By now it has been all over the news that yet another Iranian scientist linked to Iran’s nuclear program has been assassinated last Wednesday. The story can be found here. Many US politicians have endorsed the bombing, including Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum who stated, “On occasion, scientists working on the nuclear program in Iran turn up dead. I think that’s a wonderful thing, candidly.” Santorum went so far as to say that we should treat nuclear scientists working for the Iranians like enemy combatants. While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, Iran blames Israel and the United States and, while the US denies involvement, Israel has made numerous implicit statements regarding covert operations in Iran, stating that 2012 would be critical for Iran — in part because of “things that happen to it unnaturally.”
While I am no fan of Iran or the increasingly tumultuous relationship between Iran and the United States these tactics are intrinsically evil under just war theory and their approval by US leaders is disgraceful. The rationale that assassination of Iranian scientists is licit because 1: Iran is developing nuclear weapons and intends to use them against the US and Israel, and 2: anyone involved in Iran’s nuclear program is an enemy combatant is categorically wrong on both counts.
A recent report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran offers intelligence that according to the IAEA “indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device.” This highly-anticipated report has been politically abused to “prove” that Iran is building nuclear weapons and to justify acts of war against Iran like the assassination of scientists and international sanctions. GOP nominee hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have both stated that they would not rule out preemptive missile strikes against Iran based on the premise of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, according to a statement made by an Obama senior administration official, “The IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full scale nuclear weapons program nor does it have a program [sic] about how advanced the programs really are.” Apparently, the new report does not necessarily contradict US intelligence that has thus far found zero evidence of nuclear weaponization in Iran.
Furthermore, the report’s authenticity has been called into question. Robert Kelley, a former director at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made the following statement regarding the new IAEA report.
“In 2009, the IAEA received a two-page document, purporting to come from Iran, describing this same alleged work. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then the agency’s director general, rejected the information because there was no chain of custody for the paper, no clear source, document markings, date of issue or anything else that could establish its authenticity. What’s more, the document contained style errors, suggesting the author was not a native Farsi speaker. It appeared to have been typed using an Arabic, rather than a Farsi, word-processing program. When ElBaradei put the document in the trash heap, the UK’s Times newspaper published it.”
Kelley added that “the new team under the new director general, Yukiya Amano, also, in effect, fished the discarded document out of the trash heap”. In contrast, there is a wealth of investigations and intelligence to counter this solitary report, affirming time and again Iran’s assertions that they are not pursuing nuclear weaponization. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the man at the top of the US intelligence food chain, stated that Iran is NOT building a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, if the faulty evidence of the November IAEA report is excluded, every single investigation of Iran’s nuclear program has yielded zero evidence of any attempt at weaponization since 2003. Iran’s clean record is even more impressive when considering that Iran has one of the most transparent nuclear programs in the world, allowing additional protocol in IAEA investigations, including surprise investigations, that countries such as the US have never allowed.
The IAEA’s November report reeks of the same kind of “report” that claimed that we had evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was our pretext for war with Iraq and it turned out that the paper was a sham. A decade after we went to war with Iraq and still the “evidence” of the report remains unverified and no WMDs have been found. We cannot justify assassinations and other acts of war, risking war with Iran that would lead to thousands of American deaths and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iranian deaths, on such faulty evidence.
Secondly, the rationale that scientists associated with Iran’s nuclear program are “enemy combatants” and therefore “fair game” is erroneous. Assassination of Iran’s scientists breaks the following laws of war:
Rule 1. the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians.
Rule 2. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
Rule 4. The armed forces of a party to the conflict consist of all organized armed forces, groups and units which are under a command responsible to that party for the conduct of its subordinates.
Rule 5. Civilians are persons who are not members of the armed forces. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.
Rule 6. Civilians are protected against attack, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
As well as the following principles of Catholic just war doctrine:
Just cause: innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life.
Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical.
Distinction: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against civilians.
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was not a soldier, not a terrorist and in no way was part of Iran’s military complex. He was a scientist working towards advancing Iran’s nuclear technology and therefore a civilian. Thus, his death, no matter how advantageous politicians like Santorum may claim it to be, is murder and a grave evil both according to Catholic moral teaching and the secular laws of war. It is the responsibility of the United States to defy such tactics and publicly denounce their use. The targeting of civilians for lethal attack is an act of terrorism regardless of whether such attacks are directed towards Americans as was the case on 9/11 or if it is against our enemies such as the car-bombing of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. There is no fundamental difference.
– Christian Ohnimus