Leave it to Pat Robertson to give assassination a bad name.
The religious broadcaster recently called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is more friendly with Fidel Castro than he is with George W. Bush.
That is no reason to whack the guy, however. We do get 15 percent of our oil imports from Venezuela.
And Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the State Department were quick to distance themselves from Robertson's statements.
"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing," Rumsfeld said. "It's against the law."
The fact is, however, that the U.S. "law" banning assassination is no law and no ban at all.
It is a 1976 executive order that can be set aside by any president.
Gerald Ford drew it up after revelations that the United States had repeatedly tried to assassinate Castro. (The United States also was probably involved in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Binh Diem in 1963.)
But as long as that 1976 presidential order is in effect, we don't try to assassinate world leaders, right?
After a Berlin nightclub bombing in 1986 in which U.S. soldiers were killed, President Reagan unleashed eight F-111 bombers against Libyan President Muammar Qadhafi's personal compound. Although the planes dropped 64,000 tons of explosives, Qadhafi escaped harm (though we did kill his 15-month-old daughter).
The Reagan administration denied this was an assassination attempt, however.
According to published reports, "Administration legal counselors advised that the strike could be justified as self-defense and preemptive military attack. And deaths, the legal analysis heldeven the death of the head of statecould not be considered political assassination."
In other words, assassination is whatever we say it is.
Take Osama bin Laden. Please.
According to the Washington Post, President Bush signed a "finding" shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, telling the CIA to use "lethal covert operations" to kill Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda.
Why would that not be an attempt at assassination?
Because "the ban on political assassination does not apply to wartime" and does not apply to "action against terrorists," according to the article.
In reality, should the United States want to assassinate somebody, all the president has to do is set aside the 1976 executive order and go do it.
Or, all we have to do is define the assassination as "self-defense" or define the target as a "terrorist."
The appeal of assassination is that it is much cheaper than launching a war.
The drawback is that killing one bad guy rarely works.
There are usually more bad guys to take his place.