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Author: Sioum Gebeyehou

Russia, Ukraine agents claim to have foiled Putin assassination plot

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian and Ukrainian special services have arrested a group of suspects accused of attempting to {www:assassinate} Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia’s state television said Monday.

The Channel One said that the suspects were plotting to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after the March 4 presidential election, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency.

The station said the suspects had been arrested in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odessa, but didn’t give any further details.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the report to the ITAR-Tass news agency, but refused to make any further comment.

Russian and Ukrainian special services wouldn’t comment on the report.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian Security Service said it detained three Russian citizens on terrorist charges in Odessa on Feb. 4. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those suspects were linked to the anti-Putin plot.

The Ukrainian Security Service said the suspects were arrested following an accidental explosion that happened while they were trying to manufacture explosives at a rented apartment

Assassinating Dictators is a Legitimate Cause – Part III

By Tecola Hagos
(Former legal adviser to Ethiopia’s tyrant Meles Zenawi)

The right to defend ones own rights individually or as part of an organized group is a legitimate cause irrespective of the identity of the adversary. However, such militancy may not be wise in every situation. One has to weigh-in other factors in order to decide the most efficient and productive means and the most opportune time for a fight before jumping into the fry of things.

Sometimes it might be far more useful not to allow self-interest over­ride other communal interests in or­der to preserve social cohesion, and advance the economic and political development of the group. Some­times self-defense and the defense of a group may overwhelm all other values. However, the respect of the legitimate rights of individuals who may not be a member of the group in power ought to be seen as a duty. Apartheid, Nazism, Christian and Is­lamic fundamentalism, and Zionism are examples of ideologies of nar­rowly constituted exclusive groups. Even though dissimilar in their ori­gins and goals, they all have as the basis of their philosophy elements of negative perception of other peoples or races. In a matter of speaking, almost all nationalist movements share an ideological perception of exclusivity based on birth and na­tional origin.

Tyrannicide: The Ethical and Po­litical Imperative

This is a very sensitive and ex­tremely important issue. Tyrannicide is not a simple question of murder but of civil disobedience in the face of oppressive and violent govern­ment leaders. It involves informed judgment and activities of deliberate violence against political leaders who are causing social and political de­struction of peoples’ lives through systematic abusive and violent meth­ods. In a situation where total state power is in the hands of a single leader or a group, where the political process is subverted and the rights of people undermined, it leads into violence and civil unrest. Tyrannicide is aimed at the power structure of a brutal and tyrannical government, and those who uphold it as leaders, such as the king and his functionar­ies—civilian, military and security operatives—at the command level, etc. The targets for tyrannicide should be individuals who are di­rectly involved in the command or the execution of brutal, tyrannical and indiscriminate violence against defenseless citizens who have no political or judicial outlets or rem­edies. At no cost it should involve children and any innocent person whether in government employment or not. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming a case of simple murder or terrorism. The formulation of the philosophical underpinnings or the rational for ‘tyrannicide’ is as diffi­cult as the practical operation of it. Thus one must be careful going that route.

Maybe a brief description of what is meant by the term ‘tyrant’ might help in differentiating what is an illegal and conspiratorial murders of leaders from the concept of ‘tyrannicide’ I am addressing herein. Some scholars (Ford, Laqueur) think that the term ‘tyrant’ or ‘tyranny’ has an Asiatic origin. The meaning I have attached to the term ‘tyrant or tyranny’ is more or less the descrip­tion provided by Plato in The Re­public, with a more pointed image of the tyrant to include even those leaders who were originally elected into power and later manipulated the political situation to monopolize ex­cessive power. It does not matter also whether the tyrant is locally breed or is coming from outside the community.

The Bible gives numerous ex­amples of the destruction of tyrants. It is full of stories of both Hebrew and non-Hebrew kings who were destroyed because they became ty­rannical and did not rule justly. In theory, the divine nature (or source of power) of kings carries with it the idea that the monarch rules as rep­resentative of God and not arbitrarily and on his own. The legitimate king or monarch per se is not considered to be a tyrant. Such monarch is ex­pected to dispense justice with mercy, and rule wisely. And it was believed in as far as the monarch tempered his obvious military power with justice and mercy, as well as concern for the welfare of his people, his reign was unchallenged and long lasting. However, if a leader stepped beyond such com­mon sense decent relationships with his subjects. God was expected to throw him down using other human agents including attack and destruc­tion by foreign powers. This, of course, is the religious source or au­thority to justify the destruction of tyrants.

For example, an incident that was told in graphic detail in the Bible is the political murder of King Eglon. who had subjugated the Hebrews for Eighteen years, by Ehud (a He­brew) to free his people from bond­age. (See judges 3:15-23) Another dramatic tyrannicide recorded in Judges is the story of Abimelech. a Hebrew tyrant, no less than the son of Gideon. [Gideon was one of the greatest Hebrew Generals not much different in stature than Joshua or even David], who murdered his own siblings and was unjust (violent) to his people. (See judges 9:1-57)

There is also a confusion be­tween terrorism and tyrannicide. Terrorism essentially is violence against innocent people—the more innocent the victims, the more ter-roristic the violence. In contrast, tyrannicide is the elimination of a violent and vicious oppressor of people. Tyrants will use terroristic violence against innocent individuals or against a people. The violence I am advocating here is to be used against such tyrants in the hope of neutralizing their abuse of power and the violence they commit against people. Of course, tyrants in their turn will unleash their state spon­sored terroristic violence to counter any effort to bring about democratic government structures. Contrary to the propaganda of governments and the media, state sponsored terrorism is the most devastating and wide spread tyranny in the world.

One must determine first the existence of a political situation which is so intolerable that the killing of the leaders is warranted. No po­litical institution, such as a govern­ment, would openly endorse such a measure even against an adversary government leader. The very idea of regicide is repugnant even to the most revolutionary bureaucrat. However, no one should outright re­ject the possibility and the righteous­ness of a deliberated execution of a tyrant or despot. Thus, tyrannicide is a very unique and unusual occur­rence. It need be carried out in ex­ceptional circumstances for the good of society.

Almost all existing governments abide by the unwritten international norm of self preservation and frown against civil unrest. For example, the United States, by an Executive Or­der, forbids explicitly any assassina­tion attempt against a foreign leader, enemy or not. But that is a typical American government hypocrisy. The fact is that there are records of numerous instances where the United States has promoted such violence against leaders who are not “yes-boys.’ After all, during the Reagan era, the CIA had authored a handbook, titled Psychological Op­erations in Guerilla Warfare, for distribution, on how to conduct ter­roristic activities including political assassinations of popular leaders. On the other hand, several other countries have either constitutional provisions, or through their criminal codes punish by sever sentences and even death any form of violence against officials of foreign govern­ments.

Historical Perspective

As stated above, there are nu­merous instances of tyrannicide throughout human history. I might only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg in my discussion of examples of tyrannicide. The more practical and secular approach was that of the Greeks and the Romans. Over two thousand five hundred years ago, from Homeric times, the Greeks struggled with the idea of tyranny and tyrannicide. (See James F. McGlew, Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece. Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1996.) Plato devoted a section of his Dia­logue discussing the negative char­acteristics of a tyrant and the de-structiveness of tyrannical govern­ments. (Plato, The Republic, trans. and introduction Desmond Lee, New York: Penguin Books (Clas­sic), 1955,392-415.) So did Aristotle in his Politics. Not much has changed to this date in the description of a tyrant since then. Thucydides ar­gued about the issue of tyrannicide even more pointedly than previous historians. The great Greek play writers also dealt with the issues of the destructions of tyrants by coura­geous heroes in a number of plays.

