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Iran's plot -- and a U.S. double-standard?

Eric Holder

Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Tuesday that federal authorities had foiled a plot backed by the Iranian government to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on American soil. Two men, one of whom is apparently a member of a special operations unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, were charged in federal court in New York on Tuesday. Holder called the bomb plot a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law. And Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said, "We will not let other countries use our soil as their battleground."

But wait a minute. Two weeks ago, the United States assassinated one of its enemies in Yemen, on Yemeni soil. If the U.S. believes it has the right to assassinate enemies like Anwar Awlaki anywhere in the world in the name of a "war on terror" that has no geographical limitation, how can it then argue that other nations don't have a similar right to track down their enemies and kill them wherever they're found?

It's true that the assassination of Awlaki was carried out with the cooperation of the government of Yemen. That makes a difference. But would the U.S. have hesitated to kill him if Yemen had not approved? Remember: There was no cooperation from the Pakistani government when Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

It's also true that there's a big difference between an Al Qaeda operative who, according to U.S. officials, had been deeply involved in planning terrorist activities, and a duly credited ambassador of a sovereign country. Still, the fact remains that all nations ought to think long and hard before gunning down their enemies in other countries.

As the United States continues down the path of state-sponsored assassination far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, all sorts of tricky moral questions are likely to arise. But this much is clear: The world is unlikely to accept that the United States has a right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.

ALSO:

Yemen after Awlaki

Awlaki: Targeted for death

Awlaki's killing: Why it doesn't feel like a victory

--Nicholas Goldberg

Photo: Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department, joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller. Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press

 

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