Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Targeted Killing Debate - Ideas for AFF and NEG

For more about Lincoln Douglas Debate including topic analyses, strategies, and links to evidence *click here*

Just in case you are visiting this page for the first time, directly from the web and if you need to debate this topic in an NFL Lincoln-Douglas debate, I suggest beginning with the background information contained in the following links:

2012 Mar/Apr Topic Analysis
    Part 1 - The Legal Justification
    Part 2 - The Semantics, Scope and Impact
    Moral Framework of Targeted Killing - Part 1
    Moral Framework of Targeted Killing - Part 2

The principle definitions for this resolution will be complex and very critical to establish a proper framework for Aff and Neg advocacy. I would be surprised if there if is not a lot of clash surrounding how targeted killing is defined and I would suggest there needs to be clash over the definition.  As I discuss in the previous articles, semantics is all important and imparts a sense of value on the language selected to define the terminology.  You must consider the experience of the judge and her role in this debate.  Nearly everyone has been touched by political assassination, targeted killing or justifiable murder in some way and it shades one's perspective.  The definition of morally permissible should be familiar to the debater.  This is the second topic in a row where that language has been used and previously defined.  What is unique in this resolution is the idea of the state's moral culpability as opposed to individual.  Additionally, I would be surprised if any clash arose over the definition of foreign-policy tool, especially since that is the only way targeted killings are employed.  I have not provided any definition of those terms in my analysis.  I leave it to you, as a relatively simple dictionary definition should suffice.

Overview of the Burdens
There seems to be nothing complex or tricky about defining the Pro burden in this resolution.  They simply prove that targeted killing is morally permitted. If you debated the Domestic Violence resolution, you understand, at least on a certain level, what the AFF advocacy must be.  In my opinion, Neg has much better ground from which to establish a stand, than the Domestic Violence resolution.  In the previous resolution, the actors were human individuals, in this resolution, the actors are state's and individuals and involves not only the direct players but also the innocent bystanders.  Think how much different the Domestic Violence debate would have been if the attacker was wearing a bullet-proof jacket and the victim defended herself with a hand grenade and innocent people were killed in the melee. This is the nature of this debate.  In my opinion, it is the best of all the LD topics this year.

The AFF Case
The affirmative is charged with proving that targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool  AFF can take two possible paths right from the beginning. One, establish that a state is the actor or two, establish that a person acting as representative of the state, is the actor.  This presupposes, that states are amoral entities and assumes the resolution can not apply to amoral entities.  But such a tactic will be difficult because the objectives of the killing are not usually personal, but rather utilitarian.  The actor does not necessarily kill to prevent self harm but to prevent harm to many other innocent people or to bring about a quicker end to a conflict.  Moreover, holding that the principle actor, the one doing the killing, is an individual, raises the memory of recent and past war crimes trials in which individuals, believing they were acting in the best interests of their state, resorted to immoral and illegal acts.  If the AFF debate can avoid this kind of NEG attack, more power to you.  I would think a sound case can be made with established moral agency for the state and wrap the advocacy in a context of jus in bello morality.  All that remains, is to establish a justification for the possible death of the innocent.

Granted, this all sounds kind of perverse on a certain level.  AFF must establish a legal/moral framework which justifies what amounts to murder without due process in the constitutional sense and extend that justification to include the unintended destruction of innocent property and lives.  But this is exactly the kind of justifications which have long been established in centuries of international conflict.  Because of that, the AFF is not breaking new ground and trying to establish new interpretations of old principles.  My suggestion is let the philosophers and the military ethicists present your case.  Their arguments are well established even though controversial. 

In my opinion, the most important position AFF can take, is to establish that the moral principles which guide states different from the principles which guide individuals and NEG should not be allowed to equate them.

The Neg Case
As I consider the various possible positions the negative team can take, I am initially thinking negative will have a much easy time of it than they did during the domestic violence topic.  Depending on how the affirmative frames up their case, probably one of the first tacts will be to challenge the definitions.  We can say the Colt-45 was the "peacemaker", but in the hands of the wrong individual it is a murderous weapon.  Therefore present and defend a definition of targeted killing as a form of political assassination, and a form of killing without benefit of due process, a right the constitution extends even to foreigners.  Attack the idea of state morality, show how the tactics of targeted killing are enormously destructive to innocent lives.  In my opinion, and I claim this without having seen a single written case, a very good tactic will be establish a moral framework which supports the Negative advocacy and applies the same standards typically applied to evaluation of human conduct.  We have seen historically, that claims of immunity due to appeal to the high principles of state morality do not mean a thing in a war crimes trial.  Ultimately, each individual is responsible for his or her personal conduct in war and so any state which forces its citizens to behave immorally is illegitimate. Another interesting argument can be presented in the methodology of the so-called video game war tactics.  That is the use of remotely piloted or robotic craft controlled at great distance in which the victim is dehumanized by being a mere image on a monitor like a video game entity.

Good luck with this one, debaters.  I love it.


  1. Is "a form of political assassination, and a form of killing without benefit of due process, a right the constitution extends even to foreigners." a definition in your own words?

    1. Yes, the words are my own, but these are not:
      "political assassination (of which targeted killing is a sub-species)", Fernando Teson, Florida State University, Is Targeted Killing Ever Justified? (
      "Scholars such Frederick Hitz argue that targeted killings are the same thing as political assassination, pointing to the US Executive Order 12,333, which prohibits the use of assassination, as a source of support (2002, pp. 774-777)", Matthew Morehouse, 2011, HELLFIRE AND GREY DRONES: AN EMPIRICAL EXAMINATION OF THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TARGETED KILLINGS
      "This administration is claiming worldwide execution authority." It's death without due process, far from any battlefield, which is alarming, dangerous, and unconstitutional.", Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director, Democracy Now. (

  2. Thank you for providing this information.

  3. the main use of targeted killing for the U.S. is for the "war on terror". couldn't the Affirmative argue that because of the unique asymmetrical structure of the terrorist forces, there cannot be a precise "battle ground"?

    1. Nice. A very interesting question (I hope I am following your thought process correctly). The idea of asymmetrical conflict can potentially provide a clever justification for targeted killing. After all, how does a super-power scale down its response in keeping with the principle of proportionality? On the other hand, it can be argued that asymmetry provides a justification for the tactic of terrorism in the first place, so beware of that potential counter-argument.

    2. I just realized that The Resolution under consideration does not refer to the united states alone. "a morally permissible foreign policy tool". it does not specify the U.S.
      So does the argument that it is "unconstitutional" become nullified?
      after all. all the affirmative has to do is say " this resolution does not specify the United States. therefore, how do you know that targeted killing is "unconstitutional" in other countries?"
      did that make any sense?

    3. You are correct, it does not specify the United States and so the constitutionality is technically not an issue. In fact, none of the legalities are at issue, but I have seen in the past, the legal issues are still debated so it is best to know the basis of the laws. Presently, only Israel and the U.S. are openly doing targeted killings as part of their foreign policy strategy.
      Look at slavery. For years it was "legal" perhaps even constitutional, but most people recognize it was never morally permissible. So we see that just because something is legal does not mean it is moral.

    4. in your opinion, what are some good value premises for this resolution?
      i have read in many sources that if the resolution ever mentions justice or morality, that is your best value premise. so do you think that morality is a good non-biased value premise?
      just out of curiosity.

    5. Yes, sometimes it is reasonable to uphold a value taken directly from the resolution. For example, some resolutions may ask whether an action is "just" so "justice" is chosen as a value premise. In this case, one could choose morality but in my opinion it is vague (of course, many VPs are vague) as one typically considers a code of moral conduct consists of maintaining many values which contribute to right behavior. The definition can also be somewhat nebulous as the standards for morality vary from culture to culture. Therefore, your criterion needs to be sufficiently narrow. It would not be good, for example, to claim a value of morality upheld by a standard of justice. If one claims morality the criterion is all important because one will be essentially telling the judge, morality is such and such (definition) and by doing ...(some value criterion)... one is acting in a morally permissible way. I could write an entire chapter on value premise choice for this topic. Consider morality, but also justice, societal welfare, and other types of vlaues which preserve society and its quality of life.

  4. I'm doing LD for the first time. I've got a NEG case already written and I'm feeling pretty good about it. However, my AFF case is slow in coming. I've done a lot of research, but I still feel like my NEG case is much stronger. I want some really good, strong points that are hard for the NEG to attack. But it seems all the value premises and points I've come up with have too many arguments against them. Do you have any advice for me? Any good places to look for more information? I would really appreciate any help you can offer.
    A Student
    P.S. Oh, and the debate tournament is in two weeks from now. I decided kinda last minute that I wanted to try LD instead of Oratory like I always do, so that's why I have a late start.

    1. Congratulations on entering the world of Lincoln-Douglas debate. I will consider your request carefully and respond more fully tomorrow. Two weeks is not a lot of time, but it can be done.

    2. Providing you with detailed information is impossible in this forum by I will try to be as concise as possible. Do not waste time speaking of specific cases unless they are relevent to your case. Try to argue that TK as a principle is morally justified. The are two main principles that are key in my opinion. First, people have a right and moral duty to protect their lives, meaning, they have a right to self-defense A nation also has a right and moral duty to protect the innocent, especially its own citizens. Second, the targets of TK are essentially, (as Jeff McMahan, Rutgers University, claims), "unjust combatants" who are fully committed to carrying out a destructive act on the lives of innocents. McMahan: "The broad contours of his life are shaped and guided by this commitment: he has trained and planned and prepared for this. He is where he is, doing what he does day after day, in order to contribute to his state’s unjust war. Much the same is true of the terrorist: he is committed to and guided by the aim of killing innocent people."

