The Info List - Targeted Killings

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TARGETED KILLING is a form of assassination based on the presumption of criminal guilt. Some analysts believe it to be a modern euphemism for the assassination (premeditated killing) of an individual by a state organization or institution outside a judicial procedure or a battlefield.

The legal status of targeted killing has, in recent decades, become a subject of contention. Historically, at least since the mid-eighteenth century, Western thinking has generally considered the use of assassination as a tool of statecraft illegal. Some academics, military personnel and officials describe targeted killing as legitimate within the context of self-defense, when employed against terrorists or combatants engaged in asymmetrical warfare. They argue that drones are more humane and more accurate than manned vehicles, and that targeted or "named killings" do not occur in any context other than a declared state of war.

Some twenty-six members of Congress , with academics such as Gregory Johnsen and Charles Schmitz, media sources ( Jeremy Scahill , Glenn Greenwald , James Traub ), civil rights groups (i.e. the American Civil Liberties Union ) and ex- CIA station chief in Islamabad
, Robert Grenier , have criticized targeted killings as a form of extrajudicial killings , which may be illegal within the United States and possibly under international law . In particular, preemptive self-defense cannot justify targeted killings outside armed conflict; deliberately lethal force may only be employed in such situations to protect life from imminent and serious threats. According to statistical analyses provided by Reprieve , 9 children have been killed for every targeted adult the United States has tried to assassinate, and, in numerous failed attempts to kill Ayman al-Zawahri alone, the CIA has killed 76 children and 29 adult bystanders.


* 1 Overview * 2 Central and South America, 1980s-present * 3 American drug cartels, 1980s * 4 Somalia
and Rwanda, 1990s

* 5 Europe

* 5.1 Use by the Russian government * 5.2 In Bosnia and Serbia

* 6 Asia

* 6.1 Use by Iranian government * 6.2 Use by the Israeli Government

* 7 North America

* 7.1 Use by the United States Government

* 7.1.1 Obama Administration position on combat drones

* 8 Legality

* 8.1 Legal justifications for targeted killing * 8.2 Legal opposition * 8.3 Additional concerns

* 9 See also * 10 References * 11 Further reading


Targeted killings were employed extensively by death squads in El Salvador , Nicaragua
, Colombia
, and Haiti
within the context of civil unrest and war during the 1980s and 1990s. Targeted killings have also been used in Somalia
, Rwanda
, and in the Balkans
during the Yugoslav Wars
Yugoslav Wars
. The practice has been adopted by the Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte
since his election: since his assumption of the presidency in 2016, some 8,000 people have been assassinated. Syria's Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad
showed the English politician David Davis a spreadsheet outlining the identities of 783 whose targeted killing he had approved. Use of targeted killings by Israeli conventional military forces became commonplace after the Second Intifada
Second Intifada
, when Israeli security forces
Israeli security forces
used the tactic to kill Palestinian opponents.

During the Bush Administration , targeted killings became a frequent tactic of the United States government in the War on Terror
War on Terror
, with time reserved on Tuesday every week for the President to approve the killing of selected targets without due process. Instances of targeted killing by the United States that have received significant attention include the killing of Osama bin Laden and of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki
and his teenage son in 2011. Under the Obama administration use of targeted killings has expanded, most frequently through use of combat drones operating in Afghanistan
, Pakistan
or Yemen


In 1986, the human rights group Americas Watch released a report stating that death squads and armed forces under President José Napoleón Duarte in El Salvador
El Salvador
had carried out 240 targeted killings throughout 1985. The report relied upon figures provided by the Roman Catholic Church and included allegations of torture and summary executions. Americas Watch and other rights groups reported "targeted killing" of civilians by the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in the following year during its campaign against the Contras
. Politically motivated targeted killings of trade unionists and activists were also recorded in Haiti
and Colombia
during the late 1980s and 1990s. Targeted killings linked to the drug trade and paramilitary organizations including FARC
and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia
(AUC) resulted in large numbers of deaths among human rights and political activists, and women and children, throughout the 1990s.


Referring to killings by drug cartels in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
, mayor Marion Barry
Marion Barry
infamously stated, "Washington should not be called the murder capital of the world. We are the targeted-killing capital of the world." Barry went on to explain that "targeted killings" by D.C.'s cartels were comparable to those during the days of "Al Capone and Eliot Ness
Eliot Ness
" at the time of Prohibition in the United States
Prohibition in the United States
. Similarly, drug-related "mob hits" in Moscow were euphemistically described as "targeted killings" by the Cox News Service and Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the 1990s.


During fighting in the Somali Civil War
Somali Civil War
, Sean Devereux described torture and killing by warlords in Kismayo
as "targeted killings, a kind of ethnic cleansing", shortly before his assassination. Also in Africa, Reuters
described "targeted killings of political opponents" by Hutu army and militias in Rwanda
during the Rwandan Genocide
Rwandan Genocide
. The American State Department reported the "politically targeted killings" were a prelude to general massacres in Rwanda.



