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Vox: Pompeo’s shifting reasons for killing Soleimani puts the strike on shaky legal ground

Washington, January 7, 2020
Pompeo’s shifting reasons for killing Soleimani puts the strike on shaky legal ground

By Aaron Rupar - 01/07/2020

The Trump administration’s justification for killing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander, has subtly shifted since last Thursday. But the implications of that shift have profound implications in terms of the legality of an American action that has dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the Middle East.

Shortly after Soleimani was killed in a drone strike in Iraq last Thursday, the Department of Defense issued a statement arguing that the strike was justified as a self-defense measure.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the statement said. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”

That claim was echoed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who went on CNN on Friday and cited intelligence indicating Soleimani’s continued existence posed an “imminent” threat that put “dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.”
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But as Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) alluded to on Twitter in response to Pompeo’s comments, news reports and vague claims about Soleimani’s possible role in future attacks is not the same thing as an “imminent threat.”

“The administration appears to be completely abandoning their previous claim that the killing was ordered to prevent specific attacks about which they had intelligence,” Beyer wrote.

The shift from what Pompeo said last Friday to what he said on Tuesday — a change that first became noticeable during a string of TV appearances on Sunday in which he tried to distance himself from the “imminent threat” talking point — has been echoed by the president himself.

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