The Invented Doctrine to justify extrajudicial killings and pre-emptive wars

We often hear the term “imminent threat” or “imminent attacks” being used by US and Israeli officials to justify extra-judicial assassinations and/or pre-emptive wars.

How this term was coined? Who has coined it, why and how ?

Craig Murray, a former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, explains and provides some highlights on this extremely serious issue.

In a long piece, he ran on his own page and reprinted by Consortiumnews on January 9, 2020, Murray says: “ In one of the series of blatant  lies, the US has told to justify the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “imminent attacks” on US citizens.

It was a careful choice of  word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the “Bethlehem Doctrine” of Pre-emptive self-defense.”

Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when legal adviser to first Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Bethlehem Doctrine says states have a right to “pre-emptive self-defense” against “imminent attacks. That is something most people and most international law experts and judges would accept, including me, Murray said.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine — that here “imminent” the word used so carefully by Pompeo — does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen.”

An attack may be deemed “imminent,” according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur.

So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike — and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes — because of “intelligence” that indicates you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur.

Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence saying you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again, he explained.

I am not inventing the Bethlehem Doctrine. It has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes  and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US, and UK governments for a decade, Murray said, noting that Bethlehem himself has published in the form of an  academic paper after he left the government service.

However, the form in which it is adopted by the US, UK, and Israeli governments is still “classified information”, he pointed out.

Twisting the Meaning of “Imminent” : So when Pompeo says attacks by Soleimani were “imminent” he is not using the word in the normal sense in the English language. It is no use asking him what, where or when these “imminent” attacks were planned to be. He is referencing the Bethlehem Doctrine under which you can kill people on the basis of a feeling that they may have been about to do something., Murray noted.

The idea that killing an individual who you have received information is going to attack you, but you do not know when, where or how, can be justified as self-defense, has not gained widespread acceptance — or indeed virtually any acceptance — in legal circles outside the ranks of the most extreme devoted neo-conservatives and Zionists. Daniel Bethlehem became the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s chief legal adviser, brought in by Jack Straw, precisely because every single one of the FCO’s existing legal advisers believed the Iraq War to be illegal.

In 2004, when the House of Commons was considering the legality of the war on Iraq, Bethlehem produced a remarkable paper for consideration, which said that it was legal because the courts and existing law were wrong!! – A defense which has seldom succeeded in court.

The key was that the concept of “imminent” was to change:

The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats.

In the absence of a respectable international lawyer willing to argue this kind of tosh, Blair brought in Bethlehem as Chief Legal Adviser, the man who advised Netanyahu on Israel’s security wall and who was willing to say that attacking Iraq was legal on the basis of “imminent threat” to the UK by Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein, which proved to be non-existent.

It says everything about  Bethlehem eagerness for killing that the formulation of the Bethlehem Doctrine on extrajudicial execution by drone came after the Iraq war, and he still gave not one second’s thought to the fact that the intelligence on the “imminent threat” can be wrong.  

Assassinating people on the basis of faulty intelligence is not addressed by Bethlehem in setting out his doctrine. The bloodlust is strong in this one, Murray cautions.

There are literally scores of academic articles, in every respected journal of international law, taking down the Bethlehem Doctrine for its obvious absurdities and revolting special pleading.

My  favorite is the one written by Bethlehem’s predecessor as the FCO chief legal adviser Sir Michael Wood and his ex-Deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst, Murray says, noting that he himself has also addressed this Doctrine as a part of his contribution to a book reflecting on Noam Chomsky’s essay: “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals”.

“In the UK recently, the Attorney General gave a speech in defense of the UK’s drone policy, the assassination of people – including British nationals – abroad.

This execution without a hearing is based on several criteria, he reassured us. His speech was repeated slavishly in the British media.

In fact, the Guardian  newspaper simply republished the government press release absolutely verbatim, and stuck a reporter’s byline at the top.

The media have no interest in a critical appraisal of the process by which the British government regularly executes without trial.

Yet, in fact, it is extremely interesting. The genesis of the policy lay in the appointment of Daniel Bethlehem as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chief Legal adviser.

Jack Straw made the appointment, and for the first time ever, it was external and not from the Foreign Office’s own large team of world-renowned international lawyers. The reason for that is not in dispute.

Every single one of the FCO’s legal advisers had advised that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and Straw wished to find a new head of the department more in tune with the neo-conservative world view, Murray says.

Straw went to extremes. He appointed Daniel Bethlehem, the legal ‘expert’ who provided the legal advice to Benjamin Netanyahu on the ‘legality’ of building the great wall hemming in the Palestinians away from their land and water resources. Bethlehem was an enthusiastic proponent of the invasion of Iraq.

He was also the most enthusiastic proponent in the world of drone strikes. Bethlehem provided an opinion on the legality of drone strikes which is, to say the least, controversial.

To give one example, Bethlehem accepts that established principles of international law dictate that lethal force may be used only to prevent an attack which is ‘imminent’.
Bethlehem argues that for an attack to be ‘imminent’ does not require it to be ‘soon’. Indeed you can kill to avert an ‘imminent attack’ even if you have no information on when and where it will be.

You can instead rely on your target’s ‘pattern of behaviour’; that is, if he has attacked before, it is reasonable to assume he will attack again and that such an attack is ‘imminent’. There is a much deep problem: That the evidence against the target is often extremely dubious.

Yet, even allowing the evidence to be perfect, it is beyond me that the state can kill in such circumstances without it being considered a death penalty imposed without trial for past crimes, rather than to frustrate another “imminent” one. You would think that background would make an interesting story.

Yet, the entire ‘serious’ British media published the government line without a single journalist, not one, writing about the fact that Bethlehem’s definition of ‘imminent’ has been widely rejected by the international law community.

The public knows  none of this. They just ‘know’ that drone strikes are keeping  us safe from deadly attacks by terrorists, because the government says so and nobody has attempted to give them other information, Murray pointed out.

Remember, this is not just academic argument, the Bethlehem Doctrine is the formal policy position on assassination by Israel, the US and the UK governments, Murray noted.

In his lengthy piece, Murray also exposed the other lies being circulated to justify this extra-judicial assassination of Soleimani, and finally concludes that twisting words to justify killing is obscene and that  the worst experience he might face if he were to finish up in the bottom-most pit if hell is to have the company of Daniel Bethlehem.

(in other words, he was expressing how loathsome this person is).

The political world in the UK is so cowed by the power of the neo-conservative Establishment and media, that the assassination of Soleimani is not being called out for the act of blatant illegality that it is.

It was an act of state terrorism by the US. Pure and simple, Murray concludes.

However, what Murray did not address is: What about other world countries and governments? Can they, too, apply the principles of this doctrine, which looks  more like “religious edicts” than thoughtful  law jurisprudence?

The source : (Excerpts  from a lengthy piece posted online by the former British Ambassador turned activist, Craig Murray,  on his website and re-printed by Consortiumnews on January 9, 2020).

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