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The targeted killing of terrorists abroad is justified to protect national security, most candidates in Thursday’s left-wing primary debate for the French presidency agreed. However, most also argued that the public should not be told about it.
“We are at war, we must protect the French people,” said former prime minister Manuel Valls at the first of four debates among seven candidates vying for the left-wing nomination for the upcoming presidential election.
But “on these subjects, when what has to be done must be done, what must be kept secret must be kept secret”, Valls added. “This is how we embody the authority of the state and, above all, how we protect the French people.”
Current French president François Hollande, who has decided not to run for a second term as president amid record-low approval ratings, admitted to ordering targeted executions of French terrorists abroad in an interview for a controversial tell-all book published in October.
While most of the candidates said they would be willing to order the assassination of terrorists overseas in the name of national security, they also rebuked Hollande for his public admission.
“I don’t believe that chatting about these state secrets is appropriate for a statesman,” said Vincent Peillon, a former minister for education in Hollande’s government.
While there may be times politicians have to make tough choices to protect the public, he said, “to highlight them is indecent, and making them a subject for the press is no better”.
‘Limit’ to transparency
Fellow candidate Arnaud Montebourg said he would be prepared to order overseas killings of terrorists if it were “in the best interests of France”, but said he was “very shocked” by Hollande’s “violation of defence secrets”.
Benoit Hamon, a former education minister under Hollande, said that “sobriety” was needed when talking about such subjects.
“Sobriety in the commentary on what has been done and in the need to do everything possible to protect our fellow citizens”, he said.
Along with members of the ruling Socialist Party, the debate also included candidates from smaller parties allied to the Socialists in parliament.
One of them, François de Rugy, leader of the Ecologist Party, said carrying out extrajudicial killings of terrorists abroad was “sometimes necessary”, but also took issue with Hollande’s decision to talk about it in public.
“I have always been for transparency but I have always said that there is a limit,” he said.
Only Sylvia Pinel, the primary’s sole female candidate, would not be drawn on whether she would be prepared to order the assassination of terrorists in foreign countries.
“It is not for the candidates in this election to comment on this type of information,” she said.
The first round of France’s left-wing primary will be held on January 22, with the two candidates claiming the most votes advancing to a run-off poll on January 29.