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April 25, 2011

McCain, Graham, Lieberman and the Congressional Assassination Caucus

Shorn of euphemism, Republican senator Lindsey Graham is now calling for the United States to assassinate Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Not that anyone cares or anything, but Is that legal?

On Sunday, Graham said the United States should "cut the head of the snake off, go to Tripoli, start bombing Gadhafi's inner circle."

Graham's foxhole buddy, Republican Sen. John McCain, was a little more cautious, though he said "I certainly think that we ought to make Gadhafi aware that his very life is in danger." In a similar vein, the always-hawkish Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman declared that "it is very important that Gadhafi and his family and everybody else near him wakes up every day thinking it is their last" and said "going directly after Gadhafi" would be justified.

The only meaningful way to "make Gadhafi aware that his very life is in danger" and that he "wakes up every morning thinking it is (his) last" is to try to actually, you know, kill him. Surely, the senators don't want to waste precious Pentagon resources on pretense.

So: assassinate Gadhafi.

Technically speaking, the United States is not at war with Libya. Congress has not authorized military action.

This would seem to mean that Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, remains in force. As noted in a Congressional Research Service report, the presidential order states that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."

As the CRS report explains, the "murder for political purposes of a national leader in time of peace is regarded as an assassination because of the target of the attack."

Drone killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, apparently, are being justified under the doctrine that the United States has an inherent right of self-defense. Does the Congressional Assassination Caucus believe that killing Gahdafi is similarly justified under the inherent right of self-defense? Discuss.





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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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