Once again the United States has employed a tactic developed by the Israeli air force in targeting a terrorist leader for killing. The Israeli air force has used this technique numerous times to kill terrorist leaders and those who carry out terrorist acts. Israel and the United States call this tactic "targeted killing."
Those who oppose this tactic call it "extrajudicial killings" — a foolish term because all military killings are extrajudicial. Targeted killings are far better than their alternative — untargeted killings. A targeted killing, if it works well, kills only the targeted combatant, whereas an untargeted killing is likely to have many more collateral deaths.
Most reasonable people around the world are praising the U.S. action that resulted in the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. But many of the same people had condemned Israel for employing precisely the same tactic against those who murder Israeli civilians.
Among others, these critics include officials in Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the European Union, Jordan, and the United Nations. A former British foreign secretary once said, "The British government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called targeted assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive."
The French Foreign Ministry has declared "that extrajudicial executions contravene international law and are unacceptable."
The Italian foreign minister has said, "Italy, like the whole of the European Union, has always condemned the practice of targeted assassinations."
The Russians have asserted that "Russia has repeatedly stressed the unacceptability of extrajudicial settling of scores and 'targeted killings.'"
Javier Solana has noted that the "European Union has consistently condemned extrajudicial killings."
The Jordanians have said, "Jordan has always denounced this policy of assassination and its position on this has always been clear."
And former U.N. head Kofi Annan has declared "that extrajudicial killings are violations of international law."
Every democratic nation in the world would employ targeted killings, if they could, against terrorists who endanger their own civilians. Anwar al-Awlaki threatened not only the lives of Americans, but of Europeans as well. That is why the American action is being praised.
When Israel kills terrorists, on the other hand, these murderers have generally gone after only Israelis and/or Jews. Although the tactics are virtually identical — as a matter of law, morality, and principle — the medial and political reactions are very different.
Israel is always subjected to a double standard. When it comes to the Jewish nation, hypocrisy is the hallmark. I challenge anyone who has condemned Israel while praising the United States to justify their double standard by pointing out any relevant differences.
I have issued this challenge before, and have never received a response. The time is well passed for the international community and the media to recognize the double standard it applies against Israel and to demand a single standard applicable to all nations that defend their citizens against terrorist attacks.
The standards governing targeted killings should require that it be used only when capture is unfeasible, when the target can be killed without an unreasonable number of collateral deaths, and when the target is a combatant who remains engaged in terrorist activities.
If these criteria are met, then targeted killings should be deemed lawful and proper, regardless of which country engages in it. It is intolerable to have a system of international law that distinguishes among nations in evaluating the propriety of a tactic such as targeted killing.
The nature of lawfare is changing quickly before our eyes. Terrorists kill civilians while hiding among civilians. New technologies allow nations seeking to protect their civilians to employ drones to target the killers. International law and morality must keep up with these changes, but they must do so in a neutral manner equally applicable to all countries.
Those academics and politicians who claim that international law prohibits all targeted killings must come to recognize that international law is dynamic and ever changing. Like domestic law, it must be capable of evolution and adaptation.
All military actions taken by democratic countries must come within the rule of law. For this aspiration to become a reality, the rule of law must be realistic, and realism demands that targeted killings, if properly conducted, be acceptable under the rule of law.
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