Licence to kill (concept)

Licence to kill (concept)

Licence to kill has at least two known meanings. It can be defined as an official sanction by a government or government agency to a particular operative or employee to initiate the use of deadly force, presumably in furtherance of the government's aims or policies, or in carrying out the operative's assigned missions and presumably in an assassination or covert context rather than in an overtly military context. [ CBS News story] A December 4,2002 story from the CBS News website ( on the CIA having been granted a "license to kill" (US spelling) with meaning essentially as given in the first definition.] Also, an executioner has a licence to terminate the life of the person being executed. Thus, executioner's licence to kill has a limited scope, as it is issued only for the sole occasion of the execution.

It is also sometimes used when referring to assisted suicide, or discontinuance of life support, especially by editorialists, who may use the phrase, possibly pejoratively, in reference to government sanction of either action.This meaning was used in cite news| authorlink=Mark Alexander| first=Mark| last=Alexander| url=| title=404 error| accessdate=2007-01-30|, which was widely replicated, with meaning essentially as given in the second definition.]

The idea of a licence to kill is popularly known from the James Bond novels and films (signified by the "00" designation given to the agents who are licensed to kill; Bond himself is famously agent 007 [cite web|url=|title=The double 0 section|accessdate=2007-03-14] ), and has been used at least once by a headline writer.cite web|url=,1361,578501,00.html|title=CIA given licence to kill|work=The Guardian|date=2001-10-22|accessdate=2006-07-09] In reality, the legitimacy of deadly force usage from country to country is generally controlled by statute law, particular and direct executive orders, the common law, or military rules of engagement. In Britain, the "Intelligence Services Act 1994" [ [ Intelligence Services Act 1994 (c. 13) ] ] authorizes the secretary of state to grant immunity from British prosecution to personnel when they engage in any acts abroad that would be illegal under British law, such as murder. ["Under Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act, the secretary of state can authorize persons to commit acts abroad for which they may not be held liable under British law. By implication, that includes all criminal law relating to the use of lethal force... Despite its protections, the act does not and cannot immunize agents from the law of the foreign lands in which they operate." cite news| url=| title=Does James Bond have a License to Kill?|]

With the popularity of the James Bond films and the phrase being used as a tagline in the series, and an imitation James Bond film Lindsay Shonteff's "Licensed to Kill" in 1965, "Mad" magazine printed a drivers license type card for Bond as a basis for other celebrities being granted licence to do the things they were most known for (i.e. "Jerry Lewis License to Nauseate"). A similar concept took place in a comedy skit on "Cedric the Entertainer Presents" where Bond and a supervillain both realise that their licence to kill has expired and race to be first to renew their licence at a state registry office.

In a military context, some personnel do have what amounts to a de facto licence to kill; this is especially true of snipers, though this "licence" is limited to the battlefield and (in theory at least) applies only against enemy combatants. In time past, ships on the high seas were given letters of marque by a nation-state to attack enemy shipping, a variation of a licence to kill.

The actual existence of a "licence to kill" is debated. Some feel that the term is a mere literary device, popularized by novels and films, while others believe that such a licence exists in at least some countries, whether in the military, police or counter-intelligence services. In the literary sense, the licence is presumed to be a discretionary one, distributed rarely and requiring extensive training to obtain, and it is only granted to a handful of covert agents of a state, in the interest of national security. The agent is not necessarily expected to kill enemies as part of a mission, but may receive immunity from prosecution (in his own country), if, in the agent's estimation, this became necessary to complete it.

During the 1970s, the dispersal of Israeli agents with what would amount to a "licence to kill" occurred during Operation Wrath of God. Teams of agents were supposedly assigned targets in international locations and given orders and permission to terminate said targets. While evidence for such operations does exist, the Israeli government denies that it targeted enemies for death.

In reality, such licences would run afoul of the laws of war: the covert agent would almost certainly be considered a spy or perhaps even a common criminal if murder is committed in a foreign country. For this reason, few governments, if any, are willing to disclose the existence of a licence to kill.

ee also

* Castle Doctrine
* Fifth Freedom
* Kiri sute gomen, the equivalent in feudal Japan.
* Rules of Engagement
* Shoot to kill
* Terminate with extreme prejudice
* Vigilantism
* Tyrannicide


External links

* [] Licensed to Kill, Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton (Crown, Sept 1, 2006)
* [ USA Today editorial] DeWayne Wickham editorial of November 6, 2001 arguing against the CIA "license to kill" authority.
*A 2000 BBC television documentary by Olenka Fenkiel, also shown on ABC, about murder of women in Pakistan in situations involving divorce or adultery. []

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