The Romans started with the benefit of having learned from the Greeks ideas of democratic direct representations and political struc­tures. The Roman leadership before Augustus Caesar were republican and as such far more closer and representative of the nature of their political organization. Marcus Tullius Cicero, the symbol of republicanism, wrote in 55-51 B.C., two thousand and forty six years ago. about the right and duty of citizens or people to get ride of a tyrant. “If. as is usually the case. the tyrant is crushed by the leading citizens, the common­wealth enjoys the second of the three form of government I mentioned. For there is a certain regal or pater­nal element in the council of chief men who study to serve well the people’s needs. If. on the other hand, the people themselves have slain or driven out the tyrant, they govern with considerable restraint so long as they are prudent and wise.” (Marcus Tullius Cicero. On the Coiiimoinvcalili. emphasis added) Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BC near Rome. He distin­guished himself as a great orator and statesman with distinctly mod­ern republican ideas. He died by the hands of Mark Anthony’s soldiers on December 7, 43 BC. As a matter of fact, even a would be tyrant, Julius Caesar paid with his life because of his ambition to monopolize power and become a dictator. Romans had carried more tyrannicide than the Greeks. More Roman Emperors (than republican leaders) such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Galba, Domitian, Commodus. Pertinax, etc. were either murdered or forced to commit suicide because of their tyrannical governments com­pared to Greek tyrants. (Franklin L.Ford, Political Murder: From Tyrannicide to Terrorism, Harvard University Press, 1985)

The Hebrew Sicarii and Zeal­ots were politically motivated killers despite their heavily religious rheto­ric. They were immortalized, even if misidentified and negatively por­trayed, by the narratives of FlavJus Josephus, a Romanized and a one time Hebrew rebellion leader. The targets of the Sicarii or Zealots were Roman leaders, whom they were trying to expel, and Hebrew collabo­rators, whom they wanted to punish. For the 5′icarii, Masada was their last stronghold where they perished to the last man by their own hands in 73 A.D. rather than be captured alive by the Romans. There are some who believe that the historical Jesus was one of the founders of the precursor structure that gave birth to those rebellion groups.

The Assassins who started out as a militant faction of the Ismaili movement about the end of the Elev­enth Century were an extreme as­pect of Islamic political processes who fulfilled the moral imperative of murdering leaders who seemed not to follow strict scriptural tenets or usurpers of the political leadership of Islam. [The Ismaili basically are Shi ‘a who oppose any Moslem secular leader (Caliph) who is not descended from the Prophet (Imam)] In some form the Assas­sins, the Sicarii and the Zealots share similar characteristics of self righ­teousness. Sadly, all the Sicarii, and
most of the Zealots and Assassins were exterminated before develop­ing into a political system (not nec­essarily a violent one), in the case of the Sicarii at Masada by the Ro­mans. and in the case of Assassins by Hulagu. the Mongol leader, who veered into their Elburz mountains holdout on his way to Baghdad which he destroyed in 1258 A.D. However, considering the current politically motivated murders going on in the Middle East, I am not sure that fanaticism has died out.

In the rest of Asia. until the be­ginning of the Twentieth Century. the destruction of despotic leaders seems to be a result of power struggles between ambitious indi­viduals with very little civic motiva­tion, and is not similar to the Roman or Greek tyrannicide which was car­ried out to promote rights of citizens in general or of a collective body. This may be one reason why schol­ars insist on making a distinction be­tween Asiatic form of despotism from that of European feudalism or despotism. In both China and India. the most dominant cultures and civi­lizations in Asia proper, religion might have shaped the political mili­tancy or the absence of it in the general population.
The experience in Western Eu­rope and the New World seems to have followed no particular pattern from the Middle Ages down to the last part of the Seventeenth Century when politically motivated assassi­nations seem to have taken over all other forms of struggle for power within the aristocratic families of Europe. There are few examples of tyrannicide such as the beheading of Charles I of England (1649 A.D) which were in the nature of political struggles between common citizens against their despotic monarchs. A couple of hundred years later, start­ing with the execution of Louis the XVI of France and his Queen (1793 A.D) we entered a new era. Both Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centu­ries were marked by individual vio­lence against political figures, not necessarily tyrants. In Europe, those two centuries were periods of tre­mendous economic and social trans­formations—the transition from agrarian economic structures into in­dustrial ones.

The Twentieth Century is ex­ceptional for its two opposing devel­opments: it brought about both an extremely high degree of violence as well as the era of the emancipa­tion of the common man from his­toric subjugation and oppression. After all. it is in the Twentieth Cen­tury where we had the first trench war costing over twenty million lives. and the first truly catastrophic mod­ern warfare of the Second World War where over fifty million people perished including the first system­atic genocide that wiped out six mil­lion European Jews. and the deliber­ate annihilation of civilians by nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki The communist transfor­mation of traditional societies in Rus­sia and China resulted in the de­struction of no less than fifty million lives. Man has been bloody through out history, but nothing comparable to the atrocities, in terms of sheer numbers of casualties and victims. of the Twentieth Century.

In Black Africa, disappointingly, there are much too few instances of real courageous^ actions against ty­rants by civilian individuals or groups, except for the nationalist and patri­otic struggles against imperialist and colonial aggressors. Even in Ethio­pia (the oldest Black nation) there is not a single instance of tyrannicide that stands out in all of the thou­sands of years of tlie history of the Ethiopian people. The exceptions seem to be: a) the single instance of something close to a political murder of an abusive regional governor by rebellious group of Wollo Azebos during Haile Selassie’s Government in the 1950s; and b) a series of politi­cally motivated killings in the 1970s, a period commonly known as the ‘red’, and ‘white’ terrors, which was designated as such by the brutal des­pot Mengistu who was responsible for the murder of hundreds of politi­cal leaders. The young men and women who came into their major­ity in the 1960s and 70s were unique in Ethiopian history. Their opposition to power and authority, with tre­mendous courage and great sacri­fice, was unprecedented in Ethio­pian history. Their effort to change the nature of Ethiopia’s feudal power structure was uniquely remarkable when seen against the background of the stagnant and oppressive Ethio­pian culture that discouraged any form of challenge to those in power. By contrast the generations, since then, of the 1980s and 90s are ashes when compared to the firebrand pre­vious generations mentioned above.

The series of military coup d’states against several African leaders in the last thirty years were not the type of tyrannicides 1 am discussing here. They were mostly ‘palace’ murders by military strong­men than tyrannicides. In Ethiopia. the age of the Mesafmts (1769-1855) is similar to that type of political control, minus the murders, bv war lords and military leaders witnessed in Africa of the last thirty years. It seems Black civilian Africans are much less violent and much less fa­natical than other races, and far more tolerant of the violation of their rights. In the alternative, the situa­tion might be a case of Black Afri­cans having a far more profound understanding of human nature and the process of history, which might be the reason for such laxity rather than ‘a nature’ of non-violence. At any rate, this act of tolerance for despots might explain why Africans are suffering violations of their hu­man and political rights at the present time under persistently abusive gov­ernments. I am risking here the fact of being labeled as a racist; how­ever, such is not the case.

Philosophical Justification

John Stuart Mill who wrote ex­tensively on liberty was very much concerned about tyrannicide. His analysis of the concept of liberty is never far from his consideration of the shadow of tyranny looming in his time. He complained in a footnote in one of his essays (later compiled along with other essays and pub­lished in a book) that he was unduly criticized for writing about the law­fulness of tyrannicide. Our modem philosophers and political scientists seem to shy away from the idea of violently eliminating tyrants. For ex­ample. Professor Ford who had done monumental studies of the phenom­enon of ‘political murder’ ultimately comes out against tyrannicide. Thus, I am very much aware of the fact that my advocacy of tyrannicide is neither a popular nor an enlightened one—but an effective and a moral one.

It seems to me the fact that every individual has a set of human rights, at times expanded or more often restricted, implies the duty and the right to defend those rights indi­vidually or collectively where/when ever challenged or threatened by a leader or a system. The more diffi­cult problem is how and when to use violent means to preserve and exer­cise those rights. The safeguard of those rights maybe in any form, i.e.. from ‘peaceful’ protest to tyrannicide. At times such decisions can only be personal. However such decisions are made. the ultimate responsibility lies with the individual who carries out the violent act.

I believe there is a moral and social duty to destroy tyrants. The non-violent method of fighting social injustices as preached and lived by Mahatma Gandhi and by later fol­lowers such as Martin Luther King depended for its success on a paral­lel third party confrontations. If there were no social consciousness in the general public against oppression. and an absence of pressure or threat of violence from militant individuals and groups, such non-violent method would have remained a curiosity or an academic issue. In reahtv. the non-violence of Gandhi is also a vio­lent method, although the violence may not have been directed against another person. It was directed against oneself, and depends far too much for its success on the human­ity of the oppressor. It is not much different than the behavior of some wild carnivores animals exposing their most vulnerable parts of their bodies, when defeated or overpow­ered by an opponent, in the hope of getting some relief from continued attack—which does seem to work a lot of times. It holds ‘the self hostage by exposing it to an immediate danger.

There is both a moral and a so­cial duty to preserve and safeguard fundamental individual rights. Whether we consider the individual as a cre­ation of God or a marvel of evolu­tion, the fact remains that there is no other known being in this part of the solar system [with exaggeration, Galaxy] who is as complex and as talented as the human individual. As indicated above, there are both reli­gious and historical precedents for tyrannicide. Tyrannicide is also ef­fective in giving notice to would-be tyrants that despotic rule has a very high price. Thus, any impediment that undermined or destroyed the integrity of the individual must be challenged. It must be seen almost as a sacred duty to do so. Nietzsche, even if erratic at times in his think­ing, summed his profound philoso­phy on the ‘will to power’ and about ‘slave morality and master morality’ (if I may summerize him) stating that individuals who are not willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve their autonomy and freedom have a slave morality of subservience and humiliation. Thus, fighting a tyrant or a tyrannical system is a liberating experience and an as­sertion of ones own freedom.

‘Belling’ the Cat

Had Hitler been eliminated be­fore he launched his genocidal war machinery on an unwary world, it would have saved the lives of tens of millions of peoples. Is there any­one who might think otherwise by hindsight? Probably no one. The same can be said of many tyrants around the world including Mengistu HaileMariam. Tyrannicide is ex­tremely cost effective. The effec­tiveness of tyrannicide in removing an individual who has become a ter­ror and a hinderance to social justice is a time tested solution. What is required for tyrannicide to be effective is courage, dedication and a sense of public duty. There is no security bubble that could surround and protect a tyrant from the rage of patriotic executioners. Rather than spending millions of dollars and years of hard work creating, training and leading freedom fighters, it will take only a fraction of that to train highly committed, fast moving and highly mo­tivated vanguard fighters to send on such type of mission of mercy.

All that is well, maybe better said than done. The real problem is a practical one: who is going to ‘bell’ the cat? The difficulty of translating theory into practice is best illustrated in the story I learned in grade school about a group of rats conspiring against a cat that was terrorizing their little world. The story tells us that after a lengthy discussion one smart rat proposed the installation of an early warning system that will give the rats ample time to escape when ever the cat approached to catch them. The plan was elegant and effective, if carried out. The idea was to tie a bell around the neck of the cat which will ring every time the cat is moving, thus warning every rat of the cat’s whereabouts and approach. The rats agreed on the plan after applauding the brilliant young strategist. At that moment a wafer rat asked about the future heroes who were going to tie the bell round the neck of the cat. Well, that was the end of that brilliant idea! I can imagine that wafer rat being thrown out from the group in anger for bursting their bubble.

