disloyalties. It's also responsible for monitoring Iraqi citizens and political activities, and countering dissident Iraqis and opposition groups outside the country. It is responsible -- the primary agency responsible for terrorist attacks abroad, as it tried to do in this case.
More recently, the bizarre plot to kill the Saudi AMbassador was also described by the Times as terrorism. Without quotes:
Unlikely Turn for a Suspect in a Terror Plot
Well - my quirky interpretation notwithstanding, "terrorism" can certainly include targeted killings, under US law and common usage.
Glenn Greenwald marvels at the silence on the left today now that Obama and/or the Israelis are doing this, in contrast with the outraged howls that greeted a mere suggestion of targeted assassination by Glenn Reynolds three years ago.
As to the prospective legality of this, in the hypothetical case of US involvement - the rationale used to kill Al-Awlaki would scarcely seem to apply:
"The administration has tried to make very clear that this was an act of self-defense, that Awlaki was part of not only al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, but he was the external operations chief. He was ongoing in his plotting against American citizens - not only having done so in the past, but continuing to do so in an imminent way," said CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate.
"So based on the rules of self-defense, based on the principles that we're at war with al Qaeda and the fact that he was a part of the group, self-professed, all of that suggests that it's lawful and appropriate to go after him and to kill him," Zarate said.
But of course we are not at war with Iran, or with the University of Teheran. Don't ask about Berkeley.