Lyndon Johnson once remarked, We had been operating a damned Murder Inc. in the Caribbean.
What Johnson was referring to was the CIA’s assassination program during the 1960s in which the agency targeted Latin American leaders for assassination. Johnson’s statement is a reminder that the CIA, which recently assassinated American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, has been in the assassination business for a long time.
It was an interesting term that Johnson used to describe the CIA’s assassination operation, given that murder connotes the wrongful taking of human life and Murder Inc connotes the Mafia, which just happened to be the CIA’s assassination partner in their attempt to assassinate Cuba’s president Fidel Castro.
President Obama and the CIA are remaining mum as to why they took Awlaki out, but statist supporters are claiming that the hit was justified because (1) Awlaki was supposedly exhorting Muslims to resist U.S. imperialist actions with force, and (2) that he supposedly was actively participating in al-Qaeda’s commission of terrorist actions against the United States.
The problem, of course, is that no one really knows what Awlaki did to merit his assassination. All that we know is that we now live in a country in which a super-secret presidential committee wields the authority to secretly designate Americans as assassination targets and that the president wields the non-reviewable, omnipotent authority to order the hit.
Leaving aside what Awlaki did to justify his assassination, one big problem is that governments often end up viewing citizens who oppose their policies as enemies of the state, ones who are considered just as dangerous to national security as those who actually take up arms against the government. Thus, governments with the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to take out their own citizens oftentimes end up sliding the assassination scale to encompass those who are threatening national security or demoralizing the war effort by simply opposing what the regime is doing.
Returning to Cuba provides a good example. The CIA considered its assassination attempts against Castro to be entirely proper, both from a moral standpoint and a legal standpoint. In the eyes of the CIA and the rest of the national security state, Castro was a communist and a socialist and, even worse, one who refused to kowtow to the U.S. government. Unlike his predecessor Fulgencio Batista, Castro refused to place Cuba under the control of the U.S. government. Since the United States was at war against communism, it was considered proper to take out a recalcitrant communist ruler through assassination.
Now, reverse the situation. Suppose Castro had been the one who assassinated Kennedy.
Well, then the CIA’s perspective changes. The CIA would have considered that assassination to have been morally wrong and unlawful. Its exactly what we would expect from a no-good, rotten communist, CIA officials would have said.
So, same action the assassination of a leader of another country, but with a different perspective. When the CIA does the assassinating, its considered good, moral, and lawful. When a communist does it, its considered bad, immoral, and unlawful.
Obviously there is another perspective: that assassination of rulers of other countries is wrong per se, even when it is carried out by the U.S. government. That’s the position that libertarians take. We believe it was just as wrong for the CIA to have been assassinating foreign leaders as it would have been for foreign leaders to be assassinating other foreign leaders. We believe it was wrong for the CIA to be trying to assassinate Fidel Castro, even if he happened to be the most committed communist and most committed socialist in the world and even if he refused to submit the dictates of the U.S. Empire.
Many government officials simply cannot understand the libertarian mindset. In their minds, if you’re not supporting the CIA’s assassination attempts (or the invasions, occupations, torture, or other aspects of U.S. foreign policy), then that must mean that you support Fidel Castro, or communism, or socialism, or terrorism.
In their minds, whatever the U.S. government is doing to combat communism or terrorism has to be good and anyone who opposes it must be helping the communists or the terrorists. The best way to describe this statist mindset is through the simplistic statement, You’re either with us or against us. Thus, if a person is opposing the governments actions against communists and terrorists, that person must be supporting the communists or the terrorists.
That’s how dissidents and critics end up on their governments watch lists, terrorist lists, communist lists, no-fly lists, or assassination lists. By standing up against the governments policies, they are inevitably viewed as enemies of the state by government officials.
Lets return to our Cuba example. Consider an organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), an American organization that played an interesting role relating to the John Kennedy assassination.
First of all, let me say that I don’t profess to know much about the organization and my knowledge of it is mostly based on a few Internet articles, including Wikipedia.
But from what I gather, this organization was formed with the aim of opposing the U.S. governments actions against the Castro regime. This included opposition to the CIA’s invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, the U.S. embargo placed on Cuba, and the CIA’s innumerable assassination attempts on Castro’s life.
Most of the members in the organization seem to have been ardent leftists people who were sympathetic with Castro’s socialist aims. Some of them were prominent American liberals people like Norman Mailer, Allen Ginsberg, and William Appleman Williams.
That combination ardent socialists and opposition to the U.S. governments policies against Cuba convinced the U.S. national security state that the Fair Play for Cuba Committee was a grave threat to national security. Thus the organization was targeted, both by the CIA and J. Edgar Hoovers FBI, two of the principal parts of the national security state.
Now, imagine that. On the one hand, the federal government is purporting to protect the freedom of the American people by targeting the head of a foreign state for assassination while, at the same time, its targeting a domestic organization that supports socialism and opposes foreign interventionism in Cuba.
Yet, doesn’t a free society encompass the right to be a socialist and to promote socialist views? Doesn’t a free society encompass the right to defend foreign nations from U.S. imperialism? Doesn’t a free society encompass the right to oppose invasions, embargoes, and assassinations conducted by ones own government? Indeed, doesn’t a free society encompass the right to be a communist, join the Communist Party, promote communism, and speak out in favor of communism and communist regimes?
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that the CIA targeted any of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee members with assassination, but the CIA and the FBI certainly did spy on them, monitor them, and even target them for character assassination. According to this article at Spartacus Educational,
It was not long before the CIA was taking a close interest in the activities of the FPCC. Two days after the publication of the advert, William K. Harvey, head of the CIA’s Cuban affairs, told FBI counterintelligence chief Sam Papich, For your information, this Agency has derogatory information on all individuals listed in the attached advertisement.
Of course, that was the modus employed by Hoover for decades gather up embarrassing information on people and then use it to blackmail them into submission or to humiliate them or destroy their reputation. According to the Spartacus Education article,
On April 27, 1961, J. Edgar Hoover himself ordered his agents to focus on pro-Castro activists, stating that the FPCC illustrated the capacity of a nationality group organization to mobilize its efforts in such a situation so as to arrange demonstrations and influence public opinion. Under orders from Hoover, Cartha DeLoach began a red-baiting campaign against the FPCC during May 1961. According to Bill Simpich: As part of his counterintelligence responsibilities, DeLoach developed a Mass Media Program that included over 300 newspaper reporters, columnists, radio commentators, and television news investigators.
The Fair Play for Cuba Committee was ultimately put out of business with Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination. During Oswald’s time in New Orleans prior to the Kennedy assassination, he had been distributing FPCC pamphlets. Interestingly, the return address that Oswald had stamped on some of the pamphlets was 544 Camp Street in New Orleans, which just happened to lead to the offices of a retired FBI agent, Guy Bannister, whose private investigation firm happened to be located near the New Orleans offices of the CIA and FBI. According to Wikipedia, Bannister was a fierce anti-communist who allegedly served as a munitions supplier for the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion. In any event, Oswald’s purported association with the FPCC was enough to put the organization out of business after the Kennedy assassination, which had been the aim of the CIA and FBI prior to the assassination.
Delegating the power to assassinate citizens to the government is a dangerous thing because inevitably governments come to believe that citizens who oppose its policies are enemies of the state, enemies that are as dangerous to national security if not more so than those against whom the policies are being carried out.