“Pat Robertson: Bringing Assassinations Back to Life?”
Televangelist Pat Robertson’s call for a covert operation to assassinate Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez, while not a crime, is an outrage. The 75-year-old founder of the Christian
Coalition publicly advocates that the United States commit an act of state terrorism.
Speaking on the Christian Broadcast Network, the Reverend accused Chavez of exporting
communism and Muslim terrorism. His proposed cure for this alleged evil is not to turn the other
cheek, but to murder Mr. Chavez.
Besides, calculates Robertson, it’s cheaper: “We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of
one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives
do the job and then get it over with. … I don’t know about the doctrine of assassination, but if he
thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it.”
And soon: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come to exercise that
Imagine the reaction in Washington if a prominent supporter of President Chavez publicly called
for Venezuelan intelligence operatives to do in President Bush.
To date, however, the Administration reaction is to avoid ruffling the feathers of its political base.
The White House maintains an injudicious silence. The State Department was left to comment
only that Robertson “is a private citizen and … his views do not represent the policy of the United
States. We do not share his view and … his comments are inappropriate …”
Inappropriate? What about “outrageous”? Apparently our State Department is more concerned
to be diplomatic to the Christian Coalition than to Latin America.
And “private citizen”? True. But as Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez points out,
Robertson is no ordinary private citizen. He is a prominent person, former presidential candidate,
and leading supporter of President Bush.
Washington’s wimpy response is unworthy of a White House that professes to lead a worldwide
campaign against terrorism. It will also depress gringo poll ratings in Latin America – already
near historical lows. This matters. Appearing to tolerate Robertson’s remarks by faint damnation
risks damage to our foreign policy interests in the hemisphere on issues ranging from trade to
Venezuela, says its Ambassador, takes the Reverend seriously. This is not surprising. Latin
Americans know that the CIA has in the past attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro. Chavez and
Castro are pals. What might seem implausible to us – an attempt to assassinate Chavez — can
look real to our neighbors. A clear condemnation by the White House is needed to dispel
Although un-Christian and unwise, Robertson’s ugly words are not unlawful. Yes, international
law does prohibit assassinating heads of government. The US and Venezuela are parties to the
Convention on Internationally Protected Persons, in force since 1977. And that Convention
prohibits not only assassinations, but also threats to assassinate. Robertson’s ravings, however,
fall short of an outright threat.
US law makes it a crime to conspire or attempt to kill a foreign president, provided he is outside
his own country at the time. The theory is that so long as he remains in his own country, the
prosecution can and should take place there.
But conspiracy and attempt require more than mere advocacy. Compare, for example, the case of
Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. He was convicted in New York for, among other things, issuing a
fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But the Sheik also asked the
UN about Mubarak’s itinerary and took other steps to plan the assassination.
So Pat Robertson can join Richard Nixon in proudly proclaiming, “I am not a crook.” He is
merely an apologist for state terrorism. If Washington fails to put more daylight between the
President and one of his most prominent cheerleaders, the rest of us will have to pay the
Doug Cassel’s commentaries are broadcast Wednesdays during the 1:00 p.m. hour of the
Worldview program. All views expressed are the personal views of the author and not
necessarily those of Notre Dame Law School, the Center for Civil and Human Rights or
Chicago Public Radio.