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The Collective
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Paul Campos, CU law prof and Rocky Mountain News columnist calls Glenn Reynolds The right’s Ward Churchill. Why does he do this? Glenn recently promoted the assassination of Iranians scientist and mullahs involved in Iranian nuclear program (see here) Writes Campos::

Murder is the premeditated unlawful killing of a human being. Glenn Reynolds, the well-known University of Tennessee law professor who authors one of the Internet’s most popular blogs, recently advocated the murder of Iranian scientists and clerics.

“We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and Iranian atomic scientists . . . Basically, stepping on the Iranians’ toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq,” Reynolds wrote.

Of course Iran is not at war with America, but just as Reynolds spent years repeating Bush administration propaganda about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, he’s now dutifully repeating the administration’s claims about supposed Iranian government involvement in Iraq’s civil war.

Moreover, even if Iran were at war with the United States, the intentional killing of civilian noncombatants is a war crime, as that term is defined by international treaties America has signed. Furthermore, government-sponsored assassinations of the sort Reynolds is advocating are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the laws of the United States.

He goes on to say:

All this raises several interesting questions. For instance, does academic freedom insulate a law professor from any institutional consequences when he advocates murder? Reynolds and Hewitt, after all, certainly didn’t object when University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s celebration of the murder of American civilians raised serious questions about why the university had chosen to employ and tenure such a person, and led to an investigation of Churchill’s academic record.

Indeed, Hewitt and Reynolds both went out of their way to publicize the Churchill affair, as an example of left-wing extremism in our universities.

I would note that Campos was not an apologist for Churchill (see here).  However, Churchill’s sin were far more than just being extreme in his views on 911.  More to the point, he was an academic fraud with highly questionable credentials (see here, here and here). As such, the comparison to Churchill here is unwarranted.  Regardless of what one thinks about Reynolds’ politics, there is no reason to question his academic credentials.

Having established all of that, I must confess that I find Reynolds’ assassination recommendations to be highly problematic.  First, I question whether such a policy would be efficacious as how would we know the precise persons to kill, and would those killings actually achieve the desired policy goals?  Second, there are serious moral considerations regarding the targetting of non-combatants.  Indeed, the murder of civilians for the purpose of forcing a government to change its policies has a name, and I am afraid that it is terrorism.  (And I am not one to throw that word around lightly).

Beyond all of that, Campos is correct about the legal issues that such a policy raises, and his concerns about overreacting to the administration’s rhetoric on Iran is worth serious consideration.

Indeed, in considering the appropriate response to Iran, I would argue that we need to take a sober and serious evaluation regarding what the real odds are that they will produce and then use a nuclear weapon against Israel or the United States.  I continue to believe that they are not as high as many of the doomsayers believe, if anything because regardless of whatever else one may think about Iran and its leaders, I see no evidence of suicidal tendencies.

For some other views on the issues see Glenn Greenwald, who objects to the whole enterprise and James Joyner who comments on Greenwald and on the overall question of assassination policy.

Not surprisingly, Hugh Hewitt is all for the policy suggestion.

Glenn Reynolds responds to Campos here and discusses, at length, the question of assassination. The main problem with Reynolds’ rebuttal is that he seems to be talking exclusively about heads of state and the leaders of terrorist organizations-both of which are a far cry from scientists in particular, but even mullahs, depending on how wide he thinks the assassination net ought to be cast.

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Filed under: US Politics, Academia, Iran | |

11 Comments

  1. The main problem with Reynolds’ rebuttal is that he seems to be talking exclusively about heads of state and the leaders of terrorist organizations–both of which are a far cry from scientists…

    Yup. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    But let’s take it one step further: Do you think Reynolds is so dumb that he doesn’t realize the difference between assassinating heads of state and assassinating civilians?

    I don’t.

    Which I think casts Reynolds in a very bad light.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

  2. One more thing:

    It seems to me that if one is to consider targetting assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, than it should matter whether or not the particular scientist is working on peaceful nuclear energy, or working on nuclear arms. Right?

    I bring up this point because I’m not entirely certain that it has been indisputably established that Iran has scientists working on nuclear arms, as opposed to nuclear energy. In other words, I believe that the position of Iran is that they do not have a nuclear arms program. Am I wrong about this? Feel free to correct me if I am.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  3. As a US computer scientist, I also find Reynold’s suggestion highly troubling. Suppose I work with a materials scientist on a computer simulation to design a better anti-tank penetrator. Would I then be a legitimate target of an Iranian hit squad?

    Comment by Anon — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  4. Is there a blurring of what war is and who is an enemy? It seems so.

    To many we are at war with Iran and others. While it is not a declared war we and they are actively undermining the other through support of proxy organizations. We want to see the government of Iran gone and they want the same of us. Is it de facto war?

    If it is de facto war can we then target certain individuals neccessary for the war effort? We killed civilians in other wars for far less involvement.

    These are questions that need to be asked and then discussed rationally. War is just not like it used to be so it would be good for us to revisit how we wage war.

    I see the big difference between Reynolds and Churchill not only as one of academic vs fraud but also one who support his own country more than the enemies of his country.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  5. Anon,

    Yes, in Reynolds’ world view you are a legitimate target.

    Moreover, if you follow the link to Dr. Joyner’s blog and read the comments you will see that I made a point very similar to yours.

    In replay, Steve Verndon - a frequent guest blogger at OTB, and apparently an advocate of these sort of assassinations - argued that killing Iranian scientists is excusable in part because there is a “distinct possibility” that scientists may share the ideology of Osama Bin Laden.

    I swear I am not making this up. Heaven help us.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  6. My curiosity has been piqued by Mr. Plunks’s comments - who else are we in a “de facto war” with? Cuba? Russia? Syria? Venezuela?

    If we are in a “de facto war” with Venezuela is it legitimate in Reynolds’ world view to assassinate Venezuelan oil executives? Wouldn’t that be the most effective way to win the “war”? And, after all, there’s a “distinct possibility” these oil executives share Chavez’s politics.

    Where does this madness end?

    Comment by LaurenceB — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  7. Steven,

    While I would agree the we have an antagonistic relationship with Iran, I would find it a stretch to say that we are “at war” with them. That is a pretty loaded statement.n I don’t buy the notion of a “de facto war” here.

    The Iranians have little ability to undermine or destroy our government, although we certainly have the potential to do so to theirs (which may explain why they are pursuing a nuke).

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  8. Sorry about the comment monopolization. I’ll butt out now.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  9. No worries-that’s why I have a comments section!

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  10. Laurence B,

    Your input in valuable. Discussing these issues is what it’s all about.

    I agree, where does it end, and where does it start? Rational discussion of what is and is not war in this modern world of ours needs to be discussed.

    There are differences between Iran and Venezuela so perhaps one could be a war and one isn’t. Where do we draw the line?
    If Iran supplies bombs and men to fight us in Iraq are we at war? If we then are at war who is a legitimate target? Is it better to assassinate certain people or drop bombs and kill somewhat innocent people?

    I look forward to this conundrum being advanced and hashed over by people smarter than I.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

  11. There seems to also be a slippery slope issue. Is it legitimate to kill the scientist developing a CFD technique that could be used to design a better H-bomb, but could also be used to study fusion in stars?

    How about the engineer who designed the supercomputers used to do the simulations? How about their secretaries?

    Yes, there is an argument to be made that these people do indeed contribute to our military strength, and I actually agree with that argument. But if we want to call terrorists evil, then we need a line that clearly puts us on one side, and the bad guys on the other.

    Comment by Anon — Tuesday, February 20, 2007 @ 7:25 pm

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