What is U.S. policy on assassinations?
As a reaction to post-Watergate revelations that the CIA had staged multiple attempts on the life of Cuban President Fidel Castro, President Ford in 1976 issued Executive Order 11905.
In a section of the order labeled "Restrictions on Intelligence Activities," Ford outlawed political assassination: Section 5(g), entitled "Prohibition on Assassination," states: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."
A banner headline in this morning's NY Times reads:
Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan
By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER
Published: February 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.continued here
The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.
The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.
Further background on US policy under every US president since Ford:
Since 1976, every U.S. president has upheld Ford's prohibition on assassinations. In 1978 President Carter issued an executive order with the chief purpose of reshaping the intelligence structure. In Section 2-305 of that order, Carter reaffirmed the U.S. prohibition on assassination.CNN
In 1981, President Reagan, through Executive Order 12333, reiterated the assassination prohibition. Reagan was the last president to address the topic of political assassination. Because no subsequent executive order or piece of legislation has repealed the prohibition, it remains in effect.
The ban, however, did not prevent the Reagan administration from dropping bombs on Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's home in 1986 in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. troops.
Additionally, the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at suspected guerrilla camps in Afghanistan in 1998 after the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Following the September 11. 2001, attacks, the White House said the presidential directive banning assassinations would not prevent the United States from acting in self-defense.
According to an October 21, 2001, Washington Post article, President Bush in September of last year signed an intelligence "finding" instructing the CIA to engage in "lethal covert operations" to destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization.
White House and CIA lawyers believe that the intelligence "finding" is constitutional because the ban on political assassination does not apply to wartime. They also contend that the prohibition does not preclude the United States taking action against terrorists.