Since September 11, the threshold for who and where the U.S. military and intelligence community can kill has been increasingly lowered, with no end in sight
An Afghan boy stands next to the body of a girl killed during an operation in Nangarhar province / Reuters
Capitalizing on public interest in the death of Osama Bin Laden and the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a series of books and articles have been published assessing the ability of the U.S. military and intelligence community to find and kill terrorists. Stocked with cool-sounding acronyms, anonymous tough-guy quotes, and impressive body counts, the reports purport to describe top secret operations that are usually only referenced in press briefings or in open congressional testimony, and would lead one to believe that the Pentagon's core organizing principle is lethality.
All of these reports feature a similar pattern: a vivid vignette describing a mission to capture or kill a suspected militant or terrorist operative; selectively released operational details, such as the number of night raids conducted or of senior terrorist leaders killed; an emphasis on the effectiveness of the U.S. government's "hunter-killer" architecture and how it has improved markedly since 9/11; and, more often than not, an omission of the key fact that very few such operations actually end in someone being killed.
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As compared to the monitoring, arresting, interrogating, or detaining of suspects, however, most worrisome is the expanding policy of killing them. Until recently, targeted killings by the United States have received relatively little media or public attention. However, the stark reality of the post-9/11 era is that the threshold for who and where the U.S. military and intelligence community can kill has been increasingly lowered, with no end in sight.