A Functional Approach to Targeting and Detention

57 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2012 Last revised: 13 Feb 2018

Date Written: April 1, 2012


The international law governing when states may target to kill or preventively detain nonstate actors is in disarray. This Article puts much of the blame on the method that international law uses to answer that question. The method establishes different standards in four regulatory domains: (1) law enforcement, (2) emergency, (3) armed conflict for civilians, and (4) armed conflict for combatants. Because the legal standards vary, so too may substantive outcomes; decisionmakers must select the correct domain before determining whether targeting or detention is lawful. This Article argues that the “domain method” is practically unworkable and theoretically dubious. Practically, the method breeds uncertainty and subverts the discursive process by which international law adapts to new circumstances and holds decisionmakers accountable. Theoretically, it presupposes that the domain choice, rather than shared substantive considerations embedded in the domains, drives legal outcomes. This Article argues, to the contrary, that all targeting and detention law is and ought to be rooted in a common set of core principles. Decisionmakers should look to those principles to assess when states may target or detain nonstate actors. Doing so would address the practical problems of the domain method. It would narrow the uncertainty about when targeting and detention are lawful, lead to a more coherent legal discourse, and equip decisionmakers to develop the law and hold one another accountable.

Keywords: domain, detention, targeting, human rights, terrorists, armed conflict, security

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Hakimi, Monica, A Functional Approach to Targeting and Detention (April 1, 2012). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 110, 2012, U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 267, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2042172 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2042172

Monica Hakimi (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th St
NEW YORK, NY 10027

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