Accusations of law-breaking by this administration never seem to stop. But here’s a new one: it appears the administration may have violated an executive order that prohibits government employees or agencies from engaging in or conspiring to engage in assassination. The accusation is being raised in connection with a recent dramatic story in Time magazine on how American and French forces operating in Bosnia planned to capture or kill two alleged war criminals. The story appeared in Time’s August 10 issue and was advertised as the “inside story” of what almost happened.
Time reported that President Clinton and French President Jacques Chirac discussed what to do about Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic. The magazine said, “High level French sources deny that the two Presidents explicitly discussed the idea of assassinating the two Bosnia Serbs, but they admit the possibility was seriously examined by French and American intelligence services.”
Even though the killings did not take place, this may be a direct violation of executive order 12333, issued December 4, 1981, by President Reagan. It continued the policy of his predecessors Ford and Carter and neither Bush nor Clinton has rescinded it. It says that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Does “seriously examining” the assassination of those Bosnian Serbs constitute a conspiracy under the terms of this executive order? Time magazine treated the matter gingerly, saying that French President Chirac was “free of legal restraints that prevent U.S. Presidents from such actions…” However, the magazine also said that Chirac wouldn’t have authorized an assassination plot alone, suggesting that Clinton may have approved it. This implies that Clinton gave his approval, at least to the extent of letting the planning phase of the operation go forward.
The issue has taken on more significance in the wake of the Africa bombings targeting the U.S. embassies. Senator Orrin Hatch says U.S. law ought to be changed to allow the assassination of terrorists. He said, “These acts of terrorism really are acts of war…I think we should do whatever is necessary to protect our embassies and our State Department and other personnel overseas. And, frankly, I think Congress is going to have to relook at this.”
Many Americans might applaud such rhetoric after their fellow citizens die in terrorist attacks. Perhaps the law ought to be changed. But in the case of the Bosnian Serbs, they were not responsible for any terrorist attacks on Americans. In fact, American war planes bombed their positions inside Bosnia. And now we have the Time magazine report of Clinton apparently winking at an assassination plot targeting them. This is a far different situation than going after terrorists who have killed Americans.
In this case, because the targets were also supposed to be bad people, even Time magazine didn’t make a big deal out of it. But for those of us concerned about high-level law-breaking, it is still extremely troubling. If the administration has violated the law, it has to be held accountable by the media.