Due Process and Targeted Killing of Terrorists
47 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2009 Last revised: 26 Feb 2010
Date Written: March 1, 2009
Targeted killing is extra-judicial, premeditated killing by a state of a specifically identified person not in its custody. States have used this tool, secretly or not, throughout history. In recent years, targeted killing has generated new controversy as two states in particular - Israel and the United States - have struggled against opponents embedded in civilian populations. As a matter of express policy, Israel engages in targeted killing of persons it deems members of terrorist organizations who are involved in attacks on Israel. The United States, less expressly, has adopted a similar policy against al Qaeda - particularly in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the CIA has used unmanned Predator drones to fire Hellfire missiles to attempt to kill al Qaeda leaders. This campaign of Predator strikes has continued into the Obama Administration.
This Article explores the implications for targeted killing of the due process model that the Supreme Court has developed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush for detention of enemy combatants. Contrary to a charge leveled by Justice Thomas in his Hamdi dissent, this model does not break down in the extreme context of targeted killing. Instead, it suggests useful means to control this practice and heighten accountability. Our primary conclusion in this regard is that, under Boumediene, the executive has a due-process obligation to develop fair, rational procedures for its use of targeted killing no matter whom it might be targeting anywhere in the world. To implement this duty, the executive should, following the lead of the Supreme Court of Israel (among others), require an independent, intra-executive investigation of any targeted killing by the CIA. Such investigations should be as public as is reasonably consonant with national security. Even in a war-on-terror, due process demands at least this level of accountability for the power to kill suspected terrorists.
Keywords: due process, targeted killing, enemy combatant, war-on-terror, Boumediene, Hamdi
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