Please leave this field empty
Institute for Policy Studies
RSS Feeds RSS Feeds

A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



Blog Roll

Baltimore Nonviolence Center
Barbara's Blog, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Blog This Rock
Busboys and Poets Blog
CODEPINK's Pink Tank
Democracy Now!
Demos blog: Ideas|Action
Dollars and Sense blog
Economic Policy Institute
Editor's Cut: The Nation Blog
Energy Bulletin
FOE International blog
Kevin Drum (Mother Jones)
The New America Media blogs
OSI Blog
Political Animal/Washington Monthly
Southern Poverty Law Center
Think Progress
YES! Magazine
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

IPS Blog

Entries tagged "assassination"

A Day to Remember A Martyr

February 21, 2013 ·

photo of MLK and MalcolmThe militancy and radicalism of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X) has made his legacy harder to hijack by those of the status quo than that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but that hijack is being attempted nonetheless. It has to be. Learning about the life and legacy of Malcolm X may be the most widely cited starting point of left politicization of youth worldwide, particularly for urban youth of color and more particularly for those of African descent. The life of Malcolm was a lesson for all, a lesson rich and nothing short of admirable. His exceptional life made him an inspiration to so many — and a threat to others.

On February 21, 1965, just when Malcolm was about to open his speech in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, he was assassinated. That makes today the 48th anniversary of his murder. Although there is still controversy about who was behind his assassination, many things are clear.

The facts of the murder will be shared and discussed this evening from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in Howard University’s Blackburn Center, Room 155, at the forum, The “Black Messiah” The Life And Assassination Of Malcolm X Who Killed Him And Why? The event, spearheaded by Coalition on Political Assassinations in co-sponsorship with a host of other organization, will feature an array of extremely fitting speakers.

A fact more generally known is that President Lyndon B. Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover deemed Malcolm’s revolutionary internationalism and domestic radicalism subversive and threatening to the U.S. government. Malcolm brought the plight of African people in the United States to the world stage, and clarified that our problems were not merely about civil rights but human rights. He wanted to take our issues to the world court, something that would have embarrassed the U.S. government as it was positing itself as the lecturer and enforcer of freedom and democracy around the world.

After returning from Africa and further solidifying his Pan-African perspective and concrete connections with leaders there, Malcolm started the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This organization was meant to create a practical bridge between those on the African continent and people of African descent in the United States. As African people had been forcibly disconnected physically and mentally, this bridge reflected a profound political evolution that continued the ideals of the Garvey movement.

If in greater unity there is greater strength, Malcolm’s moves indeed represented a threat to those who preferred the continued oppression and disempowerment of African people worldwide. This made him a target of both the FBI and CIA.

Public documents now show that the FBI and its program COINTELPRO wanted to “…prevent the rise of a Black ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalists movement. Malcolm X might have been such a messiah; he is the martyr of the movement today” (FBI Memorandum, March 4, 1968).

Exposing a hypocritical and immoral indiscretion of his former leader in the Nation of Islam (NOI), Elijah Muhammad incurred Malcolm X the dissatisfaction (to put it mildly) of Elijah Muhammad and the wrath of many of the leader’s loyal followers. This included the well known Malcolm X protégé, Louis Farrakhan, who publicly made inflammatory statements implying Malcolm should be killed for “betraying” Elijah Muhammad.

Even before Malcolm was officially out of the NOI, internal resentment against him was deliberately and calculatedly exacerbated by the FBI through fake letters sent and made to seem as though they were internally written. This was a common practice against organizations targeted by COINTELPRO. After Malcolm left the NOI the FBI, in coordination with the NYPD, was able to assign undercover agent Gene Roberts to infiltrate the new organization formed by Malcolm and work his way up to becoming Malcolm’s body guard. Roberts was to later do the same thing to the Black Panther Party in New York, which revealed his true identity 6 years after Malcolm’s assassination in a trial to railroad the Panther 21 into prison for allegations of plots to commit terrorist attacks.

Initially very critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm eventually gained respect and admiration for Dr. King and began a dialogue about how they could begin combining forces. They had even gone as far as to agree that Dr. King would work on galvanizing his strength and influence in the South, while Malcolm would work on the North, to in time bring both forces together. While the FBI maintains that there was no direct order given by it to assassinate these two great leaders, it is folly not to contextualize their culpability. The FBI's surveillance, meddling, and instigation of lethal tensions around the lives of the most respected and high profile leaders of the time is undisputed. These were leaders they considered a threat to national security and wanted “neutralized.”

