Should Our Arsenal Against Terrorism Include Assassination?

by Brian Michael Jenkins


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In a time of growing terrorist violence, assassination is sometimes mentioned as a countermeasure. This paper, an abbreviated version of which appeared in the November 16, 1986, issue of the Los Angeles Times, examines arguments for and against assassination as a means of combating terrorism. After reviewing the principal arguments in favor of assassination, the author presents ten arguments to explain his opposition to assassination as counterterrorist tool: (1) it is morally wrong; (2) it is illegal; (3) we should avoid acting like terrorists ourselves; (4) assassination of terrorists could justify further terrorist actions against us; (5) our opponents would have the advantage; (6) the replacement for the person we kill may be worse; (7) deciding whom to kill, whether hard-to-find terrorist leaders or state sponsors of terrorism, would be difficult; (8) assigning and assuming responsibility for giving an assassination order would be difficult; (9) assassins may have their own agendas; and (10) in the long run, it doesn't work.

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