Should International Law Permit State-Sanctioned
Assassination of Non-State Enemies?
by Michael Davis
My subject is the moral justification of state-sanctioned assassination of
non-state enemies, especially "terrorists," in territory outside the borders
of the state in question. The "should" of my title is, then, moral.
The subject is both significant and timely. The United States seems to have
adopted a policy of assassinating its non-state enemies. Other states may follow
(and some, such as Israel, were already following such a policy before the United
States began). The best-known example of this policy to date is the killing of an
unarmed Osama bin Laden in his home on May 2, 2011. Apart from its efficiency
and the fame (or infamy) of its target, perhaps this assassination's most noteworthy
feature is that it was carried out, under the direct supervision of the US president,
by American military sent deep into the territory of an ally, Pakistan, without the
prior consent or knowledge of Pakistan's government, a relatively clear violation
of international law (because a serious violation of Pakistan's sovereignty).