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A Moral Code for Counterterrorism:

My colleague Amos Guiora comments in today's Baltimore Sun on the Israeli High Court's recent decision allowing the use of targeted killings as a method of preemptive counterterrorism. Here is a taste:

The decision, the last in Mr. Barak's corpus of rulings on fighting terrorism, is the final piece in a puzzle of judicially mandated rules for how an army should conduct operational counterterrorism. Mr. Barak's Supreme Court decisions over the past 15 years reflect a realization that damage to democracy and human rights outweigh whatever operational advantages commanders can gain from judicial ambiguity. Operational success would be enhanced by a strict moral and legal code.

The ruling establishes a checklist of how the state is to proceed in these cases. Harming civilians who "take direct part in hostilities," as defined in the decision, "even if the result is death, is permitted, on the condition that there is no other means which harms them less, and on the condition that innocent civilians nearby are not harmed. Harm to the latter must be proportional. That proportionality is determined according to a values-based test, intended to balance between the military advantage and the civilian damage."

I don't always agree with Amos' conclusions, but his wealth of counter-terrorism experience is often the source of tremendous insight. It's one thing to opine about how states should cobat terrorists from the security of an academic office. It's quite another to base one's opinions on years of work in the field.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Moral Code for Counterterrorism:
  2. Israeli Court Allows "Targeted Killings":
wm13:
As Guiora notes, the Israeli courts' approach is very different from what has historically been the American approach. So the question is, has Israel's approach to combatting terrorism been more successful than America's? I don't see the evidence to support that.

I suppose one might argue that even if Israel's approach to terrorism isn't that effective, it is more democratic and/or more respectful of human rights than America. I don't see the evidence to support that either.
12.19.2006 1:17pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Virtually all these "moral codes" for fighting war are absurd. Aside from not wantonly killing defenseless civilians and captured soldiers, the goal of war is — and should be — to kill as many of your enemies as possible, period. As a great man once said, "War is hell, you cannot refine it."
12.19.2006 1:57pm
josh:
(A) you might want to change "cobat" to "combat" in the last graf.

(B) I disagre with the assesment that "It's one thing to opine about how states should cobat terrorists from the security of an academic office. It's quite another to base one's opinions on years of work in the field."

Those who have observed Israel's conflicts of the last 20-30 years I think have obtained more than sufficient knowledge of the facts about fighting terror, a knowledge that many in this country only began to develop after 9/11. The question of whether "damage to democracy and human rights outweigh[s] whatever operational advantages commanders can gain from judicial ambiguity" is a normative one, not one based on "field experience." Even if it were based on experience, the fact that the conflict shows no sign of abating at least indicates that the certain methods are simply not effective.
12.19.2006 2:03pm
FC:
How much field experience does Aharon Barak have?
12.20.2006 12:02am