Fear has a paralyzing effect on individuals who are lead to believe that there is not much they can do to avert a disastrous situation. Through out human history, it is a recorded fact that hundred of thousands of people were lead into their execu­tion or murder without protest or attempt to fight back their tormen­tors and murderers, in a surrealisti-cally peaceful procession, almost herded like domestic animals into a slaughter house. In our own time, we have seen records of brutality and murders of millions of people by imperialist and colonial forces, Nazi and Fascist forces. Communists and small time dictators. The fear of in­dividualized death has tremendous psychological pressure on the indi­vidual. Unless one is equipped with a self righteous moral strength and/ or fanatical religious belief, the act of individualized defiance and rebel­lion is far too unnerving and/or remote to carry out. I do not need to go far and wide searching for proof on this. The evidence is all around us.

In conclusion, I must emphasis the fact that tyrannicide is not ter­rorism. Tyrannicide is the destruc­tion of a leadership that is terroristic, abusive, brutal and anti-democratic. This active defense of rights against national tyrannical leaders is an hon­orable and a sacred duty incumbent on every citizen, and as such is not limited to local tyrants but also against their foreign imperialist mas­ters. The fact is no human life should be degraded, brutalized or exploited by someone or a group from within or from the outside. We have one short life—unique and sublimely complex. One should defend, honor and love that life no less than the next person. Those who carry out tyrannicide are great heroes. However, it is extremely difficult and unjustified to require any­one to be heroic. Heroes create mo­ments and not the other way—and heroes are elements of surprise like a flash of lightning.

(Tecola Hagos is a former legal adviser to Ethiopia’s tyrant Meles Zenawi. He currently resides in Boston, USA. The article was originally published by Ethiopian Review in January 7th, 2009.)

Debate on Assasinating a Tyrant – Part II

By Alastair Endersby

Assassination can be defined as the targeted killing of an individual for political reasons in peacetime. It can be undertaken by individual citizens, or by the agents of another state, but in either case it takes place without any legal process.

Assassinating a dictator is often considered in the context of Hitler and Stalin, or of secret CIA action against foreign leaders such as Fidel Castro in the Cold War period (after this became public knowledge in the mid-1970s US Presidents have banned the use of assassination by Executive Order). However, this issue regained topicality in the 1990s as leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic pursued bloody careers which threatened international peace. In recent years US airstrikes apparently aimed at killing Muammar Qaddafi of Libya (1986), Osama Bin Laden (1998) and Saddam Hussein (1991 and 2003) have provoked argument – were these assassination attempts or did these leaders have the status of enemy combatants in a time of war? Certainly the UN Charter (Article 24) and various conventions (e.g New York Convention) clearly appear to make assassination in peacetime against international law.

The arguments below focus on the issue of assassination of a dictator in peacetime, although many of them would also apply to the specific military targeting of foreign leaders in a time of war. The topic can be debated from the perspective of internal opposition movements seeking to rid their country of dictatorship, or from the perspective of the international community.

Utilitarian argument: many deaths and much suffering could be prevented if one man is killed. The greater good demands a single evil act is done, especially if it would avert the immediate and certain danger of much worse evil. Who now wouldn’t wish that Hitler had been killed in 1933?


Moral absolutism argument: murder can never be justified. If we assume the role of executioner without the backing of law we are sinking down to the level of the dictators. Any new government founded upon such an arbitrary act will lack moral legitimacy, undermining its popular support and making its failure likely. Consider the long civil war in Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., or the failure of the British Commonwealth after the execution of Charles I in 1649.


Dictatorial systems are highly personal, so removing the driving force behind such a regime will result in its collapse, allowing a more popular and liberal government to replace it.


Killing one individual will achieve nothing; dictators are part of a wider ruling elite from which someone sharing the same autocratic values will emerge to take their place. This successor is likely to use the assassination as the excuse for further repression.


Assassination of a dictator may be the only way to effect change in a country where a repressive police state prevents any possibility of internal opposition. Cowed populaces need a signal in order to find the courage to campaign for change. If there is no way to bring tyrants guilty of terrorizing their own people to justice, then assassination can be justified. And the example elsewhere of assassinated dictators will act as a warning to would be tyrants in future.


