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Foreign Policy: Targeted Killings: A Short History

Author: Uri Friedman
September 1, 2012

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A history of targeted killings and the U.S. policy stance toward their use in military practices.

U.S. President Barack Obama has taken George W. Bush's war on terror to a new level, approving, as journalist David Rohde recently put it in Foreign Policy, "more targeted killings than any modern president" through drone strikes against suspected militants from Pakistan to Somalia to Yemen. The idea of decapitating the enemy's leadership stretches at least as far back as the fourth century B.C., when Emperor Chandragupta Maurya assassinated two Greek governors as part of his conquest of India, though the tactic has become more common over the last century. But what makes targeted killing different from assassination, which the United States banned decades ago? And how has the legal justification evolved for a practice that has become so prominent that the president now personally decides which enemies of the state should live or die?

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