The Magazine

Legally Dead

From the August 4 / August 11, 2003 issue: This is war. Skip the hand-wringing about "assassinations."

Aug 4, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 45 • By JOHN YOO
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The United States and its allies have long employed what some might loosely, but incorrectly, think of as assassination in order to kill enemy military leaders. In World War II, for example, the United States downed a Japanese aircraft in the Pacific for the specific purpose of killing Admiral Yamamoto. During the Korean War, intercepted intelligence allowed Navy bombers to kill 500 senior Chinese and North Korean military officers and security forces in 1951 during a planning conference. These deaths were not assassinations, but the legitimate result of armed combat, just as the killing of Adolf Hitler during World War II by an air or commando assault would have been legitimate.

Saddam Hussein and his sons, or Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, should receive no different treatment. They are the military leaders of enemy forces engaged in wars with the United States, wars that have been initiated by the president and supported by Congress. While major combat operations may have ended in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the state of armed conflict with both the former Iraqi regime (as demonstrated by recent attacks on U.S. occupation forces) and al Qaeda (as shown by its efforts to attack American personnel and facilities) continues. Killing both sets of leaders is a legitimate method for defeating the enemy and bringing the conflicts to a close.

John Yoo, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, recently left the Justice Department. He teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley.