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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

rejecting extradition requests based on the political offense exception.17 The prevalence of attentat clauses in extradition treaties illustrates the degree to which assassinations are universally condemned by the international community.18

A survey of domestic legislation also reveals a long-standing prohibition on assassinations.19 Courts in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.) have shown particular sensitivity to the practice of state-sponsored assassinations.20 Courts in the U.K. have consistently convicted and upheld harsh criminal sentences applied to conspirators of assassination plots.21 United States courts have adopted a similar view. Some of these rulings were issued pursuant to federal and state criminal laws specifically prohibiting the planning and execution of assassinations, murders and other acts of political violence on U.S. territory.22 Others were based on various civil laws23 holding foreign officials and states liable for damages resulting from the assassination of government officials committed on foreign soil.24 These decisions have not been limited to the targeting and unlawful killing of government officials alone. For example, after the 1980 assassination of political dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabai in Maryland, USA, Tabatabai’s assassin, Daoud Salahuddin, was charged by U.S. authorities with murder and unlawful flight after escaping to Iran.25 Though the U.S. has not been able to try Salahuddin himself, several of his accomplices were charged with, inter alia, driving the getaway car and disposing of the murder weapon.26 More recently, a U.S. district court awarded $12 million in compensatory damages to the family of murdered dissident Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar.27 The civil suit was filed

[17] Schmitt, supra note 2, at 622. The political offense exception permits countries to refuse extradition if the offense involved can be justified as political resistance in the face of oppression. See, e.g., Extradition Treaty, U.S.- Brazil, art. V(6), signed Jan. 13, 1961, T.I.A.S. No. 5691, 15 U.S.T. 2093.
[18]See generally Christine E. Cervasio, Extradition and the International Criminal Court: The Future of the Political
Offense Doctrine,
11 PACE INT’L L. REV. 419 (1999).

[19] See, e.g., United States Intelligence Activities § 2.11, Exec. Order 12,333, 46 Fed. Reg. 59,941 (Dec. 4, 1981) (“[n]o
person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in,
assassination”). See also infra §§ 5.2-5.3 (providing a survey and summary of various criminal and civil prosecutions aimed at punishing states and individuals responsible for the commission of assassinations on foreign soil).

[20] Schmitt supra note 2, at 624-25.
[21] Id. In Crown v. Gill, a court of appeals in the United Kingdom upheld a harsh sentence applied to conspirators in an assassination plot against Rajiv Gandhi. R. v. Gill and Ranuana, [1989] Crim. L.R. 358, 1989 WL 651422 (Feb. 6, 1989). And in Crown v. Al-Banna, the court upheld the sentences of three Palestinian National Liberation Movement members convicted of the attempted assassination of an Israeli ambassador to Great Britain. R. v. Marwan Al-Banna and Others, (1984) 6 Cr. App. R. (S.) 426. In its ruling, the Court noted: “It should be clearly understood that political murders or attempted political murders of this sort and kindred offenses will be met where appropriate with sentences of this length, namely 30 or 35 years.” Id. at 430.
[22] See, e.g., Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244 et seq. (1996); see infra note
200 and accompanying text for further discussion.

[23] These laws include the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1602 et seq. (1976); Alien Tort Claims Act,
28 U.S.C. § 1350 (1789); and the Torture Victims Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 note (1992); see infra notes 191 to
210 for further discussion. See also Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 381 F. Supp. 2d 1164 (C.D. Cal. 2005);
Elahi v. Islamic Rep. of Iran, 124 F. Supp. 2d 97 (D.D.C. 2000); and Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir.
1980) for application of some of these civil remedies by U.S. courts.

[24]See, e.g., Letelier v. Republic of Chile, 488 F.Supp. 655 (D.D.C. 1980); Liu v. Republic of China, 892 F.2d 1419 (9th Cir. 1989).
[25]IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION CENTER, NO SAFE HAVEN: IRAN’S GLOBAL ASSASSINATION CAMPAIGN 21-22 (2008) [hereinafter NO SAFE HAVEN].
[26]Id.
[27]See Bakhtiar v. Islamic Rep. of Iran, 571 F.Supp.2d 27 (D.D.C. 2008). For a more in-depth discussion of this case, see infra note 213 and accompanying text.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom