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Terminating Terror - Terminating Terror The Legality Ethics...

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Terminating Terror The Legality, Ethics and Effectiveness of Targeting Terrorists Avery Plaw In the ongoing war on terror both the American and Israeli govern- ments have resorted to a policy of ‘targeting terrorists’. In essence, both governments authorize their military or intelligence services to kill specific ‘terrorists’ who they believe mortally threaten citizens and cannot otherwise be neutralized. President Bush calls this ‘sud- den justice’and the Israeli government ‘targeted killing’but their crit- ics speak of ‘assassination’, ‘liquidation’ or ‘extra-judicial killing’. Since 11 September 2001, America is reported to have killed at least 44 people without warning or trial under the guidance of this policy, at least 18 of whom were civilians; the Israelis have killed at least 348, including 120 unintended targets (B’tselem 2006; Byman 2006b; Meyer 2006). The legitimacy of targeting terrorists is sharply contested today. The United Nations, leading human rights organizations like Amnesty International, many regional intergovernmental organizations like the European Union as well as many individual states and scholars denounce it regularly as immoral, illegal and counter-productive. On the other hand, Israel has defiantly insisted that the policy is legal, moral and necessary (UN 2001a, 2004; IMFA 2003). Several states, including Australia, have voiced support for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself against terrorism’in this manner (UN 2001a, 2004; IMFA 2003, 2004). The United States, confusingly, has often voted against resolu- tions condemning the Israeli practice, while simultaneously criticiz- ing Israel, and at the same time itself engaging in terrorist targeting (BBC 2002). Meanwhile, in both the academic and popular press an increasing number of arguments have been published over the last five years seeking to justify and defend the targeting of terrorists (e.g., Byman 2006a, 2006b; Dershowitz 2006; Kasher and Yadlin 2005a, 2005b). In this article, I examine the current international political debate over targeting terrorists to assess whether it has a legitimate place in Theoria, December 2007 doi:10.3167/th.2007.5411402
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the war on terror. I consider key arguments advanced on both sides concerning the practice’s legality, morality and effectiveness, and con- clude that while the advocates make a compelling case that the policy is justifiable in principle, its critics are right that some specific target- ings have been illegal, immoral and/or counter-productive. Critics, however, fail to make their case for a comprehensive ban. In short, the debate over targeting terrorists is characterized by the unilluminating confrontation of extremes, each side able to score points off the other but neither able to fully establish the legitimacy of its own position.
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