First, let me say that I am absolutely delighted that Qaddafi is no longer with us. Good riddance! For me it’s personal, as I had many Libyan college mates that were refugees from and victims of the early days of his dictatorship. I wish them well in building a bright future for their country.
Still, I feel somewhat uneasy about how this played out. For decades (centuries?), countries have operated under a written or unwritten rule that you don’t assassinate other heads of state in a “we don’t do it to them so that they don’t do it to us” understanding. Kings don’t kill kings. Technically, it is illegal for the U.S. to assassinate political leaders with whom we are not in a state of war, if I recall my history properly. If I am wrong on this point, please correct me (DQ? Book? You’re both attorneys…help me out).
Now, this does not apply to illegal terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, of course. In Libya, however, Qaddafi was the leader of a government with whom we had diplomatic relations and upon which war had not been declared. In the case of Saddam Hussein, he was arrested by the U.S. army in a theater of war, approved by Congress and operating under a United Nations mandate. He was put on trial by a legitimate Iraqi government. The case of Diem in South Vietnam was also highly problematic.
Now, technically, we didn’t kill Qaddafi…he was killed by a Libyan citizen. However, the argument could be made that we (i.e., NATO) set up the killing, especially if his convoy was hit by a U.S. drone or British warplane. We may not be dealing so much with the letter of the law as with the intent of the law.
Again, I don’t mourn Qaddafi. However, my unease about what transpires stems from the fact that the official and unofficial international rules on war, political killing and assassination appear to have undergone a major phase change.
Am I right or wrong to be concerned on this issue? Please let me know.