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Contribution to Book
Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence
Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (2012)
  • Greg McNeal, Pepperdine University
Critics of the U.S. policy of targeted killing by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) generally lack credible information to justify their critiques. In fact, in many circumstances their claims are easily refuted, calling into question the reliability of their criticisms. This chapter highlights some of the most striking examples of inaccurate claims raised by critics of the U.S. policy of drone based targeted killing. Specifically, this chapter offers a much needed corrective to clarify the public record or offer empirical nuance where targeted killing critics offer only unsubstantiated and conclusory statements of fact and law. Section I of this chapter discusses the decision protocol used by the U.S. military before launching a drone strike, a process that goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilian casualties. Although this decision protocol was once secret, recent litigation in federal court has resulted in the release of extensive information regarding U.S. targeting protocols. An analysis of this information indicates that the U.S. military engages in an unparalleled and rigorous procedure to minimize, if not eliminate entirely, civilian casualties. Although independent empirical evidence regarding civilian casualties is hard to come by, it is certainly the case that statistics proffered by some critics cannot be empirically verified; their skepticism of U.S. government statements is not backed up by anything more substantial than generic suspicion. Section II of this chapter then addresses the critics' unsubstantiated claims about the legal, diplomatic and strategic results of drone strikes. Although the counter observations raised in this chapter do not, by themselves, demonstrate that targeted killings are morally or legally justified, they do however suggest that some of the moral or legal objections to targeted killings are based on empirical claims that are either dubious, impossible to verify, or just plain false.
  • targeted killing,
  • drone,
  • U.S. military,
  • targeting protocol,
  • drone strike
Publication Date
Claire Finkelstein, Jens David Ohlin and Andrew Altman
Oxford University Press
Citation Information
Greg McNeal. "Are Targeted Killings Unlawful? A Case Study in Empirical Claims Without Empirical Evidence" Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (2012)
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