Congressional committee says Trump’s justification for Soleimani assassination ‘continues to change’

February 19, 2020 - 14:48

TEHRAN - United States House Foreign Affairs Committee has slammed U.S. President Donald Trump’s justification for assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

In a tweet on Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the Trump administration “continues to change their story”.

“There was a lack of a specific, immediate threat to U.S. forces or other personnel that would merit the killing of Soleimani,” the committee said.

It added, “We look forward to @SecPompeo’s public testimony before the committee and American people February 28th.”

The Trump administration has made several contradicting statements as it explains why the U.S. assassinated Soleimani.

According to Aljazeera, the White House added to its ever-evolving list of justifications for murdering Soleimani last week when in a memo addressed to Congress, it did not specifically cite the “imminent threat” the Trump administration had previously said the Iranian general posed in justifying its January attack.

In a legally-mandated memo, the White House told Congress, “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.”

Although the notice references that the threat of “further attack existed”, the memo makes no mention and gives no evidence of the “imminent attacks” the Trump administration initially gave as a justification for killing Soleimani.

In another tweet on February 15, the House Foreign Affairs Committee said, “The White House’s official report directly contradicts the President’s false assertion that he attacked Iran to prevent an imminent attack against United States personnel and embassies.”

Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed on February 14 the Trump administration over assassination, arguing a new report justifying the attack undermines the argument that the operation was in response to an imminent threat.

“The administration’s explanation in this report makes no mention of any imminent threat and shows that the justification the President offered to the American people was false, plain and simple,” Engel said in a statement, Politico reported.

“To make matters worse, to avoid having to justify its actions to Congress, the administration falsely claims Congress had already authorized the strike under the 2002 Iraq war resolution,” the New York Democrat added. “This legal theory is absurd.”

Congressional Democrats, and even some Republicans, have complained top administration officials haven’t adequately outlined the imminent threat that justified the provocative move of assassinating Soleimani or shown an adequate legal justification.

“This spurious, after-the-fact explanation won’t do,” Engel added of the report.

In an interview with CNN aired on Saturday, veteran U.S. diplomat Joseph Nye said Trump revoked an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford by directing the Pentagon to assassinate Soleimani.

“By assassinating of a high official in a third country when you are not at war, you are revoking what Gerald Ford had done after Vietnam which says we are not to get into the business of assassination. I don’t think we really want to drop that norm,” Nye said.

“What happens for example if Secretary [Mike] Pompeo goes to Baghdad and somebody shoots him? We’d have no right to complain if we’ve shot Soleimani.”

He noted, “We gave up assassination after the Vietnam war after Gerald Ford signed an executive order. I am not sure that Trump thought through what it means if you drop that moral principle.”

Wendy Sherman, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs who led the U.S. negotiating team that concluded the Iran nuclear agreement, has said that assassination of Soleimani was an extraordinary risk.

“I think the president took an extraordinary risk and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of that risk yet,” WUSF News quoted her as saying in a news conference before the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall lecture series.

She added, “After he [Soleimani] was murdered by the United States government, they [the Iranian people] were in the streets protesting America. That’s not in our national security interest.”

She said that the assassination of Soleimani and the subsequent retaliation by Iran against U.S troops in Iraq brought the two countries close to war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that the assassination of Soleimani by the U.S. was a flagrant violation of international law.

“If we are talking about the latest swirl of U.S.-Iranian escalation with which the current year started, then our position is known. We condemn any actions that contradict the principles of the UN Charter and lead to increased tensions in the region. The Pentagon attack on the airport in Baghdad organized on January 3, which killed the commander of the special forces of [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC of Iran [Qassem] Soleimani, became a flagrant violation of international law,” UrduPoint quoted Lavrov as saying on Monday in an interview with the Italian La Stampa daily.

The Russian foreign minister pointed out that it was a civilian airport, emphasizing that “these actions on the part of Americans are beyond the limits.”

General Soleimani was assassinated in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on January 3.

Iran retaliated to the attack on January 8 by firing dozens of ballistic missiles at a major U.S. airbase in western Iraq, dealing a great blow to the U.S. that it is invincible.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Feb. 14 that Trump was misled to believe his country would get away with the assassination of General Soleimani.

Trump believed that the assassination would augment U.S. security but it worked the other way around, Zarif said in an interview with NBC News’ Richard Engel in Munich on Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“It was the beginning of the end of the U.S. presence in the region, and we were very close to a war, because the United States initiated an act of aggression against Iran in a very, excuse the language, cowardly way,” Zarif said.

“They couldn’t confront Soleimani in the battlefield so they hit him during the dark of night through a drone attack on a car carrying him on a peace mission, which is beneath any dignified way of dealing with this, and it came very close to war,” he added.

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