Friday, May 13, 2011

The Legality of Targeted Killings

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Illya Somin writes about his response to the current questions regarding the legality of killing Osama bin Laden. Somin notes that most people don't have a problem with such actions when directed at uniformed military officers in wartime.
To my knowledge, hardly any serious commentators claim that the targeted killing of enemy military commanders such as Yamamoto and Heydrich is either illegal or immoral. ... everyone understands that individual military officers are legitimate targets. A capable high-ranking officer is a military asset
Since Somin is using World War Two examples he might also have noted that the British targeted (but failed to kill) General Erwin Rommel, and that allied fighter bombers routinely attacked staff cars in order to kill enemy officers. He then draws the obvious conclusion,
What is true of uniformed officers surely also applies to leaders of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. The latter, too, represent enemy military assets that we can legitimately target in wartime. If anything, targeting terrorist leaders is more defensible than targeting individual uniformed officers. Unlike uniformed soldiers, terrorist leaders openly target civilians and don’t even pretend to obey the laws of war.
Somin treats the questions about the legality of killing bin Laden as if they deserve a serious response. In my opinion, those who question whether or not the U.S. could legally kill someone like bin Laden are utter fools whose whining deserves nothing more than derisive laughter.

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