Two CIA directors have two very different views about the legality of the U.S. assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last month.
In a detailed look at how U.S. policymakers have handled the question of assassinating enemies, the The New Yorker reports the views of current CIA director Gina Haspel.
Intelligence officials told Trump that Suleimani was planning attacks that had the potential to kill hundreds of Americans in the region, though precise details were unknown. The C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, told Trump that Iran was unlikely to respond to Suleimani’s death with large-scale retaliation, and that more Americans were at risk of being killed in attacks that Suleimani was allegedly planning than in the likely Iranian response to his death. “The risk of inaction outweighs the risk of action,” she said.
In an appearance at Fordham University, his alma mater, former CIA director John Brennan said last week that the assassination of Soleimani had no “legal basis.”.
Brennan made a clear distinction between an “unlawful combatant,” such as the leader of a terrorist group, and an individual acting on behalf of a sovereign state, such as a military general. He said that according to the Geneva Convention and “a lot of other important foundations,” a non-state actor is not afforded the same protections as a state actor working on behalf of a sovereign state.
“We’re not at war with Iran,” said Brennan. “We have struck Al-Qaeda terrorists numerous times, but they are unlawful combatants. I see no equivalency, either in … a domestic or international law, that striking a government official of a foreign country that you’re not in war with has a legal basis.”
Brennan’s point is that the United States has an interest in observing international norms. Haspel’s point is that international law should not limit American actions.