Assassination is likely to be counter-productive, rallying popular feeling around a repressive regime as external enemies or internal minorities are blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the act. This is even more likely to result from an unsuccessful assassination. Furthermore an alternative now exists for bringing dictators to justice. Regime change has been shown to be possible in a number of countries and former dictators are being held to account for their actions. The Special UN Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia has been able to put Slobodan Milosevic on trial, and Saddam Hussein is facing justice in Iraq. The International Criminal Court now provides a permanent forum for such action to be taken, and is itself a deterrent to would-be tyrants in the future.


Dictators are a threat to international peace, not just their own people. Their tendency to attack other countries in order to divert attention from their unpopular actions at home means that assassination is justified as a means of preventing a terrible war, which might rapidly become a regional or global conflict.


Sometimes dictatorship is preferable to the alternatives, especially for those outside the country itself. It has often been in the interests of the great powers to support autocrats who would promote their geopolitical interests in a way that a democratic regime would not, especially in the cold war period. Sometimes dictators have successfully held countries together which otherwise might have descended into civil war and ethnic strife. Events in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was deposed have shown that even worse violence and suffering can be unleashed if a strong hand is suddenly removed.


If scruples over the morality of our actions prevent us pursuing a greater good, it will never be possible to oppose evil effectively. Dictators themselves ignore normal ethical standards and international conventions, so they effectively place themselves beyond the protection of the law.


By assuming the power to take life arbitrarily, even in an apparently good cause, we cheapen the value of life itself. Many terrorists, criminals, or indeed dictators could and have claimed similar legitimacy for their violent actions. Only if we ourselves respect human rights absolutely, will our promotion of these values seem valid to others. States that use assassination as a political weapon will soon find that others seek to turn it against them.


The alternatives to assassination would all leave a dictator in power for many years. In that time not only will many more people suffer under a repressive system, but the policies pursued by an out-of-touch and unrepresentative regime are likely to do serious (if unintentional) harm to the whole nation and its economy, making eventual rebuilding much more costly in both human and economic terms.


Alternatives such as constructive engagement or economic sanctions are preferable and much more likely to result in eventual liberalization of the regime, albeit slowly. The examples of Eastern Europe in 1989 and Yugoslavia in 2000 show that even in apparently hopeless cases, change can come through popular action, often quickly and without great violence. Cambodia in 1979, Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 all saw dictatorships quickly overthrown by external forces.


Tyranny and oppression are obvious wherever they take place. It isn’t just how democratic a regime is, it is whether it uses its power to inflict great suffering upon its people or others, against all human rights standards. If leaders guilty of genocide or other crimes against humanity can be brought to account through the normal democratic process or the courts, then fine. But if they cannot, then their people have the moral right to take up arms against them. Sometimes this will mean assassination.


Who decides who deserves to be assassinated? Politics is not a black-and-white affair and states regarded by some as dictatorships are seen quite differently by others. For example, Slobodan Milosevic could claim a popular mandate for many of his actions in the former Yugoslavia. General Pinochet in Chile seized power by force but later gave it up, allowing a democratic state to emerge. Many authoritarian rulers around the world today pay at least lip service to democracy, even if elections are “managed” and the possibility of real change is strictly limited. Even if we had the right to make judgements as to which leaders deserve to die, our decisions would be arbitrary and without widespread support.

The Cure for Tyrants – Assassination

By Mike LaBossiere

The revolutions in the Middle East have served to draw attention to the fact that many people live under the power of dictators and tyrants. This is, of course, not true merely of the Middle East. Many of the people in Africa live in {www:abject poverty} while their “leaders” enjoy lives of excess. In most cases, these tyrants are backed by outside states and receive support in return for access to natural resources or for how well they serve strategic interests. In many cases, Western powers have a hand in keeping these people in power. Given that we are supposed to be democratic states committed to justice for all, this sort of behavior seems especially wicked. After all, given our professed values we should be crushing tyrants or, at the very least, not lending them support and comfort.

