Shorter Jeh Johnson: 16-Year Old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki Legitimate Military Target

I’ll have more to say about this speech Jeh Johnson gave at Yale later. But for the moment I wanted to unpack the logic of his comments about targeted killing.

As part of his claim that drone strikes are just like past military killing, Johnson boasted of the precision of our current weapons.

I want to spend a moment on what some people refer to as “targeted killing.”  Here I will largely repeat Harold’s much-quoted address to the American Society of International Law in March 2010.  In an armed conflict, lethal force against known, individual members of the enemy is a long-standing and long-legal practice.  What is new is that, with advances in technology, we are able to target military objectives with much more precision, to the point where we can identify, target and strike a single military objective from great distances.

Should the legal assessment of targeting a single identifiable military objective be any different in 2012 than it was in 1943, when the U.S. Navy targeted and shot down over the Pacific the aircraft flying Admiral Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese navy during World War Two, with the specific intent of killing him?  Should we take a dimmer view of the legality of lethal force directed against individual members of the enemy, because modern technology makes our weapons more precise?  As Harold stated two years ago, the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system used, and there is no prohibition under the law of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict, so long as they are employed in conformity with the law of war.  Advanced technology can ensure both that the best intelligence is available for planning operations, and that civilian casualties are minimized in carrying out such operations.

He then goes on to argue that our targeted killing is not assassination because the targets are all legitimate military targets.

On occasion, I read or hear a commentator loosely refer to lethal force against a valid military objective with the pejorative term “assassination.”  Like any American shaped by national events in 1963 and 1968, the term is to me one of the most repugnant in our vocabulary, and it should be rejected in this context.  Under well-settled legal principles, lethal force against a valid military objective, in an armed conflict, is consistent with the law of war and does not, by definition, constitute an “assassination.”

Well then. If our weapons have that much precision–if the intelligence that goes into such strikes is so good we can strike individuals with precision–and we only hit military targets, it must follow that we knew 16-year old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was present when we killed him with a drone strike. And we must have considered the teenager a legitimate military target.

Because of course the United States would never assassinate its teenagers, would it?

Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Reddit0Share on Facebook0Google+0Email to someone

22 Responses to Shorter Jeh Johnson: 16-Year Old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki Legitimate Military Target

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @dcbigjohn @adamsteinbaugh @nycsouthpaw You are a law reporter now John, you are one of us now. Get with the program!
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @adamsteinbaugh @PogoWasRight @CathyGellis @marciahofmann @BillMcGev Like I said earlier, good luck with that.
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @PogoWasRight @CathyGellis @marciahofmann @BillMcGev I don't have a lot of love for Assange, but credit where due, this won't phase him.
4hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @biasedreporter Not so good on those issues either.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @PogoWasRight @marciahofmann @BillMcGev Good luck with that.
5hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @RickDeVos: HBO or Netflix: Please make a high quality period serialization of The Count of Monte Cristo.
6hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @GatorZoneBB: #Gators (29-10/10-6) take series opener over Bulldogs - 6-3 - Logan Shore (6-2) complete game, Josh Tobias 4 RBI, Dalton G…
6hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @bob_riehle @azcentral Apparently there is another installment coming next wednesday. Abbey was a really interesting guy.
7hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Burying Edward Abbey: The last act of defiance http://t.co/Jo3XDPQw80 via @azcentral This is outstanding.
7hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @adambonin We have excellent nominating commission system here http://t.co/20vJgGCbQy So, of course, crazy GOP legislature trying to kill it
7hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @adambonin Awfully tacky.
8hreplyretweetfavorite
February 2012
S M T W T F S
« Jan   Mar »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
26272829