War and Politics Discussion

Throughout the 1980s, the Reagan Administration was struggling to advance and defend U.S. interests in the Middle East. At this time there were several catastrophic setbacks in the nation of Lebanon. The political group Hezbollah, then and now considered a terrorist organization by the United States, carried out a number of successful attacks against U.S. personnel and installations throughout the Middle East. Several U.S. embassies were targets of bombings. In 1983 the U.S. embassy in Lebanon was destroyed in an explosion that killed 63 people, including both diplomats and CIA officers. Six months later, the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon was blown up, killing 241 service personnel. A year later, the CIA Station Chief in Beirut was captured, tortured, and executed by agents of Hezbollah.

The Reagan Administration was humiliated and frustrated by these attacks and was determined to retaliate in a meaningful way. Executive Order 12333 legally prohibited any political assassinations by the U.S. government, so the CIA and other departments circumvented this prohibition by recruiting and training Lebanese operatives, working with Lebanese government intelligence agencies, and hiring an ex-Special Air Service (British Special Forces) agent to formulate and execute a plot to kill a Muslim cleric, Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who was believed to be a spiritual and political adviser to Hezbollah and involved in its operations. Inter-agency disagreements and miscommunications between the CIA, Department of Defense, Pentagon, and the White House over the feasibility and details of the assassination stalled initial plans and made the actual chain-of-command for the operation unclear.

Nonetheless, understanding that they had received authorization from the United States for the killing to proceed, operatives set and detonated a car bomb on March 1985 on a crowded street in Beirut, just outside of a large mosque where women and children were leaving following prayers. Fadlallah walked away uninjured, but 80 innocent civilians were killed and over 200 were injured. It was later established that Fadlallah was a relative political moderate who had no meaningful connection to Hezbollah’s activities. An outraged international community condemned the United States for the attack, although the Reagan Administration officially denied involvement.

Given Article 51(6) of the Geneva Conventions protocols, was this action a violation of international justice?
According to the text’s definition of terrorism, did the United States commit a terrorist act in this instance? If so, what would be an appropriate course of action to take against its perpetrators?
Is this an ethical act regardless of whether or not it fits the definition of terrorism?
Under what circumstances, if any, could a political assassination be considered a moral act rather than simply an act of murder?

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