During the First Chechen War
First Chechen War
Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev
Dzhokhar Dudaev
was killed on 21 April 1996, by two laser-guided missiles when he was using a satellite phone , after his location was detected by a Russian reconnaissance aircraft , which intercepted his phone call.

On 20 March 2002 Ibn al-Khattab
Ibn al-Khattab
who during the Second Chechen War participated in leading his militia against Russian forces in Chechnya, as well as managing the influx of foreign fighters and money was killed when a Dagestani messenger hired by the Russian FSB gave Khattab a poisoned letter. Chechen sources said that the letter was coated with "a fast-acting nerve agent, possibly sarin or a derivative".

On 13 February 2004 Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev
Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev
who served as acting president of the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
between 1996 and 1997, was killed when a bomb ripped through his SUV in the Qatari capital, Doha
. Yandarbiyev was seriously wounded and died in hospital. His 13-year-old son Daud was seriously injured. The day after the attack, Qatari authorities arrested three Russians in a Russian embassy villa. One of them, the first secretary of the Russian Embassy in Qatar, Aleksandr Fetisov, was released in March due to his diplomatic status and the remaining two, the GRU agents Anatoly Yablochkov (also known as Belashkov) and Vasily Pugachyov (sometimes misspelled as Bogachyov), were charged with the assassination of Yandarbiyev, an assassination attempt of his son Daud Yandarbiyev, and smuggling weapons into Qatar. There were some speculations that Fetisov had been released in exchange for Qatari wrestlers detained in Moscow. On 30 June 2004, both Russians were sentenced to life imprisonment ; passing the sentence, the judge stated that they had acted on orders from the Russian leadership. But on 23 December 2004, Qatar
agreed to extradite the prisoners to Russia, where they would serve out their life sentences. The agents however received a heroes' welcome on returning to Moscow in January 2005 but disappeared from public view shortly afterwards. The Russian prison authorities admitted in February 2005 that they were not in jail, but said that a sentence handed down in Qatar
was "irrelevant" in Russia.

On 10 July 2006 Shamil Basayev
Shamil Basayev
, a Chechen militant leader, who was alleged to be responsible for numerous guerrilla attacks on security forces in and around Chechnya and the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis and described by ABC News
ABC News
as "one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world". was killed by an explosion near the border of North Ossetia in the village of Ali-Yurt, Ingushetia
, a republic bordering Chechnya. According to the official version of Basayev's death, the FSB , following him with a drone , spotted his car approach a truck laden with explosives that the FSB had prepared, and by remote control triggered a detonator that the FSB had hidden in the explosives. Alexander Litvinenko
Alexander Litvinenko
has been poisoned with polonium by Russian FSB agents.

USA and UK intelligence services believe Russian government and secret servives are behind at least fourteen targeted killings on British soil.


Referring to human rights abuses during the Bosnian War
Bosnian War
, the U.S. State Department noted politically or ethnically motivated "targeted killings" in Bosnia in Section 1a., "Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing", of its 1993 report on human rights practices in Bosnia and Herzegovina . Targeted killings were also reported by Serbian and Albanian forces during the Kosovo War
Kosovo War
. Both wars involved large scale targeted killings of journalists.



Main article: List of Iranian assassinations

Alleged and confirmed assassinations were reported to have been conducted by the Islamic Republic of Iran
Islamic Republic of Iran
and previously by the Pahlavi regime
Pahlavi regime
. It includes attempts on notable persons who were reported to have been specifically targeted by the various Iranian security and intelligence , most notably against Kurdish dissidents of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran
Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran
in 1980s and 1990s. Prior to the establishment of the Islamic State in 1979, the Organization of Intelligence and National Security also allegedly performed a number of political motivated assassinations against dissidents and opposition leaders .


Main article: Israeli targeted killings

During the First Intifada
First Intifada
Palestinian uprising, the Palestinian human-rights group Al Haq condemned Israeli soldiers for what they described as "deliberate, cold-blooded... targeted" killings of Palestinians in the West Bank
West Bank
and Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
. Human rights group Middle East Watch alleged in 1993 that interviewed Israeli soldiers had targeted often unarmed Palestinians, some under the age of 16, for "premeditated assassinations" or targeted killing, a charge denied by Israeli officials. The allegations included the execution of Palestinians in custody.

Controversy over targeted killings continued during the Second Intifada . Palestinians charged that individuals belonging to the group Hamas
and shot in targeted killings were being assassinated; Israeli stated that those killed were responsible for attacks against Israelis. Israeli officials initially accepted responsibility for only some of the killings, and Israeli media termed the practice a "liquidations policy", whereas Palestinians called it "state terrorism". In January 2001 Israeli officials confirmed "the practice of targeted assassinations". Conflict in Israeli over the legality of the practice centered on the case of Dr. Thabet Thabet, assassinated as he left his home on New Year's Eve. Dr. Thabet was alleged by the Israeli military to be a senior local leader of Fatah
and plotting attacks against Israelis in the West Bank
West Bank
. A dentist, Dr. Thabet was also a friend of many Israeli peace activists and considered one himself. Israeli activists called the killing "a crime", "Mafia-style", and "immoral". Ephraim Sneh , then Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, described the policy as "effective, precise and just".

