Research Portfolio Post #4: The Moral and Legal Implications of Targeted Killings 2

Both researchers, Stephen de Wijze and Susanne Krasmann, opt for the same type of introductory hook. While de Wijze starts his paper with the date of the targeted killing of Salah Shehada by Israeli Defense Forces, Krasmann begins hers with the date of President Obama’s speech announcing Osama bin Laden’s assassination. Both papers analyze targeted killings (TK); but, even by the first sentence, one can ascertain a divergence in their respective analytical approaches. De Wijze focuses on the actual act of Shehada’s TK and its moral complexities, while Krasmann assesses the discourse surrounding Bin Laden’s TK and its legal implications.

De Wijze argues that analyzing TKs within a ‘dirty hands’ DH framework better captures the moral complexity rather than simply condemning or exonerating it. [1] He explains that when agents are motivated by moral obligations to commit moral violations, they have a case of DH. While de Wijze explicitly states that the principal legal questions are “beyond the scope” of his paper, Krasmann focuses more on the legal implications from a Foucauldian perspective. [2] That said, both researchers expounded the same principles (legal and moral) including self-defense. De Wijze concludes that Shehada’s TK fulfills the conditions of a DH analysis and can be justified in terms of legitimate self-defense.

Meanwhile, Krasmann invokes this term for a completely different purpose. According to a Foucauldian perspective, when fundamental legal terms (i.e.self-defense) begin to accommodate the phenomena, as a security dispositif,said elementaryconcepts are displaced withinthe constellation of international law. [3] The crux of her argument is that TKs and its law are mutually constitutive and that once the act is legally articulated and is received by the legal debate, the understandings of those basic concepts are recalibrated. While they are formally preserved, they are rearranged in a way that legalizes the act — without actually amending the law. [4] Despite de Wijze’s attempts to sidestep the legal questions at play, Krasmann’s argument shows that any discourse on the topic inherently conjures both morality and legality.

Moreover, the two papers reference some of the same seminal Israeli Foreign Ministry statements, U.S. Executive Orders, and UN Charter Articles. De Wijze includes a multiplicity of interpretations in the case of Shahada’s TK and evidences the mixed reactions from state officials and media outlets. These researchers took puzzles similar to mine, selected one case in particular, applied a certain type of analysis to it, and then abductively spiraled towards a greater understanding of the phenomena. The qualitative evidence they integrated enhanced the intertextuality and propelled their interpretivist research further.

I think that both articles inform my research in terms of which pieces of evidence are considered essential to the discussion. I particularly enjoyed learning about Foucauldian perspective on the interplay between practice and law (or knowledge and power). Furthermore, the Israeli and U.S. Policies of TKs are often invoked when Russian legislators justify their own policies on extra-judicial assassinations on foreign soil. [5]


[1] Stephen de Wijze, “Targeted killing: a ‘dirty hands’ analysis,” Contemporary Politics15, no. 3 (September 2009): 305-320.

[2] Ibid 308

[3] Susanne Krasmann, “Targeted killing and its law: on a mutually constitutive relationship,” Leiden Journal of International Law 25, no.3 (July 2012): 680

[4] Ibid 665-682

[5] Steven Eke, “Russia Law on Killing Extremists Abroad” BBC, 27 Nov. 2006.

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2 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #4: The Moral and Legal Implications of Targeted Killings

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    Tina, firstly, I think your topic is so interesting and I am stoked to follow your progress! Secondly, I think it is very interesting how both authors you used applied the Foucauldian perspective in different manners. Are you going to apply the Foucauldian perspective to your research in a way that de Wijize or Krasmann did? Or maybe you can find another application of this perspective to individualize your project.

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    Dr. Boesenecker

    Overall you have a very good summary of these two articles, Tina, and both articles are clearly relevant to your research. In particular, these pieces do a good job of helping to establish the conceptual framework for your research. You discuss the main claims of each article, but it would also be good to push a bit farther in thinking about the methodological elements of each piece. The de Wijze piece is an analysis of a single case (small-n/historical analysis) so noting the key variables analyzed (using the specific terms/concepts of the research methodology) would be a good next step. The Foucauldian perspective of the Krasmann article and the focus on constitutive casualty are great clues that this is an interpretivist piece (and you note the abductive reasoning that is employed). In that world, some attention to the specific symbols and practices analyzed would be good. Overall a very good foundation for your research, though. Just keep reading with an eye to specific methodological elements as you continue your research.