‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Secrecy, Security, and Oversight of Targeted Killing Operations

Thursday, June 4, 2015
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Encina Hall (2nd floor)


Abstract: Governments around the world have been targeting and killing individuals to prevent them from committing terror attacks or other atrocities. They use this method secretly, sometimes without even taking responsibility for such operations, and without making public most of the relevant information: who is being targeted and what are the criteria for targeting individuals, what evidence is used to make targeting decisions, and what procedures are adopted to identify mistakes or misuse of this method. Recently released documents, such as the U.S. Department of Justice Drone Memo (analyzing lethal operations against U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi), the more general White Paper on targeted killings of US citizens, or the Report of the Israeli Special Investigatory Commission on the targeted killing of Salah Shehadeh, shed some light on otherwise highly secretive decision-making processes, thereby introducing to the public debate important information previously unavailable. At the same time, in revealing only a small amount of relevant information, they emphasize the thick veil of secrecy that still surrounds the discussions in this field. Moreover, the information that is available demonstrates the vague nature of the relevant rules; the security-oriented implementation of these rules; and the inadequacy of current oversight mechanisms of targeted killing operations. These challenges to a process designed to take human lives emphasize the need to develop effective and independent accountability mechanisms, with powers to investigate high-level policymakers as well as operational-level decision-makers. This policy-paper proposes concrete solutions to the main weaknesses of the current legal framework: it narrowly (and clearly) defines legal terms such as ‘imminent threat,’ ‘feasibility,’ and ‘last resort’; it develops an activity-based test for determinations on direct participation in hostilities; it designs an independent ex post review mechanism; and it calls for governmental transparency and meaningful oversight. Most importantly, it promotes a targeted killing policy that protects civilians from both terror and counter-terror attacks.

About the Speaker: Shiri Krebs is a JSD Candidate at Stanford Law School, specializing in international criminal and humanitarian law. She was recently awarded the Christiana Shi Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship in International Studies and is a Law and International Security Predoctoral Fellow at Stanford Center on International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

Her doctoral dissertation focuses on war crimes investigations and fact-finding during armed conflicts. This interdisciplinary research project combines theories and methods from law, psychology, sociology and political science, including online survey experiments.

From 2005 to 2010 Shiri served as legal advisor on international law matters in the Chief-Justice's chambers, the Israeli Supreme Court. During that time she has taught public international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a teaching assistantship which granted her the Dean's award for excellent junior faculty members, as well as 'best teacher' award. After leaving the Supreme Court, Shiri joined the Israeli Democracy Institute as a researcher, working on 'Terrorism and Democracy' projects, and publishing frequent op-eds in various newspapers and blogs.

In September 2010 Shiri started her graduate studies at Stanford Law School. Her Masters thesis - an empirical analysis of preventive detention cases - was presented in several international conferences and has won the Steven M. Block Civil Liberties Award. 

In 2012, while working on her dissertation, Shiri was appointed as a Teaching Scholar at Santa Clara University School of Law, teaching international criminal law and international humanitarian law. She is currently serving as a Teaching Assistant for the Stanford Interschool Honors Program in International Security Studies.