- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The White House yesterday said Saddam Hussein is a "legitimate" target for the use of lethal force in the event of war, which President Bush said can only be averted by the Iraqi dictator's immediate "full disarmament."
"If we go to war in Iraq and hostilities result, command and control and top generals, people who are in charge of fighting the war to kill the United States' troops, cannot assume that they will be safe," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"If you go to war, command and control are legitimate targets under international law."
Asked whether that includes Saddam, Mr. Fleischer said, "Of course."
Reporters peppered the Bush spokesman with questions yesterday after a suburban Chicago newspaper reported yesterday that Mr. Bush told an Illinois senator he would order the assassination of Saddam if U.S. forces had "a clear shot."
Mr. Bush reportedly made the remark to Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, a Republican, during a private conversation aboard Air Force One last month, according to the Daily Herald.
The newspaper quoted Mr. Fitzgerald as saying: "I have personally talked to the president about this and if we had intelligence on where he was now, and we had a clear shot to assassinate him, we would probably do that."
"President Bush would probably sign an executive order repealing the executive order put in place by President Gerald Ford that forbid the assassination of foreign leaders," Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Mr. Ford in 1976 signed an executive order banning assassination of foreign leaders after it was revealed that the CIA had attempted to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. President Reagan extended the executive order in 1981 to include hired assassins.
Mr. Fleischer said the president could overturn the ban simply by signing a document, but declined to say whether he is considering doing so.
While the spokesman said Mr. Bush did not recall making the comment to Mr. Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the senator said the conversation took place Jan. 7, when the senator flew back to Washington with Mr. Bush aboard Air Force One after the president's Chicago speech promoting his tax-cut plan.
It is not the first time the Bush administration has talked about the assassination of Saddam. In October, Mr. Fleischer said "the cost of one bullet" to take out the dictator would quickly and far more cheaply achieve the U.S. goal of regime change.
While the spokesman said then that "this is not a statement of administration policy," he added "that if the Iraqis took matters in their own hands, no one around the world would shed a tear."
Members of a foreign government's command-and-control headquarters including a nation's leader can be considered legitimate military targets, according to experts on military and international law.
Foreign leaders have been targeted before by U.S. forces.. In 1986, U.S. warplanes bombed sites in Tripoli, Libya, where officials believed leader Moammar Gadhafi might be hiding. During the Persian Gulf war, the United States used a "bunker-buster" bomb on a Saddam hide-out and later targeted him as he was crossing the desert in a convoy.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration prepared a list of terrorist leaders the Central Intelligence Agency is authorized to kill, providing legal authority to the CIA to kill the terrorists without further approval.
The presidential authority defines operatives of al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden as enemy combatants and therefore legitimate targets for the use of lethal force.
Meanwhile, the Army's top general, Eric K. Shinseki, said at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that a military occupying force for a postwar Iraq could total several hundred thousand soldiers.
Gen. Shinseki said any postwar occupying force would have to be big enough to maintain safety in a country with "ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems."
In response to questioning by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, Gen. Shinseki said he couldn't give specific numbers of the size of an occupation force but would rely on the recommendations of commanders in the region.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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