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Yemen attack shows U.S. following Israel’s reckless lead

The CIA strike that killed six alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen Nov. 3 shows the United States widening the war on terrorism to beyond Afghanistan. The lethal missile strike from an unmanned aircraft is one more alarming sign that the United States is following in Israel’s footsteps when it comes to foreign policy. Like Israel, the United States is now arrogating to itself the right to attack whomever it wants wherever it wants regardless of the rule of law.

Putting aside issues of morality for the moment, an open question is whether Israel’s policy of assassinating suspected terrorists has made Israel safer or has exacerbated rage and resistance, not only from those committing violence but also from the wider Palestinian population.

The new Bush doctrine on preemptive strikes, which also copies a page from Israeli history, is similarly problematic. If Israel’s resort to preemptive strikes has yielded stunning military successes in some instances, it has also manifestly failed to move the region toward peace.

Quite the contrary, Israel’s violations of international law and its insistence on retaliating to any attack with massive force far in excess of the initial outrage has perpetuated and enhanced the cycle of violence.

Quite likely, most Americans will not mourn the deaths of six al-Qaeda operatives, but, of course, without a trace or a trial we will never be able to ascertain whether the murdered men were in fact designated enemies.

Israel’s claim to execute only proven terrorists has been widely challenged. A three-member United Nations human rights commission concluded that at least some Israeli targets were not terrorists but were people seeking peaceful resolutions to the conflict. Similar abuses are certain to emerge as the United States follows the reckless path it is on.

There is good reason the U.S. policy had, until recently, outlawed assassinations. Whatever goes around comes around. The dreadful course of Bush foreign policy is making our country and its citizens, here and abroad, less safe, not more. And it does not take advanced wisdom to understand why.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher last week rejected comparisons between Israel’s assassinations of Palestinian militants, which the United States has traditionally, if tepidly, criticized, and the U.S. killing of suspected terrorists in Yemen.

Isaac Boxx, in a letter to the The New York Times last week, wrote: “After spending millions of dollars over the last year to convince the Arab world of America’s good intentions, the CIA sent out a death squad to murder six men without the slightest pretense of due process.” If we are to emerge from these days of international conflict it can only be by teaching and modeling the rule of law, the essential and fundamental component of any democracy. So what message do we send to the rest of the world when we finger, indict, prosecute and execute suspected terrorists totally outside any legal system? Are we, as a nation, in our efforts to end terrorism, becoming terrorists ourselves? Is this the path we are on?

So far, few in this country have condemned or even commented upon the attack in Yemen. Sweden’s foreign minister, Anna Lindh, spoke out against it. “If the U.S.A. is behind this with Yemen’s consent, it is nevertheless a summary execution that violates human rights,” she said. “Even terrorists must be treated according to international law. Otherwise, any country can start executing those whom they consider terrorists.”

Already a backlash against American arrogance is being seen around the world in a rising tide of anti-American sentiment. By depending on force instead of diplomacy and the rule of law, the United States is squandering the last vestiges of international sympathy felt by the wider world community in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

More operations like the attack in Yemen will only further blur the distinction between the United States and its enemies. We can see where Israel’s uncompromising belligerence under the Sharon government has brought it. Is this really what the United States wants for itself?

National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2002