Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up on his story about the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists, and he calls the incidents what they actually are: Terrorism.

Part of the problem here is the pretense that Terrorism has some sort of fixed, definitive meaning. It does not. As Professor Remi Brulin has so exhaustively documented, the meaning of the term has constantly morphed depending upon the momentary interests of those nations (usually the U.S. and Israel) most aggressively wielding it. It’s a term of political propaganda, impoverished of any objective meaning, and thus susceptible to limitless manipulation. Even the formal definition incorporated into U.S. law is incredibly vague; one could debate forever without resolution whether targeted killings of scientists fall within its scope, and that’s by design. The less fixed the term is, the more flexibility there is in deciding what acts of violence are and are not included in its scope.

But to really see what’s going on here, let’s look at how a very recent, very similar assassination plot was discussed. That occurred in October when the U.S. accused Iran’s Quds Forces of recruiting a failed used car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Let’s put to side the intrinsic ridiculousness of the accusation and assume it to be true [...] when that plot to kill the Saudi Ambassador was “revealed,” virtually every last media outlet — and government official — branded it “Terrorism.” It was just reflexively described that way. And I never heard anyone — anywhere — object to the use of that term on the ground that targeted assassinations aren’t Terrorism, or on any other ground.

It’s not like there is no evidence suggesting at the very least targeted assassinations, regardless of who is directing them. So why do media outlets resist the label of terrorism for these acts? Glenn cites this as an example of labeling terrorism as a pure move toward marginalization, and I think that’s right.

Meanwhile, in the NYT article cited above there’s quite a bit of evidence for this being part of a covert plot:

The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.

The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, a participant in what Western leaders believe is Iran’s halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization [...]

“I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” Mr. (Patrick, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Clawson said. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’ ”

Mr. Clawson said the covert campaign was far preferable to overt airstrikes by Israel or the United States on suspected Iranian nuclear sites. “Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high.”

Charming realist, that Mr. Clawson.

The State Department vehemently denied any role in the attacks. If they are indeed being carried out by Israel, it strains credulity to suggest that the US has no knowledge.

Of course, Iran could be responsible for killing some of these scientists only to blame it on the West. Perhaps they all got out of line with the program for nuclear enrichment. Perhaps they were enemies of the regime. I’m sure you can come up with a lot of possibilities. What we do know is that, as Gary Sick writes, the US and Iran have sharply and swiftly moved to a war footing, propelled forward by a series of events. This is despite the fact that nobody can even confirm whether Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. We need to stop this trajectory before it’s too late, and catastrophic consequences ensue.