Targeted killing is the deliberate, specific targeting and killing, by a government or its agents, of a supposed terrorist or of a supposed "unlawful combatant" (i.e., one taking a direct part in hostilities in the context of an armed conflict) who is not in that government's custody. The target is generally a person accused of taking part in or supporting armed conflict or terrorism, whether by bearing arms or otherwise, and of thereby losing rights and protections such as those of the Geneva Conventions. Targeted killing has been used by governments around the world, and has become a frequent tactic of the United States and Israel in their fight against terrorism. The tactic can raise complex questions and lead to contentious disputes as to the legal basis for its application, who qualifies as an appropriate target, what circumstances must exist before the tactic may be employed, whether it results in greater or lesser collateral damage, and a number of other pros and cons. Opinions range from people considering it a legal form of self-defense that reduces terrorism, to people calling it an extrajudicial killing that lacks due process, and which leads to more violence.
Methods used have included firing a five-foot-long (1.5 m) Hellfire missile from a MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drone (an unmanned, remote-controlled plane), detonating a cell phone bomb, and long-range sniper shooting. Countries such as the U.S. (in Pakistan and Yemen) and Israel (in the West Bank and Gaza) have used targeted killing to kill members of groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hamas.
The Predator drones, with high-precision zoom lens cameras, and video cameras with both visible-wavelength and infrared capability, that can see at night, can lock on a target for their two Hellfire missiles when they are so far away that the target can neither see them nor hear them. "Nano-drones" are now being developed for targeted killing. Approximately 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) long, like little "killer bees" they are being fashioned to even enter a room through an open window. Aerial refueling tanker drones are also being developed that will allow these drones to refuel, without ever landing.
In early 2010, with President Barack Obama's approval, Anwar al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to be approved for targeted killing by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His targeted killing was carried out on September 30, 2011.
There is no universally agreed-upon definition of targeted killing. Nils Melzer, an author and an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) legal adviser, defines targeted killing 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". Another definition, by Syracuse Law Professor William Banks and George Washington University Law School Professor Peter Raven-Hansen, is: "Premeditated killing of an individual by a government or its agents."
Georgetown Law Professor Gary Solis, in his 2010 book entitled The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War, defines it as:
the intentional killing of a specific civilian or unlawful combatant who cannot reasonably be apprehended, who is taking a direct part in hostilities, the targeting done at the direction of the state, in the context of an international or non-international armed conflict.
Solis stresses that it is not considered a targeted killing unless:
1. An armed conflict is in progress (as otherwise it would be considered a homicide, and a domestic crime; it is the armed conflict that affords a combatant the right to kill an enemy);
2. The target must be a specific individual, who is targeted because of his activities in relation to the armed conflict (under the Third Geneva Convention the civilian loses his immunity from being targeted when he takes part in such activities, which would include for example delivering ammunition, or gathering military intelligence in enemy territory);
3. Though not in any law, human rights concerns suggest that the person should be one who cannot be easily arrested;
4. A senior official must authorize the targeted killing, taking into consideration the difficult issue of collateral damage. A targeted killing could be authorized in the U.S. by the President (or his designee, or two-star generals and above in the combat zone), and in Israel by the Prime Minister (or his designee); and
5. The targeted individual is directly participating in hostilities, whether in a combat function or otherwise. The applicable ICRC interpretive guidance indicates that civilians who lead terrorist organizations, for example, by virtue of their position never literally pick up arms themselves, but by the same token they never lay them down, and are therefore legitimate targeted killing targets. In accord, the Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Armed Forces, Kenneth Watkin says: "It is not just the fighters with weapons in their hands who pose a threat". In such case, under Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions, even civilians, women, and children are not immune from attack.
 The United States
 Legal considerations
The U.S. views targeted killing during an armed conflict as the lawful right to use force "consistent with its inherent right to self-defense" under international law in response to the 9/11 attacks. Under domestic law, U.S. targeted killings against 9/11-related entities is authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists.
In a June 2007 debate, then-candidate Barack Obama discussed why he believed it would be legal to use a Hellfire missile to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, even if some innocent civilians were killed in the process. He said:
I don't believe in assassinations, but Osama bin Laden has declared war on us, killed 3,000 people, and under existing law, including international law, when you've got a military target like bin Laden, you take him out. And if you have 20 minutes, you do it swiftly and surely.
In March 2010, Department of State Legal Advisor Koh said: "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war." He said the U.S. is in "an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the associated forces", and therefore has the lawful right to use lethal force to protect its citizens "consistent with its right to self-defense" under international law. Koh identified three elements that the U.S. considers when determining whether to authorize a specific targeted drone killing:
* Imminence of the threat;
* Sovereignty of other States involved; and
* Willingness and ability of those States to suppress the threat the target poses.
Koh said that the "rules" of U.S. targeting operations are consistent with principles of the laws of war, citing the principles of distinction and proportionality. He said that the U.S. adheres to these standards and takes great care in the "planning and execution to ensure that only legitimate objectives are targeted, and that collateral damage is kept to a minimum."
While the addition of Anwar al-Awlaki to the U.S.'s target list was only made after U.S. National Security Council review and approval, prior judicial review of additions to the target list might be unconstitutional, according to former C.I.A. lawyer John Radsan, who teaches at the William Mitchell College of Law, inasmuch as: "That sort of review goes to the core of presidential power".
Before launching a targeted killing attack, the U.S. engages in a review process. The U.S. military and the CIA each maintain their own separate list of terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are approved for capture or killing.
Scott Silliman, executive director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security, says that if the U.S. military is involved, there is: "a very sophisticated target-review process that checks and cross-checks any potential target with regard to constraints of international law, appropriateness of choice of munitions, blast effects as they relate to collateral damage, etc." The military's list is maintained by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta
Decisions to add names to the CIA target list are all reviewed carefully by policy people and by attorneys. Principles such as necessity, proportionality, and limiting collateral damage (to persons and property) always apply. A memo drafted by analysts in the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center, usually two to three pages long, that reflects the name of the suspected terrorist, the latest intelligence on his activities, and the case for why he should be added to the CIA target list, is circulated to high-level officials, including the CIA general counsel and sometimes Director Leon E. Panetta.
For a person to be targeted, he must be deemed to be a continuing threat to U.S. persons or interests. The list is generally about two dozen names long, though its length varies as targets are added and removed. The list mainly comprises al-Qaeda leaders and those playing a direct role in planning or executing attacks. Espousing violence or providing financial support to al-Qaeda do not meet the threshold, officials said, but providing training to would-be terrorists or helping them get to al-Qaeda camps probably would. Nearly every key step takes place within the CIA's Langley, Virginia, headquarters, from proposing targets to piloting the remote-controlled drones. The National Security Council oversees the program.
