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March 2010





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American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2010-06Abstract:This extended policy/political essay argues that targeted killing, by means of unmanned aerial vehicles such as Predator "drones" and including targeted killing as carried out by the CIA, is both a good policy in combating transnational terrorism and a lawful means of self-defense under international law. Lengthy (for a political magazine, at 8,000 words, but easier to read in this pdf format) and unabashedly polemical, the essay urges the Obama administration's lawyers to step up publicly and articulate their views of the legality of targeted killing, and further argues that they need to do so as a matter, not of a narrow concept of targeting combatants in and armed conflict, but as a more general and flexible exercise in the international law of self-defense. The Obama administration's expansion of the targeted killing program is defended, but the failure of the administration's lawyers to offer a public defense of it and articulate its legal grounds, even as the President, Vice-President, and other senior officials both expand the program and take credit for it, is questioned and criticized. The essay suggests that a general campaign within the international "soft law" community is gradually gathering momentum to undermine the legal legitimacy of targeted killing, particularly by covert services of the civilian CIA, and that the administration needs to defend traditional American legal views governing these policies.

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