Definition of Targeted Killing:
In a report from May 2010, the United Nations General Assembly defined targeted killing as “premeditated acts of lethal force employed by states in times of peace or during armed conflict to eliminate specific individuals outside their custody.” The concept of targeted killing is not a new term; however, it has only recently entered the forefront of international relations in the post-9/11 world. Per the Council of Foreign Relations, the policy of targeted killing first gained worldwide recognition when the Israeli government admitted to targeting alleged Palestinian terrorists. Beginning in October 2001, the United States government under the George W. Bush administration began conducting targeted killings of suspected members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. The actual method of targeted killing can range from special operations missions with boots on the ground to cruise missiles to drone strikes. In the United States, the primary method of targeted killing has been with drone strikes and has been focused on attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan.
The Legality of Targeted Killing:
Types of Targeted Killing:
Targeted attacks are predominantly done by either a drone strike or with a kill/capture mission. In a drone strike, a missile is launched from an unmanned aerial vehicle on a target in a foreign country. According to a study by the New American Foundation, President Obama has authorized four times as many drone strikes in his first four years in office as President Bush did in eight years. Given that a drone can be launched without the risk of American loss of life, it is easy to see why it is such a popular form of warfare and foreign policy. Like a high performance military aircraft, a drone contains state of the art stealth technology that makes it difficult to detect by enemy radar. Despite the decided advantages of drones, they are not without risk. Because a drone is unmanned, there is no pilot in the drone to take control if something goes wrong. While military personnel and operators on the ground have the ability to override the drone and take control in the event of an emergency, this is not a full proof strategy. According to the New American Foundation, drone strikes are on the rise with an estimated 291 attacks in Pakistan alone since 2009. Prior to 2013, the majority of drone attacks were conducted by the paramilitary arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. However, in an effort to promote transparency and openness about the program, the Department of Defense has begun to initiate many of the drone strikes.
In addition to drone strikes, the second method of targeted killings is kill/capture missions. Given the challenge in finding high value targets, the United States must rely on intelligence from foreign sources, analysts and operatives. These targets attempt to elude capture by only staying in one place for a short period of time or...