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State-sponsored killing is not warfare, it is murder

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has emphatically denied that America had anything to do with the assassination last week of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in Tehran.

As well she might. It was her husband Bill who set in stone former President Jimmy Carter's legislation to forbid US security services from pursuing murder beyond its own shores.

George W Bush soon overrode that. But, if you might have expected President Obama's administration and Mrs Clinton to return to more civilised standards, you would be disappointed. The United States' retreat from military entanglements has been accompanied by a rise in assassinations, by agents and, of course, by drones.

Killing those people whom you suspect of being engaged in nefarious activities has become the norm - whether they are with family, friends or anyone else who just happens to be passing by.

I don't think the US government participated in the Iranian killing. You don't have to look far to see who did this.

Israel likes to be thought of as a Terminator - able to kill its enemies wherever they are.

But it is naive to believe that the US didn't know of Israel's policy and that its services didn't share intelligence. We seem to have passed from the era of John Le Carre spy thrillers, when death and killing were extreme facets of a war of intelligence, to a world when assassination has become an acceptable weapon in the armoury of the Western state.

Recently, several senior officials, or former officials, of the CIA have come out in public to accuse their organisation of turning from the gathering of intelligence to the killing of opponents.

What is so depressing about it all is that it is happening because it is convenient. You are struggling in Afghanistan against insurgents supplied from across the border in Pakistan.

You can't cross the border because it would be against international law. So you send in unmanned missiles, or helicopter-born troops, to kill individuals whose death, you believe, may hurt the enemy.

Iran is developing nuclear capability. You can't stop it legally, so you slow its progress by knocking off its experts. And if Israel does it, you're all the happier. You can condemn it in principle while applauding it in practice.

President Obama may talk of redirecting US sights towards Asia and the rivalry with China. But in the Middle East, US policy is directed towards exercising influence through military alliance, the support of authoritarian regimes and intervention in domestic affairs.

You can argue that the 'War Against Terror' demands different rules of engagement - that the end does now justify the means.

There was a time when societies had different values; a time when state-sponsored murder and killing on the presumption of guilt was not only outside the law, but outside of civilisation itself.

Looking at the reaction to the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan last week you have to cry, 'What are we coming to?'