A transcript from a Friday State Department briefing on the drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani revealed a senior U.S. official seeming to question why an explanation for the strike was needed.
A link to the State Department transcript, minus names, was tweeted on Saturday by The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe, who clarified that the briefing was off the record.
Transcript of yesterday’s State Department briefing on the killing of Soleimani, which includes this question from a senior U.S. official:
“Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?”
They declined to speak on the record.
— Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) January 4, 2020
The line of questioning from reporters focused on the rationale for the strike, which State Department officials argued was to stop an imminent attack.
“It slows it down,” the State Department said. “It makes it less likely. It’s shooting down Yamamoto in 1942. Jesus, do we have to explain why we do these things?”
The transcript records “laughter” at that point, implying the question was at least partially in jest.
“Ouch,” said the reporter.
“Go look that up,” said the official.
“Yes, you do,” said the reporter, responding to the official’s original question.
Asked later to explain “the legal justification for the killing,” another official said it as “an action taken in self-defense, and the United States has the inherent right to defend itself if it is faced with an attack. General – Secretary Esper spoke about what we’ve been doing. He said that Soleimani was developing plans to attack diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region, and so this is a defensive strike.”
The officials then took pains to describe it as something other than an “assassination.”
From the transcript:
QUESTION: Well, it’s – well, I mean, it’s an assassination of an Iranian Government official.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s not an assassination. Come on.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: No, no, no, hold on.
QUESTION: All right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Hold on, hold on.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That is not true.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I did this for two years in the Bush administration. Assassinations are not allowed under law. Revenge killings, non-judicial executions are not. The criteria is do you have overwhelming evidence that somebody is going to launch a military or terrorist attack against you. Check that box. The second one is do you have some legal means to, like, have this guy arrested by the Belgian authorities or something. Check that box because there’s no way anybody was going to stop Qasem Soleimani in the places he was running around – Damascus, Beirut. And so, you take lethal action against him. This is something that we have done many times over both Democratic and Republican administrations that I served in. It’s the same criteria; it was applied in this case and all cases.
President Trump on Friday explained his decision to order the strike, tweeting that the Iranian general “has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more.” (RELATED: ‘They Are Liars, And They Don’t Care About You’: Tucker Warns Of ‘Reckless And Incompetent’ Proponents Of War With Iran)
While some supporters of the president, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, have questioned the strike, warning of escalation and a possible war with Iran, the Defense Department stated that the former Quds general was “actively developing plans” to attack U.S. diplomats and personnel in Iraq.