Thursday, April 30, 2009

Targeted For Termination - Political Assasination in the Twenty-First Century

Joint Force Quarterly has recently published an article by Colonel Peter M. Cullen, the Staff Judge Advocate, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, on the legality and suitibility of military and covert use of "Targeted Killing" against non-state actors. Targeted Killing is a euphemism for Assasination used in a military context, though the term "Extrajudicial Punishment" is also used, mostly by critics. The process of targeted killing was pioneered in modern warfare by Israel, (of which much has been written) but has been adopted to some measure by the united states since 2001, primarily outside of the realm of public scruitiny.

In the article Col. Cullen states:

This article examines the legality, morality, and potential efficacy of a U.S. policy of targeted killing...

The conclusion is that, in spite of the genuine controversy surrounding this subject, a carefully circumscribed policy of targeted killing can be a legal, moral, and effective tool in a counterterror campaign. (emphasis mine)

While the United States has not explicitly acknowledged pursuing a policy of targeted killing, insights can be gleaned from published national security documents and official statements that shed light on U.S. willingness to employ targeted killing as a tactic in the campaign against terror.

This was most recently demonstrated in January 2007 by the use of an Air Force AC–130 Spectre gunship to target suspected al Qaeda terrorists in Somalia. Based on publicly available information, if the capture of designated terrorists is not deemed feasible, the United States is prepared to use Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or U.S. military assets to target them in lethal operations.8 In addition to the recent operations in Somalia, targeted killings attributed to the United States since 2001 have included attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and in Yemen.These actions resulted in the deaths of numerous civilians,

The campaign against transnational terrorism represents a new paradigm with which international law has yet to come to terms. Public international law, accustomed to regulating actions by states, is in uncharted territory when dealing with nonstate actors and their involvement in the changing face of war.

The case for targeted killing must demonstrate that the United States is authorized to use force against terrorists in compliance with the law of conflict management, or jus ad bellum, and that the manner in which targeted killings are executed complies with the law on the conduct of war, or jus in bello.

Article 2 of the United Nations (UN) Charter outlaws the use of aggressive force by a state in its international relations. One recognized exception is a state’s inherent right of self-defense as found in Article 51 of the UN Charter. This authorizes a state to use military force to defend itself against an armed attack and the continuing threat of such an attack.13 The limitations on this right of self-defense are that the force used to defend against the attack must be both “necessary” and “proportionate.”

Clearly, al Qaeda’s actions on 9/11 constituted an armed attack on America, and its subsequent actions and statements confirm that it represents a continuing and serious threat to the United States against which America is entitled to defend itself through the use of force, specifically the targeting of key al Qaeda personnel. It has been argued that the right of selfdefense only applies to interstate conflicts and not to a conflict with a transnational terrorist organization such as al Qaeda and its associated movements (AQAM).

This textual interpretation of the UN Charter, however, is overcome by customary international law, which recognizes a state’s inherent right of self defense. This permits the United States to use force against nonstate actors such as transnational terrorists. It is a right that has not been challenged by the UN Security Council. Since AQAM are a continuing threat, the targeted killing of their key personnel is a military necessity to prevent future attacks. It is not designed to be punitive in nature or serve as a reprisal. This tactic is also a proportionate, or reasonable, response given the serious threat that AQAM pose to America. Article 2 of the UN Charter also requires the United States to respect the sovereignty of other nations. If America wishes to conduct a targeted killing on the sovereign territory of another nation, it must obtain the permission of that government.

Legality of the Tactic of Targeted Killing (Jus in Bello). Although the United States is authorized to use force in self-defense against AQAM for as long as they remain a threat, each specific use of force, such as a targeted killing, must comply with the law on the conduct of war. The primary sources of jus in bello are found in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977.

Application of the law of war is triggered if a state of “armed conflict” exists between America and AQAM. Treaties do not define this term. It is broader than “war,” which is limited to interstate conflict. Commentators recommend looking to the nature, intensity, and duration of the violence to make this determination.

Even if U.S. targeted killing of terrorists is legal under international law, it is also necessary to determine its legality under U.S. domestic law. Some commentators have pointed to Executive Order 12333 and its prohibition on assassination. Although this executive order regulating intelligence activities does have legal effect, it does not apply to actions in time of war or to the Armed Forces. Accordingly, it does not impact military operations that target terrorist operatives outside the United States.

While Executive Order 12333 presents no legal impediment to targeted killings executed by the Armed Forces, it could impact such operations conducted by CIA personnel, who are considered noncombatants under the law of war.

In the context of the armed conflict between the United States and AQAM, this means that active members of AQAM are combatants and may be lawfully targeted at will. Given the status of AQAM operatives as combatants, the United States is under no obligation to attempt to arrest individuals before targeting them. This combatant status remains in effect for the duration of the armed conflict unless the individual takes some action to renounce this status. This analysis raises the question of how active members of a terrorist organization are properly identified.

Unlike combatants in international armed conflicts, they are not required to display “a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance.” Nor should their combatant status be limited to the time that they have a weapon in their hands. The answer lies in designating as combatants those members of the terrorist organization who have taken an active part in hostilities.

Proponents of this position argue that this status is established if the individual takes a direct part in hostilities by planning, directing, or executing attacks or “if there is other evidence of his or her combatant role.” Such evidence will be primarily derived from intelligence information, often supplemented by the statements and admissions of the individuals themselves.

A difficult issue is whether an individual who provides purely financial support for terrorist activities can be targeted as a combatant. Given the critical enabling role of financing in terrorist activities, such individuals should be viewed as having an active role in hostilities

According to the magazine: Joint Force Quarterlyis published for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, to promote understanding of the integrated employment of land, sea, air, space, and special operations forces. The journal focuses on joint doctrine, integrated operations, coalition warfare, contingency planning, military operations conducted across the spectrum of conflict, and joint force development.