The Washington Post
Washington Post
commented that Israeli policy of targeted killing during the Second Intifada
Second Intifada
expanded upon previous policies, targeting not only terrorists but also those thought to direct or coordinate them. Another controversial killing, which occurred following the Bush Administration's condemnation of the practice, was that of Mahmoud Madani, a leader of Hamas
shot while leaving a mosque in the Balata refugee camp. The Israeli military suspected Madani of plotting bombings in Israel.

At that time, spokesman for the American State Department Richard Boucher condemned both violence by Palestinians and targeted killings by Israelis during a State Department news briefing. American Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell
registered his opposition to "a policy of targeted killings" and the U.S. State Department urged Israel to stop them.

Then Democratic Party senator Joseph Biden
Joseph Biden
criticized the George W. Bush Administration for condemning the targeted killings; the administration continued to oppose them.

Some of the known operations include the following.

* Operation Wrath of God against Black September and Palestinian Liberation Organisation personnel alleged to have been directly or indirectly involved in the 1972 Munich massacre
Munich massacre
, led to the Lillehammer affair . * Operation Spring of Youth against top Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders in Beirut
, 1973: Muhammad Najjar , Kamal Adwan , and Kamal Nasser . * Khalil al-Wazir
Khalil al-Wazir
known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad. One of the founders and Military Head of Fatah
, killed in Tunis
, 1988 * Abbas al-Musawi
Abbas al-Musawi
, Secretary General of Hezbollah
, killed when Israeli Apache helicopters fired missiles at his motorcade in southern Lebanon on 16 February 1992. His wife, his five-year-old son, and four others were also killed. * Fathi Shaqaqi , Secretary-General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad , killed by a Mossad
team in front of a Maltese hotel on 26 October 1995. * Yahya Ayyash
Yahya Ayyash
( Hamas
bombmaker, "the Engineer") in Beit Lahya
Beit Lahya
, Gaza, 1996. Ayyash was killed by a cell phone allegedly containing “50 grams of high-grade explosives.” * Khaled Mashal
Khaled Mashal
(Hamas) in Jordan
, 1997 (failed) * Salah Mustafa Muhammad Shehade killed by a one-ton bomb during July 2002 in Gaza. Also killed were 11 civilians, including Shehadeh's wife and three sons, and four other children. * Ahmed Ismail Yassin killed along with 7 other bystanders on Friday morning, 22 March 2004, when an AH-64 Apache
AH-64 Apache
helicopter fired Hellfire missiles as he exited a mosque in the al-Sabra neighborhood of Gaza. * Jamal Abu Samhadana killed with three other militants on 8 June 2006, when an Israeli Apache helicopter fired four missiles at a PRC camp in Rafah
. * Possible targeted killing: Imad Mugniyah
Imad Mugniyah
, a senior Hezbollah commander, was killed in February 2008 in a car bomb. The Israeli Mossad
is alleged to have been behind the killing. * Nizar Rayan
Nizar Rayan
killed by an Israeli airstrike on 1 January 2009 with 15 relatives when a 2,000-pound bomb was dropped on his house. * Possible targeted killing: Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
Mahmoud al-Mabhouh
, a senior Hamas commander and one of the founders of the al-Qassam Brigades , was killed in January 2010 by being electrocuted and/or drugged with succinylcholine , a quick-acting paralytic , and then suffocated in his room in a five-star Dubai
hotel; the Dubai
police said that the Israeli Mossad
was behind the killing. * Ahmed Jabari killed by an Israeli drone strike on 14 November 2012 while he was traveling with his bodyguard along Omar Mukhtar Street
Omar Mukhtar Street
in Gaza City
Gaza City
. * Raed al Atar
Raed al Atar
killed with two other top Hamas
commanders by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah
on 21 August 2014. * Jihad Mughniyah killed on 18 January 2015 by an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights along with five other prominent members of Hezbollah
and six IRGC
commanders, including a General. * Samir Kuntar killed with other seven Syrian nationals on 20 December 2015 by an Israeli airstrike in Jaramana
, Syria.



While article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter
United Nations Charter
prohibits the threat or use of force by one state against another, two exceptions are relevant to the question of whether targeted killings are lawful: (1) when the use of force is carried out with the consent of the host state; and (2) when the use of force is in self-defense in response to an armed attack or an imminent threat, and where the host state is unwilling or unable to take appropriate action. The legality of a targeted drone strike must be evaluated in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL), including the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality, humanity, and military necessity.

The part of The Charter of the United Nations that regulates "action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression" is Chapter VII (articles 39-50), which requires that it is the Security Council that determines any threat to peace and decides on measures to be taken to maintain or restore peace. Article 51 mentions the only exception, as being members of the United Nations have "the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security".

The tactic raises complex questions as to the legal basis for its application, who qualifies as an appropriate "hit list" target, and what circumstances must exist before the tactic may be employed. Opinions range from people considering it a legal form of self-defense that reduces terrorism, to people calling it an extrajudicial killing that lacks due process, and which leads to more violence. Methods used have included firing a Hellfire missile
Hellfire missile
from an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter (Israel), or a Predator or Reaper drone (an unmanned, remote-controlled plane), detonating a cell phone bomb, and long-range sniper shooting. Countries such as the U.S. (in Pakistan and Yemen) and Israel (in the West Bank
West Bank
and Gaza) have used targeted killing to kill members of groups such as Al-Qaeda
and Hamas

Targeted killing
Targeted killing
operations, according to Harvard Law School Professors Gabriella Blum and Philip Heymann, amplify the tension between addressing terrorism as a crime versus addressing terrorism as an act of war. Governments pursuing a law enforcement strategy punish persons for their individual guilt, which must be proven in a court of law, where the accused enjoys the protections of due process guarantees. Governments in the midst of war, on the other hand, may claim a legal obligation to take advantage of the relaxation of peacetime constraints on the use of deadly force. Enemy combatants may be targeted and killed not because they are guilty, but because they are potentially lethal agents of a hostile party. No advance warning is necessary, no attempt to arrest or capture is required, and no effort to minimize casualties among enemy forces is demanded by law. Despite this inherent tension, the United States has made targeted killing—the deliberate assassination of a known terrorist outside the country’s territory, usually by airstrike—an essential part of its counter-terrorism strategy. Hence, the United States has justified the killing of terrorists under a war paradigm. "Using the war paradigm for counter-terrorism enabled government lawyers to distinguish lethal attacks on terrorists from prohibited assassinations and justify them as lawful battlefield operations against enemy combatants, much like the uncontroversial targeted killing of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
while he was traveling by a military airplane during World War II."

Further support for the U.S. government’s use of drone strike tactics is found in a report found in the Journal of Strategic Security concerning the surgical nature of drone strikes for use in a populated area. The author concedes, "Indeed the tactic of using drones promises the ability of eliminating enemies in complex environments, while minimizing the political implications of resorting to war."

The domestic legislative basis offered to justify drone strikes is the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), a joint resolution of both houses of Congress passed exactly one week after 11 September 2001. The AUMF permits the President to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons".

A report published in the Journal of Strategic Security focusing on the future of drones in geopolitics finds the U.S. government's use of drones in targeted killing operations and "indiscriminant and disproportionate use of force that violates the sovereignty of Pakistan".

In early 2010, with President Barack Obama's approval, Anwar al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to be approved for targeted killing by the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA). Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in September 2011.

A Reuters
report analysing the killing of 500 "militants" by US drones between 2008 and 2010 found that only 8% of those killed were mid- to top-tier organisers or leaders; the rest were unidentified foot soldiers.

Obama Administration Position On Combat Drones

See also: Disposition Matrix

“ The United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense.There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat. ”

John O. Brennan
John O. Brennan
in his 2012-04-30 speech "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President's Counterterrorism

In a speech titled "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President's Counterterrorism
Strategy" John O. Brennan
John O. Brennan
, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, outlined on 30 April 2012 at the Wilson Center the use of combat drones to kill members of al-Qaeda by the US Federal government under President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
. John Brennan acknowledged for the first time that the US government uses drones to kill selected members of al-Qaeda.

He justified the use of drones both from domestic law and international law point of view. With respect to domestic law Brennan stated, "as a matter of domestic law, the Constitution empowers the President to protect the nation from any imminent threat of attack. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks authorizes the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against those nations, organizations and individuals responsible for 9/11. There is nothing in the AUMF that restricts the use of military force against al-Qa'ida to Afghanistan
." And he further said: "As a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense. There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat."

The speech came a few days after Obama authorized the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special
Operations Command (JSOC) to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence "signatures" — patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. interests. Under the previous rules the CIA and the US military were only allowed to use drone strikes against known terrorist leaders whose location could be confirmed and who appeared on secret CIA and JSOC target lists.

The justification by Brennan built upon remarks by US top officials like the State Department's top lawyer Harold Hongju Koh
Harold Hongju Koh
, US Attorney General Eric Holder
Eric Holder
, the US Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson
Jeh Johnson
and President Obama himself who defended the use of drones outside of so-called "hot battlefields" like Afghanistan.

In 2011/2012 the process for selecting targets outside of warzones was altered so that power was concentrated in the hands of a group of people in the White House
White House
centered around White House
White House
counterterror chief John Brennan. Under the new plan, Brennan's staff compiles the potential target list and runs the names past agencies such as the State Department at a weekly White House
White House
meeting. According to the New York Times, President Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, reserving the final say on approving lethal action, and signs off every strike in Yemen, Somalia
and Pakistan.

U.S. Congressional oversight over the targeted killing operations increased as the drone program intensified under Obama Administration. Once a month, a group of staff members from the House and Senate intelligence committees watch videos of the latest drone strikes, review intelligence that was used to justify each drone strike and sometimes examine telephone intercepts and after-the-fact evidence, such as the CIA's assessment of who was hit. The procedure used by House and Senate intelligence committees to monitor CIA drone strikes was set up largely at the request of Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne Feinstein
who became determined to ensure that it was as precise as the CIA had been claiming. "That's been a concern of mine from the beginning," Feinstein said in little-noticed comments after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011 . "I asked that this effort be established. It has been. The way in which this is being done is very careful." Feinstein explained how the oversight works in general. "We receive notification with key details shortly after every strike, and we hold regular briefings and hearings on these operations," Feinstein wrote in May in a letter sent in response to a column that ran in the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
questioning the oversight of drone strikes. "Committee staff has held 28 monthly in-depth oversight meetings to review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimize noncombatant casualties." If the congressional committees objected to something, the lawmakers could call CIA leaders to testify in closed investigative hearings. If unsatisfied, they could pass legislation limiting the CIA's actions.

Congressional criticism of drone strikes has been rare. But in June 2012, 26 lawmakers, all but two of them Democrats, signed a letter to Obama questioning so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. attacks armed men who fit a pattern of behavior that suggests they are involved in terrorist activities. Signature strikes have been curbed in Pakistan, where they once were common, but in 2012 Obama gave the CIA permission to conduct them in Yemen, where an Al Qaeda
Al Qaeda
affiliate that has targeted the United States has established a safe haven in the south. The lawmakers expressed concern that signature strikes could kill civilians. They added: "Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight."

While the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of al Qaeda the use of combat drones has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift during the Obama Administration to focus increasingly on killing Taliban
foot soldiers according to CNN
National Security Analyst Peter Bergen. Bergen noted: "To the extent that the targets of drone attacks can be ascertained, under Bush, al Qaeda members accounted for 25% of all drone targets compared to 40% for Taliban targets. Under Obama, only 8% of targets were al Qaeda compared to just over 50% for Taliban

Facing the possibility of defeat in the 2012 Presidential election the Obama Administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures. The work to codify U.S. drone policy began in summer 2011. "There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands," said one unnamed U.S official. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Obama did not want to leave an "amorphous" program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney
won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said. "One of the things we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president's reined in terms of some of the decisions that we're making," Obama said and added "creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come." U.S. President Obama also expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to policy makers. "There's a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems," he said.

In response lawsuits brought by The New York Times
The New York Times
and the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to use the Freedom of Information Act to make public more details about the legal basis for the drone programs U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled at the end of December 2012 that the U.S. Government has no legal duty to disclose legal opinions justifying the use of drones to kill suspected terrorist operatives abroad. While noting that a more detailed disclosure of the administration's legal rationale "would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated", McMahon came to the conclusion that the Freedom of Information Act did not permit her to require such transparency.

In a letter dated 22 May 2013 to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee, Patrick J. Leahy , U.S. attorney general Eric Holder wrote that the United States will use lethal force by combat drones "in a foreign country against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qa'ida or its associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, in the following circumstances: (1) the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is not feasible; and (3) the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles." In a Presidential Policy Guidance entitled "U.S. Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism
Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities" from May 2013 the United States government stated that lethal force by combat drones "will be used only to prevent or stop attacks against U.S. persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively". The U.S. government further declared, "lethal force will be used outside areas of active hostilities only when the following preconditions are met:

* First, there must be a legal basis for using lethal force. * Second, the United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. * Third, the following criteria must be met before lethal action may be taken:

* Near certainty that the terrorist target is present; * Near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed; * An assessment that capture is not feasible at the time of the operation; * An assessment that the relevant governmental authorities in the country where action is contemplated cannot or will not effectively address the threat to U.S. persons; and * An assessment that no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat to U.S. persons.

U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
touched on the subject of combat drones in a speech on Counterterrorism
delivered on 23 May 2013 at the National Defense University. "It is a hard fact that US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties," he said, adding, "These deaths will haunt us. But as commander-in-chief I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternative. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties." Obama said new guidance allowed targeting only those terrorists posing "a continuing and imminent threat to the American people", which administration officials said meant only individuals planning attacks on the U.S. homeland or against U.S. persons abroad. Obama defended the use of drones as just because America "is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban
and their associated forces". To stop terrorists from gaining a foothold, drones will be deployed according to Obama, but only when there is an imminent threat; no hope of capturing the targeted terrorist; "near certainty" that civilians won't be harmed; and "there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat". Never will a strike be punitive.

A report by Ben Emmerson QC, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, who identified 33 drone strikes around the world that have resulted in civilian casualties and may have violated international humanitarian law urged the United States "to further clarify its position on the legal and factual issues ... to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, information relevant to its lethal extraterritorial counter-terrorism operations; and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft, together with information on the evaluation methodology used". Human Rights Watch said that in Yemen
more civilians were killed than admitted by the Obama administration, while Amnesty International said the same of drone strikes in Pakistan. Caitlin Hayden, a White House
White House
spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports, but said in an e-mail statement: "As the President emphasized, the use of lethal force, including from remotely piloted aircraft, commands the highest level of attention and care."

While the U.S. government is considering whether to kill an American abroad suspected of planning terrorist attacks and how to do so legally under new stricter targeting policy issued in 2013, The Intercept reported that the U.S. government is using primarily NSA surveillance to target people for drone strikes overseas. In its report The Intercept
The Intercept
the author details the flawed methods which are used to locate targets for lethal drone strikes, resulting in the deaths of innocent people. According to the Washington Post
Washington Post
NSA analysts and collectors i.e. NSA personnel who control electronic surveillance equipment use the NSA's sophisticated surveillance capabilities to track individual targets geographically and in real time, while drones and tactical units aimed their weaponry against those targets to take them out.

NBC News released in February 2014 an undated Department of Justice White paper entitled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa'ida or An Associated Force" in which the Obama Administration concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaida or "an associated force" – even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S. However any such targeted killing operation by the United States would have to comply with the four fundamental law-of-war principles governing the use of force which are necessity, distinction, proportionality and humanity – i.e., the avoidance of unnecessary suffering. (Page 8 of ). The memo also discusses why targeted killings would not be a war crime or violate a U.S. executive order banning assassinations :

"A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination. In the Department's view, a lethal operation conducted against a U.S. citizen whose conduct poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States would be a legitimate act of national self-defense that would not violate the assassination ban. Similarly, the use of lethal force, consistent with the laws of war, against an individual who is a legitimate military target would be lawful and would not violate the assassination ban."

In 2013, a report on drone warfare and aerial sovereignty proposed that U.S. government drone policy in Pakistan
potentially violated human rights according to the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights . The rights in direct question were the right to life; right to a fair trial; the freedom of association; right to protection of the family; and, less directly, right to highest attainable health standards; right to education; and right of freedom from hunger.

Nearly a year after U.S. President Obama's counterterrorism speech on 23 May 2013 at the National Defense University much of his agenda he outlined remained unfinished or not even begun. This included increased public information on and congressional oversight of lethal attacks with drones, and efforts to move the CIA out of drone programm entirely into the hands of the U.S. military.

On 21 April 2014 the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal overtuned the above-mentioned December 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon and ruled that the Obama administration must release documents justifying its drone-killings of Americans and foreigners. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal released on 23 June 2014 a Juli 2010 memo by then U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel David Barron which outlined the rationale for killing the American Citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi .



The U.S. Army
U.S. Army
's Law of Land Warfare (Field Manual 27-10) states:

31. Assassination
and Outlawry

It is especially forbidden * * * to kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army.

This article is construed as prohibiting assassination, proscription, or outlawry of an enemy, or putting a price upon an enemy's head, as well as offering a reward for an enemy "dead or alive". It does not, however, preclude attacks on individual soldiers or officers of the enemy whether in the zone of hostilities, occupied territory, or elsewhere.

Daniel Reisner, who headed the International Legal Division of the Israeli Military Advocate General's Office from 1994 to 2005, has stated that although targeted killing is illegal under previous understanding of international law, "If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries." Reisner continues, " International law
International law
progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassination thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal moulds. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy." This view is disputed by George Bisharat of the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, who contends that assassination is not widely regarded as legal.

Georgetown Law Professor and former U.S. Marine , Gary Solis , has argued that under certain conditions, "Assassinations and targeted killings are very different acts." For Solis, these conditions require that there is an ongoing military conflict, the targeted individual (civilian or military) has taken up arms, that there is no reasonable possibility of arrest, and that the decision to kill is made by senior political leaders.

Abraham Sofaer , a former legal advisor to the U.S. State Department and fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution
Hoover Institution
think tank, has written that targeted killing is "sometimes necessary, because leaders are obliged to defend their citizens". After the killing of Hamas founder and quadriplegic Ahmed Yassin
Ahmed Yassin
by Israeli helicopter gunships, Sofaer argued that targeted killing is not prohibited by American Executive Order 11905 banning assassination: "killings in self-defense are no more 'assassinations' in international affairs than they are murders when undertaken by our police forces against domestic killers."

Sofaer had previously argued during the First Gulf War
First Gulf War
that targeted killing was ethical but impractical: " Targeted killing
Targeted killing
will also invite revenge against the leaders who order it as well as their citizens and property. Given the legal, political and moral constraints that limit such activities in democratic regimes, the United States has a substantial interest in discouraging acceptance of the killing of political leaders as a routine measure, even in self-defense."

Author and former U.S. Army
U.S. Army
Captain Matthew J. Morgan has argued, "there is a major difference between assassination and targeted killing.... targeted killing not synonymous with assassination. Assassination
... constitutes an illegal killing." Amos Guiora
Amos Guiora
, formerly an Israel Defense Forces
Israel Defense Forces
Lt. Colonol and commander of the IDF school of military law, now Professor of law at the University of Utah, has written, "targeted killing is ... not an assassination". Steve David , Johns Hopkins Associate Dean ">

Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School
Professors Gabriella Blum and Philip Heymann cite six potential hazards of targeted killings: First, the so-called Hydra effect , or the rise of more—and more resolute—leaders to replace those who were recently "decapitated." Second, drones can drive terrorist leaders into hiding, making the monitoring of their movements, and subsequent intelligence gathering, extremely difficult. Third, "the political message flowing from the use of targeted killings may be harmful to the attacking country’s interest, as it emphasizes the disparity in power between the parties and reinforces popular support for the terrorists, who are seen as a David fighting Goliath." Fourth, when conducted in a foreign country, drone strikes run the risk of heightening tensions between the targeting government and the government in whose territory the operation is conducted. Fifth, targeted killings threaten criticism from local domestic constituencies against the government allowing strikes within their country. Finally, there is a danger of over-using targeted killings, both within and outside the war of terrorism.

Daniel Byman, security studies professor at Georgetown University
Georgetown University
, argues that Washington must clarify its policies behind extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings, lest a nefarious precedent in international law is set. Additionally, Byman argues that Washington must "remain mindful of the built-in limits of low-cost, unmanned interventions, since the very convenience of drone warfare risks dragging the United States into conflicts it could otherwise avoid." Though Byman recognizes the problems inherent in using armed UAVs, he believes that they are very effective. "U.S. drones have killed an estimated 3,000 al Qaeda , Taliban
, and other jihadist operatives in Pakistan
and Yemen
. That number includes over 50 senior leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban--top figures who are not easily replaced." Drones have also undercut terrorists' ability to effectively communicate with its target audiences, ultimately straining their recruitment pools. To avoid attracting drones, al Qaeda operates have avoided gathering in large numbers and mitigated use of electronic devices. Byman argues that al Qaeda leaders "cannot give orders when they are incommunicado, and training on a large scale is nearly impossible when a drone strike could wipe out an entire coupe of new recruits. Drones have turned al Qaeda's command and training structures into a liability, forcing the group to choose between having no leaders and risking dead leaders."

Audrey Kurth Cronin of George Mason University
George Mason University
argues that while drones are tactically savvy, they have failed to advance the strategic goals of U.S. counter-terrorism policy. Terrorism itself is a tactic, Cronin notes, but it succeeds on a strategic plane when a shocking event is successfully leveraged for political gain. "To be effective, counter-terrorism must itself respond with a coherent strategy. The problem for Washington today is that its drone program has taken on a life of its own, to the point where tactics are driving strategy rather than the other way around." Cronin agrees with Daniel Byman of Georgetown University
Georgetown University
insofar that drones have inflicted real damage upon al Qaeda . However, "Washington now finds itself in a permanent battle with amorphous and geographically dispersed foe, one with an increasingly marginal connection to the original 9/11 plotters. In this endless contest, the United States risks multiplying its enemies and heightening their incentives to attack the country."


* Targeted Killing in International Law
Targeted Killing in International Law
* Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World * Assassination
* Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter
United Nations Charter
* CIA transnational anti-terrorism activities
CIA transnational anti-terrorism activities
* Drone (2014 film) * Doublespeak * Executive actions of the CIA * Harris Corporation
Harris Corporation
* High-value target * Justifiable homicide * Kill authorizations * Killing Hope * Licence to kill (concept) * List of military strikes against presumed terrorist targets * Manhunt (law enforcement)
Manhunt (law enforcement)
* Manhunt (military)
Manhunt (military)
* Proscription
* Protocol I
Protocol I
to the Geneva Conventions


