Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence

Now available on SSRN is my newest piece, Are Targeted Killings Unlawful?  A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence.  In the piece I argue that critics of the U.S. policy of targeted killing by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) generally lack credible information to justify their critiques. In fact, in many circumstances their claims are easily refuted, calling into question the reliability of their criticisms.  I highlight some of the most striking examples of inaccurate claims raised by critics of the U.S. policy of drone based targeted killing. Specifically, I offer a much needed corrective to clarify the public record or offer empirical nuance where targeted killing critics offer only unsubstantiated and conclusory statements of fact and law.

Section I discusses the decision protocol used by the U.S. military before launching a drone strike, a process that goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilian casualties. Although this decision protocol was once secret, recent litigation in federal court has resulted in the release of extensive information regarding U.S. targeting protocols. An analysis of this information indicates that the U.S. military engages in an unparalleled and rigorous procedure to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, civilian casualties. Although independent empirical evidence regarding civilian casualties is hard to come by, it is certainly the case that statistics proffered by some critics cannot be empirically verified; their skepticism of U.S. government statements is not backed up by anything more substantial than generic suspicion.

Section II addresses the critics’ unsubstantiated claims about the legal, diplomatic and strategic results of drone strikes. Although the counter observations I raise do not, by themselves, demonstrate that targeted killings are morally or legally justified, they do however suggest that some of the moral or legal objections to targeted killings are based on empirical claims that are either dubious, impossible to verify, or just plain false.

Other contributors to the book Targeted Killing: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (Oxford 2012) appear in the Table of Contents below.  For more on this issue, see my article Kill-Lists and Accountability.

INTRODUCTION Andrew Altman

PART I: THE CHANGING FACE OF WAR: TARGETING NON-COMBATANTS

  1. Rebutting the Civilian Presumption: Playing Whack-A-Mole Without a Mallet? Colonel Mark “Max” Maxwell
  2. Targeting Co-belligerents Jens David Ohlin
  3. Can Just War Theory Justify Targeted Killing? Three Possible Models Daniel Statman
  4. Justifying Targeted Killing With a Neutral Principle? Jeremy Waldron

PART II: NORMATIVE FOUNDATIONS: LAW-ENFORCEMENT OR WAR?

  1. Murder, Combat or Law Enforcement Jeff McMahan
  2. Targeted Killing as Preemptive Action Claire Finkelstein
  3. The Privilege of Belligerency and Formal Declarations of War Richard V. Meyer

PART III: TARGETED KILLING AND SELF-DEFENSE

  1. Going Medieval: Targeted Killing, Self-Defense, and the Jus ad Bellum Regime Craig Martin
  2. Imminence in Justified Targeted Killing Russell Christopher
  3. Defending Defensive Targeted Killings Phillip Montague

PART IV: EXERCISING JUDGMENT IN TARGETED KILLING DECISIONS

  1. The Importance of Criteria-Based Reasoning in Targeted Killing Decisions Amos N. Guiora
  2. Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims without Empirical Evidence Gregory S. McNeal
  3. Operation Neptune Spear: Was Killing Bin Laden a Legitimate Military Objective? Kevin H. Govern
  4. Efficiency in Bello and ad Bellum: Making the Use of Force Too Easy? Kenneth Anderson

PART V: UTILITARIAN TRADE-OFFS AND DEONTOLOGICAL CONSTRAINTS

  1. Targeting in War and Peace: A Philosophical Analysis Fernando R. Tesón
  2. Targeted Killings and the Morality of Hard Choices Michael S. Moore
  3. Targeted Killing and the Strategic Use of Self-Defense Leo Katz

 

 

Conference: Is Targeted Killing Permissible?: Philosophical, Moral, and Legal Aspects Friday, April 15th and Saturday, April 16th, 2011

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The University of Pennsylvania Institute for Law & Philosophy along with the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics of Georgia State are sponsoring: Is Targeted Killing Permissible?  Philosophical, Moral and Legal Aspects on Friday, April 15th and Saturday, April 16th, 2011.  Here is the conference description:

The Obama administration has authorized the CIA to target and kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, a radical Muslim cleric believed to have ties to al-Qaeda, on the ground that he helped to orchestrate attacks against the United States. The authorization raises the interesting question of who is a legitimate target of such military actions. In particular, it is arguably difficult to think of al-Aulaqi as a belligerent against the U.S., as he is himself an American citizen. Al-Aulaqi, however, is not the only person whose identification as a legitimate target raises moral and legal complications. The U.S. and other governments have been targeting and killing many others as part of both the fight against Islamic terrorists and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the widespread use of this technique raises important questions in just war theory. Notable as well is the fact that the U.S. has been targeting suspected militants with unmanned aerial drones, sophisticated military planes controlled remotely from distant lands.

The questions the conference will explore fall into four rough categories. First is a series of basic questions identifying the activity and its parameters: What is targeted killing in a military context and what is the theory under which such killings may be permissible? If targeted killing is ever permissible, what is the range of permissible targets? Should targets be restricted to belligerents only? Or are there individuals who, as civilians nevertheless make themselves into legitimate targets by threatening central interests of the United States? A second set of issues has to do with authority and responsibility: Who is permitted to carry out targeted killings? Do private contractors take on the mantle of military justification when they act on behalf of military officials? Is the justification for engaging in a targeted killing one person may have as an official defender of the country transferrable to a civilian assister? Most importantly, what is the responsibility of actors who carry out targeted killings that miss their mark? If moral and legal mistakes are made, do the resulting acts of assassination count as war crimes? A third set of issues has to do with the manner in which targeted killings are carried out: Is it morally relevant that remote-controlled machines are used to attack targets? If so, is preemptive killing nevertheless legitimate if performed by a droid? And if so, what is the permissible scope of preemptive killing conducted in this way? A fourth set of issues attempts to penetrate the theory of targeted killing by comparing it to other areas of the law: What is the relation between targeted killing and self-defense? Does societal self-defense follow parallel principles to personal self-defense? And finally, what is the status of targeted killing according to traditional just war theory and international law? These questions arise at the intersection of moral, political, and legal theory, just war theory, national security law, and international law, as well as criminal and constitutional law and theory.

Click “Read the full entry” below to see the participant list and suggested background reading.

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