On November 14th at 12pm at George Mason University School of Law, I will be making a presentation entitled Kill-Lists and Accountability, based on my identically titled paper. The abstract of the paper appears below:
This paper examines the U.S. practice of targeted killings. It proceeds in two parts, the first part is an empirical description of the process of targeted killings. Based on qualitative empirical research conducted pursuant to proven case study techniques, part one describes how kill-lists are created, what government actors approve the name of individuals to be added to kill lists, how targeted killings are executed, and how the U.S. implements its International Humanitarian Law obligation to mitigate and prevent harm to civilians.
Specifically, the paper explains in rich detail the process the U.S. follows to estimate and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons on collateral persons and objects in most targeted killings. Key Findings: In pre-planned operations the U.S. follows a rigorous collateral damage estimation process based on a progressively refined analysis of intelligence, weapon effects, and other information. When followed, this process dramatically reduces the amount of collateral damage in U.S. operations, and also ensures high levels of political accountability. However, due to the realities of combat operations, the process cannot always be followed; Data about the U.S. military’s collateral damage estimation process reveals that the system is intended to ensure that there will be a less than 10 percent probability of serious or lethal wounds to non-combatants; In actuality, less than 1% of pre-planned operations that followed the collateral damage estimation process resulted in collateral damage; When collateral damage has occurred, 70% of the time it was due to failed “positive identification” of a target. 22% of the time it was attributable to weapons malfunction, and a mere 8% of the time it was attributable to proportionality balancing – e.g. a conscious decision that anticipated military advantage outweighed collateral damage; According to public statements made by U.S. government officials the President of the United States or the Secretary of Defense must approve any pre-planned ISAF strike where 1 civilian casualty or greater is expected.
In the second part of the paper, I turn from the empirical to the normative. I describe the various mechanisms of accountability embedded in the targeted killing process. Specifically, I set forth an analytical framework which allows for the examination of legal, political, bureaucratic, and professional mechanisms of accountability. I then assess the strengths and weaknesses of these four accountability mechanisms as applied to U.S. targeted killings. The paper concludes by suggesting legal and policy reforms to address the shortcomings identified in the normative section.
Greg McNeal is a professor and national security specialist focusing on the institutions and challenges associated with global security, with substantive expertise in national security law and policy, transnational crime, global policy studies, and international affairs.
He teaches at Pepperdine University's School of Law and School of Public Policy.
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