Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Should the White House defend "Targeted Killings"

According to this report, "[t]he Obama administration sought Friday to block a lawsuit over the scope of its targeted killing program for suspected terrorists, in a case that challenges the government to define the limits of its global battlefield against extremists."  Let's put aside, for now, reactions of the "gee, this wasn't supposed to happen under the Obama Administration" or "Imagine if President Bush did this, how people would howl!" variety.  (Oops.)   I want to ask, instead, whether or not is clear that "targeted", extrajudicial killings are morally unjustifiable.

I take it that, for those of us who think that capital punishment is morally justifiable, it is clear that targeted, extrajudicial killings are morally unjustifiable as punishment.  But, does it follow that it is always unjustifable for the government to authorize, outside of judicial processes, the killing of a person who is thought (with certainty, or something close to it?) to pose an imminent threat to the safety of others?  Does the "distance" between the decision maker and the supposed-soon-to-be aggressor matter?  Or, does the question reduce to the more familiar one about when lethal force is permissible in defense of self or others?  Or, instead, to the question when it is permissible to kill a combatant (notwithstanding the fact that the decision-maker and the supposed-aggressor are not meeting on a "battlefield")?



| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Should the White House defend "Targeted Killings" :


                                                        Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I don't think it is unreasonable to maintain that we are at war with Al Qaeda. Congress has authorized the use of military force. If you believe it is legitimate to kill in a war, I don't see how at least some targeted killings would not be justified. There might be some objection to the process by which an individual is named a target. But I don't see how the very concept of targeted killings could be condemned.

The fuss at the moment is that an American citizen has been named a target. That might raise constitutional issues, but I don't see that there are any extra added moral issues to targeting a citizen. It would be odd to claim that targeted killings of non-citizens (who make up about 96 percent of the world's population) are moral, but targeting citizens is immoral. An assassinated person is just as dead whether he (or she) is a citizen or not.

Posted by: David Nickol | Sep 27, 2010 2:59:01 PM

It's part of the quagmire of explaining war-time status with non-state actors. It seems obvious to me that if we could agree that war-time conditions apply in a case, then a targeted killing could be justified. It is not obvious to me that we can, or how we can, make such a determination about war-time conditions.

On top of that, I am not sure if it is necessary. Assume a claim to be at war is invalid. Is targeted killing justifiable then? I am undecided, but I can't deny that I incline toward accepting the use of targeted killings even in that case. I suspect it does "reduce to the more familiar one about when lethal force is permissible in defense of self or others."

Posted by: A Catholic School Teacher | Sep 28, 2010 7:48:14 AM

I think they need to prove to someone outside the executive branch that this guy needs the ultimate punishment. I'd ordinarily say it's part of my "no death penalty" stance, but I'm not a pacifist, and this is a weird amalgam of lawfare. In general, Richard Wyman Murphy's coauthored piece on this is insightful and ahead of the curve.

Posted by: Frank | Oct 4, 2010 11:15:52 PM