Friday, August 26, 2005

The assassination of Hugo Chavez

Pat Robertson got his ugly mug back in the news by advocating the assassination of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. When challenged, Robertson first outright lied about it, claiming he didn't say what was recorded on videotape (and went so far as to claim that the Associated Press had misinterpreted his remarks), dodged calls to explain himself, and then issued a grudging 'apology' in which he just reiterated his call for an assassination ("When faced with the threat of a comparable dictator in our own hemisphere, would it not be wiser to wage war against one person rather than finding ourselves down the road locked in another bitter struggle with a whole nation?"). Robertson's calls for assassination of a democratically elected leader received the predictable very mild rebuke from the Bush Administration. Donald Rumsfeld said:

"Our department doesn't do that kind of thing. It's against the law. He's a private citizen. Private citizens say all kinds of things all the time."

The fact that assassination is 'against the law', by which he no doubt means the law of the United States, is repeated in almost all the stories on this issue. They rely on Executive Order 11905 signed by Gerald Ford, part of which, Section 5 (g), states :

"No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

Ironically, this was signed because of a reaction to disclosures of American CIA actions in assassinating, or attempting to assassinate, the leaders of countries in Central America and the Caribbean. But things have changed. From an editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

"Executive Order 11905 is a 6,000-word national policy statement on the activities of intelligence services at home and abroad. President Ford signed it on Feb. 18, 1976. Here's one of its simplest orders: 'No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.' Sometime between Sept. 11 and Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush signed a secret intelligence order revoking Ford's. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would confirm the reversal in a CNN interview six weeks later. Assassinations were back on.

On Nov. 3, 2002, an unmanned CIA Predator drone fired at a convoy traveling in Yemen, killing a man believed to be al-Qaida's district manager for Yemen. The CIA didn't know an American was traveling with the convoy. He was killed, so were four other Yemenis. 'I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here,' Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, said of the assassination, which turned out to be one of many. In his State of the Union address three months later, Bush verged on gloating, Tony Soprano-like, about the productivity of his assassination policy. While 'more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries,' he said, 'many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way - they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.'"

Bush is bragging about targeted assassinations, which are now quite legal, at least under the Bush Administration's interpretation of American law (the ban against political assassinations is said not to apply during 'wartime', and 'wartime' is, of course, all the time!). The law was changed by an intelligence 'finding' signed by Bush which defined the list of newly permissible targets (and there were moves to change the law even before September 11). Since Bush establishes who is on the list, how do we know that Hugo Chavez isn't already on the list? Hugo Chavez has been attached to al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists by writers on the right, and we know that the United States has interfered in the Venezuelan electoral process and played a major role in the thwarted coup against Hugo Chavez. To thugs like Bush, anyone who gets in their way - and Chavez, with his control of oil coupled with his popular social programs which set a bad example for the rest of the world, is really in their way - is a 'terrorist'. If he's not already on the list, he could be put on the list tomorrow. There is no longer the slightest real restraint on the Bush Administration's ability to assassinate any politician in the world. Robertson's comments, which may have been some sort of trial balloon to see how the American public would react to such a move, may actually have bought Chavez some time before the Americans dare try to actually pull the trigger.