New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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The intention of this paper is to urge critical reflection upon current US practices of targeted killing by considering not just whether acts of targeted killing can be legally justified but also what sort of state we are turning into when we organize the use of lethal force in this way -- maintaining a list of named enemies of the state who are to be eliminated in this way. My paper uses the unpleasant terminology of "death lists" and "death squads" to jolt us into this reflection. Of course, there are differences between the activities of death squads in (say) El Salvador in the early 1980s and the processes by which US special forces, intelligence personnel, and drone operators, kill the individuals named on a list of state enemies, one by one. They are not morally equivalent. But the two sets of phenomena are much closer to one another than we ought to be comfortable with. And we certainly should not be comfortable with a world in which death lists and death squads -- even of the respectable American kind -- become a standard practice and standard operating procedure for all states.

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death squads, drones, killing, lethal force, military force, rule of law, security, targeted killing, terrorism, war on terror