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(2004). "Targeted Killing as Active Self-Defense". Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law. 36 (319). Retrieved 29 May 2010. * ^ Steven R. David (September 2002). "Fatal Choices: Israel\'s Policy Of Targeted Killing" (PDF). The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 November 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2010. * ^ A B Rory Miller (2007). Ireland and the Middle East: trade, society and peace. Irish Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-7165-2868-5 . Retrieved 29 May 2010. * ^ "Targeted Killing and Assassination: The U.S. Legal Framework", Banks, William C., Raven-Hansen, Peter, 37 University of Richmond Law Review 667 (2002–03). Retrieved 9 October 2010. * ^ Thomas B. Hunter (2009). Targeted Killing: Self-Defense, Preemption and the War on Terrorism. ISBN 1-4392-5205-X . * ^ A B Grimmett, R. "CRS Report for Congress" (PDF). law.umaryland.edu. * ^ The Hill: "Obama Could Bomb Iraq Without Congress Because War Authorization Never Expired" 12 June 2014. Accessed 17 February 2015. * ^ Branson, Louise (14 November 1998). "Campaign to eliminate Saddam gains speed". The Scotsman. Retrieved 20 September 2012. * ^ Sauer, Frank/Schoernig Niklas, 2012: "Killer drones: The \'silver bullet\' of democratic warfare?", in: Security Dialogue 43 (4): 363-380, accessed 1 September 2012. * ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About Targeting Killing". American Civil Liberties Union. 30 August 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2012. * ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-17. * ^ Ibrahim Nafie (31 October 2001). "Opinion The very model of a rogue state". Al-Ahram Weekly
Al-Ahram Weekly
. Retrieved 20 May 2010. * ^ A B C D Micah, Zenko (January 2013). Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies. New York: Council on Foreign Relations. p. 3. * ^ A B Micah, Zenko (January 2013). Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies. New York, New York: Council on Foreign Relations. pp. vii. * ^ A B C D E Blum, Gabriella and Philip Heymann (June 2010). "Law and Policy of Targeted Killing" (PDF). Harvard National Security Journal. 1: 165. Retrieved 11 February 2013. * ^ Blum, Gabriella and Philip Heymann (June 2010). "Law and Policy of Targeted Killing" (PDF). Harvard National Security Journal. 1: 166. Retrieved 11 February 2013. * ^ A B C D E Byman, Daniel (July–August 2013). "Why Drones Work: The Case for Washington\'s Weapon of Choice". Foreign Affairs. 92 (4). Retrieved 8 July 2013. * ^ A B C D Cronin, Audrey Kurth (July–August 2013). "Why Drones Fail: When Tactics Drive Strategy". Foreign Affairs. 92 (4): 44–54. Retrieved 10 July 2013.


Find more aboutTARGETED KILLINGat's sister projects

* Definitions from Wiktionary * Media from Commons * News from Wikinews * Quotations from Wikiquote * Texts from Wikisource

This list is in chronological order broken down by publication areas Monographs

* Anna Goppel (2013): Killing Terrorists. A Moral and Legal Analysis. De Gruyter, Berlin.


* Jeremy Scahill and The Staff of The Intercept
The Intercept
(2016). The Assassination
Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster
. ISBN 9781501144134 * Jan Arno Hessbruegge, Human Rights and Personal Self-Defense in International Law, Oxford University Press (2017), Ch. 4 Raven-Hansen, Peter (March 2002). "Targeted Killing and Assassination: The U.S. Legal Framework" (PDF). University of Richmond Law Review. 37: 667. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 June 2010. * Guiora, Amos (2004). "Targeted Killing as active self-defense". Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law. 36: 319. * Statman, Daniel (2004). "Targeted Killing" (PDF). Theoretical Inquiries in Law . 5: 1. doi :10.2202/1565-3404.1090 . * Byman, Daniel (March–April 2006). "Do targeted killings work?" (PDF). Foreign Affairs
Foreign Affairs
. Council on Foreign Relations. * Hafez, Mohammed; Hatfield, Joseph (September 2006). "Do Targeted Assassinations Work? A Multivariate Analysis of Israel\'s Controversial Tactic during Al-Aqsa Uprising". Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Taylor & Francis. doi :10.1080/10576100600641972 . * Vlasic, Mark V. (2012). " Assassination
& Targeted Killing—A Historical and Post-Bin Laden Legal Analysis". Georgetown Journal of International Law. 43 (2): 259–333. ISSN 1550-5200 . * Dear, Keith (2013). "Beheading the Hydra? Does Killing Terrorist or Insurgent Leaders Work?". Defence Studies Journal. 13 (3): 293–337. doi :10.1080/14702436.2013.845383 . * Schlager, Scott A. ">'Guns for Hire, Death on Demand': The Permissibility of U.S. Outsourcing of Drone Attacks to Civilian Surrogates of the Armed Forces and Challenges to Traditional Just War Theory". Florida Journal of International Law. XXV (2): 147–206. SSRN 2341756  .


* Sofaer, Abraham (26 March 2004). "Responses to Terrorism/Targeted killing is a necessary option". San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
. Archived from the original on 29 August 2011. * Kaplan, Eben (25 January 2006). "Q&A: Targeted Killings". The New York Times . * Blumenfield, Laura (27 August 2006). "In Israel, leaders struggle with targeted killings; Moral, legal quandaries mark decision to use select weapon against terror". The Washington Post
Washington Post
. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. * Barghouti, Mustafa (8 June 2007). " Targeted killing
Targeted killing
won\'t bring peace". The New York Times. * Dromi, Uri (24 March 2010). "A targeted killing: How else is Israel meant to deal with terror?". The New York Times. * Bowcott, Owen (21 June 2012). "Drone strikes threaten 50 years of international law, says UN rapporteur: US policy of using drone strikes to carry out targeted killings \'may encourage other states to flout international law\'". The Guardian
The Guardian
. London. * Scahill, Jeremy (15 October 2015). "The Drone Papers: Secret military documents expose the inner workings of Obama’s drone wars.". The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post


* "Convenient Killing: Armed Drones and the \'Playstation\' Mentality" (PDF). Fellowship of Reconciliation . September 2010.

Government and UN reports

* Alston, Philip (28 May 2010). "Report of the Special