Assassins Aren’t What They Used to Be

by Ellen Murphy


Assassination has changed. Those often politically motivated murders of prominent persons or public figures by surprise attack are less common. They used to be considered horrific crimes, committed by psychopathic and highly paid professional killers, people who suffered for their art by living loveless lives, totally alone, or if military, alone in their own way, communicating in code.

But now assassinations are an every day thing. Assassins aren’t aberrant creatures any more. You can be normal and do it. And to be a target you don’t have to be an Archduke Ferdinand, a President Kennedy or martyrs such as Martin Luther King, Archbishop Romero or George Tiller. No, you can be just about anyone. Thank heaven, there are some limitations to the drone kill list. No one under 16 seems to have been targeted yet.

From no collateral damage to “who cares?”

From Hollywood’s point of view, as in Scarface’s attempted assassination of the Pope in “Foul Play,” assassins were cold blooded with nerves of steel. In the movies I grew up on, they were portrayed as having a certain brilliance, a cunning and stealth not to be equaled by ordinary hunters. In their world they were respected for their skill and single-mindedness. And too, they had a certain code of honor. A class unto themselves, they took pride in one shot, one hit, one kill—no collateral damage for these guys. I desperately wanted them to get caught in time, before the crosshairs scene, but they seldom were.


Jeremy Scahill: A Short History of Drone Warfare, Video Nation,

But now, assassins are not even highly paid. They’ve gotten to be commonplace. For the drone kills, ready? Click. Then take a bite of your sandwich. Was it the right subject? Sheesh, I think so. There was some collateral, but what were they doing with that —-er anyway! One was his son? What you get for having a father like that. And the collateral abounds. And the side-effects—more sign-ups.

Assassinations no longer illegal

Oh, and one more thing. Assassinations aren’t even illegal anymore. They don’t take a year to plan. They happen all the time, and no one goes to jail. The assassins I grew up with had to have an escape plan as complicated and clever as the hit plan had been, and if caught, severe consequences would be their fate, unless the boss who hired them got there first. And who was he? It wasn’t necessarily who it seemed to be. Now, you’re really nothing that special, not necessarily taking any risk, and you’re not facing time. It’s sort of all the rage. Without the rage.

Things have changed. Assassination used to be murder.

But somewhere (in Virginia?) there is a lexicographer who defines the extrajudicial targeting of someone with a hellfire missile not as assassination but as—well, combat.

Congress and the people be damned, we’re at war. Then too, you can strike with a Reaper when you’re not sure if this is the right group or individual. That’s when you call it a signature killing. A pilot thinks this house, car, or person somehow bears the signature of a bad guy. And unfortunately, there is no sign in Waziristan that says “Caution-Children Gathering Firewood.” Would it matter if there were?

That isn’t the problem. The problem is we are running out of pilots. The Air Force Developmental Engineers web site says we only have 450 and we need 1,110. Applicants will be under 30, and need no previous military pilot experience to fly heavily armed Predators and Reapers “far from the battlefield, with the advantage that a pilot at war can fly a mission and go home to dinner.” Absent from the job description for mouse-clicking drone pilots in Nevada, is that they, after a while, after a few years even, may begin to become aberrant, and find themselves living alone, leading loveless lives. Traumatized. Unable even to kill time by trying to watch a movie on a harmless screen.

Journalist Sierra Adamson posted this interview with former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on October 25, 2012:

Sierra Adamson “Do you think that the killing of Anwar al Awlaki’s 16 year-old son, who was an American citizen, is justifiable?”

Robert Gibbs “I’m not going to get into Anwar al Awlaki’s son. I know that Anwar al Awlaki renounced his citizenship.”

Sierra Adamson “His son was still an American citizen.”

Robert Gibbs “Did great harm to people in this country and was a regional Al Qaeda commander hoping to inflict harm and destruction on people that share his religion and others in this country. And…”

Sierra Adamson “That’s an American citizen that’s being targeted without due process of law, without trial. And he’s underage. He’s a minor.”

Robert Gibbs “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father. If they’re truly concerned about the well-being of their children, I don’t think becoming an Al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.