Friday, December 25, 2009

Targeted Killing

Orin Kerr at Volokh continues a fascinating discussion on the topic of "Perceptions of Necessity on the Choice Between Killing and Detaining/Interrogating Terrorist Suspects." post below asked why a lot of people have less problem with just blowing up a terrorist suspect together with his family than detaining just the suspect and perhaps interrogating him.
If you wish to start even earlier in the conversation, Kerr initiates it here.
News of a U.S.-supported attack on a suspected Al-Qaeda operative meeting in Yemen reminds me of a curious dynamic in the public response to how the U.S. fights the war on terror: Killing Al-Qaeda suspects seems to be much less controversial than detaining and interrogating them.

In response, Kenneth Anderson has a paper on this subject, which he links to and summarises here.

It is indeed fascinating that our sense of necessity, and hence what is moral in a given situation, is so strongly influenced by time constraints. I suspect there is some hard-wired impulse which prevents us from treating situations which describe similarly except for time as identical. The sense of time may weigh more heavily in our actual moral decisions than we usually think.

Consider the many moral questions that are proposed in the abstract - is it permissible to steal food for starving family members, or when is concealing the truth appropriate. How many of these change when we bend the time-scale. That is, when the family will starve within the year, but not within the week.

Lots to think about.


David Foster said...

Part of the reason is probably that a prisoner is absolutely in your power, so a vestigial sense of chivalry comes into play. Of course, someone who is in the sights of your JDAM missile is also absolutely in your power, but somehow it isn't perceived as the same.

TakeFlight said...

Not pulling the trigger - because you don't have to - even when you morally could = mercy.

We highly value mercy, unless there is no time for it.