A trove of documents, some heavily redacted, on the American government’s evolving practice of “targeted killing” of terrorists—and, sometimes, untargeted killing of civilians in the process.
Can the U.S. government kill U.S. citizens without due process? That is the question that civil rights attorney Jaffer pressed in a legal brief filed on behalf of the family of Anwar al-Aulaqi, a Muslim cleric who had been targeted for assassination. “It was a bizarre death-penalty case in which there was no indictment, the accused was in hiding overseas, and the prosecutors, who had already pronounced the sentence, were apoplectic at the suggestion that there should be anything resembling a trial,” writes Jaffer. This volume collects documents broadly relevant to that case and the after-the-fact judicial review of the legal framework under which the government’s actions were taken. Among them are speeches by President Barack Obama, who praised the al-Aulaqi killing as a tribute to the effectiveness of America’s intelligence-gathering services while allowing, in remarks delivered at the National Defense University, that “this new technology raises profound questions.” The remarks of intelligence adviser John O. Brennan are more considered; here, speaking at Harvard Law School, he presents a case for a counterterrorism framework guided by several precepts, not least the primacy of American security and of a pragmatic and not ideological policy—but also upholding “the core values that define us as Americans,” a matter with which Jaffer finds issue. In an extensive introduction, the editor mounts a multitiered critique of national security efforts that rely on extrajudicial killing by proxy, arguing that “the use of lethal force in response to non-imminent threats constitutes a violation of a jus cogens norm—that is, a norm so fundamental and well settled that no departure from it is permitted.”
The extended redactions may put off some readers, but the collection should interest those concerned with the conduct of modern warfare, fought in the courtroom as well as on the battlefield.