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Transparency and Accountability

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
November 14, 2012
New York Times


Targeted killings are justified against significant and imminent threats of violent attack against a state's territory.

They would require the aggressor state to provide an articulation of which international laws apply, so it can be held accountable for its actions. In addition, when targeted killings occur in a state outside of an aggressor's territory, it should articulate whether it was done with the consent of the state, or was a violation of sovereignty.

Furthermore, targeted killings necessitate transparency regarding what procedural safeguards are in place to assure the principles of proportionality and distinction are being met when using lethal force.

Finally, an aggressor state should provide a public account of what processes are in place to investigate accidental civilian casualties, hold willful perpetrators of those actions accountable, and provide compensation to the families of unintended victims.

Targeted killings are exceedingly rare in the world, and routinely conducted by only a handful of states, like the United States, Israel and Turkey. Of them, only the United States has provided some justification for its actions. The Obama administration says that it uses lethal force only against "high-level" or "senior" members of Al Qaeda, who, in President Obama's words, "would pose an imminent threat the United States of America."

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