      While the philosophical principle is utilitarianism (do the greatest good for the greatest number and the ends justifies the means), I think there is no need to frame your case as such, because as a new debater, you can set yourself up for some tough questions which will be hard to answer due to your lack of experience. Instead, focus on the self-defense aspect since no rational human being is willing to forfeit the right to self-defense. (Despite what some experienced debaters may claim, debate judges are also rational human beings.) By focusing on self-defense, the NEG must attempt to derail your case by claiming the action of TK is an inappropriate response to the threat. So, they will say the threat was not immediate or nearby, or TK is not a proportional response to the threat posed. There are other, perhaps less impactful arguments that be made against TK as self defense. All of these arguments can be refuted with evidence. You should also look to the Principle of Double-Effect as a philosophical basis for your case.

      I think you can choose any number of "standard" value premises for your case and uphold it with a criterion of "protection of innocent lives". While there is much more to say, and many variant approaches to the AFF for this topic, I have chosen one that I think will give the best chance of success for a novice LD debater. Hope this helps.

  5. Mr Kellams,
    This has helped IMMENSELY. Thank you so much for your time.
    One last question. So if the AFF focuses on how TK protects life then the NEG will probably bring up civilian casualties as well as retaliation to try and prove that TK isn't the best because it still takes innocent lives. (At least, I would do that). Would it be fair or would it even make sense for the AFF to make the argument that the debate is only about the tool inherently and not about the outcomes....? Does that makes sense? What I mean is, the debate should not include any arguments based on the OUTCOMES, but about whether TK is morally permissible in and of itself.

    Don't hesitate to tell me I'm not making any sense...I might just be thinking too hard about this:)

    1. I understand your point and I absolutely agree. You are arguing the principle not a specific application. Perhaps some countries do not perform targeted killing in a way that is careful to preserve innocent lives but that in itself is not a reason to reject the ideology. (Actually they take very reasonable efforts to preserve innocent lives but...) Definitely make that point but don't stop there. You should make the analysis which says, even if the judge finds it difficult to accept innocent deaths, TK is preferable to all-out war where many innocents will loose their lives. In addition, it is the targeted individual who is morally culpabale for the deaths of the innocents, not the attacker. Look at the page I posted with evidence links, go to the section on "TK Good" and open the links to the Daniel Statman essay and the work by Jeff McMahan. They both address the issue of innocent deaths and should give you all the evidence you require. Bottom line: yes, argue the principle not the practice as conducted by certain nations, then take it one step further and explain why the possibility of collateral damage (innocent deaths) is preferable to any of the alternatives.

    2. One more thing. If you choose to preserve innocent lives as a value criterion, you are correct to consider that innocent lives may be lost in order to preserve innocent lives. So perhaps it is better to say you "maximize the preservation of innocent lives". No matter how you frame your case, if the NEG makes the point of innocents loosing their lives, you will, one way or another, end up arguing that innocent lives will be lost under all alternatives. Which way "maximizes" life by minimizing death? This is classic "utilitarian" philosophy.

  6. I've done a little research on the Principle of Double Effect. Part of me thinks this could really help my AFF case. However, I would like to know your thoughts on this if you have any:) I'm sure you are aware that there are actually FOUR conditions in which a situation must fit in order for the Principle of D.E. to apply. However, given the very limited time restrictions in LD, I doubt there would be time enough to explain how TK fits under all four of the conditions and then still have time to make my point. Does that make sense?
    So one question I have is this: how would you suggest I tie it the Principle of D.E.? How far do I go? How much is necessary? Should I try to really base my whole case on it, or just use certain principles and ideas from it?

    I'm afraid that I may sound very confusing right now, so I apologize. I also know you are probably very busy, so don't feel too obligated to answer me in any lengthy detail. I completely understand. I just didn't know, so I thought I'd throw it out there.
    Thank you so much. You have helped so much.

  7. Actually, I think I've already decided what I'm going to do, so don't bother to respond to my last comment unless you really wanted to:) Thanks for all your help!

  8. Actually, I've already decided what I'm going to do, so don't bother to answer my last comment...Unless you want to of course:)
    Thank you for all your hope.

  9. Oops. Sorry, I didn't mean to post that twice:(

    1. Let me know how it works out either by comment or send an email (see the "About" page for the address).

  10. Yea the doctrine of double effect is fantastic for aff i placed 4th at a tournament with that

    1. Hey you! Anonymous person who one 4th place with the doctrine of double effect! Haha, if you read this, I would love to hear how you tied it in to your case. Earlier, when I said I had already decided what I was going to do, my solution was actually to not even mention double effect. I just ran out of time way too fast. But I'm kinda sad about it because I really did like the whole idea. There's not enough time to rewrite my case before my tournament, but I'd still really like to know what you did!


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