- Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday the US assassinated Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian leader, to preempt an attack the Iranians were planning to carry out within days.
- Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, also said on Tuesday that Soleimani was “plotting … to attack American facilities and diplomats” at sites occupied by US “soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.”
- The Trump administration has refused to disclose any information about the intelligence that motivated its dramatic escalation with Iran.
- Notably, the Trump administration didn’t use the term “imminent” to describe Iran’s planned attacks in its original statement justifying the strike.
- Because the president did not seek or receive authorization from Congress to strike Iran, he must show he acted to defend US forces or the nation to be in compliance with US and international law.
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday it was “more than fair to say” Iran was planning to carry out an attack on US targets within days when Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was assassinated.
“We reached the point where we had to act in self-defense,” Esper said of the US strike that killed Soleimani and a powerful Iraqi leader.
In response to a question about the timing of Iran’s alleged planned attack, Esper said, “I think it’s more than fair to say days, for sure,” rather than weeks.
Esper’s statement sheds a bit more light on the US government’s opaque reasoning for its dramatic escalation with Iran. Because the president did not seek or receive authorization from Congress to strike Iran, he must show he acted to defend US forces or the nation to be in compliance with US and international law.
Some officials say the US’s justification for killing Soleimani and the Iraqi leader doesn’t satisfy international legal requirements.
“The test for so-called anticipatory self-defence is very narrow: it must be a necessity that is ‘instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation,'” Agnès Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, tweeted last week. “This test is unlikely to be met in these particular cases.”
—CBS News (@CBSNews) January 7, 2020
Also on Tuesday, Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said Soleimani was “plotting … to attack American facilities and diplomats” at sites occupied by US “soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.”
The Pentagon and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly said the US attacked Iran based on intelligence that pointed to “imminent threats to American lives.” But the Trump administration has refused to disclose any information about the intelligence that led to the US’s dramatic escalation with Iran.
Notably, the government did not use the term “imminent” to describe Iran’s planned attacks in its original statement justifying the strike.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the January 2 statement read. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
—JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) January 7, 2020
While the president has said the strike against Iran made Americans and the world safer, many critics have argued the escalation will provoke further instability and violence, including against Americans.
Esper said at his press briefing that Soleimani, who the Trump administration designated as a terrorist leader, was a “legitimate target” on the battlefield and that “his time was due.” Soleimani, as head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, ensured his forces delivered training and support to insurgencies like the Houthis in Yemen and terror groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon; the US has said Iran-backed militants killed at least 603 Americans from 2003 to 2011 with weapons like rockets and improvised bombs.
The defense secretary said the US wasn’t seeking a war with Iran “but we are prepared to finish one.” He blamed Iran for “escalating” aggression against the US over the past “40 years” and, in particular, the past several months.
On Tuesday morning, Pompeo simply pointed to “continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead, potentially, to the death of many more Americans,” referring to Soleimani.
The secretary of state also argued that public information about an Iranian-backed attack last month on Americans in Iraq, which killed on US civilian contractor, was enough to justify killing Iran’s second most powerful leader.
—CBS News (@CBSNews) January 7, 2020