Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Targeted Killing

Via David Bernstein, a spectacular article in the Washington Post on Israel's policy of "targeted assassination" of known terrorists. It goes into detail both the human side of the story (how the Israeli military leadership agonizes over each and every strike) as well as the technical aspects of it (what standards the Israeli army uses in order to determine whether or not a given strike is legitimate). Indeed, let's look at the standards Israel has established for these strikes:
[An assassination can only when the following conditions are met:] that arrest is impossible; that targets are combatants; that senior cabinet members approve each attack; that civilian casualties are minimized; that operations are limited to areas not under Israeli control; and that targets are identified as a future threat. Unlike prison sentences, targeted killing cannot be meted out as punishment for past behavior, [legal advisor Daniel] Reisner said. In 2002, a military panel established that targeting cannot be for revenge, but only for deterrence.

Seems solid to me. Thoughts?


Brendon Etter said...

If they are not allowed to kill for revenge, only for deterence, what court has determined them pre-guilty?

There must be some basis to a claim of deterence, according to the article snippet you posted, it seems that, by definition, they are not allowed to kill based on past crimes, only on the possibility that the targeted individual will commit more... sounds very unsound...

"We will kill you becaue we think you will pose a threat in the future."

Good luck getting a lawyer to take that case. Oh, wait, not necessary.

I guess, what I'm saying is that Israel could avoid this simply by stating that the murders, let's not doublespeak, ARE because of past behavior. It seems to me they would have to be; why be coy in the reasoning about something so obvious.

David Schraub said...

That's kind of a ridiculous comment, and it stems from the belief that Israel's actions (I refuse to call them "murder" not because I enjoy double-speak, but because they don't meet the definition of murder, which is morally illegitimate killing. Killing combatants in time of war is universally recognized to be a legitimate action) are fundamentally judicial, as opposed to military, in character. You use the the rhetoric of criminal activity ("pre-guilty", "past crimes", "getting a lawyer", etc), but that isn't really the situation Israel is in.

In war, I can kill an enemy soldier only when he poses a continuing threat. If he does pose a continuing threat (he's manning a bunker in front of me, or he's building a bomb to launch at a pizzeria), then I can kill him immediately--legally, I don't need to wait for a warrant or give him an opportunity to surrender. In this respect, Israel's policy goes well beyond what is required under international statute for wartime conduct. And I think that, in the circumstances, that is proper.

By contrast, if he poses no threat (say, he's disarmed or is a POW), then I can't kill him no matter how many folks he killed previously. This, to me, is a sensible wartime standard: I can't mow down POWs I capture (even for what they did in the past), and I don't have to serve an enemy soldier in a bunker with an arrest warrant before attacking.

Admittedly, this is an inversion of how the judicial system works, but war isn't a court process, and its a categorical mistake to treat it as such. That confusion is what makes the comment invalid

Brendon Etter said...

Starting things with "ridiculous", truly a great way to debunk an argument...

The snippet you posted deals not with war, but with extra-judicial killing. A nice twist of logic that both disguises the killing and sidesteps the sticky detail about a war being declared. As far as I know Israel and Palestine are not officially at war. They don't recognize Palestine... how convenient. Your response rests solely on a war being declared.

All the rest is double-speak. They are definitely killing them because of past actions... hence the detailing of 1973 killings of the Munich terrorists and the military official with "The Notebook" listed 300 to 1,000 "wanted" men. A rather judicial classification.

These targets may very well be terrorists who are getting set to blow up a pizzeria; if that's the case, do anything to stop them.

But, here's my problem, Israel is simply being disingenuous in their reasoning. Kill them if they are combatants, declare war.

That's all I was saying.

David Schraub said...

I'm not sure if, as a matter of law, one can be at war with a non-state actor (America, for example, didn't declare war with al-Qaeda). Palestine is not a state yet, after all--although I'm a supporter of unilateral disengagement, Israel declaring them a state, and then declaring war if terrorism keeps up. Would clarify these sticky issues. But that's not the case now, and international law clearly recognizes that there can be conflicts that are governed by the laws of war that don't have a formal declaration, and I think it is self-evidently obvious that Israel's relationship to Hamas and Islamic Jihad is more akin to a war than it is to a criminal prosecution.

The 1973 Munich reprisals were extra-judicial, I'll concede, but the current targets are continuing threats in a wartime environment. That action properly is governed by the laws of war, not judicial measures.