Why government assassinations are wrong

Earlier this week we had the revelation that British military forces had targeted two citizens of this country in Syria and killed them using a remotely controlled drone.

I’m aware of some concerns being expressed by the usual suspects – ie lefty guardian-reading knit your own sandals people who can be relied upon to object to such action. However, I’m also aware that such such action is also wildly popular in the country. Indeed, there are reports that the action is backed 2 to 1 by the general public.

At that point, the Prime Minister might feel that he can sit back and relax, job well done. He has removed a perceived threat cleanly and without any great risk to British military personnel and he is backed by the British people. In any case, the opposition in parliament is in disarray – Labour electing a new leader, the Liberal Democrats annihilated by their inability to be seen as liberals and the SNP famous more for playing musical chairs in parliament than anything of any substance.

However, it seems to me that whilst the views of the moderate UK majority are interesting they are certainly not the only views that need to be thought about. I’m not particularly thinking of those whose knees jerk like mine to oppose the military action either.

I’m more concerned with those who are our opponents.

I don’t believe that we can necessarily defeat religiously motivated terrorism by military might. I think we have to defeat it with ideas too. And by persuading people, constantly persuading people that the rule of law, expressed in a democracy is a better thing to live under than any other system of government. If we dare to think that the rule of law can become legitimately blurred on the edges of our jurisdiction (not sending people across the Syrian border but sending a drone is as blurred as it could get) then we start to find our own legitimacy more easily questioned by those who are opposed to our freedoms.

To put it bluntly, I think we are better than this. Or at least I did. I think we need to be a society which does not allow its government to assassinate its citizens without a fair trial. Yes, I know there is “intelligence” and I also know that intelligence can be wrong. Remember Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?

If we become a society in which such behaviour is normal, how are we going to win any argument with those who currently live amongst us who have some sympathy for the ISIS cause, who are tempted to throw in their lot against the freedoms that the west possesses? If, in their minds, Britain can cross borders with weapons and wipe someone out arbitrarily, why shouldn’t they?

Why shouldn’t they? That’s a real question that not nearly enough people have been asking this week.

The actions of the Prime Minister in ordering this action brutalise our world and will make our opponents better able to recruit people who believe soft UK targets to be legitimate.

To whom shall we be compared? Shall we be like them or are we better than that? Is it true that Putin’s Russia, sent out state assassins to kill Alexander Litvinenko on the streets of London? If it is, are we any better by targeting Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin in Syria.

I believed we were better than this. I still think that should be our aspiration.


  1. Bro David says

    I realize that I don’t really have a say as Im not a citizen of your democracy.

    I don’t see how it was arbitrary, it wasn’t random nor based on a whim.

    I don’t see how it was an assasination any more than if they had been killed by a military assault by personel.

    And I don’t see how it compares at all to what the Russians may have done in London. Was Litvinenko in the UK waging war?

  2. I didn’t say it was random or arbitrary – I said it was a targeted assassination on foreign soil of individual UK citizens.

    I think it is generally accepted that the Russian view is that Litvinenko was an enemy of the Russian state.

    • Bro David says

      “If, in their minds, Britain can cross borders with weapons and wipe someone out arbitrarily, why shouldn’t they?”

      Arbitrary was the exact word that you used.

  3. robin webster says

    I agree that we should not kill our own citizens without a fair trial. I also agree that military action is unlikely to change people’s beliefs and mind set: we can do this only by example…..actually I am at a loss about how we do this, but certainly killing jihadists without trial is wrong and instantly turns them into martyrs for their cause.

    • Bro David says

      So are you proposing to bring all jihadists to trial or just those special ones who were also UK citizens before abandoning everything your state and culture stand for and have become traitorous by joining a foreign enemy?

      Or is it OK to take out enemy combatants with drones strikes and/or regular military means, as long as they are not UK citizens?

      • Any military action in Syria is questionable given that the UK Parliament declined to support it.

        The UK has a duty to bring to justice citizens who commit acts of terror. The interests of justice can’t be served by executions ordered by the executive.

    • Yes – I agree, Robin. The last thing we need are people building those killed up as “martyrs”.

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