A targeted killing is, loosely defined, the intentional killing of a specific individual, often undertaken against enemy soldiers, but also used for other purposes.
Targeted killings have been employed for quite some time by conventional military forces. Their use, however, has increased in recent years, particularly in the course of American overseas counterterrorism operations. Consequently, targeted killings have received significant attention as of late and have become the subject of a great deal of debate. Practitioners, academics, the media, and others have discussed the legality of targeted killings, both under international and domestic law. In addition, many debate the strategic wisdom of undertaking targeted killings generally. Likewise, and more specifically, others question whether the structure of the U.S. government’s targeted killing decision-making apparatus—especially in terms of accountability and transparency—and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to effectuate targetings are sound as a policy matter.
Unlike other pages in the Lawfare Wiki Document Library, the targeted killing pages contain a lot of references to–and links to–secondary sources. Many of the key documents that make up the debate over targeted killings are not primary source materials.
The Lawfare Wiki Document Library’s resources on targeted killing include pages on:
- The History of Targeted Killing: This page briefly outlines the early history of targeted killings in ancient Rome and Greece. It then discusses the contexts in which targeted killings have been used over time. It concludes by mentioning those historical targetings that have been used for support in the current legal debate surrounding targeted killings.
- Legality of Targeted Killing Program under U.S. Domestic Law: This page analyzes the domestic legal debate surrounding the U.S. government’s targeted killing program. It focuses on two key aspects of that debate. First, the page considers what law authorizes the U.S. government’s targeted killing program. Second, the page discusses what domestic legal constraints limit the President’s targeting capabilities.
- Legality of Targeted Killing Program under International Law: This page considers the international legality of the U.S. government’s targeted killing program. It focuses on the lawfulness of U.S. targeting under two international legal frameworks: jus ad bellum (which governs the decision of whether or not to use force) and jus in bello (which governs the way that warfare, once undertaken, is conducted).
- Effect of Particular Agency on Issues Related to Targeted Killings: This page considers the implications of the identity of the U.S. government body undertaking a targeted killing—namely, whether it is effectuated by the CIA under the Covert Action Statute, or by the Department of Defense. It considers the domestic and international law surrounding the involvement of these two distinct entities. It also discusses the decision-making processes each entity uses in effectuating a targeting. The page concludes by considering the “convergence trend,” whereby the CIA and military increasingly engage in missions together and which has led to a muddling of oversight authorities and confusion in determining what process is required.
- Controversy Regarding Civilian Casualties and Other Collateral Damage & The Legal and Foreign Policy Ramifications Arising Therefrom: This page considers the impact of the U.S. government’s targeted killing program on civilians and their property. It relays and analyzes various sources of data about civilian casualties. It then considers the domestic and international legal consequences of collateral damage. This page also analyzes the policy implications arising from civilian casualties and collateral damage.
- Well Known Targeted Killings: This page considers two of the most famous U.S. targeting operations: that of Osama Bin Laden and that of Anwar Al Aulaqi. This page discusses the factual bases of these episodes. It then considers how they relate to the legal and policy debates raised by the U.S. government’s targeting program (and discussed throughout this wiki) more generally.
- Overview of Drone Technology & Surrounding Controversies: This page considers the controversy surrounding the United States’ use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)—commonly known as drones—to conduct its targeted killing program. It analyzes the legal, moral, strategic, and policy implications of using drones and other autonomous systems.
- Issues Regarding the United States’ Effectuating its Targeting Program in Certain Locales (for example, Pakistan and Yemen): This page considers how the legal and policy debates discussed elsewhere in the wiki are affected by the location of a particular targeting. Because the U.S. government has effectuated its targeted killing program in different places throughout the world, this page seeks to understand the domestic and international law implications of a targeting’s locus. This page also mentions the possible diplomatic and real-world effects of conducting an operation in one foreign state versus another. It concludes by considering the controversy regarding whether or not the U.S. government can or will utilize its targeting program within the United States.
- Proposals for Improving the U.S. Government’s Targeted Killing Policy: This page sets forth the debate regarding the sufficiency of the U.S. government’s current system of oversight for its targeting program. In three sub-pages, it states various recommendations for improving the U.S. program via (a) added judicial oversight, (b) modified Congressional oversight, and (c) enhanced internal, executive oversight. Each subpage discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the various proposals put forward.
- Other Countries’ Targeting Programs (e.g., Israel): This page considers the Israeli government’s targeted killing program. It discusses that country’s mechanisms for oversight of targetings. It concludes by analyzing whether or not the Israeli approach would and should be used to improve the current U.S. targeted killing program.
Throughout the Lawfare targeted killing wiki, please note that we have hyperlinked authors’ statements and other references to electronic copies of those source materials where possible. For those items not so linked, a bibliography containing full citations is included at the bottom of each sub-page. We have also put together a larger bibliography of secondary source material related to targeted killing.