 Notable examples
Among the more notable of the U.S.'s targeted killings:
* The U.S. first said it used targeted killing in November 2002, with the cooperation and approval of the government of Yemen. It used a CIA-controlled high-altitude Predator drone to fire a Hellfire missile at an SUV in the Yemeni desert containing Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a Yemeni suspected senior al-Qaeda lieutenant believed to have been the mastermind behind the October 2000 USS Cole bombing that killed 17 Americans. He was on a list of targets whose capture or death had been called for by President George W. Bush. In addition to al-Harethi, five other occupants of the SUV were killed, all of whom were suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, and one of whom (Kamal Derwish) was an American.
* In June 2004, the U.S. killed Nek Muhammad Wazir, a Taliban commander and al-Qaeda facilitator, along with five others, in an apparent Predator missile strike in South Waziristan, Pakistan.
* In March 2005, Haitham al-Yemeni, a Yemeni al-Qaeda explosives expert, was killed in North Waziristan, Pakistan, in a CIA-operated Predator attack.
* In December 2005, Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian who was reportedly al-Qaeda's third in command, was killed (along with his Syrian bodyguards and the 17-year-old son and 8-year-old nephew of the owner of the house) in a surprise drone attack in the village of Asoray, near Miranshah, in North Waziristan. He and four other men, two of them also Arabs, were killed  His death stirred controversy because it was Pakistani policy that U.S. forces were not allowed in the country.
Al-Zarqawi after he was killed
* In June 2006, the U.S. killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, responsible for bombings, beheadings, and attacks. It did so by having an F‑16C jet drop two 500-pound (230 kg) guided bombs (a laser-guided GBU‑12 and a GPS-guided GBU‑38) on a meeting in an isolated "safe house" 8 km (5 mi) north of Baqubah, Iraq. Six others were also killed, including his key lieutenant, spiritual adviser Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, and one of his wives and their child. Tony Blair called al-Zarqawi's death "a strike against al-Qaeda in Iraq, and therefore a strike against al-Qaeda everywhere".
* In January 2008, Abu Laith al-Libi, one al-Qaeda's most senior figures and on the U.S.'s Afghanistan 'wanted list', was killed in a targeted killing Predator rocket attack in Pakistan. Some intelligence sources describe him as the number three leader of al-Qaeda.
Richard Reid, the "Shoe Bomber", trained by Abu Khabab al-Masri
* In July 2008, Abu Khabab al-Masri, Egyptian suspected leader of al-Qaeda's chemical and biological weapons efforts, part of bin-Laden's inner circle, head of the Derunta training camp in Afghanistan, and personal trainer of Richard Reid (the "shoe bomber") and Zacarias Moussaoui, was killed in an attack by U.S. drone-launched missiles on a house in South Waziristan.
* In October 2008, Khalid Habib, the al-Qaeda regional operations commander in Afghanistan and Pakistan described by the CIA as the fourth-ranking person in the Qaeda hierarchy, and described by the FBI as "one of the five or six most capable, most experienced terrorists in the world", and allegedly involved in plots against the West, was killed by a missile launched by a Predator as he was sitting in a Toyota station wagon, a favored vehicle of militants in the area, near Taparghai in South Waziristan.
* In November 2008, Rashid Rauf, British/Pakistani suspected planner of a 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, was killed by a missile launched from a U.S. drone on the well-guarded compound of a Taliban commander in North Waziristan, carried out by the CIA's Special Activities Division.
1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya
* In January 2009, Usama al-Kini, a Kenyan on the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists since its inception in October 2001, and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, alleged orchestrators of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 223 people, and the September 2008 Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing that killed 54 people, were killed in a Predator strike on an al-Qaeda "safe house" in South Waziristan.
* In August 2009, Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban umbrella group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which he formed from an alliance of about five pro-Taliban groups, who was thought to have commanded up to 5,000 fighters and to have been behind numerous attacks in Pakistan including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, was killed (along with a Taliban lieutenant, seven bodyguards, his wife, and his mother- and father-in-law) in a U.S. CIA Special Activities Division drone missile attack on his father-in-law's house in South Waziristan, where he was staying.
* In September 2009, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Kenyan leader of al-Qaeda in Somalia, was targeted and killed by U.S. Navy Seals strafing his vehicle in southern Somalia from two AH-6 Little Bird helicopters.
* In May 2010, Saeed al-Masri, Egyptian commander of operations in Afghanistan and # 3 for al-Qaeda, as well as its former financial chief, was killed in a drone airstrike in North Waziristan.
* In May 2010 an errant US drone attack targeting al Qaeda terrorists in Wadi Abida, Yemen killed five people, among them Jaber al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Maarib province who the Yemeni government said was mediating between the government and the militants. The killing angered Shabwani's tribesmen, who in subsequent weeks fought with government security forces and attacked a major oil pipeline.
* In May 2011, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the Egyptian, al-Qaeda # 3 and co-founder, who was commander for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan's Tribal Areas.
* In August 2011, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the Libyan, al-Qaeda’s # 2 after Bin Laden was killed, was killed by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan.
 U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki, the first U.S. citizen to be put on the CIA's targeted-killing list
In early 2010, President Obama authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Yemeni-American believed to be an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula member, who had been linked to three of the 9/11 hijackers, the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day bomber, the Times Square bomber, and others accused of terrorism. The unusual step of putting a U.S. citizen on a U.S. hit list followed a U.S. National Security Council review.
U.S. officials believed he had moved beyond recruiting for and inciting attacks against the U.S., to being an operational player participating directly in launching attacks intended to kill Americans—the standard for being put on the list. A U.S. official said: "Awlaki is a proven threat. He's being targeted." Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, called al-Awlaki "probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us."
It was unprecedented for an American to be approved for targeted killing by the U.S. "If you are a legitimate military target abroad—a part of an enemy force—the fact that you're a U.S. citizen doesn't change that", said Michael Edney, deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council from 2007 until 2009.
Al-Awlaki's targeted killing was carried out in September 2011. Two Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles at a vehicle in which he and other suspected al Qaeda members were driving in the northern al-Jawf province of Yemen, killing them. The strike was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA.
 Issues related to drone strikes in Pakistan
See also: Drone attacks in Pakistan
Predator launching a Hellfire missile
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials became concerned in 2008 that targets in Pakistan were being tipped off to pending U.S. strikes by Pakistani intelligence, when the U.S. requested Pakistani permission prior to launching targeted killing attacks. The Bush administration therefore decided in August 2008 to abandon the practice of obtaining Pakistani government permission before launching missiles from drones, and in the next six months the CIA carried out at least 38 Predator targeted killing strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared with 10 in 2006 and 2007 combined. The Predators were launched from Pakistani military airstrips, but operated (and missiles launched) by CIA pilots in the U.S.
The Predator strikes killed at least nine senior al-Qaeda leaders, and dozens of lower-ranking operatives, depleting its operational tier in what U.S. officials described as the most serious disruption of al-Qaeda since 2001. It was reported that the Predator strikes took such a toll on al-Qaeda that militants began turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust. A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said: "They have started hunting down people who they think are responsible" for security breaches. "People are showing up dead, or disappearing."
By October 2009, the CIA said they had killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in targeted killings. By May 2010, counterterrorism officials said that drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal areas had killed more than 500 militants since 2008, and no more than 30 (5%) nearby civilians—mainly family members who lived and traveled with the targets. Drones linger overhead after a strike, in some cases for hours, to enable the CIA to count the bodies and determine who is a civilian. A Pakistani intelligence officer gave a higher estimate of civilian casualties, saying 20% of total deaths were civilians or non-combatants.
There are concerns that the list of targets for targeted killings is constantly expanded. What began as an exceptional operation against key terrorist masterminds turned into routine practice. Reportedly it was even proposed to add Afghan drug lords to the target list in addition to Islamist militiants.
Main articles: Israeli targeted killings and List of Israeli targeted killings
"Nothing limits Hamas attacks,
except terrorists still prefer their heads attached to their shoulders."
— Avi Dichter, Israeli former
Minister of Internal Security
Targeted killings were arguably used by Israel as far back as the 1973 Israeli raid on Lebanon. Then, future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak led a team that infiltrated Beirut. Barak was wearing a dress, stuffed brassiere, high heels, blue eyeliner, and a woman's wig, and carrying an over-sized purse stuffed with explosives ("I was a brunette, I had a strawberry blonde behind me", Barak recalled, with a small smile). They killed three accused terrorists who were senior members of the PLO who had been accused of murdering 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics (including executive members Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar and Kamal Nasser).
Israel again began using targeted killings in January 1996. It has engaged in targeted killings openly since September 2000, when in the wake of the launch of the Second Intifada the number of its targeted killings increased. Between the beginning of the Second Intifada in September 2000, and September 1, 2002, more than 415 Israeli civilians were killed and more than 2,000 maimed or injured (not including soldiers killed). As Israel's population was 6 million, if a similar proportion of America's population had been killed, more than 19,000 people would have been lost, the equivalent of six September 11s. Between September 2000 and August 2011, Israel carried out 251 successful recognized targeted killings in the Palestinian territories.
 Legal considerations
In carrying out targeted killings, Israel states that it focuses on four principles of international law: proportionality, military necessity, minimizing collateral damage to innocent civilians, and no alternatives to killing. Inasmuch as going into Gaza, for example, to arrest a notorious terrorist is "a highly dangerous military operation that would put more IDF soldiers in harm's way", law professor Guiora says, "International law does not require Israel to carry out high-risk arrests."
In 2000, Barak secretly asked Daniel Reisner, a legal adviser to Arab-Israeli peace talks and Head of the International Law Branch of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Legal Division, to determine whether targeted killings were legal. Reisner concluded that they were legal, with six conditions: that arrest is impossible; that targets are combatants; that senior cabinet members approve each attack; that civilian casualties are minimized; that operations are limited to areas not under Israeli control; and that targets are identified as a future threat. Unlike prison sentences, targeted killing cannot be meted out as punishment for past behavior, Reisner said. In 2002, a military panel confirmed that targeting cannot be for revenge, but only for deterrence.
Reisner was often consulted at the target killing planning meetings, which he described as "very, very trying. Especially when I said it's okay. I'd go back to my office and ask my deputy, 'Do you agree?' It's a frightening process to be involved in, sitting in a room and talking about killing someone. It's enough to make your skin crawl." But once the evidence was presented, Reisner said, when they identified the cafe the terrorist was planning to blow up, or the movie theater he hoped to destroy, "you're reminded of what you're trying to avoid."
 Targeting, and limiting collateral damage
When the Israeli prime minister approves a target, frequently the Palestinian Authority is notified, to first give it an opportunity to arrest the target. If the target is not arrested, he is assigned a file, which contains instructions on when and where he can be killed. Specialists mark up maps–green lines for open roads where killings minimize civilian risk, red lines for congested areas to be avoided. An operation can take 200 people, and thousands of man-hours. The target's name is transferred from a short list, and typed on a laminated card. Commanders carry the cards in their pockets.
In determining the location of its targets, Israel cross-checks a combination of sources, including wiretapping experts, spy drone technicians, and Palestinian informants. Engineers run computer analyses of any targeted building, assessing its cement, its structure, and the size of its rooms, so as to be effective while at the same time limiting collateral damage.
To limit collateral damage, Professor Asa Kasher, co-author of the IDF code of ethics, professor of professional ethics at Tel Aviv University, and academic adviser at the IDF College of National Defense, said:
If necessary [Israel] will delay the targeted killing if [it] can do it later in a way that will not harm civilians, or at least in a way that will reduce collateral damage to civilians. Research is done to determine what is possible to minimize collateral damage. People in operation research sit and plan exactly how to kill the terrorist. What type of bomb or missile to use, whether to shoot from a helicopter or a drone, what angle to send it in, at what time of day, whether to destroy the whole building or only the room where the terrorist is, whether to send the missile through the window, etc.
Elyezer Shkedy, former Israeli Air Force (IAF) commander, said IAF operations only comprised 5% of targeted killings in 2003–04, while in 2007–08, IAF strikes comprised 50–70% of targeted killing operations. "Bystander fatalities" decreased from 50-of-100 Palestinians killed (1:1 ratio), to 1-in-25 (24:1 ratio). In the final months of 2007, 98 terrorists were killed with a single bystander fatality (98:1 ratio).
While the IAF does not provide detailed data of its operations, the communication director for the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem (the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Sarit Michaeli, acknowledged improvements in IAF accuracy. B'Tselem estimated that 339 Palestinians were killed in targeted killing operations from 2000–06, 210 of whom were targets, while the rest were bystanders.
 Notable examples
Among the more notable of Israel's targeted killings:
* In February 1992, two Israeli Air Force Apache helicopters fired Hellfire missiles at an armour-plated Mercedes traveling in southern Lebanon, killing Sheikh Abbas Musawi, founder and secretary-general of the militant group Hizbullah, as well as his wife, six-year-old son, and five of his bodyguards.
* In January 1996, Hamas chief bomb-maker Yahya "The Engineer" Ayyash, said to have orchestrated suicide bombings that resulted in the deaths of 90 Israelis, answered a cell phone that Israel's Shin Bet had booby-trapped, as he hid in a home in the Gaza Strip. The Shin Bet then detonated the phone's 50 grams (1.8 oz) of RDX explosive, shearing off half his head, blowing off his hand, and killing him instantly.
A Hellfire missile exposed with transparent casing
* In February 2001, a sniper shot Mahmoud Adani, a senior leader of Hamas suspected of involvement in two bombing attacks, from 150 yards (140 m) away as he was walking in the West Bank. Israeli Major General Moshe Yaalon said that Israel preferred to capture militants, however, rather than kill them.
* In August 2001, Abu Ali Mustafa, the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who Israel charged was responsible for 10 car-bomb attacks and other shootings, was killed in a targeted killing when two Israeli Apache helicopter gunships fired two rockets through his two office windows, as he sat at his desk in Ramallah.
* In November 2001, Jamil Jadallah, reputedly a senior Hamas member involved in dozens of attacks against Israel, including suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was killed when an Israeli helicopter gunship launched a missile at a barn in which he was hiding in Hebron. The Shin Bet said he had been assembling a car bomb, to carry out a mass attack.
F-16 fighter jet
* In July 2002, Salah Shehade, who founded and led the military wing of Hamas, and who Israel said was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, was killed in a targeted killing. An Israeli F‑16 fighter jet launched a laser-guided one-ton precision missile at the two-story building in Gaza in which he was hiding, killing him and 14 others, including 9 children. The Israeli chief of operations and prime minister apologized officially, saying they were unaware, due to faulty intelligence, that civilians would be in the house. A regretful Moshe Ya'alon, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, also mentioned that the army had passed up on several earlier opportunities to kill Shehade, because he was with his wife or children, and that each time Shehadeh went on to direct more suicide bombings against Israel.
* In March 2004, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, quadriplegic founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, who authorized all of their terror attacks, was killed when Israeli AH‑64 Apache attack helicopters fired three Hellfire missiles at him, killing him and seven others including several of his bodyguards, in the northern Gaza Strip.
Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopter
* In April 2004, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, the co-founder and head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was killed in Gaza when Israeli Army AH‑64 Apache helicopters fired two Hellfire missiles at his car, killing him, his bodyguard, his 27-year-old son, and two civilians. "We will kill Jews everywhere", he had said. Israeli army radio said that it was the first opportunity to target Rantissi without significant collateral damage since he took over leadership of Hamas, as he had surrounded himself with human shields since the targeted killing of Yassin.
* In October 2004, Adnan al-Ghoul, former assistant of Mohammed Deif, the leader of the al-Qassam Brigades, and Hamas's top bomb-maker and developer of the Qassam rocket after his mentor Yahya Ayyashwas killed in 1996 in a targeted killing, was killed along with Imad Abbas, a senior member of the Brigades, when an Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at his car in which he was riding north of Gaza City.
* In June 2006, Jamal Abu Samhadana, the founder of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) (which have been held responsible for firing missiles into Israel), # 2 on Israel's list of wanted terrorists, and recently appointed head of security of the Hamas government, was killed, along with at least three other PRC members, by four missiles fired by Israeli Apache helicopters, guided by Israeli reconnaissance drones, at a PRC camp in Rafah. The Israeli military said the militants were planning a large-scale attack on Israel.
* In March 2008, Muhammad Shahada, a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, commanding the organization in the Bethlehem area of the West Bank, was killed by Israeli commandos disguised as local residents who opened fire on his vehicle, killing four others including two Islamic Jihad militants and a senior leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
* In April 2008, Ibrahim Abu Alba, the head of the military wing of the Palestinian Democratic Front in Northern Gaza, was killed in a drone attack near Beit Hanoun.
* Possible targeted killing: In January 2010, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas commander and one of the founders of the al-Qassam Brigades, was killed by being electrocuted and/or drugged with succinylcholine, a quick-acting paralytic, and then suffocated in his room in a five-star Dubai hotel; the Dubai police said that the Israeli Mossad was behind the killing.
 Supreme Court decision
On December 14, 2006, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that targeted killing is a legitimate form of self-defense against terrorists, and outlined several conditions for its use, in an opinion written by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch.
The opinion, deciding a case brought by two human rights groups, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, set forth what is allowed and what is prohibited, and the directives it gave assured future judicial oversight of all cases in which a targeted killing exceeds the limits of these rules. If it should turn out that a targeted killing was illegal, it might lead to a trial and the paying of compensation to the innocent civilians who were hurt by it. Under the ruling, those involved in causing terror are civilians who have lost the protection granted to civilians "for the period of time during which they take direct part in hostile acts." The question of whether they continue to constitute a threat must be scrutinized carefully before a targeted-killing order is issued. Such an order must not be issued as an act of revenge, punishment, or deterrence, but only in prevention. The information that a civilian became a participant in hostile acts must be sufficiently well-founded. The threat must be "strong and persuasive", and the person must be party to "ongoing action that does not limit itself to concrete sporadic or one-time action." Also, targeted killing must not be engaged in when an arrest may be made without real danger to the lives of soldiers; and targeted killing should be avoided if it will lead to disproportionate collateral harm to innocent civilians.
The Court also demanded the establishment of an objective committee to examine retroactively every targeted killing in which civilians were injured; its conclusions will be subject to judicial oversight. The head of the IDF's international law department, Colonel Pnina Sharvit, said that "everything in the decision is compatible with our existing policy." A spokesman for Hamas criticized the decision, saying it "gives judicial cover for terrorist practices by the government."
In the summer of 2006, Russia's security services, including the Federal Security Service (FSB), were given the legal power to hunt down and kill terrorism suspects overseas if ordered to do so by Russia's president.
 Notable examples
Shamil Salmanovich Basayev
* In April 1996, Dzhokhar Dudayev, the president of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and the leader of Chechen rebels in the First Chechen War, was killed in Chechnya by a guided missile while speaking on a satellite phone.
* In March 2002, Ibn Al-Khattab, a Saudi guerrilla fighter, was killed in Chechnya during the Second Chechen War when a Dagestani messenger hired by the Russian FSB gave Khattab a poisoned letter.
* In February 2004, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen who played a key role in directing funding from foundations in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to support a radical Chechen faction dubbed the Special Purpose Islamic Regiment, the militant group responsible for the Moscow theater hostage crisis, was killed in Doha, Qatar, when a bomb ripped through his SUV. Two Russians were arrested in a Russian Embassy villa and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. Passing their sentence, the judge stated that they had acted on orders from the Russian leadership.
* In July 2006, Chechen militant Islamist Shamil Salmanovich Basayev, responsible for the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis that led to 129 civilian deaths and the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis that led to 385 deaths, was killed in the village of Ekazhevo, in Ingushetia. The FSB, following him with a drone, spotted his car approach a truck laden with explosives that the FSB had prepared, and by remote control triggered a detonator that the FSB had hidden in the explosives. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said: "He is a notorious terrorist, and we have very clearly and publicly announced what is going to happen to notorious terrorists who commit heinous crimes of the type Mr. Basayev has been involved in."
 Notable examples
* Colombian military forces conducted an air raid in Ecuador in March 2008, killing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) deputy Raúl Reyes, along with 16 other FARC guerrillas.
"For a region going through a horrendous time, targeted killing is the worst possible policy–except for all the others."
— Steve David, Johns Hopkins Associate Dean &
Professor of International Relations
The primary justification for targeted killings is self-defense. Other justifications include that: a) it may produce leadership vacuums, eliminate skilled operatives, and lead to disorganization in the terrorist organization; b) it may reduce the number and severity of terrorist attacks over the long term; c) it addresses those situations where it would be too difficult or dangerous to arrest the target; d) international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country; e) it adheres to the international Law of Armed Conflict principles of proportionality and distinction; and f) it limits collateral damage.
Targeted killing is justified by its proponents on the basis of national self-defense, with the nation defending its citizens from danger to their lives posed by acts of terrorism. Judge Abraham Sofaer, former federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, wrote: "It is essential not to allow loaded rhetoric to obscure the propriety of lawfully using deadly force in self-defense."
"Targeted killing absolutely is the implementation, the manifestation of aggressive, preemptive self-defense based on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter", said Amos Guiora, Professor of law at the University of Utah. Similarly, Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department's legal adviser, said in March 2010 that the U.S.'s drone strikes against al-Qaeda and its allies were lawful under the general principle of self-defense.
Various proponents have supported targeted killings of those who lead, inspire, and provide religious sanction for terrorists, asserting that the fact that they may not have been physically involved in committing such crimes does not reduce their role or responsibility. They also stress that inasmuch as it is self-defense, it is not murder, and thus it is a killing—but not a crime.
Leadership vacuums and disorganization
Some argue that the killings may produce leadership vacuums, eliminate skilled operatives, and lead to disorganization in the terrorist organizations.
Reduces terrorist attacks
They argue that targeted killings have reduced the number and effectiveness of terrorist attacks over the long term. After Israel adopted a policy of targeted killings, deaths resulting from terrorist attacks by Hamas plunged from a high of 75 in 2001, to 21 in 2005.
Harvard Law School Professor Allan Dershowitz said: "Even during the most recent intifadah, Israel prevented thousands of acts of terrorism by target killings and arrests. I'm in favor of targeted killing of terrorists, if it can be done without collateral damage." Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, then the Israeli Air Force commander, said "It is the most important, the most important, method of fighting terror.
George Jonas wrote in Foreign Policy:
In fighting terrorism, looking for a "solution" is the wrong test. The utility of counter-terrorism isn't decided on the basis of what it solves, or fails to solve. The police, the courts, and the jails are no "solution" to crime; schools, libraries, and universities are no "solution" to ignorance; yet no one concludes that the justice system or the education system has no utility. Shooting Osama bin Laden probably wouldn't eliminate terrorism, but it would eliminate Osama bin Laden. Certain battles need to be fought every day, not necessarily to make the world a better place, but to prevent it from becoming worse.
Kill vs. arrest
Proponents of targeted killing are often in favor of arresting the target rather than killing him, if possible. But typically targets are high-profile suspects, whose capture is deemed impossible, or too great a risk. Tufts University Professor of international security studies William Martel says: "It's a pretty dicey proposition capturing somebody. You can't do a snatch and grab casually."
International law, and the principles of "proportionality" and "distinction"
As a general rule, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country.
Most legal scholars consider targeted killing as legal under the international rules of war, because the terrorists are at war with the targeting state.. Ilan Berman, of the American Foreign Policy Council, said that: "Under international law, the use of targeted killings, while unusual, is entirely defensible. To be sure, this is an unconventional sort of conflict, but it is nonetheless a military one, in which the laws of war are applicable." Similarly, Tamar Meisels says,  that because terrorists use military or paramilitary tactics, terrorism may be seen as a form of warfare, which implies a state of war (though not as clear-cut as a war between states). Therefore, she opines, those fighting terrorism are engaged in a war with terrorist organizations, and methods used to fight wars may be used to combat terrorism.
Others make a case that targeted killing adheres to the international law Law of Armed Conflict principles of proportionality and distinction, which are intended to limit collateral damage.
* "Proportionality" is the principle stating that the "destruction of civilian property must be proportional to the military advantage gained." Targeted killing uses the minimum level of force needed to carry out legitimate self-defense. Judge Sofaer similarly wrote that while targeted killing may result in collateral damage, and it is impossible to guarantee that targeted killings will be soundly planned and implemented, such damage "must be avoided to the extent possible consistent with the military objective, and it must not be unreasonable in the circumstances".
* "Distinction" requires combatants to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. When targeted killing works perfectly, the only ones killed are the perpetrators or backers of terrorism. When faced with alternatives of military invasion, carpet bombing, military sweeps, or artillery barrage, targeted killing—while regrettable—is deemed preferable.
George Jonas, taking note of "the astronomical casualty figures of 20th-century conflicts", writes that they:
aren't sustainable in the 21st, morally or politically. Body counts such as 40 million in World War II, 1 million in Vietnam–even 50,000 in the Six Day War–are no longer acceptable. Our improved ability to isolate key enemies enables us to wage war with far fewer casualties. For the first time in history, we can fight regimes instead of people.... In the era of "smart bombs", the United States no longer has to contemplate 4 million dead and wounded as it did in Korea during the 1950s (2 million military, plus about 2 million civilian casualties..., not counting about 390,000 Chinese and 37,500 U.S. soldiers). Today, there is a good chance of eliminating mad tyrants like Kim Jong Il and his inner circle ... with a few GPS-guided bunker busters.
Limit collateral damage
Israel says that while it makes significant efforts to avoid or limit civilian casualties, they are inevitable, because terrorists hide in civilian areas. As Israel's targeted killing campaign developed, Hamas's senior bomb-makers, strategists, and developers of the Qassam rocket began to surround themselves with children. Max Boot, the Olin senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that "terrorists often hide among civilians precisely because they know that—unlike them—Americans or Israelis shrink from slaughtering innocents, even inadvertently.
Israeli Major General Amos Yadlin, chief of military intelligence, said: "We face a tragic dilemma. A terrorist is going to enter a restaurant and blow up 20 people. But if we blow up his car, three innocent people in the car will die. How do we explain it to ourselves?" Upon waking up "horrified" after a targeted killing in 2002 killed 15 Palestinian civilians, Yadlin called Asa Kasher, a philosophy professor, and began working on ethical guidelines for fighting terrorism. They also asked a mathematician to write a formula to determine an acceptable number of civilian casualties per dead terrorist; he was not successful.
Through 2006, Israel had called off more than half of all targeted operations, because of danger to non-combatants. Israeli Major General Eliezer Shkedy said collateral damage decreased from 1 civilian death per targeted killing in 2002, to 1 civilian death for every 25 terrorists killed in 2005. This was in part due to technology, as Yaalon, military chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, asked that smaller warheads be manufactured.
A Qassam rocket in Sderot town hall, against a background of pictures of residents killed in rocket attacks
"I am sorry from the depths of my heart for the unintended deaths of innocent people in Gaza", Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said, but he said his top responsibility was to protect Israelis against attacks launched from Gaza. "The lives and security of the citizens of Sderot are no less important to me, if not more important", he said, referring to the town most often targeted by Qassam rockets. While expressing sorrow for civilian casualties, he also said he was concerned that some blur the moral distinction between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killing terrorists, with some regrettable collateral damage that the IDF tries carefully to avoid, and Arab terrorists deliberately killing civilians. "I don't believe that the IDF targets civilians", said Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch.
