Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Moral Framework of Targeted killing - Part 1


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Some Sources
As I begin to examine the moral framework of targeted killing I will first reveal my primary sources for this part of the analysis. I confess some of the citations are not complete mainly because I downloaded the source files one afternoon and did not take particular care about the links from which I accessed them.  All were found using an EBSCOhost server.

Targeted Killing in War and Peace: A Philosophical Analysis, Fernando R. Tesón, 2011

Targeted killing: a ‘dirty hands’ analysis, Stephen de Wijze, University of Manchester, UK, published in Contemporary Politics, Vol. 15, No. 3, September 2009, 305–320

State Morality in International Relations, Bruce Williams, published in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1923), pp. 17-33Published


The Definitions
I begin by quoting verbatim, the definitions illuminated in the Tesón, 2011 paper.  Tesón lays an excellent basis for our understanding of targeted killing, and does make what I consider an important limitation: "targeted killings conducted by a liberal democracy".  This is important, because we can cite examples of targeted killings carried out by non-democratic states, illegitimate governments, and non-aligned, quasi-governmental groups which are not recognized by the international community.  Including killings from these kinds of groups unnecessarily complicates our analysis since one may question whether such actions can ever be deemed legitimate or moral.

Tesón, 2011:
I define targeted killing as the extrajudicial intentional killing by the state of an identified person for a public purpose. This chapter will examine only those targeted killings conducted by a liberal democracy. The definition calls for some clarification. The word “extrajudicial” excludes from the definition all instances where someone is killed in execution of a lawful sentence (whether this is morally justified or not I will not address.) The word “intentional” means that the assassin directly intends to kill the victim. It excludes from the definition all killings that are incidental to combat in war or revolution (serious as those are). Thus, it excludes not only unforeseen deaths, but also foreseen yet unintended deaths.4 In a targeted killing the victim is precisely identified: the lethal action is directed at him. The requirement that the victim be identified is necessary to distinguish targeted killing from the anonymous intentional killing of enemy combatants in war. Killing an enemy soldier on the battlefield is not a targeted killing in our sense. Finally, I use the expression “public purpose” loosely, to exclude private purposes such as revenge or personal gain. A public purpose is still normatively neutral: it may or may not be morally justified.

The Moral Agency of the Actor
Another key consideration in the definition of targeted killing is identification of the actor. As seen in the Tesón definition in the preceding section, targeted killing is intentional killing by the state.  In other words, a government.  It is intuitive, that human agents of the government are the ones doing the actual killing, usually employing some form of killing machine designed for the purpose.  Nevertheless, we do not hold the human individuals culpable for targeted killing.  Perhaps this is a convenience to exonerate the perpetrator and absolve him of responsibility.  Certainly, any sense of guilt the agent may carry can be somewhat mediated by the knowledge he was carrying out the intentions of the state.  Nevertheless, such state shielding from guilt does little to help war criminals when they are brought to trial.  However, one could just as easily argue that we try humans because we can not try states.

Philosophically, the state can be considered an omnipotent, legal entity with respect to itself.

Williams, 1923:
The state is an institution which lends itself to a variety of interpretations. In some of these conceptions, it is wholly detached from considerations of morality; in others it is assumed to have definite and intimate moral relationships; though most commonly perhaps, in political thought at least, the nature and degree of the moral responsibility of the state is vague and undetermined. Especially is this true as to the manner in which its external obligations are to be discharged without impinging upon the essential interests of the state itself...the state is regarded as an abstract personality or entity possessing supreme legal competency within the sphere of its jurisdiction, and functioning within this sphere without legal accountability. The supreme legal will of the state is technically termed sovereignty, this itself being an abstract idea denoting legal supremacy and omnipotence, and, by its very nature, indivisible. With considerations of morality, the state thus viewed, is not concerned, and as an abstract conception it is not the subject of ethical rights and duties.

However, when formulating a moral philosophy of the state, Williams continues:
In its moral relationships, the state must be regarded as a collection of human individuals and not as an abstraction. Its internal organization may be regarded as representing the attitude of a group collectively organized toward its individual members, regulating their relations with one another and with the group as a whole. From this viewpoint, the conduct of the state, in its external relations, represents the attitude of one group of individuals in their collective dealings with another group of similar or related characteristics, and by its acts contributes to the standards which will govern these relations. As a human institution, com- posed of individuals, this collective body is subject to the same factors which influence and determine individual conduct...

Williams then frames a philosophy which essentially establishes the state itself an agent of the collective body of humans and thus of necessity, the collective morality is conferred upon it:
It is the essence of morality that to become operative, it must find lodgment in human conscience; as a motivating agency elsewhere it cannot with reason be conceived. Within the state, defined as a living social body, as a group of human individuals, morality may be sought. In such a society, in some degree of development, morality must, in fact, of necessity exist.

Justifying Targeted Killing as a Moral Act
Stephen de Wijze notes the definition of targeted killing as an extrajudicial act suggests it is somehow above or outside the law. He presents a commonly accepted definition which creates a framework by which one can justify targeted killing as a legitimate and moral act of self-defense:

de Wijze, 2009:
In short, TK can be defined as: a state-sanctioned policy, which is used only in extraordinary circumstances to eliminate an individual, or group of individuals,where the individuals targeted are an imminent threat with a proven record of actively planning and/or executing terrorist attacks against civilians, the individuals targeted intend (and have so professed) to continue acts of terrorism, and there is no realistic possibility of preventing such attacks by non-lethal methods and bringing the perpetrators before a proper court of law. This account of TK seeks to highlight the specific aims, circumstances and targets of this type of extrajudicial killing. Supporters of TK insist that by meeting these conditions the killing is morally (and legally) justifiable.

Embedded within de Wijze's definition is the identifiable basis of a moral self-defense claim, very similar to what we have seen in the previous Lincoln-Douglas debate topic on Domestic Violence.  The idea of imminent threat, active planning and executing violence by the target, and no alternative courses of action are possible,

(For part 2 - click here)

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