Tjebbe van Tijen on Tue, 3 May 2011 05:50:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> NATO’s Collateral Tyrannicide: will it bring Justice and Peace?

Almost half a year I have not been able to write for the Limping Messenger, being fully occupied with a new job in Hong Kong (School of Creative Media City University of Hong Kong); today was an unexpected holiday the 1 of May being on a sunday means for the City State of the Peoples Republic of China that that day should still be valued, so the 2nd of May 2011 is Labour Day here... It lead me to reflect on some of the news of today and combining it with several short notes I did write on Facebook in the last months, especially on the revolts and persistent regime of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. 

NATO???s Collateral Tyrannicide: will it bring Justice and Peace?

May 2, 2011 by Tjebbe van Tijen 

A fully illustrated and linked version can be found at the Limping Messenger blog:

The dust of the impact of a NATO bomb on the compound of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya ??? leaving some of his family members dead ??? has hardly dwindled, or the triumphant news of the assassination of  Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan is proudly announced by the American president. Whereas the NATO spokesman denied a purposely targeting of the Libyan head of state using the commonly used argument in such cases that the targeted object had a military strategic function, the undercover operation of targeting and killing of Bin Laden ??? who is not a head of state and is considered an international outlaw ??? was proudly admitted by President Obama. Would Gaddafi have been killed in the NATO attack, it would have been classified as ???a case of collateral tyrannicide.???


That is what ???Resolution 1973??? of  the Security Council in it???s 6498th meeting on March the 17th 2011 says. Who reads through the details sees: protection of civilians; No-fly zone??? ; enforcement of arms embargo;  ban on flights; asset freeze; but nowhere is the option of disposal of the head of state, let alone targeting his life mentioned. On the contrary ??? in the same document ??? the Prosecutor of the International Court of Justice in The Hague is alerted about the possible targeting of the Libyan civilian population by its authorities, this  in order to call them to justice. Our modern courts do not practice anymore justice on accused that are dead.

[ tableau Tyrannicicde is on their table not justice]

???Mission creep??? has become a household word in todays international politics: half a war is started on a quarter of evidence whipped up in ???the news??? and those who may have a good historical insight in any of these turmoil areas are the last to be consulted, as diplomatic options are cast aside in haste and overridden by military solutions. Politicians ??? with their own national and international agenda ??? are even competing in proposing the military approach as faster and more efficient. What started of as a temporary interventions to prevent mass killings, pre-emptive strikes against the employment of mass murder weapons, and other direct threats against humanity, prove  - on a longer term ??? to be more ???problem makers??? than ???problem solvers???. The military are saddled with practical questions diplomats were not able or not allowed to solve: is there a rational basis to decide who is going to be supported, who needs to be attacked, who to be protected and 
 what about bloody revenge after a state collapses?

On the one hand there is notion of sovereign states and the principle of non-intervention under international law and ??? on the other ??? there is the idea of the protection of human rights and the prevention against mass violence. ???Protection of civilians by all necessary means??? is the mission in the case of Libya. One should read the ???all necessary??? as acts that still are within the legal bounds of laws, agreements and regulations that form the foundation of the United Nations. The United Nations does not endorse the killing of a head of state, even when she or he is labelled as someone acting against their own population, in short a tyrant. Head of states do not have (anymore) full impunity, they can be called to justice, an International Criminal Court has been set up in The Hague which is supposed to pursue such persons. The killing of a tyrant ??? tyrannicide ??? is not supported by international law, however beneficent  it may seem to be in short range. But, i
 n law, one needs always to reverse the logic and ask the question: ???is it so that it is explicitly forbidden and if so where and in how is that prohibition formulated????

Two years ago this question has been raised in a thorough article by the scholar Shannon Brincat in the ???Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy??? under the title ???Legal Philosophy of Internationally Assisted Tyrannicide.???Brincat is not a lawyer but a political scientist and rightly focusses on the underlying historical principles of the practice of international law and tyrannicide as he looks back a few centuries and cites Gentili (1522-1608), Grotius (1583-1645) and Vattel (1714-1767) on the issue of  acceptability of the killing of a tyrant, who fell in the legal category of ???hostis humani generis??? (common enemies of mankind). Brincat mentions the historical acceptance of ???tyrannicide??? as a way to get rid of a despotic and cruel ruler abusing the public power; a ruler that had lost the bond with his subjects, a bond to work for the welfare of all. Murder of a tyrant has been often an act of a private citizen for the common good of his fellow citizens, an act
  of self-defence.

