Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on August 28, 2005
by Susan Ives
When I heard Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, my first thought was that the evangelical Christian viewers of “The 700 Club” were going to be mighty busy rubbing out No. 6 on those Ten Commandments tablets they want installed in every courthouse.
Or maybe they’ll just add footnotes: Thou shalt not kill (*except for presidents of countries with extensive oil reserves if they don’t knuckle under to U.S. interests).
Robertson said, “We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job.”
Two years ago, Robertson’s hymnal of hate was open to a different tune. “How dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, ‘You’ve got to step down.’ … He doesn’t work for us!” he said.
In that instance, Robertson was sticking up for his buddy Charles Taylor, then the strong-arm dictator of Liberia, under indictment by a U.N.-backed tribunal for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. Robertson has $8 million invested in a Liberian gold mine, which might have skewed his thinking. Maybe if Chávez forked over some oil shares, Robertson would change his tune.
Most Christians would recognize and reject Robertson’s approach as utilitarianism, a moral system that claims there is no absolute right or wrong; the main ethical principle is the greatest good for the greatest number. But even as a utilitarian solution, it stinks.
Assassination doesn’t work. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln didn’t derail the Union cause in the Civil War. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t stop the civil rights movement; in giving it a martyr, it energized it. As Robertson probably knows, killing Christ didn’t slow down Christianity.
Robertson’s bloodthirsty comments have convinced Venezuelans that Chávez’s accusations that the United States is planning to have him killed are not mere paranoia. Sure, the State Department has repudiated Robertson’s claims, but Robertson and the State Department aren’t on best of terms. In October 2003, Robertson, critical of State’s visa program with Saudi Arabia, suggested blowing it up: “If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that’s the answer,” he said.
Face it: Chávez is stronger today than he was last week.
Ironically, Chávez was in Cuba visiting Fidel Castro when Robertson mouthed off. Castro probably passed on some handy tips on dodging U.S. assassination attempts. He’s the expert.
In 1960, Allen Dulles, then director of the CIA, recruited several high-level Mafia bosses to bump off Castro in exchange for immunity for a few of their domestic peccadilloes.
Some of their schemes were designed to make Castro look silly. One bright idea was to contaminate his shoes with thallium, which they hoped would make his beard fall off.
Castro claims there were at least 20 CIA-sponsored attempts on his life. The documented plots included injecting botulinum toxin into Castro’s favorite brand of cigars and presenting them as a gift; creating a booby-trapped seashell that would explode if touched by Castro, an avid diver; and persuading him to write with a fountain pen that would eject Black Leaf 40, an insecticide, into his finger.
The CIA handed the poison pen over to the hired hit man on Nov. 22, 1963. The Kennedy assassination derailed that attempt.
The operation was finally shut down in April 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.
Robertson admitted he wasn’t au courant on the legal aspects of assassination. International law forbids it in peacetime but allows wiggle room during war: The U.N. Charter permits targeted killing of a member of the enemy’s chain of command, including the head of state.
In the United States, it’s forbidden by Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Executive Order 12333, which put in writing a policy implemented in 1976 by the Ford administration. It says, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Every subsequent administration has reaffirmed this ban.
Now you know, Pat. In the future stick to the Bible. One that still contains the Sixth Commandment would be a good place to start.