Is it lawful (and ethical) to kill the leader of a nation, specifically Col. Qaddafi? Joshua Keating, writing for Foreign Policy, notes that there is little in the international laws of armed conflict to specifically prohibit the targeting of leaders of nations. Indeed, the lanaguage of the UN resolution which permitted the intervention into the Libyan civil war can be read as endorsing the killing of Qaddaffi if necessary to protect others.

“Moreover, Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing the Libya intervention allows U.N. member states to “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” While coalition forces haven’t yet declared Qaddafi an official target as part of these measures, they’ve also made it clear that his personal safety is not a consideration. As British Defense Minister Liam Fox put it, “There’s a difference between someone being a legitimate target and whether you would go ahead with targeting.” The official who spoke with CNN described Qaddafi as being part of the “command and control” structure of the Libyan military, meaning that taking him out would fall under the mandate of protecting civilians.”

However, in a Globe and Mail profile of the Canadian general directing the air war on Libya, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard puts distance between himself and the idea of deliberately targetting Qaddafi.

“Gen. Bouchard knows how it will end – with Col. Gadhafi dead or gone.

But he carefully sticks to the UN mandate that the conflict isn’t to achieve regime change, just to protect civilians.

The general is repulsed by Col. Gadhafi. He lists off all manner of vile attacks, shelling hospitals, scattering anti-personnel mines, indiscriminate rocket attacks on neighbourhoods. He’s evil, the general says.

“This is someone is giving orders to go and kill his own people. … He has lost his moral authority to lead his nation, … but my job is not regime change.”

As Keating notes, though, the US has not been shy to target leaders in past, whether heads of state like Saddam Hussein or terrorist kingpins such as Bin Laden and his lieutenants. Given what the G&M says about the quality of the targetting information available to NATO leaders such as Gen. Bouchard, my advice to Col. Qaddafi would be to look over his shoulder if he foolishly were to go outdoors.