The U.S. military’s official justification of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani contradicts president Trump’s claims that the Iranian general posed an “imminent” threat to American lives.
At the time of the attack in early January, Trump insisted the killing of Soleimani had thwarted “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.” Trump added that America had “caught him in the act and terminated him.”
Similar claims of having prevented deadly impending attacks were also echoed by top administration officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, insisted: “We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats from him included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop.”
As this story began to fall apart in real time, Vice President Mike Pence claimed the administration possessed intelligence of an imminent threat that was too secret to share, even with Congress. Trump upped the ante, claiming that “it probably would’ve been four embassies” that faced attack by Soleimani, before abruptly insisting the question of imminence was irrelevant:
The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was “imminent” or not, & was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2020
The official military justification, provided to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as required by law, makes no attempt to substantiate the president’s claims of imminence. It points, instead, to attacks that had already taken place. The report was released by the administration in a classic “news dump” — late in the day on the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend.
Trump, the report makes plain, “directed this action in response to an escalating series of attacks in preceding months by Iran and Iran-backed militias” on U.S. forces and interests in the region. Rationalizing the attack under international law, the report, in fact, rejects that an imminent threat was required to justify assassinating Soliemani. “Although the threat of further attack existed,” the report states, citing only a vague ongoing risk, “recourse to the inherent right of self-defense was sufficiently justified by the series of attacks that preceded the January 2nd strike.”
The official response has Democrats fuming. “The administration’s explanation in this report makes no mention of any imminent threat and shows that the justification the president offered to the American people was false, plain and simple,” said committee chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Engel further called the document’s attempt to justify the attack on the Iranian leader by citing the Iraq War authorization of 2002 “absurd,” and blasted the entire document as a “spurious, after-the-fact explanation.” The Democrat vowed to grill Pompeo in a late-February, appearance before the committee, insisting “we need answers and testimony.”
The strike on Soleimani brought the United States and Iran to the brink of all-out war. The assassination was answered by an Iranian missile barrage on U.S. targets in Iraq. That attack left more than 100 American service members with traumatic brain injuries. A Ukrainian passenger jet taking off from Tehran was downed by Iran, a fatal mistake in the fog of war, killing 176.
Read the administration’s formal Soleimani justification here: