If Imad Mugniyeh - the Hezbollah terrorist mastermind who was responsible for hundreds if not thousands of murders – was indeed successfully targeted for assassination, his untimely death should be cause for celebration. I say untimely, because if he had been killed years ago, many innocent lives would have been saved.
At the time of this writing, no one can be sure whether Imad Mugniyeh is really dead, whether if he is dead he was killed by a car bomb, and who is responsible for his killing. But his targeting makes the strongest case for the appropriateness of targeted killing of terrorists who are being harbored by states that support terrorism.
Mugniyeh has been indicted by the FBI for the murder of hundreds of Americans. Syria, where he made his home, was unwilling to turn him over to the United States for justice. He continued to engage in terrorism.
The case for targeting him is compelling - legally, morally, religiously, and militarily. By any reasonable definition of that term, he is a combatant who has declared war on the United States, Israel, France and other countries whose citizens he has killed. Although he did not wear a uniform, he was a general in the terrorist war. Under the laws of war any combatant is a proper target, so long as the means used to kill him are “proportional” -- that is, he can be killed without disproportionate harm to non-combatants. When that condition is met, targeted killing is highly preferable to more conventional military means that have been employed over the centuries.
Throughout history, when one nation has been attacked it has been responded by counterattacking the attacking nation. The counterattack often takes the form of military invasion, air attacks and other conventional military means. Inevitably these military attacks cause large numbers of civilian casualties. Targeted killing on the other hand, if done properly, does exactly what its name suggests – it targets a combatant who is involved in ongoing terrorist attacks, and by killing him prevents the death of innocent civilians. Yes it is “extrajudicial” killing, but all military deaths are extrajudicial, as are conventional killings in self-defense and killings of armed felons who are escaping or resisting arrest.
What I am most opposed to are judicial killings, namely the death penalty for people who are already in custody. When a person such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is already in custody, there is an alternative to killing him – namely confining him for life. When a terrorist like Imad Mugniyeh is not in custody and cannot be captured, there is no reasonable alternative to killing him. Targeted assassination is the option of choice. So a hardy three cheers for whomever killed Imad Mugniyeh. It was a good deed, a lawful deed and a life-saving deed.