"Killing a man is murder unless you do it to the sound of trumpets." ~ Voltaire
The sources, methods, goals and tactics of identifying legitimate targets for covert action, are matters typically hidden from public scrutiny, yet clearly worthy of public attention and philosophical debate. The following of unequivocal ethical criteria when identifying targets is necessary to minimize blowback when conducting Targeted Killing Operations. Comparable to torture and rendition, the debate that encompasses these operations have passionate supporters on both sides of the issue. In spite of the genuine controversy surrounding this subject, a carefully circumscribed policy of targeted killing can be a legal and effective tool in a counter-terror campaign.
It is necessary to provide a coherent and acceptable definition of both assassination and targeted killing in order to form a common frame of reference when debating the pertinent moral and legal arguments for and against targeted killing. First, we must differentiate the current US policy of targeted killing from the common understanding of “assassination.” In asymmetric warfare determining combatant vs. non-combatant status is a critical task to any operation. Discerning between these two designations may initially seem effortless, however, in an asymmetric environment these distinctions only come in shades of grey. Throughout the paper, we will examine the arguments for and against targeted killing. Subsequently, I propose policy guidelines to that must be considered in order to minimize blowback when conducting Targeted Killing Operations.