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Targeted Killing, Drones and International Law: How U.S. Practice is Shaping International Law Open Access

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Since 2002, the United States has been conducting drone strikes as an integral part of its war on terror against al Qaeda. This paper discusses the evolution of that practice and considers the legal implications of the targeted killing of alleged members of al Qaeda and its affiliate organizations in non-battlefield situations. It argues that the U.S. is negatively influencing international law at a time when the law is unsettled with regard to non-battlefield targeting of members of armed opposition groups. Further, some of the strikes conducted by the U.S. violate the principles of distinction, proportionality and military necessity. The paper suggests that the U.S. should alter its course of actions, support a more restrained view of the boundaries of targeted killing, and limit any targeted killings to high-level members of terrorist organizations.

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