As the U.S.-Iran conflict escalates, in the context of impeachment and the upcoming presidential primaries, it is well to consider the key issue here: the waging of undeclared war and the use of targeted killing, or assassination (Webster definition: “to murder by sudden or secret attack”).

One positive outcome of this series of events could be to determine positions on government use of murder, and whether this does serve to protect national security and citizens’ lives.

The use of undeclared war by the G. W. Bush and Obama administrations (and President Trump) is based on two congressional authorizations under the 1973 War Powers Act: against al-Qaeda in 2001 and Iraq in 2002.

Under Obama, there was an increase in drone attacks in Afghanistan in 2009 (more than under Bush), the determination that all males of military age are combatants, an expanded use of Bush-era kill lists with Obama personally selecting individuals, and rules to permit the killing of U.S. citizens without due process in case of “imminent” threat. (Jeremy Scahill, “Dirty Wars,” 251, 513–54; Noam Chomsky, “Who Rules the World?,” 95)

I wonder if Trump’s decision to target Qassem Soleimani (Quds force commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard) was a counter to Obama’s attack on Osama Bin Laden.

Article 51 of the UN Charter (under Chapter VII, Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression, regarding action by the UN Security Council), states:

“Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

It is widely agreed that the use of force is acceptable only if authorized by the UNSC, OR in self-defense.

Self-defense applies to an attack that has already occurred or is underway (imminent). If an attack has not occurred and is in process, this constitutes “participatory” self-defense, with legality in dispute. If an attack aims at stopping a future threat, this is “preventive” self-defense and is illegal. Neither plotting, planning nor patterns of past behavior justify an attack.

Regarding targeted killings the ACLU states:

“The U.S. Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force outside of armed conflict zones unless it is used as a last resort against a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of grave harm. Even in the context of an armed conflict against an armed group, the U.S. government may use lethal force only against individuals who are directly participating in hostilities against the United States. Regardless of the context, whenever the government uses lethal force, it must take all possible steps to avoid harming civilian bystanders.”

As the administration recognized, it had to claim that an attack was imminent, but offered no proof, nor, it seems, reported this to the UNSC.

Iran cited Article 51 in the attack on the two bases in Iraq, claiming one was the launch site of the drone used against Soleimani and that this response was commensurate.

U.S. administrations want to have it both ways: at times actions are characterized as being part of a war (Obama’s use of “noninternational armed conflict,” under under Protocol II of the Geneva Convention), and at other times as due to imminent threat.

The serious thing here is the reaction of many politicians, of both parties: that action is legal under U.S. law to protect U.S. interests.

Among Democratic candidates, only Bernie Sanders termed the killing of Soleimani as an assassination and a violation of international law.

One candidate labelled Soleimani a “murderer,” another a “bad man” who deserved death; most questioned administration strategy; and some Democrats were only concerned about congressional authorization.

It is time for people to decide, and candidates to state, whether the U.S. should follow international law.

If so, then one cannot avoid the issue of war crimes and grave breaches of international humanitarian law (Geneva and Hague conventions). These conventions cover: the use of torture; the treatment of prisoners and victims; protection of civilians; attacks on infrastructure; collective punishment; rape; and attacks on historical monuments, works of art and places of worship.

My view is that when the U.S. acts above international law, it hurts national security. There may be a particular recklessness in Trump, but all politicians should state their positions.

Judy Pasqualge, Rockland