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Accordingly, those who have opposed the very concept of targeted killings should be railing against the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Among others, these critics include officials in Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the EU, Jordan, and the United Nations. Former British Foreign Secretary once said, “The British government has made it repeatedly clear that so-called targeted assassinations of this kind are unlawful, unjustified and counterproductive.” The French foreign ministry has declared “that extrajudicial executions contravene international law and are unacceptable.” The Italian Foreign Minister has said, “Italy, like the whole of the European Union, has always condemned the practice of targeted assassinations.” The Russians have asserted that “Russia has repeatedly stressed the unacceptability of extrajudicial settling of scores and ‘targeted killings.’” Javier Solana has noted that the “European Union has consistently condemned extrajudicial killings.” The Jordanians have said, “Jordan has always denounced this policy of assassination and its position on this has always been clear.” And Kofi Annan has declared “that extrajudicial killings are violations of international law.”
Yet none of these nations, groups or individuals have criticized the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden by the US. The reason is obvious. All the condemnations against targeted killing were directed at one country. Guess which one? Israel, of course.
Israel developed the concept of targeted killings and used it effectively against the “Osama Bin Ladens” of Hamas, who directed terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, killing and wounding more Israelis, as a percentage of its population, than the number killed by Bin Laden. It was when Israel managed to kill the head of Hamas, that the international community, with the striking exception of the United States, decided that targeted killing was illegal and immoral.
But now that it has been used against an enemy of Britain, France, Italy and other European nations, the tune has changed. Suddenly targeted killing is not only legal and moral, it is praiseworthy (except, of course, to Hamas, which immediately condemned the US killing of Bin Laden).
Well, the truth is that when used properly, targeted killing has always been deserving of approval—even when employed by Israel, a nation against which a double standard always seems to be applied.
Indeed, in Israel, the use of targeted killings has been closely regulated by its Supreme Court and permitted only against terrorists who are actively engaged in ongoing acts of terrorism. In the United States, on the other hand, the decision to use this tactic is made by the president alone, without any form of judicial review. So let the world stop applying a double standard to Israel and let it start judging the merits and demerits of military tactics such as targeted killing. On balance, targeted killing, when used prudently against proper military targets, can be an effective, lawful, and moral tool in the war against terrorism.
Alan Dershowitz’s latest novel is The Trials of Zion.
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