But while murdering Malcolm deprived us of anything more he could give in life to the struggle, it also resulted in either unintended or unavoidable consequences for his adversaries. Malcolm's life and legacy continue to be an inspiration for so many young people the world over and seems to grow with each passing generation.

As Marcus Garvey said, “You can kill the lion, but what will you do about the cubs?”

Crossing the Lexicon

May 14, 2011 ·

Osama bin Laden's demise raises many moral, legal, political, and historical questions. As I've edited and posted a steady stream of commentary about this post-9/11 milestone, one persistent editorial question has touched on all these issues.

Specifically, which verbs are appropriate for conveying what U.S. Special Forces did to carry out their mission after they burst into the al-Qaeda leader's Pakistani compound? Did they simply kill bin Laden? Murder him? Assassinate him? Execute him?

Most Americans consider Osama bin Laden a dangerous and evil man. With so many of us feeling that the world is better off without him, few are questioning the legality of the operation that ended his life. As a former New Yorker who lives in Arlington, VA, it's easy for me to relate. I was already at work in a downtown DC newsroom on September 11, 2001 when those planes flew into the twin towers and the Pentagon, and several years earlier my daily commute required me to change trains underneath the World Trade Center. I still wince whenever I glance at the Manhattan skyline. Yet, as an editor committed both to accuracy and to speaking truth to power, I need to probe this issue carefully.

One of the dictionary definitions of assassination is "to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack often for political reasons." The Saudi-born terrorist certainly was killed at home, and he was killed for reasons that could easily be described as "political." However, Merriam-Webster defines "murder" as "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought." That's more problematic because it raises another question: did the U.S. government commit a crime by killing bin Laden?

This is no abstract concept. In the 1970s, Congress delved into the issue following years of CIA covert operations that relied on assassination as a foreign policy tool. (Fidel Castro survived the CIA's attempts to kill him by, among other things, trying to get him to smoke a toxic cigar. The U.S. government was complicit in the killing of Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected leader of what's now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.) Ultimately, President Gerald Ford, under pressure from lawmakers in the wake of the Church Committee's findings about those CIA activities, barred the unseemly practice with an executive order. Subsequent U.S. presidents renewed the order, except for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who rejected this restriction in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

This hard question is getting short shrift in the mainstream media. The Washington Post, for example, merely explained that certain killings are "exempt from the assassination law" by quoting legal adviser to the State Department Harold Koh. A former dean of the Yale Law School and a prominent expert on international human rights, Koh claimed in March 2010 that "the use of lawful weapons systems — consistent with the applicable laws of war — for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful…And hence does not constitute 'assassination.'"

Human Rights First appears to support Koh's view. Responding to claims by Omar bin Laden that his father's killing violated international law, the group states that "assuming the existence of an armed conflict against al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden was targetable."

Some prominent progressives, meanwhile, have raised strong questions about the framework embraced by Koh and Human Rights First. Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and a former National Lawyers Guild president, says that "extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict." Noam Chomsky calls the operation that ended bin Laden's life a "political assassination."

Center for Constitutional Rights president Michael Ratner finds that the fluctuating set of "facts" about "the circumstances of bin Laden's killing indicate that the order to the Navy SEALs was to kill, although with all the changes in the story we cannot be sure." It's a key distinction. "Such an order to kill, whether bin Laden or others killed by drones in Pakistan, is likely contrary to international law and could constitute summary execution," Ratner told me in an email.

Referencing the same ambiguities, AlterNet's Joshua Holland helpfully unpacks the competing arguments, variously rooted in international and U.S. domestic law, and concludes:

What's clear is that people on both sides of the debate have had an emotional reaction to bin Laden's death. They're embracing as fact whatever claims support their reactions, and selecting only those sources of law that lend credence to their previously held assumptions.

So, it seems, reasonable people, including progressives, can disagree. What do you think? Please weigh in by commenting below or posting your opinions on the IPS Facebook page.

Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, an Institute for Policy Studies editorial service that provides bold opinions for newspapers and new media.