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Targeted Killings and Double Standards

By Justus Reid Weiner

Nils Melzer, Legal Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), defines targeted killing (TK) as “the use of lethal force attributable to a subject of international law with the intent, premeditation, and deliberation to kill individually selected persons who are not in the physical custody of those targeting them.”

TKs have been subjected to significant scrutiny by human rights groups in a manner that has created a double standard in which different countries’ TK policies are subject to different criteria of evaluation and critique. Any such differentiation can have no basis and must be evaluated uniformly and consistently.

This study looks closely at the work of both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), with respect to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and several Western armies (the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Canada and Australia) that have implemented TK policies since November 2000.

It examines HRW’s three-part test to assess legality of a particular TK and reveals significant differences in the treatment of IDF TKs as compared with TKs by Western countries. Amnesty International’s work also unjustifiably condemns Israeli TK policy, while at the same time virtually excusing the Western TK policy that has resulted in far more civilian fatalities.

  • On the one hand, there is a TK policy which has been conducted in almost full compliance with HRW’s stated test, executed with remarkable transparency, and put under intense local and international public scrutiny (including judicial review). Most remarkably, the policy has achieved unprecedented levels of intelligence accuracy. This TK policy was implemented with precision targeting and virtually no mistakes regarding the location of the terrorist – and with an average of less than one civilian fatality per TK.
  • On the other hand, there is a TK policy which in many cases did not comply with HRW’s stated test and was conducted behind the cloak of systemic and deliberate opacity, with virtually no public scrutiny. Due to faulty or compromised intelligence, this policy resulted in many incidents which ought to have raised red flags regarding the core principles of distinction and proportionality – and with more civilian fatalities per TK.

As British Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, has said, the IDF in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on June 5, 2012.

Justus Reid Weiner received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall) School of Law and his BA from Colgate University. He was a Scholar-in-Residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. His professional publications have appeared in leading law journals and intellectual magazines. In the U.S Weiner practiced law as an associate in the litigation department of the international law firm White & Case. Weiner also served as a senior attorney at the Israel Ministry of Justice specializing in human rights and other facets of public international law.