Targeted Killings

International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Targeted Killings


If national security policy is going to adhere to the rule of law, the White House cannot be both the judge and executioner of terror suspects.

No American prosecutor can imprison or execute someone except on the orders of a judge or jury. That fundamental principle applies no less to the suspected terrorists that the executive branch chooses to kill overseas, particularly in the case of American citizens.

A growing number of lawmakers and experts are beginning to recognize that some form of judicial review is necessary for these killings, usually by missiles fired from unmanned drones. Last week, at the confirmation hearing of John Brennan to be the director of the C.I.A., several senators said they were considering the establishment of a special court, similar to the one that now decides whether to approve wiretapping for intelligence gathering. Even President Obama, in his State of the Union address, said he wanted counterterrorism to be more transparent and fully consistent with checks and balances.

A special court, which we first proposed in a 2010 editorial, would be an analogue to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Congress set up in 1978. If the administration has evidence that a suspect is a terrorist threat to the United States, it would have to present that evidence in secret to a court before the suspect is placed on a kill list.

"Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country," Senator Angus King Jr. of Maine said at the Brennan hearing. …

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