The article, (which no longer seems to availiable online) has much more to say, and I'd recomend it as a frightening bed time story to any of you, if you can find it. Email me and ill send it to you, or call up the chairman himself, im sure he has lots of copies. (dont you wish you had a magazine published just for you? and its a pretty, full colour magazine, no newsletter here...)

There is plenty of room for concern here, even if you dont include the moral implications of robot armies, starting with the intended targets. While the article itself is very specific in using the term al Qaeda and its Associated Movements (AQAM), none of the "decentralized" network structure of "al Qaeda" is easily identifiable (hence the use of the word decentralized) and none of the "Associated Movements" are defined at all. What he really means to say (in the context of US Military policy) is "Terrorist!", that infamous and vague term that is so loved by totalitarian statists worldwide.

Noted comentarian Kenneth Anderson states that "...terrorist groups can be strategically understood as a guerrilla organization engaged in a strategy of logistical raiding – in which civilian morale and resulting manipulation of political will is the logistical target" "Manipulation of political will", of course, being the goal of any political movement worldwide, period, and any organization that either arises organically, or outside of state influence, will qualify as a "guerrilla" in nature. Anything between the two is simply a matter of, well, "logistics." Definitions such as these are designed to actually point to any one person, rather, by design, they are inclusionary terms, drawn up so as to provide a label that can be used to justify an action against any opposing force. Now consider that they added to this inclusionary term, which essentially says "any member of a non-state political movement" and turned it into "any financial or material supporter of a member of a non-state political movement." So basicly, Either you sit in front of the TV and do nothing, hold no political goals, and dont get involved with anyone who does have political goals, or Whammo! Its a hellfire missile for you.

Of course, in the past (the fairly recent past, i might add) it has been consistently held that no further protections are granted to members of these vast qualifying terms, even if only suspected, based on their nationality or citizenship, including one particularily american in nature. As of yet, no legal ruling, or even official position from the white house, has reversed this, and in a sobering essay published by Foreign Policy, former Bush administration National Security Council member Philip Zelikow points out that there simply is no legal firewall protecting U.S. citizens from the torture methods used against foreign terrorist suspects.

None. At all.

As such, advocating the legality of mass assassination, outside of the rules of either law, or war, in such a perversion of intention to justify the means is a dangerous possition to take, as if it can be applied so liberally over there, it can be applied just as easily here. But even if it was only intended for targets in Iraqi and Afghanistani militia's, and not against the American variety; Whats the difference?

An excelent, if older, article tackled the subject of the propiety of full utilization of technology against an organic militia movement such as what we see in Iraq and afghanistan. You can, and should, read it here, but here is an excerpt:

The US military has been fighting a war against the people of Iraq. The Iraqi “militias” are directly equivalent to the well regulated militia that the Founding Fathers discussed as the last line of defense against government oppression - US government oppression. The fact that this oppression is occurring in Iraq rather than on US soil does not change the role of guns as tools of self-determination. The Second Amendment is guarantee of a right, but that right is based in observable reality. It is operating in Iraq today, and the streets run with blood as people exercise their right to die and kill for what they believe, however misguided it may be.

The Iraqi people are demonstrating the Second Amendment.

The US must not develop the ability to win in future wars against populations like we see in Iraq if it wishes to remain a good nation.
The focus of the article is very different, focusing on technology rather than tactics, but the end conclusion is the same:

If it can happen over there, it can happen here.

And further; I'd say that any country that can reasonably justify the targeted annihilation of an organic idealogical political movement, at will, outside of these guidlines of law or active combat, within its enterpretation of propriety, legality, and morality, will be incapable of supporting any organic political movement of its own.

A good nation will always require the ability to adapt beyond its established systemic doctrines in order to cope with its generational and situational challenges, past examples, of course, ranging from secession to the civil rights movement. The key phrase to consider here is proportionality. While any system, of any sort, will always, naturally, suppress any challenges or adaptations to it structure, an unjust system will act ill proportionally to any challenges, oversuppressing the direct challenges, without alleviating the underlying situational or generational changes that were precursive of those direct challenges, in effect creating a powderkeg that will, at some further point explode in some other, much more violent way, instead of resisting proportionaly and assimilating those changes neccisary to establish ballance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, President Obama is currently reviewing a potential escalation of exactly the type of "Targeted Killing" we are talking about here, in the tribal lands of pakistan, with concerns that it will further destablize the already tumultuous pakistani government, and justly so, as years of US puppetry in the region have left it with little trust in its own non representative state, which is now divided upon invisible lines into two countries within one land. Attacking the rural of the two will only create more outrage against the official government and create further challenges to its authority, or even its desirability. Most of these missions will be flown from the pilots complex that was built in the center green of CIA headquarters, again, the legality of which is not a position that even the bold and hawkish article presented here supports, but seems unchalleneged by the White House.

As this month was the deadliest month in Iraq in over a year, you would think this sort of pressure = escalation might be better understood, but this article clearly shows that at least some of the people involved, are absolutely unconcerned, and would seek to drive us right to the edge of a terrible and tumultuous robot war against any and all dissenting voices, no matter the price to our liberty or freedoms.

Compare this to the much more logical warnings against secret wartime assassination and covert war outside the legal protections of war in J. Kinsella's Rise of the Shadow Warriors.

And then, consider if you have ever belonged to, listened to, or supported in any way, a grassroots, or non state sanctioned, movement, that sought to challenge or influence the existing political will?

Tempus Fugit

1 comment:

chris horton said...

Great post Rev! Something to really ponder. Thanks!