Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 52- Assassins

Dear Mr. President,

You are surely in a position to know more about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh than I, or any of those speculating in the media. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I find this completely reprehensible. Assassinations like this one are, for me, in the same category as torture. The asymmetry of power- in this case a man held down, electrocuted, suffocated with a pillow- in each situation is stomach turning. I believe there are individuals who, even after they pose no physical threat, continue to be dangerous because they are symbolic, or because they can incite others to violence. I do not believe this is cause for murdering these individuals, once they are helpless.

I confess, I have long held this unpopular opinion. In High School, as a member of the school newspaper staff, I wrote an editorial condemning what I believed to be unseemly crowing over the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein by the media. This upset several of the paper's readers. I cried the day they killed him, not because Hussein was a good man, or because I thought his life had been worth saving, but because, in the end, no matter how many terrible things he had done, he was just a broken old man with two recently dead sons, who had lived long enough to lose everything. He owed this, of course, to his own abuses of power, but we made a spectacle of his execution as though we'd slain a dragon. Maybe I am just too much of a bleeding heart, but it sickens me when the powerful put the powerless to death. And, when in comes to murders we call the death penalty, or these murders we call extrajudicial executions, or the murders we call assassinations; they are all powerless, in the end. There is no deed that can be undone by killing the perpetrator, no wound healed by hanging or lethal injection.

This man, Al-Mabhouh, whatever he was, whatever he had done, he was still a man. He had a family. Murdering him in a hotel room proved only that the Israeli system of justice cannot be conducted in the light of day. That vengeance is more important than justice. Mr. President, we ought to strongly condemn this and all assassinations on the part of Mossad or any other government agency. What safety is worth our humanity?

This isn't just morally wrong, it is also a poor strategy. Israel cannot spin its way into the hearts of its enemies, not with this kind of behavior. Israel would be a safer nation if it acted according to international law, if it suffered the inconvenience and delay of an effective justice system. How many dead will it take to satisfy them of their security? Surely, it is clear by now that they cannot simply kill their way to safety. Even if it is behind closed doors, with fake passports, and no sign of forced entry, these secrets do not keep.

What would you say to the Palestinians, Mr. President? What would you say to his family? How, when they saw him killed, no lawyer, no trial, no burden of proof, how can they keep from being consumed by hatred? International law is designed to codify the principle that the powerful should not prey upon the powerless. That principle need not be written for all of us to feel the truth of it. It is reflected in the tenants of every major faith, and is the basis for the societal practices that have allowed humanity to overcome our dark history and move towards a better and more just future. You ought to condemn this murder, Mr. President, and remind the international community that this kind of behavior has no place in the kind of world we seek to create.

Respectfully yours,


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