Why Obama’s ‘targeted killing’ is worse than Bush’s torture

Mary Ellen O’Connell writes: By June 2004, it was confirmed that the US was using torture at secret detention sites and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It was in that month that piles of “torture memos” were released to the public. Torture did not officially end until President Obama took office in January 2009.

A similar story is emerging with respect to targeted killing. The Obama administration has produced its own infamous memo; like many of the torture memos, it was written by lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. It concerns something that many consider worse than torture: the memo apparently seeks to justify “targeted killing“.

Calls have gone out for the release of the memo, but there really is no need. We did need to see the torture memos, but not because anyone with legal expertise on the subject would be enlightened by the analysis – torture is absolutely prohibited. The legal analysis could only be specious. Rather, prior to mid 2004, the use of torture, rendition and secret detention were only rumored. The fact of the memos gave credence to speculation.

In the case of targeted killing, the world can see what is happening. The memo need not be published to confirm the fact. And, as with torture, the memo will not contain a persuasive legal argument respecting the fundamental human rights and humanitarian law at issue.

“Targeted killing” is the killing of certain individuals away from battle zones using military means, including missiles, bombs and commando raids. The missiles and bombs are often delivered by drone aircraft. Given the munitions, it is the rare attack that spares the lives of bystanders – over 2,200 persons are estimated to have been killed in the three years of the Obama administration in Pakistan alone. We have no estimates for deaths in Yemen or Somalia, the other scenes of relentless attacks.

“Targeted killing” has become the euphemism du jour. Remember “harsh interrogation”? The conduct discussed in the killing memo was once simply referred to as assassination.

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2 thoughts on “Why Obama’s ‘targeted killing’ is worse than Bush’s torture

  1. Tom Hall

    The terminology we agree to use plays a crucial role in rendering the unacceptable merely unpalatable. Let’s stop referring to these crimes under the rubric “targeted killing” and employ the more emphatic and legally accurate term “assassination bombing”. Assassination is expressly prohibited in US and international law. There’s no ambiguity. It’s a crime- incorporating a degree of gravity beyond simple murder. A President who acknowledges performing this act should be standing before a tribunal. And let’s not forget, Obama has publicly joked about his power to assassinate those who attract his disapproval.

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