Monday’s Mtg: Are Targeted Killings Legal, Moral, &/or Effective?

Many functions of government are largely invisible to the public: Regulations, tax breaks, etc.  Incredibly, assassinating people falls into that category nowadays.  Since 9/11, gently named “targeted killings” have become a routine tool of our foreign policy.  Of course, our government has killed our adversaries occasionally in the past.  But, both Presidents Bush and Obama greatly expanded the scope and scale of both drone strike-killings and search-and-kill operations.  Thanks to Ron’s excellent idea, on Monday we’ll finally get our chance to debate this dramatic – but little-noticed – change to decades (if not centuries) to the American way of war.

This topic will need a little introduction by me to lay out the basics of the issue:  I’ll cover (1) what our targeted killing policy is and its breadth and reach; and (2) the standard arguments used to justify it as effective, necessary, legal, and moral.  Then we can discuss pros and cons, which I’ll have in my back pocket to guide us.  I’m going to push back on both liberals and conservative bromides about this subject.  See the discussion questions for a few examples.



  1. What is our official policy on targeted assassinations?  How and why did it evolve to this point?
  2. How many people have we killed?  Who are we killing (do we even know for sure), and where and why?
  3. What are the legal and ethical justification for targeted assassinations?
  4. Are targeted killings “effective?”  Compared to what?
  5. What are the pros and cons of routinely assassinating people overseas, even if they are our enemies?   What about international and American law?  What about the blowback?  What about if they want to expand this policy to, for example, drug cartel members in Mexico?
  6. Liberals:  If you hate targeted assassinations, then how would you get at our enemies as they hide in foreign countries too weak or unwilling to get them for us?
  7. Conservatives:  Does the precedent set here that we can kill whoever the government says deserves killing really not upset you?  How could some due process be injected into this thing?  Also, if we can assassinate our enemies at will, can’t everyone?


A big thanks to Carl for running the group in my absence and to Bruce for presenting last week.  I’m emailing a bunch of foreign policy and civil liberties organizations about this meeting.  But, it’s short notice, so tell a friend in the business if you know any!


One response

  1. David, thank you so much for inviting me to yesterday’s meeting. I found it to be very informative and greatly enjoyed meeting everyone.

    If anyone is interested, here’s a great article analyzing the legality of targeting an American citizen abroad: The article is titled “Who May Be Killed? Anwar al-Awlaki as a Case Study in the International Legal Regulation of Lethal Force” and appeared as Chapter 1 in the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law, volume 13.

    I would also recommend the Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law itself. From my brief review of volume 13 above, it also contains two more chapters discussing targeted killings: “Civil Intelligence Agencies and the Use of Armed Drones” and “Drone Attacks under the Jus Ad Bellum and Jus in Bello: Clearing the ‘Fog of Law’.” Here’s a link to the book’s Table of Contents online:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: