Targeted killings are “premeditated acts of lethal force employed by states in times of peace or during armed conflict to eliminate specific individuals outside their custody” (Masters). Often, the individual killed does not “typically pose an imminent threat to life or limb,” and is someone “about whom there is prior detailed information in respect of his or her role in the armed conflict” (Miller 320-321). I will not address the legal issues raised by targeted killing, as there are many (especially on an international level). Instead, I will address the moral issues this practice raises.
Statman asserts that although the aggressor, i.e. the victim of the targeted killing, may not be a soldier in the “usual sense of the word,” this does not make the victim non-liable to harm (Statman 12). Therefore, Statman views targeted killing as doing a “much better job of distributing the self-defensive harm in accordance with moral responsibility” than conventional war tactics, which often are less sensitive to differences in moral responsibility (Statman 13).
Additionally, Statman believes that traditional military operations have just as low of a level of evidence “required to establish the effectiveness of attacks” as targeted killing (Statman 13). Statman concludes his paper by stating that “drones…are assumed to be problematic because they are believed to enable and encourage a specific practice that is deemed wrongful: targeted killing” (Statman 13). This is the crux of Statman’s argument for drone warfare. He believes that he is able to show that targeted killing is less problematic than previously held by critics and therefore drone warfare can withstand all arguments thrown against it.
However, I believe Statman fails to consider one main objection to targeted killing. The practice of targeted killing creates a specific type of fear that possesses one of the main elements not seen as prominently in conventional acts of war: surprise. I have previously found this element as distinctive of the fear created by terrorism, and it is what make acts of terrorism morally worse than acts of conventional war, along with the element of purpose (Caccamo 2). I believe that targeted killing, especially that employed by drone warfare, causes this specific type of surprise-laden fear, which makes drone warfare significantly different from any other conventional technology.
Additionally, while targeted killing may create fear that lacks the element of purpose seen in the fear caused by terrorism, I will maintain that the distinctive fear targeted killing creates is an effect of unintentional terrorism. Therefore, the “nature of the fear caused” by targeted killing, in addition to the idea that this fear is characteristic of unintentional terrorism, sheds doubt on the claim that targeted killing is morally permissible, thus presenting an issue for the morality of drone warfare (Caccamo 4).
Section III: Why The Nature Of the Fear Caused By Targeted Killing Is Distinctive
I refute Statman’s claim that targeted killing is not as “morally problematic” as previously held by critics because the fear caused by targeted killing possesses one of the main elements of fear distinctive of terrorism: surprise (Caccamo 2; Statman 13). To examine this claim, one could observe countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, where America has led campaigns supporting the “war on terror” for almost two decades. Based on the length of the conflicts in these nations, it is not unrealistic to state that citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan most likely have reasonable expectations regarding conventional style attacks on insurgent hotspots in their countries.
For example, in 2004 joint American, Iraqi, and British forces engaged in the Second Battle of Fallujah with the intent to regain control of the city from enemy combatants (Swift). 300,000 civilians fled the city of Fallujah before the attack in 2004 began, but the urban fighting that resulted was still extremely deadly (Bedell). Intense shelling and high explosive shells destroyed enemy insurgents, but also contributed to non-combatant deaths (Swift). This battle employed technology Statman considers to be comparable to drones, such as tanks and artillery.
Statman would seem to raise no issues with the morality of the weaponry used in the battle, and neither do I, besides the obvious moral issue of non-combatant deaths caused by the weaponry which will not be addressed here. However, the fear created by targeted killing using drones is not comparable to the fear the Iraqis may have felt due to the possibility of being caught in the middle of a firefight or artillery bombardment in Fallujah. The practice of targeted killing creates fear that entails an element of stark surprise comparable to the fear created by a terrorist attack.
The surprise associated with the fear created by acts of terrorism is morally distinctive because it “completely catches a respective target population off guard, as there is often no expectation of direct assault” (Caccamo 6). This stark surprise induces more fear into a population than conventional acts of war as it removes the sense of peace citizens normally experience in a “jarring and blunt manner unlike conventional war” (Caccamo 6).
Targeted killing creates a fear that also possesses this element of surprise. Statman asks us to “imagine a person walking in his neighborhood when suddenly, literally and out of the blue, he is shot and killed by a drone that he can’t even see” (Statman 4). While Statman argues that this example is not enough to support the argument that drones cause disrespectful deaths, I believe the example perfectly highlights the surprise element of the fear created by targeted killing.
While the surprise may not be “disrespectful,” as tanks and helicopters can also kill people “suddenly” and without being perceived (which is fear-inducing), the fear generated from the surprise of a targeted kill seems stronger than we typically associate with being created by conventional tactics, as indicated with our inclinations when we first read this example. Something about it probably makes the average reader cringe and think “I cannot exactly say what makes me feel uncomfortable about that killing, but it seems wrong.”
Perhaps this wrongness stems from the idea that the weapon used to execute the targeted kill is silent, or located miles above the target. The surprise could also be attributed to the idea that targeted killing appears to be a tactic that can be utilized easily everywhere due to its reliance on drone technology, as opposed to executing it with large, clunky tanks, heavy artillery pieces, or noisy helicopters. Overall, the feeling of uneasiness created with this type of killing is one not typically identified when speaking about long range missiles or artillery. The stark surprise associated with the nature of the fear caused by targeted killing is enough to render the practice morally questionable, and prompt further investigation into why the surprise associated with the fear caused by targeted killing seems wrong.
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