Proposals for Improvement of USG Targeted Killing Policy

Commentators have argued heatedly about the sufficiency of accountability for and oversight over the U.S. government’s targeted killing program. Eric Holder, among others, has claimed that the current process is sufficient.  But, others counter that existing controls are lacking.

First, Philip Alston and others argue that internal oversight---which they describe as constituting the vast majority of existing constraints---is insufficient. In particular, these critics argue that the Executive has a strong institutional incentive---as Commander in Chief---to take a hard line on national security, to the detriment of constitutional rights and other rule of law concerns, such that trusting him to make targeting decisions on his own is impermissible.

Second, Alston and others argue that existing external review (i.e. that undertaken outside of the Executive Branch) is inadequate. For instance, Glenn Greenawald states that despite claims of congressional oversight, the decisionmaking process in reality occurs largely if not entirely within the Executive Branch. These critics propose that judicial or congressional review and oversight of the process be instituted.

But questions remain. Should ex ante oversight or ex post review be utilized? How can we ensure that the Executive’s relative expertise in national security is utilized, yet that the Congress and the Judiciary are given a meaningful oversight role to play? How do we avoid hampering the Executive’s ability to undertake necessary, and decisive, action against imminent threats? In part because of these multifaceted policy concerns, others suggest that remedial measures, such as monetary compensation to victims, be taken after the fact of a targeted killing operation. These various proposals are discussed on three subsidiary pages: Judicial Oversight, Congressional Oversight, and Internal & Executive Oversight.

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