Monday, February 13, 2012

LD Targeted Killing Topic Analysis - Part 2

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Part 2 - Semantics, Scope and Impact

The Semantics of Targeted Killing
A "targeted killing" in the sense required by the resolution is a relatively new term for an old tactic, namely the act of targeting specific persons, assumed to be political enemies for elimination; assassination.  But assassination is a term which carries a meaning implying treachery and provokes a negative evaluation in people who hear the word.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines assassination as 1) To murder (a prominent person) by surprise attack, as for political reasons; and 2) To destroy or injure treacherously. So it conveys the sense the word is a murder of a prominent person carried out for a political objective. The association with the words murder, surprise attack and treachery is reflective of the term's negative value.  Of course it is after all, murder, and murder is banned in society.  To be sure, to murder means the same as to kill but murder is a kind of illegal killing considering that society does recognize that killing is sometimes necessary though regrettably so.  In common usage, assassination is an illegal murder carried out for a political purpose.  Given that society recognizes that some forms of murder are necessary, it follows that some kinds of murders done for a political purpose can be deemed necessary, albeit regrettable. Hence, the legal community has tried to convey the sense that "targeted killing" means a legal killing done for a political purpose; a legal assassination, if you will.  The terminology "targeted killing" drops the negative value expressed in the words murder and assassination.  Welcome to semantics 101.

The astute reader should consider, if a suicide bomber targets and kills a government official, and an Israeli fighter jet strafes and kills a Hammas activist, why is the former considered illegal and the latter legal?  Indeed, one could easily put forth the argument that both are equal in their horror, unexpectedness and end result. In fact, in my opinion, this is one of the questions the debate is likely to enjoin.  As I see it, it can be argued the legality or illegality of an act falls squarely on the one who makes the law and possesses the capability, let's say the power, to enforce it.  Therefore, it can be argued the latter is legal because those with the power to enforce the law say it is legal.  Thankfully, we are not asked to debate the legality of the act, rather its moral permissiveness.

The Scope of Targeted Killing
It is probably impossible to determine how extensive targeted killing has been since World War II.  While it may be possible to point to specific cases and claim this killing or that was a targeted killing, mainly in the world of espionage, most of these were done clandestinely and the details often kept from the public eye as elements of covert operations. The Senate Church Committee investigations revealed many plots to carry out political executions in the 1970s resulting in the eventual issuance of EO 12333 and the ban on assassination by agents of the United States government.  Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the only country openly carrying out targeted killing was Israel.  Interestingly, these attacks against various Palestinian activists were widely condemned, even by the United States.  After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. initiated a policy of targeted killing against suspected Al-Qaeda leaders and began openly using a number of tactics to carry out the policy.  Today, the most widely used and publicised method of targeted killing is carried out by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as predator drones.  These remotely piloted vehicles can locate, target and destroy suspected enemies while being flown by an operator 100s of miles away.  Many of the units operating in the Afghan airspace are piloted from Saudi Arabia.

The Impact of Targeted Killing
There are several aspects to the impact of targeted killing that should be examined.  First, one should consider that the methods used often create collateral damage or unintentionally target the wrong individuals.  The collateral damage results in the loss of life and property of innocent people.  This is often justified on utilitarian principles with the claim it is better to risk such collateral damage rather than risk the kind of impacts the targeted individual could potentially unleash.  In other words, regrettable events such as the death of innocent people is necessary to prevent the greater impact of unchecked terrorism.  Anyone who has watched the news or paid attention to world events has seen the many reports of civilian casualties often occurring as the result of a targeted killing attempt.

A second impact that should be considered, is the overall effectiveness of the policy itself. In other words one should consider whether targeted killing has made the world a safer place or at least reduced the incidence of terrorism or succeeded in whatever is the stated political purpose of the policy.

Next, we will discuss the moral framework.

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