There is also the planned assassination of a tyrant by those governing another state in support of an oppressed people, to be distinguished from all kind of conspiracies to bring down another power by treacherous acts. Brincat tries to distinguish all kind of murders arranged for political gain -assassination ??? from the act of tyrannicide. He points to the context in which a murder is committed and how it changes its status from a ???war crime??? to ???terrorism???, ???aggression??? or ???intervention???. International regulations of war are documented in some detail in the article, the many conventions of The Hague and Geneva over a period of more than a century, whereby the ???treacherous killing of citizens??? has been formally forbidden, and covert actions been limited. Military practice always has its own way, though, as it can not be performed without treacherous tactics and trespassing of all what is laid down in conventions. In the theatre of war the old adagio rule
 s: ???everything is lawful against enemies.???

The United Nations  ???New York Convention??? ??? as it is known ??? in full Prevention and Punishment of Crime Against Internationally Protected Persons,  dating from 1973, does give protection to heads of states, ministers, diplomats and their family outside of their country, but does not speak about the attempts on the lives of these same persons within their own country. This creates a a window of opportunity for legal advisers to military commanders as to the repercussions to be feared when targeting heads of state and their governmental echelon at home.  In the recent case of the alleged targeting of Gaddafi and his family by NATO, it still can be seen as a hostile act of intervention in the internal affairs of a state, but there are loopholes in ???Resolution 1973??? when an attack is classified as an operation necessary  to keep the forces of Gaddafi from attacking civilians. That the great leader or his family are hurt on the side is just bad luck. Even when seated i
 n his berber tent  in an oasis next to a swimming pool, not Gaddafi himself but his nearby entourage with all kind of communication equipment, can still be a legitimate military target and Gaddafi being a collateral victim.

[image of girl kicking anti Gaddafi poster with caption "When demonstrators change the labelling of a head of state this does not mean that the legal position of the person according to international law has been changed accordingly..."]

When demonstrators change the labelling of a head of state this does not mean that the legal position of the person according to international law has been changed accordingly...
Heads of states ??? metamorphosed into tyrants or not ??? do not have international legal protection against attacks by other nations on their lives in their own country as it has been thought obvious that local laws would be enough to protect them. A situation that brought President Ronald Reagan and his advisers to the cowboy tactics of  ???Operation El Dorado Canyon??? in 1986 bombing the headquarters of Colonel Gaddafi in retaliation of  Libyan support for several urban guerrilla actions in the period 1985-86. Sixty people died in that bomb attack among which an adopted daughter of Gaddafi (some say it was a post-mortum adoption for propaganda reasons). That action was condemned by many countries and lead to a resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations (79 in favour, 28 against, 33 abstentions). The Iraq war saw a repetition of such tactics, whereby at first a plan to murder Saddam Hussein has been devised and when that did not work tons of bombs and missile
 s have been dropped on palaces and bunkers of the ???head of state???, while the mission was officially not aimed at a change of regime, or the killing of the ???tyrant???. Mission creep on grand scale???

[photograph: The U.S. President Ronald Reagan meeting with bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress to discuss the air strike on Libya ("Operation El Dorado Canyon") in Room 208 of the Old Executive office building, 14 April 1986]
At the other end are the people, the whole population, and how they are protected by international law against their own government when it turns against them. They are not protected, we all know it, as the principle of our international community in its actual form, the United Nations, is based on its Charter that defines the association of sovereign states. Any intrusion of this sovereignty can be labelled as ???intervention in internal affairs???. There are of course since the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, all kind of mechanism to protect human rights and human lives, but the enforcement of these rights remain problematic. The Genocide Convention itself is limited by its origin to prevent repetition of the racial based extermination policy of the Nazis and has proven useless when it came to mass killings with political or social class motives be it in China , Cambodia, or elsewhere. There remains the principle of  the right to ?
 ??self defence??? against an attacker both in most national laws and international law, but ???tyrannicide??? is more as an preemptive strike than killing someone who is attacking you in battle. The classical case of tyrannicide by forty senators, of Julius Caesar,  was meant as a preemptive strike against the further ambitions and absolute rule of the ???dictator perpetuo??? to save the people of Rome from future suffering.