It might, of course, be argued that we are acting in a realistic manner. In the global game of politics and power, we cannot afford be to impeded by such things as ethics or principles. We need to play to win and this means being willing to support tyrants who rob their people and control them with the tanks, tear gas and torture implements we fund or provide. This does have a certain appeal and has been argued for by folks such as Glaucon and Hobbes. Of course, taking this approach does rob us of any claim to moral goodness and empties our talk of justice and rights.

It might also be argued that people get the government they deserve. If, for example, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea and his family loot the government, it is only because the people (many of whom live on $2 a day) allow him to do so. They could, one might argue, rise up and provide a cure for their tyrant. That they elect not to do so shows that they have consented to this rule, however tyrannical it might seem.

Of course, there is the fact that this dictator, like so many others, is backed by outside powers (like us). As such, the people are at a terrible disadvantage-they are up against someone who has far more resources as well as outside backing. Hence, their alleged consent is the “consent” that an unarmed person gives to the robber who has a gun pressed to their head and another fellow backing him up with an even bigger gun–hardly consent at all.

There is also the argument that while tyrants are bad, they are (in a Hobbesian style argument)better than the alternatives. Better to have a single tyrant that maintains some degree of order rather than chaos or an even worse tyrant. Also, history seems to show that tyrants are often replaced by other tyrants–so why try to cure the problem of tyranny if the cure will not take? As such, the people should simply endure the tyranny to avoid something worse. Even if they try to rebel, the result will be death and destruction followed by a new tyrant.

At this point, some might point to Iraq: the United States and her allies removed a tyrant and poured billions into constructing something that is sort of nation like. Perhaps the United States or other countries could use that sort of cure: roll in, kill the tyrants and rebuild the nations.

While this has certain imperial appeal, the practical fact is that we cannot afford to do this to every dictator. There is also the concern that even if we do roll out one dictator, we cannot be even reasonably confident that the results will be better for the people.

One rather extreme option would be to simply assassinate tyrants. This would be far more cost effective than a war and would, on Lockean grounds, seem to be morally justified. Of course, there are the concerns that doing this would result in hostility towards the West and that killing one tyrant would merely pave the way for another (or chaos). However, there is a certain appeal in ridding the world of the wicked and it is easy enough to kill anyone. After all, tyrants are just humans and a single well placed shot or knife will kill them easily enough. If potential tyrants realized that the reward of their tyranny would be death, then they might be less inclined to become tyrants. This is, after all, the logic of deterrence that states employ in their justification of punishment. What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander.

There would also seem to be a certain rough justice in making tyrants live in the sort of fear that they inflict on their own people. To steal a bit from Hobbes, if the people need to be kept in line by fear of the sovereign, it would seem to make equal sense that the sovereigns should be kept in check by fear as well. Just as a citizen can expect to be harmed when they cross the line, so too should a sovereign expect the same justice. As such, perhaps the proper cure for tyrants is death.

Transformative Reconciliation for Unity in a Nutshell

This is Ethiopian Review Policy Research Center’s series on From Dictatorship to Democracy extracted/quoted from books and articles published by Albert Einstein Institution and similar sources.

Without UNITY there is no coordinated and synergized Mass Disobedience/Civil Resistance

The Guiding Questions of transformative reconciliation can help us to re-frame issues, to think “outside the box” that legal justice has created for society.
This approach also seeks to encourage defendants to take appropriate responsibility in these cases.
They can help us sort out what needs to be done without getting stuck in and limited to – the question, “What does the offender deserve?
These Guiding Questions, in fact, might be viewed as transformative reconciliation closure “in a nutshell.”
However, the word “closure” is often offensive to victims. It seems to suggest that all can be put behind, the book closed, and that is not possible. However, the word does capture a sense of being able to move forward that transformative reconciliation aims to make possible.

As we begin to think of practical applications of transformative reconciliation, another guide is provided by the ten principles or “signposts.” attached. These principles can be of use in designing or evaluating programs. Like the Guiding Questions, they may be useful in crafting responses to specific cases or situations.

To view the Key Guiding Questions and major signposts for Transformative Reconciliation CLICK: Transformative Reconciliation in a Nut Shell