Calls Grow for Reversal of US Ban on Assassinations after Terrorist Strikes

Published September 16th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Calls for an end to a 25-year-old US ban on assassinations of foreign leaders grew Sunday as officials said they would seek sweeping changes to rules governing military and intelligence operations, including naming a "terrorism czar," following last week's terrorist strikes. 

As President George W. Bush ordered the country on a war footing to combat terrorism, officials and lawmakers said they believed US counterterrorism efforts were being hindered by burdensome restrictions that could have resulted in the September 11 strikes not being stopped. 

And Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said his panel would introduce legislation this week to create a counterterrorism czar. 

"We need to have someone who has the ability to establish a national program, allocate resources and be held accountable for our response against terrorism," Graham said on ABC television's "This Week." 

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department would this week ask Congress for expanded powers to detain non-US citizens, intercept telephone communications and trace laundered money. 

"We need to upgrade and strengthen a number of laws," Ashcroft said, sketching out changes Washington wants to use against the prime suspect in the strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Osama bin Laden, and prosecute a wider war on terrorism in general. 

Ashcroft refused, however, to discuss a possible and highly controversial reversal of the ban on assassinations, but Secretary of State Colin Powell said "everything" -- including former president Gerald Ford's 1976 decision to forbid US personnel from killing foreign leaders -- would be reviewed. 

"It's still on the books and as part of our campaign plan we are examining everything, how the CIA does its work, how the FBI and Justice Department does its work," Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition." 

"Are there laws that need to be changed and new laws brought into effect to give us more ability to deal with this kind of threat? So everything is under review," he said. 

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would not discuss the matter in detail but when asked about it, said the United States needed as many tools as possible to go after bin Laden and other terrorist networks. 

"I'm not a lawyer, but there's no question that the United States needs to deal with the network and the network involves people," Rumsfeld said on Fox television's "Fox News Sunday." 

"It's a matter of going after them and stopping them from doing what they're doing." 

Support for an end to the ban, which is in the form of an executive order and can thus be done by the president without consulting lawmakers, has been rising since the attacks, came swiftly from a variety of senior legislators. 

"We have to have the authority to assassinate people before they can assassinate us," Graham said. "We should free that stricture and the president of the United States can do it at his will." 

Republican Senator Richard Shelby told CBS television's "Face the Nation" that last Tuesday's attacks were the result of "a massive intelligence failure" and endorsed an end to the ban as well other changes to ease the work of the CIA and other espionage agencies. 

"Everything will be rethought," Republican Senator Richard Lugar said of possible changes to the assassination ban. 

"My guess is we will define what occurs as self-defense, as justifiable ... I think that's reasonable," said Lugar, a member of the foreign relations and intelligence committees who appeared on CNN. 

"I think we have to look at all options, whether it's done openly or whether it's done quietly, depending on the evidence and the circumstances," said Democratic Senator Carl Levin who sits on the Armed Services committee. 

"I think we have to be willing to do that under the circumstances." 

Democratic Senator John Kerry backed his colleagues up when asked whether he agreed with reversing the assassination ban. 

"Certainly with regard to terrorism, no question about it," Kerry told CNN. 

"I think that there is no question that we are going to have to do a great deal on the clandestine front here: our intelligence gathering, how we execute afterwards with respect to the information we have found." he said. 

Support was also strong for the repeal of laws dating from the 1990s that bar US intelligence agencies from hiring agents or paying informants who have suspect backgrounds. 

"The fact is ... if you're going to get someone who has the capability of getting close to one of these terrorist cells, you're not likely to start looking in a monastery to find them," Graham said -- WASHINGTON (AFP) 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (

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