(TMU) — The Trump administration heralded in the 2020 New Year by delivering a strike to kill Iran’s top military official, Qasem Soleimani, on January 2. The significance of this event were monumental and far-reaching. Soleimani was widely credited as being crucial in the degradation of the terror group ISIS. He was also reportedly the second-most influential official in Iran, falling only behind the Iranian Supreme Leader.
While the world appears to have weathered the storm so far caused by the U.S. decision to assassinate a man of Soleimani’s prominence, there are some indications that this may be only the beginning of something far greater. As is typical, we cannot rely on the corporate media to highlight these dangers for us.
Last month, the Trump administration quietly submitted a notice to Congress in which it described the legal and policy basis for the airstrike that killed Soleimani. The notice was required under the recent provision found in section 1264 of the National Defense Authorization Act, given the U.S. is changing the application of the existing legal and policy frameworks since the last update on March 12, 2018.
Initially, the U.S. claimed that Soleimani had posed an “imminent” threat to U.S. forces in the region. Under this recent notice, that allegation no longer appears. Instead, the Notice on the Legal and Policy Frameworks Guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations reads:
“The President directed this action in response to an escalating serious of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on United States forces and interests in the Middle East region. The purposes of this action were to protect United States personnel, to deter Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks against United States forces and interests, to deter Iran’s and Qods Force-backed militias’ ability to conduct attacks, and to end Iran’s strategic escalation of attacks on, and threats to United States interests.”
The U.S. has stretched its previous interpretation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq (2002 AUMF) to include the use of force not just to “address threats from the Iraqi Government apparatus only, but may address threats to the United States posed by militias, terrorist groups, or other armed groups in Iraq.”
Apparently, this is the case, even where the U.S. relied on those militias to defeat the terror group ISIS.
In its notice, the Trump administration is also claiming that the strike was delivered in self-defense. Given that the U.S. has presented no evidence that Soleimani had in fact attacked the U.S., the U.S. is essentially claiming a right to “pre-emptive self-defense“, though that is a long-winded topic for a separate discussion.
What should be clear from all of this is that the U.S. has created a legal justification out of thin air for the assassination of a high-level political figure and is paving the way for justification of these attacks in future. The omission of the words imminent threat further suggest that the U.S. can continue to strike Iranian targets in future, without even needing to consider whether they posed an imminent threat or not. If the U.S. Congress and the world do not challenge this legal basis, then the U.S. can rely on the January 2 strike as providing them with a legal precedent.
At the end of the day, the world would not sit idly by if Iran assassinated Mike Pence on a tour of Iraq, and rightfully so. These attacks are a gross violation of international law which create a heightened risk of the U.S.-Iran conflict escalating to the point of no return.