As an example of how the Israelis struggle with the dilemma, on September 6, 2003, Israel had the chance to destroy the Hamas leadership at a secret meeting on one floor of a three-story home. Its security officials clashed strongly over launching the attack. Avi Dichter, then head of Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, wanted to attack. "They're the terrorist dream team", he argued. But noting that there was risk to civilians on other floors, Yaalon struggled balancing the Talmudic precept: "If he comes to kill you, kill him first", with the Biblical commandment, "Thou shall not kill." At the end of the day, the prime minister only authorized an attack that would destroy one floor of the home where the terrorists were meeting, to lower the possibility of civilian casualties. The floor that was attacked turned out not to be the one where the Hamas leadership was meeting, and it survived unscathed. Yaalon said with a sigh: "There are no good answers. When I sign the orders, my hand trembles."
The Israeli Supreme Court held in 2006 that:
[E]very effort must be made to minimize harm to innocent civilians. Harm to innocent civilians caused during military attacks (collateral damage) must be proportional. That is, attacks should be carried out only if the expected harm to innocent civilians is not disproportional to the military advantage to be achieved by the attack. For example, shooting at a terrorist sniper shooting at soldiers or civilians from his porch is permitted, even if an innocent passerby might be harmed. Such harm conforms to the principle of proportionality. However, that is not the case if the building is bombed from the air and scores of its residents and passersby are harmed. Between these two extremes are the hard cases.
The CIA often uses specially designed missiles which have a small blast field and minimal shrapnel in order to limit collateral damage.
Criticism of targeted killings focuses on a number of aspects. One criticism asserts that it is incompatible with international law, which prohibits extrajudicial killings that lack due process. Another is the assertion that it is destabilizing to local situations, and thus causes more violence. Criticism often also focuses on the killing of innocent bystander victims. When targeted killings are launched without the consent of the "host" country, the issue of sovereignty is raised. Human rights and humanitarian law issues are also raised, and some have criticized the process because of its secretive nature. Finally, Germany has asked that its NATO troops not engage in targeted killings, as it is not certain that such actions are permissible under the German constitution.
One criticism asserts that targeted killing is incompatible with international law, which prohibits extrajudicial killings that lack due process. The position of Amnesty International, the human rights organization, has been understood to mean that such due process must be afforded even in an armed conflict. Also, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Israel's targeted killing of Yassin violated international law.
Some human rights organizations, for example, presuming (which may not always be the case) that the terrorist is within the jurisdiction of the acting state, maintain that terrorist should be arrested, put on trial, and found guilty before any punishment is meted out. Human Rights Watch, while stating that the Palestinian terrorists had violated the Geneva Convention admonition that "civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack" had committed "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity", at the same time condemned Israel's "extra-judicial killings."
In May 2005, Amnesty called upon the U.S. "to end immediately all operations aimed at killing suspects instead of arresting them, investigate all past suspected cases of extrajudicial executions, and revoke all orders that may allow extrajudicial executions", and opined that "hypocrisy, secrecy, an overarching war mentality and a disregard for international human rights law continues to mark the USA's conduct in the "war on terror". In January 2006, Amnesty referred to Israel's targeted killings as "extrajudicial executions/assassinations". In July 2006, Amnesty said it was "deeply concerned" that the U.S. appeared to be carrying out "extrajudicial executions in clear violation of its obligations under international human rights law, including Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These are cases in which the USA has apparently deliberately killed or attempted to kill suspects in lieu of arrest including in countries where there is no ongoing armed conflict." In December 2006, Amnesty called targeted killings "extrajudicial executions", and asserted that they were being used as a "substitute for arrest and prosecution".
Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions, said in a June 2010 report to the UN Human Rights Council that a targeted killing outside of an armed conflict "is almost never likely to be legal", and rejected "pre-emptive self-defense" as a justification for killing terrorism suspects far from combat zones.
George Jonas notes a curious corollary to the surgical nature of such killings: "Governments can bomb faceless troops of enemy conscripts with impunity, but are questioned closely about bombing photographable individuals. Numbers numb; identity humanizes. That's the general rule."
Amnesty International has lodged complaints with the U.S. administration following targeted killing Predator strikes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in an April 2010 letter to President Obama, said that international humanitarian law prohibits targeted killing, except in order to prevent an individual's future participation in hostilities.
Criticism often also focuses on the killing of innocent victims in heavy-handed failed targeted killings, or those based on faulty intelligence, in which civilians may be killed. An example given is Israel's July 2002 targeted killing of Salah Shehade, in which 14 others, including 9 children, were killed due to faulty intelligence that civilians would not be in the house. Some international human rights groups called for criminal charges against Israeli officers.
Another example given is the January 2006 CIA Predator attack in the northern Pakistani village of Damadola, where U.S. intelligence believed al-Qaeda's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was meeting with a group of extremists. At least four al-Qaeda members were killed in the attack, but Zawahiri was not present, and 18 civilians—including five children—were reportedly killed, setting off angry demonstrations across Pakistan against the U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said: "It's terrible when innocent people are killed; we regret that. But we have to do what we think is necessary to take out al-Qaeda, particularly the top operatives."
In June 2006, Kofi Annan said he "deeply deplores" the killing of three children in Gaza in "an attempted Israeli targeted killing of alleged militants", and called on Israel "to respect international law and to ensure that its actions are proportionate and do not put civilians at grave risk."
While targeted killings are sometimes launched with the consent of the "host" country, sometimes that is not the case, raising the issue of sovereignty.
Increase in extremism
Some have also said that targeted killing should be curtailed, because it can be unpopular in the host country, such as Pakistan, and can coalesce the local population around the extremists.
Destabilizing, and causes violence
Another criticism is the assertion that it is destabilizing to local situations, and thus causes more violence, an opinion held by intermediary Álvaro de Soto, former UN Middle East peace envoy, and by Jeffrey Addicott, who served as the senior legal adviser to the U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, the Green Berets. Under this view, it can lead to retaliatory violence, create martyrs, cause embitterment, and complicate peace negotiations.
Political philosopher Michael Walzer, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study and editor of the intellectual quarterly Dissent, said that in the interest of transparency, when a government kills people, it should make clear whom it is trying to kill, why it is trying to kill them, and whom it has killed so that people can hold the government accountable and make sure that it's not abusing power. The ACLU as well, in its April 2010 letter to President Obama, chided him for keeping the targeted killing process secret.
To counter the lack of transparency, in January 2010, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking that the U.S. government disclose the legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct targeted killings. The ACLU is seeking to find out when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how the U.S. ensures compliance with international laws relating to extrajudicial killings. The ACLU then filed suit in March 2010, asking for information on when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, the number and rate of civilian casualties, and other such information.
Loss of intelligence
Intelligence that could be gathered by capturing and questioning the targets is lost when they are instead killed.
Increases use of military force, and can lead to chaos
Alston said that U.S. drone targeted killings outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq undermine global constraints on use of military force, in part by allowing drone operators who are not on a battlefield to engage in targeted killings, and will lead to a chaos as drone technology spreads.
In a 2008 interview by Der Spiegel, the Commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, General David McKiernan, was asked whether Germany is a particularly difficult ally because its government requested limitations on its soldiers' deployment in Afghanistan, feeling that it might violate Germany's constitution if they were to conduct a targeted killing, in the absence of a direct attack. McKiernan responded:
If ... the decision has been a legal and political decision back in Germany ... I accept that. But as a soldier, I don't understand it. I don't understand ever putting your men and women in harm's way, without their having the full ability to protect themselves. That also means operating on actionable intelligence to defeat insurgents, and protect your forces. That's how you keep your soldiers alive.
In July 2009, Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview that Berlin would have to "clarify whether our constitutional state is sufficient for confronting new threats." He said that the legal problems his office had to struggle with "extend all the way to extreme cases such as so-called targeted killing … Imagine someone knew what cave Osama bin Laden is sitting in. A remote-controlled missile could then be fired in order to kill him." The interviewer said: "Germany's federal government would probably send a public prosecutor there first, to arrest bin Laden." Schäuble responded: "And the Americans would execute him with a missile, and most people would say: 'thank God'."
That sparked a series of reactions. German President Horst Köhler said he doubted whether "the killing of a suspected terrorist without a trial can be done quite so easily." Peter Struck, the parliamentary head of Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said: "It won't do for basic values of our constitution to be called into question. Human rights and the right to life are untouchable. This also goes for Osama bin Laden's life."
In December 2009, Der Spiegel questioned whether Germany had begun targeted killings of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, based on a September 2009 U.S. air strike called in by a German colonel on two tanker trucks that had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents. The colonel said he had been afraid that the tankers could be turned into "rolling bombs", and used to attack a German base a few kilometers away.
 Lawsuits in Spain, the U.K., and the U.S.
In Spain, complaints were lodged against former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz and other six other senior Israeli political and military officials by pro-Palestinian organizations, who sought to prosecute them in Spain under the principle of universal jurisdiction. A lower court decision ordered an inquiry into the Shehadeh killing in 2002. The Spanish Court of Appeals rejected the lower court's decision, and on appeal in April 2010 the Supreme Court of Spain upheld the Court of Appeals decision against conducting an official inquiry into the IDF's targeted killing of Shehadeh.
In the United Kingdom, similar complaints was brought against Halutz and other senior Israeli officials under the principle of universal jurisdiction, pertaining to involvement in approving targeted killings. The complaints were brought by Palestinian organizations such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the Israeli Yesh Gvul movement.
In Matar v. Dichter, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal class action lawsuit against Dichter in the U.S. on behalf of the Palestinians killed or injured in a 2002 targeted killing air strike in Gaza. It charged Dichter with extrajudicial killing, war crimes, and other gross human rights violations. On April 16, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case, on the basis that Dichter possesses immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
In Al-Aulaqi v. Obama, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Defense Department, and the CIA in U.S. federal court on behalf of Nasser al-Aulaqi (Anwar al-Awlaki's father) on August 30, 2010. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order declaring that the U.S. Constitution and international law bar the government from killing U.S. citizens without due process "except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious injury." The suit alleges that the targeted killing program violates al-Awlaki’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, and his Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of life without due process. They are also seeking an injunction blocking the U.S. government from killing Anwar al-Awlaki, and disclosure of the U.S.'s targeted killing list process and standards. A Justice Department spokesman said:
The U.S. is careful to ensure that all its operations used to prosecute the armed conflict against those forces, including lethal operations, comply with all applicable laws, including the laws of war. This administration is using every legal measure available to defeat al-Qaeda, and we will continue to do so as long as its forces pose a threat to this nation.
On September 24, the U.S. government asked that the lawsuit be dismissed because, among other reasons: a) litigating the matter could require it to reveal military and state secrets (classified information related to national security, such as CIA and military operations, and Yemen's counterterrorism efforts); b) the father had no legal standing; and c) targeting decisions are for the executive branch to determine.
In oral argument on November 8, 2010, the parties debated the government's argument that the case should be dismissed because Awlaki's father does not have standing to bring the suit, because the policy is a matter for the President and not for the courts to decide; and because the case threatens to reveal "state secrets". The government said that if al-Awlaki wanted to bring the instant lawsuit, he could turn himself in to the U.S. and litigate the matter himself. The ACLU's counsel said the suit was just seeking to set general limits, that the government’s position was to exclude judicial oversight from the process completely, and that the risk that al-Awlaki might face indefinite detention without charge was enough to keep him from surrendering to the U.S. and litigating the case himself. The case is in front of federal District Judge John D. Bates, who has previously disagreed with the Justice Department's assertions of executive power in a number of detention cases. Bates said he would not make a decision for several weeks on whether to dismiss the case.
On November 15, 2010, Karima Bennoune, a member of the board of trustees of CCR as well as an international law professor and human right lawyer of Muslim heritage criticized CCR's decision to represent pro bono the interests of al-Awlaki in the lawsuit. While referring to the U.S. policy as one of extrajudicial killings in violation of international law and targeted assassinations, and saying she opposed it, she noted that al-Awlaki himself is calling for assassinations as he is at large. Of the belief that it is wrong to defend the principle that assassinations are wrong "by standing silently next to an advocate of assassinations", she urged CCR to find other ways to challenge the policy without associating with al-Awlaki. The director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was approached by the CCR for advice on al-Awlaki, said:
I have considerable respect for CCR. But in this case they have made a serious error of ethical judgment. Does a highly respected organisation, founded in the midst of historic struggles for civil rights and racial justice, now wish to be perceived by some as al-Qaida's legal team? Can you fight extra-judicial assassinations by standing alongside someone who advocates extra-judicial assassinations?
Also, five Algerian non-governmental organizations sent CCR a strongly worded letter of dismay regarding their representation of al-Awlaki's interests.
On December 8, 2010, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates dismissed the lawsuit in an 83-page ruling, holding among other things that the father did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
 Targeted killing vs. assassination
According to Times columnist Ben Macintyre, it is a euphemism for assassination, Gabriella Blum and Philip Heymann defined targeted killing in "Law and Policy of Targeted Killing" as: "the deliberate assassination of a known terrorist outside the country’s territory (even in a friendly nation’s territory), usually (but not exclusively) by an airstrike", and Ibrahim Nafie, writing in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly in 2001, criticized the U.S. for agreeing with "the Israeli spin that calls ... its official policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders 'targeted killing.'"
On the other hand, Professor Solis writes: "Assassinations and targeted killings are very different acts". The use of the term assassination is opposed, as it denotes murder, whereas the terrorists are targeted in self-defense, and thus it is viewed as a killing, but not a crime.
Former Legal Advisor to the State Department Judge Sofaer wrote on the subject:
When people call a targeted killing an "assassination", they are attempting to preclude debate on the merits of the action. Assassination is widely defined as murder, and is for that reason prohibited in the United States.... U.S. officials may not kill people merely because their policies are seen as detrimental to our interests.... But killings in self-defense are no more "assassinations" in international affairs than they are murders when undertaken by our police forces against domestic killers. Targeted killings in self-defense have been authoritatively determined by the federal government to fall outside the assassination prohibition.
Richard James Kerr, former Deputy Director of the CIA, said that he thinks the difference between targeted killing and assassination is important, and that part of the problem, is the very word assassination, which means "political, ideological" killings, rather than combat situations, which is the case with targeted killings.
Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Bush and Clinton White Houses, now a senior fellow at the Center for Law and Security at NYU, said that he doesn't like the use of the term assassination to describe targeted killings, because he thinks it can be misleading. He said:
I think you should not have political assassination as a tool, and it's banned under Executive Order 12333. The issue is ... if the United States government makes a decision to go to war, to attack a transnational group, one objective of that decision is to eliminate the leadership. ... We're either going to do it through traditional military means ... or we're going to do it through covert activity. I mean, we're trying to actively hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. We're not trying to assassinate him. We're trying to kill the senior leadership of al-Qaeda ... right now. That is not assassination, in the way that we have discussed assassination in the past ... because we are at war with this entity known as al-Qaeda ... under the U.N. charter, under Article 51 of self-defense, we can attack another nation in the spirit of self-defense, and under international law that is justified as well. So the difference between launching ... trying to kill bin Laden with a Predator Hellfire missile, in the context of war, that is completely different than a political assassination....
In The Impact of 9/11 and the New Legal Landscape: The Day That Changed Everything?, the point is made that "There is a major difference between assassination and targeted killing.... targeted killing [is] not synonymous with assassination. Assassination ... constitutes an illegal killing." Similarly, Professor Guiora writes: "Targeted killing is ... not an assassination", Professor David writes: "there are strong reasons to believe that the Israeli policy of targeted killing is not the same as assassination", Professor William C. Banks and Professor Peter Raven-Hansen write: "Targeted killing of terrorists is ... not unlawful and would not constitute assassination", Rory Miller writes: "Targeted killing ... is not 'assassination'", and Associate Professor Eric Patterson and Teresa Casale write: "Perhaps most important is the legal distinction between targeted killing and assassination".
 Under U.S. law
Professor Solis wrote that while there is no official U.S. policy directive regarding targeted killing, the U.S. addressed assassination in Executive Order 12333, which does not completely prohibit it, but requires presidential approval. That Executive Order, which does not define "assassination", was signed December 4, 1981, by President Reagan, and remains in effect. It is similar to its counterparts under Presidents Ford and Carter (Executive Orders 11905 and 12306). It has been construed as relating to political assassination, as distinct from the target killing of military enemies of the U.S. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, furthermore, that 12333 "does not inhibit the nation's ability to act in self-defense."
In the U.S., the killing of an al-Qaeda member is an act of war, not assassination. Professor Banks explained that the ban on assassination, in effect since President Ford's executive order of 1976, would apply only to "politically inspired killings of people who are not combatants."
Since the Clinton administration, executive branch lawyers have held that the U.S. President's authority under Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution to use lethal force allows him to issue an order to kill an individual enemy of the U.S. in self-defense. In 1998, a U.S. inter-agency group led by then-Assistant Attorney General Randy Moss produced a classified memo of law on assassination, which concluded that presidents from Reagan in Libya to Bush in Iraq had been needlessly cautious about ordering attacks against enemy headquarters, if their real objective was to kill an individual leader. Because executive orders are entirely at the discretion of the president, it concluded, a president may issue contrary directives at will, and need not even announce publicly that he has done so. Under customary international law and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, according to those familiar with the memo, taking the life of a terrorist to preempt an imminent or continuing threat of attack is analogous to self-defense against conventional attack. Clinton authorized covert targeted killings against al-Qaeda beginning in 1998, after evidence indicated that al-Qaeda was behind the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Sudan and Tanzania, when he ordered a missile strike on an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and a factory in Sudan.
A December 1989 Memorandum of Law (an advisory opinion), issued by the then-Special Assistant for Law of War Matters to The Judge Advocate General of the Army, W. Hays Park, made a distinction between the prohibition on illegal assassinations in Executive Order 12333, and the lawful targeting of those posing a direct threat to the U.S. Parks defined assassination as covert acts of murder for political reasons. Then Legal Advisor to the State Department Arbaham Sofaer, stressed that prohibition “should not be limited to the planned killing only of political officials, but that it should apply to the illegal killing of any person, even an ordinary citizen, so long as the act has a political purpose.” Both legal officials said the prohibition of assassination allowed targeted killing of enemy combatants in wartime or the killing in self-defense of specific individuals who pose a direct threat to U.S. citizens or national security in peacetime.
Drawing on two classified legal memoranda, one written for President Clinton in 1998 and one after 9/11, the Bush administration concluded that executive orders banning assassination do not prevent the president from lawfully targeting a terrorist for death by covert action. In 2001, Bush signed a more encompassing intelligence "finding" calling for attacks on newly identified weaknesses in Osama bin Laden's communications, security apparatus, and infrastructure, and granting the CIA and Defense Department expanded powers to engage in targeted killings. Bush's directive broadened the class of potential targets beyond bin Laden and his immediate circle of operational planners, and beyond Afghanistan. Bush was plain about his intention for the U.S. to find and kill bin Laden.
The Bush administration's update of that analysis was strengthened by the Joint Resolution of Congress of September 14, 2001, which gave the president authority to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against "persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 [and] in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States." Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb said that: "the congressional authorization of force gave [the president] the power to [authorize targeted killings]."
After the U.S.'s 2002 targeted killing of al-Harethi and five other suspected al-Qaeda members in the Yemeni desert, a U.S. administration official said the attack was considered a targeted killing, and not an assassination. Similarly, Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department's legal adviser, said in March 2010 that the U.S.'s drone strikes against al-Qaeda and its allies were lawful targeted killing, as part of the military action authorized by Congress, and not assassination, which is banned by executive order.
 On the horizon
Predators, with high-precision zoom lens cameras, and video cameras with both electric optic and infrared capability that can see at night, can lock on a target for their two Hellfire missiles when they are so far away that the target can neither see them (unless the drone is below 15,000 feet (4,600 m)) nor hear them. Predators are 27 feet (8.2 m) long, have a wingspan of 48.7 feet (14.8 m), and are 6.9 feet (2.1 m) high, and can fly at speeds up to 135 mph (217 km/h) and at heights up to 25,000 feet (7,600 m). They can fly 400 nautical miles (740 km) to a target, loiter overhead for 14 hours, and then return to their base. Reapers have a wingspan of 66 feet (20 m), and are 12.5 feet (3.8 m) high. They can fly at speeds up to 300 mph (480 km/h), and at heights up to 50,000 feet (15,000 m), and can fly for 14–28 hours (14 hours fully loaded).
"Nano-drones" are now being developed for targeted killing, that are about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) long, which like little killer bees will be able to follow their target, even entering a room through an open window. Aerial refueling tanker drones are also being developed that will allow these drones to refuel, without ever landing