Predator Drones, Targeted Killing, and the Law: A Debate with Mary Ellen O’Connell

October 25, 2010, Fordham Law School

This is a debate I took part in with Mary Ellen O’Connell at International Law Weekend back in 2010. I wrote about it at some length in Lawfare in the days after it took place:

In reading Mary Ellen O’Connell’s writings on targeted killing in preparation for our debate this weekend, I was struck by how granular her arguments generally are. She writes in great detail about the constituent legal questions that make up the fight over drones, and she stakes out uncompromising positions on them all. But she never, at least that I’ve seen, breaks through to higher ground and talks about the implications of what she is saying. In our debate, I wanted to zoom out, to force the discussion to a higher level of altitude and to force her to address the big picture. So I asked her a simple question: Is Barack Obama a serial killer?

The question was not meant as a rhetorical debating point but meant literally. As I read her views, I can think of no other word for a president who–if you buy her framework–has specifically authorized the killings of hundreds of people outside of the laws of armed conflict and ordered CIA personnel to commit “crimes” by using force outside of the military’s command structure.

Mary Ellen’s responses are remarkable. She doesn’t quite say that Obama is a serial killer, but she comes incredibly close, and she certainly doesn’t say that he isn’t.

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