Sheikh Yassin, Abdul Qadeer Khan,
    assassination, and consistency

A reader finds me inconsistent in calling the killing of Sheikh Yassin an “assassination” — and saying that governments of law that use violence in place of justice become less themselves in doing so — while also asserting that arranging the early demise of Abdul Qadeer Khan would be a service to humanity.

No inconsistency, I think: just a recognition of complexity. If Yassin’s death actually made Israelis safer — a point on which I am not qualified to comment (Shimon Peres, who might be wrong but who’s no softie, and no one’s fool, doubts it) — then perhaps it would have been worthwhile, from Israel’s national viewpoint, to sacrifice legality for survival. My point was merely that to call such a killing “justice” stretches the word past its breaking point, and that a marginal or uncertain gain in security probably wouldn’t justify the sacrifice.

Abdul Qadeer Khan’s operation put every man, woman, and child on this planet at risk: not only those now alive, but future generations as well. He was trying hard to equip the world’s most dangerous regimes with nuclear weapons. Nineteenth century international law made slavers and pirates humani generis inimici: the enemies of all humankind. That’s what Abdul Qadeer Khan was, and is. Humankind should learn to be inimical to its inimici: if not through an International Criminal Court, then informally if necessary.

It would be highly useful if anyone considering an operation like Khan’s could reasonably expect to die violently as a result. That’s called “deterrence.”

If someone put a bullet in Khan’s brain without giving him a trial, I wouldn’t call it “justice,” except in the poetic sense. But I’d call it a good day’s work.

Self-defense is prior to justice, and the human race needs to defend itself against those who would equip madmen with the means of murdering millions.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: