Targeted Killings: The White Paper Allows the Government to Kill a US Citizen who is not on the Battlefield”
By Marjorie Cohn
February 08, 2013
An Interview with Marjorie Cohn about Targeted Killings
By Dennis Bernstein
B: We continue our discussion of the revelations around a memo coming out of the Justice Department that the administration plans to keep up these assassinations and expand the program. Joining us to take a legal look at this is Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is also the editor of “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.” Welcome back to Flashpoints, Marjorie. You say the White Paper runs afoul of international and US law. Please explain.
MC: The White Paper allows the government to kill a US citizen who is not on the battlefield, if some high government official who is supposedly informed about the situation thinks that the target is a senior Al Queda leader who poses an imminent threat of a violent attack against the United States. So how do they define “imminence”? Well, it doesn’t require any clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future. So it completely dilutes this whole idea of imminent threat. Under well-established principles of international law and the UN Charter, one country can use military force against another only in self-defense. But under the Caroline case, which is the gold standard here, the “necessity for self-defense must be instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.”