[painting  by Vincenzo Camuccini Morte di Giulio Cesare ("Death of Julius Caesar", 1798]

Humanitarian intervention by other states or international associations of states may be the only way to alter an unbearable state of suffering of main parts of a population, but however noble the incentive, practice may prove to be different. Imposed change of regime from the outside, invasion to establish democracy, we have seen how such undertakings can develop in yet another human disaster in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. And as for imposed change of regime, is that aimed just at one or a set of rulers, is it the system of government which is targeted, or its leader? Who is to judge on what premises?
Brincat in his study relates this to proposals for possible endorsement of the act of tyrannicide in order to halt extreme suffering of a population: ???As many have warned the danger is that a unilateral assessment of tyranny could become a Trojan horse and may corrupt tyrannicide to an asymmetrical right only of powerful states.??? Is that not what we observe these days? Who makes the so called ???humanitarian hit list???, who will be on it? Who will have enough power to execute it?

There is yet another aspect against the act of ???tyrannicide??? especially when arranged or perpetrated from the outside, by other nations and other interest groups, not part of the nation that suffers tyranny. It distorts the social relations of a society in turmoil with an element that is not part of it. It disables the social revolution that apparently is on its way. It distorts the process of shifting of power in a society. It puts too much emphasis on the one supreme leader whereas each tyrant is a complex social system of alliances, with many collaborators that will be all to happy that the head of the tyrant is cut while the social body of the tyrant may life on for quiet a while or never vanish??? Also, the difference between ???tyrannicide??? and ???revenge judgement??? is not a great one in this respect. The hurried execution of the Rumanian dictator Ceausescu and his wife and the speedy trial and hanging of Saddam Hussein are examples to bear in mind. When we thin
 k about long lived regimes like the one of Saddam Hussein, the Assad family and Gaddafi, there must be all kind of entangled social layers related in many ways to the ruling system. For a society to reassess itself is a cumbersome and long process and the concept of ???Voluntary Servitude??? as formulated by Etienne de la Bo??tie (1530-1563) already centuries ago, must be born in mind (the text is also known in French as ???Le Contr???un??? which translates in English as the AntiDictator). The usurper of power needs enough willing people to let it happen. A society must come to recognize how this process of enslavement took place in order to find the right remedies to heal its historical wounds.

[photograph of commemoration of 40 years of Green revolution in Libya]

As with the tyrants of the family Assad, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi, world leaders have been supportive of their regimes for decades for all kind of reasons: the stability of the Middle East and the position of Israel, a state opposing the Iran and its ambitions after the fall of the Western oriented Shah leading to indirect support of one of the most bloody post World War II wars, the one between Iraq and Iran. Other reasons are oil and gas and nuclear power contracts some of them signed only recently by the same political leaders of the Allied Forces now involved in the military containment of Gaddafi???s state. What about their economic interests colouring their vision?

The choice for military force, the attempts at collateral killing of Gaddafi, leaves no space for a later appearance in any court be it Libyan or International of Gaddafi. Imagine this: Gaddafi taking the stage to defend himself, what would he say, what would he tell about his former  powerful friends? Just the idea??? better have him dead!

[tableau of the compound of Gaddafi in Tripoli as a target on Google Earth with an inset photo of Gaddafi and sarkozy at this compound next to a monument remembering the Ronal reagan attack on Gaddafi's home]

Are we ready yet for a real functioning of an International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals and their crimes in an impartial fashion? A process of judgement that will create the space necessary for rebuilding in a nation that what has been destroyed, a minimal common bond between the people and its government. The double-talk we see now on the international stage of politics is one of human rights protection and the necessity of some form of democracy, while that what is supposed to bring about such a change is limited to long distance military force.  Under scvuh circumstances who will appear, and who will be dead before they can face their judges, here on earth?

Will peace be served by state lead tyrannicide and assassination? I do not think so. The way a regime is changed determines the next one to come???


Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Dramatizing Historical Information
web-blog: The Limping Messenger

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