#METC: Targeted Killings

Tonight we’ll start our segment on targeted killings. Given that the recently leaked DOJ White Paper concerning the legal rational for killing Anwar Al-Awlaki and some of the leaked information about the broader classified drone program likely informs people’s thinking on the subject, this is probably a good time to remind those folks participating in #METC who have a clearance that leaked classified material retains its original classification, and discussing it on twitter is not the smartest thing you could do with your evening. So long as we keep our conversation at the level of the moral implications of targeted killings as a practice, everyone should be fine. We will not be discussing classified US programs or policy regardless of whether we can read about them in the Washington Post. I know you want you; I’d love to too. But it’s a jackass rookie mistake that we’re all to smart to make.

Likewise, the purpose of #METC is to discuss the moral implications of targeted killings, not engage in political commentary, so keep your opinions about specific individuals, political parties, or administrations to yourself. When in doubt, depersonalize. We’re here to discuss the substance of the act, not throw stones. To be clear, I’m not shushing any of our regular #METC participants; I have been very impressed — though hardly surprised — by your professionalism. I just anticipate this topic and our next will attract some emotion; this is me telling you that it should not come at the expense of intelligence or reason.

Some issues that will come up in our discussion:

  • The difference between targeted killing and assassination: assassinations being the treacherous killing of high-profile individuals in a time of peace and targeted killings being the military killing of specifically designated combatants in a time of war;
  • Rule vs act consequentialism: Act consequentialism is an approach to moral reasoning that weighs the consequences of a particular act (the morally right thing to do is the act that yields the desired consequences). Rule consequentialism is a similar approach to moral reasoning that evaluates the consequences of the act becoming precedent (the morally right thing to do is the act that yields the desired consequences if everyone did the act as a rule);
  • Definitions of combatancy: Here we will be discussing two forms of combatancy spelled out in the ICRC’s helpful Interpretive Guidance on the Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities and its distinction between “Direct Participation in Hostilities” (DPH) and “Continuous Combat Function” (CCF) “continuous combat function requires lasting integration into an organized armed group acting as the armed forces of a non-state party to an armed conflict. Thus, individuals whose continuous function involves the preparation, execution, or command of acts or operations amounting to direct participation in hostilities are assuming a continuous combat function. an individual recruited, trained and equipped by such a group to continuously and directly participate in hostilities on its behalf can be considered to assume a continuous combat function even before he or she first carries out a hostile act” (Interpretive Guidance, 34); and,
  • What it means to be at war with a non-state actor.

We’ll look at the moral implications of unmanned systems starting next Monday, so let’s hold our discussion of drones until then. I know most people see the two issues of targeted killings and drones as the same, but they’re not. Tonight we’re talking about targeting and combatancy — who may the state justifiably target with lethal force, and why? You can target them with a drone, an F-18, or a gun. The platform used to do the killing is secondary to the justification for the killing. When we discuss drones we’ll look at combatancy from a different perspective: what does it mean to have combatants far removed from the danger of the battlefield, and what does it mean to have non-humans serving as combatants (in the case of autonomy)? The platform itself is the moral question, and the targets are of secondary concern.


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