Recently, it became known to the public that the Bush administration had maintained a secret CIA assassination squad aimed at taking out senior Al Qaeda terrorists. The assassination squad was unknown even to the U.S. Congress until it was reported to them by CIA director Leon Panetta in June. According to current and former officials, the squad, formed in 2001, was a more “surgical solution” than missile strikes with armed Predator drones that cannot be used in cities and have occasionally resulted in civilian casualties.
The squad was reportedly never activated because there were concerns that the program would violate international law, American restrictions against assassination and over what would happen if an American agent was caught carrying out such an operation. However, the program was never completely shelved until now, because the Bush administration was keen on finding an alternative to drone strikes or rendition kidnappings.
There was some press coverage of this announcement, but it was off the media radar within a couple of days. I think that this was due in large part to the fact that most of the American public probably assumed that such programs existed anyway. And while the idea of an assassination squad that is only answerable to a few people in the White House is alarming to some, the idea of taking out terrorists without causing collateral civilian casualties or starting an endless war seems like common sense to a lot of people.
In the 1970’s Israel initiated similar operations following the massacre at the Munich Olympics. Over the course of several years, the perpetrators of that massacre and other terrorist attacks in Israel were tracked down and eliminated. These operations were and are very controversial, as the operation took place in many countries without their knowledge or consent. However, the operation took out its targets without destroying millions of dollars worth of property and without costing the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Assassination is not an option to be exercised casually and there should be strict limitations on when it can be used and the types of targets that it can be used against. But I do think that the surgical elimination of terrorists in this manner should be examined as an option in our counter-terrorism arsenal. Whether you take out your enemy with a missile or with a bullet from an assassin’s sniper rifle, the end result is the same. But if there is an option by you can achieve that result in a fashion that is less costly in lives and property..that option may need to be considered.