The Morality of Targeted Killing
USING TARGETED KILLING TO FIGHT THE WAR ON TERROR, Andrew Altman, Claire Finklestein, and Jens Ohlin, eds., Oxford University Press, 2011
28 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 18, 2011
On May 2, 2011, a special unit of the U.S. Navy killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Many (this writer included) rejoiced at this development and felt that justice had been served. The deliberate killing of another human being is a deeply immoral act. Targeted killings are deliberate killings, so any discussion must start with a strong moral presumption against those acts. However, the prohibition has some exceptions: killing in war, self-defense, and law enforcement of various kinds. However, emotion is no substitute for dispassionate moral analysis. In this paper I examine the morality of targeted killings in general. I address the killing of Bin Laden, but my discussion goes beyond that: it probes the morality of all targeted killings by liberal governments. It applies to targeted killings by the United States as well as other liberal regimes, and it explores the justification of the practice in wartime and in peacetime. Given that the United States and Israel have announced that they will continue to kill named targets, and given that not all contemplated targets are as villainous or dangerous as Bin Laden, a moral evaluation of the practice is especially required.
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